“As soon as the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Do you remember a time as a kid when you were misbehaving, knew it, but weren’t doing anything about it? You just kept right on down that path figuring that you’d deal with the consequences when that time came. And eventually, the time did indeed come. Your parent or teacher or some other authority finally caught you and sat you down and basically said, “You’ve had your fun, but what were you thinking? Now it’s time to pay the Piper.”
I remember a time in first grade when I got the duty of being sent back to the classroom all by myself to get something for the teacher while the rest of the class was on a scheduled trip to the bathroom. One of the in-class rewards Mrs. Brown gave to well-behaved students was Cheez-It crackers.
I knew where the box was and I loved Cheez-Its. I quietly helped myself to a couple. Then I started looking for whatever it was I had been sent to retrieve. Then I helped myself to some more. Then some more. I was living dangerously. After looking for another minute I found whatever it was. And as I stopped by the stash one last time on the way out…you guessed it…in walks Mrs. Brown to find out what was taking me so long.
I was literally caught with my hand in the box. Fortunately, Mrs. Brown was really kind about it. She gave me a “consequence,” which was what they called our behavioral demerits, and warmly explained why that wasn’t okay to me. It helped that I really was a pretty good kid otherwise. I learned my lesson and didn’t do it ever again.
This is where we find Israel here at the beginning of Judges 2. Now, the time at the beginning of the book is running at summary speed which means it plays a bit fast and loose. Historical chronology won’t matter until the beginning of chapter 3. This scene really happened, but where exactly it happened in the larger context of Judges we don’t know and that’s really not all that important. What matters is that Israel had wandered off the path, stayed there, and didn’t move from it until God finally came and said, “Alright, you’re busted. What have you been thinking? It’s time to pay the Piper.”
In this case, the fee was that God wasn’t going to drive out the remaining Canaanite nations before them any longer. He was going to leave them there. The rest of the chapter reveals that He left them there to serve as a test for the people to see if they would or could remain faithful when they had other options available to them. The larger story—whose pattern is explained over the course of this chapter—reveals that they could…for the historical second after getting busted, but not other than that.
In this case, when God busted them they mourned, offered a sacrifice on behalf of their collective sins, and promised to never do it again. It didn’t take. And gradually they paid a deeper and deeper price for their sin. Part of the price was punishment, but part of the price too was in the loss of character. You see, sometimes the most tragic consequence of our sin is not what happens externally because of it, but rather what is happening to our character as we continue committing it. For the people of Israel, as the story of Judges bears out in terrible detail, their character as a nation began to deteriorate until there was almost nothing left.
So, what does this mean for us? Well, for starters, it means we should stay away from sin in the first place. Especially sins that might become habits that will control our lives to the point that normal consequences don’t faze us from our folly. Second, when we do get busted (because we always eventually get busted), we need to genuinely repent lest the getting busted be a meaningless exercise.
One last one: Should we find ourselves in a pattern of sin, when we’ve faced consequences for it, but are still walking the path anyway, we’ve got to have the humility and courage to get help. Sin brings destruction and it will destroy us if we leave it unchecked. Our Heavenly Father will do everything He can to keep us from hitting rock bottom, but we’ve got to work with Him lest there be nothing and no one left to save us. The book of Judges, as we will see in the coming days, is a tragedy. Let us let it be a cautionary tale, not a travelogue.