Chapter 1. Chaos and Confusion

Read Judges 21:25

Once when my wife and I were in England, we visited the great Salisbury Cathedral—a gigantic structure that boasts the highest tower and steeple in Europe. The tower and spire rise more than four hundred feet above the ground and are visible for miles. The tower and spire alone weigh more than 6,400 tons. Begun early in the thirteenth century, the cathedral still stands as a testimony to the architectural skills of people who knew nothing of our modern ways and means of building.

Amazingly, this enormous structure is built on only a four-foot foundation. Underneath this shallow base lies a deep bed of gravel saturated with water that emanates from several rivers. Should the water ever drain from this gravel bed, the whole substructure of this four-foot foundation will deteriorate and crumble. The whole building will come crashing down. That's why the water level is monitored regularly, even though it has probably never varied for millennia.

As I reflected on this incredible phenomenon, I thought about our nation. We stood firm for many years until the "water of life"—our biblical values as embodied in the Ten Commandments—were drained from this simple yet profound substructure upon which we built our nation. Amazingly, this change took place in only one generation.

How could this have happened? The fact is that this kind of degeneration is nothing new in history. It happened again and again to the children of Israel, and when it did, the whole culture deteriorated and chaos permeated the lives of God's people.

A Low Point

Samuel was born at a time in Israel's history when confusion reigned. The concluding line in the book of Judges says it all: "Everyone did as he saw fit." (Judg. 21:25). The New American Standard translation describes the scene more graphically: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

What made this situation so chaotic is not only that the children of Israel "had no king" but that they had consistently slid back into a state of paganism. The Book of Judges is basically a record of Israel's "ups and downs"—turning from their sins to worship the one true God and then turning from God to worship the false gods of Canaan.

A Powerful Sermon

Just before he died, Joshua had warned God's people and had challenged them to "fear the Lord" and to "serve Him with all faithfulness!" (Josh. 24:14). More specifically, this great man exhorted them with these words: "Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living" (24:14-15a).

Joshua concluded this very pointed message with a personal testimony regarding his own decision—a powerful witness that any godly father would be proud to have inscribed as an epitaph on his own tombstone: "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (24:15b).

Good News, Bad News

Though the children of Israel responded very positively to Joshua's exhortation and personal example (24:16-24), they failed to follow through. The good news is that they "served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel" (Judg. 2:7). The bad news is that after Joshua died and "after that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel" (2:10). Following are the saddest words ever penned regarding Israel's history: "Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths" (2:11-13).

In only one generation, a whole new group of Israelites replaced their fathers and mothers and turned to paganism. They actually forgot what God had done in delivering their forefathers from Egyptian bondage, as well as miraculously leading their parents across Jordan and enabling them to conquer the land of Canaan.

How can we explain this? The answer is really simple—although startling and convicting (see fig. 1.1). After Joshua's death, his own generation served God as they said they would. But not so their children. This generation of young people allowed the pagan influences in Canaan to penetrate their thinking and the way they lived. It certainly happened gradually and subtly—like the proverbial frog in a kettle of water that gradually reaches a boiling point. Furthermore, when this new generation produced offspring (the next generation), they failed to review for their children what God had done for them, nor did they instruct this generation in God's holy laws and commandments. In only one generation the children of Israel moved from serving God and obeying His commandments to following false gods and living sinful and licentious lives.