Judges 2:11-23 Covenantal Apostasy – Failure To Heed The Word.
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. 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)