“Thus, Midian was humbled before the face of the Sons of Israel and they did not again raise their head. And the land had rest for forty years in the days of Gideon.”
What perhaps is shocking to us in the presence of this language is the verse that precedes this. Why did God bring the Midianites into the land? It was because the people had fallen into idolatry. Why did God raise up Gideon? It was because they had repented of their sin and cried out for help. And what do the people fall back into almost immediately after their deliverance from Midian? Idolatry. Yet God chooses to give rest (freedom from the oppression of sin) for forty years — pretty much a full generation. Is God being inconsistent here?
The answer to the final question is , “No, God is never inconsistent.” Sometimes it is hard for us to understand the purpose behind God’s sovereign actions, but scripture speaks univocally — with one voice — regarding God’s absolute sovereignty over events. We also find times when God permits his people to go unpunished in their sins as an extension of grace to his elect and added condemnation to those who stand against him. For the elect, this extension of grace is not meant to communicate a permissiveness toward sin, but simply to inculcate in the life of the believer a profound sadness over our rebellion and a conviction of the immensity of God’s grace.
Sometimes people ask me about the things God at times permits in the Old Testament…polygamy amongst the kings, for example. Does this mean that God condones those things in the Old Testament and later condemns them in the new? No. It simply means that God permitted them to sin in this way as a testimony of its destructive effects. Truly, can we not say with Solomon or David that God has overlooked sins which we deserve to be punished for? If you do not think so then you delude yourself.
Thus, God permits 40 years of rest…essentially blessing them with protection and giving them a chance to begin reforms…reforms that never take place. Sadly. Yet, how often God extends such grace to his churches as well as to the nations in which we live. Many of my peers lament the decline of the American culture into paganism. I lament that as well. Yet, what I lament most greatly is the decline of the American Church into paganism and infidelity, picking and choosing what parts of the Bible they will pay attention to and rejecting the rest.
A thing to note is that this will be the final time in the book of Judges where we see this language about the land being given rest. It is a reminder that while God often chooses to overlook the sins of his people for a season, that season is indefinite and eventually he removes his hand of grace and permits a collapse. Such a collapse is taking places in mainline churches across our nation today — churches that once proclaimed the Gospel but now simply stand for social justice. May we be diligent and attentive to God’s word that we never see such a fall in our churches.