Lessons from the Israelites

Do you ever read about God’s people in the Old Testament and wonder, what were they thinking? From the moment God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, God guided His people. Like a shepherd, He led His sheep through the desert despite their stupidity and disobedience. Even though He didn’t have to do so, He proved Himself time and time again. He opened up the sea for the people to walk safely through, provided food in the wilderness, and gave them clear commandments because He loved them. He provided Moses, Joshua, and other leaders with wisdom and strength. Yet, here I am, reading in Judges 2, that “another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors who brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord” (Judges 2:10-12). I honestly get outraged at the Israelites, and I wonder why God didn’t just give up on them. Then I realize that there are sometimes similarities between the way that I live and the way the Israelites were living here in Judges. God has provided all that I need, and He has been a shepherd in the wilderness time and time again, yet I have looked up more than once to realize that I am living, or making decisions, in a way that doesn’t honor Him. Perhaps I have some lessons to learn from the Israelites’ behavior and God’s response to it. Let’s take a look at this passage and the truth God teaches us from it.

      The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said to the Israelites, “I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.” When the angel of the Lord finished speaking to all the Israelites, the people wept loudly. So they called the place Bokim (which means “weeping”), and they offered sacrifices there to the Lord. (Judges 2:1-5)

  1. The Lord expects us to fulfill our end of the covenant.

In Exodus 19 and 20, God clearly lays out the covenant with His people. He gave the people Ten Commandments, and the first one said “you must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3). Now, years later, there is a generation that hasn’t been taught the commandments and disobeyed God. They turned to other gods, but they expected the Lord to continue fighting their battles. Since they didn’t fulfill their part, God told them He would quit driving out their enemies. In a covenant, all parties must do what they agreed to do, and the Israelites did not fulfill that. Although our covenant with God looks different today, He still requires that we do our part. Jeremiah prophesied about this new covenant, saying, “’The day is coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:31-32). Jesus further explained this during the Last Supper to His disciples: “’This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you’” (Luke 22:20). The old covenant that God made with His people depended on animal sacrifices, but it was replaced with a new covenant that depends on Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus died in the place of all sinners, and it removed all the sin from those who believe in Him. It will never have to be repeated. This new covenant allows us to have a relationship with God and direct access to Him through Jesus’ blood. Like any relationship, it’s two-sided, and if we want to maintain it, we must do our part. Our part of the new covenant is to believe in Jesus, have faith in Him, and obey Him. While it is simple, it’s not always easy. So often we turn to other gods like the Israelites did. It may be less obvious than a golden statue, but don’t let that fool you. Good things like money, fame, scheduling and relationships can become idols and make us break that covenant with God. We must destroy these idols and worship the one, true God.

     After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.

     The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshipping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord. They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth. This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them. Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned. And the people were in great distress. (Judges 2:10-15)

2. The Lord can/will fight against us.

Well, that’s a kick in the stomach. Wait, what about when Moses said, “the Lord will fight FOR you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14 emphasis, mine)? The Lord is so good and loving. Could He really fight against us? The answer is here in Judges, and it makes me squirm a little. However, when I started digging into why God is willing to do this, it tells me a lot about His character as God of the universe. All of creation was crafted for God’s glory. When we aren’t fulfilling that purpose, we’re going to be unsatisfied. For the Israelites, this led to the worship of idols. If we, the creation, are unsatisfied (perhaps without acknowledging it), how much more will our Creator be?

The people knew the scriptures. Their ancestors followed after God completely. This generation was being disobedient. If they weren’t going to come to Him through the scriptures, it would have to be through defeat. The Lord wants our hearts so badly that He fights against us for them. He warned His children that this would happen. Who warns someone before they fight against them? Only God. In an effort to turn His people back to Him, He fought against them. We must remember that God’s ultimate desire is to be glorified through His relationship with us. If we are disobeying Him, He will do what it takes to make us realize our need for Him. He knows we are at our best when we’re doing what we were made to do: glorify Him.

     Then the Lord raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers. Yet Israel did not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves by worshiping other gods. How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.

     Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. 

3. The Lord is merciful to us.

If you started doubting the Lord’s goodness and love in point two, come back into the fold and see how merciful God was to the Israelites. In their disobedience, God raised up leaders to rescue Israel. The Israelites had been led by Moses and Joshua. Now that they were gone, Israel was lost spiritually. God sent leaders to try and fulfill the people’s need for a human leader. In His compassion, He provided. Once again, however, Israel disregarded this act of mercy and continued to sin.

Don’t we do the same? God provides in our distress, we don’t even say thank you, and we continue sinning. God must feel so unappreciated. He knows who He is and how awesome He is. He doesn’t need us to worship Him, but oh how He desires His creation to seek Him. Ask Him to show you the places where He has been merciful in your life when you deserved much worse. When he does, thank Him and repent.

     So the Lord burned with anger against Israel. He said, “Because these people have violated my covenant, which I made with their ancestors, and have ignored my commands, I will no longer drive out the nations that Joshua left unconquered when he died. I did this to test Israel—to see whether or not they would follow the ways of the Lord as their ancestors did.” That is why the Lord left those nations in place. He did not quickly drive them out or allow Joshua to conquer them all” (Judges 2:20-23).

4. The Lord tests us.

God is best glorified in us when we look more like His son, Jesus, “who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8). When we have a character like Jesus’, God is better glorified, and we have a closer relationship with Him. He tests us to produce that character. James tells us that “when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:3-4). You may be asking, how do I know that God is testing me? Rick Warren, author of What on Earth Am I Here For?, wrote, “Character is both developed and revealed by tests, and all of life is a test…We don’t know all the tests God will give you, but we can predict some of them, based on the Bible. You will be tested by major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticism, and even senseless tragedies.” God’s always watching us, wanting us to make decisions that glorify Him. Some tests may seem bigger than others, but all are important. Thankfully, Paul told us that “no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). We must bear in mind that God tests us, and wants each and every decision we make to honor Him.

As I examined my heart, I realized how similar it is to that of the Israelites. Although God has led me through the desert and been so merciful to me, at times I still find myself turning towards false gods. God provided these Scriptures to teach us about Him, His covenant and His people. We can do nothing to earn His love or make Him like us more. We’re going to continue to make mistakes daily. Thankfully, if you have given yourself to Jesus, you are under the new covenant, which means Jesus graciously paid the price for every sin you will ever commit. He calls us to honor Him and trust Him in every circumstance. Whether we’re in the bleak desert, thirsty for encouragement, or the green valley, satisfied in His love, He asks us to obey Him. I hope this Scripture has taught us to heed His warning, fulfill our part of the gracious covenant, and live each day knowing that He desires a personal relationship built on His grace and our obedience.

 

Warren, Richard. The Purpose-driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Pam Patterson says:

    Thank you, Hannah. I appreciated reading your thoughts on a subject that needs our attention.

    Liked by 1 person

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