Lesson for July 31, 2011: Return to God’s Ways (Judges 10:10-18; 11:4-6, 32, 33)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for July 24) is written by Steve Carr, teaching minister at Echo Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Return to God’s Ways (Judges 10:10-18: 11:4-6, 32, 33)

By Thomas May

“We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals” (Judges 10:10).

Do you relate with the people of Israel during the time of the judges? One moment striving to follow God with heart and mind and soul and strength, and then—before you can blink—serving false gods. Do you ever feel that happening to you? You are not alone. In Romans 7, Paul wrote that just as soon as he determined to do good, he would find himself doing the very things he did not wish to do. It is a plight all of God’s disciples face, lest we are tempted to harshly judge these wandering and wayward chosen people.

 

The Plight of the People of God

Judges 10 finds the Israelites crying to the Lord once again (cf. Judges 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:6, 7; 10:10; 11:35; 15:18; and 21:3). Straying from God’s path has brought them to a road filled with darkness, thorns and thistles, stones, holes, and places inviting a harsh fall. How did the Israelites manage to wander so far from God’s will? Verses 1-18 of this chapter give us four insights. Verses 1-5 hint of 45 years of peace and prosperity in the land. Complacency and lack of gratitude surely laid a foundation of an arrogant independence among the people in their relationship with God. Prosperity often takes a more devastating toll on faith than persecution.

Next, Scripture says the people chose to follow different paths. Other gods were visible among all the nations and peoples. Gods representing animals and created things, gods displaying the wonders of nature, even gods honoring men and great leaders were carved in stone and wood and melted into bronze. Literal statues beckoned a bended knee, and the Israelites sheepishly heeded the call. A god they could see, that required a less stringent lifestyle and less sacrifice and resources was an all-too-tempting choice.

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Today we seldom bend the knee to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our idols are made of concepts, not concrete. The cabin at the lake tugs at us more than the classroom at church. The bigger house, the better job, the busiest pathway affords an immediate reward, so much more appealing than a road of sacrifice for an eventual, unseen prize. We yearn for a lifestyle we can treasure here and now. We bow not our knee but our hearts. And where our treasure is. . . .

The Israelites sinned against God, forsaking him. The term forsaking has a rich biblical heritage that often escapes Christians today. When defining forsake, dictionaries usually center on two ideas: to abandon or quit, or to give up or renounce. We hear it in traditional marriage ceremonies: “forsaking all others.” One forsakes a habit or a lifestyle, or forsakes citizenship in a country for a life on a Pacific isle. Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus on the cross, begins with a cry asking why it seems God has chosen to forsake.

The passage in Judges directs us to two aspects of forsaking that can be overlooked. The Israelites had forgotten God’s history with his people. Verses 11 and 12 remind the reader of seven nations that oppressed God’s people. God was steadfast and faithful to hear their cries and save them, never faltering, never disappointing. The groom who promises to forsake all others for his new bride tears up his little black book of phone numbers. The past is no longer relevant. The Israelites had forsaken the history of God’s faithfulness; his past was no longer relevant to them.

The other aspect of forsaking has to do with the future. The groom who pledges to forsake all others now turns a blind eye to future women who may try to tempt, tease, or torment. In forsaking God, the Israelites were also turning away from the future. They cried to the Lord, and he admonished them to wail instead to the gods they had chosen. He no longer felt a need to save them.

Finally, the people had no strong leader. They were willing to follow anyone who had the gumption to attack the Ammonites (10:18). The Israelites had lost vision. The important things of leadership and life had been swallowed by the urgent monsters of circumstance and strife.

 

The Better Path for the People of God

“Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” (10:14). It appeared that God had turned a deaf ear to the people’s cries and that they were on their own. But the Israelites’ repentance was sincere. They knew it was their duty to be faithful and loyal to God, without regard to his response. Notice what path they chose to take.

First, they got rid of the foreign gods among them. A godly bonfire must have burned for many a night. Their repentance was so heartfelt and genuine that it required a purging. Mental images of past sins were forsaken and replaced by visions of faithful service.

Second, they chose to serve the Lord. Sacrifices were reinstated. Regular worship returned. Prayers again were offered continually as a fragrant smoke wafting to the heavens. The people still lived in a land of temptations and enticements, but now they consciously chose to walk a different path, not because they hoped to manipulate God into action, but because it was the right thing to do.

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Finally, the Israelites chose a good leader to follow. They selected Jephthah, the right man for the right time. He was a mighty warrior, proven in battle. He wasn’t even living with the Israelites at the time, but they knew he would be a faithful, godly leader so they approached him to join them and provide vision and leadership. They pledged allegiance to him.

And the result of the better path was one Israel should have known from the start. While discipline came from rebelliousness (Judges 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1), blessings came from faithfulness and obedience. God gave the Ammonites into the hands of Jephthah (11:32).

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*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.

HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS
July 25: 2 Corinthians 7:5-11
July 26: 1 Kings 8:46-50
July 27: Ezekiel 18:25-32
July 28: Luke 13:1-9
July 29: Revelation 3:14-22
July 30: Luke 24:44-49
July 31: Judges 10:10-18; 11:32, 33

ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Thomas May serves as minister of discipleship with Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

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