A Bible study I am in has just finished the book of Judges. It’s a story of amazing degeneration, as the children of Israel live in the land of Canaan and soon forget or ignore the God who called them there.
Of course the root cause of this forgetting is that the Israelites did not step out at first and conquer all of Canaan, as the Lord promised he would empower them to do. So they found themselves living side by side with the Canaanites and their idols. It wasn’t long before the Israelites were worshipping the idols too. The archaeological record for this time records only idol worship, because that is what the Israelites were doing alongside the Canaanites.
God, of course, hates idolatry. It’s his number-one sin in the list of sins, the Ten Commandments. He considers it unfaithfulness. But our hearts are idol factories.
In the book of Judges, God works to teach his people through a cycle that repeats itself. The people forget God and worship idols. God sends an oppressor. The people cry to the Lord for help. God sends a judge to rescue them. These judges include Deborah, who rallies the tribes, and later Samson, who acts alone.
Over time the people’s cry for help degenerates. At first it includes repentance, but later the people forget the repentance part. The result? A time in which “everyone did as he saw fit.” The people may sometimes give the Lord lip service, but their hearts are far from him. The end of the book of Judges consists of two stories involving Levites, who should have been Godly men. But they weren’t, to put it mildly.
I am praying that the Lord will show me what all my idols are. I know my heart manufactures them, and my basic nature turns away from God on purpose. I know what some of my idols are: they line up with those in the culture (money, nice house, approval of others). I’m praying that the Lord will help me to break my attraction to idols and fix my eyes on Jesus, always keeping in mind the Lord’s agenda which has a lot to do with caring for the poor and needy, the widow and the alien.