Introduction: Chapter 2 provides an overview of the sad cycle of sin that would overcome Israel throughout the book of judges. The first generation of Jews failed to drive out the Canaanites as God commanded. They also failed to teach the next generation to love Him and follow His Covenant. As a result, the Jews found themselves ensnared in a cycle of sin. Because their hearts were evil, they returned to their sins each time God delivered them. From the Jews’ cycle of sin, God reveals seven lessons for breaking the cycle of sin in your life.
First, God warned the Jews that the Canaanites would become “thorns” and “snares” if they did not drive them out. From this, He reveals that any accommodations that you make with the things of the flesh will also become thorns and snares in your life as well. Second, the Jews’ tears of sorrow did not bring relief from God when it was not accompanied by a real change of heart. From this, God warns that a false repentance without a change of heart will lead to more sorrow. Third, the first generation to enter Israel not only failed to drive out the Canaanites, they also failed to teach the next generation to love God and follow His Covenant. From this, God reveals the important duty placed upon each generation to raise up the next in the Lord. Fourth, as a result of the Jews’ failure to teach the next generation to love God, Satan was able to trap the next generation in Canaanite idolatry. From this, God warns that if one generation fails to teach the next to love Him, it will also be deceived and enslaved into sin. Fifth, when the Jews rejected His Covenant, He lifted His hedge of protection over them. From this, He warns each nation that it also can lose His protection when it turns away from Him. Sixth, out of love, God raised up “judges” and gave them powers to deliver the people. Yet, because their hearts remained wicked and they failed to repent, they remained trapped in their sins. From this, God reveals that true deliverance requires a repentant heart and a desire to change. Finally, because the Jews would not turn from their sins, God handed them over to the sins of their hearts. From this, He warns that an unrepentant sinner will be handed over to the lusts of his or her heart. All have fallen short and sinned. Thus, all should heed these warnings and repent of their sins.
God’s warning to the Jews that the Canaanites would be “thorns” and “snares” to them. Out of a lack of faith, the Jews rebelled against God’s command to drive out the Canaanites. As a consequence of their rebellion, His messenger warned them that the Canaanites would become thorns or snares to them: “1 Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, 2 and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? 3 Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’” (Jdgs. 2:1-3). The “angel of God” (“mal’ak YHWH”) can also be translated His “messenger.” This same “messenger” went ahead of the Jews to defeat the Canaanites in battle (Ex. 23:20-23; 33:2; 32:34). Because this messenger referenced “My Covenant”, the messenger was in fact a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ (a “Christophy”). He previously appeared to Joshua at Gilgal before He brought down the walls of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15). We know this was not God the Father because no one has ever seen Him (Jo. 1:18; 1 Jo. 4:12). Jesus was the “I AM” who spoke to Moses at Mount Horeb (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). He promised Israel as an “everlasting Covenant” and an “everlasting possession” to the Jews (Gen. 17:7-8; Dt. 7:9). Even when the Jews broke His Covenant, He promised not to break His Covenant by destroying them completely (Lev. 26:44). But He warned the Jews never to make any agreements with either the Canaanites or their gods (Ex. 23:32). He warned that, if the Jews did so, the Canaanite religious practices, like temple prostitution, would become a “snare” to them. “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst.” (Ex. 34:12; Nu. 33:55; Dt. 7:16; 20:18). Thus, through Moses, He repeatedly commanded the Jews to smash the Canaanite altars and destroy their adult male population (Ex. 34:13; Dt. 7:2; 12:3; 13:8; 19:13; 25:12; 33:27). Joshua also repeated these warnings before his death (Josh. 23:13). Yet, despite these clear and repeated warnings: “They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them,” (Ps. 106:34). Their rebellion led to a dual allegiance to the things of God and the things of the world. Their failure to depend upon God alone brings lessons to believers today.
The Angel of God speaks to the Jews to warn them to obey God’s commands1
You cannot have dual allegiances between God and worldly things. Many people serve God intensely. But their service to God is frequently divided. Once we understand that God will not accept divided allegiances, we realize how frequently we fall short in complying with His will: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jam. 4:4). “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10). “[B]ecause the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,” (Ro. 8:7). “And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is god, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word.” (1 Kgs. 18:21). “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15). Is your heart divided between the things of God and the things of the world? Do you seek recognition, wealth, or lust for yourself? If so, you have become “double minded” in your faith.
The sadness of the Jews about the consequences of their sin. The Jews felt genuine sorrow upon hearing God’s punishment: “4 When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the Lord.” (Jdgs. 2:4). Some might think a sorrowful heart should be enough to bring forgiveness. But the Jews’ sorrow did not translate into a change of behavior. They did not smash the Canaanite altars. Nor did they drive out the temple prostitutes. Nor did they drive out the male Canaanites. As a result, God did not lift His punishment. This again brings lessons for believers.
True repentance requires more than sorrow, it requires a change of behavior. The prophets warned the sorrowful Jews that they would not be delivered until they obeyed God and changed their behavior: “Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”’ (1 Sam. 7:3). God cares less about your tears and more about your desire to change your behavior: “And rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.” (Joel 2:13). After you desire to change, He then wants you to call out to Him so that He can give you the power to make that change possible: “They cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth; but now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve You.’” (1 Sam. 12:10). Are you giving God the opportunity to deliver you from your sins by trying to change your behavior? If He has delivered you, are you helping others?
The people of Israel wept after hearing God’s judgment2
The failure of the first generation of Israel to instill in the next a love for God. Those who led under Joshua served the Lord and received God’s blessings. But they failed to teach the next generation to love and appreciate Him: “6 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land. 7 The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel. 8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” (Jdgs. 2:6-10). Joshua was a hero of the faith. While the allotments were granted by tribe, only Joshua and Caleb received a special allotment as a reward for their faith (Josh. 19:49; 14:13-15; 15:13). They were the only two spies who did not fear the alleged “giants” in the Promised Land (Nu. 13:30; 14:9). Joshua was also blessed with a long life for his faith. Like Joseph, he lived to be 110 (Gen. 50:26; Josh. 24:29; Jgs. 2:8). In ancient Egypt, 110 was considered to be the ideal life span. Under Joshua’s leadership, the entire nation was blessed as he inspired it to serve God in faith. But the first generation to enter Israel failed to teach their faith, obedience, and their love for God to the next generation. As a result, the next generation did not know God as their deliverer. They then slid into sin.
Teach your children to love God by obeying His Law. As beneficiaries of God’s Law, the Jews were obligated to teach it to their children and grandchildren: “. . . but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.” (Dt. 4:9). “ . . . and that they may teach their children.” (Dt. 4:10). “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 6:7). “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 11:19). “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). But it was not enough to teach the Jews God’s Law. They had to love Him enough to want to follow it out of devotion and not obligation: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt. 6:4). A nation that fails to teach a generation to love Him will create a generation that does not recognize Him as Lord. This is exactly what happened to Israel: “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3). “Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.” (Jer. 8:7). In case any Christian feels freed of His requirement to raise their children in Him, Paul is clear that it still applies: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4). Your love and your children’s love for Jesus should create a desire to follow His Ten Commandments out of love and not obligation: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15). “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (Jo. 14:21). Do you know His Law well enough to teach it? Are you teaching your children to love Jesus by being obedient to Him?
If a nation fails to raise a generation in God’s teachings, Satan will deceive it. Satan was the first to break God’s Commandments. He loved his own beauty so much that he sought to have others worship him (Is. 14:12-14; Ez. 28:14-19). He later tried to tempt Jesus with the world in exchange for worshiping him (Matt. 4:9-10; Lk. 4:7-8). Satan’s tool is deceit: “Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.” (Dt. 11:16; 30:17). He lied to Eve by promising her that she could become “like God” if she ate from the tree of life (Gen. 3:4-5). Throughout the Bible, he has tried to entice God’s people to turn from God by worshiping other gods, idols, or other men (e.g., “Baal and Ashtaroth” - Judges 2:13-15; 10:6-14; Dan. 3:5-18; “the creation” Ro. 1:25). During the end times, Satan will again seek to have others worship him (Rev. 13:8-12). The day of judgment will come after he again “exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.” (2 Thess. 2:1-4). Thus, unless a nation raises their children to love God, Satan will deceive them.
The rebellion and idolatry of the second generation of Israel. With a new generation of Jews who had no deep love or appreciation for God, Satan was able to deceive them with the temple prostitution and other abhorrent religious practices of the Canaanites: “11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.” (Jdgs. 2:11-12). God warned Moses before his death of both Israel’s coming rebellion, idolatry, and the anger He would have toward them: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them; so that they will say in that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?’ But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.” (Dt. 31:16-18). Their rebellion continued to provoke God to anger, just as He warned Moses: “For they provoked Him with their high places and aroused His jealousy with their graven images.” (Ps. 78:58). There is again a warning for the western world in these passages. If it continues to turn from Him and embrace the sinful practices of this world, His anger will also be kindled.
The “curses” imposed upon the second generation for breaking God’s Covenant. As a result of the Jews’ temple prostitution to the Canaanite gods Baal and Ashtaroth, God lifted His hedge of protection over Israel, and the nation suffered: “13 So they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed.” (Jdgs. 2:13-15; 3:7; 10:6). In the Canaanite religion, Baal was one of seventy gods which came from the gods El and Asherah. Baal was the god of the weather who allegedly brought rain and fertility to the lands. Asherah was their goddess of love and war. In their religion, the two were encouraged to be together through sexual unions with temple prostitutes. The Canaanites encouraged the Jews to sleep with their temple prostitutes to “supplement” what God was doing for them. The second generation saw no problem worshiping God and also following after these idols. But this idolatry violated His Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4-6; Dt. 5:8-10). Moses warned that violating God’s Covenant would cause the Jews to lose God’s hedge of protection and become defeated in battle: “The LORD shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Dt. 28:25). Each time the Jews turned from God, they lost in battle as He promised (e.g., 1 Sam. 4:2, 10; 2 Sam. 18:17; 2 Kgs. 14:12; 2 Chr. 25:22). Eventually, their ongoing idolatry would lead later generations to their exile. “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.” (Is. 5:13). The U.S. has been one of the most powerful nations that stood for God’s morality. Yet, as it turns from Him, it should not expect His ongoing blessings.
The Jews failed to obey God and instead worshiped the Canaanite god Baal3
Idolatry puts a believer in communion with demons. Although idols like money have no real power by themselves, the unbridled desire for these things puts a person in communion with demonic forces. “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.” (1 Cor. 10:19-20). God will never leave or forsake a believer (Heb. 13:5; Dt. 31:6). But He cannot stop you if you choose to listen to the demons over the Holy Spirit. If you are chasing after the things of the flesh, you are in fellowship with demons. This is a dangerous place to be. You stand outside His hedge of protection.
God will discipline idolaters and their descendants. As part of the Second Commandment, God warns that He will punish both idolaters and their descendants to the third and fourth generations: “[F]or I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me . . .” (Ex. 20:3-6; Dt. 5:7-10). ‘“Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’” (Dt. 27:15). This can be seen in countless families today. If a man or woman lets drugs, alcohol, or adultery become an idol in their lives, their children will suffer. Many times, the damage inflicted upon children is played out again upon the children’s children. The curse that God refers to is frequently the removal of His hedge of protection. When you embrace idolatry instead of fleeing from it you inflict damage upon your children and sometimes even your grandchildren. Are you storing up a legacy of sin or blessings for your kids?
The failure of the Jews to change their behavior after being delivered of their sin. God does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Thus, out of a love for His people, the Holy Spirit gave power to persons who could deliver the Jews. Yet, because their hearts remained wicked, the Jews returned to their sin each time God delivered them: “16 Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers. 18 When the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.” (Jdgs. 2:16-19). The power given to these “judges” or “delivers” came from God alone. He was Israel’s real deliver: “Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them, but when they cried to You in the time of their distress, You heard from heaven, and according to Your great compassion You gave them deliverers who delivered them from the hand of their oppressors.” (Neh. 9:27; Acts 13:30). Yet, because the Jews did not learn from their deliverance, their Baal worship continued until they were deported hundreds of years later. “They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.” (Jer. 11:10; 2 Chr. 7:22; 1 Kgs. 14:9). ‘“They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 9:3). Baal worship even included some future kings, like King Ahaziah: “So he served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the LORD God of Israel to anger, according to all that his father had done.” (1 Kgs. 22:53). The Jews’ cycle of sin from chasing after idols again brings warnings to believers today.
Idols have no power to deliver you. Today, people chase after idols in the forms of money, fame, power, drugs, or lust. But these modern idols create only fleeting or momentary joy. The reason for their fleeting pleasures is that they are all spiritually dead with no power to sustain your soul: “There you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.” (Dt. 4:28; 28:36, 64). “They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see. They have ears, but they do not hear, nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.” (Ps. 135:16-17.) Paul also believed that idols were fake: “We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.” (1 Cor. 8:4). Because an animal sacrifice had no real power, Paul had no problem if a believer ate one without worshiping it: “we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better off if we do eat.” (1 Cor. 8:8). His only warning was for believers not to eat food sacrificed to idols if the perceived power of the idols caused another believer to stumble (1 Cor. 8:8-12). The lure of an idol is also based upon a lie and deception: “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Ro. 1:25). The idols of mankind are all deaf and dumb: “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.” (Rev. 9:20). It is often said that money cannot buy happiness. The reason why this is true is that the money is spiritually dead. If either a rich person seeks to hoard money or if a poor person becomes obsessed with accumulating it, the person will eventually become miserable. That is why Solomon, the richest man in the world, once prayed that he would never be in a position to obsess about money: “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, who is the Lord? Or, lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” (Prov. 30:8-9). Do you fantasize about the idols of wealth, power, or lust?
God’s “testing” of Israel’s heart by giving it the sin it craved. To show the evil in the Jews’ hearts and to create a genuine desire for deliverance and change, God temporarily handed to the Jews over to the lusts within their hearts: “20 So the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He said, ‘Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers and has not listened to My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.’ 23 So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua.” (Jdgs. 2:20-22). Just as God had warned Moses (Ex. 23:33), the Jews’ worship of these pagan idols became a snare to them: “And served their idols, which became a snare to them.” (Ps. 106:36). “Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, who boast themselves of idols; worship Him, all you gods.” (Ps. 97:7). No one should be deceived into believing that these snares of sin no longer exist today. In the New Testament, God also warned that He would hand an unrepentant sinner over to the lusts of his or her heart: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,” (Ro. 1:28). As one commentator warns: “Those who throw off communion with God, and have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, . . . They must expect to suffer for this their folly . . . God often makes men’s sin their punishment; and thorns and snares are in the way of the forward, who will walk contrary to God.” (Matthew Henry on Judges chapter 2).4
Those who trust in idols become spiritually blind and dumb like the idols they serve. As quoted above, idols are deaf, blind, and mute (Dt. 4:28; Ps. 135:16-17; Rev. 9:20). For those who trust in them, they eventually become spiritually deaf, blind, and mute like their idols. “Those who make them will be like them, yes, everyone who trusts in them.” (Ps. 135:18, same 115:8). Should it surprise anyone that the most common thing to happen to couples who win the lottery is to get divorced? Should it surprise anyone that the highest rates of depression and suicide are found in the richest countries in the world? The Western world has become rich in material things. Yet, it has become spiritually dead, blind, and dumb from the idols of material things. U.S. writer and philosopher David Henry Thoreau said in 1854 that “the mass of men lead quiet lives of desperation.”5 The Bible offers a path that does not involve a quiet life of desperation. The Bible instead offers a life of joy. But you must first leave behind the idolatrous pursuit of the things of the flesh and then seek after God.
Repent of your idolatry. It is easy to mock the Jews for abandoning God. But any honest believer will recognize that he or she has sinned (Ro. 3:20; 7:7). All believers at times put worldly lives above God. He is “jealous” of anything that draws you from Him (Ex. 34:14; 23:24; Dt. 5:9). An idolater who has not repented and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior is not only cursed to struggle and lead a life of desperation, that person is also disqualified from entering heaven. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5; see also Rev. 2:14, 20). Only through your redeemer Christ is your salvation and restoration in your walk possible (Ro. 3:9-12; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:23-24). If you are seeking comfort and protection through the things of the world, these things have become a source of idolatry in your life. Is there any worldly thing in your life that you turn towards to get through the struggles of life? If you are not struggling from idolatry, are you praying for your friends, family, co-workers, and the nations to repent?