Editor’s Note: This is an updated excerpt from my “Sunday School by phone” lesson that I taught on August 16, 2020. This format has been a rewarding way for me to still get to teach in this season, while respecting those from our congregation who are in high-risk populations.
Today’s lesson is from the second chapter of Judges. That chapter starts with God’s rebuke, then recounts the death of Joshua and the faithfulness of his contemporaries. Later, it describes how a new generation of the Israelite people fell away from God relatively quickly.
Here is how this chapter describes the consequences:
This made the LORD burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them. Every time Israel went out to battle, the LORD fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned. And the people were in great distress.
Judges 2:14-15 NLT
If we imagine what it would like to have lived in this environment, we can envision the kind of conversations that were taking place among the people. When faced with constant defeat in battle, some would probably blame the army, or the leadership. Others might start to question the accuracy of what they had been told about God delivering the land to the nation of Israel during their original conquest. Yet others would probably complain that God wasn’t powerful enough to save them. (Remember that they had chosen to be unfaithful to God first, before He stopped delivering them from their opponents. It would seem that they did not walk away from Him because of these military losses, but once they had turned away from God, it would have become that much easier to blame Him.)
In reality, though, this was the result of a faithful God keeping His promise. When we talk about God’s promises for us, we usually think about the blessings that are promised for His followers. There are many good verses that we can add to a nice landscape image and set as the background image for our computer or our phone. However, God promises a lot of things, and not all of them are blessings.
Earlier in this chapter, God reminded the Israelites about the “rest” of His promise: what would happen if they were disobedient. God had promised them a lot of blessings, but if they rejected His instructions, there were promises for negative consequences as well. One commentary said, “The hand of the Lord was associated with the saving power of God…. Now the same hand was turned against them in punishment. The Lord was faithful both to bless and to judge.”
So, God kept His promises. When Israel failed to remain faithful to Him, the corresponding blessings were replaced with discipline. Note the difference between discipline and punishment: Discipline is loving correction (even if it isn’t fun), meant to help someone get better and return to a healthy state. Punishment is the lawful consequence of unlawful choices. Discipline makes better disciples, who can live without fear of punishment (see 1 John 4:17-18).
God disciplines those whom He loves (Revelation 3:19). Where the Israelite armies had seen lots of success in Canaan during the days of Joshua, they were now defeated in battle. Not only did God stop helping them, it looks like He actively worked against them. However, this wasn’t a sign that God had permanently abandoned them. He may have temporarily removed His help, but they were still His people, and other accounts in the Old Testament confirm that He was ready to bless them again when they chose to repent.
The people may have felt that they were in a no-win situation during their battles, but it wasn’t like they didn’t have a choice. Their actions had led to consequences, and since God had made this correlation clear to their ancestors, they really didn’t have anyone to blame but themselves. (I suspect that they might have tried to blame their predecessors for not teaching them better; however, that’s just speculation. The passing down of the understanding of God – His nature, His promises, and His great deeds – requires both good teaching and good listening.)
As we find in Judges 2:16-19, God provided for His people, even in their unfaithfulness. Throughout the book of Judges (as you can read for yourself), God heard the cries of His people when they were experiencing the consequences of unfaithfulness, and sent judges (i.e., leaders), under whose leadership He could rescue His people.
Verse 15 spells out the results of being unfaithful to God: “They were in great distress”. People today are in great distress, too, when they don’t follow God. Without hope, a purpose, and directions to live the life for which we were created, it’s a pretty sad state to get into. There are things that dull or distract from the pain, but anything less than the life Jesus offers ultimately leads to distress…until someone makes the turn back to God.
Still, the pull of sin is relentless, and human beings are tempted to fall back into it time and time again. In verse 17, we find the word “quickly”, reminding us how easily sin can ensnare people. Falling away from righteousness doesn’t have to be a slow, gradual process; therefore, we must be on the alert and regularly practice good disciplines in our own lives, as well as striving to help others do the same.
When we see this happen, though, we should understand that it is not new. As verse 19 reminds us, people can find new ways of being more evil than those who have gone on before. While there is usually one right way – the narrow path – there are plenty of inferior paths.
So, when you are experiencing discipline from God (and, let’s be honest with ourselves: we usually know when we deserve it), don’t blame God for being unfair, or blame others for not teaching you better. Remember that God’s loving discipline is meant to help us, and it works with our own choices to help keep us on a path that is better for everyone. All of God’s promises are good, even His promises that deter us from practicing evil.
- The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard version, by R C Sproul, © 2015 Reformation Trust, Orlando, Fla. Made available through BibleGateway.com.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.