JUDGES 10: IS GOD A VENDING MACHINE IN THE SKY?
DO WE TREAT GOD LIKE A VENDING MACHINE IN THE SKY?
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim; Israel was in great distress. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.” The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer (Judges 10:6-16 NIV).
You know that cycle that Israel has already gone through several times (see Judges 3:7; 3:12; 4:1, 6:1)? Well, it’s more of the same in Judges 10, except it’s not. This time, the Israelites had not just done evil in God’s eyes, they had plunged to new levels of disobedience. God was so angry he sold them into the hands of their oppressors who “shattered and crushed them” for 18 years (vs. 7-8).
In their great distress they cried out to God, confessing they had sinned against him by forsaking him and serving the Baals (vs. 9-10). Every time before when Israel cried out to God for relief, he rescued them. But this time God appears fed up with them—same song, 15th verse. God is tired of them being sorry for the consequences of their sin but not sorry about the sin itself. So, he says to them, “Instead of crying out to me when you get yourself into trouble, cry out to the false gods you seem so happy to worship; let them deliver you.”
The Israelites were in the habit of treating God as if he were the great big vending machine in the sky. If they just push the right buttons, God will dish out forgiveness and deliverance and restoration. It’s as if they say, “Sure, God gets angry when we turn our backs on him, but he’s a softy if you show a little remorse, say the right words, and make the right sacrifices. Don’t worry, everything will be alright before long.” That’s the image many people have of God today, but it’s a false one.
Like the ancient Israelites, some people today assume that when they are in trouble due to some sinful choice they have made, they can fall back on God as if he is their safety net. But, God is not like some overindulgent grandfather who threatens to punish his misbehaving grandkids, but who in the end never really disciplines them. Treating God that way is to misunderstand his holiness. He is loving and forgiving when our hearts are right and we are genuinely repentant for our wrongs. But God is not to be trifled with, winked at, or ignored until we need him to get us out of a jam.
When God tells the Israelites he will no longer save them, they cry out to him again for deliverance and with a confession of sin that seems genuine, although we can’t be certain. But, it seems real because they say to God, “Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they get rid of their foreign gods and serve the LORD. Verse 16 is astounding. It says, “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”
We must see God’s heart here. There is a tension in Scripture and in God himself between judgment and grace. On one hand, God’s holiness demands he judge his people, yet his heart moves him to spare his people. Perhaps in this case, God reconsidered his words to not save them when he heard their confession. But, it’s also possible that their words and their decision to get rid of their false gods had little to do with God’s decision to send yet another deliverer. God had seen them repent before, and he knew they would go back into idolatry again. Maybe God decided to rescue them again simply because he is so amazingly compassionate that he cannot stand to see his beloved people—even his sinful people—"shattered and crushed” and “in great distress” (vs 8-9).
The tension between God’s judgment and God’s grace was finally settled on the cross of Calvary. None of us should think of God as that overindulgent grandfather who sort of winks at our sin, because God’s wrath against sin is a reality. But, all of us can take great comfort knowing that his wrath against sin was laid on Jesus, who took our place so that we don’t have to experience God’s wrath ourselves—not if we are true followers of Jesus.
Holy God, I pray to you in reverence because I know you are a sinless God who hates evil and punishes sin. I never want to think that I can live disobediently, assuming you don't care. You have called me to be holy as you are holy. But, knowing my weakness and failures, I am grateful that your heart of compassion and mercy have been extended to me through Jesus who took the punishment I deserved so that I can live in peace with you. In Jesus' name. Amen!
Dr. Dan Dozier
Dan Dozier preaches for the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Dr. Dozier holds degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, JaneLee, since 1972. They have three married children and eight grandchildren.