Judges 2:1-3:6 - The Next Generation
Read: Joshua 5, Judges 2-3:6
The Angel of the Lord
Judges 2 opens with the Angel of the LORD appearing to the people of Israel at Bochim.
First, notice the Angel goes up from Gilgal. What was He doing in Gilgal? The last reference to the Angel of the LORD in the Bible is when the Angel of the LORD meets and blesses Joshua (Joshua 5). This took place near Jericho. In the context of Joshua 5, immediately prior to Jericho, Israel was in Gilgal; and, according to the map, Gilgal is “near Jericho.”
What did Israel do in Gilgal during their last encounter with the Angel? They circumcised themselves and celebrated the first Passover in Canaan. A whole generation had to be circumcised at once because the previous generation had died under God’s curse and they had not circumcised their children.
In Joshua 5, the Angel of the LORD met with Joshua carrying a drawn sword. This is the Divine Warrior, the Commander of the Lord’s Army. Joshua asked Him “Whose side are you on?” The Angel of the LORD responded that He was on the Lord’s side (leaving the next question for Joshua, and us, to answer “are we on God’s side?” not “Is God on our side?”).
Second, notice that the Angel goes up from Gilgal. This reminds us of the language of Judges 1. The Israelites “went up” during their campaigns against the Canaanites. This is the language of war. “Going up” was connected with battle because fortified cities that needed to be conquered were always on hills. The Angel was coming up for war.
The Angel then addressed the people on behalf of the LORD. He reminded them of several things.
First, God reminded them of His faithfulness, recalling the events of the Exodus and how He brought them into the Promised Land. Notice the explicit similarities between the beginning of this speech and the prologue of the Ten Commandments.
Second, He reminded them of the covenant and God’s covenant faithfulness.
He then commanded them to not enter into covenants with the lands around them, reminding them of the first and second commandments.
The Angel went on to remind Israel of their unfaithfulness. They had fallen into idolatry and made covenants with the nations around them. The Angel outlined three consequences for Israel’s covenant-breaking. First, the LORD would not drive the nations out before them. Second, the nations would be thorns in Israel’s side, becoming oppressors and enslavers. Third, the gods of the nations would become a snare for Israel, becoming seducers.
Was the LORD making this speech up as He went along? No. In Joshua 23:12–13, He promises “if you turn away, know for certain that the Lord will not drive these nations out before you, and the nations will become a snare and a thorn in your flesh.” The LORD was fulfilling His side of this covenant curse. The LORD was fulfilling His warning from Numbers 33:56 that if Israel fell into the sins of the Canaanites, “I will do to you what I was going to do to them.” Israel was not charged with failing to drive these nations out that was God’s business. They are charged with unfaithfulness. They are charged with peaceful coexistence.
Verse 4 tells us that after the Angel of the LORD said these things, the people wept and made sacrifices to the LORD. They wept so much, in fact, that they named the place Bochim, which is from the Hebrew word for “weep.” But was this weeping and sacrificing a good response for a bad one? Their response was “too little, too late.” It is like a little child who has broken a neighbor’s window and then suddenly decides to run into the house and do all the dishes without being asked. Israel is like the little child who knows that “if I burst into tears at the appropriate time, I won’t get spanked.” Mom and Dad may think that their child has a tender conscience, when really the child is being manipulative. However, God cannot be so easily fooled. How many times in the Psalms and prophets does He say “sacrifices I do not desire,” but rather that a pleasing sacrifice is “a broken and a contrite heart.” This was not real repentance, for as soon as this passage is over, Israel falls right back into the same sins. They were trying to manipulate God to get out of the judgment they knew they deserved.
How many times are we the same way? We only repent when we are afraid of getting caught. A teenager never swears off viewing pornography until his father or mother catches him looking at it. A CEO is never sorry for embezzling money until someone threatens to look over the account books. True life-changing repentance is a lasting repentance. It is a turning away from our sin and a turning to God.
Let’s face it: we can never have this repentance on our own. Think of all the New Year’s resolutions you have made — and broken by January 7. Think of all the times you have sworn off procrastination — starting tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes. As totally depraved humans, we all are troubled by besetting sins, sins that we keep falling into no matter how hard we try not to. Even as Christians, we can quickly become “convicted” by a Sunday service, swear to give up this or that sin, only to fall into it again by Wednesday. True repentance can only be brought about by the Spirit and by looking to Christ. Only by clinging to Christ can we overcome our besetting sins and by His power put them off.
Suddenly, in verses 6-10, we are dealing with Joshua again. He dismisses the people and they go off to take possession of the land. Red flags should be going up in our minds — didn’t Judges 1:1 say that Joshua had died? What is he doing back here again? This is an example of how ancient Near Eastern people thought differently than we do. We in the west are extremely chronologically focused. Most of our biographies, stories, movies, etc, are laid out chronologically. If a modern day Westerner were writing Judges, we would put this part-Joshua’s death and the events before it (Judges 2:1–10) — before chapter 1. That is how it flows chronologically.
In the Ancient Near East, how before chapter 1. You can see examples of this writing mindset in the four gospels (this explains why Luke and Matthew have the three temptations of Jesus in different orders — they are each trying to prove a different point from the same events), in other biblical books, and in many non-biblical writings of the time.
The author placed the account of Joshua’s death here to contrast the behaviors of two generation —the current generation’s wickedness and the genuine obedience of Joshua and his generation (the generation that also included Caleb, whom we saw in chapter 1). He is contrasting the false repentance seen in verses 45 with the holy behavior of Joshua’s generation seen in verses 6–10.
The Old Generation In verse 6, Joshua and his generation went to take possession of the land, according to the LORD’s command. In verse 7, the author explicitly states that they served the LORD. Compare the behaviors seen in chapters 1 and 2. Caleb, a member of Joshua’s generation, worked so hard to get his land, killing giants and serving the LORD.
This new generation was not so zealous. The people of Joshua’s generation were the “elders” (verse 7), the ones who were “older and wiser,” who have the insight and the wisdom that came from experience. They had seen the great works that the LORD had done for Israel. Keep in mind that the grumbling generation from the book of Numbers had all passed away in the wilderness. The generation called the “generation of Joshua” was their children, the ones who had crossed the Jordan and built the pillars at Gilgal. Now these “children” had become the old ones, and it was their children who were grumbling and disobeying. However, it is not just seeing the “works of the LORD” that makes a person a person of faith — the grumbling generation of Numbers had seen plenty of miracles, yet did not believe. It is witnessing the faithfulness of God, and experiencing it through His Holy Spirit that truly changes a person.
The New Generation
Verse 10b tells us that a new generation rose up. The passage characterizes this generations as a people who did not know the LORD. They did not know His works, nor the works that He had done for Israel. This is a sharp contrast to Joshua’s generation in the previous section. Does this mean they had never heard of the works of the LORD? Had they forgotten their history lessons, following the words of Henry Ford (“History is bunk”)? What the author meant when he wrote “did not know the LORD” is that they did not live on the basis of that knowledge; they did not live for Him.
Because they did not know the LORD, they abandoned Him, breaking the covenant. They provoked Him to anger, serving and pursuing the Baals. The Baals were attractive because Baal was the terminator god, big, tough and cool. He caused the rain (which was a good thing for the farmers, which almost everyone was in Israel). Baal worship also involved all sorts of “fun stuff” forbidden by Jehovah. So Baal was worshipped because he was more fun to worship than the LORD. In Canaan, Baal-worshipping practices often focused on sex, which the Israelites thought was much more entertaining than tabernacle worship.
All of this “fun stuff” had consequences. In verse 14–15, the LORD gave them over to “plunderers,” who, as the name suggests, “plundered them.” This is not just a chance of fate that the Israelites fell into enemy hands. No. The anger of the LORD was against them, as He promised in Joshua 23: “If you fall away from the LORD, you will quickly disappear from this Land.”
According to Joshua 23, we should expect Israel to perish and completely disappear from the land. The next thing we read, however, is that God raised up judges. How do we explain this? God threatens, then He starts punishing, and then delivers. Why? Is He just a marshmallow and fluff grandpa-type figure, giving in to them since He loves them? No. God has a commitment to save His people. God described Himself in Exodus 16:34 as a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love, forgiving wickedness.” God was demonstrating this throughout all of the Old Testament. Judges is part of the narrative that goes from Genesis to 2 Kings. At the end of 2 Kings, Israel and Judah are both gone — they “disappear” from the land as Joshua 23 told them they would (but even that is not the end, for we know that the promises still came to pass, not only for Israel, but for all nations in Christ).
There is still hope because of what the Angel says in Judges 2:1 — God is faithful to His covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
However, are judges the answer? No. We will see why throughout this book. Over and over in this book, we will see the refrain “there was not king in the land” as an explanation for Israel’s sorry state. But are kings the answer? No; if you doubt the answer is no, just read through 1 and 2 Kings. We need a bigger act of God, a larger act of redemption, a deliverer who will lead the people and be the founder of a whole new people — the New Israel.
But, back to the judges themselves. Judges 2:11–22 gives us a pattern into which the rest of the book will fit. Many people summarize the book of Judges as a series of cycles (Israel sins — God sends an oppressor — the people suffer and cry out in repentance — God sends a judge who delivers — the people are saved — repeat cycle). In our study, we will constantly be comparing each major judge with this pattern.
Some live up to it, others fail it. As the study progresses, we will see that the cycle theory does not really hold up. The book of Judges, rather than a series of cycles, is a downward spiral, with each judge failing worse than the last, until the book ends with a catastrophic explosion of sin and disaster (do not expect a happy ending).
Judges 2:11–22 gives us a general picture of what a judge did (or should do) and what Israel did in response to the judges. A judge is a man sent by God who saves the people from their oppressors. We expect the people’s response to be a good one, right? Sadly, no. The passage tells us that they did not listen to the judges, but rather continued to whore after other gods. These people were clearly unlike the generation of Joshua.
So why did God raise up these judges? Judges 2:18 says it was because He was “moved to pity” by their groaning. When the judge died another generation rose up. That meant a fresh start, right? No. The next generation became more corrupt; it got worse and worse. You may ask how each generation could get more corrupt than their fathers. That is the way total depravity works.
Consequences to Disobedience
Because of Israel’s disobedience, many Canaanite nations remained in the Promised Land. Given Israel’s track record, we should not be surprised that Israel co-inhabits, intermarries, and mixes with them. The nations are left to test Israel “whether they will take care to walk in the ways of the LORD” (Judges 2:22). Well, Israel flunked that test and the nations stayed. As a result, Israel was handed over to the nations who should not have been there.
Judges 3:1–6 identifies those nations for us. These nations give us a comprehensive view of the Promised Land. The land is surrounded all over, in all four cardinal directions. We have gone from chapter one, when Israel allowed them to live among them, to chapter 3, where Israel lived among the nations. They intermarried, worshiped their gods, they united with the nations. Also notice that Israel has gone from being “my people” to “this people” in 2:20. At the end of this section, we are left asking, “How is God going to redeem a people so committed to idolatry, so set in their sinful ways?”
Joshua’s generation followed the LORD; the new generation did not. These generations are typical of the antithesis found in the world today; found even in the Church (the “new Israel”) today. How do I tell which generation I belong to?
We can tell the generations apart by their fruit. Faithfulness was the fruit of Joshua’s generation. How can we spot this faithfulness? Is it outward actions: “I will not drink, smoke, or chew; or go out with girls that do?” No. True faithfulness is realizing that weeping and sacrificing is not enough. The generation “went to take possession of the land and worshipped the Lord.” This was in contrast to the next generation, who went through the motions, but went out and intermarried with the nations and worshipped their gods, cohabiting with the sinful nations. True faithfulness begins with a right motive, a pure heart brought about by the true work of the Holy Spirit.
The new generation was characterized by idolatry. Their idolatry was driven by a need for prosperity, fertility, and security. What does idolatry look like to us? We may not be worshipping actual Baals, but we are seeking their blessings. Blessings like popularity, looks, pleasure, overall success (in grades, sports, business, beauty, sex lives, and any other area). How do the gods of our world promise to give you these things? Think of a public high school. If you do not show your Christianity, then you can sit with the cool kids. If you compromise your beliefs, give a little bit here and there to become more like the crowd (in dress, in language, in behavior), then you are sure to gain popularality What about students who make an idol out of their grades? They do anything to keep that 4.0, even cheat. We need to learn to be successful on God’s terms. He is the one who ultimately defines success. Joshua’s generation did not succeed in taking over the entire land, yet they are praised. Why? Because God’s definition of success is all about faithfulness, not accomplishment. Joshua’s generation did fail at times, but they were still seen as faithful. We need to use the gifts that God has given us faithfully and to His glory. Perhaps He has given you the gifts to be a great student, but you still struggle to reach a 4.0. But if you are a good steward of His gifts and use them to His glory, you are a success.
But what should we do when we find that we are more like the “next generation” — the generation who failed and fell? If we are honest, this is the generation we are in. There are many helps to assist us in our pursuit for faithfulness. One major idea found in the text is that Joshua’s generation “knew the LORD and saw His works.” Remember what God has done for us. That is what leads to faithfulness and obedience out of thanksgiving. This can lead to many practical implications: private devotions, corporate worship, prayer. We must set ourselves apart from the world, not trying to be successful and popular in the worldly sense. Pray often and diligently for faithfulness and strength. Corporate worship with the communion of saints is essential. It leads us to know the Lord and see His works. Worship needs to focus on who He is and what He has done for us. But this need not just be relegated to Sundays. If the only time we come together is for Sunday School and Church services, and then go off as individuals into our schools, our workplaces, our homes, then we will easily get “picked off” by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We must meet together; eat lunch together; remind each other of these things; focus on the Lord and what He has done. Ask the Lord to help you to be faithful according to His definition of success.
We can follow all of these suggestions and still be in the “next generation.” Search your hearts; ask yourselves what is really driving you. Why do you go to church? To be seen and thought of as righteous? I often wonder why many students go to “See you at the Pole” — a prayer service in public schools. Is the emphasis on the prayer or on the “see you”? Why do you do the things you do? When you meet together with the other Christians, is that something you are passionate about? Or would you rather hang with the cooler dudes? Do you just skip over the words of hymns, or actually sing them? Are your private devotions done just as an obligation? We find ourselves often failing if we look at the heart.
So what can we do? The judges come. But they only temporarily stem the tide. They die, and we are right back to square one. Men are unable to save themselves. Christian leaders cannot save you. The “next generation” probably often lamented, “If only we had a leader like Joshua.” How often have you heard the similar lament, “As long as we have Pastor so-and-so, our church will be fine …” But when the pastor leaves, retires, or commits adultery and runs away, what then?
We need someone greater. We need someone who will come not only as our Judge but also as our Redeemer. We need someone who will be faithful not just as an example, but be faithful in our place. We need someone who will not just give us rest for forty years like the judges, but will live forever, interceding for us, giving us the ultimate Sabbath rest. This is Christ, the One who has demonstrated this faithfulness. Everything He does is right, done out of godly motivations. We are holy in God’s sight because we are cleansed by His specific righteousness. He is the true sacrifice for our sins and His righteousness has been imputed to us. He was tempted by success (“throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple” said Satan), popularity (the crowds followed Him, but instead of building a mega church, He told them things they do not want to hear), pleasure (“turn these stones into bread”). Jesus has faced your temptations and passed them in your place. He has taken your sins upon Himself. This should be the heart of our devotions and of our evangelism.
Lesson 2: Points to Ponder
- In what way do people try to manipulate God? Have you ever found yourself trying this?
- Which do you think is more zealous — our current or the previous generation? What does this say about the future generation?
- Is it wise to have older or younger office bearers in the church? Should retired ministers have the privilege of the floor at broader assemblies?
- Which is more impressive to you: the “works of the Lord” or the “faithfulness of God”? Explain the difference.
- How are we guilty of pursuing other gods by making our worship more “fun”? List some examples. Why is this wrong?
- Are governments and social programs an answer for lasting reform?
- How can we become more like Joshua’s generation who sought the Lord?