In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Judges 21:25 (ESV)
I doubt any verse gives a more accurate of its respective book than Judges 21:25. This verse, the final verse of Judges, is the culmination of nearly 400 years of disobedience, strife, war, repentance, and temporary peace through God-appointed leaders. Inside of twenty words, this small excerpt manages to capture both the heart and soul of the Israelites after their conquest of the Promised Land.
They were set apart; they had no earthly king and their history was one filled with miracles and impossible victories. Yet Israel’s people were still human; their failures were nearly equal to their victories and their frequent disobedience towards God had cost them greatly. They were hardly a unified nation, and despite a history rich in God’s provision, they were rebellious.
Throughout the book of Judges, Israel falls away from worshipping their God no fewer than six times. Each time, they are invaded by neighboring nations and eventually forced into war. The judges God appointed led Israel back to their heritage in the Lord every time, but the death of a judge often signaled Israel’s imminent relapse into idolatry and immorality.
Because of a decision made out of complacency—not driving the Canaanites out of Israel—four-hundred years were spent in a cycle they could not escape, or perhaps, weren’t willing to. In Judges 2:3, God tells the Israelites that the remaining inhabitants would be a “thorn in your sides” and that “their gods share be a snare to you.” The Israelites should have expected this, they knew the land was for God’s nation and His people alone. A single disobedient choice made by the people haunted their nation for generations.
If the statement, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,”1 is true, then Israel’s problems had less to do with idolatry than with learning. Their descents into depravity could, and should, have been avoided. Multiple generations lived during oppression, and despite God hear their pleas every time, their freedom never lasted long. The judges consistently brought peace back to Israel, but even their actions could not break the cycle.