A “generation” is a period of time, or age. It identifies the people of any particular period (Matt. 23:36; 24:34). It denotes the character of a particular class or sort, such as a wicked generation (Matt. 17:17), a righteous generation (Psa. 14:5).
A generation has two fundamental characteristics. First, it usually covers a time span of fifteen to twenty years. Most people marry and begin their family at about age 20. Generations have been various lengths among different peoples and times. Second, members of a generation experience significant events at about the same time. My parents were of the generation that lived through the peaceful period after World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War. These shared experiences gave them similar perspectives of the world. Typically we will develop a set of beliefs that brings us together with others of our own generation.
Judges 2:7-14 reminds us that apostasy in the church is only one generation away. Thankfully, we have two powerful influences to prevent that from happening: The home (2 Tim. 1:5), and the local church (2 Tim. 2:2). The future of the church will test how well we are doing in both of those areas to maintain the spiritual stability of our young people today. But, how could it happen so quickly in Israel that a new generation “did not know the Lord”? God built safe-guards into the home to keep this from happening (Deut. 6:4-9). God warned them against forgetting him (Deut. 8:11-14). After the death of Joshua the Israelites were still relying upon guidance from the Lord (Judg. 1:1), but that dependence soon faltered.
When a generation arises that does not know the Lord we parents feel the shame. A spiritually crippled generation does not spring from a perfect one preceding it (Judg. 1:27-33). How would we assess past and current generations? Most congregations are composed of five generations, of which we note the following trends:
- The oldest generation is the senior adults (born before 1927). These are now in their mid-80s. They provide a great level of spiritual stability to a congregation.
- The Builders (1927-1945). They came of age during the Great Depression and WWII. They learned about self-sacrifice and loyalty overseas and in the church.
- The Baby Boomers (1946-1964). They are known for radical individualism, selfishness and narcissism. Their willingness to test boundaries has led the church into a state of liberalism, and spiritual digression.
- Generation X (1965-1983). They have been described as apathetic, cynical and malcontents. They are the generation of postmodern ideas.
- Millennials (1984-2002). They are focused on modesty, respect for authority & positive group activities. If there is hope for the future of the church it is here.
One of the saddest passages in the Bible is Judges 2:7-14. Ancient Israel had served the Lord all the days of Joshua and of the elders that outlived Joshua who had seen the wonderful things that God had done for them. Joshua died at the age of 110 and was buried within the border of Timnath Heres. Tragically, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel” (Vs. 10).
What brought ancient Israel to this point in their history? The younger generation in Judges 2 did an about face to the one before it. When a generation declines so rapidly we, as parents and grandparents, must look inward. What could have been done to have affected a better outcome?
Note the beginning and progress of the generations leading up to Judges 2. Noah’s generation was the first after the flood (Gen. 7:1). Abraham left all to Isaac, the next generation (Gen. 25:5). Isaac blessed Jacob of the next generation (Gen. 27:28-29). Jacob blessed Ephraim (Gen. 48:17-19). Joseph and all that generation died (Exo. 1:6), and Israel remained faithful to God. The sins of a later generation meant their demise (Num. 32:13). In time Israel had become a faithless and corrupt generation (Deut. 32:20).
As long as Joshua lived idolatry was kept in check (Vss. 7-10). The weight of his influence was a buffer to Israel for many years. That influence was carried on among Joshua’s contemporaries (Vs. 7). But Israel lacked the independent strength to be true to God after Joshua’s generation. This scenario should prompt us to ask ourselves if we are really “in the faith”? (2 Cor. 13:5) Is Christ actually formed in us? (Gal. 4:19). Are we seeking to please those who have influenced us, or God? That is, are we really inclined to please the Lord, or someone else such as a parent, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a relative or a friend? Do we have the independent strength to remain faithful to God without the living influence of these individuals?
The nature of the generational drift into apostasy in Judges 2 was such that it consisted of forsaking God for idols. It evolved them in the worship of other gods such as the Baals and other Canaanite deities (Vss. 11-13). There is nothing novel in the apostasy of Israel. They worshiped the old deities of the native population. If we give up Christ it is only for supposed novel forms of religion. Do we “know the Lord” in this generation? Knowing the Lord and knowing about the Lord are not the same things (Vs. 7). To know him is to love him and to love him is to obey him (1 Jn. 2:4-6). To know him is to be in a filial relationship with him (Gal. 4:6-7). Will our knowing the Lord insure the same for the next generation? We cannot know for sure. Every individual of every generation has a choice to make (Josh. 24:15).
by Dennis Gulledge