Judges 2:6-3:6 | Week 2 | Amnesia and Apostasy

Forgetting God
It’s not hard to forget the things of God. When we choose to sin, we are forgetting God. When we choose to change or underreport our income for tax purposes, we do that after we’ve decided to forget what God says about his care and ability to provide for his children. When we engage in sexual immoral practices (pornography, pre-martial sex, adultery, homosexuality, etc.) we first must forget what God has said and promised about purity and the sufficiency of Jesus.
 
The action of sin is preceded by the forgetting of God, who he is, who he says you are, and what he promises his children.
 
Or put another way: Spiritual amnesia will always lead to spiritual apostasy.
 
The Next Generation (vv 2:6-3:6)
This next section of Judges is best read as running parallel to Chapter 1 through 2:5. This is another introduction but it also keys us into patterns in the book as well. If you overlay this section with the first, you’ll immediately see the source, the reason this all went south so quickly.
 
It starts with Joshua and then moves to describe the type of faithlessness the Israelites displayed. The author is going to make clear the source of their rebellion, how they rebel, how God deals with this rebellion, and how Israel responds to God. The author here will give us five different characteristics of this infamous generation.
 
The Generation that Forgot God (vv. 2:6-10)
“6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”
 
This account starts with Joshua in verse six sending the tribes to their inheritance. The people have renewed their covenant (Joshua 24) with God to obey and worship him and now they head off to take their inheritance. The verses then begin tell us a little more about Joshua’s life and leadership. Apparently he was a pretty effective soldier and spiritual leader.
 
The author notes that Israel not only  served the Lord all the days of Joshua but also all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua. This was the generation that had walked across the Jordan River. This was the generation that saw the first battle one by horns and a few long walks around Jericho. Their faith was bolstered by sight and strengthened by Joshua’s leadership. The author notes that he lived until he was 110 years old and he died and then other faithful generation died.
 
This almost seems immaterial to the story – why do we care about how faithful Israel was under Joshua and why do we care that the next generation also served the Lord?
 
Because of the second half of verse 10 “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” The author has created a stark contrast between the generations – the first generation, led by Joshua was faithful and served the Lord and remembered his mighty works and this faith was mirrored and replicated in the next generation – the second generation, by contrast, didn’t know the Lord or know of his good works.
 
Saving Faith vs. Faithless Facts
How is it possible that a whole generation of boys and girls grow up in Israel without a knowledge of God or a history of what he had done? The answer isn’t that they didn’t know, it’s that they didn’t believe in the God of those stories in the God of their fathers. They didn’t acknowledge him. These stories were no longer relevant to their lives. Their belief in God was wrapped up in the civil religiosity of the day.
 
They confused knowledge with belief and this is the point the author is underscoring here — while they knew God they did not trust or believe him like their fathers. This is the problem that would set the stage for the rest of the book.
 
This is the root cause of the problem in Israel’s day and it’s the root cause of problems in our own society, in our own church, and in our lives. When the mistake is made of confusing simple knowledge of facts with saving faith, the person stands at the precipice of a deep craggy descent where the next step is sure to send us tumbling over the edge onto the rocks below beaten and bloodied by sin. The chorus of Scripture, friends and family implores them not to take that step. The person knows the facts, yet doesn’t acknowledge they have any bearing on their situation. 
 
This generation of Israelites forgot God and that led to some disastrous consequences. 
 
The Generation that Abandoned God (vv. 11-13)
11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.” 
 
The Israelites spiritual amnesia led to spiritual apostasy. They traded in a legacy of faith for a legacy of Idolatry. God found their idolatry to be evil. And be very clear in the measurement of evil – it’s God’s holy standard, it’s his judgement of the situation that declares something evil. Not the Israelites inclinations or desires or wanderings but the holy standard of God. It’s not whether or not the Israelites were inclusive enough, progressive enough, or whether or not the culture welcomed their actions — it came down to whether or not they followed God’s objective standard of holiness. 
 
In verse 11, The people forget about God and run to Baal who was best known as the god of fertility not only for men and women but for the land as well. He was the Canaanite god of choice. The Canaanites were poly-theistic but Baal was especially prevalent and he was a god the Israelites had succumbed to earlier in the book of Numbers.
 
The author continues to describe the rejection and uses the word “abandoned” twice in these three verses once in 12 and once in 13 both to describe how complete their rejection of God was. In verse 12 the rejection is not just of God but also what God has done – the God of their fathers, the God who delivered them from Egypt and “walked towards” other gods. They turned their back toward God and pursued blessing and comfort from many other gods.
 
Note the progression. First it was just Baal, then it was all the rest of the gods. Sin always wants more.
 
This passage mentions gods by group but also mentions another god by name: Ashtaroth. Baal was the male god of fertility and so naturally, he requires a companion god and Ashtaroth is it. It is this coupling that made Baal worship so troublesome for the Israelites. Here they are settling the land, putting shovel to ground, tilling the soil, planting the seed and praying for rain to God. All the while their pagan counterparts head into the local Baal temple and attempt to coax him into action.
 
Baal temples were essentially brothels. The men would come to the temple either hoping for fertility of land or fertility of family or prosperity in wealth and they would sleep with a temple prostitute. The hope was that Baal and Ashteroth would be watching. If they were watching, maybe they’d be stirred to sleep together and as a result Baal would act as fertility god and bring rain for the land or baby for the womb or prosperity for the bank. I mention this not to be crass but to underline that in verse 17 when it describes Israel as “whoring” themselves out — it’s not just spiritual but actual self-debasement.
 
One other Canaanite god is worth mentioning because worship of him became one of the chief abominations of Israelite worship of other gods. Molech was a god that is mentioned often in tandem with Baal and is mentioned a few times as being worshipped by the Israelites. The reason this Molech worship was so repugnant was that the primary way he was worshipped was by the burning of children. Child sacrifice. Molech required children to be sacrificed in order to be appeased. As objectionable as that is, as horrifying as it is, and as distant as it sounds, we find ourselves today on “Sanctity of Life Sunday” having to remind the surrounding culture that life is valuable.
 
We may not have shrines to Molech but we are sacrificing our children on the altars of convenience, lifestyle, self protection, and financial expediency.
 
60 Million
Joseph Stalin said this of men dying: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million men is a statistic.” In the 44 years since the Roe vs. Wade decision to make legal the killing of babies in the womb, there have been some 60 million babies whose lives have been taken. Murdered. 60 million. Stalin was right. How do we even quantify that? Hard to wrap our minds around but let’s give it a shot.
 
Take the population of Washington state, Oregon, and California and just get rid of them. That’d roughly be half. Then add Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and finally Utah. Take them too. That’s 60 million people. Ten states wiped off the map. 60 million innocent taken. 
 
In Genesis 1:27, we find God creating humanity in his own image which means that all life has dignity and inherent worth because God gives it to them. Each and every human ever born. Psalm 139 paints a beautiful picture of God creating life in the womb. The psalmist exclaims at how God knows him, even in the womb. Scripture again and again points to the dignity of man in the image of God and God as the giver of life in the womb. God regards that baby as life and as a person worthy of dignity and protection. 
 
There is no biblical allowance for that life to be snuffed out by the hands of man.
 
That’s not a popular truth. It’s so unpopular that women marched in unity against it this past weekend. But this is really the point isn’t it? If we forget the truth of Scripture that God is the creator, that our dignity and our worth is given to us by him, we’ll find ourselves 40 years down the road with 60 million more. And the culture will applaud our progressiveness and our tolerance. To be sure, this is an biblically unacceptable alliance.
 
It bears mentioning here that if you’ve had an abortion, there is forgiveness at the cross of Christ. Romans 5:20 reminds all of us that God’s grace super exceeds our sin. Which means there is no sin for which the blood of Christ doesn’t offer complete and total forgiveness. None. Not one. If you’ve had an abortion, come to Jesus and find freedom and forgiveness. Find your sin and shame paid for and removed. Jesus died for your sin, allow him to work forgiveness in your heart.
 
The church should be known for our steadfast faithfulness to Scripture instead of being caught up in the fickle winds of cultural tolerance. Stand for life, not because it’s political but because it’s biblical. Let us not be counted like the Israelites who forsook truth in order to pursue fleeting dalliances with dead deities.

The Generation that was Punished by God (vv. 14-15)

14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.”
 
Israel’s abandonment of God made him angry. The Lord is a jealous God. Imagine, if you will, that a man and a woman are married. And after about ten years the wife comes to the husband and says I’ve been cheating on you with another man for the past five years and I’m going to leave you for him. After hearing this, the husband says, ok, that sounds good. It was great knowing you.
 
What would you think of the husband? You’d think that he doesn’t actually love his wife. The reaction to being betrayed in such a way, if there’s love present, is anger and jealousy that the one you loved has left you for another. The Hebrew describes the nostrils of the Lord burning with anger at their rebellion. He is jealous because his children are pursuing other gods. 
 
In response to their rebellion, God flips the script. Instead of giving the Canaanites over to the Israelites, God gives over his children to the Canaanites as punishment. Their punishment is to be subjected to violence and oppression by the one’s they were tasked with removing.
 
God’s actions were not capricious, they were not rash, they were the promised actions of a faithful God to a rebellious nation. The covenant that was renewed was that if the people obeyed, they would be blessed but if they disobeyed they would be cursed – they would suffer the anger and discipline of God. In this case, they knew this was a consequence they didn’t believe it because they didn’t really believe in God but they soon found out how faithful and true God was to his word.
 
The Generation that was Delivered by God (vv. 16-19)
16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.”
God is gracious. God loves his children. The end of verse 15 has Israel in a bad way. The text says Israel is in distress. It is because of this distress that God acts. Verse 18 shows that God was moved by their groaning. God takes pity on them and raises up judges for their deliverance. Note that he’s not acting on their repentance – the author uses the word groaning deliberately and surrounds it with how Israel continued on in its apostasy.
 
The discipline, however, doesn’t have the desired effect, actually they became more rebellious, more idolatrous, more addicted to the worship of these lesser deities. Their rebellion was so complete that verse nineteen notes that not only did the not drop their practices but that their rebellion increased!
 
The Edge of the Cliff
It’s like if Israel stood at the precipice of a cliff walked off, felt the exhilaration of the fall, fell 10 feet and broke their ankle, started screaming for help. EMS comes pulls them up, sets the break, and casts them up. EMS leaves and Israel stands up, hobbles toward the edge, and Israel remembers the exhilaration of the fall. Naturally, they want more so they jump off to fall further. They fall 20 feet dislocate their shoulder, shatter their forearm and crack a couple of ribs. They cry out, EMS comes, retrieves them and patches them up and leaves. They stand up, walk to the edge, remembering the exhilaration, they slowly back up and then hobble forward hoping the forward momentum will carry you further so they can experience the exhilaration of the fall longer.

This is Israel. This is their rebellion. Each set of groaning the results of their own rebellion. Each descent into more and worse rebellion their own chasing of the high that comes with sitting on the throne.

Their deliverance was only a temporary balm for a generation that craved injury.

The Generation that was Tested by God. (vv. 20-3:5)
 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua. Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.”
 
What’s interesting here is that God never leaves Israel. As you read through Judges, you’ll find yourself amazed at the lack of concern Israel has and you’ll wonder why God doesn’t leave just start over.
 
Remember the word “abandon” from verses 12, 13? Well that same Hebrew word is used again in verse 21. In verse 20 God basically says, I’m keeping my side of the covenant, you broke it, you ran from me, you chased the tail of Baal, so I’m abandoning the plan to give this generation the land. Verse 21 he says “I will no longer drive out” that the Hebrew word to abandon. He’s abandoning the Canaanite eviction plan so that he can use them to test the obedience of Israel. God’s plan was to use warfare to teach Israel dependence on God. God was giving this generation the opportunity to obey so he might show them the mighty works they didn’t believe were possible. Instead, as the end of chapter 3 shows us that, the Israelites were given the opportunity to pass the test but they married into the Canaanite families and threw themselves at the feet of the Canaanite gods.
This whole story, this is the story of judges. This cycle will repeat itself over and over again. The people sin, they suffer, God delivers, and they increase in sin.
 
Don’t Forget!
Much of these first two chapters are a warning to us today. Why study Judges? Because we live in a country where we need to have a day set aside to herald the sanctity of life. That is symptomatic of a deeper problem. Christians inhabit a culture that has rejected God and his precepts. What’s worse is that many of us have forgotten God in favor of being applauded by the culture for our tolerance and progressiveness. This is the source of the problem today. It’s the same as it was for the Israelites. A generation that forgets God makes compromises for the sake of acceptance. Changing our culture starts with remembering who God is, who he says we are, how he saved us, and why he saved us. It filters up through the family, then through the church, and then to the culture. Forsaking truth for cultural acceptance is destructive, just ask the Israelites.