“When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10
The Reformed Churches in New Zealand are more similar to the Canadian churches in terms of their demographics and history. They were established by immigrants from Holland who came after the second world war. Many of the elderly members today speak English with a thick Dutch accent. Some of those early immigrants have been blessed with the opportunity of traveling back to the Netherlands to visit with family, and almost to a man, they come back with the same woeful tale.
When they left in the 1950’s, they left a believing family that worshiped together twice on a Sunday. On their return they find members of the same family possibly attending once or not at all. They find their brothers and sisters to be divorced or living in sin. They now have nephews and nieces who are living in a homosexual or lesbian lifestyle, and if they attend church, they are more likely to hear a short message of love from a female minister than the full counsel of God preached with conviction from a male. All this has happened within the space of only thirty to forty years.
How can this happen? How does faithfulness become unfaithfulness in only forty years? The answer to these questions is set before us in all its stark clarity in the Book of Judges. First, we notice that this generation “Knew neither the Lord,” and secondly, “What He had done for Israel.” We can not put this down simply to a lack of catechism classes. ‘Ah you see, the kids were not taught about church history. There was no education hour after the tabernacle service. That’s what went wrong!” There certainly was an education failure, which we examine more closely later in this article, but there was a much deeper failure than that.
This generation did not know the Lord. In Hebrew the word KNOW means so much more than simple head knowledge. Do you remember how older versions of Scripture describe the act of marriage between husband and wife? Adam KNEW his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore a son… Cain KNEW his wife and she conceived…. This is why when we read in 1 Samuel 2:12 that, “Eli’s sons were wicked men, they did not KNOW the Lord,” we can not put this down to just a failure of education. Eli’s sons were priests of the Lord. They KNEW about Him, but they did not KNOW Him. The word “know” implies great intimacy, a waiting upon the Lord. It implies union and communion.
I come from a nation whose national anthem is called “God defend New Zealand.” As I study in the United States, I notice that the pledge of allegiance declares the country to be “one nation under God,” and the dollar bill declares “In God we Trust.” Every major speech from the president ends with “God bless America.” As I surf through the channels on television or radio, I see and hear preacher after preacher speak ABOUT God. There are churches all over the place, and huge churches at that. And yet, I fear that this nation, just like mine, knows about God, but does not KNOW Him.
So how is it with you? Do you KNOW God? Is your Christianity a submission to a personal King and Father? I am not asking about some mystical feeling; some flakey emotional experience that lasts for a few hours. What I am writing about is the substance of Q/A 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism. “True Faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in His word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ. Not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made right with God, and have been granted salvation.” A deep rooted assurance. Do you have that? Because without it your knowledge is empty. Without it, you will join the crowds of ‘Christians’ who march boldly towards heaven on the wide path only to wake up in the fires of hell. Without it you will slide right off of the pew and into eternal damnation.
Israel ignored God’s promise, to the point that later on in her history, Hosea would record these chilling words against her. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” (Hosea 4:6)
Scripture reveals that the experience of redemption is infinitely renewable. The promise of the covenant is declared to be to you AND TO YOUR CHILDREN AND TO ALL WHO ARE FAR OFF! This is why we baptize our infants, this is why we teach our children to love the law of the Lord from day one, this is why we catechize our children, this is why we seek out Reformed Christian schooling for our children, this is why we encourage them to profess their faith. Because our God is a God of covenant; A God to a thousand generations of THOSE WHO LOVE ME!
No matter how diligent our Sunday school teachers, catechism teachers, school teachers, or pastors are, the single largest influence in the lives of children is their parents. Fathers and mothers, but particularly fathers to whom belongs the responsibility of headship in the home. Are you fulfilling your covenantal obligations towards your children? Are you demonstrating true faith? Do your children know that you KNOW God? Or, are you to busy to tell the next generation the things the Lord has done for Israel? We see it all around us. Hundreds and thousands of busy, busy Christians, whose children are walking away from the church. Just walking away.
As a minimum, safeguard your supper time. Turn off the television, let the answering machine catch the phone calls or just let it ring, and give that time to your wife and children. End the meal with a time of fruitful, meaningful devotions. Do not just skip through a Bible reading and zap off the same old prayer. Talk about the reading. Ask questions of your children, take out the church directory, go through it and pray for one family a night. Show them you love the Lord and that you love His people. Use the Lord’s Day not just to get your own rest, but to, again, show your family the things the Lord has done for Israel. Go through their Sunday school or catechism lesson with them. Discuss the sermons as you sit around the Sunday dinner table, and take out the Psalters/Hymnals and sing to Him.
Jesus came down to His own people. He attended the synagogue worship. He walked in the temple. He spoke with the “office-bearers” on a daily basis. He must have heard countless times, people read the Bible about the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming. Yet what does it say in John 1:10–11? “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Neglect the next generation and they will reject Christ. Be Christ to the next generation and they will embrace Him, by His Grace.
Amnesia produces apostasy. Israel forsook the Lord for Baal and Ashtoreths; local gods of fertility. Baal worship which involved temple prostitutes where the locals would go to the temple and physically act out Baal’s role in creation with “Mother Nature,” so to speak.
We read it time and time again in the Old Testament, and we can just skip over it without too much thought, but I want us to consider just what this means. Israel – the covenant people of the Lord. What was the first article of her ‘constitution?’ “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me.”
And what was Israel to do in the promised Land? She was to completely destroy the Canaanite nations, to rid that place of idolatry, and live as a witness to the Lord’s favor. And what happened? Not all the nations were destroyed. Some of the Levites were appointed to live in a city dedicated to the worship of the sun god. Before too long, the Canaanites were coming over to introduce themselves. “Howdy neighbor, that’s a fine looking tent you got there. I see your corn crop ain’t doin’ so well this season. If you’re interested I could give you a few tips on how we deal with bad crops in these parts. If you like I could take you into town and introduce to the local farming experts, they’re a great bunch of girls, if you know what I mean! Say listen, Some of our kids are going swimming down in the Jordan this weekend, we wondered if your kids would like to come along?”
Soon enough each household had its own set of idols. You can read about this in Judges 6 and 17. Soon enough one man would murder his seventy brothers to protect his position of leadership. You can read about this in Judges 9. Soon enough the men of Benjamin would knock on the door of an old man and demand that he send out his guest so that they can abuse him. You can read about this in Judges 19.
You may think that this is not relevant for us. After all, we are a faithful church; we have no problem with Baal idolatry; you will not find any idols like that around here! Can we learn nothing from the Israelites? Can we learn nothing from some of the churches in the Netherlands that I mentioned earlier? Can we learn nothing from the history of some of the once great reformed Churches around here?
Take a look for a moment at the children who sit beside, in front, and behind you in church. Twenty-five years is all it takes for amnesia to produce apostasy. Twenty-five years for a generation of young boys who sit beside their parents with a shirt and tie on to become the most filthy, immoral, and degraded individuals possible. Twenty-five years for a generation of those young girls with their beautiful Sunday dresses to inform their parents that they intend to set up house with another woman.
Israel stopped relying on God’s providence in their daily life and work. On who do you depend for your livelihood. The god of insurance? The god of tax evasion? The god of under the table dealings? Or do you depend on the God of Israel? Before which altar does your family worship? The altar of Hollywood with all its disgusting immorality and foul language? The altar of sports with all its corruption, greed, and bad behavior? The altar of technology with all its free downloads and new gadgets and great deals? The altar of lifestyle magazines with new appliances, new homes, new décor, new cars, new body image? Or, do you lead your family to worship before the altar of the living God!
What will be the standard for our corporate worship each Sunday. Will it be the standard of political correctness that demands equal participation for women. Perhaps an occasional Bible reading to begin with, and then the occasional public prayer. Perhaps some other instruments and music more in step with the younger generation. Perhaps some video presentations instead of a sermon, or some drama, because that really appeals to our eyes as well as our ears! Or will our worship continue to be regulated by the principles which come from the Word of God?
Is there anything distinctive about our young people’s social life; anything separate? Do you parents know where they are and who they are with? Are they enrolled to attend the young peoples conventions, to be in a place where they can fellowship with other Reformed believers, a place where lasting relationships can be formed; relationships with generational consequences?
Israel neglected these things and a whole lot more, and in as little as twenty-five years amnesia produced apostasy.
In His anger against Israel, the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies whom they were unable to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them in the wilderness. They were in great distress.
Our God would have us take note in His punishment of Israel that His anger is a faithful anger. In Deuteronomy 31:17 God promised what to Israel if Israel they would forsake Him. “On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed.
Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.”
We can take tremendous comfort in the knowledge that our God’s anger is a faithful anger. He deals with His people as His children. He is faithful to His covenant. He disciplines them for their own good. He will not abandon them. Psalm 103: “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”
As Israel was occupied by the forces of Midian, Moab, or the Amalekites, we read repeatedly that they would cry out to God in their distress. Not always in repentance, but always in distress. Do likewise! When you are troubled, pour out your heart before the Lord who hears and answers prayers; the Lord who does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
Did God wait until Israel had rid itself of idolatry? Did God wait until Israel had cleaned up its immoral behavior? Did God wait for Israel to cry out in repentance? Did God wait for Israel to do anything? No. Here we see in all its boldness the doctrine of Salvation by Grace Alone. “Then the Lord raised up Judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.” What thrilling words! What words of tremendous comfort! Right in the midst of Israel’s wickedness and sin, salvation appears by the Hand of God. This is your God–a God of compassion and mercy, a God who dispenses grace and kindness to undeserving sinners.
Does this suggest that we need not cry out to God in repentance, or change our sinful behavior? No, it does not, for God’s Word demands these things from His people.
These words should instead focus our attention on the Judge who saves. The Hebrew word for save is YASHA. The word means deliverance, rescue, safety, welfare, and salvation. From this exact word we get the name Joshua, and from this exact word we get the name Jeshua, which in Greek is translated as Jesus. “Then the Lord raised up a Judge who “Jesus-ed” them. What you need, what I need, what this generation and the next, and all subsequent generations need, is a Judge named Jesus, for only He can set us free from the ravages of sin.
When my family and I traveled over to the United States we traveled with two young ladies, who were also from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. They were both aged around their mid-twenties, they were both trained Christian School teachers, and they were both attractive, godly women. They came to the States to further their teacher training at a seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. But a secondary reason for coming here was to search for a husband. Not for them were many of the eligible young men from a relatively small denomination of about twenty churches in New Zealand. Not for them were the young men, who in general terms often presented themselves as immature, money wasters, poorly groomed, ill-mannered, sports mad, drinkers and smokers. Unfit material for leading a covenant home. I am thankful to report that both of them are now recently married. There is certainly a much larger pool of eligible young men over here, but I have met other young men just like some of those back home.
The future of the church lies in godly young men who are able to lead covenant homes, who are able to be Christ to their wives, who can demonstrate God the Father to their children, who can impart the wisdom of the Spirit of God to their church communities.
Am I suggesting that so long as we have traditional worship services and do not watch bad television programs, that all will be well? Is it enough to get our daughters to wear modest clothing and discipline our sons with regularity that all will be well? With the proper training will they automatically be Christians and then the church will remain faithful? No, some of you can bear witness to the fact that you have raised your children faithfully and still gone through the agony of watching them turn from the Lord; of watching them continue to walk the path of unrighteousness. It remains, as it always has, for God by His Spirit to call His own unto Himself. God must raise up before them a Judge who saves. To open their eyes to the work of Jesus Christ.
We worship a God who desires to demonstrate His faithfulness to a thousand generations of THOSE WHO LOVE ME! Let our hope and our confidence rest in these words from Psalm 22. “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations…Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – FOR HE HAS DONE IT.”
Mr. Andre Holsleg is a Middler Seminarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. He is a citizen of New Zeeland.