GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
11 The LORD said to the Israelites, “When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, 12 Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, did I not deliver you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and worshiped other gods. So I will not deliver you again. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them deliver you when you are oppressed.”
Earlier in the chapter we were told that the Israelites bowed down to the gods of five foreign nations and to two false gods especially, Baal and Ashtoreth (10:6). Here the Lord lists seven nations, perhaps balancing the list of seven (only the Ammonites and Philistines appear in both lists, the two nations that were now troubling Israel).
Maon was a small kingdom, perhaps we would say “earldom,” consisting of one guard tower for protection of the surrounding fields and a village (or perhaps more than one). It was located in the hill country of Judah. Maon is best known as the home of Nabal, the bitter farmer who refused to help David and whose widow Abigail later married David before he became king (1 Sam 25:2). Although some Greek manuscripts propose “Midian” for this place (see footnote), I think that Maon is probably correct. They were just one more group of Canaanites who gave Israel problems.
God is hard with Israel here because he needed them to repent and not just ask for help. God is not just one more deity in the pantheon of possible helpers in the sky, so that if the LORD doesn’t help, maybe Baal will, or Dagon, or Thoth, or somebody else. God is the only god, the only one who will hear our prayers, and he is jealous of our worship.
Hearing that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5) startles some people, but let me illustrate what that means. Last night, my wife made ice cream cones for two of our sons. How would she have felt if they had run out into the street to thank Mrs. Wiechman or Mrs. Markgraf or Mrs. Otterstatter, some of the other neighborhood moms, for what their own mother had done? Shouldn’t she want them to give her, their mom, a thank you for the ice cream cones, and not to go thanking someone else for something she did? And the difference is that those other moms are all real people, wonderful mothers, and they’re even members of our church. The false gods that the LORD warns us about are myths. They are imaginary. When God gives us gifts, he doesn’t want us to say prayers of thanks to imaginary, unreal gods who are masks for demons (Deut. 32:17). He is jealous of our worship because it doesn’t belong to anyone else except him.
He wanted Israel to learn that.
15 But the Israelites said to the LORD, “We have sinned. Do whatever you think best with us, only please rescue us today! ”
Here was some repentance. Israel is often accused of never really repenting during the time of the judges, but that isn’t fair. We can’t judge the whole nation by saying that if one generation came to faith and the next one fell away, that nobody had faith. That’s judging by the whole group, and “any man who judges by the group is a peawit.” This is a problem in our nation’s political scene today, because we who don’t want to be represented by a few extremes only have a couple of extremes from which to choose. Forcing us to join one side or the other at election time stirs up bitterness and anger—not only at the other side, but the pitiful, faulty side to whom we ended up tossing our votes in exasperation. We must not judge one another for these difficult choices. In politics, if some voter has a different opinion from me, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I or they are evil men. We might be brothers. We might even be married. But we don’t judge one another because of a group.
In the same way, we must not judge one another because of the way that we show our repentance for sin. Two men might commit identical sins, repent on the same day, and yet show their repentance in very different ways; and both of them can be accepted by God. It isn’t for us to grumble like the brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, but it is for us to rejoice with the angels at the repentance of each returning sinner (Luke 15:7).
16 So they got rid of the foreign gods among them and worshiped the LORD, and he could not bear Israel’s misery.
The repentance of Israel at this time included getting rid of their foreign gods and returning to the right worship of God. Seeing this, hearing their prayers and smelling their sacrifices, God “could not bear” their misery. This is an interesting and difficult phrase. The verb qatsar (קצר) means either to cut short (harvest, Ruth 2:9; Psalm 102:23) or to be short (Prov. 10:27). Here it means that the Lord became short (impatient?) with Israel’s misery. It’s not the way we speak in English. Being short with someone in English is a negative term, but in Hebrew, it’s an expression that comes closer to our way of saying that we “drop” a thing (a subject, an argument or a grudge) as a sign of a change of mind.
God saw their repentance and appears to have changed his mind about them. Can the changeless, immutable God change? He does not change, and his plans to do not change. “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever” (Psalm 33:11; Prov. 19:31). Moses said: “God is not a man, that he should lie, not a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). But here God used his word to bring about a change in Israel. His firmness brought about their repentance. His attitude toward their sin remained the same, but because they repented, he was able to treat them according to his loving compassion, which was his will all along. Not only does God promise this for us, but he demonstrates it in his attitude toward our own sins.
If it were not possible for the Father to change his verdict about the punishment of sinners, then Jesus’ sacrifice would count for nothing, Jesus would never intercede for us, and all mankind would be condemned for eternity for our sins. But Jesus Christ does intercede for mankind. He prayed for unbelievers when he was nailed to the cross (Father, forgive them, Luke 24:34), and he prays for believers even now in heaven: “Jesus Christ, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). When the Father hears and grants the Son’s prayer for unbelievers, he sends the gospel to them to convert their unbelieving hearts and offer forgiveness (some reject him, but it does not lessen the power of the gospel). When the Father hears and grants the Son’s prayer for believers, he sends the very same gospel to strengthen our faith, deepen our understanding of the Scriptures, and to firm up our faith in Christ.
Thank God for the gospel of your forgiveness. Intercede on behalf of the people in your life, believers and unbelievers alike, and when the time comes for you to share the gospel, let the word of God do the work.
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota