“Prayer, the last refuge of the scoundrel.” That was Lisa Simpson’s description of her brother’s turn to God in the fourteenth episode of the iconic cartoon show The Simpsons. Bart would have to repeat the third grade if he failed another history exam, but he hadn’t studied for his make-up test. The night before the exam, he took refuge in the Almighty, begging for a snow storm.
It’s an old cliche that when your chips are down, you know who your real friends are. There are some friends whom you can turn to when you’re in trouble and there are others who fall away when the good times stop rolling.
In the Book of Judges, which covers the time between Israel’s settlement in the promised land (covered in the Book of Joshua) and the beginnings of the Davidic Kingdom (Samuel), we see the Israelites falling out with the God of their ancestors and partying with the Baals repeatedly. (Of course this is a perennial theme in Old Testament literature.) Worshiping Baals was just more fun than serving God.
In Judges 10, Israel again “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and “served the Baals of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the Lord and did not serve him” (Judges 10:6). God grew frustrated with his people and he allowed the Philistines and Ammonites to crush and oppress Israel.
Finally, Israel pleaded with God. “Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, ‘We have sinned against you, for we have abandoned our God and served the Baals'” (Judges 10:10).
But this time God’s response is a little different: “The LORD answered the Israelites: Did not the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Midianites oppress you? Yet when you cried out to me, and I saved you from their power, you still abandoned me and served other gods. Therefore I will save you no more” (Judges 10:11-14).
Ultimately, God is faithful even where we fail. (As Paul puts it in his Second Letter to Timothy: “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”) He will eventually have King David subdue the land, and ultimately he will send his only Son to be Our Savior.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us an invitation to friendship (15:14–17). While we do turn to our friends in times of trouble, friendship is much more than that. We need to give our attention to God even when we don’t have a big exam the next day or Amorites banging at the gates.
In good times worshiping idols like Baal, Bacchus, mammon, Mars, Aphrodite, or any other created thing may seem like fun. The rituals are exciting, and a material god is easier to comprehend than the utterly transcendent God. But in the end, the only way to happiness is through the one, true God.
But being friends with God means that we have to pray constantly. If our friends are real friends, they are with us in good times and bad times. And if we are real friends to them, we must invite them to be a part of our joys as well as our struggles. If He has deigned to make us worthy of being called his friends, we cannot fail to act on that friendship.
Ajina Tora, Statue of a Nio Guardian Deity