Dynamics of Reversionism
Judges Lesson #006
July 16, 2000
“Baal” is a Canaanite word which means lord or master, and it came to be applied to a particular deity in the Canaanite pantheon. In the Canaanite pantheon the highest deity was the god El. He was roughly analogous to the Greek or Roman god Saturn or Uranus and he basically becomes usurped by his son Baal.
This Baal has a number of titles depending on what city he was with and what was being emphasized. That is why he is listed in the Hebrew text with an im, which is the plural, because there were all kinds of Baals. He has a half-sister called Astarte and various terms such as Aphrodite or Venus in the Greek or Roman system and she, like Baal, is associated with fertility.
In the mythology when they procreate, the result is fertility, so this is then imitated in the worship where if you were a farmer and wanted to have good crops, then before you planted, in order to somehow motivate the gods to be gracious and kind to you, you would go down to the temple and pay one of the temple prostitutes and have sex. That would be a symbolic act of what would be taking place in the heavens between Astarte and Baal, and the result is fertility.
So it is nothing more than the health and wealth gospel that is being promoted today, and that is the biggest problem we have, we worship success rather than God. Here, this is just the ancient pagan form of that which becomes a physical form of idol worship.
They served the Baals in Judges 2:11b, and then the next statement is they abandoned Yahweh, Judges 2:12b, “And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers.” The English says they “forsook” but the Hebrew word is much stronger than that. “They abandoned Yahweh … and pursued other gods.”
This is the first statement of negative volition and rejection of God. In Judges 2:12c we see that “they bowed themselves down to them”, i.e., they worshipped them. This is the expression of obedience, what worship is. Worship is not coming together and singing praise to God.
Technically in the Bible that is praise, not worship. In the common ignorant parlance of modern evangelicalism we have come to make worship the key terminology for singing. So now in the churches they have what they call “worship leaders,” it is no longer the pastor who knows the truth and teaches the truth, it is now the song leader.
The emphasis is shifted from the content of learning what God says to me so that I can respond in obedience to Him, to just singing praises to God. Praise is a response to what God has done in my life but if there is no content how do I know what God has done in my life?
So then it just becomes a mystical subjective experience and the emphasis then becomes on how you feel and your personal psychological state rather than on the Word of God. Worship in the Scriptures is responding in submission and obedience to God.
If you are going to obey someone it means that you are responding to their authority and what they are telling you to do, and if you spend no time in learning the Word then you have no idea of what God wants you to do, you don’t understand the plan of God, you can’t understand the grace of God, and all you can do is operate on emotion.
In Judges 2:13a they forsook the Lord and in 13b they served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. What we see here is the center point of the structure, the statement from verses 12b and 12c, that they pursued other gods and they worshipped them. That is what the writer of this book wants us to pay attention to: where the Israelites have come as a result of their negative volition and their rejection of God.
Now we stop to go back and look at the text in detail. Judges 2:11—“Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” The first thing we need to notice here is that they obviously have negative volition. They have rejected God and they are operating on their own concept of what will bring them success. The problem is their negative volition. That is the core problem, the underlying problem.
We ask the question, “Why does Israel, during the period of the judges, go through this personal, military, economic, financial, and family disaster?” We must determine the root cause. The root cause is not going to be the result of some crisis—crisis in education, the result of the fact that the parents failed (though they did), crisis of health care, prescription drugs (applying to our own times), crisis of hand guns, violence, race.
It is a spiritual crisis. This is what underlies all their problems. It is: Don’t treat the symptoms, you have to treat the disease. The disease is negative volition and the rejection of God’s authority. If you go out and try to treat these symptoms rather than the disease, then you are doing nothing more than trying to polish the brass on a sinking ship. There will be no change.
This is one of the problems we have seen throughout the ages. When Christians start looking at all the problems, like social problems, then immediately they think that the solution is to go out and attack the problem rather than its underlying cause. The only thing that can solve and cure the underlying cause is the gospel and for a nation and individuals to turn back to the truth; to get back to the gospel and following the divine viewpoint.
Unless that happens, unless there is an internal change through regeneration, there can be no true reversal of the decline of a culture or an individual. Once a person starts thinking that the problem is political, ethical, economic, or some other aspect they begin to focus on the solution as the means to happiness and success.
What happens there is that as soon as you start focusing on the symptoms rather than the disease, you are already involved in a major problem because you are rejecting the divine analysis. If you reject the divine analysis of a social problem, that is the problem. The divine analysis says that the problem is spiritual, not its symptoms.
What happens is that society comes along and begins looking at these symptoms and has rejected the divine analysis. What has it done? It is saying that man on his own, apart from the Word of God, is capable of defining the problem and prescribing the solution. To do that you have already bought into, whether you realize it or not, a value system—a system of norms and standards to determine what is right and what is wrong.
This is the essence of the problem in Israel during the period of the judges: everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They got into relativism. Relativism puts the focus on man as the definer of what is right and wrong and of absolutes, whereas the Word of God puts the focus on God. Evil is not just some relative term, it is “evil in the sight of the Lord.” It is God who defines what right and wrong is, not man.
The word used here for “evil” is the Hebrew word ra. It can mean something that is just destructive, a non-moral sense of something that is just disagreeable, bad or doesn’t work; but it also has, in most places, a spiritual sense which illustrates the violation of the will of God. It is evil because God says it is evil, it is evil in the sight of the Lord.
It is focused on idolatry—“and they served the Baals.” The root of all evil is the transfer of allegiance and priority from God to something else in the created order. This is what happens over and over.
Now in the ancient world they had idols that were physical and we think we don’t do that. In our culture we do it but we are much more sophisticated and serve idols of the mind. What they were doing in the ancient world was that they were looking to the idols to solve the problems in their lives and to provide them with happiness, success, and meaning in life. That, of course, was the road to absolute failure for them.
Over and over again throughout the Old Testament, when God says that so and so did evil in the sight of the Lord and they followed in the idolatry and religion of Jeroboam, for example, evil is almost exclusively defined in terms of religion.
What is happening here in Israel is that they have rejected God as the source of happiness and so they are going to get involved in the Canaanite religion. They look around them and think that the Canaanites seem to be very successful, they’ve had good crops, have had a good year on the land, so apparently they have discovered something that works. So they decide to get involved in their system of religion. Their gods seem to be pretty helpful, so we will follow them and reject God, the God that brought us out of Egypt.
The symptom of the paganism of that society is that they began to worship the fertility god. That is nothing more than the worship of prosperity and success, something that is very typical of our own society.
We worship the abstract idols of success, money, the things that money can buy; in fact, idolatry is nothing more than putting any detail in life, whatever you think gives you meaning and happiness—maybe friends, maybe money, maybe sex, maybe a social life, maybe things that money can buy, maybe some kind of status—then that is idolatry.
You are putting that in the place of God and God is no longer the number one priority in your life. God has given us all the details of life and they are valid and for our enjoyment, but they are not to be worshipped, they are not the source of meaning in life.
The sin nature is motivated by a lust pattern. Those lust patterns produce trends and those trends go in different directions. One trend is toward asceticism, legalism, and intellectually toward rationalism. This leads toward moral degeneracy. Just because someone is moral and good doesn’t mean they are spiritual.
The Pharisees were extremely moral, wonderful people with a great code of ethics which they adhered to very strictly. But they rejected God, they rejected Jesus Christ, and they were moral degenerates.
In the opposite direction there are those who give in to the trend of licentiousness, lasciviousness, antinomianism, and intellectually that is related to irrationalism and mysticism, and this leads to immoral degeneracy. What we have in the paganism of any culture is the combination of both—moral degeneracy and immoral degeneracy. The only thing is we tend to identify the immoral degeneracy a lot more clearly.
“… served other gods” – the Hebrew word, abad, means to serve, to work, and it also implies worship. So from that, in Genesis 2, we see that a vital function of man was to work the garden, to fulfill the mission God gave him, and that is a worship concept.
The worship isn’t something that happens on Sunday morning in church. Worship is what you do with your life in serving God, and in order to serve God you have to know what God’s will is.
That is why we say that the highest form of worship is to learn the Word of God, because that gives us the framework for thinking in terms of reality as God defines reality so that we can serve Him, and this makes our life a life of worship.
But in contrast to that, the Israelites rejected God and they served the Baals. The Hebrew word for “forsook”, azab, means to abandon, to give up, to ignore, and in a softer sense it means just to treat God lightly or to be complacent about God.
Usually when you are deteriorating in your spiritual life you begin by simply getting distracted by other details of life. Before long it is easier to not go to Bible class, easier to not listen to a tape [MP3], than it is to make it a priority. You begin to get distracted so that God is no longer the highest priority in life. We try to justify it by saying we have so many demands on our time we don’t have time to get to Bible class or listen to a tape [MP3]. We need to be listening to doctrine day in and day out so that we do not become complacent and start down the road of spiritual decline.
This is what has happened in Israel, they have moved from complacency toward God to active abandonment of God. “They forsook the Lord God of their fathers”—the reason why this is emphasized is that God is the God who has worked in human history. They have empirical data before them from the memory of their fathers and forefathers of how God acted in history. They do not worship the God who is somewhere “out there” and we can’t really come to know.
The God of the Bible is the God who is intimately involved in history, the God who has always acted in history, and whose revelation is always based upon His acts in history. He validates His revelation through confirmations in space-time history. The writer emphasizes that this is not just some abstract concept of God but it is God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they have rejected Him—reflecting their lack of gratitude, their lack of grace orientation.
That unfortunately is the way people are so often, they forget that God has done everything for us at the Cross. In that death on the Cross, Jesus Christ provided for us everything we need in life. He didn’t leave anything out. He provided the basis for handling any situation, any problem, and any heartache in life. He gave us the framework for being able to handle success so that it doesn’t destroy us, so that we can have happiness, peace, and stability in our lives.
Whether we are going through good times or bad times, adversity or blessing, we can have a stable mindset and never be overwhelmed by the circumstances of life. As soon as you start making your mental attitude, your happiness, your stability, dependent upon what you have or what you don’t have, or how people around you behave, then you enslave yourself to that person or to those events.
You are saying, “My mental health, my stability, is dependent upon how that person responds to me”, and at that point you have just said that everything is under their control and nothing is in my control.
Or you say that you will have happiness if you can achieve this level of success or have these possessions. So happiness now is defined by having or not having and you have basically said that your happiness is outside of your control and dependent upon these things. That is nothing more than slavery and it is serving those things, and it is just another form of idolatry.
So they have rejected the God who did everything for them to follow the god who promises to do much less for them. This shows the paganization of the culture. They have rejected God and whenever you reject God there is a vacuum that forms in the soul and something else is going to take God’s place.
Whenever we are out of fellowship and start to follow something else as a priority, then that is taking the place of God. So whenever you reject the God of the Bible something else takes its place as your god.
Judges 2:12, “… they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were around them and they bowed themselves down to them”—that is the word for worship, it means to prostrate yourself and it is a sign of obedience and submission to authority. Rather than submitting to the authority of God, they bowed themselves down to these idols and thus they “provoked the Lord to anger.”
Judges 2:13, the conclusion: “They forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.” What we see here is reversionism, which is what has taken place on a national scale in Israel and on a massive personal scale in the nation. This is the same thing that happens today in the lives of many Christians, and why they end up in misery in life.
1) Reversionism is an act of reversing or backing up or going in the opposite way, or a state of being so turned.
2) Reversionism is the act of reverting to a former state, a former habit or belief, or the practice of pre-salvation sinning—going back to what you were when you were an unbeliever, thinking the same thoughts as when you were an unbeliever, acting as you acted when you were an unbeliever.
So then reversionism is a reversal of your priorities, it is putting something else in the place of God—a reversal of priorities, attitudes, affections, the object of your personal love accompanied by the destruction of your impersonal love.
A reversal of the object of your personal love is in having personal love for God and that being what motivates you in life, you put your affection on something else in the created order and that becomes what motivates you in life—money, success, happiness, sex, social life, whatever it may be.
As a result of shifting your personal love from God it destroys your capacity to exercise impersonal love, because now you can no longer function on unconditional love for someone because you are dependent upon something in the created order to provide you with happiness.
Now, whenever things don’t go the way you think they ought to go, instead of being able to handle the situation in impersonal love, you handle it from a position of frustration, anger, bitterness, hostility, resentment, and your soul becomes more and more churned up by mental attitude sins and this overall sense of frustration, and it begins to affect all of your relationships.
The result is it changes your lifestyle, habits, and your personality. As believers we are designed to advance to spiritual maturity, but in reversionism we reverse course and our lives cannot be distinguished from that of an unbeliever. As believers we start thinking more and more along the lines of human viewpoint, cosmic philosophy, and paganism, so that we don’t look and act any different from an unbeliever down the street.
3) There are eight stages in reversionism. We start off with our spiritual advance and then we start into the decline.
a) The first stage is reaction and distraction. What happens is some circumstance changes in our lives and we either become distracted by it or we react to it with frustration, mental attitude sins, bitterness, anger, something of that nature.
So immediately we are out of fellowship because there is sin in the life, and rather than confessing sin and immediately being restored to fellowship and the filling of the Holy Spirit and putting our priorities back on doctrine, we stay out of fellowship. When we are out of fellowship we begin to get further and further enmeshed in carnality. Romans 12:2–3—transformation of our lives is commanded through the renovation of our thought.
What happens when we are operating on carnality is that there is a natural attraction and affinity between the thinking of the cosmic system and our sin nature. The cosmic system is a system of thinking, not action. So the world system provides the rationales and the justifications for our sinfulness and, of course, operating on our sin nature. We are to advance spiritually and not to regress spiritually.
What we learn from passages like Romans 12 is that we are to learn to think correctly. That is, there is a right way to think and a wrong way to think. Our thinking is to be conformed to doctrine, which means that there is an absolute truth that defines reality.
So what we are doing in the spiritual life is learning the Word of God so that our thinking conforms to the reality of God’s thinking. Reality is what God says it is, not what we think it is, not what society may think it is, not what philosophers may say it is.
So there are certain boundaries in which we must operate and think, and that is called divine viewpoint. If we are going to be clear thinkers without being involved in some sort of self-delusion or self-illusion then we must focus on the truth, the absolute truth of the Word of God.
The Word of God is defined as truth. Jesus prayed to the Father, John 17:17, “Sanctify them by means of truth; thy Word is truth.” So the Word of God provides the parameters within which we are going to think.
What happens in reaction and distraction is that we reject authority, we get involved in some kind of personality conflict with someone, children can react to the authority of their parents, and this leads to some kind of resentment or anger and as a result one begins to lose their objectivity, emotion begins to take over, there is therefore involvement in subjectivity, and now one is absorbed in what is going on inside of them. That is the beginning stage of arrogance.
b) Then comes the frantic search for happiness. We start shifting our focus for meaning and value in life away from doctrine and away from God and on to the details of life. 2 Timothy 3:4 says that we become “… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
The life is consumed with the pursuit of personal pleasure, comfort and security. That may take various forms. For some it may involve work and success at work, for others it may involve a life of partying, drugs, alcohol, immorality. For other people it may involve excessive attention to sports. Whatever it may be, you are looking for something in the created order as the source of happiness.
So now that you have divorced yourself from God and the only source of happiness you put your focus on something in creation, some of the details of life, and you start pursuing that in order to find happiness in life. Contentment and real happiness is based on what is in your soul, not based on circumstances, events, situations, or people. If it is not based on what is in your soul then you will become enslaved to what is outside of you, apart from you.
c) The third stage is soul poverty. We see this in Psalm 106:15 where we have a rehearsal of what took place in Israel’s history in the first twelve verses: how God brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and how He delivered them from the armies of Pharaoh.
The conclusion in Psalm 106:12 was, “Then they believed his words.” That is a strong statement of their faith in God and that the Exodus generation was primarily a generation of believers; “and they sang his praise.” Notice the contrast with Psalm 106:13, “They soon forgot his works.”
This is the same thing we see in the judges generation; “they did not wait for his counsel.” In other words, doctrine was no longer a priority for them and they immediately rejected God, and ignored doctrine. They became distracted by adversity in their life and they put their hope for happiness on the details of life. They wanted to go back to all the good things they remembered in Egypt.
In their imagination they began to blow these things out of proportion until they completely forgot all the negatives and remembered all the positives. That became their source of happiness. The focus was to put happiness on a detail of life.
Psalm 106:14, “But they craved intensely in the wilderness, and tested God in the desert.” Notice what is says in Psalm 106:15. “And he gave them their desire, but sent leanness into their souls.” That is exactly what the Hebrew says.
Sometimes in discipline, in order to make you understand the emptiness of your desires, God answers your prayer. But the result is that you now have what you thought would bring you happiness and you are empty. It didn’t satisfy you, there must be something more. You have everything you wanted but there is leanness in the soul.
The word translated “leanness” means to be feeble, weak, to be spiritually impotent. It means that although they had what they thought would bring them happiness they were impoverished in their souls. They are in worse shape than they were to begin with because they now have what they thought would bring them happiness and not only are they just as miserable, they are probably more miserable.
d) This leads to the fourth stage which is the emotional revolt of the soul. The soul is made up of five components and they all interrelate: self-consciousness, the seat of our identity, who we are; mentality, which is where we think, reason; volition, where we make our choices; conscience, where our norms and standards reside; and emotion, the responder to what goes on in the mentality of the soul.
Our actions are to be initiated by thinking, not by emoting. We think, and the result is that our emotions follow along based on what we think. What happens in emotional revolt is that emotions start driving the soul and you start making decisions based on how you feel. The emotions start becoming the criterion for life and so you start making decisions based on how it is going to make you feel. That is enslavement to emotion.
This leads to an intensification of the whole process of reversionism. You are now down to the point where you are emoting all the time and it is very hard for you to concentrate and think and use doctrine, so you become ingrained in negative volition. At this point it is more and more difficult for you to ever get a focus on the Bible. In fact, what happens is that whenever you hear doctrine you immediately reject it because it doesn’t make you feel good.
e) This leads to the blackout of the soul. At this stage the Scripture says that our souls become enshrouded in darkness again, and rather than operating on the truth of God’s Word, we have sucked in so much false doctrine that we are walking in darkness.
f) This in turn produces a situation in the soul called the hardness of the heart in Scripture, it produces calluses of scar tissue on the soul so that you become less and less sensitive to God’s leading in your life. So now to get your attention God can’t just tap you on the shoulder, He has to pick up a baseball bat and hit you soundly between the eyes just to get your attention.
What happens is you go further and further in negative volition and the hardness of heart until that baseball bat doesn’t even faze you, and as soon as God stops hitting you with the baseball bat you say, “I managed to survive that so I guess life is going to work out after all.” You have distorted the whole practice.
g) Scar tissue of the soul leads to reverse process reversionism when you are so sunk in pagan thought that you don’t know light from darkness anymore, right from wrong, you have totally reversed everything and you are living, operating and thinking no different from any unbeliever.
When we get to look at Israel, they have gone through this process, so God is going to respond to their apostasy. Judges 2:14, “And the anger of the Lord burned against Israel.”
Life is going to be miserable for them. Everything in between these words and verse 20 is a description of God’s anger. The anger of the Lord is a function of His justice, His integrity, and the operation of divine grace. In the middle of this we will see that God still deals with the apostatized, pagan Israelites in grace, Judges 2:18. The interesting thing about this is that there is no repentance in Israel when God raises up the judge.