Before his death Joshua warns Israel that they are one generation away from degeneracy. And that day is not far off. After Joshua’s death another generation arises, “who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). Israel begins the slippery slope of sin by enslaving the Canaanites instead of driving them out of the land, by intermarrying with the Canaanites, and by worshiping their idols.
The book of Judges covers the approximately 350-400 years between Joshua’s death and Saul’s coronation. This period is defined by its seven sin cycles where Israel sins against the LORD (intermarriage with the Canaanites, idolatry, and sexual sin); God raises up oppressors; Israel cries out to God; God raises up deliverers or judges; Israel experiences peace as long as the judge lives; Israel reverts to sin after the judges’ death. Another cycle of sin begins.
The Judges Era reveals a number of truths about the cycle of sin:
Incomplete obedience opens the door to complete disobedience. Because Israel did not conquer and destroy the Canaanites, they soon entertained and then embraced Canaanite beliefs and practices. The sin that remains unconquered in a person or nation’s life will soon conquer that person or nation. What’s permitted at the doorstep eventually enters the house.
Disobedience always brings oppression. Those who embrace sin willingly live under oppression for years before they humble themselves and cry out to God.
God graciously responds to and delivers those who humble themselves and cry out to Him.
The Canaanites’ enduring presence in Israel--and in particular their theology that was both idolatrous and immoral--contributed to Israel’s spiral of spiritual decline. Every nation has a theology, and theology directs both morality and practice. Canaanite theology corrupted Israel.
"After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD, not what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the sight and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them . . . They were in great distress" (Judges 2:10-19).
The Book of Judges chronicles seven sin cycles (3:7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 8:33; 10:6 and 13:1) and twelve judges who ruled in the three hundred-plus years following Joshua's death. The Israelites descended five steps into the total disregard of the Law where "everyone did what was right in his own sight”:
• Sexual immorality, perversion and intermarriage with the Canaanites
• Corrupt Levitical priesthood
• Blatant idol worship
• Anarchy and no sense of community
• Injustice and no accountability
What is the sin cycle that is repeated throughout the Book of Judges?
Rebellion - They forget the Lord and they forsake the Lord
Retribution - God sends oppression
Repentance - When the children of Israel cry out to the Lord in repentance God hears them
Redemption - God raises a judge who rescues them out of the hand of their enemies
Rest - Israel experiences peace in the land as long as the judge lives
The second chapter of Judges describes the general cycle in verses 10-19. The sin cycle pictures spiritual declension in the life of a believer, a church, and even a society. It all begins with one act of disobedience to the revealed will of God followed by another and until one is accustomed to living in habitual sin and hardened toward the things of God. Unchecked, one sin leads a person far away from God. God, then, uses oppression to get his attention and bring him to his spiritual senses so that he turns back to God, so that God can bless him once again. These sin cycles reveal the heart of God for His people, the corruptness of the human heart, and the hardness of man's heart toward God.
It is amazing how stubborn man is toward God and how much oppression he will endure before he cries "Uncle" and turns to God. The shortest period of oppression in Judges lasts seven years while the longest period lasts forty years. May the Lord help us cultivate tender hearts toward Him.
Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading: Joshua 1:1-3:6
What do Judah, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali all have in common?
What is the first thing the Angel of the Lord places on Israel's disobedience list?
What characterizes the children of Israel after Joshua's death?
What prohibited God from destroying Israel as He did with all of the world in Noah's day?
How does God use the remaining Canaanites to teach Israel?
What doest the story in chapter 17 tell you about Israel's priests?
What does Micah think employing a Levite will do for him?
Turning truth into prayer: Ask the Lord to put His finger on areas of your life that, remaining unchecked, will lead you astray and into oppression.