“And when Joshua had let the people go, the children of Israel went every man unto his inheritance to possess the land. And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel.
And Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash.” (Judges 2:6-9)
Assuming Joshua was about the same age as Caleb, which seems likely, he would have been about eighty when he assumed leadership of Israel, or about the same age Moses was when God selected him. Since all the other men over twenty years old had died in the wilderness, Joshua and Caleb were about twenty years older than the next oldest men. Almost certainly some of those who had been in Egypt lived more than twenty years after Joshua died.
Joshua had such and impact on Israel that they served the Lord throughout his administration and as long as any of the elders who had been in Egypt and saw what God had done survived. Few men affect the course of a nation for more than fifty years.
“And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10)
The children who were born in the land had no personal memories or experience of God’s miracles, depending totally on what they had been taught by their parents. Often, parents do not share what they have experienced completely, and children only hear the most dramatic stories which seem unreal. As a result the parents’ insistence on certain behavior seems somewhat excessive. Only as the children gain experience do they begin to appreciate their parents’ teachings. The younger generation saw little value in keeping God’s law.
In Genesis, Abraham knew the Lord, experiencing his power mightily. Isaac still believed and followed the Lord, but Esau and Jacob had no personal experience of God. We see the same thing in the church today, with children of devoted Christians who have no real understanding of the things of God or the importance of what God has said. It always turns out the same way.
“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger. And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.” (Judges 2:11-13)
The younger generation had obeyed the law as long as the older ones insisted but they had no real convictions of their own. When there were no longer any old ones to insist on keeping it, the younger generation began ignoring the law, adopting the standards and attitudes of the people around them, even to the point of worshipping other gods.
“And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed.” (Judges 2:14-15)
A wood burning stove can cause very severe burns if touched. A parent found it necessary to constantly keep a baby away from such a stove, repeatedly telling them it was hot. Unfortunately a baby doesn’t understand the word hot until he has experienced it. Almost invariably he would try to touch the stove repeatedly, often just to get the parents attention. In order to teach his child to listen to his instructions, often a mother would allow the fire to go out in the stove and when it was cool enough to be painful but not do permanent damage, she would pretend not to see him reaching out to touch it. The child quickly learned that his mother’s “no” was for his protection, not just an arbitrary decision.
While many view it as cruel today, this approach saved millions of babies from serious injury or death. The parent cannot always be there to protect a child, and it is far more cruel to allow him to be seriously hurt of killed because he didn’t understand the danger.
Israel’s deliberate disobedience angered God, and he essentially took the same approach in order to teach Israel the importance of God’s commands. While it might seem harsh, it was a very loving thing to do. Unfortunately every generation has to learn the same lessons.
“Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so.
And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.” (Judges 2:16-19)
Like the mother who allowed her baby to touch the hot stove would rush to his side when he cried out, removing him from danger, God would rush to Israel’s rescue each time. Just as a baby would sometimes touch the stove again, Israel frequently did the same thing again as soon as it stopped hurting.
Sometimes one child will learn from what happens to another, but every generation has to learn how important obeying God is. When the older ones died, the lessons had to be retaught.
“And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice; I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not. Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into the hand of Joshua.” (Judges 2:20-23)
Even while Joshua was alive, the people had begun to neglect some of what God had said, taxing their enemies rather than destroying or driving them out. As a result, God stopped driving them out for them, so he could use them to teach Israel to obey him in the future. Fortunately God is pretty patient. Thirteen times he re-teaches the same lesson in the book of Judges alone.