And there arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim.
And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger.
And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. “
The immediate preceding context is marked especially by two notices.
In the first place, we are informed that the children of Israel served Jehovah all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua. Now this cannot mean that all Israel, head for head, feared, obeyed, and served the Lord. We know, for example, of Achan, who at the time of the destruction of Jericho perished with his family because of his disobedience. But it does mean that organically considered the nation as a whole served Jehovah. And that means, too, that under the good influence and leadership of Joshua and the elders the nation as a whole feared and served Jehovah their God.
In the second place, we are informed that the generation of Joshua and the elders who outlived him passed away. There is, of course, nothing new or shocking in this notice. It is simply a record of the normal turn of events in the history of God’s covenant in the world. At the ripe old age of a hundred and ten years Joshua folded up his feet into the bed and gave up the ghost. And he was buried like his fathers in the place of his inheritance in the land of Ephraim. Nor is there anything unusual in the fact that the God-fearing elders were also gathered unto their fathers. However, when you read of this notice in the light of our text, then it becomes most significant. It means that a God-fearing generation was followed by another generation which did not serve the Lord. That is most significant.
And there arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord…!
This must not be conceived of as if historically the one generation follows another. Such might be our conception if we read the text in the light of its context superficially. Then it might appear that there was a God-fearing generation that served the Lord, and that this one was followed by another that did not serve the Lord. But if that were our conclusion, we would be seriously mistaken. Such is never the case in history that one generation so follows another. Rather, the truth is that the one generation comes up out of the other that precedes it. The second generation has its historical roots in the first. The generations develop organically, the one out of the other. It is this truth that is basic in the text, and makes the Word of God here to be most significant for the church today. Bearing this in mind, we consider our text under the theme: The rising of another generation.
Notice, first of all, its frightful description as set forth in the text.
This generation is ignorant of the works which Jehovah had done for Israel. And that means that they were ignorant of Israel’s history.
That history began with the calling of Abram from Ur of the Chaldees. It continues with Abraham’s seed as it is brought to Egypt, where the one family of Jacob becomes a great host, where Israel as it were is cradled in God’s favor in a fur lined nest until it is time for the people as eaglets to fly (Deut. 32:11), when through the cruel bondage they were pricked out of their nest to be brought into the howling wilderness and thence to the promised land. That history reveals God’s dealings with that people for forty years in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses; how they were preserved in the desert; how they continuously rebelled; and how God showed them His unchangeable mercies. That history reveals their crossing of the Jordan and entrance into the promised land under the faithful leadership of Joshua and the elders, and it shows how each tribe came to their respective inheritances.
That history in its entirety was a revelation of the marvelous grace of Jehovah their God. One word could be stamped across every page of that history to describe it—MIRACLE! That history begins with the miracle of Abram become a great nation. Out of the deadness of Abram and Sarai God produced a great host. What seemed to Abram and Sarai an utter impossibility became by the grace of Jehovah reality. When his brothers sold Joseph as a slave into Egypt meaning to do evil, God meant it for good, to save much people alive in the days of famine. The wonder becomes even greater when the Lord delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt through ten great plagues which destroyed the power of Egypt and brought His people out with a high hand. Once more we see the miracle at the Red Sea where Israel walks through the sea on dry ground; and when the Egyptians assayed to do the same they came to their destruction. See also the miraculous provision for Israel in the desert: water from the rock, manna from heaven, no deterioration of their clothing. Think of the wonderful provision at Sinai in the dispensation of the law and the constitution of the Theocracy. And, finally, there is the crossing of the Jordan, and Israel’s entrance into the promised land. Then they arrived at Gilgal, where the manna ceased and Israel ate of the abundance of the land; where the ceremony of circumcision took place which signified Israel’s separation unto the Lord, and the cleansing which was by blood; where the Passover was commemorated for the first time after forty years. And forget not the miracle of the destruction of Jericho, the conquering of the invested nations, and the entrance of each tribe into their peculiar inheritances—all of this was a wonder of grace. That is the history.
But of all this the new generation is ignorant. O, that cannot mean that they had absolutely no knowledge of it. That would be quite inconceivable. They certainly had some head knowledge of history past, if through nothing else than mere tradition. But it means that this generation had not lived through that history. It was not a vital experience for them. All they knew was simply dead tradition. This generation did not care about that in which the nation had its origin and vital roots. This generation failed to sense that in that history God was forming to Himself a people for His praise. It simply did not vibrate in the soul of this generation what Jehovah had done for Israel.
And it follows quite naturally that if they knew not what Jehovah had done for Israel, they also would not know Jehovah Who had done it.
To have known Jehovah would imply that they knew with a spiritual knowledge of faith that Jehovah is the only true and living God in distinction from the dead and false idols of the surrounding nations. It implies that He is known as the Holy One Who has pleasure in a people that walks holily before Him, and Who destroys all that which is contrary to His holiness. It implies that He is the eternal God Who in love had chosen this people in distinction from all the peoples of the world; and that He is the Almighty Jehovah before Whom no Pharaoh, no devil, can stand; that He alone is able to save.
But this generation is ignorant of Him. O, again, they knew about Him alright. Why even from their tradition it was quite impossible to be totally ignorant of Him. Even the heathen nations knew of Jehovah, and they feared Him. Witness the actions of Balak, king of Moab, and the fear of the king of Jericho, as the spies learned from the mouth of Rahab the harlot. But this new generation does not want to retain Jehovah in their knowledge. As later in their history they desired a king like all the nations about them, so it is now, they desire gods like all the nations round about whom they allowed to remain in the land.
And so it also naturally followed that this generation became apostate in their walk. No great surprise is this; for if they are ignorant of their history and ignorant of Jehovah, it follows that Jehovah will be ignored also in His service. This generation serves Baa1 and Ashtaroth—the prominent gods of the heathen that were left in the land. O, indeed, they had been forewarned, for Moses had predicted that this they would do (Deut. 28, 29). Moreover, also Joshua before he died called all Israel to him to forewarn them what would happen if they forsook Jehovah to serve idols (Joshua 23,24). So stiff-necked was the new generation that they threw all warnings from them. The gods that appeal to carnal flesh, the gods of materialism and earthly prosperity and pleasure, that appeal to eyes that cannot see, to ears that cannot hear, and to hearts that cannot understand—these are the gods the new generation had chosen. Indeed, a frightful description of an evil generation!
Ever recurring and present reality!
Mark well, as we said at the beginning, the new generation was present in and had its roots in the generation of Joshua and the elders who survived him. We must not make the mistake of concluding that this generation comes up only after Joshua et al are dead. Never is it so in the history of God’s covenant that there is a God-fearing generation which when it passes away is suddenly followed by another generation that knows not Jehovah. Nor is it so that all in the generation of Joshua and the elders served the Lord, as we already pointed out. Nor must we conclude that all in the new generation were wicked and perverse. Undoubtedly also in this generation could be found those who would be weeping at the door of the tabernacle because of Israel’s sin. Always there are the seven thousand who do not bow the knee to Baal—the election of grace!
What we must see is the fact that the new generation has its roots in and is a further projection of the generation of Joshua and the elders. There is historical and organic development in the covenant. The spiritual and the carnal seed develop together. However, when Joshua and the elders are dead, they lose their influence. When they no longer speak and govern, then the carnal generation takes over, and does as it pleases. Then they willfully ignore their historical origin and God’s faithful dealings with His people. Then they willfully turn their faces away from Jehovah, the God of their fathers. Then they, without the tutelage of Joshua and the elders, go a whoring after the gods of the heathen to their delight.
This is what is happening in the present generation today. If this were not so, there would be no point in calling this to your attention. Then, of course, our text would have no significance for us. Then our text would simply relate a bit of sacred history concerning Israel in the time of the Judges.
But the shocking truth is that our text points to a reality that constantly recurs in the history and development of God’s covenant in the world. In reality the text is speaking of the truth that constantly reveals itself in the generations of God’s people.
Always there is the God-fearing generation that fears and serves Jehovah; that knows the history of God’s covenant, having a living experience of it; that therefore learns to know Jehovah in love; that serves Him with all their heart.
And always in the midst of that God-fearing generation is another that has the potential of going in the very opposite direction. The God-fearing generation brings forth not only Jacobs but also Esaus. Never does the God-fearing generation, head for head, and one hundred percent serve the Lord. There is always an Israel that is called such but is not.
All that is necessary for that carnal element really to reveal itself is the death of the faithful. As soon as Joshua and the elders died, as soon as their word and counsel, their government and influence, are no longer in power, then the carnal generation begins to reveal itself as departing from Jehovah. It is that generation which does not live through the history, for whom history is not a vital experience, which does not know what Jehovah has done for Israel. Neither does it know Jehovah as the only true God, the God of their salvation in Christ. And consequently, this is the generation that turns to the gods of the nations.
That generation is among us!
Indeed, a sobering thought!
If the present generation spiritually predominates, the other generation cannot reveal itself. If we are constantly living in the consciousness of what the Lord has done for us, if we are serving the Lord with all our hearts, if we govern the present in such a way that all are continually, thoroughly indoctrinated in the sound principles of Reformed truth, then the other generation cannot and will not become a majority that goes astray.
However, it is also a sobering truth that history repeats itself.
There is an old Dutch saying that is pertinent here, “In ‘t verleden ligt het heden; in het nu wat worden zal.” Literally translated, it is: “In the past lies the present, in the now what shall be.” Applied to the case at hand, that means, what happened to Israel after the death of Joshua is potentially with us today. And what is potentially with us today, will also happen in the future.
This is, indeed, a factor which must be seriously considered by us today.
As we already pointed out, Moses and Joshua were thoroughly aware of this situation and warned against it. Let the church today give sober attention to those warnings. The church that no longer seriously considers what Jehovah has done for her in and through Christ Jesus, is the church that perishes. The church that does not serve Jehovah with all her heart, is the church that must experience His wrath. The church that forsakes Jehovah and His service, and goes a whoring after idol gods, is the church that comes to nought.
What then is the sobering effect of the truth in our text?
The present generation which still fears Jehovah must come to revival. It must recount the covenant mercies Jehovah our God has shown unto us, must recall all that He has done for us—how He has chosen us in Christ Jesus from everlasting to be His peculiar people, how He delivered us from the bondage of sin and death through the blood of the cross, how He has given us the regenerating, resurrection life of the Spirit of Christ, how He has laid in our hearts the hope of glory. We must renew our vow to keep our part in His covenant, by serving Jehovah with our whole being. And if we have failed to be faithful, we must get on our knees and confess our neglect before His face. And if there is any inclination to serve the idol, then we must flee that idolatry and return to Jehovah our God. And if we have failed to instruct our children in the fear of Jehovah, we must repent of this sin, and reaffirm our covenant vows assumed at their baptism. Finally, the present generation which still fears Jehovah must continue to predominate. It must assume the prerogative to maintain its influence, by teaching and living the truth, by showing in word and example Who He is Whom we serve, and why we serve Him, by maintaining Christian discipline that always insists that God’s Word and will must control our lives.
The present generation must prove to be innocent of the blood of that generation that forsakes Jehovah. If the generation that forsakes Jehovah to serve other gods ignores all your instruction and admonition, it does so it its awful destruction. But you through your faithfulness have made yourselves innocent of their blood.