The Dilemma of a Loving God

Judges 2:11-23 provides a rare cross-sectional summary of the relationship between God and His chosen people Israel in the initial period of their living in the Promised Land of Canaan. Judges 2:11 begins with the downward spiral into sin. Joshua had succeeded Moses and faithfully led the Israelites. But then he too died.   Before he died he set before the people a summary of all they had experienced and laid before them the binary choice of serving the idols of their enemies or Jehovah God (Joshua 24:15).

And what did the Israelites say?  “Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods…” (Joshua 24:16)   Not only did they answer Joshua, arguably with good intentions, but they indicated that they understood the gravity of their decision by citing reasons why they would follow the Lord. Then of interest is Joshua’s reverse psychology, or prophetic utterance in Joshua 24:19-20  – “You are not able to serve the Lord…”

But nothing that Joshua could say could deter them, or for that matter cause them to be more reflective. So again in Joshua 24:21 we read – “But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Because of the degree of seriousness that Joshua attached to this covenant that the people were renewing with the Lord, he said in Joshua 24:22 – “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”  And the people replied, “Yes, we are witnesses.” (Joshua 24:22)

But then, based on the recorded text, Joshua erred. Look at Joshua 24:23-24 – “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel. And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

That is the last we heard about the foreign gods that were among them. I was a little surprised by this verse because it suggests that while Joshua was exhorting the Israelites to vow to serve the Lord in the future, they were worshipping false gods at that moment. If my conclusion is right, it would seem that Joshua would have needed to do a 2 PART presentation.  The first Part would witness an initial commitment to serve the Lord accompanied by a national purging of all foreign gods, symbolically burnt in a public place for all to see. With the present state of worship having been corrected, then Part 2 could continue as Joshua proceeded to do. In Judges 2:24, the people said they will (future) serve the lord, although they were presently worshipping false gods.

It is against this backdrop, that we read Judges 2:11 after Joshua and his generation died. The clear inference is that while Joshua was alive, the Israelites served God, but we have no record of that right-about-turn that characterizes repentance and revival and establishes a landmark to which future generations can look.

The cycle described in this passage played itself out time and time again. First, the Israelites rebelled and disobeyed God, interestingly enough, primarily in the area of idolatry and its associated evils. Secondly, God angrily punishes them using slavery, military defeat, capture and a host of options at His disposal to bring them to repentance.  Thirdly, under the weight and burden of the punishment, they get the message, and cry out to the Lord, but with a caveat that I will address shortly. Thirdly, God delivers them, usually through Judges who He raises up, and in at least one outstanding case, the King of a heathen nation. Fourthly, when the Judge dies, they return to their idolatrous ways and start the cycle all over again.


But note what happens between the first and second parts of the cycle. Judges 2:15 indicates the source and cause of their distress.   The Lord fought against them. But there is no mention of their repenting in this passage. In fact, Judges 2:17 is most indicative. “Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them.”    Put another way, even during the life-time of the Judges, they restrained their behavior, but never repented, and turned from their wicked ways.   The result being that the moment the restraining influence of the Judge was removed – “… the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them (Judges 2:19).

To the extent that God is capable of the human emotion of frustration, He said, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” (Judges 2:21-22).

It took the oppression of the Assyrians and Babylonians to finally bring Israel to its senses… but oh, how many precious opportunities for fellowship with their God were squandered in the process.

So much for the Israelites. What about us? Is God working with us in an area in our life that we need to do some renovation, remodeling or demolition? As with the Israelites, God’s motivation for all His actions with His people is love. Because He wants us dedicated to Himself, in love He will sell us into slavery.  In love He would cause our enemies to defeat us. In love He will bring great distress on us. Ultimately, all of these punishments are valid only in this life and for a few years.  God is negotiating an eternity of fellowship with His people. Following and fellowshipping with Him is a far better choice than is fighting with Him.

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