Today’s post from Judges is a very convicting post (like last week’s), urging us to reexamine our faith and worship. Even established Christians can fall into this trap, too–we can begin to prioritize other things above God. We have to keep asking ourselves: “If God is not #1 in my life anymore, then who or what is?”
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.
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 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 ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the LORD’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
In this second chapter of Judges, a new generation of Israelites has grown up, and many members of the older generations, the “old-timers,” as it were, have passed on. The older folk were the ones who wandered in the desert for 40 years with Moses and followed Joshua (Moses’ successor) around in ancient Canaan to defeat the indigenous tribes; they had seen firsthand how God was with them and carried them in times of fear and trouble.
Without the older folk to guide them, the younger generation knows little of their tribe’s history or of its God. They grow up not knowing that God was truly with their forefathers, and as such, they begin to explore into other religions, including the ones followed by some of the surrounding tribes in the area. They start worshipping Baal, Asherah (possibly Ashtoreth as this translation reads), and many other gods, leaving behind the moral codes and worship practices that Moses had laid down decades before. If they were asked about God, they’d probably say the title of this blog post: “God? Who’s that?”
We Ask This Question, Too
Sadly, many of us today are quite like the younger generation of Israelites in the Book of Judges. We have not seen any miracles for ourselves, so our reasoning is that God must not exist. We have not felt God’s presence in our lives, so we think that he must be just a fairy tale. We have been hurt before by people calling themselves Christians, so we feel assured in saying that the Christian God must be just a fallacy.
From this reasoning, we begin to justify our forays into other religions, other practices and beliefs that may or may not be injurious to us, to try to find our “personal truth” amid the chaos of the world. I certainly did this during my 11 years outside the church–I dabbled in astrology, numerology, and Tarot cards, and I studied many different religions trying to find the truth. But I was somewhat disappointed to find that I never felt like I truly worshipped anywhere. I never really stopped believing in God as my church background had taught me, but He almost seemed too far away for me to grasp. He felt like a vague presence in the stratosphere somewhere, not personally real and relevant. (That has since changed, due to many startlingly real experiences with God, not the least of which was the spiritual healing which took place after my teaching career was flushed down the toilet.)
Much like our parents get annoyed with us when we go off and do our “own thing” rather than following their advice, God got justly angry with the Israelites for being unfaithful in their worship. He had guarded them and supported them, brought His people out of Egyptian slavery into His “Promised Land,” given them strong leaders to guide them, and THIS is how they act? As my mama used to say when I got sassy or rebellious, “We give you a lot of freedoms around this house–you just don’t appreciate them!” Though I don’t claim to know the mind of God, I figure His response went along the same lines. 😉
God Isn’t Called Heavenly Father for Nothing
For those who have never known God, this passage and its surrounding chapter might seem overly harsh–God seems bent on punishing His people! But this righteous anger is part of His role as Heavenly Father. Parents can’t just give their kids tons of privileges with no discipline; you end up with kids that don’t respect anything or anybody, and expect everything to be given to them. Likewise, parents can’t punish all the time and never spare their kids even a smile; you end up with kids that are terrified to make a mistake, terrified to disappoint, terrified to live.
God, as our Heavenly Father, gives us a perfect balance of discipline and support. Both types of treatment remind us that He is still in control, even when we think we control everything. Yes, He disciplines us when we forget Him, but He never stops loving us enough to help us.
10 Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” 11 So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man was to him like one of his sons.
This Scripture is part of a larger story in the Book of Judges about Micah, who has constructed a shrine to a silver idol in his home–he has asked this Levite man to be his in-home “priest,” trying to make his shrine more “legitimate” somehow. Micah treats the Levite well and seems to be a fine, upstanding man, but the fact is that Micah is not worshipping God–he’s spending time caring for his idols and carven images.
At the end of this story, Micah’s town is invaded by the tribe of Dan, who carries off his precious idols and uses them in their own worship instead. This is characteristic of the stories in Judges, which show how the Israelites worshipped with only the occasional mention of God among idols and pagan ideas. The idols, in the end, could not protect themselves and proved themselves powerless, and yet the Israelites continued to worship them.
In our lives, there are things we worry about and nearly worship just as much as Micah cared for his helpless idols. For some of us, it may be an object like a car, a computer, a phone, or a house; for others, it may be concepts like prestige, reputation, honor, or social standing. Anything that gets in the way of our worship of God, as I’ve mentioned in earlier Biblical interpretation, can be considered an “idol.” I myself get overprotective about my items of technology (like my laptop and phone), because they are worth a lot of money and I use them on a daily basis. Yet I know that if something were to happen to any of these items, God would provide for me.
In order to get our worship back on track, we have to remember that God is in control of everything; we should not worry about the helpless idols in our lives who can’t even defend themselves, just like Micah’s idols could not defend themselves against being carried away. Instead, we should place trust in God that He will provide us with everything we need, and not worry about those objects or concepts–God will take care of them, too.