Directly before the book of Judges, the text of Joshua ends with a covenant renewal ceremony. In Joshua 24, Joshua gathers all the tribes of Israel together at a place called Shechem and begins recounting all of the amazing things God has done, starting with how he used Abraham to create the nation of Israel, preserved it, brought it out of Egypt, fought for it and gave it land. In the middle of chapter 24, Joshua summarizes everything he has communicated to the people and then calls them into covenant renewal.
When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I (God) gave you victory over them. 12 And I (God) sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I (God) gave you land you had not worked on, and I (God) gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.
God indeed was the warrior who fought the battle and gave the Promised Land to the descendants of Abraham (Exodus 15:3). After reminding them of the God who has fought and will fight their battles, Joshua calls them to renew their covenant with their God, the LORD.
“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua is calling his generation to covenant renewal. He has reminded them of how God has kept His part of the covenant and committed Himself to his generation, and Joshua is calling his generation to renew the covenant. He is calling them to commit themselves to God as their covenantal God. There is nothing new in this covenant renewal practice. It has gone on as far back as Isaac and Jacob, and it seems God renews His commitment in almost every generation. He promises to be their God if they will be His people. For the people, their part of the renewal ceremony is to commit themselves to God through their covenantal God in faithful obedience. Joshua’s challenge to his generation teaches us that God doesn’t count our parent’s faith as our own. Each generation, our sons and daughters, must commit to God themselves. That is covenant renewal. God calls each generation to decide to follow Him or worship false gods. After Joshua calls the people to serve the LORD, they respond with their answer.
The people replied, “We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. 17 For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. 18 It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.”
Joshua 24 shows us that the covenant is renewed between God and this generation of Israelites. There are many things that we pass on to our children genetically. We can pass on our personalities, both the good and bad aspects; we can pass on our height or lack of size, hair color, eye color, and even high triglycerides. There are things we can pass on to the next generation, but there is one thing we cannot pass on to the next generation: our faith. Faith is not genetic. I cannot pass my faith on to my children or you to your children. I can teach, nurture, and encourage them, but I cannot automatically transfer my belief in God to my children (Proverbs 22:6; John 8:32-41). There is no family plan when it comes to salvation. Each of our sons and daughters must make their own commitment and renew their parents’ covenantal relationship with Yahweh, their God. Faith is not genetic; this truth certainly explains the emphasis on teaching children throughout the Bible’s first six books (Exodus 12:26; 13:8; Deuteronomy 4:10; 6:4-9; Joshua 4:4-7).
God taught His people that it was critical for His glory and their joy to be faithful to Him, but it was paramount that they teach their children daily about the ways of the Lord. So when it comes time for the children to renew the covenant or to place their trust in Christ personally, they will do so. We must talk with our children about God, His Word, and our life experiences with Him as His children to our kids as we do life with them. We must be genuine in our relationship with Christ and transparent with our kids concerning our relationship with Him. Joshua was honest and transparent about His relationship with God through his leadership. He recounted God’s faithfulness to His people and boldly led by example, declaring, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
The book of Joshua ends on a positive note. The people are unified in their desire to live out this covenant relationship with Yahweh as their God through their obedience to Him. The nation is now ready for life in the Promised Land, the stage set for life after Joshua. We now journey into the book of Judges.
After Joshua sent the people away, each of the tribes left to take possession of the land allotted to them. 7 And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.
The people that renewed their covenant with God when challenged by Joshua to do so were a great generation. Suppose you look at all the generations before and after; this generation better understood what faithful covenantal obedience meant. They understood what it meant to love God and to love one another. Historically, this generation also played a significant part in establishing Israel’s geographic territory. At the beginning of Judges, the tribes of Judah and Simeon combine and work together to finish the conquest of the land. The tribe of Benjamin captures Jerusalem. The invasion is off to a great start.
Unfortunately, you can read only a little bit to realize how quickly the spiritual direction of the nation turns within one generation. We will start by looking at Judges 2:10. Still, we see the cracks in the dam beginning to appear in the second half of chapter one in the people’s faithfulness to God’s commands and their faith in God’s faithfulness illustrated by their failure to drive all the inhabitants from the land.
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.
It seems as if this great generation became so occupied with doing the work of God in their generation that they neglected to declare the works of God to the next generation. It also appears as if the nation’s faith in God as their warrior faded as this great generation faded from the scene of life into eternity. It took less than one generation to lose the knowledge of how to relate to God in a covenantal relationship, of knowing His ways and what He had done for His people throughout their history. These facts challenge me as a follower of Jesus, a father, and a pastor to ensure I do all God expects, including declaring His greatness to the next generation.
A downward spiral kicks into gear in Chapter 2 and continues through the entire book of Judges until the last verse in the final chapter, where the author ways that,
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
Instead of letting Yahweh determine right and wrong, everyone’s doing what they want to do. That is not a historical statement or a statement of political anarchy. No, this statement describes the result of faithlessness and disobedience produced by ignorance of God and His ways because the previous generation failed to pass them down to their successors. They did not train their children. They did not listen to the verse following the Shema. They did not talk about it at the dinner table. They did not write it on their hands; they did not write it on their doorposts. They did not train their children for covenant renewal. And in one generation, the knowledge of God is lost.
Not only does the generation after Joshua and those who saw God do mighty things in their lifetime fall quickly, but they also fall far. The religion of Amorites or Canaanites, or Philistines was terrible. It was disgusting to the core. These people worshipped Baal, who was the chief fertility god. He granted, they thought, fertility to the land and people. His chief consort was Asherah. It was a horrible religion. In Deuteronomy 12:31, Moses tells the Israelites every terrible thing the Lord hates the people living in Canaan had done. And that certainly is true. The Canaanites worshipped idols; they worshipped false gods, including the sacrifice of children. If you read Leviticus 18, you can see the depth of the sexual depravity that these people had gone to, and the sexual immorality was not just everyday life; it was religious life. Religion and culture were all wrapped up, and the perversions of Leviticus 18 were the religious perversions of the Amorite religions of homosexuality and incest, and bestiality. The Israelites fell quickly and hard from monotheistic worship of a pure God separate from sin into the sexual iniquity of the Amorites’ worship.
The book of Judges is a series of almost identical cycles with four parts. The passage starts with the author saying, “the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” In almost every case, the evil was worshipping Baal. Secondly, God then sends an enemy nation to punish them. He sends the Midianites, the Philistines, and sometimes He sends other people, but the enemy people always oppress the children of Israel. Thirdly, the Israelites finally call out in repentance. The Israelites call out for God to help them. Fourthly, God sends a judge as an answer to their prayers. He sends an individual who will lead them into battle, who will conquer the enemy, and then that judge will instruct the Israelite nation for the rest of their life. So we have the judges of Othneal and Ehood, Deborah, Jephtha, Samson, and Gideon.
Judges recording this roller coaster portion of Israel’s history with their up-and-down experiences in their covenant relationship with God presents a dark book literarily and theologically speaking. It is supposed to be a dark book because it shows what happens when you abandon God; it shows that no matter how strong one generation is, if the next generation leaves God as they fall into sin, what happened in Judges will happen to them as well.
Now there are a few bright spots in Judges, not many, but a few. Possibly one of the most potent images in the Bible of a forgiving God can be found in Judges because no matter how repeatedly the Israelites sin, and no matter how heinous their sins are, God, in His mercy and His grace, is always there to forgive if the repentance is genuine.
With these two truths in mind, let’s get practical! From the beginning, we see that God has chosen the family to be the place of primary discipleship and has tasked parents to play the primary role of helping their children become devoted followers of Jesus. We have seen Moses in Deuteronomy and Joshua call the next generation into a covenant relationship with their God. Joshua challenges us as parents, especially fathers, to lead our families by our example and with His entrusted Word. The call to parent in this way doesn’t expire at any point in our children’s lives, but how we obey this call to parent will look different at many points during our children’s lives. For example, we would not argue that praying for our children isn’t part of how we raise them in the Lord. However, how we pray for them will differ as they mature into adulthood, with different needs and challenges arising as they journey through different life stages. I have included links to three books that speak to praying Scripture over your children, whether younger, teenagers, or adults.
I also want to highlight >SM’s Journey through the Gospels Journals. We have three different journals. We have kids, students, and adult journals available for download so that you can read the Bible together as a family unit whether you are single, dating, married with no children, or married with children of any age. There are also instructional videos to help you start this adventure through the Gospels!
My dad is great on the smoker. Being my dad aside, he makes the best bbq I’ve ever put in my mouth. Producing this savory, smoked-flavored meat takes time, effort, and knowledge of how to prepare the pig and operate the smoker. Dad is the only one in the family with the knowledge and skill to cook meat as he does, and he does it so well that I want to make sure his ways last for at least another generation. Last Thanksgiving, I helped him smoke brisket, pork butts, and a couple of turkeys in an initial effort to learn these family ways, I learned much, but as I type this blog, I feel doubtful of being able to replicate his methods and final product exactly. I guess it’s time for another cook!
As badly as I want to preserve the ways of the smoker, I desperately desire to see a hunger for God and His ways be maintained through my children and generations after them in my family tree. For this to occur, I must depend on the Lord building the house while I love Him supremely, pray for my children, regularly attend and participate in a local church with them, and lead them in His Word as He leads me through His Word.
As individuals, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, or church family, may we pray the following verses for ourselves. May our Father also give us the strength and willingness to make whatever sacrifices necessary to effectively proclaim His unchanging message to an ever-changing culture with each generation.
O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood,
and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do.
18 Now that I am old and gray,
do not abandon me, O God.
Let me proclaim your power to this new generation,
your mighty miracles to all who come after me.
Praying the Scriptures for Your Children
Praying the Scriptures for Your Teen
Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children
Dear Church Family, please refer to weekly emails, including the Midweek Resources; there, you will find access to free copies of the journals for download and self-print. You can also pick up a printed copy in the main hallway and place it in a notebook for personal use. Paperback copies of these journals will be available for purchase online or for pick up on campus beginning in May 2023.
> SM Journals: Journey through the Gospels – Digital Downloads