11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them.
As described in this passage, the Israelites forget about God and go off worshipping the local Canaanite deities (collectively referred to as “the Baals,” since Baal [pronounced “Bay-uhl”] was a god worshipped in many forms in Canaan). God gets pretty angry with them for doing this in the verses immediately following this, and punishes them accordingly; you would think that the Israelites straighten up, and then continue on their God-fearing way for centuries.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. This exact verse and others phrased like it are sprinkled all throughout the Book of Judges, and indeed throughout much of the Old Testament. Once the Israelites are punished for infidelity to God, they straighten up and things are good for the next two decades or so. Then they start slowly falling out of worship with God and turning toward other deities, until the whole Israelite nation has just about turned away from God. Then God has to straighten them out again, and that works for another 20 or 30 years…and the cycle repeats.
Seems pretty silly, right? It does…until we realize we’re guilty of doing the exact same thing in our own lives. There are times we are strongly devoted to God, then times we are complacent in our faith and not so dependent on God anymore, and then there are times when we begin to even doubt God’s ability to help us. And then, gradually, we’re worshipping power, money, or love in place of God–in essence, “serving the Baals” of human desires and things of worldly import instead of God.
It often takes a big shout from God to get us back on track, something that happens in our lives to shake us up and make us realize we need to reconnect with God. Just like the Israelites, we are often called back to God when we are in our darkest hours or deepest crises, when we feel as if there is nowhere else to turn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. God won’t leave a message on our answering machines, but we’ve got a direct line of prayer to Him that we can use any time. And if we call first, He won’t even be mad that we forgot to call for so long–He’ll just be glad to hear from us again.