Judges 10:6-16

“The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, worshiping the Baals and the Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. Thus they abandoned the Lord, and did not worship him. 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, and they crushed and oppressed the Israelites that year.

For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites that were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was greatly distressed.

So the Israelites cried to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals.” 

And the Lord said to the Israelites, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” And the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!” 

So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the Lord; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.” Judges 10:6-16

The book of Judges bridges the time between Joshua entering the Promised Land and the consolidation of the land of Israel under the first kings, Saul, David, and Solomon. It is a violent book as it tells story after story of the battles that the people of Israel fought with other tribes. It is also a story of the consequences of idolatry, of chasing after gods who are not gods.

As the story unfolds in Judges, God wants to help Israel. God wants to lead them to new lives in the Promised Land. But the people of Israel don’t always cooperate with God. Worse than that, as it says in today’s reading from the 10th chapter, “The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord… they abandoned the Lord, and did not worship him.

God tried again and again to help Israel. God named a series of charismatic people, called “judges”, who were supposed to lead Israel is a right, godly, and faithful way. Yet again and again the judges were unable to keep Israel on track. Over and over this cycle repeats. God rescues the people, the people do OK for awhile until they fall back into idolatry yet again, God sees that they are punished, they cry out for help, God raises up a leader… Again and again.

What are we to make of these stories? We do well to understand that, although they look like historical stories, they were written long after the events they report. In fact, the book of Judges was carefully crafted and put together just as we have it for a very specific purpose. And that purpose was to warn subsequent generations that obedience and faithfulness to God was the key to the kind of life God wanted them to have. The lack of such obedience and faithfulness would always look like idolatry – that is, finding their security, identity, and purpose in something or someone other than God.

It didn’t matter who served as their leader – if the people as a whole proved rebellious, disobedient, and prone to idolatry, no leader had the power to turn them around. Their only hope was in trusting and following God.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, again and again we repeat the story of the Garden of Eden in our lives. Like your people of old, we always think we have a better idea, and that our better ideas will take us where we want to go. We are stubborn and full of pride. In Jesus you have shown us the best and only way to the lives you would have for us. Forgive us for going our own way and redirect us to follow as Jesus leads. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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