I’ve been reading the book of Judges lately in my quiet time. There are a lot of great stories in this book. Ehud stabs and kills Eglon, king of Moab and leaves his sword inside the king. There is Deborah and Barak. There is Jael who stabs Sisera, the king of Canaan’s military commander, with a tent peg through his head. And of course, there is Gideon and his 300 men who route the Midianites with some water pots and musical instruments. It’s a great book. You should read it again.
But I’ve noticed a really sad pattern in the life of the Israelites.
Joshua had been leading the Israelites ever since Moses died. It was Joshua who led Israel in their defeat of Jericho. It was Joshua who let them into the “promised land.” And like we all do, Joshua eventually got old and died.
Here’s where it gets sad.
Almost as soon as Joshua dies the people of Israel stop following the Lord. They “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.” They decide they don’t need the God who rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians. They figure they don’t need the God who helped them win the land that they are living in.
They immediately forget God. Instead, they turn to other gods. They start to follow the gods of the people that are still living in the land. The ones they haven’t driven out. So God turns them over to their enemies. They lose in battle. They become servants for other kings. They are treated harshly. Things get bad.
When things get bad enough then the people suddenly remember God and cry out to Him. And God, in His mercy, raises up someone to be Israel’s rescuer. He turns the people back to the Lord. They realize how foolish they have been and they again worship God. They fight battles and win back their freedom. They experience peace once again.
Everyone is happy until that rescuer dies. Then the people turn their backs on God again and the cycle starts over again once more.
Over and over this plays out. They turn away, God lets them have their way and they get crushed by their enemies, they cry out to God and turn back to Him, and all is well for a time. But each and every time the rescuer dies the Israelites immediately go back to following other gods. They forgot all about the God who saved and rescued them so many times before.
This pattern makes me sad. As I’m reading it all I can think is “Why would you do this? You know this is going to turn out bad for you, right? You know all the stories and have seen God be faithful so many times and yet you continue to do evil things. Don’t you get it? Can’t you see?”
And then God reminds me … “You’re the same way.”
I want to argue but I can’t. He’s right. We do the same thing, don’t we?
When things are going well, we pretty much forget about God. Our job is good. We have food on the table. All our relationships seem like they are working well. Over time though, we slowly work our way toward sin and away from God. We’re greedy. We’re lustful. We’re indulgent. We turn to other things that aren’t God. But we can handle this. This works for us. We don’t really need God. All is well in our world.
As He sees our stories play out He’s probably thinking “Why would you do this? You know this is going to turn out bad for you, right? You know all the stories and have seen Me be faithful so many times and yet you continue to do evil things. Don’t you get it? Can’t you see?”
So we turn away from God. We forget Him in all we do. We start to worship other things in our heart. So God lets us have those other things we so badly desire. Before long, maybe without even realizing it, we end up in bondage to those things.
It’s usually a gradual shift. Every day a little further away from God. Like getting in the water on the beach and looking up half an hour later to realize that you’re a half mile from where you started. One day you just realize that you’ve traveled so far from where you once were with God.
Or maybe it’s sudden. Someone gets sick or loses a job. Things go south really quick. All the stuff you had been holding onto that wasn’t God falls away in a flash and you’re left reeling.
So we turn back to God at those moments don’t we? We pray like we’ve never prayed before.
- “God, please take away this sickness”
- “God, give me a job”
- “Don’t you care about me?”
- “I promise if you do this one thing I won’t ask you for anything else as long as I live.”
We’ve all been there and we’ve all prayed prayers like that.
So what happens then? Out of His infinite love He sends us a rescuer. Maybe He heals us or gives us back our jobs. He forgives us for our turning away and welcomes us back to Him. In the end we vow to be better for it all. And life is good for a time. We go back to church and read our bibles. We pray more often. It’s not fake … we really mean it all.
Then one day we don’t wake up in time and we skip our quiet time. We don’t pray because we can’t think of anything that we need. We don’t go to church on Sunday because we want to watch the game.
Slowly but surely, the pattern starts to repeat itself again. We inevitably find that we’ve gotten back into our old ways. Not because we want to, but because left to our own devices, we naturally shift toward what is easy. Left without a need to fulfill we see no reason to seek God. Without intentional effort, relationships … even our relationship with God … withers and falls stale.
It doesn’t matter who you are either. Rich and poor people alike share this same problem. It doesn’t matter your age, race, gender, or ethnicity. You can be a devout atheist or the pastor of the largest church in the world. We all still have the same problem.
You’d think by now we’d have figured this thing out. Yet we keep running around in circles doing the same thing we’ve been doing since Biblical times. For all our sophistication and know-how, this is one problem we haven’t been able to solve.
I wish I had the answer. I wish I had some magic that would help us all stay the course and continue to follow after the One who loves, guides, cares for, and protects us. I have a feeling the answer lies somewhere with intention. With intentionally seeking out a relationship with God on a daily basis. Some way of keeping Him front and center in our lives. I think it’s more than just reading the Bible and praying though. Reading about Abraham Lincoln doesn’t mean I have a relationship with him. If all I ever did was talk at my wife (prayer often is just us talking at God), we wouldn’t have a great relationship. There’s a give and take, a back and forth.
I think there’s something there. I’ll keep exploring. I hope you will too.
This has been a reminder for me to remember my relationship with the God, the One who flung the stars in space and holds the world in the palm of His hand. He cares about us and wants us to come back to Him. Maybe let this be a reminder for you too.
Lest we forget.