Imagine the first time you fly a plane, your life’s in mortal danger. That’s exactly what happened to 81-year-old Robert Kupferschmid. The Desert News (Utah) reported that on June 17, 1998, Robert and his 52-year-old pilot friend Wesley Sickle were flying a Cessna 172 from Indianapolis to Muncie, Indiana. Tragically, midflight, Wesley had a heart attack and died. Robert, who had never flown a plane before, grabbed the controls and pulled the plane out of a nosedive. Then he got on the radio and cried “mayday” frantically begging for help. Two pilots nearby heard his distress call and directed Robert towards the closest airport in Mount Comfort. Thankfully, they gave Robert step-by-step instructions on climbing, steering, and landing the plane. They even flew ahead and circled the runway to show Robert where to land. As a precaution, they requested emergency vehicles to prepare for a crash landing. However, Robert landed with minimal damage to the plane and no injury to himself.
How did this miracle happen? Robert carefully listened to and meticulously obeyed the instructions given to him because he knew his life depended on it.
Let’s apply this illustration to our relationship with God and his word: how many life-crashes would you and I avoid if we carefully listened to and meticulously obeyed our God? Yet sadly many of us rarely feel the urgency needed to do that and avoid a major crash.
As it turns out, God’s people have a history of apathy and disobedience, as vividly displayed in the Old Testament book of Judges. A little background info provides some clarity: according to Deuteronomy 9—10, Israel’s calling was to be a holy people and a light and example to the nations surrounding them. Part of that calling meant God would use them to punish the wicked people in Canaan, to sweep the evil from the land. For example, the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice in an attempt to appease their gods.
Now lest their chests puff out, God repeatedly reminded his people that he chose them out of his grace, his unmerited favor and not because of their righteous or moral superiority.
Consequently, because of the importance of their call, because God chose them and loved them, many times God asked his people to commit and recommit their lives to him. For example, after Moses died, Joshua led the people into the Holy Land. Then, at the end of his life, right before we get to the book of Judges, Joshua challenged the people to reaffirm their loyalty to God. The people answered, “we will serve the Lord our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24).
What happened next? Well Judges 1—2 demonstrates that God’s people were disobedient: they reneged on their calling and commitment, which led into a death spiral. Scholars have noted this death spiral has four parts. It started with DISOBEDIENCE: they served other gods. Second, DISASTER: Because of their disobedience, God allowed other nations to enslave and oppress the Israelites. Third, REPENTANCE: The people cried out to God. Last, RESCUE: God raised up a judge (a military or tribal leader) to rescue his people from their oppressors. So the death spiral was disobedience-disaster-repentance-rescue.
Yet what shines through all the ugliness is God’s faithfulness. Professor Douglas Stuart states that Judges highlights “God’s constant rescue of his people, despite their habitual failure to keep covenant with him.” Author Tim Keller asserts “God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve it, or seek it, or even appreciate it after they have been saved by it.”
What does this mean for you and me? First, we can praise God for his grace and faithfulness. God loves us even when—especially when—we are unlovable. Second, God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Upon confessing our apathy and disobedience, God cleanses, heals and restores us. So take heart! Although we are a fallen people, we have a faithful God!