It starts out as a trickle but quickly grows to a tsunami. At first it seems a minor exception due to some “chariots of iron” but it soon becomes a major defeat as a result of a lack of conviction. Through Moses, the LORD had told the tribes of Israel that, when it came time to possess the promised land, they were to drive out the inhabitants completely. “They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Ex. 23:33).
But warnings of defeat have a way of getting lost when you’re on a roll and racking up victories. And the first couple of chapters of Judges document what at first was a slippery slope turning far too quickly into a full-scale landslide.
Initially Judah COULD NOT drive out some Canaanites “because they had chariots of iron.” But quickly it snowballs as other tribes DID NOT drive out the peoples of the land for no stated reason other than it was probably pretty hard and they were met with some ardent opposition.
At first the results of not fully cleaning house are pockets of Canaanites living among the tribes of Israel (Judges 1:21-31). But it doesn’t take very long before Israel’s compromise results in Israel living among the Canaanites (1:31-33). And eventually, as in the case of Dan, they are repelled completely and have to settle for the hills rather than the flat lands (1:34).
And we’re are not left to guess to the consequence of compromise:
Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And He said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
(Judges 2:1-3 ESV)
Thorns in your side that will fester and become infected. A snare laid out for you that will eventually, but surely, trip you up. That’s the minefield these people of God laid for themselves by allowing the old inhabitants and their gods to hang around. And so the stage is set for the book of Judges.
Despite the book giving us some of our favorite Sunday School characters, they only shine bright because of the dark, dark background of this period in Israel’s history. Though many of these judges are severely flawed themselves, they come off as heroes because of the depths of depravity the nation falls into. And all the consequence of compromise.
The next days of reading in Judges are going to be a rocky road. The warning will reverberate in the background, “They are thorns in your sides that will cause rot. Their gods are a snare that will cause your fall.” And I need to heed the warning, “Deal with sin! Nothing good can come from making peace with disobedience. Avoid the consequence of compromise!”
But along this rocky road I will also be reminded of amazing grace as, time and time again, God raises up a deliverer. As, over and over, He hears His peoples’ cry and provides for them rest and restoration. As I’m reminded that the consequence for compromise has been born in full by the Greater Judge and the once-for-all Deliverer. That my “former inhabitant” can be defeated because of His finished work and through His indwelling Power.
My holy determination to drive out the former inhabitant. My obedience.
All by His grace and for His glory.