Many people consider the book of Judges the saddest in the entire Bible. It chronicles the persistent apostasy of Israel despite God’s continuing mercy upon His children.
Yahweh had given the land of Canaan to the Israelites. He promised He would fight for them to drive out its wicked inhabitants. But, they had a responsibility; they were to take the land in partnership with God. He expected them to obey Him and follow in all His ways. In return, He would uphold His end of the bargain. Initially following Joshua’s death, Judah inquired of the Lord, and He defeated their enemies. However, following that period, Judah and the various other tribes lost Yahweh’s favor. Nine times in the first chapter of Judges we see that the tribes did not drive out the inhabitants of a particular area (e.g. Judges 1:21,27,28, etc.) Of these nine instances, the text tells us that God was with Judah, but they could not drive out those who lived in the hill country because of their iron chariots (Judges 1:19). We’re not told specifically why, but it may be that those iron chariots loomed larger in Judah’s eyes than the mighty right hand of Yahweh. Regardless, Israel failed in its half of the partnership and the Canaanites and others continued dwelling among God’s people.
This caused God – in the form of the angel of the Lord, i.e. the 2nd Person of the Trinity – to rebuke Israel for their disobedience. As an aside, why identify this angel with God Himself? Because He made that connection. When the angel spoke, He said that it was “I” who brought them out of Egypt and did all these other great things, but they did not obey “My” voice. This is God speaking in that physical angelic manifestation.
Interestingly, the people all wept that they had lost God’s favor, but did they do anything about it? Nope. Judges 2:10 tells us what happened:
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.
The generation that was rebuked and wept went its own way and never taught their children the commands of their God. This new generation did evil in God’s sight by following other gods (Judges 2:11-12) and got what Yahweh had promised: defeat (Judges 2:15).
This began the cycle of Judges. God raised up various rulers to deliver Israel. In seeing God’s work for them, they followed Him for a time while the judge was alive, then fell back into apostasy. They never owned their faith. In fact, in this process Judges 2:19 describes what happened:
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.
They became more corrupt and doubled down in their worship of pagan gods!
In the New Testament portion of our reading, we see a connection between the lack of true faith and the hard hearts of the people with those whom Jesus interacted. He was speaking of John the Baptist and explaining how John was the messenger spoken of in Malachi 3:1:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming”, says the Lord of hosts.
This messenger was the forerunner of Jesus Messiah, the One whom all Israel was awaiting to deliver them. However, consider the response of the religious elite in Luke 7:30:
but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him [John].
What’s the connection with Judges? They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. – The Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves.
The Israelites of old followed the god Baal (Judges 2:11). The Pharisees followed the god of legalism. They didn’t accept the baptism of John, which was one of repentance. Their god was their own righteousness in the Law.
Scripture details how people of all ages fall away from God when they ignore Him and His commands. It shows our desperate wickedness and great need for Him. The Bible clearly teaches us that when we stray from the Lord, we lose His favor and our blessings. He allows our enemies to live in the land and ultimately consume us.
The only hope the Israelites ever had was to love God in return for His amazing love for them and to be obedient to His Word. That also is our only hope today.