Jeremiah 25:15-38 The Grapes Of Wrath.

Jeremiah 25:15-38 The Grapes Of Wrath.

“Jeremiah predicts seventy years of Babylonian activity for Judah as judgment for persistent sin, and warns the neighboring nations as well of judgment at the hands of Babylon (ch. 25). His message meets opposition from false prophets, priests, and the people (chs. 26-29).” (NGSB. 1192-3) Again, Jeremiah did not dream this word out of his own imagination, he spoke that which he had received (vv. 1-2). He also repeats the point regarding the beginning of his call to the ministry, being “from the thirteenth year of Josiah” (v. 3). Jeremiah spoke into a specific historical context, controlled as all history is, by the sovereign will of God. Again, he also points to his present, twenty three years after that initial reception of the word of the LORD God, but alas the people did not listen, just as they had rejected the LORD’s previous servant prophets (v. 4). Therefore the message remained the same – they needed to repent (v. 5), and turn from their idolatry or spiritual adultery (v. 6). This is why the LORD was angry with them (v. 7). Consequently, the curses for breaking the covenantal bond would follow (vv. 8ff.).

Now we read what it is that the LORD had said to Jeremiah specifically, namely that he was being called to symbolically take the “wine cup” of the LORD’s fury, from his hand, and cause all nations, to whom the LORD was sending him, “to drink it” (v. 15). Then he says “I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations drink, to whom the LORD sent me” (v. 16). Again, this was not an imaginary dream, Jeremiah had stood in the council presence of the LORD God and received from him the symbolic wine cup of his fury. Furthermore, he did not pour it out, so to speak, as he saw fit, but rather he went a spoke what he had received to the nations to whom the LORD had sent him. Jeremiah may have been a lone voice among many false prophets, but he did not fly solo. He spoke as an ambassador of his King, to those whom his King had sent him (v. 17). It should also not go unnoticed that the first people he was to go to with this message was “Jerusalem and the cities of Judah,” specifically to the covenantal heads in “its kings and its princes, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, a hissing, and a curse” (v. 18 Cf. 25:9-11).

This wine and cup of the LORD’s fury, wrath, or indignation will reappear in the last book of the bible, book of “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1a; 14:10), in the context of the “the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth” (14:6), before the reaping of the harvest and the grapes of wrath (vv. 14ff.). ‘Curse’ is the key word here, hearkening to the reality of the covenantal bond (Cf. 24:9). The road then naturally leads to Egypt, the infamous oppressor of the people of God, also hearkening back to the exodus event in their salvation history (v. 19). We then are called back to remembering the victories, especially under David, over the Philistines (v. 20), “Edom, Moab, and the people of Ammon; all the kings of the land,” that is the promised land (v. 21), Tyre, Sidon, and Arabia, on through to the Medes (vv. 22-25), and “all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another; and all the kingdoms of the world which are on the face of the earth. Also the king of Sheshach shall drink after them” (v. 26). Sheshach was a code word for Babylon, the king and nation who would take the nation into captivity.*

In other words, Jeremiah brings things all the way from the bondage of Egypt through deliverances and victories won to the approaching exile to Babylon, and even as Egypt was later judged for how they had treated his people, even so judgment would also come one day upon Babylon. God has always sovereignly used men and nations to punish others, including his own covenanted people, and at the time these nations reveled in their position. However, this in no way absolves them of guilt and judgment themselves. Just like some “party” to drunkenness and then vomit, what these nations love will be their regret. “Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you” (v. 27). The nations, leaders and people, may refuse to accept the word of the LORD God, but drink the cup they shall (v. 28). Again, this calamity will begin with “the city which is called by” his name, that is Jerusalem. None will go unpunished, for he will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth, “says the LORD of hosts” (v. 29). The LORD on high shouts from “His holy habitation,” roaring “mightily against His fold” (v. 30a).

The shout is to the treaders of the grapes of wrath, “against all the inhabitants of the earth. A noise will come to the ends of the earth-For the LORD has a controversy with the nations; He will plead His case with all flesh. He will give those who are wicked to the sword,’ says the LORD” (vv. 30b-31). All the wicked in the earth will be as refuse on the ground (vv. 32-33). The shepherds, the so-called leaders of the flock, were the false prophets, politicians and priests, not unlike the false ministers of our so-called mainline churches, and their friends the statists politicians, who preach a message of peace when there is no peace (v. 34, 37). They may try to flee from the wrath of God but they will fail (v. 35). “The LORD has plundered their pasture” (v. 36). The LORD God is as an angry lion set upon hunting and tearing apart his prey, and so he shall. Jeremiah was not his sword of vengeance, and neither are the true ministers of the word today. God will take care of his own vengeance. As ministers of the word we fulfill our calling when we preach the holy, inerrant, infallible word of true truth.

*“This word is an allusion to Babylon based on the word ‘Babel,’ using a familiar code that substitutes for each consonant the corresponding one from the alphabet written in reverse. In English, ABC would become ZYX.” (NGSB. 1194)

Jeremiah 25:1-14 Seventy Years Of Desolation.

Jeremiah 25:1-14 Seventy Years Of Desolation.

Again, unlike the false prophets who speak from the evil imaginations of their own deceitful hearts, Jeremiah received the word of the LORD and obeyed by going forth to proclaim it to the people (vv. 1-2). Jeremiah bears witness that from the start of his ministry (Cf. 1:2), to twenty three years out, he has risen early and spoken the word of the LORD to them, but they would not listen (v. 3). This echoes what he had said earlier (Cf. 7:13; 11:7-8, 10). The vast majority had broken the covenant, even as they refused to listen to all his previous servant prophets he had sent to them (v. 4). They all made clear that repentance was required if they were to escape the curses of the covenant (v. 5). The prohibition against idolatry was foundational to the covenantal bond (v. 6). Instead they provoked the LORD to anger with their spiritual adultery (v. 7).

Therefore the LORD would raise up a political and military servant in Nebuchadnezzar, through whom to execute his judgment on the covenant community (vv. 8-9). Moreover, he would “take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp” (v. 10). When a people rejects the voice of the LORD God, then the voices of blessing and prosperity cease. They and their land would be desolate, and along with some other nations, they would “serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (v. 11). At the end of the seventy years the LORD would then “‘punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD; ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation” (v. 12).

Two things are worthy of note here, God is the sovereign Lord of history, and that which is sown will one day be reaped (v. 14). We then find the remarkable promise of verse 13. “So I will bring on that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah has prophesied concerning all nations.” Firstly, as another sign of a true prophetic word, what the LORD has predicted here through Jeremiah he promises will come to pass in his timing. Secondly, the words of this book are the words which Jeremiah prophesied. This period of seventy years “may be counted in round figures from 605 B.C. (v. 1; Dan. 1:1) to 538 B.C., when the exiles began to return home following Cyrus’s decree (2 Chr. 36:20-23). The seventy years allow the Lord’s (sic) word of judgment to have full effect before new salvation can be experienced.” (NGSB. 1193)

Jeremiah 24 Two Baskets Of Figs – Two Seeds.

Jeremiah 24 Two Baskets Of Figs – Two Seeds.

When Jeremiah speaks he says that he is speaking of what the LORD has showed him, not just a dream of his own imagination (v. 1). The two baskets of figs set before the temple of the LORD are the two groups of people who can be found within the visible covenant community. Both go into captivity, but the true children are the good figs, “like the figs first ripe,” but the bad are the ungodly seed within the covenantal congregation, “which could not be eaten, they were so bad” (v. 2). Jeremiah answered the LORD, confirming what he saw (v. 3). The good figs were sent into captivity for their own good, given the judgment that was to fall upon Jerusalem. They were also given the promise that one day they would return (vv. 4-5). At that time he would “build them and not pull them down…and…plant them and not pluck them up” (v. 6).

This is but a figurative way of saying that he had chosen them, and that by his grace he would build them into his true house, that they would not build themselves, or save themselves by their own works. They would be his planting, and this is why they would be good figs and not bad. Furthermore, they would persevere to the end as his elect ones, because he would never pull them down or pluck them up. This would be the case because he would “give them a heart to know” him (v. 7a). In this work of sovereign grace the crux of the covenantal bond would be fulfilled – that he would be their God and they his people (v. 7b). The beginning and sure sign of this new birth would be their return to him with their whole heart in repentance and faith (v. 7c). As for the bad figs, they would be delivered into trouble from all nations – the covenantal curses (vv. 8-10).

Jeremiah 23:9-40 False Prophets And Empty Oracles.

Jeremiah 23:9-40 False Prophets And Empty Oracles.

Jeremiah now shifts his attention away from the shepherds to those calling themselves prophets, and what he is ultimately seeking to defend is the inerrant, infallible word of the living God which came through prophets whom he called. Tests to affirm who were true prophets is the same test to determine what would ultimately form the canon of holy scripture. On a personal level, the holy words that came through Jeremiah overtook him such that his heart was broken, his bones shook, and he describes himself as like a drunken man (v. 9). The people had broken the covenantal bond with their adulteries, and idolatry. As a result even the land was cursed with drought. Their course was evil. Like many nations, even today, they believed that might made right. To this the word through Jeremiah was “their might is not right” (v. 10).

“‘For both prophet and priest are profane; Yes, in My house I have found their wickedness,’ says the LORD” (v. 11). The apostasy was led by those who had been entrusted with giving and teaching the law-word of the covenant, and instead they practiced wickedness in the LORD’s house, intended as a meeting place with the LORD. For their wickedness the LORD would punish them with darkness, and slippery ways. In other words they would not find a way out of their predicament, they would not see any move to make, and any move they did make would be slippery. They had lost their footing, so to speak (v. 12). The first obvious sign that these prophets were false was the fact that they prophesied by Baal, thus causing the people to err into idolatry (v. 13). This is the first canonical test to determine if a prophet or teacher is true – do they serve the LORD?

Through Moses the LORD had made it abundantly clear that no matter what signs or wonders which “a prophet or dreamer of dreams” performed, if they called people to worship any god other than the LORD, then they were false and were to be treated as such (Dt. 13:1-4). The explanation was simple, the LORD required loyalty to the covenantal bond in word and deed. “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Dt. 13:4). The maximum penalty which the LORD allowed for a false prophet was death, and the people were not to waver even if it were a family member seeking to lead them astray (Dt. 13:5-16). With all due process (v. 14 Cf. Dt. 19:15-21), they must act because a sin so evil would bring judgment on the entire nation (Dt. 13:17-18).

Any true prophet, like Jeremiah, should have been calling the people to repentance, but instead they taught and practiced lies, like idolatry, and adultery. They also gave strength to those who also practiced evil, so that none turned from their wickedness. They had become like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 14). As a result these false prophets would be fed bitterness, like wormwood and gall, because they led the way into profaneness in the land (v. 15). So we have the first obvious sign of apostacy in their teaching of idolatry, and secondly the acts which accompany this. A third reason, and the one which is the primary reason for their apostacy, is the fact that they spoke “a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD” (v. 16). This is not so much a test as a reason for their words and deeds.

However, there is something which the people could see and test, and that was whether they spoke a message of peace, when every indication was that everyone was walking “according to the dictates of his own heart,” and them telling the people that no evil or judgment would come upon them (v. 17). These were ultimately tests to determine whether they had stood before the LORD in his council, perceiving, hearing and marking his word (v. 18). Anyone calling themselves a true prophet either has stood in the LORD’s council, or they would know him as a whirlwind to take them away (v. 19). Here we have a hint of another test – whether the prophets predictions were fulfilled. To this end the LORD promised that “in the latter days” people would “understand it perfectly” (v. 20). A true prophet is also one who is sent from the LORD’s council with his word (v. 21a).

False prophets run as though they in fact were sent by the LORD with an urgent message, and even though the LORD did not speak to them in his council, nor send them from there with his word, they nevertheless claim to prophesy (v. 21b). Verse 22 sums up the matter perfectly. “But if they had stood in My council, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.” With their ignorance and lack of the canonical word, their entire theology was corrupt. They envisioned a god entirely like themselves, when the LORD is not only near, but also afar of, able to see and know the thoughts, words, and deeds of men, even what they think they get away with in secret (vv. 23-24). They claimed to speak for the LORD, saying ‘I have a dream,’ believing that no one could question their dreams (v. 25).

The LORD calls false prophets “prophets of the deceit of their own heart” (v. 26). In the bible the word for ‘heart’ primarily refers to the inner core of a person. References to any emotions, such as is understood by the word by most today, is a reference to the core of these as well. However, more often than not, it refers to the core of one’s thinking. As a man thinks in his heart so is he ( Prov. 23:7). Again, their dreams were false, because by appealing to them they sought to lead the people to forget the LORD for Baal (v. 27). A dream, even of a true prophet, is but a vehicle for the giving of the LORD’s word, if it is a true dream (v. 28). Unlike the famous words of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is not the message. Instead, it is the LORD’s word which is “‘like a fire,’ says the LORD, ‘And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces’” (v. 29).

False prophets also believe that their message will be received if it passes the test of the majority, so they conspire together to speak the same lies (vv. 27). If they do happen to speak some truth, it is because they have stolen it from a true prophet who did receive it directly from the LORD (v. 30). In preambling their words with ‘He says,’ they are but bearing false witness (v. 31). Prophesying false dreams, and speaking lies recklessly causes the LORD’s people to err, and because they were not sent or commanded by the LORD they would profit the people nothing (v. 32). Whether it is ‘I have a dream,’ or ‘He says,’ or ‘The oracle of the LORD,’ these are all the bearing of false witness, the perversion of “the words of the living God” (vv. 34-36). They pervert the canonical word already given and received as such. Instead, one must ask, ‘What has the LORD spoken’ (v. 35)?

Because false prophets claim that the LORD has spoken to them, he will forget and forsake them, and cast them from his presence, and those associated with them, because their very words pervert his word. It is ironic that because they did not stand in the LORD’s heavenly presence in his council, that they would be cast from his presence on earth (vv. 38-39). All who prophesy falsely, and those who follow their words, will bring on themselves “an everlasting reproach…and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten” (v. 40). A true prophet is remembered for words which pass the canonical tests as true, but the false are remembered for the judgment upon them for their evil words and deeds. This should be heard as a clarion call to any who would make any claim to being a prophet to whom the LORD has supposedly spoken to today, for the canon is closed.

Jeremiah 23:1-8 THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Jeremiah 23:1-8 THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

“‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ says the LORD.” (v. 1) God is the covenant LORD of his people. Shepherds are called to be faithful stewards of those who are his. Instead of protecting them the shepherds were devouring them. Instead of leading them to green pastures they caused them to flee for their lives (v. 2a). Because they did not attend to the needs of the sheep, the LORD was going to attend to their evil deeds (v. 2b). One primary thing is presupposed here, the sheep need shepherds, but those who will be faithful. Secondly, out of this adversity the LORD promises to preserve a remnant within the covenant who will be gathered together once again, and “they shall be fruitful and increase” (v. 3). Thirdly, this renewal is not without shepherds, but rather the LORD “will set up shepherds over them who will feed them” (v. 4a).

Under shepherds set up by the LORD, three things would result. “‘They shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,’ says the LORD.” (v. 4b). Firstly, they will no longer fear the shepherds. Secondly, they will no longer be dismayed that they are victims of evil shepherds. Finally, they will no longer have to flee because of want, because these shepherds will lead them to green pastures and still waters (Cf. Ps. 23). These promises, and these shepherds will come for one reason and one reason only, because the LORD of the covenant would send a son of David who would be known as “a Branch of righteousness,”  a King who “shall reign and prosper, and execute judgement and righteousness in the earth” (v. 5). Note well, this Branch will with his coming begin his reign and prosper in the earth!

This Branch would provide the LORD’s people with salvation and safety. It is through his righteousness that we are saved, for this reason he is called “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (V. 6). Furthermore, in the days coming, the epic or pivotal event of this salvation history will not be a looking back to the exodus from Egypt, but rather it will be a type of that greater redemption which would come through this Branch and the salvation wrought through his righteousness, when he gathers his remnant and gives them a dwelling and rest in their own land (vv. 7-8). This passage has always been understood as being messianic, for those who know the scriptures, and in whom these scriptures, by God’s Spirit, have the faith and hope to believe. There is no gap here between the coming of the Branch or Messiah, and the reign of his righteousness, who is Jesus.

Genesis 38 Judah And Tamar.

Genesis 38 Judah And Tamar.

Judah departed from his brothers, saw, married, and had three sons with Shua a Canaanite. He then took a wife for his firstborn Er, whose name was Tamar (vv. 1-6). We don’t have the specifics on the evil which Er was guilty of, but the LORD killed him for it, and also his brother Onan, who was guilty of not seeking to provide Er with an heir through Tamar (vv. 7-10). Since his third son Shelah was too young, Tamar would have to wait as a widow in her father’s house (v. 11). However, even though Shelah eventually came of age, he and Judah were not keeping their commitment to Tamar. As a result she conspired to have Judah impregnate her, which he did, thinking that she was a harlot. She had proof by taking his signet and cord, and staff (vv. 12-18). This was the equivalent of his signature. “He signed contracts  by rolling the seal over the clay on which the contract was etched.” (NGSB. 72)

Tamar then no longer wore the clothes of widowhood (v. 19). However, when Judah sent a goat to redeem his signet and cord, and staff, his friend the Adullamite could not find Tamar (vv. 20-22). In Judah’s mind he was able to cease this effort, for he had sent the young goat as an exchange, but the woman could not be found (v. 23). When Judah was told that Tamar had played the harlot he wanted her burned – the maximum penalty allowed for harlotry (v. 24 Cf. Lev. 20:14; 21:9; Dt. 22:21). When she presented to Judah his signet and cord, and staff, he was forced to acknowledge that he was the father, and that he was guilty of not giving his son Shelah to her. “And he never knew her again” (vv. 25-26). Tamar then gave birth to twins, and as in the case of Judah, the one to come first was overtaken by the younger, reminiscent of Jacob usurping Esau (Gen. 25:25-26).

Judges 4 Deborah And Barak.

Judges 4 Deborah And Barak.

Again one reads of the practice of evil among the people with the loss of godly leadership, at this stage with the death of Ehud (v. 1 Cf. 2:11, 19). So again, the LORD “sold them” to his and their enemy, in this case Jabin the Canaanite, a descendant of the Jabin of Joshua 11:1-9 (v. 2 NGSB. 337 Cf. Ps. 106:40-43). In saying that he sold them it of course implies that he had bought them, that they were his by redemption (Is. 52:3). What specifically caused them to be sold was their evil deeds (Cf. 2:14; Is. 50:1). Chariots of iron proved to be too formidable for the people to drive out (1:19). This subjugation under Sisera lasted 20 years (v. 3 Cf. I Sam. 12:9; Ps. 83:9). Into this context we find the LORD raising up a prophetess named Deborah, who as a prophetess through whom the word of God came, was also a judge at that time (v. 4). It is important to note that not all judges were prophets, but there is no mention of women as judges except one like Deborah who was also a prophetess. The fact that she was also a prophetess would seem to indicate that this was a prerequisite for her as a woman to also sit as a judge. As a prophetess she was called to remind the people of their covenant obligations, and of their sin in turning their backs on the LORD (v. 5). “The palm tree of Deborah” is likely named after Rebekah’s nurse of Genesis 35:8. (NGSB. 337)

Perhaps because she was a woman, the word of the LORD to Barak was not immediately heeded by him, to deploy his troops  at Mt. Tabor. The LORD said that he in turn would cause Sisera to deploy his troops in opposition (vv. 6-7). Verse 8 would seem to suggest that Barak lacked courage, but the writer to the Hebrews suggests otherwise (11:32). What Barak was asking for in asking for Deborah to accompany them, is that she would back up her words with her own commitment. After all, it was a rare event to have a word from a prophetess to go to war against such odds. Nevertheless, it did speak to a lack of faith on his part, and as a result he would not be credited with any victory, but instead the LORD would “sell Sisera into the hand of a woman,” which would also be humiliating for Sisera (v. 9). So Barak and Deborah went together (v. 10). As the LORD had promised, he through his chose means caused Sisera to deploy for war (vv. 11-13). Then Deborah, as was her calling, told Barak that the LORD was moving and he must move with him (v. 14). Despite having all his men and their chariots, Barak and his men were able to defeat them all (vv. 15-16). Sisera fled, no doubt in hopes of not being defeated personally by a woman, but the woman Jael would later put a spike through his head (vv. 17-22). The people would increase in strength, eventually defeating Jabin himself (vv. 23-24).

Judges 3:7-31 The Fight Continues.

Judges 3:7-31 The Fight Continues.

Israel did evil and forgot the LORD, and as he had promised, the punishment for this covenantal infidelity would include defeat at the hands of their enemies (vv. 7-8). Nevertheless, when the people cried out to the LORD the LORD raised up a godly leader in Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother (v. 9). “The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD delivered. So the land had rest for forty years” (vv. 10-11). Judges is a continuous testimony to the need for godly leadership if the LORD’s people are to remain faithful. Godly leaders are those who are able to judge the right course because they have the Spirit, who also prove the LORD’s favour in victories won. As soon as Othniel died “the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD” (v. 12).

So once again they are punished by the defeat at the hands of their enemies (vv. 13-14). One gets the impression that they were not normally a praying people, or at least not with sincerity, for once again we read that when the cried out to the LORD that he again sent them a deliverer in Ehud (v. 15). Under the pretext of offering a tribute, and enticing Eglon the king of Moab with the promise of secret knowledge which resulted in a private meeting, Ehud assassinated the king. His servants waited so long to open the door to his chamber that Ehud was long gone by the time they learned of his death (vv. 16-26). Once again the people enjoy rest, but this time for 80 years instead of forty (vv. 27-30), possibly sharing the leadership of these 80 years with one Shamgar who “also delivered Israel” (v. 31).

Judges 3:1-6 A Test Of Fidelity.

Judges 3:1-6 A Test Of Fidelity.

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.

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

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)