GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
Israel’s Rebellion and Repentance
6 After this, the Israelites again did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD. They worshiped the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Aram, Sidon, and Moab, and the gods of the Ammonites and the Philistines. They forsook the LORD and did not worship him. 7 So his anger burned against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites.
We could list all of the deities of Aram to the north, Sidon to the northeast, Moab and Ammon to the east across the river, and Philistia southwest and due west. But it’s more important to see how the author’s hand sweeps around the compass to show us that Israel was surrounded by pagans. God had warned them not to fall into this trap of idolatry, but his people showed again and again that they were willing to try anything except for the truth. So God sold them once again into the hands of an enemy. We hear the other side of this story once or twice in the Bible, such as when God offered the kingdom to Solomon’s architect, Jeroboam, if he would only be a faithful king and be true to the Lord (1 Kings 11:29-39). But Jeroboam turned immediately away from the Lord and fell into his own brand of idolatry (mentioned over and over again as “the sins of Jeroboam” or “the ways of Jeroboam”). We don’t know how the Lord “sold” Israel to Ammon and Philistia, but he certainly gave them victories over his people.
Philistia had not given Israel much trouble since the time of Shamgar. Now the Lord used them and the Ammonites to bring his people to repentance. For the people of the west, east and south, from Galilee to Beer Sheba, there was terror on every side.
8 They shattered and crushed the Israelites that year, and for eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites in Gilead.
That year—about 1104 BC—the Philistines and Ammonites attacked from both sides and devastated Israel. Although not mentioned in the Bible, there was a lunar eclipse during 1104 BC that would have darkened the night sky over Israel on October 16th. Perhaps the Lord used it as a special sign for the attackers since it occurred during the first full moon of their year (Rosh Hashanah, the Hebrew New Year, was on October 2nd in 1104).
After that year of constant war, the attackers dominated Israel exacting tribute from them and probably subjecting them to additional bullying for seventeen more years—enough time for a boy in Gilead on the border of Ammon to grow into full manhood knowing nothing but war and hatred for the Ammonites.
This verse is marked in the margin of our Hebrew Bibles as the center of the book of Judges. This seemingly inconsequential detail tells us that the scribes who copied the book word by word and verse by verse took great care to be sure that their work was correct; that they had not accidentally omitted anything.
9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim. Israel was is great distress, 10 so they cried out to the LORD, “We have sinned against you. We have abandoned our God and we have worshiped the Baals.”
Once again we see the hand of God using Israel’s neighbors to bring his people to repentance. They returned to the Lord in prayer during this generation. Some of them certainly returned to the Lord with their sacrifices, remembering to take the lambs for the morning and evening sacrifices, along with the grain, the oil, the salt, the wine and the other things. Eli the new high priest whose ministry started about the same time has the Ammonite oppression, tended the lamps in the tabernacle faithfully (1 Samuel 3:3). Did the other priests bring out the scrolls to read the Law of Moses? Did parents sit their children down to teach them the Ten Commandments? Did travelers pause at the ford at Gilgal to see Joshua’s twelve stones to remember that the whole nation of Israel had crossed the river on dry ground?
It is easy to become unfaithful to the Lord. All it takes is the first weekend back to the college to get out of the habit of going to worship. Christian families look to their fathers for leadership and for help in remaining faithful to the Lord. All it takes from some young people away at school is for one strong-willed friend to say, “Let’s all go to church together.” Pray that God would give you strength to persevere and to be faithful. Pray that God would help you to love David’s words: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’” (Psalm 122:2). Consider helping in some way at your church, whether you are at home or away at school at this time in your life: “Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD” (Psalm 134:1). If volunteering to help will help keep you faithful, that’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Join the choir (even if your voice is not perfect). Usher. Teach Sunday school. Help set up for communion. Join a clean-up committee, or make the coffee for Bible hour. Christian instruction and godly wisdom “is more precious than rubies” (Prov. 8:10). God’s holy word “is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 119:72). If something as silly as pride or self-esteem is keeping you away, throw it out with the banana peels and the old tissues and put your feet back inside the house of the Lord. His gospel will do all of the work.
Remember, the Ammonites and other resources that the Lord has to call you to repentance don’t only live across the Jordan three thousand years ago. Some of them are in your phone, on your web browser, and in the next commercial you’ll watch. Don’t let them be temptations. Let them be calls to turn back to your Savior.
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