It’s the first drip in what quickly becomes a gushing reality. The first hint that the worst is yet to come. The beginning of the setup as to why Israel would come to need judges to deliver them. And, as I chew on it this morning, it’s a pretty curious statement.
And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.
(Judges 1:19 ESV)
The LORD was with Judah. But Judah couldn’t drive out the inhabitants because they had chariots of iron. Weird!
For 18 verses Judah has been kicking keister and taking names. Literally. After Joshua’s death, operation “Take the Land” continues as the book of Judges opens, and Judah, along with Simeon, are the first out of the gate. They fight, they defeat, and the names of kings, places, and people are listed. The LORD God who said, “I have given the land into his hand” is giving the land into his hand (1:2, 4). But apparently, there’s a problem when it comes to iron chariots. And so they didn’t drive out the inhabitants of the plain. Drip.
Then it’s Benjamin which, for some reason, doesn’t drive out the Jebusites (v.21). Drip, drip. Then Manasseh “did not drive out the inhabitants” (1:27), and Ephraim didn’t drive out the Canaanites (1:29). Then Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali, without explanation, “did not drive out the inhabitants.” It’s free flowing now — “Take the Land” has become operation “Share the Land”. And, while the other tribes were at least able to subject the un-evicted Canaanites to forced labor, the tribe of Dan is actually unable to move in to their allotted land in the plain and are “pressed back” into the hill country by the Amorites (1:34). Gush!
And the people who God said to remove, remain. And not just the people, but their altars as well. And the angel of the LORD calls it for what it is . . . and for what it will become.
“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 2:2b-3 ESV)
And it all started because of chariots of iron. Hmm . . .
At first reading, it makes you wonder, are iron chariots the God of Creation’s kryptonite? Is He the omnipotent God except when it comes to the 26th element on the periodic table, Fe? Nope, that’s not it.
Instead, it seems that there was something about iron chariots that caused Judah to waver. Maybe the sheer display of force struck fear in them. Maybe it was the unknown, how do you fight chariots of iron, that caused them to say, “Pass.” Or, maybe they were just getting tired, relying more on their own power than on the LORD who was with them, and felt like they needed to tap out. Or perhaps, they just became complacent and lazy, and settled for “good enough”, iron chariot’s being just an excuse to call it a day.
I don’t know. Whatever it was — faltering faith, worn-out weariness, or a smug sense of security — Judah failed to obey the LORD and cleanse the land of what God had warned them would be thorns and snares. And this drip of disobedience quickly became a flood of failure.
There’s gotta be a warning here for those with ears to hear. Our God’s hand is not too short to save. Instead, it’s our sin which can hamstring our salvation (Isa. 59:1-2). Our complacency which can compromise God’s power. Our inability, or unwillingness, to trust the LORD with all our heart that can lead us to settle for thorns in our sides and snares around our feet.
Yup, the setup is complete for the book of Judges. Let the rollercoaster ride begin.
But even as I anticipate working my way through this book, I know that when God’s people cry out to God, God in His mercy and grace delivers His people, again and again. He sets them back on their feet. He patiently calls them to resume the mission. Faithfully, He promises again to be with them.
The drip of disobedience met with rivers of grace.
All for the glory of God.