Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scripture: Judges 10:10-18

 [The Israelites] put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer. —Judges 10:16


10:10  So the Israelites cried to the LORD, saying, "We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals." 11 And the LORD said to the Israelites, "Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. 14 Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress." 15 And the Israelites said to the LORD, "We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!" 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.

17 Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead; and the Israelites came together, and they encamped at Mizpah. 18 The commanders of the people of Gilead said to one another, "Who will begin the fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead."

The Lord speaks directly to the people of Israel in a dramatic confrontation. The people confess that they have turned away and abandoned God—they have failed to love, honor, and serve God. They have also worshiped other gods. This is the only cycle in the book of Judges in which Israel's repentance is made explicit.

God's potential for delivering the community is beyond question; repeatedly, God has delivered the Israelites from bondage. God's response in Judg. 10:11-12 reminds the Israelites of some of those instances of deliverance. Our passage raises some other questions, however. Does God's forgiveness have a limit? That seems to be the case in Judg. 10:13 when God says, "I will deliver you no more." However, forgiveness is granted (and many times after that), a fact that raises another question—can God's mind be changed by repentance?

This question is raised also in the book of Jonah. The king mandates repentance: "Who knows? God may relent and change his mind" (Jonah 3:9). "When God saw what they did ... God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it" (v. 10). The word that indicates God's change of heart here is nacham, the same word used in Judges 2:18 to describe God's forgiveness and compassion in bringing deliverance through the judges of Israel.

Throughout the book of Judges, the people get worse and worse. Here they repent. Are they simply trying to buddy up to God, in order to get what they want? God is not convinced. God knows all the terrible things the Israelites have done. God has often pulled them out of the gutter. Ultimately, God's compassion wins out over condemnation.

Up to this point in the cycles of oppression and deliverance, God's deliverance is driven by God's compassion, not by the repentance of the people. The repentance has followed deliverance. Here, however, repentance precedes and even seems to be the impetus toward God's deliverance. True confession leads to true repentance, and this genuine return to God rouses God's compassion for the people. The people change their ways, putting away foreign gods and turning to the Lord.

It is easy to feel defeated by the cycle of repentance and forgiveness in our own lives and in the lives those around us. When we experience a mountaintop change in our lives, we expect it to last. But discipleship is a daily journey. When we get off track, it's almost enough to make us want to get off the trail and hitch a ride back to our old familiar places. The church is in the compassion business. We all go through cycles of obedience and disobedience, falling into our old patterns repeatedly. Ultimately, realizing how much grace we all need, we can become a more compassionate people, in our newfound humility.

There is every indication in this text that God did not think that Israel's repentance would last this time either. God, moved with compassion, cannot allow the Israelites to suffer, even if they are just going to start the cycle all over again. Our communities need to remember that people will always need the church because there will always be more brokenness.


What is your understanding of repentance and forgiveness? How are grace and pardon communicated in your community of faith?

Do you think God's forgiveness has a limit? If so, what might that be? Could God have been unchanged by the cries and repentance of the Israelites?

 Does our repentance change God's heart?


Faithful and loving God, we confess that we are not different from the Israelites who continually turn away from you. Left to our own devices, we slip back into comfortable patterns, we follow the call of the world, and we pursue desires that lead only to emptiness! Thank you for your love and forgiveness. Help us to receive the grace that you give us so freely and so lovingly, and empower us to extend your grace and love to all the Israelites of the world. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment