All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. (NASB)
I want to say right at the start this morning that I understand the awkwardness of having me in the pulpit. I’m an intern. A student. I’m not paid by the church, and I’m not an ordained pastor, so me getting up here can seem a bit like show-and-tell. Let me get up there and see if I can act and talk like a preacher. I’ll be honest with you; this internship has been a real challenge. The only way I can characterize this internship is by calling it “mandatory selfish selflessness.” In a sense, I’m in this internship for me, to get experience and learn from the pastors here and try to confirm and understand my calling. In a sense this internship is for me. But in order to be successful I have to be totally selfless in my efforts. After all, my calling and my gift is not for me. My gifting is for you, because you are the church. In the same way your gifts are for me. What I want to say right from the beginning is that although this may seem a little like show-and-tell, I want to use my gifts in the way they’re intended, which is to build up the Church, to bless you and impact your lives. I get up here and open the Scriptures, God-willing, to see a change in your lives. I only have a short time here, but I truly want to see God change and bless you. I hope you believe that.
The other thing I want to say is that it is a privilege I do not deserve, and I feel like if you really knew me you’d probably kick me off the stage and never invite me back, but as Paul said, “by the grace of God I am what I am,” and all I can do is be grateful to God for what He has made me, and we should all be thankful for what God has made us, a people called to be set apart for His glory. None of us deserve this. But how does that work, being a people called to be set apart for His glory? What does that mean? How does God make us holy? Why does God make us holy? Or better yet, what is required of us as God is making us holy? What role do we play? What this morning’s message is about is our role in God’s effort in making us holy in every part of our lives, public and private, at work and at home, in church and in our families. What does the Bible say about how to “do” family? Last week Bob read from Deuteronomy 6, in which Moses urges the people of Israel to teach their children the Word and ways of God and to never forget that it was Him who saved them from slavery. What we’re going to see this morning is the results of that not happening, which is recorded in Judges Chapter 2, which will show us what we are responsible for in the process of God making us holy, and what our conduct both public and private is supposed to look like in the efforts of raising up the next generation of Christians.
Overview of the period of the Judges.
God had sworn by covenant to give the land of Canaan to Israel as a possession and to bless them and multiply them as a nation. This required the people following God in occupying the land, and driving out its inhabitants. The end of the book of Joshua shows the land only partially occupied, with several nations still left to be driven out. God had not allowed Israel to drive those nations out because of their disobedience. Failure to maintain separation from sin ultimately leads to degeneration, and incomplete obedience leaves behind the seeds of disaster.
The purpose of the book of Judges is to show the insufficient nature of human effort in salvation. The main thematic statement about the period of Judges is recorded twice in the book, “There was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” This phrase is a look forward to the days of the nation being united under one godly ruler, which would be David who is symbolic of the Messiah. Human leadership and human effort will always fail, but the leadership and effort of God will always succeed. Our deliverance from sin cannot be done by our own effort, so we must rely on God’s deliverance. Salvation is by grace through faith, not by or through any type of human effort, and is only found in Christ.
Our passage in Chapter 2 picks up just before the book of Joshua ends...Canaan is only partially occupied, Joshua is at the end of his life, and he leads the people in a covenant renewal, during which the Angel of the Lord makes an appearance and gives His explanation for why Israel has not experience full victory over the remaining nations. I’m going to read now from verse 1 of Chapter 2.
Now the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; but you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?
“Therefore, I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’”
When the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the LORD.
When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land. The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the LORD which He had done for Israel. Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred and ten. And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-Heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.
It should be pointed out first of all that God did not cause Israel to fall into sin, but simply withheld victory from them. Israel was to seek God, forsaking everything else, and when they stopped doing that they became vulnerable and open to influence from outsiders. In response, God gave them over to those influences, allowing them to fall into subjection to them. As I just said, incomplete obedience leaves the seeds of disaster and ultimately leads to degeneration. This degeneration is seen throughout history all the way back to this period, and is still seen even today. It’s a fundamental pattern of human behavior that, as we will see, cannot be successfully battled by human effort. It must be given over to God for the victory.
An interesting way to see the truth of this principle is found in comparing the Jews with the Hittites, one of the people groups who originally lived in Canaan. The Hittites experienced a similar degeneration of their society, realizing the cause was a lack of centralized leadership. About a century or two before the period of Judges, one of their kings wrote a proclamation which reviewed their history and established a clear law of succession to the throne to avoid civil war and chaos, two of the same problems Israel faced during this period of Judges. During World War II the Swiss theologian Karl Barth was once asked why he believed in God, to which he replied, “Because of the Jews.” “What do you mean, because of the Jews,” they asked. He replied, “Show me a Hittite in New York City.” The point is that human effort is always unsuccessful to fix a problem only God can fix, which is sin.
Vs. 6. In this scene of covenant renewal led by Joshua just before his death, what is said of Israel is that they wept, which is what Bochim means, “weeping ones” or “the weepers.” However, what it does not say they did was repent. Crying out in mourning over the realization of sin is only part of it. Only a partial return to the Lord took place here. Joshua dismisses the people from this ceremony, and they all go and head out toward the land they were each given as their inherited portion of the land so they could continue the process of inhabiting Canaan. So far so good. Verse 6 tells us what the people intended to do. Verses 7-10 tells us what actually happened.
Vs. 7. We see three generations depicted in this passage. The first generation is mentioned in verse 1, the generation Moses led out of Egypt. The first generation was not allowed to enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief. They wandered the desert for 40 years until they all passed away. The second generation is Joshua’s. This was the generation of the conquest, the ones Moses addressed in Deuteronomy and Joshua led across the Jordan into the Promised Land. This second generation served God all the days Joshua was around, and then all the days the elders who outlived him were around.
Moses’ generation, had seen the Red Sea part, they had heard the voice of God spoken at Mt. Sinai, they had seen God appear before them in a pillars of fire and smoke, and He had led them through the wilderness and fed them from heaven and watered them from a rock. The second generation didn’t really get that experience, but they had seen God do miraculous things in the conquest; they had seen the walls of Jericho torn down without ever touching them. They had seen time literally stand still to increase the daylight hours, giving them victory in battle. This generation should not have been able to defeat anybody in Canaan, but they had witnessed God first-hand as a mighty warrior, going before them “as a consuming fire,” as it says in Deuteronomy 9, so that they would know that He alone is salvation. These two generations were blessed to see what they saw. They had an amazing privilege to get to see God perform these wonders. This is a privilege the third generation didn’t have. The third generation didn’t get this experience. They had heard about it from their parents, no doubt, but they didn’t see it first-hand. This is going to be part of the problem.
Vs. 10. All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. This is probably the most tragic verse in the entire Bible, the record of an entire generation of Israel who did not know God. Let’s consider this another way, this records an entire generation of God’s chosen people who did not know Him. What happened? How do we understand this? Well, as I said, the purpose for this book is to show the futility of human effort to attain salvation and the associated blessings of God. I’ll admit here, that I really struggled with this part of the message. Trying to understand how the purpose of this verse fits into the purpose of the whole book really gave me a struggle, but what I found in the end about this is pretty amazing.
The purpose for this generational statement in verse 10 is wrapped up in the purpose for Israel’s election in the first place. The purpose of God’s election of Israel was not to limit God’s salvation to the people He chose, but to choose people to save so that the rest of the world could look and see that salvation is only found in Him. God seeks to make His people holy, set apart, so as to glorify Himself to the rest of the world. God is seeking to draw the other nations to Himself by choosing an undeserving people, saving them, making them holy unto Himself, blessing them beyond measure (to a thousand generations of those who are faithful to Him and love Him, as He says in Deuteronomy 7). Everything we do is to be done for this same purpose, to glorify God, to make Him and His salvation known to those around us, and passing on the fear of the LORD to the next generation is a very basic, very important part of that. This is what Joshua’s generation failed to do.
Going back to the theme of Judges, when Israel served the Lord, the Lord blessed Israel and drove out the nations before them, but when Israel abandoned the Lord, the Lord abandoned Israel. This same principle is found in the New Testament in Philippians 2:12. The Apostle Paul says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Sanctification, the process of becoming holy and Christlike is God’s work, but requires our cooperation. God cannot work in the life of the unrepentant, and God certainly can’t work in the life of the unsaved. We must do something. Now, to be very clear, I am not at all saying we do something to earn salvation. Salvation is a free gift of grace, but God will not do it for us if we will not cooperate and turn to Him. Israel could not drive out the nations and occupy the Promised Land if they were not cooperating with God and seeking Him. Seeking after other things reverses the process, and failing to bring up the next generation “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” automatically reverses the process for that generation. It sets them up for failure. It seriously hinders God’s work, because although it is God’s work and God’s effort that accomplishes it, His instruments of choice are people, and those people (us!) must cooperate with Him and let Him work. If there is anything I learned at Junior camp this summer it’s that my primary function in this life is to get out of God’s way and let Him work.
So how are we supposed to understand what happened in verse 10? Where was the breakdown? Verse 7 says that the elders who outlived Joshua “had seen all the great work of the LORD which He had done for Israel.” They had seen it. They had witnessed God’s miraculous defeats in Canaan with their own eyes. They had personally experienced God’s blessing and victory. But what does it say about the third generation? That they “did not know the LORD, nor the work which He had done for Israel.” What the second generation saw and experienced, the third generation did not know. But not only that, they didn’t know God, either. Joshua’s generation had this amazing personal experience with God and all His miraculous works, but the next generation didn’t know any of it. So what happened? Spiritual degeneration due to incomplete obedience to God. The degeneration caused the second generation to lose focus on what was truly important, and they never handed it down.
Now, the degeneration didn’t begin with the third generation, but began with the second. Although idolatry was not publicly rampant in Joshua’s day, in Joshua 24:23 he commands the people saying, “put away the foreign gods which are in your midst,” referring to traces of idolatry along the lines of folklore and superstition that had made their way into Israelite homes. Israel was already in a downward slope during Joshua’s time. What we see in this second generation is an attempt on their part to compartmentalize their lives and decide in which areas they would be holy, set apart, and which areas they would just sort of do their own thing. They wanted to be holy outwardly, by occupying the land of Canaan and continuing in seeking God’s blessings in that way, while compromising in their personal lives. They were trying to lead a double life, and nobody is capable of pulling that off. Failure will come every time. See, God doesn’t just want outward holiness. He wants holiness in every part of our being. In Psalm 51 David says, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” God’s desire is not to purify His people outwardly, but to purify them inside and out, “making them know wisdom” in every area of their lives.
D.A. Carson has summarized this generational curse really well. He says, “The first generation has the gospel, the second generation assumes the gospel, and the third generation loses the gospel.” This is the pattern that has shown itself throughout history. We see it in this period of the Judges. It’s also found in Samuel and Kings: David was the first generation who had it, Solomon was the second who assumed and maintained it, then Rehoboam lost it. Again in the New Testament era, the Apostles were first and had it, Timothy, Mark and others were second and maintained and assumed it, and then the third generation, the early church, lost it. This same phenomenon is still occurring today. We wonder why society is continuing to plummet. It’s because the cycle of degeneration will continue unless it is broken by Christ. This is why children of divorced parents are so much more likely to divorce themselves. That cycle will perpetuate unless it is broken by Christ because the one generation with compromised values passes on their compromised values to their children. “Do as I say and not as I do,” only goes so far. Children who are told “do as I say and not as I do,” when put in a similar situation, will normally do as their parents did and not as they said.
One aspect of the occupation of Canaan that is often overlooked is that was an evangelistic operation. God’s purpose in setting one nation apart and having them be set apart to Him in word and action was to show the world how great He is. Israel was responsible for making God’s Word and works known to the world. The Law was to be lived out before the other nations to advertise God’s greatness and holiness. This is the same purpose given to the church in Matthew 28 when Jesus gave the Great Commission: “make disciples of all nations.” What Judges 2 shows us, however, and this is the main idea for us to get, is that making God known generationally is just as important as making Him known globally. The Church’s purpose in the world is glorify God both globally and generationally. Let me also put it another way: we are called to evangelize the world, and evangelism is not limited to those outside our homes. Rather, evangelism begins at home! This requires both outward and inward holiness, “truth in the innermost being.” This requires that we be set apart to Him in word and action, with our mouths and with our hands, in church and on the street, at work and at home, with our church family and with our own family.
See, what we learn from this generational curse is that one generation cannot thrive on the spiritual power of another. Children cannot thrive on the spirituality of their parents. The next generation must be prepared if we’re going to expect them to be devoted Christians. But more than that, the next generation must be prepared if we are still concerned about the Great Commission. The next generation must be prepared if we want them to experience God’s blessing. Do we want our children and our friends’ children, to experience the blessing and anointing of God on their life? If the answer is “yes,” then we must prepare them. We must evangelize the next generation, not merely the current generation of adults. The next generation will only, at most, coast on our experience without their own genuine experience and intimate knowledge of God.
In verse 10 where it says they did not know God, this is that experiential type of knowledge, not an attainment to intellectual understanding. Knowledge of is not good enough. I really like the NET Bible’s translation of this verse. It reads “a new generation grew up that had not personally experienced the LORD’s presence or seen what he had done in Israel.” They could not get by on the experience of their parents. The next generation will not get by on our experience, on our relationship with God. They must be brought up to have their own genuine experiential knowledge of God if they are to succeed. They must be brought up to be a “first generation.” They must be brought up to be a generation that “has the Gospel.”
A common thing I hear people say is that they don’t want to force their own beliefs on their kids, and so they remain pretty hands-off in the faith department. There are a few things wrong with this outlook. First of all, our response to that statement of not wanting to force beliefs on people should be, “Good!” Because the Bible never says to force our faith on people. The Bible never says to “make people be disciples.” It says to “make disciples.” The religion that forces itself on people is Islam. Historically, Islam has been referred to as a “religion of the sword,” because Muhammad’s technique for spreading his faith was violence. Christianity is not this way. Raising the next generation to be devoted followers of Jesus is not the same thing as forcing children to adhere to a religion, which is called brainwashing.
The other problem with this outlook is that it is typically born out of a misconception about Christianity and the Bible. As Bob said last week, “Christianity is not a religion to tack on to our lives.” We do not choose the Christian faith the same way we choose what kind of car to buy. It’s not a label. Christianity is also not an invention to keep weak-minded people in submission, as some have claimed. The Bible is the sole revelation of Truth to mankind, and raising children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” is not brainwashing into adherence to a set of rules. It is loving guidance toward the truth! The Scriptures are living and active, and they are relevant. God’s covenant is living and active, and relevant. In Joshua 1:7-9 God laid out for Joshua what would make him successful in possessing the Promised Land, and what did He say? “Be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.”
If we are to serve God and be holy, we must be holy in every part of our lives, not including, but beginning at home. It all begins at home. If we are not serving God in our home lives then we are trying to live double lives, which brings failure as we just saw. God is an all-or-nothing God. He does want to accept half of us. He wants all of us. And if He doesn’t have all then He might as well have none of us. There are only two types of human beings, those that are serving God, and those who are not, and born-again Christian people can be either. Bob Dylan spoke well when he said, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” You’re either serving God or you’re serving yourself or something else.
So what are we to do to prepare the next generation to serve God and receive His blessing on their life, and what are we to do to prevent them from being another generation that doesn’t know God? We can begin with looking at God’s example. God is the ultimate parent, trainer and discipler, and we should base the way we parent, train and disciple on His own methods of leading people. Verse 1 of this chapter shows us an important lesson in godly parenting and leadership. This scene here, again, is a covenant renewal. Joshua gathered the people together so that they could repent and turn back to God. God’s voice comes through to lead them to repentance by saying, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers.” Whenever God wants to make an appeal to the people, He does so on the basis His relationship with them. He begins by reminding them that He was the One who brought them up out of Egypt. God’s redemption of Israel out of slavery, is symbolic of our own salvation and redemption from slavery to sin. The amazing thing about this is that God didn’t bring Israel out of Egypt and leave them into the desert. He could have done that, but He didn’t. He established a covenant of love with them and gave them an inheritance of perpetual blessing. God adopted them and gave them all the rights of sons to the richest King who would ever live. This is God’s method of getting His people to obey them.
I’ve already made a contrast with Islam, so now I’m going to make another one. In Islam, God is obeyed because of His position, because of who He is. In Islam, Gods’ position demands obedience. Love is not part of the Muslim view of God. Now, in reality, God’s position may demand our obedience, but He would rather our obedience be inspired and motivated by His love, and God has given us every reason to love Him. One question we as parents have to ask ourselves is, what reason are we giving our kids to love us? Are we relying on our position as parents to demand obedience from our kids, or are we trying to inspire and motivate their obedience with our love? We have to begin by being godly examples. Motivate obedience with love because that’s what God does.
When Bob read from Deuteronomy 6 last week he read verses 6 and 7, which say, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons.” Teach them to your sons, but first what? they shall be on your heart. Whatever we teach must be in our own hearts first. This is why our example for them is absolutely essential. Now, these next few words are hard, but they are necessary if we’re going to get this. Parents, don’t expect your children to be devoted Christians if you aren’t. Don’t expect your children to know the Word of God if you don’t. Don’t expect them to obey God if you won’t. We cannot expect from our children what we are not willing to do, or be, ourselves. Bringing up the next generation to be devoted followers of Jesus means first being devoted followers of Jesus ourselves.
So it all begins with our own example of godly living, both in public and in private. The next thing we have to do is be proactive in our teaching. This means not relying on the church to disciple the kids, but to disciple them and train them in righteousness ourselves at home. This means actually following the biblically-established gender roles in the home. Dads, take the lead in your children’s discipleship. I’m still working on this one in our home, but we’re trying. I understand how difficult it is to take the initiative and take a stand, but you’ve got to. Your kids need it. A good model of this is found in Proverbs 1:8:
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction
And do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
In this proverb, the father’s “instruction” refers to correction and discipline which result in a godly life, and the mother’s “teaching” refers to the imparting of practical wisdom and instruction. The father’s role is directing his children toward a God-centered life, and the mother’s role is teaching her children how to practically live out that God-centered life. Ideally, it takes a combined, cooperative effort to do this. I once talked with Sara about this topic of teaching our kids, and her reply was, “No way, man. I can’t teach my kids. They eat away at my brain cells!” When I was preparing this message I asked her to remind me of that. She said, “Well, I’ll try, if those brain cells will still be there.”It’s difficult, but we’ve got to take the initiative in teaching the next generation, or they will most likely be another generation after us that does not know the Lord.
Now, I understand that not every home is united; not every home looks, or will ever look like this. If that’s any of you here, like my dad always says, all you can do is all you can do. You’ve got to rely on God for the victory, and you also have to remember what God said to the Apostle Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Don’t think that if your home doesn’t look like this you’re a failure. God loves and can bless your home just as much as any other, and He will bless your efforts.
But we must put those efforts forward. Failing to produce another generation after us who knows God results in producing a generation who worships other things. It produces a generation that works against God’s desire to bless His people. It produces a people outside of God’s promise. People who do not get saved at home are far less likely to come to know Jesus somewhere else. That was what happened with the generation after Joshua. With parents who failed to take a stand, their primary source of life influence was the surrounding nations, who were idol-worshipers. If those of us who are responsible for training up the next generation (which includes pretty much all of us), if we fail to take a stand in our homes, the next generation’s primary source of life influence will be the same as Israel’s, the gods of the world, the gods of entertainment, materialism and self-indulgence. The kids who are the next generation need to see true faith in action today.
Okay, so I’ve addressed those of us who have kids or families, and those of us who teach or lead kids. What about everybody else? Before you think that you might as well have stayed home this morning, I want you to know that this applies to you. You can still practice holiness in public and private life, glorifying God in every area of your life. You still have the Great Commission of making disciples to carry out. You still have the opportunity to let other people see God’s holiness lived through you. For all us, whether we have families or not, whether we have regular exposure to kids or not, in light of the incredible grace of salvation, we have an obligation to give God every area of our lives, and to be holy and set apart to God in everything, public and private. The next generation has got to see us in action. The need to raise up another first generation is great, and it’s time to take action.