The Idolatry of Israel

On Sunday morning I preached my third message from the book of Judges. The text was Judges 2:6-23, and the title, “The Idolatry of Israel”. Here is a sermon synopsis. Enjoy!

What comes to your mind when you think of the word, “Idolatry”? Usually it is an image of some natives in a third world country bowing down before stone images and dancing around wildly. When we think of idolatry we  think of uneducated people who who worship birds and snakes and the sun. Certainly, that is one form of idolatry. But idolatry is not just dancing around and worshipping a non-existent rain god. It is something everyone of us struggles with everyday. By looking at the idolatry of Israel presented in Judges 2:6-23 we will be able to understand what idolatry is, and discern where this sin creeps up in our own lives so that we can turn away from it.

In Judge 2:6-23 we find Four Consequnces of Idolatry.

I. Idolatry Forgets Grace (2:6-10)

At this point Joshua is an old man. As a result, he can no longer lead Israel out in battle. So in 2:6 he sends them away, so that each tribe might go and finish taking possession of their land. With the aging of Joshua comes the demand for a leadership transition. And that is exactly what we have in 2:7-10. These verses describe the generational transition that took place after Joshua left the scene.

When Joshua was alive, everyone served the Lord. Then after Joshua died, the elders took leadership control. Once again, the people served the Lord. This is the generation that is described in 1:1-2:5. Then, after the elders died, an apostate generation arose, and they forsook the Lord.  This begs the question: what happened? Answer: Throughout the generational transition, the people of Israel forgot the grace of God.

In vs. 7 it says that Joshua, and the elders served the Lord. Based on the context that is a strange statement. In 1:1-2:5 the elders are portrayted as a disobedient group who began to succumb to the idolatrous influence of the Canaanites. What happened to the elders is that the grace of God became a distant memory. For Joshua and his generation, the memory of God’s work was fresh and vivid. They were there when they came out of Egypt and the Red Sea opened up. They were there during the forty years of the wilderness wonderings. These experiences were reality. But for the elders, they were only distant memories. Then, when the new generation arose, they did not know God at all (v. 10).

So what happened? They forgot the grace of God! Joshua dies in vs. 8. They bury Him in vs. 9. The elders die in vs. 10. And boom: “there arose a new generation who did not know the Lord”. By the third generation they did not even know God at all! This is how idolatry happens! When you forget the grace of God that has been poured out in your life through the cross you are preparing yourself for idolatry. This is exactly what happened to Israel. You are going to worship something. And if you are not enthralled with the grace of God then you will find something else to be enthralled with. Never forget the grace of God that has been poured out in your life! When God’s grace becomes a distant memory, you will reach for other gods. Idolatry is right around the corner. God’s grace must be vivid present tense experience, or else your preparing yourself for disaster.

II. Idolatry Forsakes God (2:11-13)

The new generation did not know God. They forgot His grace. So they turned to Baal and Ashtaroth, who were both fertility gods. The Canaanites would participate in cultic prostitution as a part of their religious worship. And Israel jumped right in with them. This is the very thing that God told Israel not to do (Deut. 8:8-19).

It is easy to poke fun at Israel and say, “Oh look at those idolaters. They went after the Baals. That’s so terrible! I would never do something like that! I would never worship a false god or an idol!” Oh really. Do you know what an idol is? Stuart Scott in his book, The Exemplary Husband, says an “idol is anything at all that we consistently make equal to or more important than God in our attention, desire, devotion, and choices.” For example, an idol can be security, personal possessions, your spouse, your children, your bank account, control, an accomplishment, the good opinion of others, physical apperance, significance, a desired circumstances in life. All of these things and more can be idols!

The same sin that the new generation struggled with is precisely the same sin we struggle with today! We forsake God for all of these other things when we make these things equal to or more important than God! This is the sin of vs. 11-13. For you to have anything at all in your life that rivals your love for god is equivalent to forsaking god. That is evil in the eyes of the Lord.

So how do you turn repent from idolatry? Joshua 24:23 gives the answer: “Now therefore, put away foreign gods which are in your midst, and inclind your heart to the Lord.” It’s a two step process. Put away your foreign gods, and incline your heart to the Lord. You must do both, and you must do it in that order.

III. Idolatry Solicits Discipline (2:14-19)

Vs. 14-19 is a description of the discipline of God. Israel sinned and the solicited the discipline of God. The discipline of God consists of two aspects: His anger and His compassion. It’s like a two sided coin. God disciplines His people because He is angry, and He disciplines His people because He is compassionate. Vs. 14-15 describe God’s anger, and vs. 16-19 describe God’s compassion.

The author wants to make very clear how God responds to idolatry. Yahweh, the one who made such an investment in His people, the one who lavished them with grace, who delivered them from Egypt, who gave them the promised land, who loved them was provoked by their sin. His anger burned. God is pictured as fuming with anger.

Why? God hates idolatry. God’s first concern is that His people would have no other gods (Exodus 20:3). God is passionately jealous for the hearts of His people. When we have things in our lives that are more important to us than God, God is moved to anger. The greatest illustration is the husband wife relationship. When a wife or husband develops a fascination or an interest in another person, the normal and appropriate reaction is anger. Why? Because to have any other love smacks of breaking the covenant. When we have any other love in our heart that rivals our love for God that suggests that the covenant we made with Him means nothing. And that absolutely infuriates God. It’s all your love, or it’s none of it at all, just like in marriage.

So, to get Israel back, God gave them into the hand of the Canaanites (14-15). As vs. 15 points out, Israel’s real enemy was God. When you engage in idolatry God’s immediate response is to go on the warpath. He lets you experience the effects of your sin until you return to Him.

In vs. 16-19 we have the compassion of God presented. God’s main reaction to sin is to provide a means of redepmtion. His heart is deliverance. So he provided Israel with Judges to deliver her from tyranny. God provided deliverance as a result of his great compassion through the hands of the Judges (v. 16). But unfortunately, Israel would have none of it (v.17). They didn’t listen to the Judges. Instead, they chose to play the harlot after the other gods around them (v. 18). They paid homage to pagan gods rather than to Yahweh.

Verses 18-19 present the cycle that takes place as a result of Israel’s continued sin and God’s continued discipline. It consists of four steps: 1) Apostasy; 2) Oppression; 3) Groaning; 4) Deliverance. This pattern contines throughout the entire book. The sad part is, that every time Israel experience deliverance, they would just go back to their sin.

Don’t be fooled. If there is idolatry in your life God will discipline you by allowing you to experience the results of your sin. God is angry; but he is compassionate enough to allow you to go through the pain so that you will return to Him.

IV. Idolatry Creates Slavery (2:20-23)

In vs. 20-23 God speaks directly to Israel. Since Israel forsook Yahweh, Yahweh is now officially forsaking Israel. He declares that the holy war is over, and Israel will no longer have his help in driving out the Canaanites.

But notice the reason why God does this in vs. 22. He says I am leaving these nations in the land of Canaan “in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their Fathers did or not”. In other words, the reason why I am going to withdraw my presence and allow these nations to remain is to see whether or not you will eventually repent! God allowed Israel to stay in bondage to Canaanite oppression to see how they would respond. Would they repent? Or would they continue in a downward spiral of idolatry?

Here is the principle: God inentionally allows His people to struggle with sin to see what they are going to do about it. So you have a sin you struggle with. Fine. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to remain in it, or are you going to repent of it? God wants to see what are you going to do! That was the test He put Israel through in vs. 20-23. He allows a battle with certain sins to remain to see whether or not you will deal with it. He wants sin to bother you. OK it bothers you. Now what are you going to do about it?

Failing to deal with idolatry is dangerous stuff. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you don’t bow down to a statue that idolatry is a non-issue. This is an issue for all of us. And it is only by God’s grace through the cross that we are able to fight. Only by repenting of sin and following Christ can you deal with the issue of idolatry.

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One Response to “The Idolatry of Israel”

  1. Karen Eoriatti Says:

    WE are having home Bible study and looking at issues facing us in daily life. This week we are looking at anger and how to deal with it as God would want us to….
    This was great to read and has given me food for thought.
    Thanks and God bless you.

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