Even though a life of blessing was truly what the Lord desired for Israel, He nevertheless judged them quickly if their actions lead them into evil. The entire history of Israel in Palestine has been marked by alternate periods of blessing and cursing, the characteristics of which depended on the behavior of the nation. Amos tells us that when the judgment of God did come upon his people the result often got progressively worse until the Lord had no choice but to completely turn his back on them (Amos 4:6-12). He would stop the rain, make the crops fail, destroy their economy, cause disease to break out among the people, and ultimately allow nearby countries to become powerful enough to attack their borders.
The book of Judges contains a graphic history of the early backsliding of Israel. Like a yo-yo, Israel time and again would forget God, fall into evil or idolatry, and inevitably suffer the Lord’s judgment. Many times God’s discipline would take the form of having some bordering nation attack and in some cases actually enslave large portions of the land of Israel. The severity of the judgment would eventually cause the people to cry out to God for forgiveness. The Lord would then hear their cries and send a deliverer (a prophet) who could lead them back to repentance. Moses originally prophesied, however, that if all these acts of discipline did not result in complete repentance and a total turning away from evil, then the most horrible curse of all would eventually come upon Israel. Moses predicted in Deuteronomy,
“The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies; thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them, and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.”
For centuries the Lord suffered with the repeated sinfulness of Israel. When things looked bleak, God would send a prophet to preach to the people and turn them back to righteousness. In many cases, the Israelites did not just fall into some evil practice or habit, but actually turned from the Lord so completely that they ended up worshipping idols. They built images and altars to worship them in the most abject defiance of God imaginable. Think of the hurt that the Lord must have felt when the people that he had delivered from Egypt now denied his very existence.
The Lord could not sit idly by and watch as his people became just like all the evil nations that surrounded them. To have God’s name associated with their evil was something that He could not let continue. If the Lord ignored the problem, then the world might think that God himself somehow condoned Israel’s lifestyle or that they represented or reflected his divine character. An evil people might bespeak of an evil God. The Lord could not allow his name to be profaned in this manner.
The first indication of Israel’s impending judgment actually came as early as the last days of Solomon. The Lord had blessed his people to the greatest extent they had ever known during the reigns of both Solomon and his father, David. The territory that they controlled probably came as close as possible to the boundaries of the land promised Abraham a millennium before. Israel was truly becoming a power to be reckoned with on a world scale. If they only would have continued from that point on to follow the Lord with all their heart and keep away from evil, Israel certainly would have become the foremost nation on the face of the earth—but it was not to be.
Solomon’s last minute backsliding caused what might have been greatness to become literally the downfall of the nation. Because of the evil that crept into the leadership of the country, political infighting after Solomon’s death caused a split that would never be healed. From that time forward the descendants of Abraham became two nations, one made up of ten tribes to the north which retained the name “Israel”, and the second consisting of two tribes to the south which went by the name of its dominant member, Judah. Truly, the curse had begun to slowly devour the nation.
Anyone who lived during the time of the divided monarchies should have immediately realized from Moses’ words exactly what was happening to their nation. The prophecies of Moses were crystal clear. The Lord was slowly but surely turning his back on a rebellious people that continually ignored his commandments. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was the worst in this respect. After Solomon’s day, they had no king whom the Lord regarded as righteous—not even one! Every ruler seemed to be more evil than his predecessor. Still the Lord did not give up on them. As things seemed increasingly dark for Israel’s future, God sent a flurry of prophets to warn them of the nearness of the ultimate curse. Unfortunately, they continued to ignore his warnings.
Moses actually saw these problem centuries before they occurred, and he prophesied…
“…the Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand.”