The Bible’s story is the story of God accomplishing his plan in his creation. The Lord is perfect, mighty, holy, and glorious. And, when all is said and done, all that happens in the universe will be turned to magnify the glory of the Lord.
Consider the Old Testament portion of this story. God created, and his people rebelled. God chose not to destroy humanity, but promised them that he would send someone into the world to rescue them from their sin and crush the enemy. God chose one particular nation, Israel, and said that he would bring the Promised One through them.
At Mount Sinai, under the leadership of Moses, Israel received the law of God. All of those laws served to prove that the nation desperately needed to be forgiven. The law showed the people that they could not follow God on their own and that they needed someone to rescue them from their sin. The law exposed their weakness as much as it demonstrated for them a holy God whose standards sinful humanity does not meet.
By the time we reach the book of Judges, things with Israel have gotten bad. Though the people kept saying they would follow and obey the Lord, they did not do so.
Judges 2:1-3 – 1 Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
Israel simply did not do what God told them to do. They did not do away with the false gods of the inhabitants of the land. They did not drive the people out of the land, but instead lived among them. Israel compromised. And as they compromised, they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. And only the grace of God through the leadership of the judges would preserve the nation as God preserved his promise that he would send someone to rescue his people through Israel.
Let’s not go much further in the story of Israel today. Suffice it to say that God did keep enough of the nation alive through the centuries to eventually send the one he had promised. Jesus was born, and the Savior accomplished all that God had intended. And the Savior will return to this world someday.
But, for now, what should we learn from Israel? What does the opening of Judges tell us? God commands us to do certain things, simple things. They may be hard to do, but they are not often complicated. With Israel, God told them to do away with any influence of the pagan religions of the land. Israel decided that it would be easier for them and better for them to tolerate that stuff and to weave it into their national culture. And in doing so, they hurt themselves greatly through their disobedience. Their compromise would be a thorn in their flesh for all of their history.
But what about us? What does God clearly call us to be? Where are we tempted to compromise? What pagan elements are we willing to tolerate in our lives, in our churches, in our families? Where do we refuse to call sin that which God calls sin? Where are we willing to flex with the culture so as to be more well-liked by the culture?
Where are we willing to say that God’s ways are too strict, too hard? Where are we willing to look at the word of God and say that God could not possibly want us to keep all his commands? Where are we willing to say that, though we know this is wrong, we will do it anyway because we just can’t help it?
Dear friends, may we learn from the mistakes of Israel in Judges. There is no life and joy to be found in disobedience to the Lord. There is no good to be gained by compromising his standards. And no, this is not legalism. Legalism is to believe that I make myself righteous through keeping rules and laws. Obedience is to follow the commands of the Lord because he has already declared me righteous. May we learn from this people that to obey the Lord is good while to compromise with the world is deadly.