What’s with those money-changers?
The generation after Joshua was indifferent to God and what He had done for them. They went over to the 'dark side' and started to pay an unhealthy attention to the nations that co-existed with them in the Promised Land. Alluring women, foreign ways and alien gods were their downfall and God was not pleased. As a result, they began to realise that they weren't so good at fighting after all and every time they went into battle they lost and suffered the consequences.
"Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress." (Judges 2:15)
What short memories these people had and it was just as well that God didn't give up on them. He had simply invested too much time in them, developing them as a holy nation, a nation apart. He used these other nations to test them and, although, by and large, they failed miserably, God was always on hand to offer them new ways to redeem themselves. He raised up a fine line of Judges, from Deborah to Samson. These great men and women of God led them back to the straight and narrow and reminded them of their destiny by leading them into great victories against their enemies. And to remind them all of the supernatural nature of these victories, He made it impossible, in some cases, for them to believe otherwise. In the case of Gideon, the army that was sent out to face the Midianites in battle was led by the most insignificant chap in camp (Gideon himself) and was whittled down in numbers - by filtering out the cowards and those who didn't drink their water like dogs - so that no-one could have any doubt that this army would have problems routing a tea party, let alone an enemy numbering in their tens of thousands.
This period of the Judges can be summarised in one circular sentence:
When Israel listened to God all was well, but when they fell away they were shown the consequences of their sin (usually through matters of war), which prompted them to cry out to God, who sent them a Judge, who led them back to listening to Him.
Repeat this about 12 times - through such Judges as Deborah, Gideon, Samson etc. - and you get the idea. Keep going in this vein for 350 years. You'd think they'd get the point after a half dozen times or so, but human nature says otherwise - how soon we forget what God has done for us and move on under our own steam, making the same mistakes again and again.
The Israelites were meant to be a holy nation, a nation under God, a theocracy. They were chosen to be a nation apart, living among the other nations, but apart from them. This was why it was for their own good to destroy the corrupt nations around them. It was to keep God's people as pure and uncorrupted as possible, not to satisfy the apparent blood-lust of the Deity, but it was never going to be easy.
The Israelites were chosen not because they had an especially holy and righteous nature that was going to make it easy for them to fulfil their destiny. They were chosen because ... they were chosen. Someone had to be chosen. It just happened to be them. If God had chosen Nigel the Barbarian instead of Abraham, to leave his mud hut and trek over to Canaan and if Nigel had proven as willing as Abraham to fulfil his calling, then it could have been the Nigelites that found themselves in this Land of Milk and Honey. The point being that God could have chosen anyone and perhaps would have chosen Nigel if Abraham hadn't been so faithful, but Abraham passed the test and it was his descendants that find themselves burdened with this 'chosen-ness'.
Some, of course, had lived up to this honour, great men of faith like Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua, but they were the exceptions. Once the Israelites had been established in the land for a few years, they began to cast jealous eyes around the other nations and started to yearn to be like them. In the west of the country a new problem had presented itself - the Philistines. These were a sea-faring aggressive people, sailing in from the Mediterranean, who quickly established themselves along the coastal plain, then started casting their beady eyes eastwards, at the land settled by the Israelites. They had two great military advantages over the Israelites - they had chariots and they had iron, but they didn't have the missing ingredient, the Lord God of the Universe, as the famous episode with Samson and Delilah was to show. Nevertheless the Israelites had grown complacent and soon began to forget that, if God was on your side, no-one could come against you.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)