One of the themes of the book of Judges is set out in these first chapters – we have short memories, and forgetting the lessons of the past means that we have to learn them again, often the hard way.
It’s true first across generations. Being human, the tribes don’t actually destroy or drive out all the inhabitants of Canaan as they were supposed to. And while this is a more comfortable reality than the awful principle, it does mean that they keep the ‘gods’ of the land in evidence as well as the people of the land. And when the last of the wilderness generation have died, Israel no longer remembers what it was like to be led through the desert by the immediate presence of God, and the statues and shrines of the Canaanite religions, with their immediacy and ritual, are much more compelling.
So God allows Israel to learn the old lesson again – to need rescue so that they remember that he is their salvation from very real and present danger, as well as for eternity. He inspires the Judges to lead them in the darkest times, and they turn back – then forget again once the danger is past.
Are we too comfortable?
It does raise interesting questions about how far the reducing status of Christianity in the West is to do with our general comfort and safety – for all the fear that a small number of terrorists can create. And perhaps it raises the question of how we remind ourselves and our culture of how much we owe to God’s care in the past. We are not a theocracy, a chosen nation under the special guidance of God, but we can still do with the reminder that if our past repeats itself, it probably means that we’re not listening. And in particular it probably means that we haven’t listened to the voice of God speaking to the present moment through what he’s done for us in past times.
So how do I remember what God has done for me? And how do I help others, those around me and the next generation, to know and to learn from what he has done for us all?