After the initial conquest of the land of Canaan, God commanded Joshua to designate forty-eight cities throughout Israel as centers of Bible literacy. The Levites who lived in these cities were to teach the Book of the Law. Their failure to teach the Book of the Law and the people’s failure to obey God led to at least seven cycles of sin lasting over three hundred years.
Ravi Zacharias captures the importance of Bible literacy when he declares, “If we don’t give this generation the Word of God, we are wasting their time giving them anything else”. That’s true now, and it was true when Israel began navigating life in Canaan after the death of Joshua and the elders; just as Moses had warned (Deut. 12:8), “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Joshua 21:25).
Had the Levites bothered to teach Israel the instructions given to their fathers prior to their entry to Canaan they would have heard, “Nor shall you make marriage with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Here they are doing exactly as Moses warned, “And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods” (Judges 3:6).
The book of Judges reveals the logical and communal conclusion to discarding the Word of God and embracing a life of sensual, sexual, and idolatrous domination. The writer of the book records glimpses into several generations of Israelites who did not “know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel” (2:10). They “did evil in the sight of the LORD” and “they forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and Asherah” (3:7). They initiated the sin cycles by intermarriage, and each cycle grew progressively worse as Israel embraced the ways of the foes they left in the land. The former conquerors are conquered.
The designations “idolatrous” and “Bible illiterate” depict the children of Israel during the Judges Era; similarly, the synonymous designations, “Post-Christian,” and “biblically illiterate” describe western society today.
This sad period in Israel’s history illumines several truths that apply today:
- People who don’t know God’s story write and live out their own flawed story to the destruction of the community.
- When God’s appointed leaders fail to teach God’s story and write God’s law into the hearts of His people, they set up a generation for moral and spiritual failure.
- Sin’s default setting is to forget God’s Word and work; therefore, God establishes regulations, ceremonies, and even clothing (Numbers 15:37-41) to remind His people to live not by the dictates of their hearts but by the entirety of His revelation.
- Those who fail to listen to God’s gentle rebukes in His Word invite His harsh tool of oppression and servitude; He will get His people’s attention.