11And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtoreth. 14So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know that I often try to include a picture of the topic of the day. Today, I went out onto the internet to look for pictures of Ashtoreth / Baal and needless to say, there is an abundant choice. But then I thought twice about including a picture. I just don’t want that visual image to be a part of your day. Suffice it to say, Ashtoreth is generally depicted as a naked female with the head of a lioness. She is a fertility goddess and reported to be the mother and consort of Baal. From this description, I hope you are getting the character of degradation that she represents. This is who the Children of Israel turn to instead of the God who has saved them. This was the goddess of the Canaanites and learning to worship her came naturally since that is who they were living among.
As we read these five verses, our heart needs to break. I confess to a sense of great sorrow as I read them. God’s heart is breaking as His people choose to serve these evil gods rather than Him. He does the only thing that He can do. He allows the very people they have chosen to live with to enslave them. Any battles they pursue are lost and their resources are stolen. “And they were in terrible distress.” That says it all.
But here is where the rest of the book of Judges takes the readers. Every time Israel takes this path, God is still there – waiting for them to repent. He doesn’t just leave them to their apostasy. Instead He waits for the pain of their situation to turn them around and He rescues them again. We are no different.
Far too often I find that I am running under my own power. It doesn’t take very long before I’m feeling desperate and overwhelmed. Why don’t I learn? I’m not bowing down to Baal, but I am bowing down to my own abilities and skills. I’m trusting in myself to make things happen and very quickly (more quickly the older I get) I am exhausted and burned out. It’s miserable and I find myself “in terrible distress.” There may be no statute before which I bow, but I believe it is idolatry nonetheless. It’s the idolatry of the self and God finds is heartbreaking.
But Jesus came and died for that sin and God is standing right beside me waiting for me to surrender my foolish pride, falling before His feet again. The cycle may look slightly different than what we find in Judges, but ultimately, it’s exactly the same.
Dear Lord, I have been foolish and sinful. I have regularly fallen into the trap of trusting myself rather than You. I am so very sorry for that sin and I am grateful for those feeling of distress because they turn me right back to You. And there You are, having never left me; I just took my eyes off of You! Thank You for these stories of Your people because I am no different from them and their lives point me back to faith in You. Blessed be Your name alone! Amen.