The Religious Decline of Israel (Judges 2:1-3:6)

The Religious Decline of Israel (Judges 2:1-3:6)


Have you ever felt so trapped in a cycle of sin that you questioned your salvation?

Octavius Winslow “If there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is, that, after all God has done for him, – after all the rich displays of his grace, the patience and tenderness of his instructions, the repeated discipline of his covenant, the tokens of love received, and the lessons of experience learned, there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency of which is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God. Truly, there is in this solemn fact, that which might well lead to the deepest self-abasement before Him.”

The political decline of Israel (ch.1) finds its climax in 2:1-5 with the angel of the Lord’s assessment. Their military campaign failed because of their unfaithfulness. But as we analyze their failure, we should be mindful of our own tendencies.

Judges was probably written during the monarchy. Meant to drive the nation to repentance, to seek the Lord’s help. That is the cycle in Judges: Israel cries out > God keeps his covenant promises!

When and how will the cycle of idolatry end?

Read Judges 2:1-3:6

The Root of Israel’s Problem (2:1-13)

The Lack of Repentance (1-5):

  • Who is the angel of the Lord?
    1. Identified with the Lord (Moses and Joshua removed sandals; Ex. 23:20-23).
    2. Distinguished from the Lord.
    3. Conclusion: A prophet-mediator like Moses (Acts 3:22f).
  • What is his message? Covenant Lawsuit
    1. Lord’s covenant faithfulness (1).
    2. Israel’s covenant faithlessness (2).
    3. The threat of judgment (3).
  • What is the result? Weeping and sacrificing (4-5).

The Lack of Knowledge (6-10): The generation after Joshua did not “know” the Lord. They lacked an experiential knowledge of God.

Own upbringing & value of catechism in our family.

We can expect the same results today. Children need to learn the catechism and see it’s application. The church is responsible for assisting parents in raising covenant children to know the “holy faith”. All children are being catechized. Whose doctrine are they learning?

The Presence of Idolatry (11-13): “…did what was evil…” (7x). They no longer worshiped the Lord, now they served Baal/Astaroth. They bowed down in subjection.

  • Baal: Storm/weather god (several local varieties).
  • Ashtaroth: Love/fertility/war goddess.

Ps. 106:34-40 details the results of this disastrous arrangement. This was characteristic of the entire period of the judges.

Material Prosperity: Goals of “fertility religion” = large family, flocks, herds, crops. More concerned about the gift than the giver.

We often respond to our sin with a superficial repentance.

Cundall The Lord is not deceived by the external expressions of repentance; he looks for the rent heart, not the rent garments (Joel 2:12–14; cf. Ps. 51:17).

I want to be the one to conquer my sin. The religious response to moral failure is to develop a strategy to overcome. So we read a book, we map out a plan, and we punish ourselves with guilt and shame. In other words, we weep without knowledge. This provides relief temporarily, but it never addresses the root problem and therefore, sin crops back up.

How did the Lord respond to this shallow repentance?

The Reaction to Israel’s Problem (2:14-3:6)

The Lord’s Anger (14-15): In response to their unfaithfulness, God allows Israel’s neighbors to plunder them (Lev. 26). Anger > Delivered over.

The Lord’s Compassion (16-18): Wherever there is true love, there is also jealousy. God is not unfazed by Israel’s constant “whoring after other gods” (17; Hosea). Compassion > Saved them.

The Lord’s Anger (2:19-3:6): Nations were left to test Israel’s obedience (2:22; 3:1, 4) and provide them an opportunity to know war (3:2).

Israel’s fall was complete:

  • Politically (pluralistic)
  • Socially (interfaith marriage)
  • Religiously (polytheistic)

Yet, they were not utterly consumed. Why? The steadfast love of the Lord.

No God is like our God! Sacred prostitution coerced Baal. Repentance and faith moves God.

Israel thought the power of their enemies was greater, both politically and spiritually, than the power of God.

Iain Provan The old gods are still with us. They have simply changed their clothes…

We often succumb to temptation because we think we are powerless to overcome. And there is some truth to the power of sin.

Davis Sin is not simply an action you do or fail to do, that you can choose to do or not to do. Sin is a power that holds you in its grip.

Small compromises are the beginning of a downward spiral.

Inexplicably, God rescues Israel time and time again.

Iain Provan God meets repeated failure with repeated rescue.

The scariest place for anyone to be is indifferent. The great danger expressed in this chapter is not merely indifference towards their own sin, but especially towards the Lord’s punishment. The apostate responds to punishment with further indulgence, whereas the believer is eager to repent.

When the punishment for sin is met with indifference our only hope is in a Savior who absorbs the punishment in our place. Apart from the gospel, the pattern of sin and rebellion escalates. Only the gospel can transform an indifferent heart and break the cycle of idolatry.



  1. The Root of Israel’s Problem (2:1-13) was a lack of repentance and knowledge which manifested itself in idolatry.
  2. The Reaction to Israel’s Problem (2:14-3:6) was the Lord’s anger and compassion. The Lord’s anger is kindled by Israel’s idolatry, and his compassion is initiated by their distress and groaning.

2:18 > They needed a judge who could defeat death.

Rather than fabricating a false repentance filled with all the outward requirements, we must learn to trust in the finished work of our Sovereign Lord, who sent the Great Rescuer to defeat sin and death in our place.