Judges 2:7-3:6 The Second Intro: The Death Of Joshua, Godliness, And Testing.
Although the people were not perfect, the writer is able to affirm that “the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua” (v. 7a). Leadership is important for the good of any community, but especially for the covenant community of the church. It is a rare case indeed to have a godly society with godly leadership. One thing stands out in this passage as that which set Joshua and the elders apart – they “had seen all the great works of the LORD which he had done for Israel” (v. 7b). Godly leadership is only provided by those who know the LORD to be the sovereign God of history, who acts in history on behalf of his covenanted people. Those who forget this history forget the God who acts in history. The second thing to note, with respect to Joshua in particular, was that he was a servant of the LORD. The record reveals how he was also a servant for the people, but this was secondary, and based upon his primary duty (v. 8).
Too many have a pagan view of the body, especially as it passes to the grave. The churches lose a great deal when they forget the importance of where one’s body lays. It was important that Joshua be buried in the land of his inheritance, for Joshua had laboured, however imperfectly, all the days of his life that the LORD’s kingdom would come, that his will would be done on earth as it was in heaven. The Christian hope is not one of a bodiless or earthless future – quite the opposite. The Christian hope is one of a resurrection body dwelling in a new heavens and a new earth. Heaven isn’t our permanent home, the earth is. Joshua wanted to be raised in the land which the LORD had promised to him, the place he laboured as the LORD’s servant, and one day he shall. However, when that generation had all passed, the next generation had forgotten the works which the LORD had done, for they did not know the LORD. It is only the true children of faith who remember their covenantal history.
There is no neutrality when it comes to our basic commitments in life. With the loss of godly leadership, and an ignorance of their past covenantal history (vv. 7-10), the generation that followed after Joshua and the elders with him, “did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals” (v. 11 Cf. 3:12; 4:1; 6:1). A lack of a personal relationship with the covenantal LORD is always accompanied by an ignorance of what the sovereign LORD has done for his people in history. “Another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel” (v. 10 Cf. 3:7). The saints were always reminded of the LORD acting in history for their deliverance. This is not the case for apostates. “They forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger” (v. 12). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
There is no neutrality when it comes to our basic commitments in life. If people do not worship the one true God they will worship someone or something else. This is a consequence of forgetting what the sovereign covenantal LORD has done in history. When those who are in covenant with the LORD reject him, they invariably adopt the culture around them. It is this spiritual adultery that provoked the LORD to anger against them. They forsook the LORD to serve another. There is irony in their acceptance of the gods of the pagan culture around them, for far from being their friends, the LORD would use these pagans to exact his punishment on them. They may have wanted to forget their history, but their enemies would not (vv. 13-14). This judgment was neither capricious nor arbitrary, for the LORD had warned them that this would be the punishment for their spiritual adultery and high treason (v. 15). These are the curses that fall upon those who deliberately break the covenantal bond (Lev. 26:14-26; Dt. 28:15-68).
“Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them” (v. 16). This is simply another way of saying that while they were his enemies he loved them, and showed grace to them in his sovereign control of history. “Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them” (v. 17a). Here we see the crux of the matter, the root of all apostasy – the obstinate refusal to heed the word of the LORD. This was in fact the judge’s primary function. When the LORD’s covenanted people turn away from his law, it is a clear indication that they have turned their backs on him (v. 17b). The LORD pitied the plight of his people, and chose to lead his people through the judges who governed according to his word (v. 18). “When the judge was dead…they did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way” (v. 19a). There is no neutrality – one either follows the LORD through his word, or one’s own way (v. 19b). It is a transgression of the covenant (v. 20a).
Since they rejected the LORD’s word, he would not give them victory over those enemies who remained with the death of Joshua (v. 21). Instead, the LORD would use these nations to test his people, “whether they would keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not” (v. 22). Since they refused to follow the LORD in their prosperity, he would test them with adversity. This is a telling warning not to take the LORD for granted, or worse yet depart from his word, when blessings abound. Our writer seems to suggest that this may have in fact been one of the reasons why the LORD did not deliver all his enemies into Joshua’s hand. A new generation would need their own battles to fight, otherwise they would be prone to drift away (v. 23 Cf. Dt. 7:22-23; Josh. 13:1-7). “This explains why there were still Canaanites during a period when Israel had been faithful (vv. 6-9). Vv. 20-22 and 3:1-4 provide a new reason for God’s leaving the Canaanites, to test the hearts of the people.” (NGSB. 336)
As noted in the previous passage, the LORD left some of his enemies in the land after the death of Joshua and the elders with him, that the next generation might be tested as to their covenantal fidelity (v. 1 Cf. 2:20-23). They needed to be taught to know war, “at least those who had not formerly known it” (v. 2). The presence of these nations would test whether or not his people were willing to wage war over their fidelity to their covenant LORD in keeping his commandments, “which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses” (vv. 3-4). This, incidentally, is a witness to Mosaic authorship of the law. However, instead of fidelity to his law, the people compromised with these nations, seen especially in their intermarriage with them, which would lead to idolatry or spiritual adultery against their covenant LORD (vv. 5-6). This is very much the condition of the church today. The church, in forsaking the law-word of the covenant, has united with the pagan cultures around it, making it ultimately guilty of idolatry. The church’s idols are the same as that of the pagan cultures in which it dwells, in every area of life. The church must be forced to fight for the truth like our forefathers had to fight.