Judges 2:11-22 – WHY? WHY?? WHY??? Why did the Israelites repeatedly forsake the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Why did they forsake the God who brought them out of Egypt? What was so magnetically attractive about Baal and the Pantheon of gods that the Canaanites worshipped? If you were an Israelite during the period under discussion in Judges 2:11-22, would you also have forsaken the Lord, God of heaven and earth? Or would you have been as loyal to praising and worshipping and serving the only true God as you re today?
I have to ask myself that question each time I am confronted with the record of the Israelites behavior after leaving Egypt. Can you read these condensed words from Judges 2:12-19 without being heart-broken?
“They aroused the LORD’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the LORD gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them… Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.
Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them…. The LORD relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.”
Observe that the Israelites were habitual worshippers. That is what they were accused of doing repeatedly. They simply worshipped who and what they were forbidden to worship. They worshipped the Baals and the Ashtoreths, Hadad, El, Dagan, Resheph, Kothar, Mot, Yamm, Anat, Athirat, to name the more prominent Canaanite gods. Apart from being disobedient to God’s expressed command, idol worship is not as illogical as it may sound. Idols are initially intended to be visible representatives of the invisible powerful forces of nature, all of which are personified in the one true and living God, who unfortunately, will not reveal Himself through any idol.
Having a serious structured relationship with someone who you cannot see or experience with the physical senses is not easy. Children are very good at having imaginary friends. They love them because they get to create whatever kind of friend they want, and to change that friend’s characteristics as many times as they wish. God affords us no such luxuries. He demands to be worshipped for who He is, and not for who we would like Him to be.
The Israelites were asked to worship God who they could not see. They could see evidences of His presence and His power, but they found it difficult to worship in Spirit and in Truth. And yet, there were always a few who despite the environment, remained faithful to the True and Living invisible God who they could not see.
In Exodus 32:1, we get a clue. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
It would appear that there is a great difficulty in conceptualizing God in non-physical manifestation. Here, it is not God who is given credit for bringing them out of Egypt, it is Moses. It therefore follows, if the representation of God is Moses, and then Moses disappears without saying how long he would be away, then their broken link with God needs to be replaced. I have no reason to believe that the people expected the golden calf to replace their all-powerful invisible God who still maintained a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day. They intended the Golden Calf to replace Moses, the representation of God that they could see. Once Moses returns, and does so with evidence that he still represents their invisible God, there appears to be whole-hearted obedience to God. This remains the predominant case until Moses, and then Joshua, dies. These were the last of the two great pre-exodus rulers of Israel.
But during this time, external influences began to take their toll. Israel became increasingly aware of, and exposed and vulnerable to the permissive and unrestricted sinful life-style of the nations around them. God had forbidden the Israelites to marry anyone from the seven nations of Canaan. But Israel disobeyed God. Hear God on the matter in Deuteronomy 7:1-6, inter alia, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess, and drives out before you many nations— then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me, to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you… ”
By the time you reach to Judges 2, as a result of the Canaanite influence, the people no longer obeyed their judges during their life-time, and even less so, after their death.
The truth of the matter is that the seemingly inexplicable attitude of the Israelites towards God’s instructions cannot be explained without reference to the Devil. Ever since he rebelled against God and was expelled from his former privileged place in heaven, the Devil has been at war against God. Men and women, boys and girls who are God’s prized creation have been his target. The Holy nature of God required Him to clearly establish His laws, obedience to which were to be the hallmark of the Israelites.
Leading the commandments is, “Do not have other gods besides me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them…” (Exodus 20:3-5)
The Devil always finds great satisfaction in causing God’s chosen people who He loves, to disobey His first set of instructions, to their own peril. As in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, the Devil will never tell God’s people to “Disobey God”. Instead, “Did God really say…?” seems to be a home-run every time. Every single idol and physical representation of God is an agent of the Devil, and he knows how to make the pleasures of sin attractive, for a season.
Today, we have what the Israelites did not have. We have the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit Himself living in us. We still can’t see God, but we can definitely experience Him so intimately, that He becomes very real and personal to us. But the Devil’s agenda is the same for us as it was for the Israelites. Whenever we disobey God’s instructions, regardless of the reason or rationale, the Devil scores.
Today, God’s prevailing attribute is grace and mercy. This means that our disobedience will grieve the Holy Spirit by whom we are sealed unto the day of redemption.
As we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may we walk worthy of the superior relationship that we now enjoy with the Messiah.
Remember to visit RBC’s Our Daily Bread Devotional today at www.ODB.org