"and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers" - Judges 2:12a
The first two chapters of the book of Judges serve as a prologue and lay out for us the basic reasons why revivals are needed. These opening chapters reveal why God’s people went down spiritually and why it was necessary for God to revive them once they repented.
Relying on People – the arm of the flesh - Not God
1 Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?” 2 And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.” 3 So Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me to my allotted territory, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I will likewise go with you to your allotted territory.” And Simeon went with him.
After Joshua died the children of Israel asked the Lord who should go up against the Canaanites first. God said Judah should go up. God didn’t say “Judah and Simeon.” He said, “Judah.” And God said, “I have delivered the land into his hand.” God delivered the land into Judah’s hand, not Judah and Simeon’s hand. The reason I point this out is that the children of Israel did right by seeking direction from God. But they didn’t listen close enough to what God said. God confirmed the land was as good as delivered into the hand of Judah. But Judah leaned on the arm of the flesh in their kin from Simeon. God called Judah. But Judah didn’t have enough faith to rely on God without the help of the arm of the flesh.
We see this happen in ministry when someone feels called to ministry, but then they call around looking for someone to support them financially. The Biblical model for ministry is that those called into ministry should be willing to work. Paul was a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). Peter, James and John were fishermen (Mark 1:16, 19). Where God guides God provides. And God often provides by opening the door to employment outside of ministry.
There’s nothing wrong with working outside of ministry to support oneself and family until ministry demands prohibit work outside of the ministry and the ministry is able to financially support the minister. If ministers seek to rely on their ministry (e.g. church) they run the risk of burdening that ministry. Ministers should never be a burden to the ministry they serve in. There is a certain amount of sacrifice and denying of self that comes with ministry. It’s sad to sometimes see that the same entitlement mentality that much of the world has is also seen in the church; in ministry. There is much to be learned, character to be built in ministry and God uses sacrifice to do that. Don’t be cheated of what God wants to do by adopting worldly mindsets (cf. Col. 2:8). The ministry and Christianity should transcend worldliness. That’s because we love the Lord and He provides for us (1 John 2:15-17).
Bi-vocational arrangements often open the door to further ministry. There were certain women who were in Jesus company of disciples who “provided for Him from their substance” (Luke 8:1-3). But nowhere do we see Jesus soliciting for support the way some do in our day. There is a place for missionary support by others than the missionary. But there is also a place for employment to meet one’s needs. God will supply all our needs in Christ (Phil. 4:19).
The first indication that a problem was arising among God’s people was that while the children of Israel sought the Lord about who should march out first to complete the final stage of the conquest of the Land, the first action once a tribe is chosen was to rely on another tribe for help instead of seeking God’s help. Judah is chosen and the first thing Judah does is seek for Simeon to join them in their mission. Yes, this may be taken as unity of tribes. But before unity comes the priority of seeking the Lord and being strengthened by Him. By seeking Simeon first Judah was relying on an arm of the flesh. And when God’s people begin to lean more on the arm of the flesh than God Himself, a revival is needed.
4 Then Judah went up, and the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they killed ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 And they found Adoni-Bezek in Bezek, and fought against him; and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. 6 Then Adoni-Bezek fled, and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 And Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to gather scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.” Then they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.
God gave Judah and Judah’s helper Simeon victory over the Canaanites. They captured the notorious Adoni-Bezek, (or literally lord of the place called Bezek) who had cut the thumbs and big toes off of seventy kings he had defeated. Sometimes God works in spite of us.
8 Now the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem and took it; they struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. 9 And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who dwelt in the mountains, in the South, and in the lowland. 10 Then Judah went against the Canaanites who dwelt in Hebron. (Now the name of Hebron was formerly Kirjath Arba.) And they killed Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai.
11 From there they went against the inhabitants of Debir. (The name of Debir was formerly Kirjath Sepher.)
When we rely on human resources we can experience a measure of victory. We may even be able to defeat and enemy. Adoni-Bezek was defeated and justice was served. Jerusalem and the inhabitants of Debir were taken. But still there was a seed of a problem sown that would crop up later.
War in Faith or the Flesh?
12 Then Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” 13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. 14 Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” 15 So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
Caleb reminds us of a man who was strong and courageous in faith even in his later years. To marry into Caleb’s family was a great prize and Othniel won that prize. He demonstrated a similar courageous faith as his uncle Caleb had.
Caleb represents the faithful remnant that God always leaves to perpetuate His truth and way. Here God through Caleb is identifying a man of courage and faith, a model to be followed. Caleb warred in faith not the flesh and God blessed him. When people disregard the Caleb’s God puts in place, a revival is needed.
16 Now the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the City of Palms with the children of Judah into the Wilderness of Judah, which lies in the South near Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.
The Kenites were not Israelites. They were descendants of Moses’ father in law Jethro (Exodus 18). Jethro had been a pagan priest from Midian. Jethro apparently gave his heart to the LORD while with Moses. But perhaps some of the descendants of Jethro who remained with God’s people continued in their pagan practices. If so, this may have been a detriment to God’s people. God never ordered the eviction of Jethro’s descendants so we can’t be dogmatic about this. But it is a possibility.
An Incomplete Effort
17 And Judah went with his brother Simeon, and they attacked the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah. 18 Also Judah took Gaza with its territory, Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19 So the Lord was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron. 20 And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had said. Then he expelled from there the three sons of Anak. 21 But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
God was with Judah and Simeon and they were successful, for the most part. But the first signs of a problem come when we see “but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron” (1:19). God had defeated the chariots of Egypt (Exodus 13-14). In the initial conquest of Canaan led by Joshua Canaanites armed with chariots had been defeated before (Joshua 11). Why not now? It states they had chariots of iron but this wouldn’t have proven insurmountable for the Lord. We are also told that Benjamin “did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem” (1:21).
22 And the house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23 So the house of Joseph sent men to spy out Bethel. (The name of the city was formerly Luz.) 24 And when the spies saw a man coming out of the city, they said to him, “Please show us the entrance to the city, and we will show you mercy.” 25 So he showed them the entrance to the city, and they struck the city with the edge of the sword; but they let the man and all his family go. 26 And the man went to the land of the Hittites, built a city, and called its name Luz, which is its name to this day.
The tribe house of Joseph went up against Bethel/Luz and defeated the city with the help of some reconnaissance from an inhabitant of the city. In payment for his cooperation they showed him mercy. Notice they didn’t seek the Lord’s advice on this. This man and his family it states “went to the land of the Hittites, built a city, and called its name Luz” (1:26). Seems harmless enough, until you read in Judges 3:5-6 that the Hittites and the other people groups that were incompletely defeated because a temptation. Israel intermarried with them and “served their gods.”
Incomplete work, even when clothed in mercy, if it does not follow God’s orders, is disobedient and destined for problems. And we see further incomplete efforts from the other tribes as well in the following verses.
27 However, Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. 28 And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites under tribute, but did not completely drive them out.
29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.
30 Nor did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites dwelt among them, and were put under tribute.
31 Nor did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob. 32 So the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out.
33 Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or the inhabitants of Beth Anath; but they dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were put under tribute to them.
34 And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains, for they would not allow them to come down to the valley; 35 and the Amorites were determined to dwell in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim; yet when the strength of the house of Joseph became greater, they were put under tribute.
36 Now the boundary of the Amorites was from the Ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela, and upward.
Manasseh failed to completely drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shean and others (1:27-28). Ephraim didn’t completely drive out those who dwelt in Gezer (1:29). And the same is true for Zebulun (1:30), Asher (1:31-32), and Naphtali (1:33). The tribe of Dan were forced into the mountains; forced out of a portion of their inheritance. They were successfully resisted by the determined efforts of the Amorites (1:34-35). Anytime the unsaved can successfully resist God’s people it indicates a problem with God’s people. The problem is not with God but with His people.
When the work God gives is done incompletely it is a sign that revival is needed. When God’s people show evidence of weakness or being overcome by their enemies, it is a sign that something is wrong and revival from God is needed to right the wrongs.
2 Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. 2 And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? 3 Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ ” 4 So it was, when the Angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 Then they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to the Lord. 6 And when Joshua had dismissed the people, the children of Israel went each to his own inheritance to possess the land.
Let’s review a bit of how we got to this point:
1. The downward spiral begins with relying on people (the arm of the flesh) before God (1:3)
2. It continues with allowing unbelievers to camp with you (1:16f.)
3. It continues with a lack of faith in God that leads to being unable to drive out the enemy (1:19)
4. It continues with a lack of drive or passion to care to deal with resident enemies (1:21).
5. It continues with incomplete efforts to fulfill God’s plans (1:27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33).
6. And it continues to the point where they were forced out of some of their inheritance (1:34).
What follows is outright evil. It is very dangerous to open the door of disobedience even a crack. When you do, it’s usually not long before whole scale rebellion against God takes over.
The Angel of the LORD in Judges 2 is Jesus in a Christophany. And Jesus points out the problem in no uncertain words. He reminds them of how in Egypt they had been victorious when they relied in faith on Him for victory. He reminded them of the covenant with God and that God had been faithful to keep the covenant (2:1). He reminded them that the covenant stipulated they were not to enter into covenant with the pagan inhabitants of Canaan. Instead they were to pull down their pagan altars. “But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this?” (2:2). Why? Because they allowed themselves to grow cold in their faith. They allowed themselves to drift from the Lord and the first step of such drifting was relying on people first instead of God first.
What was the consequence of their lack of faith, their backsliding? Jesus would not drive out the Canaanite enemies but would leave them in place to, “be thorns in your side, and the gods shall be a snare to you” (2:3).
When the people heard this they cried out to the Lord and wept (2:4). They even named the place “Bochim” or weeping. They sacrificed to the Lord and then were dismissed by Joshua to return to their homes. One wonders if their tears were not more like those of Cain who wept because he lost the inheritance and blessing; he was sorry for his loss but not sorry enough to repent (Hebrews 12:16-17). We see no genuine godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). What we will see is a repeated going down into sin and backsliding from the Lord. And disobedience to God and His word is a sure sign that a revival is needed.
Signs of a Breakdown in the Family
7 So 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 works of the Lord which He had done for Israel. 8 Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died when he was one hundred and ten years old. 9 And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Heres, in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. 10 When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.
Joshua their leader died. They buried him. And with his burial was put to rest the knowledge of any relationship with God. It only takes one generation to not be taught to follow the Lord for a people to die out. Joshua and the people were evidently not attentive to or effective in discipling the next generation.
There are no grandchildren in heaven, only children of God. Each person has to decide where they stand with Jesus. Parents are entrusted with a precious stewardship; their children. Children are a gift from God, but He retains the rights to every one of them. He entrusts them to parents to train and disciple so that godly offspring in succeeding generations will perpetuate His glory (cf. Malachi 2:15). Joshua’s generation either failed miserably or the following generation was spiritually disinterested and particularly rebellious against the Lord. Probably a combination in some way.
Perhaps Joshua’s generation assumed that their children would simply absorb the truth of God by osmosis; by seeing the victories wrought in God. Parenting is not a passive task. Parenting must be active; hands on. God through Moses went into great detail about how the family was the center of learning about God; about teaching God’s word and who God is and how people can and should relate to Him (cf. Deuteronomy 6).
When the family unit breaks down in terms of its priority to train children to be godly then revival is needed. Revival restores priorities in the family. How’s your family? Are your children being taught and trained in the ways of God? Does your family need a revival?
11 Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals;
The word “evil” (Hebrew rawaw) means evil, displeasing, bad. It comes from the root word rawah which means spoil, breaking to pieces, good for nothing, bad, evil, The children of Israel turned their backs on God and began to serve other gods. They became spiritual adulterers forsaking the love of God for pagan idols. The proliferation of evil is another sure sign that revival is needed.
12 and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
The word “forsook” (Hebrews awzab) means to loosen, let go, relinquish. They let go of God and took hold of false gods. It’s as though they were anchored and steady in God and simply let go of Him and drifted into idolatry. If you are in the stream of life in order to prevent yourself from being taken with the current of the world you have to be anchored in the Lord. If you let go of that anchor you will drift away from God.
The inclination is to drift away not toward the Lord. That is why it’s so important to have a regular daily quiet time where you meet with the Lord with His open word before you. That quiet time anchors us and keeps us from drifting away. How sad it is when people let go of God. When you do, even for a moment, you will find yourself drifting. You will drift into lukewarmness, chronic negligence of the things of the Lord and then you will be ripe for the enemy to tempt you into some sin. Eventually as you digress in this downward spiral you will find yourself involved with depths of sin you never imagined you would give in to. Beware! Seek the Lord! Repent and be revived!
14 And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed.
When we forsake God, He will give us over to the enemy. And on our own before the enemy we will not stand. God did “as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them.” And they were “greatly distressed” (Hebrew yawtsar), pressed into a narrow place, and squeezed into a hard place, vexed. Whenever you turn your back on God life becomes difficult. God loves us enough to discipline us (e.g. Hebrews 12). There is a consequence to sinful choices (Gal. 6:7-9).
16 Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them.
But thanks be to God there is a “nevertheless.” That “nevertheless” points to God’s grace. God is merciful. He makes every effort to revive the backslider. He desires none to perish (2 Peter 3:9). By grace God raised up and raises up judges, people to offer us revival and restoration through.
17 Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. 18 And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of 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 oppressed them and harassed them. 19 And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.
If these last verses don’t tell us the story of humanity I don’t know what words do. God is merciful and waits with outstretched arms to receive us back and revive us. We come back, for a little while, and then revert right back to our old ways. And that’s so sad. God “was moved to pity by their groaning” (2:18). “Pity” (Hebrew nawkham) is a sigh, a sad sorry sigh. God’s people, because of their stiff necked and repeated rebellion and return to evil were reduced to groans under the weight of sin. Sin may have pleasure for a season (Hebrews 11:25), but any such pleasure passes and there is hell to pay and pain to experience. This gives God no enjoyment. It grieves Him deeply. He loves us. Like a parent of a prodigal He waits in hope for the return of the one who walks away into prodigal living (e.g. Luke 15).
20 Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.” 23 Therefore the Lord left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.
God knows the deceitful and depraved nature of our heat (Jeremiah 17:9-10). He knows that tough love is sometimes the only course of redemption. It angers the LORD to see the objects of His affection willfully choose to walk in evil and sin. So God leaves things in our life to test us, prove us, and prove the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-9). He will test us to bring us out to rich fulfillment (Psalm 66). It’s a hard life to live and a hard row to hoe when we leave the safety of the Lord and venture out on our own past the parameters of His word. That is our inclination. And the only way to change such a destination is repentance and revival. That is what we’ll see in the book of Judges.