Judges 2 – Israel’s Failure, God’s Mercy
A. From Gilgal to Bochim.
1. (1-3) The Angel of the LORD preaches to Israel.
Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’”
a. The Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal: It is likely that this was God Himself, appearing in a human form. There are frequent Old Testament appearances of the Angel of the LORD that indicate that it is God Himself.
i. There is a legitimate question as to if every mention of the Angel of the LORD is a divine appearance. As G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “This messenger, referred to as ‘the angel of the Lord,’ may have been a prophet, for the word rendered ‘angel’ may with equal accuracy be rendered messenger. On the other hand, it may have been a special divine and angelic personality.”
ii. Assuming this to be a divine appearance (as the author believes it does indicate), we surmise that this was Jesus Christ appearing to the people of Israel before His incarnated appearance in Bethlehem. We know this is Jesus for two reasons.
· First because the Angel of the LORD here claimed divinity by saying that He was the one who led Israel up from Egypt, who made a covenant with Israel (Judges 2:1), and who personally called Israel to obedience (Judges 2:2).
· Second because this person, appearing in human form before Israel, cannot be God the Father, because the Father is described as invisible (1 Timothy 1:17) and whom no man has seen or can see (1 Timothy 6:16).
iii. The idea of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, appearing as a man before Bethlehem is provocative, but logical. We know that He existed before Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); why should He not, on isolated but important occasions, appear in bodily form? We see other places where this happened, such as Genesis 18:16-33, Genesis 32:24-30, and Judges 13:1-23.
iv. “Not in such a body as God had prepared for him when he took upon himself the form of a servant, but in such a form and fashion as seemed most congruous to his divine majesty, and to the circumstances of those he visited, this angel of the divine covenant whom we delight in came and spoke unto this people.” (Spurgeon)
b. I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land: The first thing Jesus (as the Angel of the LORD) did was to remind Israel of His great love and faithfulness to them. He delivered them from Egypt’s bondage; He gave them an abundant land of promise; He gave them a covenant that He would never break.
i. It is God’s general pattern to remind us of His great love and faithfulness to us before calling us to obedience or confronting our sin. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and we can only really obey Him as we walk in His love and abide in His covenant with us.
ii. The words, “I will never break My covenant with you” remind us that even though Israel never fully lived up to their part of the covenant, God promised that He would never forsake His part of the covenant.
c. You have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? The Angel of the LORD confronted Israel in love. The question was stinging in its simplicity; there is never a good reason for our disobedience.
i. Israel’s real problem was not one of military power or technology; it was a spiritual problem. “The deplorable spiritual condition of the Israelites, not their lack of chariots, lay behind their failure to dispossess the Canaanites.” (Wolf)
d. I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side: The Angel of the LORD announced that He would allow the work of possessing the land to go unfinished as a way of correcting a disobedient Israel.
i. I will not drive them out before you reminds us that God would not do the work of conquering Canaan all by Himself. In the early years of the campaign in Canaan God did fight for Israel in a supernatural way. Yet He never intended it to be that way for the entire campaign of conquering the Canaanites.
ii. We often wish that God would do the work of Christian maturity for us; that we would wake up one morning and a certain besetting sin will just be gone. Sometimes God grants such a miraculous deliverance, and we praise Him for it. But more commonly He requires our partnership with Him in the process of Christian growth. Our partnership is important to God because it shows that our heart is where His heart is; that we are truly growing close to God.
e. They shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you: The announcement that the Canaanites would remain as problems to the nation was promised beforehand to Israel if they would not faithfully drive out the Canaanites.
i. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. (Numbers 33:55)
2. (4-6) The people respond with weeping and sorrow.
So it was, when the Angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices and wept. Then they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to the LORD. And when Joshua had dismissed the people, the children of Israel went each to his own inheritance to possess the land.
a. The people lifted up their voices and wept: This emotional response of the people was very hopeful. With all the weeping and wailing, there was reason to believe that God’s word had a deep impact upon them, and they that were on their way to a genuine revival of God’s work among them.
i. Sadly, it was not the case. The subsequent record of the Book of Judges shows that this initial reaction of sorrow and repentance did not mature into a real, lasting repentance. Real repentance shows itself in action, not necessarily in weeping. We can be sorry about the consequences of our sin without being sorry about the sin itself.
ii. One can weep and outwardly show repentance without ever inwardly repenting. This is why the Lord challenged Israel in Joel 2:13: So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.
iii. It is good to see people truly weeping over their sin and it should never be discouraged. However, “The tear is the natural drop of moisture, and soon evaporates; the better thing is the inward torrent of grief within the soul, which leaves the indelible mark within…One grain of faith is better than a gallon of tears. A drop of genuine repentance is more precious than a torrent of weeping.” (Spurgeon)
b. They sacrificed there to the LORD: In this, they did the right thing. Any awareness of sin should drive us to God’s appointed sacrifice. In their day that meant sin offerings of bulls and rams; in our day it means remembering God’s sacrifice for us on the cross of Jesus Christ.
i. They did this “In testimony of their faith in Christ’s merits (for they mourned not desperately) and their thankfulness that God had sent them a preacher, and not an executioner, considering their deserts.” (Trapp)
c. And when Joshua had dismissed the people: This shows that Judges 2 begins as retrospect, looking back to the days even before the death of Joshua (which was described in Judges 1:1). This hopeful response to the Angel of the LORD started when Joshua was still alive.
3. (7-10) The new generation in Israel.
So 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 works of the LORD which He had done for Israel. Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died when he was one hundred and ten years old. And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Heres, in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.
a. So the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua: Joshua’s legacy was seen in the godliness of Israel during his leadership. He was truly one of history’s great men of God.
b. The servant of the LORD: This is a deeply meaningful title for Joshua. It is applied only to great men of God like Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5), and David (Psalm 18:1, title), and the courageous prophets (2 Kings 9:7).
c. And all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua: Israel was also faithful to God in the days of Joshua’s immediate successors. But afterward, there arose a generation who had not seen all the great works of the LORD which He had done for Israel.
d. Another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel: The new generation had no personal relationship with God, and no personal awareness of His power. God was someone who their parents related to and who did great things for their parent’s generation.
B. A summary of Israel’s history during the time of the Judges.
1. (11-13) Israel falls into idolatry.
Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
a. The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: Even in the days of Joshua Israel did not fully possess what they could have in the Promised Land. Yet in that time they remained faithful to God and they did not worship the idols of the Canaanites. After the death of Joshua, they fell into the worship of these grotesque idols.
i. It is strange that anyone would want to trade a personal, real, living God for a false god that is the figment of man’s imagination. Yet there is something within man that is afraid of the exact God we need; we would rather serve a god of our own creation than the real, living God whom we can’t control. The gods we create are the gods wanted by our sinful desires.
b. And served the Baals: The Canaanite idol Baal was an attractive rival to Yahweh because he was thought to be the god over the weather and nature for the Canaanites; he was essentially the god of agricultural success. In an agricultural society people served Baal because they wanted good weather for abundant crops and flocks. One might say that the bottom line with Baal was the bottom line; he was effectively the god of personal wealth.
i. “There were also ‘Baals’ associated with particular places, like the Baal of Peor (Numbers 25:3) or Baal-Berith (Judges 9:4); and this may account for the plural form.” (Wolf)
ii. According to Wolf, the word Baal also meant “husband” or “owner.” Therefore, when Israel worshipped the Canaanite god Baal, they entertained another “husband” or “owner.”
c. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths: The Canaanite idol Ashtoreth was an attractive rival to Yahweh because she was thought to be the goddess of love, sex, and fertility. She was usually honored with the practice of ritual sex with a priestess-prostitute. One might say that the bottom line with Ashtoreth was sex and love.
i. “The religion of these fertility gods was accompanied by all kinds of lascivious practices, especially in Canaan, where it was found in a degraded form which even incorporated child sacrifice.” (Cundall)
d. They forsook the LORD: God made it clear that Israel’s pursuit of these gods was nothing less than forsaking the LORD God of their fathers. Yet in all likelihood Israel did not see their idolatry as forsaking God; they probably just thought they were adding a few gods along side of the God of their fathers. Nevertheless, the God of Israel is a jealous God who demands exclusive worship.
i. One Biblical illustration of our relationship with God is to describe it as a marriage relationship between husband and wife. It would be wrong for a wife (or a husband) to add many lovers to her marriage, claiming that she simply could love them all. A husband or wife has a righteous claim on the exclusive affection of their spouse; God has a righteous claim on our exclusive worship.
e. In the sight of the LORD: This implies that the sin was even more offensive to God because it was done right before His eyes. To give an extreme example, it is bad enough for a married person to commit adultery; but to commit adultery before the very eyes of one’s spouse would be especially offensive.
f. They followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them: This shows another root cause for Israel’s tragic idolatry. The influence of the Canaanites that they allowed to remain in their midst led them to idolatry. The result of not fully driving out the Canaanites was far worse than Israel imagined.
i. “We worship other gods – the gods of the nations around the idols of the market-place, the studio, the camp, and the bar.” (Meyer)
2. (14-15) God’s wrath upon their sin of idolatry.
And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for calamity, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed.
a. And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel: This response of God to the unfaithfulness of Israel was no surprise. He specifically promised that He would do this in the covenant He made with Israel, which was characterized by blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (as in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28).
i. We serve God under the terms of a different covenant, a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6). When we forsake God and do not abide in Jesus Christ, things may (and often do) go badly for us, but not because God has actively set His hand against us as He did to Israel under the Old Covenant. When we do not abide in Jesus and things go badly for us, it is simply because our actions have consequences and we reap the bitter fruit of not keeping ourselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21).
b. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them: The purpose of all this was so that when Israel was greatly distressed, they would turn their hearts back to LORD. God’s goal wasn’t punishment in itself, but repentance.
i. Therefore, we should see this as a manifestation of God’s love for Israel instead of His hate. The worst judgment God can bring upon a person is to leave them alone, to stop trying to bring them to repentance.
ii. We see the same principle in the relationship between parents and children. Though children often wish their parents would just leave them alone, it is really their worst fear that no one would love them enough to correct them. The mid 1990s told the story of a woman named Shannon Wilsey who was a well-known actress in pornographic films. As a 23-year-old woman she made a lot of movies and a lot of money; yet she put a gun to her head and killed her self. Though a success by some standards, the detective investigating her death said, “I think her whole life caused this suicide.” Shannon bragged about doing crazy things, yet she told a close friend that she wished her mother would have stopped her. The friend said, “She felt bad because her mother didn’t say anything about her being in the [pornography] business.” After her suicide, an unmailed letter was found where she described about what she wished her dad would have done. “Where were you when I was dating rock star Gregg Allman when he was twenty-five years older than me? Where were you when I was on heroin? Where were you when I started doing porno movies?” The dad said he would have been there had she only asked.
3. (16-19) The cyclical pattern of bondage and deliverance in the days of the Judges.
Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do so. And when the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.
a. Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them: Because of His great love for His people, God raised up judges – heroic leaders – to rescue Israel from their calamity. God did this nevertheless; not because Israel ever deserved such a deliverer from God, but in spite of the fact that they were undeserving.
i. “It was a method made necessary by the repeated failure of the people. That should be clearly understood.” (Morgan)
b. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but played the harlot with other gods: Though God gave Israel these heroic leaders, they did not listen to their judges in matters of spiritual leadership. They wanted the judges as political and military leaders, but not as spiritual leaders.
i. Trapp explains the idea behind the phrase, played the harlot: “Carried on by a spirit of fornication, a strong inclination, a vehement impetus to whoredom; so that they care not how they waste all upon it, and will not be reclaimed: so idolaters.”
c. The LORD was with the judge: This explains the source of power with the judges God raised up. They were able to lead Israel in dramatic acts of deliverance because the LORD was with the judge, not because the judge was necessarily great or powerful in themselves.
d. The LORD was moved to pity by their groaning: During the time of the Judges, Israel only cried out to God and really depended on Him in times of emergency. When they did cry out to Him with groaning, He answered with pity and faithfulness.
i. “This connection of sin, punishment, and deliverance really forms the keynote to the historical movement recorded in the whole of the Book.” (Morgan)
ii. This principle explains why some people are in a constant state of crisis; God knows that is the only way they can be kept trusting in Him. Instead, God’s desire is that we be in a constant relationship of dependence on Him. This is exactly how Jesus lived, as He said in John 5:19: Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
e. When the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers: The pattern of bondage, deliverance and blessing; followed by sin and bondage again is a discouraging fact in many Christian lives today.
i. This discouraging cycle was more understandable in ancient Israel than in the life of the modern Christian. This is because the Christian, as part of the New Covenant, lives with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and is made a new creature in Jesus. These are privileges that Israel in the days of the Judges knew nothing of.
ii. “The days of the judges were those in which there was no king over Israel. The fitfulness of our experience is often attributable to our failure to recognize the kingship of Jesus.” (Meyer)
f. They did not cease from their own doings: Their sin was their own doings; they couldn’t blame it on anyone or anything else. In the same way, their sin was their own – they didn’t learn it from God, but it came from their own corrupt natures.
g. Nor from their stubborn way: The ancient Hebrew word translated stubborn (also translated as stiff-necked) is a word that was also applied to Israel many time during the Exodus (Exodus 32:9, 33:3, and 33:5). This shows that a change of location – even coming into the Promised Land – didn’t necessarily mean a change of heart for Israel.
i. We should never count on sanctification by relocation; wherever you go, you take you with you. A new environment doesn’t always mean a new attitude.
ii. The ancient Hebrew word for stubborn (kawsheh) comes from the idea of being hard or severe. To be stubborn against the LORD is to have a hard and unyielding heart; and it results in a hard life.
4. (20-23) God gives them over to their sinful compromise.
Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.” Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.
a. Then the anger of the LORD was hot: “He is not made all of mercy, as some dream, but can be angry: and ‘who knoweth the power of his wrath?’ (Psalm 90:11). It is such as men can neither avoid nor abide.” (Trapp)
b. Because this nation has transgressed My covenant: When God said, “this nation” instead of “My nation” it showed that Israel wasn’t abiding in their relationship with God.
c. I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left: Israel wanted these Canaanite nations around, so God gave them the worst punishment He could think of: He would allow it.
d. Therefore the LORD left those nations: After setting their hearts on sinful things, Israel found that God gave what their sinful hearts desired. This illustrates the great danger of setting our hearts on sinful things; we may get to the point where God may allow us to have them – thus bringing sin, bondage, and pain into our lives.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission