11-14 God answered the People of Israel: "When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, Sidonians—even Amalek and Midian!—oppressed you and you cried out to me for help, I saved you from them. And now you've gone off and betrayed me, worshiping other gods. I'm not saving you anymore. Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you've chosen—let them get you out of the mess you're in!" 15 The People of Israel said to God: "We've sinned. Do to us whatever you think best, but please, get us out of this!" 16 Then they cleaned house of the foreign gods and worshiped only God. And God took Israel's troubles to heart.
A lot has happened in a few short chapters. Gideon defeated the Midianites by doing things God's way. The people are at peace in the land during his lifetime. The final verses that sum up his life are that he had lots of wives, fathering him many sons. He leaves about 70 sons - all would be killed by Abimelech (his son by a concubine) - except for one (Jotham). Abimelech would rise to power in Israel, not because of God's anointing on his life, but because of Abimelech's ambition and desire for power. Israel would not live at peace - instead they'd go into servitude to the surrounding nations. Then the scales would turn once more - Abimelech being mortally wounded by a woman - then ultimately thrust through with a sword by his own armor-bearer at his request.
The words that keep coming through the pages of these recorded events in the history of Israel are quite clear - peaceful existence while in service to God, indentured servitude while away from God because of their sinful indulgences in idol worship. A couple other judges came up before the words in our passage above were recorded. They really don't have much recorded about their "rule" in Israel. Tola and Jair were pretty much ordinary guys, taking on the role of "ruler" or "judge" in Israel for a period of 23 and 22 years respectively. Then the people are calling out to God!
Ever find yourself in that place of getting exactly what you deserved by your disobedience and then calling out to God for deliverance? That is exactly where Israel was! I think they were surprised by God's answer though! He is expressing the heart of a frustrated and disappointed Father. That gives me a little encouragement that God experiences emotions similar to mine! He basically tells them, "You've made your bed, now sleep in it!" How many times did I say that to my own kids? Or at least think it?
The people he had redeemed from their slavery over and over again were once again pursuing their own way and finding that it was not all they hoped for. That is the way it is with sin! It entices us through the promise of something good, then engulfs us with the reality of something pretty bad! In the hopes of enjoying what was offered, we get trapped by what we least expected! Isn't that how the mouse ends up in the trap? The promise of the cheese outweighs all rational thought about the device that seeks to entrap him!
The words that precede our verses today are simple: "Israel was in a bad way." Unfortunately, the pursuit of their own way ended up leaving them in a "bad way". Now, they do what they had always done - they cry out to God for help! No wonder God responds the way he does! He simply is stating the obvious! His point is quite clear - you don't want anything to do with me UNTIL you hit the wall! That is a sad statement of fact, but truth they needed to hear. The loving heart of a dedicated parent is not afraid to tell his children exactly what they need to hear!
One thing I have learned about God - he is direct! He doesn't mince his words! If I get off-base in my life - he lets me know it - plain and simple! All God looks for when he is this straight-forward with his kids is that they will respond to him in a positive way. That is what we see Israel doing - they own up to their sin (yep, do to us what you think we deserve, Dad) and then they took the steps to clean up their act! They cleansed the houses of worship and got back to doing things God's way.
If we don't get anything more from the Book of Judges than the simple fact that God is all about restoration, then we have learned a valuable lesson. But...I think there are more lessons:
- He desires obedience and when he doesn't see it, he will encounter us!
- He rewards obedience with his presence, power, and provision!
- He delights in being given the place of honor in our hearts that belongs just to him!
- When we go astray, doing our own thing, this disappoints him!
- When we recognize that we have strayed, he is there to deliver, but his words may "cut to the quick" of our condition!
- He is honest with us because it is in that honesty that we come face-to-face with the reality of what has proven to be a "snagging" influence in our lives that drew us away from obedient pursuit of God in the first place.
The list goes on, but these are just a highlight. God is imminently more patient than I am - and I thank him daily for that patience! His eye is never off us - even when we are engaging in sinful behavior. His grace is never far from us - we only need to acknowledge our sin. Glory!