“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
Does that phrase sound familiar to you? Charles Dickens made that statement famous in his book A Tale of Two Cities. Written in the mid 1800s he described in story format the economic and political conditions in Paris and London just prior to the French Revolution…a time of great uncertainty, a time of great evil as well.
That phrase also describes the condition of the children of Israel throughout much of their history. It particularly applies to them in their record in the book of Judges. It as the best of times. It was the worst of times. Notice verses one through five of Judges chapter two.
“Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the LORD.” (Judges 2.1-5)
These verses summarize what God did for the children of Israel in the past. He reminds them of what he did in bringing them out of Egypt. He performed mighty works on their behalf. The plagues that he brought upon Egypt ultimately led to the Egyptians dismissing them and driving them out of their land.
They also describe the works that God performed for them in the wilderness, e.g., his provision of water and his provision of food throughout those 40 years that they traveled to the Promised Land.
These verses remember what God did for them as they entered into the Promised Land. He defeated the enemies just like he said he would. “If you will believe me, trust me, and obey me, I will destroy the enemies before you, and you will occupy and possess the land.” As the children of Israel believed and obeyed God, God fulfilled his promise. They began to occupy the land.
These verses also summarize what God said he would do to the children of Israel because of their sin. We read something unusual. It says, “But what have you done”? What are you doing? What has gone on?”
The children of Israel began to doubt God’s promises. They did not drive out the people of the plain who had iron chariots. They failed to believe God’s specific promise through Joshua that he would drive out those enemies who had and used iron chariots. Because of their unbelief, they further disobeyed God and began to assimilate the Canaanites into their own peoples.
And as a consequence, the Israelites began to worship the idols and to follow the God's of their enemies. God warned them in this summary and told them what he would do because of their unbelief, faithlessness, and disobedience.
We read in verses six through 10 another reminder of a different kind. We read:
“When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 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. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. 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. 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.” (Judges 2.6-10)
The transition between God’s warning and reminding them of what he had done on their behalf proceeds on to the death of Joshua. Joshua their leader, the one whom God appointed to take the place of Moses died. God had used him to lead them in successful battles against the Canaanites and their enemies. God had done many mighty works through Joshua on behalf of the people. Then, Joshua died.
Notice that it then goes on to describe that other elders the age of Joshua lived a little longer than him. They also died. It concludes with a sad refrain that says that a generation arose that didn’t know God nor his works.
This generation marked the third generation from Egypt. The first generation that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness, because of their unbelief. They doubted God, and God judged them by taking their lives before they even saw the Promised Land. They never saw it, but their children did.
The second generation from Egypt saw the Promised Land. God took them in. They initially obeyed, believed, and trusted God. But, a breakdown occurred between the second generation and the third generation.
God had instructed the fathers very clearly in the wilderness to teach their children to follow, obey, and to worship him and him only. He had revealed himself to them as the supreme and exclusive God. Therefore, they must worship him and him alone.
Somehow that second generation failed. They did not bring their children up to follow God. In the previous passage when God spoke to them and told them what would come to them because of their disobedience, it says they wept.
But notice they didn’t repent. Oh, they sorrowed to hear the warning that God gave to them of their coming judgment, but at no point did they repent and turn. In fact, it describes them as abandoning God. They did not know him.
Now the word “know” in the Scriptures has a variety of uses depending upon the intent of the author. This does not describe mere factual knowledge. They had seen the works of God. They knew about God. They had some factual understanding and knowledge of him.
Instead, this word describes an intimate relationship between people. In fact, it frequently appears in Scripture to describe the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. They know each other. They experience an intimacy between them. This word describes that kind of a relationship. Only notice it says they did not know God.
In other words, the children of Israel at this time, this third generation, did not have an intimate personal relationship with God. They knew about him. They heard about him. They knew about the works. But, they did not know him in an intimate, personal way. They disregarded him. They had no strong feelings towards him. It says they did not know his works.
That describes their attitude towards the works that they observed that God had done. They didn’t regard those works either. They had no influence upon their lives whatsoever.
The children of Israel did not have that close personal relationship with God that he desired to have with them. Instead, they deliberately chose not to obey him. We see that described for us in the next section of verses, verses 11 through 13 of Judges chapter two. Notice what it says.
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.” (Judges 2.11-13)
When it says that they did evil in the sight of the Lord, it didn’t happen by accident. Sometimes we find ourselves committing sin because of temptation or through ignorance. We realize it after the fact. We say, “Oh, my goodness. I didn’t tell the truth then. Oh, my goodness, I disobeyed God when I behaved in that fashion.” It happens almost by accident. We didn't plan to lie or to disobey God.
That does not describe this kind of evil. This kind of evil came by deliberate intent; they intentionally turned away from God. They purposefully abandoned him and pursued him no longer by a deliberate choice, not by accident.
They bowed down to the gods that God had told them to destroy. “When you go into the Promised Land, destroy not only the people, but destroy their altars. Destroy their altars, because if you leave them, they will be a snare to you and you will follow after them just like those children that you permit to live.”
When the children of Israel in doubt and disobedience failed to obey God and destroy the people and the altars, they ended up just as God said they would. They began to worship the gods about them and joined in the worship of false gods along with the Canaanites whom they refused to destroy as God had commanded them.
So, what would God do? How would he respond? The Scriptures explain that God turned against them.