What Judges Teaches the Church

How can we understand and prevent a decline in the church from one generation to another?

The book of Judges provides a very clear answer to our questions. Its answer does not say everything that might be said in general, but it does say specific, crucial things that we must ponder to understand both Israel’s situation and our vulnerability.

 

And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judg. 2:10)

It seems incredible that it could happen. Only a generation after Joshua, Israel no longer knew the Lord. How is such a development possible?

This is a very important question, not just for the ancient Israelites, but for us. Churches, too, have seen sudden decline from one generation to another. How can we understand and prevent this kind of calamity?

The book of Judges provides a very clear answer to our questions. Its answer does not say everything that might be said in general, but it does say specific, crucial things that we must ponder to understand both Israel’s situation and our vulnerability.

To begin with, Judges shows us that Israel descended into calamity when it moved away from living by faith in the Word of God to living by sight in the wisdom and values of the world. As we see in Judges 2–3, Israel rapidly descended into gross sin and disobedience, serving the statues and altars of the Baals and intermarrying with those who did not worship the Lord. Idolatry and intermarriage are the great sins against which Joshua warned Israel again and again (Josh. 23:6–13). And with good reason, for these two great sins are interconnected. The one leads to and reinforces the other.

This descent into idolatry and intermarriage did not just happen, however. These gross sins were the end results of various compromises that Israel had made earlier. Israel had served the Lord faithfully in the opening of the book of Judges, but that begins to change at Judges 1:19, where we read, “And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” It does not appear that the Israelites actually fought against the chariots of iron and were defeated; rather, it seems that they saw the chariots of iron and decided not to fight. That decision seems very reasonable and proper—to a people living by sight. Chariots of iron were the most powerful military weapon of that time.

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