The period of the Judges was a horrible time. Nothing makes this more horrible than remembering all the terrible things they did. Of these, one time in particular stands out to me as one of the worst things Israel ever did.
I’m thinking of Judges 10.10-16. Go ahead and read those and a few of the verses before to get some of the context. Israel sins again (v6) and serves every god except the real One. Naturally, the LORD lets Israel face the consequences of their decisions; naturally, again, Israel regrets making the choices that they made. Thus we arrive at v10, where Israel repents. But this time is different: God responds to Israel in the negative. This time, He’s not going to save them. Why is that? What’s different, here?
It may seem that this is because God has done this quite often before. While true that He has, it doesn’t look like this is the real problem, but just a symptom. Israel has left the LORD to go serve other gods: surely they can go to those gods, right?
Is that it, then? Israel serves foreign gods and God has given them up permanently? That’s how it would seem, until Israel cries out again and God listens to them.
So what was the problem? Was this just on Israel to keep praying and eventually, after much effort on their part, God would finally be convinced to forgive them? That’s not what I see. In fact, there’s an important phrase noted in v16: “So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD”.
That makes me angry. Rightly so, I believe. This people—supposedly God’s people, right?—they didn’t care enough to try repenting correctly. The first time they cried out to God (v10), they hadn’t yet given up on their idolatry! They went after other gods and kept following them while they tried to use God for their own purposes. Can you even imagine how uncaring this attitude is? How ungrateful those people must be to act in such a way? There’s a reason God responded to them as He did the first time, ignoring their calls for help.
I wonder how frequently we treat God like this, appealing for help while we let idols live in our hearts. How could anyone consider that reasonable?
Thankfully, those people did eventually turn around. They finally put away their idols, and when they did, God helped them. They got the message and were obedient to it.
True repentance doesn’t come about until we, as God’s people, put away the other gods from our lives. Like Israel, we may be frequently guilty of acting in this ungrateful way towards the Lord; but, also like Israel, God will forgive us when we truly turn back.