Judges 10 opens with the end of Abimelech. We are quickly told about two more judges. Tola judged Israel for 23 years. Though we only have two sentences devoted to Tola but that does not mean he did not help Israel for a long time. The same is true regarding the next judge to rise after Tola, Jair. Jair judged Israel for 22 years. But there is an interesting detail given concerning Jair. He had 30 sons who rode on 30 donkeys and controlled 30 cities. Notice that this information echoes the problems of Gideon who had many wives and many sons, acting like a king. It seems that Jair, though a judge, rules like a king during his 22 years. The point is that we are rapidly declining from the ideal judges that we read about earlier in this book.
Growing Wickedness (10:6-14)
The return to evil begins again. When a judge dies, the people of Israel continue to return to their idol worship. Verse 6 is even worse than what we have read before in the book of Judges. They are serving more gods than they were previously. They are not only serving the Canaanites gods of Baal and Asherah, but now they are worshiping gods that are worshipped outside the land of Canaan. They forsook the Lord and did not serve him.
We must stop and observe that this is the problem with idolatry. Idolatry enslaves us. Rather than seeing the damaged caused by idol worship, we think the solution is to seek more idols. We see our problem as not worshiping the idol enough, rather than seeing that the problem is that we are worshipping the idol. Idolatry and slavery go hand in hand. One comes with the other. If you want to live for money, then money rules your life. Money has control over you. If you want to live for sex and sensuality, then sex and sensuality rules your life and exercises its control over you. You become enslaved to the thing that you thought would free you and give you comfort. If you want to live for power and success, then power and success will control you so that you will forfeit all the other good things in life trying to attain it. Every idol does this to our hearts. It shapes us and controls us all the while letting us believe that we are still in control of our idolatrous ways. This is why God warns against our idolatry. It captures our hearts and makes us slaves. It does not free us.
Verse 7 tells us that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. He allows the Philistines and the Ammonites to crush and oppress the people. This crushing by these two nations last 18 years and it is extensive and oppressive. If you look at a map then you will see that both these oppressors are reaching far into the borders of Israel. In verse 10 we see the people finally cry out to the Lord for deliverance. What we have seen in the previous chapters is when the people finally cry out to the Lord, he sends a judge to save them. But notice what God says this time.
And the LORD said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” (Judges 10:11–14 ESV)
The Lord tells them to cry out to their idols that they have been worshiping and let them help. The Lord gives a surprising response: “I will save you no more.” This teaches us so many important things about God. This teaches us that God is not a God who needs a formula from us so that we can be saved. It is not that we just tell God that we are sorry and he will save. God is not some sort of steps that if you will just confess that he will save. I will even submit to you that it does not matter if you believe, repent, confess, and are baptized. Just offering some sort of external to God does not move God to save. These people say all the right words but God does not act for them.
We learn that God is not a God of emergency use only. God is not here to save us from our physical misery so that we can go back to living how we want. If we do not want God, God can show us a life without his help or protection. What we are seeing here in Judges is the same point that the writer of Hebrews made.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26–27 ESV)
This is exactly what Israel is doing. They are sinning deliberately. They do not care about the Lord. They are sorry because they are suffering. They are sorry because of the consequences of their sins. But they are not truly sorry for their sins. So God gives them up to their idols and tells them to find their comfort, help, and refuge in their idolatry. God is not a God to be played with or trifled with. God does not play games with us as if we are fooling him. He knows our hearts and desires.
The People’s Repentance (10:15-18)
But here is the amazing thing. The people agree with the Lord’s declaration. They admit their sins and accept that the Lord has every right to do whatever he wishes to them. They are ready to receive the consequence for their sins. Then notice what they do in verse 16. The people turn from their idols. What a statement they are making to the Lord. God has said that he will not save them. The people accept this consequences and turn from their idols anyway. Even without the promise of deliverance, the people realize that idols are destroying them and they put them away.
This is heart that God desires. True faith desires the Lord even if he does not do as we ask. We seek the Lord, not for what he gives us, but for who he is. We cannot have any conditions on serving the Lord. We cannot serve the Lord only if he gives us a happy marriage. We cannot serve the Lord only if he gives us good health or a long life. We cannot serve the Lord only if we are wealthy and happy. We cannot serve the Lord with any kind of condition. God will test our faith to see if we only serve him for the good that he does for us. This is the challenge that Satan gives to God in the book of Job. Satan challenged that Job only served the Lord because he does good by him. True faith desires the Lord even if we lose everything! We will love the Lord all the more when he says no to our prayers because we desire him, not what he does for us. This is true faith. This is the heart God desires.
Now notice the great love of God for his people. Notice the heart of God in verse 16. He did not like seeing the misery of his people by the hands of the Ammonites and Philistines. God does not want to see us suffer. He does not want us to reap the consequences for our actions. Our pains in life pain our God. He does not sit in heaven and say, “See, I told you so.” Because of the pain of his people he will send them a deliverer.
There is no greater display of this truth than in Jesus. God could tell us that he gave us his laws and told us that we would suffer for disobeying those laws. God could sit in heaven and say, “See, I told you so.” He could watch all of us suffer eternal punishment for our idolatrous ways. But the pain of his creation pains our God. So much so that God sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins so that we could be deliver from our evil ways. His love for us is to cause us to desire him alone and put away our idols. But do not play games with God. God knows our hearts and knows what we desire. God deeply loves us but we cannot expect a sacrifice for sins when we willfully reject the ways of our God. Truly repent today. Give your idols up today. Love and serve the Lord looking for the salvation to be revealed when our Lord Jesus returns in glory.