Conclusions from Joshua and Judges
The journey through Joshua and Judges is a sobering one. We begin with the inspiring example of Joshua, in whom were combined skill, wisdom, and godly virtue. The Lord himself guides the people of Israel into the land of promise, and they promise to follow him with all their lives. God grants them a society unencumbered by tyranny, with a fresh start free of corruption, domination and institutionalized injustice. At the point of need he raises up leaders who deliver the nation from every successive threat, exemplified by Joshua and Deborah—wise, courageous and universally acclaimed.
We see Israel’s early leaders and people constructing the structures they need for peace and prosperity in the land. They allocate resources fairly and productively. They pursue a unifying mission while maintaining a diverse and flexible culture. They distribute power while at the same time maintaining mutual accountability and learning how to resolve conflicts productively and creatively. They prosper and have peace.
But soon after, we see Israel degenerate from a well-governed, smartly organized, secure, covenant nation into a violent and fractious mob. Every aspect of their lives, including their work, becomes corrupted by their abandonment of God’s precepts and presence. God has given them a bountiful land primed for productive labor, but they forget his work on their behalf and squander their resources on idols. They open themselves up to war and consequent economic deprivation, and in short order they begin to fully embrace the evils of the surrounding peoples. At the end, they have become their own worst enemy.
The chief lesson for us, then, is the same one with which John ended his first letter centuries later, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). When we work in faithfulness to God, obeying his covenant and seeking his guidance, our work brings unimaginable good for ourselves and our societies. But when we break covenant with the God who works on our behalf and when we begin to practice the injustices that we so easily learn from the culture around us, we find that our labors are as empty as the idols we've fallen into serving.