The opening words of Judges may at first glance seem to be only a helpful historical notation. Sadly, as we shall see, they represent the spiritual high-water mark of the entire book. The first phrase, ″after the death of Joshua″ (Judges 1:1), marks the beginning of a drastic decline in the spiritual well-being of the nation. This decline was totally unnecessary, since Israel's wellbeing was not dependent on the greatness of its leaders but on the goodness of her God.
This decline was totally unnecessary, since Israel's wellbeing was not dependent on the greatness of its leaders but on the goodness of her God
Two verses indicate the vast difference between the time of Joshua and the period of the judges. As Joshua was about to die, he issued one last stirring challenge: ″Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.″ The people's response was instantaneous: ″Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods!″ (Joshua 24:15-16). Early in the period of the judges, however, we have this verdict pronounced on the people: ″The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and the Asherahs″ (Judges 3:7). So in a few short years, ″we will not forget the LORD″ has become ″the people forgot the LORD″.
Why did that happen? How did a people who had known continuous victory by faith sink to become a nation experiencing constant failure due to compromise? And how can we guard against the same thing happening in our lives?
The death of Joshua marked a national crisis. The great leader had gone, and God had not elevated another leader to take his place. But the people, no doubt reflecting the godly influence of Joshua's life, respond with faith and trust. They gather together as a united people to seek God's direction and to carry out His mission (v. 1). First, they accept the Lord's authority. They don't just set out to do what seems best; they seek His direction. Second, they accept His mission-to take the land and exterminate the Canaanites. Third, they wait for the Lord's orders.
The Lord's choice of the tribe of Judah (v. 2) to take the lead is consistent with His plan to choose a king from Judah, a preview of the great day when His Messiah would be born as a descendant of David. But what should be noted here is the Lord's promise of victory: ″I have given the land into their hands″ (v. 2) This is the way it should be for God's people, but sadly, as we shall see, they will never attain such heights again in this book.