“But they did not hear their judges, for they prostituted themselves after other gods and prostrated themselves before them. They quickly turned aside from the path which their fathers had walked; hearing the commandments of Yahweh, they did not so do.”
God sent Judges to deliver the people but the people refused to listen to the Judges. In the translation above, I rendered the Hebrew word oAmDv (shama) as “hear” to make it stand out from the text. In Hebrew, this word carries not only the connotations of listening to someone, but also the idea that you will act in obedience to what is being said. It is not enough to simply listen to what the Judge had to say, but the people were expected to demonstrate that they had listened by their actions…they hear and then respond in obedience.
The sad thing is just how little things have changed over the years and the generations. We might be tempted to critique the people by saying, “when will they get with the program?” Yet, before we say such things, we must first look at the church in America and in Europe and in other places as well. For we do little better than these ancient Israelites. How often Christians hear the word preached and then go away from the sermon living life exactly as they have done so for years. How many Christians enter church on Sunday and simply feign attention while the sermon is being preached, having absolutely no intention of learning about God, being challenged in terms of the application of the text, or of living a life to the glory of God, but instead daydream about the rest of the events of the day during the sermon, politely passing the time until the service is through. How often do preachers even, fail to teach the whole council of God because they do not like what its implications are for their own lives?
Friends, things have changed very little. And we even have the advantage of hindsight, the fully revealed and written down Scriptures of God which explain in detail that which God demands of his own, and we know the end of all things is judgment for those who do not love Jesus. We also know that true love for God is demonstrated in our obedience, and thus, much of the evangelical church today still stands self-condemned whether they will admit to it or not. The church has prostrated themselves before idols of their own making: buildings, programs, human reputations and traditions, wealth, ideologies, leisure, pleasure, and power. And in some cases the idols are still crafted by the hands of men out of silver and gold — they are just given names like “Saints” or “Virgin Mary” or “Eucharist.” Prostrating to these things, though given “sanctified” names, is just as idolatrous, just as much a prostituting oneself, as it was with the Ba’als and the Ashtoroth of the day of the Judges.
May we learn from the error of these Israelites. May we learn from the error of our forebears in the Christian church (remembering that over time nearly every denominational body has drifted toward or into liberalism and apostasy). But more importantly, may we demonstrate that we have learned by the way we reform our lives and by the way we work to reform our churches. And don’t content yourself with simply working to slow the decline or maintain a compromised position; labor to lead a church or your life toward repentance and growing in your obedience to our Almighty God and his design for the Biblical Church.