Editor’s Note: This topic was taken from a lesson prepared for the “Sunday School by phone” session that I had the privilege of teaching on August 16, 2020.
Many volumes have been written about the path to success. Have you ever read an article on how to fail, though?
Let’s take a look at some verses from the second chapter of Judges:
The Israelites did evil in the LORD’s sight and served the images of Baal. They abandoned the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the LORD.
Judges 2:11-12 NLT
Here, we see three things that happened. First, the Israelites did evil things and served other gods. (OK, so maybe that’s two things.) However, you “gotta serve somebody”, so choosing to not obey God means serving someone or something else. When you do evil things, you are serving something that isn’t God. And, when you serve other gods, you’ll end up doing evil things.
Next, their behavior is described as “forsaking” God: not just any god, but the One who literally and miraculously brought their nation out of slavery, and made them a free nation. The word “forsook” paints a picture, here: It implies that they made a choice. It suggest that they were aware of God, and could choose to follow Him, but they turned away. This is kind of like the opposite of repentance (turning back from a sinful life to God). As a whole, the Israelites weren’t necessarily ignorant about God; instead, it sounds like they had decided to turn away from Him to other gods.
I think that this is a good reminder for all who are deciding how to live today: the “defense” of apathy or not making a decision is simply invalid. Everyone who has the ability to choose their actions (excluding infants and a few others) is deciding what or who their god will be. The claim that one is not choosing (which includes honest agnostics, but I don’t think that they would disagree with this characterization), is really making a choice to follow something other than Jehovah (see Mark 9:39-41).
When one chooses to not accept the truth, there prove to be far more lies, half-truths, and falsehoods than there are truths. Like a student taking a math test, the number of wrong answers is infinitely greater than the number of right answers. The Israelites had their choice of gods to serve. In addition to Jehovah God, they would have been aware of the idols from “beyond the Euphrates” (the land from which Abram was called), the idols of Egypt where they lived for centuries, and the idols of Canaan where they were living at this time. The generation described here chose the latter option (which proved to be the wrong answer).
Thirdly, when the Israelite people chose the wrong option, God became angry. God is indeed gracious and loving, but He does get angry when it is appropriate for Him to do so. God knew that the Baals and the Ashtoreths were not only destructive to His people, but that these idols also took the people away from the blessings of living according to His loving plan. When an evil force pulls the attention of my children away from righteous behavior into sin and harmful temptations, I am not only justified in being angry, I can actually show them love when I fight back against that element of evil on their behalf. If I can be righteously angry in cases like this, how much more would a loving God be angry when His people turn away to inferior, false gods?
And, in case you were wondering, the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth wasn’t even about being a good citizen or a loving parent. The very practices of worship for these false gods were inherently evil. Beliefs today that have an appearance of being “good” are even more insidious, though, in that they take people away from God, but the sins that they lead adherents into are less obvious.
So, which group are you more like? Do you work diligently to serve God and remain committed to living according to His will, like the generation of Joshua and those who followed God during the time of the judges? Or, are you pulled into idolatry – not necessarily the sacrifice of gifts to a graven image, but giving over to temptations and living a life far away from the one God designed you for?
In the life of a Christian, I think that we have times when we appear to fall into both groups. We have good days and bad days (or good years and bad years). The book of Judges reminds us that living for God is better, but we must work to remain faithful or else things can change in a short amount of time. However, this book also proves time and time again that God is always faithful (even if we aren’t – see 2 Timothy 2:13). He sees the suffering of His people (even when this is the result of their own choices, or the result of divine discipline, meant to bring people back to Himself), and He provides opportunities for us to return to Him when we stray.
As those who have been saved by accepting the gift of Jesus Christ, we no longer have to fear for our salvation when we fall short of God’s ideal. As Matthew Henry put it, “our Joshua lives for ever”.
However, the principles of Judges still speak to us: A life of righteousness is not only more God-honoring than serving other things, but it is better for us, too. It takes work to remain faithful to God. And, God disciplines us: not to be mean, but to help us correct our ways, because He loves us (Hebrews 12:5-6). If you’re not reading through something in the Bible this month, consider going through the book of Judges. It’s a sobering reminder of the consequences of following other gods, but also an encouraging reminder of the blessings of following the true God.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 8, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 2, 1706, via BibleGateway.com.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.