An Oddly Familiar Pattern

Bible Focus: Judges 1-2

The people worshiped the LORD throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. They had seen all the LORD’s great works he had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the territory of his inheritance, in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the LORD or the works he had done for Israel.

Judges 2:7-10 CSB

In his bestselling book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains how human habits (good or bad) are incredibly resilient. He shares one story in which a man moved with his wife into a new house and he formed a habit of a regular walk with her around their new neighborhood. Normally, this feat wouldn’t be all that remarkable; but this particular man had lost his short-term memory functions from a prior infection that had ravaged his brain. This man could not describe their walking route or explain how he knew where to turn, but he could reliably start out on their walk and return home on his own. He had formed this habit even though he lacked the ability to commit any details to memory.

In a similar fashion, without us realizing it, we humans develop a common habit of idolatry. We habitually look to things that are not God to fulfill us in God-like ways. These can be literal idols of wood, stone, and metal, or they can be figurative idols like relationships, jobs, pleasures, and possessions. No matter where they come from, these idols ultimately disappoint us. Yet we tend to keep pursuing them, sacrificing good things in a vain attempt to receive from the idol what only God can give us.

We habitually look to things that are not God to fulfill us in God-like ways.

After God led Joshua and the nation of Israel to conquer the promised land of Canaan, the tribes of Israel settled down in their allotted portions. But even though the Israelites had been victorious, they did not totally drive out the Canaanites and their gods from the land as God had commanded them to do. So God sent his angel with a message for the people:

The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim and said, “I brought you out of Egypt and led you into the land I had promised to your ancestors. I also said: I will never break my covenant with you. You are not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of this land. You are to tear down their altars. But you have not obeyed me. What have you done? Therefore, I now say: I will not drive out these people before you. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a trap for you.”

Judges 2:1-3 CSB

This regrettable situation set up a downward cycle that would repeat itself in the lives of the Israelite people for about 300 years. The cycle went like this:

  1. Israel would abandon God and follow the idols of the peoples around them.
  2. God would become angry with Israel for following these other gods.
  3. God would allow Israel’s enemies to defeat them and oppress them.
  4. Israel would cry out to God for help.
  5. God would be moved with compassion and raise up a judge to save them from their enemies.
  6. As long as the judge lived, Israel would have relief from their enemies.
  7. After the judge died, Israel would abandon God even worse than before, and the cycle would repeat.

Try as they might, the people of Israel could not break this cycle on their own. The lure of the idol worship around them proved too strong for them to resist. They were quick to forget the real God and all the mercy, love, and power he had demonstrated on their behalf.

Unfortunately, we’re susceptible to idolatry as well. We might not physically bow down to our idols, but we bow down to them in our hearts. We give them our time, our money, and our energy. We become frustrated and confused when they don’t deliver what we want. And the worst thing is that we ignore the real God in the process.

But here’s the good news. When we believe in Jesus, God doesn’t just forgive us of all the times we chase idols. He also sends his Holy Spirit to live in us and he begins to reverse our cycle of idolatry. The Holy Spirit helps us recognize our idols. He helps us turn away from worshiping them. And he constantly reminds us of the real God who truly loves us and who can give us more than those fake gods ever could.

Featured image from Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash.

This post is #20 in The Truly Good Book series. Subscribe to more posts below.

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