The narrative returns to the fact that Joshua has died. The leader of the people of Israel has passed away. What will become of this next generation? Joshua 2:7 tells us that the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua and even all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua who had witnessed the mighty works of the Lord. While these godly leaders lived, the people stayed the coursed, following and obeying the Lord. But now Joshua, the servant of the Lord which is a title reserved for Moses, David, and the prophets in the scriptures, dies at 110 years old. Verse 10 tells us what happens next.
And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10 ESV)
Did Not Know The Lord
We must stop and contemplate this declaration. What does it mean that the next generation “did not know the Lord?” We know it does not mean that they were completely unaware of God not that they had no knowledge of the Lord. They did know who God was. But that was the problem for there is a difference between knowing who the Lord is and knowing the Lord. The saving acts of the Lord were not central or precious to this generation. The mighty acts of God and his truths were precious to that previous generation. Notice that this is the implication of verse 7. It was the generation “who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel.” The great works of the Lord were meaningful and precious to that generation. But those things were not precious and central to the next generation. They did not honor or rejoice in what God had done. They did not know God firsthand for themselves.
Now I want to consider this from another angle for a moment. Are we the generation that does not know the Lord? Are we the generation that knows about the Lord but do not hold the mighty works of Jesus as central and precious in our lives? Was it the past generations that knew the Lord and stood in faith but now we do not do the same? We must be concerned for ourselves, honestly evaluating whether we know the Lord or whether we only know about the Lord.
Further, this changes how we teach our children. It must be a critical concern for parents that we do not merely teach our children to know about God but that they know the Lord. We must share with them what we experience and love about knowing and following Jesus. The question is not if we bring them to church services or if they attend Bible classes. The question is not even that they know facts from the scriptures, for this is not knowing the Lord. The question is if they take these facts and take this information about God and find faith that knows the Lord. We want them to honor and rejoice in what God has done. We want the mighty works of God as seen in Jesus to be central and precious to them. What follows in this chapter is a description of the consequences of not treasuring the Lord. To put this another way, we are going to read what an idolatrous generation looks like.
What Happens When We Do Not Know The Lord
Verse 11 reveals what happens when we do not know the Lord. The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. This is a pretty simple idea. When you do not make the Lord central to your life, you are going to do evil. The Lord is the only governor that keeps us from giving ourselves to wickedness. Unless we know the Lord we will move into a life of evil.
Second, the heart turns to idolatry (2:11,13). Humans will worship something. If we do not worship God, then we are going to worship something else. But I want to recognize that it visibly does not look like we have completely rejected the Lord. God is still being worshipped. The people are still going to cry out to the Lord for help. The people do not stop all the offerings and sacrifices. Rather, the people add their idols to their lives. They put their desire in something else than God. They treasure the Baal worship than treasure the Lord. This is the danger of idolatry today as well. Idolatry today is not statues, but functional gods that provide our identity and security. We are not saying that we are atheists but we ask God to coexist with the idols in our hearts.
Friends, God will not share our hearts. He absolutely refuses to share our desires. Notice how God pictures what idolatry means to him. “…they whored after other gods and bowed down to them” (2:17). God views our idolatry as sexual immorality against him. He sees this as breaking the merciful covenant of God. This is why the scriptures declare that the Lord is a jealous God when he spoke of idolatry (cf. Exodus 20:5). God will not accept a heart that is divided between himself and idols.
Third, the people abandon the Lord (2:13). Next, your heart is stolen completely away from the Lord. When we allow idols into our hearts, then our hearts become captured by those idols and our desire for the Lord slowly becomes snuffed out. I have seen this in the eyes of so many who started as Christians. They used to have a great zeal for the Lord. But now they come to worship and their eyes show that they do not care anymore. The idols have captured their hearts completely. Jesus told a parable about soils where the thorny ground swallows up the seed and chokes out the plant. Idolatry chokes out our love. This reveals to us the gripping power of sin. The apostle Paul described this condition as being “under sin” (Romans 3:9; 7:14).
Fourth, our hearts abandon to idolatry sets us on a path to misery and distress (2:14-15). God allowed Israel suffer the consequences for their sins. The apostle Paul wrote the same thing concerning all humans who allow idolatry to take root in their lives.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:24–25 ESV)
Steeped in idolatry, we are given over to our desires which brings devastating consequences eternally and here on this earth. Sin does not make a better life now but only causes for problems and more suffering.
Fifth, we reject the paths we were taught to walk in the Lord (2:17). God raises up judges but the people do not listen to these judges who were trying to bring their hearts back to the Lord. The people reject the lifestyle of their parents who walk in the commands of the Lord. The newer generation rejects the ways of the older generation. They will not listen to what they have to say and will not follow the paths they walked in the Lord. The ways of the previous generation are considered boring and antiquated. We should expect this because their hearts have been stolen away long ago. They will not go the way you are going.
Sixth, God’s grace does not change their hearts (2:18-19). Notice that God sends a judge to save the people from the oppression of the enemy. But nothing changes. As soon as the judge dies, the people turn back to their sinful ways. Not only this, they turn back to their sinful ways and become more corrupt than they were before. This is the nature of sin. Sin is a downward spiral. Sin sinks us in deeper and deeper. We commit greater sins and our hearts grow more corrupt. God’s help does not change their life at all. This is the scariest part of our descent into corruption and wickedness. There is a point where the mercy and grace of God no longer moves the heart.
But amazingly, God continues to work in an effort to bring people back to him (2:20-3:2). God offers tests to see if they will walk in his ways or not. God will continue to present opportunities that will hopefully awaken the heart and move them to come back to the Lord. God uses the nations to cause the people difficulty so that they would look to depend on God again. Their suffering was to cause them to turn their eyes to the Lord. But they did not turn their eyes to the Lord but increasingly became like the world.
The final step is that we become just like the world around us (3:3-6). The people live among the peoples. They married the inhabitants of the land rather than other Israelites, which God specifically condemned, and they served the gods of this world. Peter warns us about falling into this trap.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11–12 ESV)
We do not belong to this world and we must live honorably during our time here so that our works will cause God to be glorified. So we must take up the fight against idolatry for God cannot be shared. God tolerates no rivals.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)
Here are a couple questions to help us identify if our hearts are being captured by the world’s idols. Am I willing to do whatever God says about this area in my life? Am I willing to accept whatever God sends in this area in my life? Plug in whatever issue that may be your idol. Am I will to do whatever God says about money and am I willing to accept whatever God sends in our lives about money? Am I will to do whatever God says concerning sex and am I willing to accept whatever God sends in our lives concerning sex? Think about whatever you are dealing with in your life and ask those questions. The answers will reveal if we have idols in our hearts, stealing our desire away from the Lord. Are God’s saving acts central and precious to our lives? Are we communicating that love by how we live and how we worship?