Introduction to the Judges

Today's Bible reading: Judges 1:1-36

How quickly the Israelites - and you and I - forget who's people we are: we belong to God.  Instead of remembering our true identity - as baptized children of God - we suffer an identity crisis when we sin.  The first identity crisis came in the Garden of Eden, as Adam and Eve doubted God's Word and chose to be identified with a lying serpent.  Now the Israelites ask: “Did God really say … to destroy the Canaanites?  What harm is there in a little compromise?  The Canaanites I've met are nice people.  Surely, God wouldn't want to destroy them, would He?”  So first, let’s find out a little more about these gods that cause the Israelites to fall.  Who are these contenders against the Almighty God who would tempt God’s people with a new identity?

The Canaanite tribes inhabiting Palestine at the time of the Israelite invasion practiced a religion of magic and superstition.  Their legends taught that El was the father of the gods … and Asherah was the mother.  They had a family of 70 gods and goddesses, the most important or popular being Baalthe Lord of nature.  The Canaanites believed that Baal controlled the changing seasons and provided the earth’s produce …and temple prostitution was used to remind him to send rain.   During religious ceremonies, an officiating priest danced around Baal’s altar, chanting and cutting himself with a knife … hoping to attract Baal’s attention.  New Year festivals celebrating the death and rebirth of nature provided the annual high point of Baal worship.  Baal’s priests taught that he was responsible for plagues and misfortunes …and that only human sacrifice - usually children - could placate Baal.

Another Canaanite god was named Molech.  Molech’s idol was often depicted as a human being from the waist up but with the head of a bull.  Underneath the torso of this idol was a fire pit - a kind of furnace - that would heat up the statue above … children were then placed into his outstretched, searing hot arms and burned to death.  The Canaanites offered sacrifices to their idols, believing that this would make sure that they had good crops and prosperity – it was a way for them to appease and manipulate their gods.  In summary: these vile practices led to gross immorality.

God had told Israelites to drive all these pagan tribes - the Canaanites, the Amorite's, the Jebusites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Girgashites, the Perizzites and the Philistines - out of Canaan and to destroy their altars.  But they did not obey God's command fully – some Canaanites remained in the land.

Prayer: Forgive us, Lord, for indifference to your will.  Help us to love what you command, turn to you for mercy, and seek to conform our lives to Your holy will.  Amen.