God cares about His people. He wants them to have help following His ways. He sends them judges to bring them closer to Him and His will for them.
When I read the subtitle on our study today “The Lord Raises Up Judges” (from my ESV study bible) I was excited for the people. God was sending them help! He cared enough about their situation that He chose people to stand before the people and proclaim His truths, just as Joshua and Moses had done. These men and women would speak His words to the people and seek Him when judging between the people.
The very first verse tells us why they even bothered to listen to the judges. “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them” (verse 16). “For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them” (verse 18b). The people were being beaten up in battle. They were on the losing side because of their sin in chasing after other gods. God was giving them a way out; a way back.
But by the second verse in our reading I saw how this plan worked; NOT. “Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them” (verse 17a). They didn’t change their ways even though God reached out to help them. What really got me was this next section: “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 (verse 18a)… 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 (verse 19a).”
Talk about two steps forward and three steps back! I would venture to say that even when the judges were living there was still worship of foreign gods going on. It wasn’t as wide spread but it didn’t disappear. If it had then falling back into an even worse condition wouldn’t have been happening.
Wars with their neighbors was one of the NEON signs that Israel wasn’t following after their TRUE God. The “neighbors” were always there because Israel failed to drive them out completely like they were told to do. It wasn’t that they didn’t finish the campaigns to capture ALL the territory allotted to them but that they left survivors in the campaigns that they did do. Those survivors were allowed to pick up their lives where they left off, including worshiping their gods and bowing down to their idols.
Israel was told to tear down EVERY altar, cut down EVERY Ashtoreth pole, and break up EVERY idol. They failed to do this. They broke down many but they left a foothold for the false gods to reemerge. And when they reemerged through the survivors’ practices, many of the people of Israel crossed over to worshiping with them.
God had had enough! I don’t know how many judges are covered in this portion of scripture but I’m guessing it was quite a few. God got tired of playing their game. Fighting for them one minute and removing His hand the next because of their behavior. “Because this people have transgressed My covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed My voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 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” (verses 20b-22).
Some of the people would see defeat later on under the hand of godly kings, like David, but God wasn’t on the front lines for Israel like He used to be. The people’s commitment to Him would play directly into their success in battle EACH time.
The people’s behavior reminds me of trying to learn to use a yo-yo. When you are unskilled the yo-yo spends a LOT more time at the bottom of the string than the top. When you first release it (after stopping and hand winding it to the starting position) it goes down partway. You jerk your hand upward and the yo-yo begins to climb back up the string but it doesn’t make it to your hand before it starts its downward movement again. Depending on you skill level you can get several ‘near ups’ out before the yo-yo finally dangles at the end of the string. Each upward attempt was less and less and the downward motion was more and more (or worse and worse). Then you have to start all over with trying to wind the string by hand to bring life back into the yo-yo. Even that can be a challenge at times! And finally you surrender in frustration and don’t pick up the yo-yo again for a long time.
A skilled yo-yo master has mastered the art of returning the yo-yo to its starting position. Even when the yo-yo is at its furthest down the string, the master can bring amazing tricks from it and still return it to his hand with the flick of a wrist.
I AM NOT advocating your relationship with God be like a yo-yo, even under the hands of a master. Dipping into sin (downward) brings consequences. I was simply noticing the descent and final surrender of the inexperienced person and how it applied to Israel’s up and down with their enemies.
I’m GLAD God doesn’t really give up on us! Even at Israel’s lowest points He didn’t abandon them. He keeps calling out to us. But He also has to respect our choices. If we don’t respond to His call He won’t drag us back kicking and screaming. He will show us the difference He is prepared to enact in our lives if we will only obey but He won’t force us to choose one way or the other. The consequences of following Him or not are laid out before us. WE are free to choose. Will it be “Blessings” or “Curses”? The choice is up to you and me.
Following God doesn’t mean there are NEVER any tough days or hard spots in your life. What it does mean is that He is with you in each of them. Sometimes He calms the storm and sometimes He calms the child. Whatever the situation He is standing beside those who call Him Master, Savior, our one and only God.
Father God I PRAY there are not places in my life that You have said, “ENOUGH” in. Places where You throw up Your hands and say, “She will never learn!” I recognize some spots where I still have a strong battle to wage but even in these spots I can still hear Your Spirit calling to me to stand strong in YOUR way. Thank You for not letting those “enemies” reign over me!
Please don’t let me have a yo-yo relationship with You! I don’t want to get to the end of my string again and hang lifelessly. I have NEVER mastered the art of the yo-yo and I don’t want my life to mirror my skill level. Keep me always in Your hands. I wouldn’t mind being like a yo-yo in skillful hands where I could be sent out on some mission with the knowledge that I would soon be safely tucked back in Your hand. I wonder what kinds of “tricks” You would perform with me as Your tool.