The information given in the repentance calls from God to Israel is overwhelming! The Old Testament history of Israel is the history of a people who were in continual need of repentance. Those calls document that even among the "people who belong to God" no deliverance occurs unless there is repentance. Human repentance determines God's actions.
Consider Jeremiah 18:1-11. The Lord instructed Jeremiah to go to a potter's house to receive His word. When Jeremiah arrived, the potter was shaping a vessel. The clay vessel spoiled, so the potter formed that clay into a different vessel. At that moment God's word came.
God could deal with Israel as that potter dealt with clay. When God promised to destroy a nation, and they turned from their evil, God changed His mind. God's promised calamity would not come on that nation. When God promised blessings to a nation, and it did evil after His promises, God withheld His blessings. God planned calamity for Judah and Jerusalem. If they turned from their evil, He would not bring the calamity.
WOW! THEIR REPENTANCE DETERMINED GOD'S ACTIONS! Nothing humans do is as powerful as genuine repentance! Repentance empowers human prayers for deliverance!
God called Abraham from a land of idolatry (Joshua 24:15). God called the Israelite slaves out of idolatrous Egypt (Deuteronomy 29:16,17; after deliverance from Egypt, they made an idol--Exodus 32). God gave idolatrous Canaan to Israel (Judges 2:11-13). Not until a few Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity was idolatry a dead issue in Israel!
It is no accident that the first prohibition of God's law to Israel was the declaration that Israel could not worship any god but Jehovah God Who delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 20:3-6). Idolatry (a) worshipped gods who did not exist; (b) produced godless behavior founded on self-centered existence; and (b) resulted in unjust treatment of other people. God's people must refuse to worship nonexistent gods; to indulge themselves in the self-gratitfication of drunkenness, sexual immorality, etc.; or to exploit others. He/she who belongs to God cannot (a) honor a nonexistent god; (b) indulge in the godless behavior of selfish gratification, or (c) treat other people (Jew or not!) unjustly.
Ancient Israel did not listen or learn. They worshipped the golden calf declaring it to be the god who delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32, note especially verses 4,5). They adopted Canaan's gods (Judges 2:11-13). Their love affair with idols continued until the Babylonian captivity. All their reforms in turning away from idol worship and idolatrous behavior were short lived. Judges 2:21-23 states God left some of Canaan's idolatrous nations intact to test Israel. Their continuing failure to repent brought increasing suffering and struggle to these people who were supposed to belong only to God (Exodus 19:3-6).
Perhaps for us the most insightful picture of the consequences of Israelite idolatry is given in Judges 2:10-23. The second generation of Israelites who left Egypt were much godlier than their parents. Their parents (the adult men who left Egypt) died in the wilderness prior to entering God's promised land of Canaan (see Numbers 14:1-38). The second generation was under twenty when they departed from Egypt and became adults in the wilderness. As children, they witnessed God's mighty deeds on the Egyptians. As young adults, they experienced God's care in the wilderness. As soldiers, they knew God's help in the conquest of Canaan. Their faith had the marvelous advantage of seeing God's helpfulness in their escape from slavery, their survival in the wilderness, and their conquest of Canaan. While their fathers experienced two of those three incidents, those experiences did not move their fathers to trust God.
Thus this devout [not sinless!] second generation was sandwiched between their faithless fathers and the faithless generation that did not experience God's protection in the wilderness. Judges 2:10 states the all those of the generation of conquest died. The following generation "did not know the Lord, nor yet the work He had done for Israel." It was this generation who "did not know the Lord" that did evil in God's sight and worshipped the Baals [the family of gods the nations in Canaan worshipped].
This idolatrous behavior infuriated God! As a consequence, God became their opponent rather than their protector--He withdrew His help from Israel! While God did not abandon them completely, He allowed them to experience fully the folly of their faithless desertion. They suffered severely! Their distress reached such enormous proportions God was moved by pity to extend them help through Judges. Yet, when they experienced relief, they turned back to idolatry. For years the cycle of suffering and rescue continued.
Perhaps this continual return to powerless idols seems stupid to us. Consider this. The Baals were a family of fertility gods. The chief male was Baal. The chief female was Ashtaroth. Through fertility rites, Israel sought fertility for their families, their livestock, and their fields. "Strength" was produced by worshipping the gods who granted conception and birth! These religious rites included sacred prostitutes and sexual intercourse with women other than your spouse. The allure of sexual preoccupation is powerful! If you doubt that, look at the devotion to sex in our society! Canaan's idolatry always allured Israel back to its rites because its rites encouraged the pleasures of self-indulgence! There was no desire to repent, to redirect behavior permanently! When oppressed, the suffering grieved them! When delivered, they longed for the rites that permitted self-indulgence! They were so shortsighted they could not see that God was devoted to their long term best interest.
Thought and Discussion Questions
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 4
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