Descent into Distress
|by T. M. Moore|
"And they were in terrible distress." Judges 2:15
The Hebrew root for to "be in distress" can take several forms. All of them have in common the meaning of being vexed or distressed, or, to put it more colloquially, "in a bind." The people of Israel frequently found themselves "in a bind" and distressed, particularly when, because of rebellion against God, they were hemmed in by their enemies, unable to enjoy the promises of God, and incapable of exerting an influence for good on the societies around them. Israel was in distress and in a bind when she found herself marginalized, captive to pagan influences and practices, cavalier in her attitude toward God's Word, and more enthralled with prosperity than with the proper worship and service of God.
Hmmm. To be marginalized. Without influence. Awash in pagan practices and captive to unbelieving ways. How does a people get that way?
The first two chapters of Judges tell us: It begins with being too easily satisfied with what they have come to know of God's promises (1:27-34). Rather than press on to realize all that God has promised by fully obeying His Word, His redeemed people settle for merely "good enough." Then they begin making compromises with the unbelieving world around them: instead of expunging all worldly ways from their midst, as God has commanded, they rationalize keeping some of them around because they think they can find some way to use worldly resources and practices to their own advantage. Rather than expel the unbelievers from the land, as God had commanded, Israel decided to make them forced laborers -- someone else to do the dirty work while they wallowed in their new-found prosperity (1:28, 30, 32, 33).
At the same time, the people of God grow slack in their spiritual lives; they fail to inculcate themselves and the generation that must succeed them in the full counsel of God's Law and promises (2:10). Soon the pagan practices they have tolerated become indispensable; what they rationalized as "useful" or "not harmful" now becomes their preferred practice, and idolatry replaces the plain teaching of God on how to worship Him and the ethic He commends (2:11-13). The worship of God continues, of course; there are even faithful preachers and judges available to help (2:1-5, 16ff), and the people are duly impressed with their words and skills. But they don't take their messages or guidance to heart for very long. The descent into distress continues, only barely impeded for a time by faithful servants, as generation after generation of unfaithful people turn their backs on God and His Law and adopt the ways of the world as their preferred praxis. The wrath of God grows against them as their marginalization continues (2:14), and they end up slaves of the very things they sought to enjoy (2:14). They lose all their distinctiveness as a people redeemed for God as the power of unbelief and pagan practice overwhelms, marginalizes, and leaves them in a bind.
Half-way obedience, compromise with worldliness, and a preference for comfort rather than battle, slide into idolatry, leaving us captive to the spiritus mundi. There is only one way out of this distress, this bind: seek the Lord. Admit our distress and confess our rebellion. Plead with Him to send bold messengers and courageous leaders who will point out the reasons for our distress, renew the vision of the Kingdom, herald the Law and the testimonies, and devise strategies for breaking free of the shackles of worldliness and recovering the true heritage of faith.
Just in case we as the redeemed people of the Lord ever find ourselves "distressed."