Week of July 10: Staying loyal to God a daily commitment
By HERCHEL SHEETS
Scripture: Judges 2:11-19
Danish scientist Niels Bohr once said, "Forecasting is difficult, especially when it's about the future." What else could it be about than the future! But as we today look at the country of Palestine in the period from about 1200 to1000 B.C., forecasting doesn't seem too difficult, for like in our day "history kept repeating itself."
Seeking a newer world
As the Israelites stood on Mount Nebo and looked across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they would have understood Tennyson's words in his poem, Ulysses: "Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world." That's what they were doing: Seeking a newer world. Egypt, for them, had become an old and hateful land. The Sinai Desert and all the territory between Egypt and Mount Nebo, while the scene of much instruction and growth for them as a people, was not the place where they wanted to stay. But Canaan looked different. True, it would have its challenges, but it also had its promises and possibilities. It was a "newer world" to them, and in it they could have a new life and build a nation for themselves.
But then they crossed over the Jordan River and began their conquest of the land. Their greatest challenge then was not conquest: it was remaining loyal to the God to whom they were so deeply indebted. The supreme question for them in all the coming years would be, "Will we be loyal to the God to whom we owe so much?"
At no time was their loyalty of a perfect nature; it had its imperfections in abundance. But toward the end of his life, Joshua called the people together and asked them to join in a covenant to be faithful to the Lord. They made that covenant, saying: "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey" (Joshua 24:24). The Book of Judges says that "The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel." But then that generation died off, "and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel." Consequently, "they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the people who were all around them."
A cycle of unfaithfulness
Such abandonment of the God to whom they had pledged their allegiance was not without its consequences. One consequence was that, weakened in moral and spiritual purpose, they became unable to defend themselves against their enemies and so were overrun and oppressed by them. It was only when things got rough enough that they would begin to see the error of their ways, to repent of their sins, and to cry out to God for help. Then the Lord would raise up a leader, called a "judge," who would motivate and mobilize them, and under his leadership they would return to God. The result would be deliverance from their enemies and restoration to a right relationship with God. But when that judge died the cycle started again.
Talk about history repeating itself! That cycle was repeated over and over again for a period of two hundred years: Unfaithfulness on the part of the Israelites, oppression by their enemies, repentance, and then deliverance by the Lord through a leader he raised up. But that was not the end, for the cycle would soon start again.
One of Benjamin Franklin's most quoted statements was one he made to a woman who was waiting outside the hall where the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was meeting. She asked what type of government the delegates had given them. He replied: "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."
That was the challenge before the escaped slaves who invaded the land of Canaan. They now had "a newer world," but could they keep it? Unfortunately, again and again they turned their backs upon God. They allowed the people around them to influence them to worship their gods and abandon the only God who had ever done anything for them.
Renewing the commitment
Their temptations, of course, were plenteous. The times were uncertain, their needs were pressing. In the words of a historic prayer, they were "set amid the perplexities of a changing order, and face to face with new tasks." But the biblical writers saw no justification in that for abandonment of faithfulness to God. God had been faithful and kept calling them to faithfulness in return.
That's our obligation, too. In spite of temptations before us, challenges that confront us, people who may influence us, obstacles that block our way, tasks that take our strength, the call is still to serve the Lord in faithfulness. There can be no excuse or justification for abandoning commitment to God. Our debt is too great for that.
But history will keep repeating itself with us, too, unless we keep ourselves connected and committed to the Lord. There's no scarcity of things to call our attention away from the values, the purposes, and the ways of God. So every day our commitment needs to be made anew with conviction and earnestness: "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey."