Israel finds itself in familiar territory: actively engaged in the sin of idolatry. Judges simply describes this as doing evil in the sight of the LORD. Verse six emphasizes the extent of Israel’s idolatrous ways. Earlier they had “only” worshipped the Baals and the Asherahs (cf. 2:13 and 3:7). Now they are worshipping a whole host of other gods and goddesses rather than faithfully worshipping the LORD who had alone delivered them from Egypt and brought them into Canaan. Verse six reminds us that to worship other deities is to abandon the LORD. In response to Israel’s idolatry, the LORD becomes angry and hands God’s people over to their enemies (verse 7). This is the familiar pattern that we’ve seen throughout our lesson in Judges. This time the enemies are the Philistines and the Ammonites. They oppressed the Israelites living in the region of Gilead (east of the Jordan) for eighteen years (verse 8). The Ammonites then crossed the Jordan to attack the tribes in Canaan proper (verse 9). This invasion serves as the immediate backdrop for our printed Scripture lesson.
Judges 10:10-18 God’s People Repent
These verses serve as an extended look at the repentance of God’s people. For most of the book of Judges, the cycle of disobedience has included a statement such as “when the Israelites cried to the LORD…” (e.g., 3:9 or 3:15) without further comment. The emphasis has been on God graciously raising up a judge to deliver God’s people. In today’s Scripture lesson the author of Judges gives us a description of the content of their cry in Jephthah’s day.
Verse 10 provided the core content. First, it is clear that Israel turned to the LORD for help. They may have been worshiping other gods and goddesses (10:6), but God’s people know whom to turn to in times of desperation. It is the LORD in whom is found deliverance. Second, God’s people lead with a blanket confession of their root problem: we have sinned against you. God’s people recognize that their principal problem is not the invading Ammonites–it is the reality that they have broken faith with the LORD. Third, they are specific in their confession. They admit that they have forsaken their God and served/worshipped the Baals.
God responds powerfully in verses 11-14. God is not immediately impressed with their words of confession. First, God reminds Israel of his prior gracious and powerful deeds on their behalf. He uses a rhetorical question to bring to memory his faithful deliverance of God’s people from the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, and Philistines (verse 11). This list of actions alone is impressive, but the LORD adds more in verse 12. God also saved Israel from the Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites. All of these peoples had oppressed God’s people. But when God’s people cried out to the LORD, the LORD saved them from their enemies and oppressors. In other words, God demonstrates to God’s people his faithfulness and mercy throughout the generations. Every time that they have cried out, the LORD has delivered. Moreover Israel has only fallen into oppression because of its sins. Otherwise they would not have suffered at the hands of their enemies (see 2:1-5 and 2:11-15).
Second, God describes their behavior in response to his graciousness. Verse 13 essentially repeats the confession of God’s people from verse 10. God affirms it but points out its deficiencies. God describes the evil of God’s people in stark contrast to his own faithfulness. God has continually responded to the sin of his people with mercy by graciously responding to their cries for help by moving to save them from their enemies. Yet in contrast, God’s people have responded to God’s grace by returning to their sins of idolatry.
Third, God concludes by declaring that he will no longer deliver his people (verses 13-14). The recurring cycle in Judges has reached its end. Since God’s people have not changed their ways, God will no longer deliver them. In other words, God is questioning the sincerity of their repentance. Why is this time going to be any different from all of the previous times that Israel has cried for help, God has answered with salvation, and God’s people immediately return to their evil and idolatrous ways? This cycle has to stop so God declares that he will no longer act on behalf of his people. To make the point even stronger, God suggests that his people go and cry out to all of the gods and goddesses whom they have been worshiping. The language of “chose” is intentional. God is mocking Israel for choosing gods who cannot save. In contrast, in the book of Deuteronomy, God repeatedly emphasizes that he intentionally chose Israel out of all of the nations to be his treasured possession (Deut 7:6 cf Deut 7:7, 10:15, 14:2).
In verses 15-16, God’s people respond powerfully and poignantly to the LORD’s rebuke of their appeal. They do not make empty promises. They do not vow to make good on previous declarations of service. They do not make excuses for their problems. Notice that God’s people return to the theme of verse 10. They confess that they have sinned against the LORD. Moreover, they put themselves in God’s hands. They trust the LORD to make the right decision so they simply say, do to us whatever seems good to you, but deliver us this day! There is no sense of entitlement here. They appeal to God for deliverance and salvation but clearly recognize that they do not deserve anything from God. But notice their follow up in verse 16. They do more than merely issuing words of confession and regret. For the first time in the book of Judges, they back up their words with action. God’s people actually rid themselves of their idolatry by putting away their foreign gods. This is the heart of true repentance–confessing wrong and actually turning away from it. Instead of serving other gods, Israel actually worshipped and served the LORD. Earlier in Judges, they had cried out to the LORD for help. Here in chapter ten, they cry out to the LORD for help, but also turn to him in worship.
How does God respond to this demonstration of repentance? The text is subtle: he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer. In other words, God may indeed not be through delivering Israel from her enemies. God was only finished rescuing his unrepentant people from oppression. Israel’s repentance opened up a new future for the relationship between God and Israel. God’s judgment was never meant to be purely punitive. The goal of handing God’s people over to oppression was to draw the people back to the LORD. It is clear from the response of God’s people in these verses that they have indeed returned to the LORD. God is now ready to act. Ps 51:17 says, The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart O God, you will not despise.