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In the wilderness, God had fed, watered, protected, and led Israel. But the characteristic response of the people was to complain and rebel. Frequently, they wanted to go back to Egypt, which they remembered as a land of plenty of diverse foods instead of their monotonous diet of manna.

Just before they entered Canaan they had an orgy with Moabite women in worship of the Baal of Peor. Their record as servants of God was not good. It was not because of their faithfulness that God gave them the land – but because of God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The STORY is not that they were faithful, but that God is faithful.

In a 7 year campaign, Joshua, the successor to Moses, led Israel virtually to destroy the people living in Canaan, whose iniquity was now full (cf. Genesis 15:16). Their victories, however, were not due to their own prowess, but to God’s fighting for them. Near the end of Joshua’s life, he made two great speeches, one to the leaders of Israel (Joshua 23) and one apparently to the nation (Joshua 24). In these, he recounted what God had done for them in delivering them from Egypt and giving them their new land.

Then he laid a choice before them: Whom will you serve? The gods your fathers served in Mesopotamia before God called Abraham or the LORD? They declared they would serve the LORD. Joshua said to them:

You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God…. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” (Joshua 24:19-20)

They insisted, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” And, they did – as long as Joshua lived, and as long as the elders lived who had known Joshua and all the things the LORD had done for Israel. But when that generation died, the STORY took a tragic turn.

In­­­­ the book of Judges, a period of 3 centuries or more, there was an oft repeated cycle (Judges 2:11-23):

  • Rebellion (Sin): the people would turn from the LORD to serve other gods.
  • Retribution (Suffering): the LORD would punish them by outside nations.
  • Repentance (Sorrow): the people would cry out to God for deliverance.
  • Redemption (Salvation): the LORD would raise up a deliverer to save His people.

There were 15 deliverers from Othniel to Samuel. These were dark days for Israel. Some of the deliverer-judges were great leaders, such as Deborah (a woman judge), Gideon, and Samuel. Others were scoundrels, such as Abimelech, Jephtha and Samson. All-in-all, the period is characterized in the last 5 chapters of Judges as a time when “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25; see also 17:6; 18:1; & 19:1).

Yet, the little book of Ruth, set probably in the time of Eli or Samuel (the last two judges), lets us know there were still righteous people in Israel in those days of turmoil and rebellion.

When Samuel, the greatest of the judges, was an old man the people approached him to ask for a king. That is the subject of our next reading in the STORY.


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