Setting the Stage
It had been nearly two hundred years of cycles of idolatry, oppression by neighboring enemies and God's deliverance, followed by times of peace. God accomplished these times of deliverance through four judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah.
Then, Israel again left off serving the Lord and "did evil in the eyes of the Lord" (Judges 6:1) and was now being savagely oppressed by the Midianites. The Midianites, descendants of Abraham through his second wife Keturah (Genesis 25) had been almost completely destroyed by Israel while the nation was still wandering in the desert. Undoubtedly, the Midianites had not forgotten even after two hundred years.
The biblical account (Judges 6: 1-6) tells that raiders from Midian in alliance with Amalekite raiders (Exodus 17: 8) and other eastern peoples, would enter the territory after the crops had been planted specifically to ravage the land; to ruin the crops and destroy all the livestock, not leaving anything for the Israelites to use for food.
"They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it." (Judges 6: 4-5, NIV)"
Once rich from the produce of the land God had blessed them with, they were now reduced to severe poverty. The wealth they had gladly accepted from God (while refusing to acknowledge and worship the source of those blessings) was now, over a period of seven years, being utterly destroyed by those whom God had originally intended to dispossess. Midian sent Israel into such poverty that the Israelites finally (it took seven years of this?) cried out to the Lord for help. So God sent them a prophet to explain the situation.
"This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, 'I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.' But you have not listened to me." (Judges 6:7-10, NIV).
"I said.....but you have not listened to me." We can bring many sorrows on ourselves by not obeying what God has said in His Word. We can find many instructions in His word to guide us in our everyday lives, but the foremost, on which all others depend, is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. (Mark 12: 28-34 and Matthew 22: 36-40) The Israelites were demonstrating their lack of love for God by casting their cares as well as their sacrifices on the altars of idols. We can do the same.
Even as christians, we can sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing what God wants. We work hard, we persevere, we do not tolerate wickedness, we are so knowledgeable about doctrine that we can immediately spot a fake, and even endure hardship for the name of Christ. These are good things, but, if they don't spring from our Love of Him, we have fallen from the high ground. Take a look at Revelation 2:1-5:
1"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."
Our Love for Him comes first; the rest follows. Let's get our focus where it belongs. Love Him. And yet, it's critical that we realize that even our love for God originates with Him, and is a result of His first loving us:
"This is love: not that we loved God, but he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4: 10, NIV)
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Image, Baal Ugarit_Louvre (2006)