Judges: Living Like Hell In The Land of Promise
The people obviously made a great start at living for God, but did they continue? The book of Judges gives us a glimpse at the nation of Israel after they had begun to possess the land. Do the Israelites live up to the promises they made to God and to Joshua in Shechem? Not exactly. The constant refrain of the book of Judges is, “then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2:11, 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1, 10:6; 13:1). It is a history that causes the reader to ask the question, “how can a holy God who demands loyalty and faithfulness put up with the evil and rebellion of the nation of Israel?” But a thoughtful Christian might look at his own life and see the same pattern of rebellion, repentance, and restoration as seen in the book of Judges. It is true that Christians struggle with sin, but notice the type of sin in which these Israelites were involved:
Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They FOLLOWED and WORSHIPED various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths (Judges 2:11-13 emphasis mine).
Imagine, on your most sinful day, are you tempted to stop at the local Mosque or Buddhist temple to worship another god? The Israelites actually bowed down to pagan gods and perhaps participated in human sacrifice in the process of their “worship.” Let’s look at another sin the Israelites were involved in:
The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served other gods (Judges 3:5-6).
Blatant idolatry and intermarrying with God’s enemies were the two big and consistent sins that plagued the Israelites. These are not the normal sins that Christians struggle with. To go and actually worship another God and give yourself over to the immoral practices that these Canaanite religions required, not to mention marrying into a people that God has marked as His enemy fit only for destruction is more than just a day to day struggle to live for Christ. This is out and out hardened unbelief that we would be surprised to see in the most wicked pagan. This sort of sin was being committed by the nation as a whole, punctuated only by brief periods of repentance, and it went on for a period of about 300 years!
Israel and Her Kings
The books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings portray the nation of Israel as even worse than the book of Judges! In rejecting the prophet and last Judge, Samuel, the people of Israel are said to be rejecting God Himself:
And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you (1 Samuel 8:7-8).
Although that doesn’t sound like a good report about Israel, a golden age is about to begin for Israel when David is made king. Perhaps this godly king can redeem the tarnished reputation of the nation of Israel. Perhaps it is after this point in history that we can then understand Israel as a believing people rejoicing in God their savior. As we examine the history of this period and God’s own evaluation of Israel, we will find Israel once again to be lacking the qualities of true children of God. God promises David an everlasting dynastic kingdom (2 Samuel 7:6-16). We see a seeming fulfillment of this promise as we enter the golden age for Israel. The borders expand under David and under Solomon in his early years. In short, we see economic prosperity for Israel that is unprecedented. But as history moves on we see the people of Israel engaging more and more in idolatry and immorality. Of course leading the way in this sin is unfaithful king after unfaithful king. After the division of Israel and Judah, God first pours out his wrath on Israel by exiling them using the Assyrians (722 B.C.) as His chosen instrument. Then Judah is next to experience the wrath of God for their rebellion when He sends in the Babylonians to clean house in 586 B.C. We are not left to our own imaginations to interpret exactly what God was saying to the Israelites when this happened. God makes it clear that this was not simply His fatherly and loving hand of discipline but rather his wrath against unbelievers:
The Lord said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger FROM THE DAY THEIR FOREFATHERS CAME OUT OF EGYPT UNTIL THIS DAY (2 Kings 21:10-15 emphasis mine).
Here we have clear biblical evidence of God’s own evaluation of the nation of Israel from the time of their inception until the time of the exile of Judah. They were a wicked and unbelieving people from the first day until the last. There seems to be no room to call them a believing nation. But for the die-hard supporter of the position that the nation of Israel is seen in Scripture to be a believing people, an attempt at “redeeming” national Israel might be made by looking to the post-exilic days of Ezra and Nehemiah as the days in which the people did truly turn to God and become a nation of believers. Yet, even after all of the attempts at reform, we find Nehemiah beating people for their rebelliousness:
Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “Your are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? (Nehemiah 13:23-27).
We have seen that the entire history of Israel reveals the nation of Israel as an unfaithful, rebellious and unbelieving people. In each significant historical epoch of the Old Covenant era, Israel turns away from God and is judged accordingly. We now need to turn our attention to the New Testament and see if once again test our thesis that Israel as a whole is viewed in Scripture as an unbelieving people against the Word of God.