It was a pivotal time in the young nation’s history. Having gained independence from its oppressors just a few short decades before, the nation was faced with great challenges. The bold and righteous leaders of the previous generation had passed on, and a new generation had been raised up in their place. But the new generation lacked the direction and vision which had characterized their earlier leaders, and the young nation—a nation that ought to have enjoyed a zenith of greatness unparalleled in history—fell back into bondage.

Such was the case with ancient Israel.

In the Old Testament book of Judges, we come across a series of verses which, in my opinion, are some of the most extraordinary and tragic in all the Bible: “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old . . . And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers . . .” (Judges 2:7-8, 10-12)

The story which follows is as sad as the verses above are shocking. In the next few verses we read how the children of Israel continued to forsake God, to the point that He brought them into the bondage of their enemies as a judgment on the nation.

So why is all of this so extraordinary? For one simple reason: the Israelites were now in the Promised Land—a place that was supposed to be filled with victory and service to God, not idolatry and defeat. Egypt, which they had left behind, was the land of bondage; the Promised Land was supposed to be the land of freedom. But instead, they went from bondage in Egypt to bondage in the Promised Land. The victory that was supposed to be theirs was traded for defeat.

The account is made even more surprising when we consider the history of the nation as a whole, and the position in which this particular generation found itself. The grandparents of this generation were in bondage in Egypt; they saw the plagues poured out on the Egyptians, witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, experienced the giving of the Ten Commandments, and were led through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The grandparents of this generation were fed on manna from heaven and drank water that poured out of a rock. It was this generation’s parents who were led across the Jordan by Joshua, who marched around Jericho, who saw the walls tumble down, who won great victories over their enemies. These two generations were privileged to witness some of the greatest miracles God has ever worked—or ever will work—in all of history. Yet somehow, this generation, which ought to have had one of the greatest spiritual legacies of all time—which ought to have been able to reach great heights, standing on the shoulders of those who had gone before—somehow fell into gross idolatry. Because of this, they were brought into the bondage of the very nations God desired to bring down before them.

How could this have happened?

The obvious answer, of course, is that they stopped serving God, and instead turned to the false gods of the surrounding nations. God could not tolerate their idolatry indefinitely, so in time, He brought them into bondage as a judgment.

But the complete answer goes deeper than that. We are told that this generation “knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” Without intending to be judgmental, it appears that there was failure on the part of Joshua’s generation to fully impart to their children the vision and legacy which God had given them. As long as the generation who had personally witnessed God’s greatness was alive, the nation served the Lord. When they died, the next generation turned away from God. They didn’t have the vision to carry on in their own generation what had been started in the days of their grandparents, then carried closer to completion in the days of their own parents.