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Scripture reading: Judges 1-2

The Book of Judges began with a statement indicating a leadership void that followed Joshua’s death. We read, “Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” (Judges 1:1)

Though Israel possessed the land, they still faced enemies in their midst. So the LORD answered their inquiry, not with the name of a man, but with that of a tribe: “And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his [the tribe of Judah’s] hand” (Judges 1:2).

The Unity of the Tribes of Judah and Simeon (Judges 1:1-20)

Lacking the leadership of a man like Joshua, the LORD chose the men of Judah to be the first to wage battle in the post-Joshua era. Why Judah? Judah had the largest population of the twelve tribes and was the most powerful among them. Judah, the patriarch Jacob’s fourth-born son, had been blessed by his father (Genesis 49:8-12). His lineage bore the noble character from whom a line of kings would emerge, beginning with David and concluding with the LORD Jesus Christ, the lion of Judah (Matthew 1:1-3).

Judah accepted the challenge. Because the tribe of Simeon lived in their midst, Judah said to them, “Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot.” (Judges 1:3). The people of Simeon accepted Judah’s invitation, for their land was encircled by Judah’s territory (Joshua 19:1).

Amid victories, a repetition of failures emerged in Judges that haunted the people as a nation for generations. The tribes of Judah and Simeon fought against the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and God blessed them with victories over their enemies (Judges 1:2-20), but regrettably, they fell short of the LORD’s will. The LORD did not fail Judah; however, the tribe did not trust their God and “could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron” (Judges 1:19).

The Cowardice of the Other Tribes (Judges 1:21-36)

A pattern of failures to obey the command of the LORD and drive out Israel’s enemies continued throughout Judges 1. For example, the tribe of Benjamin failed (Judges 1:21), as did Manasseh (Judges 1:27-28). Also, Ephraim did not “drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer” (Judges 1:29). Zebulun failed to “drive out the inhabitants of Kitron” (Judges 1:30). Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of cities in their land (Judges 1:32). Naphtali failed (Judges 1:33), and “the Amorites forced the children [tribe] of Dan into the mountain” (Judges 1:34).

Judges 2 – A Third-Generation Crisis in Leadership

An Ominous Announcement of the Angel of the LORD (Judges 2:1-5)

Judges 2 began with an ominous declaration from “an angel of the LORD” (whom I believe was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ). Israel’s failure to drive the idol-worshiping nations out of Canaan breached their covenant with the LORD. He reminded them of His promise: “I will never break my covenant with you” (Judges 2:1). The people, however, had failed to drive the inhabitants out of the land and destroy their altars (Judges 2:2).

God warned, “I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you” (Judges 2:3). When the people heard what would befall them because of their sins, they “sacrificed there unto the LORD” (Judges 2:5). Nevertheless, the consequences of their sinful failures followed them.

The State of Israel During the Rule of the Judges (Judges 2:6-23)

Notice that the narrative in Judges 2 turns briefly to a reflection on the death of Joshua (Judges 2:6-10) and his influence on his generation and the one that followed. We read, “The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel” (Judges 2:7). When that generation passed, a third generation arose, and “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim” (Judges 2:11). That generation “forsook the Lord God of their fathers…and followed other gods…and provoked the Lord to anger. 13And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:12-13).

Yet, the LORD did not altogether forsake Israel. On the contrary, he chose judges in Israel to call the people to return to the LORD, His Law, and Commandments (Judges 2:16). He would bless the judge of His people and deliver them “out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” (Judges 2:18). Nevertheless, “when the judge was dead, [the people] returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers…[and] ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way” (Judges 2:19).

Closing thoughts:

On a personal note, I have witnessed the failings of transitional leadership throughout my years of ministry. A nation, organization, corporation, school, and church are never more vulnerable than in a time of leadership change. Judges 2 proved that the nation of Israel was no exception.

Why are third-generation organizations and ministries so vulnerable?

The reason can be summed up in an old adage: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Israel’s third generation in the land had not experienced the sacrifices or the victories of the generations before them. They had grown comfortable and familiar with the heathen in their midst. Invariably, their parent’s failure to drive the wicked out of the land became a fatal attraction, and the third generations’ contempt for the ways, law, and commandments of the LORD invited God’s judgment (Judges 2:20-23).

Tragically, as I write today’s devotion, I recall several churches, Christian camps, Bible colleges, and organizations that have faltered and are failing to thrive under third-generation leaders.

Is your church or organization facing a third-generation transition? If so, be on guard! Leaders who dismiss the principles and precepts of their predecessors will inevitably lead others to their demise.

Questions to consider:

1) Why did Judah invite the tribe of Simeon to join them in the war against the Canaanites? (Judges 1:4)

2) What great city fell to Judah and was destroyed by fire? (Judges 1:8)

3) What connection did the Kenites have with Israel? (Judges 1:16)

4) Who failed to drive the Jebusites out of Jerusalem? (Judges 1:21)

5) In what had Israel failed? (Judges 2:1-2)

6) What generation failed to know the LORD? (Judges 2:7-10)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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