We all know and love the story of the Prodigal Son returning home and being welcomed by his father. However we don’t know happened over the next few years. Suppose the son decided to leave again, but soon returned home. Then a bit later left a third time only to repent and return. Suppose this became the pattern of his life? What would you think of him then? How uplifting would that story be?
Yet that often what happens with God’s people. We find ourselves in a cycle of sin and repentance. It’s like we are on a spiritual yo-yo going up and down, up and down, up and down. That’s true in the time of the judges as well. The period of the judges was the dark ages of Israelite history. It is a book of sin, gloom, defeat and bondage. There are occasional bright spots of repentance, but they are shorter and further apart as the 400 years covered in this book unfold.
Not all the pagan Gentiles were removed from Canaan when the people settled following Joshua’s time. They were slaves but grew stronger and more numerous. Intermarriage with them brought their sensual, idolatrous religion into the heart of Israel and the people found themselves in sin. Judges 2:11-19 describes the cycle this way:
1. Compromise. Gradually the people would sink into sin, little by little. Like a riverbank erodes or a living room drape fades, the change is slow but steady.
2. Disobedience (v 11-13). The sin grows and the people find themselves living in sin. That separates them from God and they lose the joy and peace of their relationship with Him.
3. Bondage (v 14). Sin brings bondage. The Lord allowed neighboring tribes and nations to oppress them and put them in captivity.
4. Misery (v 15). They were helpless to get out of bondage, couldn’t defeat their enemies, and lived in misery and defeat. Finally it would get so bad they would cry to God for deliverance.
5. Deliverance (v 16). In response to their repentance God would raise up a judge to deliver them. These judges were political and religious leaders similar to George Washington and Joan of Ark. With God’s strength they led the Jews to victory over their enemies and then freedom.
6. Peace, Rest. The people would then live in peace and rest for anywhere from 20 to 80 years. But when things were going good they would forget God and drift back into sin.
1. Compromise (v 17-19). Thus the cycle would begin again, 7 times in all in the book of Judges. Really it was more like a downward spiral than a cycle. The bottom got a bit lower each time and when they did come back they didn’t come back quite as far as previously.
As sad as that sounds we find ourselves going through the same cycle over and over. We struggle with the same sin, are defeated by the same problems and give in to the same fears over and over again. Our cycle I similar to theirs:
1. COMPROMISE, DISOBEDIENCE. When life is going fine we tend to forget God and drift from Him. We allow ourselves to get too busy to spend quality time with Him. Everything is going well so we compromise and drift from Him. We keep up an outer display of ‘religion’ but in our hearts we are not as close as we used to be. We play around with ‘little’ sins we know we should avoid. We turn to our false gods of self, materialism and lust. Soon we find ourselves in bondage.
2. BONDAGE, MISERY. We then find ourselves in bondage and misery. We are caught in the consequences of our sins, we are empty without God, demons have access to attack us and we no longer have God’s joy, peace or presence in our lives. Our pride keeps us from leaving until finally it gets so bad we turn back to God.
3. REPENTANCE, DELIVERANCE. Finally we humble ourselves before God, ask for mercy and forgiveness, and are restored to fellowship with Him,.
4. PEACE, REST. We have the joy of the Lord and everything is wonderful. But without any major problem in our life we drift from God.
1. COMPROMISE, DISOBEDIENCE. Thus the cycle starts over again and again and again.
The book of Judges records 7 times the Jews went through these cycles. Each time they were oppressed by a different nation. God rose up a man or woman (sometimes more than one) to bring them out from bondage.
YEARS OF BONDAGE
Departed from God
Departed from God
Departed from God
Idolatry, great apostasy
Jehthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon
Departed from God
So what can we do to stop these cycles? First, watch for the small drifting, the slow erosion of a riverbank or fading of a curtain. Stop it when it is just a thought in your mind, which is what the prodigal son didn’t do. Remember the truth of God’s Word (Hebrews 2;12)
Second, stay close to the father. The best antidote the prodigal son had against the pull to leave again was the close, loving relationship he developed with his father. Make an intimate personal relationship with Jesus your greatest priority (Philippians 3:7-10).
Finally, resist the appeal of the world ‘out there.’ The lie the prodigal son believed was that his unmet need would be fully met ‘out there.’ But that is not true at all. Keep your eyes on Jesus, not the world, and keep persevering in your faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).
When you do sin and fail, confess (admit to it) your sin and ask God to forgive – all sin will be forgiven (I John 1:9).
Where are you in this cycle right now? What do you need to do about it?