Do you know someone who at one time walked closely with Christ but is now steeped in a lifestyle of sin? Maybe you are reading this blog and that’s you. Your life and joy in Christ have spiraled down into deadness and sin. Your heart burns for the joy in His presence that you once had. What causes the separation? What measures need to be taken to climb out of the spiral?
The book of Judges tells the harrowing story of how Israel descended from a period of faithfulness under Joshua into the depths of sin after his death. The book begins on the mountain and ends in a deep, dark valley.
Judges begins positively enough: “It came about that Joshua died. Then the sons of Israel inquired of the LORD saying, ‘Who shall go up for us first to wage war against the Canaanites?'” The people are continuing the divine mission begun by Joshua, seeking to drive out the Canaanites from the land. Interestingly, in the last episode of the book, a similar scene occurs. Judges 20:18 says, “And they arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, ‘Who shall go up for us first to wage war against the sons of Benjamin?'”
The author is showing the shift experienced within Israel by repeating a scene that appeared at the beginning of the book, but with a significant difference. In the beginning, the sons of Israel gather together to ask God who should go and make war with the Canaanites. In the final episode, they gather together to ask God who should go up and make war against one of their own tribes. One of the very tribes of Israel has become an object of annihilation, just as the Canaanites had been at the beginning. The point is clear: Israel has become “Canaanized.” They have become like the Canaanites.
How did this happen? The seeds were sown in the first chapter of the book. God told Israel in Deuteronomy to destroy every inhabitant of Canaan because a failure to do so would result in Israel becoming just like the Canaanites. And yet, throughout the first chapter of the book, we read of how Israel preserved certain members of the people they conquered and made treaties with others. Some portions of the land they were unable to conquer and they allowed whole Canaanite settlements to survive in other areas.
Deuteronomy makes clear what will inevitably happen next: Israel will become like the Canaanites they fail to drive from the land. The final episode where the people are gathered together to annihilate one of the Israelites tribes as if they were Canaanites is a literary way of explaining that the “Canaanization” was complete.
The lesson for us is clear. If we allow stumbling blocks to remain in our lives, they will inevitably lead us into sin. Fraternization and proximity to things we know tempt us to sin will inevitably end in failure. That is why Jesus tells us that if anything causes us to sin, even if it is as dear to us as our eye or hand, we must rid ourselves of it. Followers of Jesus cannot flirt with temptation and hope to remain faithful in the long run. Just as the nation of Israel fell into sin because of their continued relationships with pagan nations, so we too will fall into disobedience and sin if we allow that which tempts us to remain close at hand.
Thankfully, now that we are in Christ, God has given us His Spirit to help us put sin to death. You don’t have to muster the strength on your own to put away the things that lead you into sin. Paul says in Romans 8 that “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” If you have the Spirit, you are God’s child. And you have the power to fight against sin and stumbling blocks in your life. Seek God and pray for the power of His Spirit. Heed the warning of Judges with the power of the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful flesh.