In Old Testament times, God had promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites (Genesis 12:1-3).
Under Joshua the Israelites invaded the land and conquered a great deal of it. The book of Judges is the follow-up account. Would the next generation believe God’s promise, obey God’s word and nail down their territory with a final conquest?
The people of the land of Canaan, the Canaanites, worshipped various tribal deities. The most popular was Baal and his female counterpart, Ashtoreth – the gods of fertility.
But rather than conquer the land and destroy its people, the Israelites compromised their faith and ended up following the false gods and wrong practices of the Canaanites.
Did the Israelites become total pagans? No. Judges 21:19 tells us that they still observed an annual festival to the LORD (Yahweh).
What happened was that they simply assimilated – took on board – the false religion and false worldview around them; they compromised and became nominal believers. They were like “Sunday Christians”, who “worship” the Lord on Sundays and then live like their pagan neighbours during the week.
Barry Webb says that this is probably what happened: the Israelites had come into the Promised Land and had to learn how to farm. The Canaanites were experienced farmers and they attributed the land’s fertility and the good harvest to the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth, the fertility gods. The worship of these false gods involved sexual liaisons with the worshipper and temple prostitutes. False gods always demand something from the worshipper. Rather than view Yahweh as God over all, the Israelites served Baal for good harvests and then served Yahweh for help in battles, etc.
The net result was that they formed a god of their own liking, and did what’s right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25)
They were like the person today who says, “I’ve tried the different religions and have taken the best bits of each.” Actually, they have simply made-up a god of their own. And it’s no little wonder that they want to worship him. But when you serve other gods, including the gods you invent, you in effect, “abandon the Lord” (Judges 2:12).
Israel was, according to Webb, being “canaanized”. They were called to be God’s holy and distinct people, but they forsook God’s Word and assimilated Canaanite culture.
We might not have statues of Baal and Ashtoreth today, but we too are in danger of canaanization. Our gods are more sophisticated, but they are just as real.
We are tempted to worship the god of Sport. We even attend worship services at the stadium and know all the words of the hymns.
We are tempted to worship the god of Money and are willing to sacrifice our family at its altar.
We are tempted to worship the god of Financial Security and sacrifice generosity at its altar.
We are tempted to worship the god of Sex and sacrifices our wedding vows as we bow down at the altar of Internet porn and inappropriate friendships.
We are tempted to worship the god of Political Parties and sacrifice friendships, because this god does not tolerate the opinions of others.
We are tempted to worship the god of Convenience and sacrifice the opportunity to see God’s radical provision when we step out in faith and take risks for the true God.
We are tempted to worship the god of Sexual Freedom and sacrifice our health and happiness for its fleeting pleasures.
The Church, and Christians, in every age are in danger of canaanization or “worldliness”. We are always tempted to assimilate the world’s ways and the world’s thinking in order to be more relevant, trendy and effective.
The truth is that the more you become like the world, the less relevant you become. The net result is that you end up “abandoning the Lord” (Judges 2:12).