Have you ever read the Book of Judges in the Bible? It is a sad departure from the victorious Book of Joshua. For some strange reason, the Israelites turned away from the very One who gave them so many victories just a few years before. The book ends with a scene that would fit more in Sodom and Gomorrah. After reading through the book, you are left with a big question. Why did this happen?
Was it a lack of leadership? It would seem that there were a number of good leaders whom God used to keep the people pointed in the right direction. But as soon as these leaders were gone, the people turned back to their evil ways. Was it a lack of obedience? When certain tribes refused to drive out the remaining nations as commanded, God did allow them to flounder. Was it a lack of knowledge? There arose a new generation who did not know the Lord or remember the wonderful events that happened during the Conquest (Judg. 2:8-10). But this can eventually happen to any future generation.
While each of these may have played a part, what was the major reason for the fall of the Israelites after Joshua’s death? I am convinced that the key is found in the first chapter of Joshua. What God told him there is the key to understanding Joshua’s success but also the downward spiritual spiral of the people during the time of the Judges. We cannot depend on leadership, activity, or historical memories to keep us going in the right direction. While all of these can help, they mean little without a heart and mind that are devoted to God and daily meditating on Him. With that in mind, read Joshua 1:8 and find what brought Joshua his success.
1. He talked about the Bible.
This was actually not something new. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, God instructed the people to teach their children his precepts. They were to have God’s Word in their hearts and be talking about it at all times: when they were sitting down, walking down the road, lying down, and rising up. But to talk about something, you need to know it. This is why the Israelites had to be taught by their parents so that they would know the truth and believe it. But to talk about something, you also need to understand it. Remember when Ezra read the Scriptures to the congregation of returned exiles? While he read, his helpers walked throughout the crowd explaining the Scriptures to them. They heard it but then were given help to understand it.
2. He meditated on the Bible.
As Joshua meditated on the Scriptures, he became like the godly man in Psalm 1. He was kept from falling and was blessed by God. But what is meditation? The word is often used with eastern mysticism where adherents are supposed to empty their minds. Scriptural meditation is exactly the opposite. It is filling the mind with God’s teaching. As Joshua constantly thought about the Bible, his mind was transformed so that he eventually thought the way God intended.
3. He obeyed the Bible.
When people believe God’s Word, are talking about it, and taking the time to meditate on it, the natural outcome should be obedience. But what exactly is obedience? Obedience is not just doing what the Bible says. It is a heart-felt understanding and adherence to what God has said. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” So, obedience is not just keeping the rules. It is understanding and wanting to please the Lord.
For Israel, obedience involved loving God more than one’s own ease, personal desires, and trusting Him for the outcome. When the armies were tired of fighting the inhabitants of the land, it meant continuing to drive out the ungodly Canaanites. When a marriage with an unbelieving family’s daughter might look good on the outside (think Samson), it meant rejecting an unequal yoke because God knows what is best. When the other army had iron chariots which seemed too difficult to overcome, it meant trusting the Lord to give the victory. For Joshua, obedience involved several years of fighting against the inhabitants of the land. But when this was done, Joshua called a nationwide meeting and addressed the leaders. He exhorted them to keep the law (23:6), love the Lord (23:11), and be aware of the consequences of disobedience (23:12-13). He knew what would happen if the people chose not to obey the Lord. Sadly, the people did not take his admonition to heart and soon the majority of them did not know the Lord.
NEW TESTAMENT PARALLEL
If things changed so quickly for the Israelites after Joshua died, and the people completely rejected the Lord in the space of a few years, what hope do we have for our own selves and those who will follow us? I think that we can follow the same plan given to Joshua and can find it in the New Testament.
• MEDITATE ON THE SCRIPTURES YOURSELF (Eph. 5:19).
Singing good Christian hymns is a helpful reminder of what the Bible teaches. As you sing in the shower or on the way to work, remember who God is and what he has done. This is always a good thing.
• TEACH CHILDREN FROM AN EARLY AGE (2 Tim. 3:15).
This is why it is important to teach all ages the Scriptures. If we begin with children, they will have a foundation upon which they will build their lives. They will compare what they hear from friends, media, and school to that which they have learned in the Bible. Programs such as Bible Club, Sunday School, and VBS have been used to teach the Scriptures to young people for a long time.
• DISCIPLE NEW BELIEVERS (Matt. 28:19-20).
Jesus’ Great Commission included a vital command to teach and make disciples of people throughout the earth. Wherever they went they were to be gathering people to teach what Jesus had taught them. Do you realize that we are a direct result of this?
• TRAIN THE NEXT GENERATION OF TEACHERS (2 Tim. 2:2)
While this may sound the same as making disciples, there is one key difference. Paul told Timothy to train faithful men who would be able to teach others also. Discipleship is for every believer. This training is a step further. It would be similar to training Sunday School teachers, Bible Study leaders, or pastors. There are certain requirements for these people. They need to have exemplary lives and the ability to teach. The good result that comes from this kind of teaching is that there will be a replacement for the pastor or teachers when he is no longer around. It is important for our knowledge and love for the Lord to be passed on by faithful teachers who will not only teach the truth but live it out for others to see.
It is very easy to point a finger at the Israelites who lived during the time of the judges. But how about you? Are you any different? What is keeping you from spiraling out of control into a spiritual apostasy just like them? Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your own self. Are you talking about the Scriptures on a regular basis? Are you meditating on God’s Word all the time? Are you obeying what God has said in the Bible? If not, make this week a time where you are doing those things. God will honor the time you take to do these things and it will make a definite difference in your life and in those around you.