The Death of Joshua
6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.
11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
The Lord Raises Up Judges
16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
It only takes one generation to change a culture, and amazingly, after all God had done, that was all it took for His people to forget Him altogether. After Joshua and his generation had died, “another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). This was the beginning of a dark time for God’s people that was to last about three hundred years (ca. 1300–1000 BC).
God had given His people everything they needed for the new nation to thrive. Each of the twelve tribes had its own leadership, and each was committed to the defense of the others. They lived under the same laws designed to foster God-centered living, and their unity was strengthened by the regular festivals of thanksgiving that they shared.
But within a generation, all this had gone. Participation in the festivals declined, alternative venues were organized, and soon the sense of national unity was lost. The commitment of the tribes to mutual defense diminished, and instead of living together under the Law of God, “everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). The result, of course, was chaos.
Going Round in Circles
The book of Judges records a cycle of events that recurred many times over a period of about three hundred years. It began when God’s people turned to idols (Judges 2:11–12). God had called His people to live in a way that reflected His character. So when they wanted to do what was right in their own eyes, they developed their own gods who would approve what they wanted to do.
This was a direct violation of the first commandment, so God gave them into the hands of their enemies, who invaded the land and plundered them (2:14).
Then the people would cry out to God for help, and God would raise up a leader (called a judge) to deliver them (2:16). God’s Spirit came on these military leaders, giving them success in battle. They would restore security, and typically there would be peace throughout the judge’s lifetime. But soon after the judge died, the people would return to idols, and the whole cycle would begin again (2:18–19).
Gifts without Character
The best known and certainly the most colorful of all the judges was Samson. God gave him an unusual gift of physical strength, which enabled him to achieve remarkable victories for God’s people.
Samson was a larger-than-life hero who inspired hope when everything else seemed lost. In a country overrun by enemies, here was one man who could put up a fight for the liberation of his people with awesome results. He was able to take out one thousand Philistines in hand-to-hand combat, armed only with the jawbone of a dead donkey (Judges 15:15).
The problem was that his physical strength was not matched by moral character. His marriage and personal life were chaotic, and at times he behaved like a juvenile delinquent! Samson’s gift outweighed his character, and his story leaves the reader thinking, Surely God must have a better deliverer for His people to follow than this!
Looking for Leaders
In the absence of clear leadership and an agreed moral foundation, life in Canaan became increasingly chaotic. Discontent was rising among God’s people, and they started to look around them for a new kind of leadership.
The obvious weakness was that the judges lacked continuity. Other nations had kings with standing armies, and when a king died, his successor was crowned immediately.
God had not appointed a king among His people for the simple reason that God Himself was their King. But relying on God meant living by faith, and the people felt that they would rather have a flesh and blood person to lead them.
God warned the people about the demands future kings would make, but their minds were made up. They wanted a king (1 Samuel 8:8–20). So God gave them what they asked for, and Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel.
A Big Disappointment
Saul had the style and stature of a monarch, but he turned out to be a big disappointment. His early victories went to his head, and he felt that he could be selective in his obedience to God’s commands. He was convinced that as long as he was offering sacrifices to God all would be well. He had not understood that religious ritual is empty if unaccompanied by obedience to God (1 Samuel 15:22).
Samuel the prophet had the unenviable task of confronting Saul. “You have rejected the word of the LORD,” he said, “and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel” (15:26).
Saul could have accepted God’s discipline and begun a new chapter of obedience. But he didn’t. He became obsessed with a relentless pursuit of David, whom God had chosen as the next king of Israel, and he spent his later years trying to destroy the future.
In the end, Saul took his own life on the field of battle (31:4). It was a sad end to a tragic life and brought closure at last to the long dark valley of chaos that God’s people had experienced.
A View from the Third Valley
The third valley teaches us that choices matter. When a nation turns from God’s Law, the fabric of society will soon unravel. Impressive leaders who lack integrity will always bring disappointment in the end. Poor choices always lead to painful consequences.
But there is also hope in this chaotic valley. God never abandoned His people. Even when they made irreversible choices, such as appointing a king, God remained faithful to His promise and continued to work out His purpose.
God redeems bad decisions, and He advances His purpose for our lives even through circumstances that should never have been. No choice, however poor, can put you beyond the grace of God. That grace was about to break through to God’s people again through a new king, whose name was David.
- What are the key qualities that we should look for in a leader? Why?