Summary: A look at how Israel forgot God and how that led to apostasy.
It’s not hard to forget the things of God. When we choose to sin, we are forgetting God. When we choose to change or underreport our income for tax purposes, we do that after we’ve decided to forget what God says about his care and ability to provide for his children. When we engage in sexual immoral practices (pornography, pre-martial sex, adultery, homosexuality, etc.) we first must forget what God has said and promised about purity and the sufficiency of Jesus.
The action of sin is preceded by the forgetting of God, who he is, who he says you are, and what he promises his children.
Or put another way: Spiritual amnesia will always lead to spiritual apostasy.
The Next Generation (vv 2:6-3:6)
This next section of Judges is best read as running parallel to Chapter 1 through 2:5. This is another introduction but it also keys us into patterns in the book as well. If you overlay this section with the first, you’ll immediately see the source, the reason this all went south so quickly.
It starts with Joshua and then moves to describe the type of faithlessness the Israelites displayed. The author is going to make clear the source of their rebellion, how they rebel, how God deals with this rebellion, and how Israel responds to God. The author here will give us five different characteristics of this infamous generation.
The Generation that Forgot God (vv. 2:6-10)
“6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 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.”
This account starts with Joshua in verse six sending the tribes to their inheritance. The people have renewed their covenant (Joshua 24) with God to obey and worship him and now they head off to take their inheritance. The verses then begin tell us a little more about Joshua’s life and leadership. Apparently he was a pretty effective soldier and spiritual leader.
The author notes that Israel not only served the Lord all the days of Joshua but also all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua. This was the generation that had walked across the Jordan River. This was the generation that saw the first battle one by horns and a few long walks around Jericho. Their faith was bolstered by sight and strengthened by Joshua’s leadership. The author notes that he lived until he was 110 years old and he died and then other faithful generation died.
This almost seems immaterial to the story – why do we care about how faithful Israel was under Joshua and why do we care that the next generation also served the Lord?
Because of the second half of verse 10 “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” The author has created a stark contrast between the generations – the first generation, led by Joshua was faithful and served the Lord and remembered his mighty works and this faith was mirrored and replicated in the next generation – the second generation, by contrast, didn’t know the Lord or know of his good works.
Saving Faith vs. Faithless Facts
How is it possible that a whole generation of boys and girls grow up in Israel without a knowledge of God or a history of what he had done? The answer isn’t that they didn’t know, it’s that they didn’t believe in the God of those stories in the God of their fathers. They didn’t acknowledge him. These stories were no longer relevant to their lives. Their belief in God was wrapped up in the civil religiosity of the day.
They confused knowledge with belief and this is the point the author is underscoring here — while they knew God they did not trust or believe him like their fathers. This is the problem that would set the stage for the rest of the book.
This is the root cause of the problem in Israel’s day and it’s the root cause of problems in our own society, in our own church, and in our lives. When the mistake is made of confusing simple knowledge of facts with saving faith, the person stands at the precipice of a deep craggy descent where the next step is sure to send us tumbling over the edge onto the rocks below beaten and bloodied by sin. The chorus of Scripture, friends and family implores them not to take that step. The person knows the facts, yet doesn’t acknowledge they have any bearing on their situation.