I’ve just finished reading Judges. It’s so depressing. By the end of the book you read one bizarre story after another–God’s people are just wallowing in depravity. But where did it all start? How did God’s people go from fording the Jordan and marching on Jericho in the book of Joshua to anarchy, immorality, civil war and rampant idolatry just one book later?
I imagine that it started with laziness, failing to keep alert as the surrounding culture suggested various options for worship and sex, failing to listen to God’s specific commands so that eventually doing things like making a silver object to help in your worship of God sounded like a good idea, taking various concubines sounded like an option, etc. From there it was just a short step to worshipping other gods and their silver idols, demanding that visitors to your city be brought out to the village square for gang rape, and advising your countrymen to steal wives for themselves by carrying off unsuspecting young girls from the fields.
There’s an interesting story in Judges 17-18 about a man who apparently stole thousands of dollars worth of silver from his mother. When he hears her cursing about the theft he returns it to her and she consecrates a portion to God. This then somehow translates in her mind into making the silver into an idol for his family so they can better worship God. The son takes the idol and installs his own son as a priest in the house. Later he runs into a wandering Levite–actually a grandson of Moses–and makes him into the household priest. Not only is an idol now involved in their worship of God, but also a totally illegal priest since only Aaron’s descendants were supposed to be priests and they were supposed to minister in the tabernacle not private houses. Finally, a wandering tribe of Israelites comes along looking for a place to settle since they have failed to claim the area God set out for them in the Promised Land. They ask the pseudo-priest if they should steal a particular piece of land although it is quite obviously not the land they have been given by God. They steal the idol, convince the priest to betray the man he works for and come along with them as a kind of good luck charm, and go off to kill a peaceful and unsuspecting group of people who happen to have some good land.
Now what does all this have to do with us? Well, when I look closely at the story I see a mother who failed to be alert to what God expects vs. what the surrounding culture suggested was appropriate, and thereby actually bought an idol for her son thinking it was a good thing. I see a man who didn’t recognize idolatry when he saw it and in turn taught it to his own son. I see a grandson of Moses who should have known better and could have stopped the whole thing but who instead took advantage of it in order to secure himself a job and a place to live. And I see a whole tribe who failed to step up and take hold of the specific area that God had given to them and so found it necessary to steal other people’s land and things. I see a lot of aimlessness and confusion in areas where there was complete clarity from God. God clearly said “No idols;” “Only Aaron’s descendants as priests;” and “This is your particular piece of land.” But the people were not alert. The downward slide had begun. They were, in fact, asleep.
During the Passion Week, I am trying to wake up. Where are the areas that I buy into the culture and give my children things that actually lead them into sin? What are the specific areas that God has given me (in terms of both responsibility and blessing) that I have failed to claim? Am I trying to worship in a way that is off-base or perhaps even a bit idolatrous? How do my actions measure up to the clear command to pray so as not to fall into temptation?
“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6