In the aftermath of Abimelech’s self-appointment as a “Deliverer” for Israel and his subsequent removal at the hand of a woman, God raised up another two judges, Tolah and Jair (Judges 10:1-5). Compared to Othniel, the first and model Judge, there are major degeneration. We even see some of the kingly aspirations of Gideon in their lifestyle. Tola and his family seems to have been in the fabric and dying / coloring industry. Jair and his wealth is described in his possessions and that of his sons. We are not told that Israel sinned between the periods of Tola and Jair, but we can only deduct that from the now already known pattern.
And so, after Jair, we are introduced to a new cycle of apostacy in Judges 10:6. And from here onward, till the end of this chapter, we are confronted with the stark reality of Israel’s problem, which is also the ultimate problem of all of humanity, and that is IDOLATRY.
When we think about idolatry, we must always remember that it reaches far deeper than the making of a physical idol. That is always a byproduct of idolatry. At the core of idolatry as Scripture defines it, lies man’s replacing God with what man wants. It is the dethroning of God and the appointment of man and his makings to the throne. In the theme of the book of Judges, it is the denial of the true God as King and replacing Him with the gods of the nations.
The depth of idolatry
We are told to what depths Israel’s idolatry took them –and it was not a colorful picture. What strikes is how wide their idolatry stretched. Judges 10:6:
[They] served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines.
It was not only an acceptance of a single deity, or the deity of a single nation. It is as if the doors to all foreign gods were opened and Israel accepted them with open hands and hearts.
This is the path of all idolatry. It will begin by opening your heart to the one god, but it ultimately leads to serving all available gods! It does truly turn into a complete lifestyle, assimilating all the “good” ideas into one tightly knit lifestyle. Your mind and thoughts, words, actions, morality, and even religion is steered by this idolatry.
This deep fall into idolatry is ever so visible today. Israel’s worshipping of other gods is actually not so far removed from us as we would like to think. The same sinfulness that spurred them on to dethrone God, is at the heart of our present day idolatry. The contexts might differ, but the apostasy is the same. And with this we are not even referring to the unbelievers. We are speaking of the people of God.
A quick analysis will reveal that the church has chosen to whore after the gods of this world. Believers are fully embracing the ideologies and philosophies of this world: evolution is accepted and taught in all schools; sexuality has been changed to not only include the biblical distinction between male and female, but whatever we fancy; the church is turned into a cultural institution, responsible for the social upliftment of a community. The cross of Christ, the salvation for man, has been exchanged for the purse full of worldly riches, by which people are fed physically; and even worse, the God of heavens to whom all things belong, have been dethroned to make place for Mammon under the auspices of a “powerful faith”! These are only a couple of broad brush strokes as to how deep the people of God have sunk into idolatry. We need only scratch a bit more on the surface, and we will unveil a whole nest of spiritual syncretism and corruption.
The result for Israel is described in clear vocabulary:
So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year (v7-8).
Their idolatry, that which they hoped would be sufficient for their lifestyle, was the actual reason for their darkness. It never satisfies. NEVER! There might be pleasure in it, but it is superficial. They left their only all-sufficient King behind and are now suffering the consequences.
What does strike us is God’s word to them: they have CHOSEN this lifestyle (Judges 10:14). This implies they will be held accountable for their idolatry, because they have chosen to dethrone Him and deny His goodness and sovereignty.
Idolatry is never an unwilful, random experience. It is ALWAYS a choice of your heart. It is always a weighing of the alternatives and reaching a conscious conclusion. This is clear in what Paul writes in Romans 1:18-25. No-one will stand before God in the day of judgement and be able to say “I did not know, therefore I did not choose!” Scripture is clear: God held Israel accountable for their choice in replacing Him as their God; likewise, He holds every human being accountable for his or her brand of idolatry.
Trusting in repentance
So we find Israel crying out for help (Judges 10:10):
We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.
We have seen this repeated in the pattern throughout, and it was nowhere an indication of true repentance. It was a mere cry for help from the agony and misery of the situation they were in. It is seen in the fact that they only mention the Baals and not the other deities they chose. Why the omission if you truly want to be restored? One can argue it is a catch-all phrase for all the deities, but the context seems to suggest otherwise. In His response, God alludes to the other nations and their deliverance from them.
God’s response is a clear indication that their cry for help fell short of true repentance. He will never turn His back on those who truly come to Him with a broken and contrite spirit, longing to be filled by Him and Him alone. But His answer to Israel is shocking to say the least. It is an outright refusal to restore them.
The biggest mistake we can make, is to come to God trusting in our repentance and not in His willingness and ability to forgive and restore. This was Israel’s sin here. They trusted that if they come to God with some sort of a confession, He would respond in the positive. But the text reveals this in itself is a sign of idolatry.
Trusting in your repentance is again a trusting in yourself, a holding on to the steering wheel and wanting restoration on your terms. God, we learn, does not fit into this kind of thinking. He had enough of this artificial “sorry saying”.
We do see, however, that this revelation struck them to their core, which led to their action of denouncing the idols and serving God. They even went so far as to realize God can do whatever He wishes to the sinner. It is both an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and a realization of your corruptness. It furthermore seeks restoration and increase in holiness. This leads then to action without again relying on works as a means of salvation. It rather acknowledges that salvation actually do belong to the Lord!
Knowing the strength of and the depths to which idolatry takes you, it is understandable why true repentance is so difficult. Therefore, it is important to see that the Word God spoke brought them to true repentance. They could not come to this by themselves. God’s life-giving words had to cut through their hearts and mind and reveal their motives to them. And it had to bring them to that choice they made earlier: “Whom will you serve?”
Admission of guilt is not enough to be deemed true repentance. It begins there, and through the powerful and regenerative work of God’s word, ends in choosing to serve God.
Challenged views about God
This text challenges our views about God, and many of these views come from the world of idolatry. We will not easily acknowledge this, but if we are to serve God fully, we need to be willing to let Scripture challenge our thoughts and philosophies.
One of these is that God will always respond positive to our repentance. Well, as we have seen, God did not jump for Israel’s superficial repentance. The New Testament writer to the Hebrews teaches the same regarding Esau:
For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears (Hebr. 12:17).
God is certainly Love, but that does not take away that He is also Holy and just and will not compromise on that.
A second thought is that God changes. Texts like these where emotional terms are used to describe God’s movement to action, has led to a certain brand of theology that teaches that God can and will change His mind and steer in another direction if needed. This is more often the result of human activity and God therefore reacts rather then controls.
We need to understand the context. God is revealing His glory and holiness in His justice, but to the end that true repentance follows. He will only help His people on the premise of true repentance; therefore, He speaks straight to their hearts to brings them to that kind of repentance that moves Him, not changes Him or His mind.
This text confronts us with our choice of whom we will serve. It challenges us to realize that our thoughts about God is far inferior to what Scripture reveals about Him. Ultimately Christ would come and make Him known to us, but not without the world clinging to their views of god and their idolatrous lifestyles.