After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. ~Judges 2:10
The Old Testament is filled with a lot of sad commentary about people and human nature, even among the nation that was supposed to be the people of God. One reason is that the God did not intend for us to idolize any one person or group of persons. He alone is God. The Bible recounts the many flaws, even of men and women of great faith, so that we will not look to anyone outside of Jesus for our salvation and hope.
Still, there are some passages we read which are sadder than others. The book of Judges contains many of these. Judges seems almost like a broken record—the same song played over and over, but it just happens to have different singers each time. The overall flow of the book is: Israel disobeyed God, God sent other nations or leaders against Israel to subdue them, the people cried out to God, God sent a judge to rescue and guide the people, the people remained faithful for a time, the judge died, Israel disobeyed God… wash, rinse, repeat.
The book ends on the statement, “In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (21:25). Right in their own eyes was not a good thing. Oh, and godly leadership does matter.
As Joshua ended and Judges began, there seemed to be a sense of hope. The people had proclaimed they would follow God and be faithful to his commands, and God gave them increasing territory in the Promised Land. Yet not long after this, we begin to read about how different tribes of Israel did not completely cleanse their territory of the presence of enemy nations as God had commanded.
So the angel of the Lord appeared, reminding the people of the promises of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience and saying, “Since you have [disobeyed God’s command], I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your side, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you” (2:1-3).
That generation died, then Joshua died, then we read no mention of Joshua’s successor like he succeeded Moses, and then we come to the verse quoted above: the new generation neither remembered God’s works nor followed him.
One generation’s half-hearted commitment to God resulted in another generation’s lack of commitment. The same thing can happen with the church today.
When we hear someone complain about all the hypocrites in the church our initial reaction may be to bristle and respond, “You could always come join us so there can be another.” And it’s true, none of us will be perfect and we will always struggle with playing the hypocrite this side of eternity. But… do we ever stop to ponder what the truth might be behind the criticism. What do they see? What do our neighbors see? What do our children and grandchildren see?
Are we committed to our traditions more than we are to worshiping the awe-inspiring one true Lord who causes mountains to melt and quake at the sound of his approach (Judges 5:5)? Are we more passionate and knowledgeable about our ideals, our work, our education, and our politics than we are about the God who rescued us from the unshakable grip of sin and death and hell? Does our faith only matter on a single day of the week (if that) and is worship absent from other days and aspects of our lives?
When people look at us, they will always see imperfect people who are struggling through this life; but they should also see imperfect people who keep looking to and longing for the perfect God. They should see people who passionately seek him in his word and in prayer, people who praise him through song, people who revel in his grace and joy, people who seek to be quick to forgive and quick to love because of God’s unfailing love and forgiveness towards us…
They should see people who know that all things depend on God and seek to put away the idols of their hearts and the gods of their fathers in order to serve, follow, and worship the Lord (Joshua 24:14). Then, yes, our children and grandchildren will still have to choose for themselves whether or not they will follow Jesus, but they at least won’t have the excuse of learning from a generation who only half-heartedly followed the Lord.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.