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A. Hostilities between the Israelites and the Canaanites following Joshua’s death 1:1-2:5
". . . archaeology shows that the superpowers (Babylonia, Assyria, the Hittites, and Egypt) were relatively weak during the days of the judges and the monarchy. Internal affairs kept them busy at home. This, humanly speaking, made possible the survival of the nation of Israel. The smaller, local enemies were trouble enough for her armies." [Note: Arthur H. Lewis, Judges and Ruth, p. 13.]
1. Initial successes and failures ch. 1
The attitude of the Israelites toward the Canaanites changed in the years following Joshua’s death.
2. The announcement of God’s discipline 2:1-5
The events of this pericope tie in directly with those of the previous one. Israel’s failure recorded there led to the discipline announced here.
"The narrator moves from chap. 1 to chap. 2 like a modern preacher moves from text to exposition. The differences here are that the text of the author’s sermon derives from events of history, not a printed page, and the interpretation comes from God himself or from his messengers, be they the envoy of Yahweh or the author of the book." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 78]
The writer seems to have included the statement that the Angel of the Lord "came up from Gilgal" (Judges 2:1) to connect the Angel’s appearance here with His last recorded appearance at Gilgal (Joshua 5:13-15). On that occasion the Angel appeared after the people had consecrated themselves to God. He promised to lead them in victory against their enemies. On this occasion the Angel promised that He would not drive out the remaining Canaanites because Israel had been disobedient to God, specifically to the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7; Joshua 24:18; Joshua 24:21; Joshua 24:24). Of the 59 references to "the Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament, 18 (30.5 percent) appear in Judges. He appeared on four separate occasions: in Judges 2:1-5; Judges 5:23; Judges 6:11-24; and Judges 13:1-25. Additionally, the title "the Angel of God" appears nine times in the Old Testament and at least three times in Judges: in Judges 6:20 and Judges 13:6; Judges 13:9. [Note: See the discussion of this person in Howard, pp. 113-16.]
The issue at the beginning of the Book of Judges and throughout the book is whether Israel will be faithful to the covenant. The issue for the readers is similar: whether he or she will worship and serve God alone. God had stated clearly and repeatedly that His people were to destroy or drive out all the former inhabitants of the land (Exodus 23:31-33; Exodus 34:11-16; Numbers 33:51-56; Deuteronomy 7:1-5).
"The deplorable spiritual condition of the Israelites, not their lack of chariots, lay behind their failure to dispossess the Canaanites. To expose Israel’s sinfulness, the ’angel of the Lord’ appeared to them (Judges 2:1)." [Note: Wolf, p. 392.]
The Angel’s announcement caused great sorrow in Israel that led to weeping and the offering of sacrifices to Yahweh (Judges 2:4-5; cf. Exodus 23:28-31; Exodus 34:11). The people could not change God’s sentence even by repenting (cf. Joshua 24:19). Her disobedience resulted in God’s discipline (cf. God’s judgment at Kadesh-Barnea, Numbers 14:1-10). Nevertheless this warning constituted a manifestation of God’s grace to Israel, and evidences of God’s grace are numerous in Judges. [Note: See Constable, pp. 108-9.]
"The Canaanite system represents forces that yield death, so its presence in the land is as intolerable as Pharaoh’s death-dealing policies were in the land of Egypt. To oppose the Canaanite system is, in essence, to choose life as God intends it. But it is precisely this choice that the people have not made in chapter 1, and will not make throughout the book of Judges. Quite appropriately, therefore, the events in Judges 2:1-5 unfold at a place called Bochim, ’Weeping (Ones)’ (Judges 2:5).
"As it turns out, the name ’Weeping’ is another way in which Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 anticipates the rest of the book. Just as Judges 1:1 is echoed in chapter 20, so are Judges 2:1 and Judges 2:5. That is to say, the people are still weeping at the end of the book of Judges." [Note: McCann, p. 31. Cf. Marvin E. Tate, From Promise to Exile: The Former Prophets, p. 34.]
B. Israel’s conduct toward Yahweh and Yahweh’s treatment of Israel in the period of the Judges 2:6-3:6
This section of the book provides a theological introduction to the judges’ deeds, whereas Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 is a historical introduction. It also explains further the presence of Canaanites in the Promised Land. The first introduction (Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5) is from Israel’s perspective and the second (Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6) is from God’s. [Note: Lilian R. Klein, The Triumph of Irony in the Book of Judges, p. 13.] The first deals with military failure, and the second with religious failure. [Note: K. Lawson Younger, "Judges 1 in Its Near Eastern Literary Contest," in Faith, Tradition, and History, pp. 222-23.]
1. Review of Joshua’s era 2:6-10
This paragraph is almost identical to the one in Joshua 24:28-31. Its purpose is to resume the history of Israel at this point, where the Book of Joshua ended, and to contrast the era of Joshua with the era of the judges (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-3). The key issue was whom the Israelites "served" (or "worshiped" NRSV). The Hebrew verb so translated (’abad) forms an envelope structure around this passage (Judges 2:7; Judges 3:6), as well as appearing in its middle (Judges 2:11; Judges 2:13; Judges 2:19).
"After a chapter that summarizes the incomplete wars of occupation, the reader is introduced to the threatening wars of liberation that characterize the period of the judges. To explain how Israel fell prey to powerful oppressors, the author reviews events since the death of Joshua." [Note: Wolf, p. 393.]
"Here [Judges 2:10] we come to the heart of the second-generation syndrome. It is a lukewarmness, a complacency, an apathy about amazing biblical truths that we have heard from our childhood, or from our teachers. . . . It is a pattern which challenges churches and even nations, and nowhere does it work with more devastating effect than in Bible colleges and theological seminaries where, day after day, we come in contact with God’s truth. . . . History tells us that not even the most vivid display of the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit will prevent this problem.
"But why? Why did it happen then, and why does it happen to us? . . . We must realize two things about this kind of complacency. The first is something Erich Fromm once pointed out when he said, ’Hate is not the opposite of love. Apathy is.’ To be complacent in the face of Calvary is the greatest possible rejection of God. The second is that complacency grows like a cancer. . . . Maybe part of the problem lay with the first [Joshua’s] generation. Interestingly, however, the book of Judges puts none of the blame there. The second generation was held responsible for their failure, and God would not allow them to shift the blame." [Note: Inrig, pp. 26-27.]
"People cannot thrive on the spiritual power of their parents; each generation must personally experience the reality of God." [Note: Wolf, p. 393.]
The writer used "Baals" here to describe all false gods, the "other gods" of Judges 2:12.
2. The pattern of history during the judges’ era 2:11-23
Having revealed the roots of Israel’s apostasy (Judges 2:6-10), the writer proceeded to examine its character. In this section a cyclical pattern of Israel’s history during this era becomes clear. This section is chiastic, focusing on Israel’s pursuit and worship of other gods. Israel departed from Yahweh and served idols (Judges 2:11-13). The Lord then disciplined His people by allowing them to fall under the domination of their enemies (Judges 2:14-15). [Note: See Wood, ch. 5, "The Oppressing Nations."] God then raised up judges to deliver Israel (Judges 2:16). The people apostatized again (Judges 2:17). God raised up another judge in response to His people’s distress (Judges 2:18). When that judge died, they wandered away again (Judges 2:19). This continual rebellion resulted in God not driving Israel’s enemies out of their land (Judges 2:20-21), but leaving them in Canaan to test Israel’s love and commitment to Him (Judges 2:22-23). [Note: See Frederick Greenspahn, "The Theology of the Framework of Judges," Vetus Testamentum 36:4 (October 1986):385-96.] One writer called the stages in each cycle: sin, slavery, supplication, salvation, and silence. [Note: Wolf, p. 394.] Others have labeled them: rebellion, retribution, repentance, and restoration.
"This simple routine of events cannot be projected at will over all cultures and circumstances, yet it does provide some guidelines for the interpretation of history. No corrupt nation can presume upon the grace of God indefinitely; sooner or later its lawlessness will bring disaster, either from within or without." [Note: Lewis, p. 18.]
". . . It is precisely this pattern that is the primary means by which the book serves as a condemnation of idolatry and disobedience and their inevitably violent and destructive consequences." [Note: McCann, p. 21.]
"The greatest sin a human being can commit is not murder or rape or other despicable acts of atrocity. It is to turn his back on the living God to serve man-made gods." [Note: Inrig, p. 37.]
"Baal" was the sun god. The Canaanites believed he was the source and communicator of physical life. They credited him with generating the reproductive powers of nature from his own being. This ability included human as well as animal and plant reproduction and fertility.
"Astarte" (Asherah) was the leading female Canaanite deity, a moon-goddess, whose symbol was originally an evergreen tree or grove. "Asherah" also denotes a cult object in the Hebrew Bible, specifically a wooden pole associated with Asherah worship. [Note: John Day, "Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature," Journal of Biblical Literature 105:3 (September 1986):385-408. See also William F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, pp. 189-92, 205.]
She was "worshipped as the feminine principle of nature embodied in the pure moon-light, and its influence upon terrestrial life." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 269.]
"Essentially, the religion of Canaan was based on the assumption that the forces of nature are expressions of divine presence and activity and that the only way one could survive and prosper was to identify the gods responsible for each phenomenon and by proper ritual encourage them to bring to bear their respective powers. This is the mythological approach to reality. Ritual involves human enactments; particularly by cultic personnel such as priests, of the activity of the gods as described in the myths.
"Since Baal was not omnipresent in the strict sense, each cult center would have its own local Baal. Thus there could be Baal-Peor, Baal-Berith, Baal-Zebub, and so on. This explains why the gods of Canaan are sometimes called Baalim (’the Baals’) in the Old Testament. There was only one Baal theoretically, but he was lord of many places." [Note: Merrill, pp. 159, 161. His section on the nature of Canaanite idolatry, pp. 159-61, is a good introduction to this subject. See also Howard, p. 107, for explanation of the Canaanite pantheon.]
The worship of these idols did not involve or necessitate the abandonment of Yahweh. The Israelites worshipped both the idols and the true God. This practice constituted forsaking Yahweh because He demanded exclusive allegiance. The Israelites became syncretistic rather than exclusive in their worship. It is easier to understand why the Israelites apostatized so quickly and so frequently when we appreciate the syncretistic nature of Baal worship.
"Sin produces servitude. That is the fact of Judges." [Note: Inrig, p. 40.]
"Few books portray so complete a picture of human depravity as does Judges." [Note: Wolf, p. 379.]
The structure of Judges 2:11-23 points out the importance of Judges 2:16.
A Apostasy (Judges 2:11-13)
B Wrath (Judges 2:14-15)
C Grace (Judges 2:16)
A’ Apostasy (vv.17-19)
B’ Wrath (Judges 2:20-23) [Note: Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation, p. 39.]
"The narrator begins to speak of divine mercy without any hint of prior repentance. In this book Yahweh’s actions will not typically be bound to any mechanical formula of blessing and or retribution, based upon what human beings earn by their actions. Rather he intervenes on Israel’s behalf solely on the basis of his compassion; the scene of Israelite distress moves the divine patron to action." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 128.]
The repeated cycle of deliverances in this book highlights a God whose essential nature is to show mercy, forgive, and extend life in spite of inveterate sinning. [Note: See McCann, p. 25; Howard, pp. 118-20; and Michael Wilcock, The Message of Judges: Grace Abounding, pp. 13-16.]
Each cycle of apostasy was worse than the former one.
"The Israelites were stiff-necked in the wilderness, but they were even more obstinate in the Promised Land. A new environment, alas, did not mean a new attitude." [Note: Wolf, p. 395. Cf. Genesis 6:12; Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9.]
". . . God cannot help but be gracious to a people who apparently cannot help but be unfaithful. This, indeed, is the portrayal of God throughout the biblical canon, including the prophetic books, which both demand obedience and yet promise forgiveness, and including the New Testament, where the ’resolution’ of God’s dilemma takes the form of a cross, the ultimate act of God’s grace toward an incurably sinful humankind." [Note: McCann, p. 37.]
None of the Israelites’ conflicts in the Book of Judges involved the conquest of new territory; they all simply concerned throwing off the yoke of an oppressor. The writer explained the type of test that the continuation of the Canaanites among the Israelites constituted more fully in the next section.
". . . in a real sense the book of Judges actually involves multiple replayings of the pattern found already in the Torah, especially the book of Exodus: God delivers the people, who then disobey, experiencing not only the destructive results of their disobedience (the guilty are by no means cleared, as Exodus 34:7 says) but also the steadfast love and faithfulness of a God who cannot finally let the people go . . ." [Note: Ibid., p. 15. Cf. Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Exodus 34:6-10.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany