(For context, please read Judges 10:6-16)
“Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.” (Judges 10:6)
Again? This cycle continues throughout the book of Judges, but it is not unique to that time and place, is it? In every generation, God’s people struggle against their sinful nature and the tendency to slip back into bad patterns.
When the Israelites chose to forsake the Lord and serve the gods of their neighbors, God allowed them to have exactly what they wanted—a relationship with the world instead of with Him; and their neighbors harassed (shattered) and oppressed them for the next eighteen years. When we seek something other than God, and God allows us to have it, that can be a harsh judgment indeed!
As they were severely distressed, “the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!’” (10:10).
In response to this the Lord recited a list of times when He delivered them from oppressors, but then He told them to cry out to the gods they had chosen. Let those gods deliver you this time.
God gave them the worst news anyone could ever hear:
“I will deliver you no more!” (10:13).
Devastating. What would you do, what could you say,
if God said that to you?
Did God announce that He’s no longer a God of mercy? Did His grace vanish? No! We know that mercy and grace are intrinsic to God’s nature, so why would He ever say, “I will deliver you no more”?
It was intended to get their attention. They needed to look more deeply into their hearts. Were they truly penitent, or did they merely regret the consequences of their sin? God knew their repentance was still shallow. His firmness and apparent harshness were meant to shock and even terrify. He was working on their hearts to bring about genuine contrition. It was not enough for them to hate the consequences of their sins. They needed to hate their sins. It was time to admit their situation was hopeless and cast themselves on the mercy of the Lord.
Sadly, there are those who profess to be Christians, go to church, and behave in certain ways because they assume that God will owe them big for their good efforts. It is one thing to desire God and honor Him because of what we hope He will give us; it is quite another to desire and honor God regardless of whether or not He gives us what we want.
Was Israel ready to trust in the Lord and serve Him without conditions? Was repentance—a genuine change of heart—going to reveal itself in their lives irrespective of being delivered from their oppressors?
Consider the change in their prayer and behavior: “‘We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.’ So, they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord” (10:15, 16).
They said and did this even while their enemies continued to harass and oppress them. They confessed their sins; they brought forth fruits befitting repentance; and they prayed, in effect, “Thy will be done.”
The Lord, Who knows the hearts of all, saw that they were truly sorry for their sins and placed their trust in His mercy. The Holy Spirit had brought about this radical change of heart through tough reprimands and His legacy of grace; and the Lord “could no longer endure the misery of Israel” (10:16). He had them back where He wanted them—in His loving embrace.
Then the Lord raised up another judge to deliver His people, someone altogether unexpected and of questionable background (again), but that is a story for another day.
Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.