Chapter one of the book of Judges describes the attempt to complete the task begun under Joshua, that of conquering the land of Canaan and driving out its inhabitants (1:1-3). And it all starts well enough. But as the chapter goes on we see increasingly that Israel fails.
According to Joshua 1:3-5; 21:43-45, wherever Joshua set his foot, the Israelites took the land. There was no failure on God’s behalf. He was true to his word. And in the first half of Judges 1 (vv. 1-15) things start well. Judah conquers the land and destroys the inhabitants as God commanded. The writer records for us the fulfilment of specific promises (Caleb and Joshua 14:6-15; the Kenites and Numbers 10:29). In 1:14-15 land is given simply because Acsah asks for it. This is intended as a , a picture, for Israel. If they turn to God, he will give them the land.
But then things start to go wrong.
They being to compromise. They fail to trust God’s promise. They decide the enemy is too strong, too well equipped (1:19). And they disobey, they do not carry out God’s word, they do keep themselves separate for foreign cultures and foreign influence (2:1b-2). This failure and compromise depends as the chapter progresses:
17-21 failure to dislodge the Canaanites (esp. 19, 21)
22-26 making treaties
27-30 Canaanites living among Israelites (29, 30)
31-33 Israelites living among Canaanites (32-33)
34 it’s about what the Amorites (i.e. Canaanites) did – Israel isn’t even the active party any more.
God’s judgment is declared by the angel of the Lord at Bokim (which means ‘weepers’): ‘Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be [thorns] in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’ (Judges 2:3) Throughout chapter 1 we are told that the people did not drive out the nations (1:19, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33). Now God judges people by giving them over to their sin.
In Judges 2:10 we read: ‘After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.’ The law of God is not mentioned at all in the book of Judges. Jephthah makes a vow in honour of God which leads him to sacrifice his own daughter. His apparent piety is tragically ill-informed. In Judges 8:34-35 the people forget the Lord and fail to show covenant loyalty to Gideon’s family. The covenant disloyalty to Gideon seems to be a symbol or a symptom of their covenant disloyalty to God.
The problem with Israel is that, just one generation on from Joshua, they do not know the Lord. They do not even remember all the amazing things he did for them in rescuing them from Egypt and enabling them to conquer the land. The implication of 6:7-8 is that God has to send an angel to remind the people what he has done for them. The judges gives the people rest in the land for a generation. But the cycle of disloyalty, judgment, repentance and mercy is repeated again with each new generation.
It reminds us of the importance of remembering God and all he has done for us. It reminds that each generation must know God for themselves. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses reminding the generation of Joshua as they prepare to enter the land (the generation that do remember according to Judges 2:7) all that the Lord had done for them and all that the Lord required of them.
To help each generation remember him, God, as we shall see in the next post, sends them a strange gift …