EVERYONE DID AS THEY SAW FIT
J. N. Manokaran
Today's world seems to be in a moral, spiritual, social, political, and economical chaos. There seems to be no order, regulation or law in place. Everyone likes to exercise their rights and enjoy privileges even when it causes loss and agony to others. The situation is similar to the time of judges in the Old Testament. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (Judg.17:6).
Joshua's Strategic Failure
Joshua did not appoint a successor or seek the Lord to appoint a successor. In his farewell address, he reminded the people of God's covenant and renewed the covenant. He installed a stone as witness and dismissed the people (Josh.23,24). It was unfortunate that he did not appoint a leader, but erected a memorial stone as witness. Unlike Moses, who consecrated Joshua, he failed to choose, groom and install an able leader. Since Caleb was alive, he could have appointed at least Caleb as the successor. Also, there were areas that had not been possessed in the Promised Land.
Judges, A Sad Commentary
Without an able, strategic, visionary and authoritative leader, the children of Israel went astray. They were like sheep without a shepherd. There were 6 major judges and 6 minor judges according to the Book of Judges. The period is estimated as 350 years (around 1380-1050 BC). The Mesopotamians, Moabites, Canaanites, Midianites, Ammonites and Philistines were oppressors of Israel because God had given up Israel because of their sins.
There is a clear cycle which is evident here. The Israelites sin, ("Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord…"), God allows them to be punished by a foreign nation, the nation oppresses them, Israelites cry seeking help, and God sends a deliverer and saves them from oppression; then a period of peace. By the end of the period of the judges, the Israelites had gone from bad to worse, morally, spiritually, politically, economically and socially. The Lord's offerings and treasures were used to carve idols; the Levites were corrupted; instead of conquering and possessing the Promised Land, the Dan tribe attacked a remote village, and the Benjamin tribe was almost exterminated.
The downward plunge of the Israelites is recorded for succeeding generations to understand the reasons and to avoid the pitfalls. Sometimes reading Judges is like reading modern history. The contemporary generation gravitates towards sin, as the Israelites did during the period of the judges. The nature of fallen humanity has been the same throughout the generations. The expression of sins could be sophisticated according to the age, the prevailing technology and culture. But the essence of all expressions of sins is the same.
Disobedience And Rebellion
The children of Israel did not possess the land completely, even though Joshua made a master plan with allocation for each tribe. There were some things left undone. There were areas that were not possessed. They possessed lands; however some people must have gone to other areas, regrouped and settled. They again threatened Israel. When the Israelites overcame them, they made the Canaanites as their slaves instead of destroying them (Judg.1:28). The sin of the Canaanites was an abomination in God's sight and God had determined to drive them out of the Promised Land. Though Israel occupied the land, they did not take full possession of the land, but allowed various people to live among them.
As they lived in a pluralistic environment, the Israelites did not have a spiritual understanding of the Law. Hence they intermingled with the people spiritually, adopting their spiritual practices which were contrary to the Law. Compromise and syncretism were their spiritual and religious practice. There is nothing wrong mingling with people socially; however, believers cannot compromise their spirituality.
Law Not Remembered
God had given the Law through Moses. In fact, Moses repeated the Law several times. Though Joshua made a covenant based on the Law, the people forgot the Law of Moses. It was there, available, but rejected and disregarded. The Law was given as the guiding principle for their lives that included spiritual, religious, civic and hygiene regulations. Also, they were not conscious that God was the ruler in their lives. Even without a visible king, they were governed by God and His law. The Israelites were illiterate with regard to the Law of Moses as many Christians are biblically illiterate today. When God's law was rejected, they had to create new ideas, idols and a way of life.
1. Create own gods. The Israelites created their own gods. The spiritual quest in the hearts of human beings cannot exist in a vacuum. The vacuum created by vacating the true living God Jehovah had to be filled. When the Israelites rejected the 'idea' (unseen, spiritual) of God, they embraced the 'idol' (seen, physical) as god. It was easy to borrow these gods from the people living among them who did not know the living God. When the genuine or original is rejected, people have to be satisfied with substitutes or counterfeits. Rejecting the real God, the Israelites followed pseudo-gods and invited the wrath and punishment of God. It is a pity they went to serve gods of other people and ended up serving those people who oppressed and exploited them. Spiritual slavery led to social, economic and political slavery.
2. Create own laws. When the absolute laws of God are rejected, there is a need for substitutes. Without laws there cannot be society, family or governance. Human laws replaced God's law. Instead of the Levites serving God, anything a Levite served became a god. Micah created an idol from silver stolen from his mother. A young Levite was appointed to serve the idol; the idol became god as a Levite served as priest. Instead of following the Law of Moses, not to create idols, Micah modified and interpreted the Law and expected God to be pleased (Judg.17).
3. Create own morals and values. It is natural, when the real source is rejected, that all that flows out of it is rejected. Micah stole from his own mother. Stealing is prohibited in the Ten Commandments. Micah's mother cursed the person who stole, not knowing her son was the one. When Micah said that he had stolen, she changed the curse into a blessing and consecrated the silver for the Lord. Later, the Levite who served Micah's idols was kidnapped along with the idols by the tribe of Dan. The young Levite was convinced that it was better to serve a tribe with stolen idols than serving just one household (Judg.18:19). When Micah questioned the Danites, he was silenced with a show of might. The moral became, might is right. 'Truth was right' was replaced by 'might is right.'
A Levite who was married to an unfaithful concubine went to bring her back home from her father's home (Judg.19:1,2). Adultery is another sin that became a social evil. The Levite drank with the father-in-law forgetting his mission and had to postpone his travel every day. Later, he ended up in Gibeah. When the city rogues surrounded the house, the Levite sent his concubine out and they abused and raped her. Instead of treating strangers with dignity, the Gibeonites raped their guests. When the whole Israel wanted the Gibeonites to surrender the criminals, they went for a civil war. Protecting criminals became the norm, instead of punishing the guilty.
4. Create own purpose and meaning for life. Micah did not know his purpose for life. The young vagabond Levite did not know God's purpose in his life. So he was satisfied to serve idols and a household and later the tribe of Dan as priest of idols. Instead of seeking the purpose of God, the Danites sought approval from idols for their violent war ventures.
There is a striking similarity in the attitude of postmoderns and those who lived during the time of the Judges. We like to create our own gods or be our own gods; create our own laws, morals, values and purpose in life. The attempts of the Israelites drove them to slavery, and oppression. The postmoderns who reject the Lord Jesus Christ would also face a similar fate.