One Generation Away: the Juxtaposition of Joshua and Judges

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes wonder why certain books in our English Bibles are placed where they are. Sometimes the order makes perfect sense (i.e. the Pentateuch being the first 5 books in our Bibles), though sometimes the choices make little sense (i.e. the seemingly arbitrary order of Paul’s epistles from longest to shortest starting with letters addressed to congregations and then letters addressed to individuals).

One quirk of mine is the desire to have John be the first book of the New Testament (John, Mark, Matthew, Luke). This way, the Old Testament and New Testament begin the same way (“In the beginning”), the synoptic Gospels still get to stay together, and Luke gets to directly precede Acts as it should. But that’s for another blog post.

One example of great juxtaposition (and sense) in the book order of our Bibles is Joshua followed by Judges. Not only does it make sense because Judges picks up where Joshua leaves off (Judges 1:1), but the two books show two sides of the same coin.

Joshua is all about covenant faithfulness and God’s promised blessings, while Judges is about covenant unfaithfulness, God’s promised curses, repentance, and God’s redemption. The effect of this antithetical juxtaposition really becomes apparent when you read both books back to back.

There are still episodes of unfaithfulness in Joshua (Josh. 7:1), but by and large, Joshua is a book showcasing recommitment, obedience, and God’s covenant faithfulness (Josh. 3:17; 5:3-5; 8:30-35; 24). In contrast, the book of Judges details how, again and again, the people of Israel “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Jud. 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1).

The contrast between these consecutive accounts of God’s people is noticeable when you compare the ends of each book. At the end of Joshua, we are told that “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel” (Josh. 24:31). The book of Judges ends on a more somber note: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:21).

Though this shift from faithfulness to faithlessness manifests itself over generations, the initial departure from God’s covenant arose in one generation:

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. (Judges 2:10-13)

The above Scripture introduces us to what is often called the Judges cycle. The people sin, the people are oppressed, the people repent, the people are redeemed by God via a judge, then the people sin again and it starts all over. 

While the juxtaposition of Judges and Joshua is noteworthy, it also teaches us some valuable lessons. Beyond the surface lessons of God keeping His promises and the importance of being faithful, there’s something much more practical (and perhaps painful) in play here. Faithlessness is, at any time, only a generation away. A generation arose who did not know the LORD or what He had done for Israel presumably because they weren’t properly taught. With the absence of godly leadership and influence, the people were left to their own ignorant devices, and the results were disastrous. 

While the Spiritual Israel of the church is in many ways different and is in no need of a king because Jesus sits on the throne, we too can do a lot of damage or good in one generation. What will the church look like in the next generation? How about the generation after the next? The temptation is to think that, since we won’t be there, there’s nothing we can do about the next generation or the one after. But every Christian is likely the godly leader or influence that somebody in their sphere needs. 

There may be a whole group or generation unacquainted with the mighty works of the Lord. When whatever generation you’re in is “gathered to their fathers” (Jud. 2:10), what will they leave in their wake? We cannot control what others around us do, but we can control how we will influence others by how we live our lives and what we teach with our words and actions. One generation can make all the difference, so let’s make the best use of the time while we have it (Eph. 5:16).