In the time of their oppression from various foreign powers, Israel stubbornly and foolishly resisted turning to Yahweh for deliverance. Judges 10:6 describes this:
The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.
This resulted in God once more giving the people essentially what they asked for, the fruit of their choices, as seen in the next verse, Judges 10:7:
So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites.
From this situation, Yahweh and His children had a dialogue (how this occurred is uncertain as the text doesn’t tell us) in which the Israelites cried out to Him and He answered. They acknowledged their unfaithfulness, and the Lord reminded them how He had saved them time and again. Despite this, they returned to the pagan gods of their oppressors rather than to Yahweh. From this, in disgust, God says in Judges 10:14:
“Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”
God is tired of their unfaithfulness. They are so bound and determined to serve any god but Him, He’s fine with that. Since they love these foreign gods so much, the ones over the nations that severely distress them, then by all means they should go back to them. Let these gods bring deliverance. His people certainly don’t need Yahweh.
(With the free will that God has given us, the choices we make are often contrary to His will and what He would have us do. When we persist in following our own way despite His continued intervention in our lives, He finally sits back in annoyance and lets us do what we will. This is the circumstance this Scriptural passage is conveying.)
Apparently, the people get a clue and determine that perhaps the foreign gods won’t bring them relief. (Again, you have to wonder: Why would the Israelites think that the gods of their enemies would deliver them from those enemies? That’s truly convoluted thinking, yet that’s exactly what they were doing.)
This leads to Judges 10:16:
So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.
The people knew this was part of the deal in serving Yahweh. They had to turn from their idols and pagan gods; so they finally did, and actually served the Lord as He had commanded. During this time, they were still oppressed.
This oppression brings us to an intriguing statement in the text: and he became impatient over the misery of Israel (ESV).
The two words, impatient and misery, are key. The ESV translation of impatient is the Hebrew word qatar (Strong’s #7114) variously meaning “to be short;” “grieved;” “annoyed;” or “to reap,” seemingly in a disgusted manner. The KJV puts it as: ”and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel;” while the NASB translates it: “and He could no longer bear (or endure) the misery of Israel.”
The word misery in the Hebrew is amal (Strong’s #5999) meaning “trouble, labor, or toil.”
From these definitions, it appears we’re being told that God had labored excessively with Israel. Yet, for all His work in trying to reap a good harvest, it left Him disgusted, and grieved that so little had come of it.
Reaping, in a sense, is the operative word in this phrase. God has put such effort into the crop which is Israel. He hopes and desires a good outcome, i.e. a plentiful harvest. When that fails to appear, it’s like the farmer who has put his hand to the plow day after day, applied the sweat of his brow and the strength of his arms, and wearied himself in his toils. When all this work results in his crop failing to produce – it’s all simply dried husks – how grieved he must be at that time of reaping!
This is God’s response to the situation. In the book of Judges, it happens over and over. Regardless, Israel is God’s Chosen People. They are His special heritage, and He can’t give up on them. Ultimately, this stubborn people will realize they cannot live joyfully or abundantly without Yahweh.
The narrative of Israel throughout Scripture shows us that God is incredibly forgiving in His love. However, this doesn’t keep Him from being thoroughly disgusted with those who should know better; who should follow Him and obey all His commands because of the mercy He’s shown through all the generations. No other god is like Him. There is no god besides Him. Yet, in our human condition, whether the people of Israel or those who call themselves Christians, we all have the tendency to stray from God’s amazing grace.
How pleased God is then, when we actually love Him in return, and demonstrate that love! Given all this history of Jews and Gentiles, can you imagine the blessings God would pour out if we embraced being His children?
Here’s the secret: He does, because He desires to be a loving, generous Father. When we turn from our sin to Jesus, this paves the way for us to have life, and to have it more abundantly (John 10:10).