God's People Disobey (Judges 1:18-2:5)
Israel tolerates the Canaanites instead of utterly destroying them
18 Also Judah took Gaza with its territory, Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19 So the Lord was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron. 20 And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had said. Then he expelled from there the three sons of Anak. 21 But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
22 And the house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23 So the house of Joseph sent men to spy out Bethel. (The name of the city was formerly Luz.) 24 And when the spies saw a man coming out of the city, they said to him, “Please show us the entrance to the city, and we will show you mercy.” 25 So he showed them the entrance to the city, and they struck the city with the edge of the sword; but they let the man and all his family go. 26 And the man went to the land of the Hittites, built a city, and called its name Luz, which is its name to this day.
27 However, Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. 28 And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites under tribute, but did not completely drive them out.
29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.
30 Nor did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites dwelt among them, and were put under tribute.
31 Nor did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob. 32 So the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out.
33 Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or the inhabitants of Beth Anath; but they dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were put under tribute to them.
34 And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains, for they would not allow them to come down to the valley; 35 and the Amorites were determined to dwell in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim; yet when the strength of the house of Joseph became greater, they were put under tribute.
36 Now the boundary of the Amorites was from the Ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela, and upward.
2 Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. 2 And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? 3 Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ ” 4 So it was, when the Angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices and wept.
5 Then they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to the Lord.
In the beginning of Judges, Israel obeys God and fights the Canaanites and inherits the land that He had promised them. But in our passage today, the faith of Israel begins to waver. They do not trust God to deliver His enemies into their hands, and so they fail to drive out the Canaanites from the land. The story is one of faith, or rather the lack thereof, and how unbelief and disobedience are one and the same. Israel did not believe. Israel did not obey. And so Israel suffers the consequences.
Incomplete Conquest (v. 18-26)
Judah took three Philistines cities. We might read right past that and think that is good, except there is a problem. There are five Philistines cities. Judah did not take Ashdod and Gath. And that last one is a big deal. Who came from Gath that would be a problem for Israel not too far down the road? Goliath was from Gath. The fact that Judah did not drive out the Philistines here is the cause of their own domination by Philistines in Israel’s very near future. The next verse is even more explicit. “The Lord was with Judah…but…” God was on Judah’s side, He was giving their enemies into their hands, but they refused to obey Him and drive out the Canaanites in the flat valley because they had iron chariots. It might seem like an excuse, and it is an excuse, because in just a few chapters from here, God deals with chariots with the same problem the modern chariots are having right now in Ukraine: getting stuck in the mud. But this failure to drive out the Canaanites would drive a geographical wedge between Judah and the Northern tribes that would last for Israel’s entire existence as a nation and be the root of a host of religious and political problems.
The author of Judges then reiterates that Hebron went to Caleb and he drove out the three giant sons of Anak. However, (here’s another “but”) the Benjaminites did not drive out the regular-sized Jebusites from Jerusalem and they had to put up with disgusting demon-worshipers in the holy city until the time of David.
From here, the two half-tribes descended from Joseph went up against Bethel, and again the Lord is with them. They employed the same strategy as Israel did when they were going to attack Jericho. They sent spies to what was then called Luz by the Canaanites. They asked a man to show them the entrance to the city in exchange for his life, and he complies. They then attacked the city, and put all the inhabitants to death, but let that man and his family go free. But instead of being like Rahab who repented and believed and joined Israel and Jericho never being rebuilt, this man continued in his wicked Canaanite culture and went to go re-found the exact same city someplace else. You can see then why God wanted to eradicate the Canaanites, because if Canaanite culture was not snuffed out, it would continue to cry up to heaven for vengeance.
The Failure of the Northern Tribes of Israel (v. 27-36)
Manasseh fails to drive out the Canaanites from five cities in its land. And instead of eradicating the Canaanites, Manasseh decides to put the Canaanites under tribute. God had commanded Manasseh to destroy these evil people, but Manasseh thought getting money would be better. Mammon had enticed them into disobeying.
Ephraim, Zebulun, and Asher, three more tribes of Israel in the north, did not fare any better. They were content to dwell among the Canaanites and exact tribute from them when they had the strength. While Judah and Benjamin in the south had trouble with only a few Canaanites and one Canaanite city, respectively, the Northern Tribes had greater and greater trouble taking any cities from the Canaanites.
Naphtali’s failure stands out especially. One of the issues with how we translate the Old Testament things is that these Hebrew names for cities and people don’t mean anything to us. It would be a lot better if we translated the names rather than transliterated them. When you read Judges, you read right past things like Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath. Those are just funny, foreign sounding words that are hard to pronounce. But Beth Shemesh means House of the Sun God and Beth Anath means House of the Fertility Goddess. Given that the Greco-Roman gods are essentially identical to the Ancient Near Eastern pantheon, the names of these places are House of Apollo and House of Venus. It was here in these places that the Canaanites worshiped these demons. And Israel was explicitly commanded to tear down the altars of the Canaanites. And what is even worse is given that they had enough dominance to put these Canaanites under tribute this is a sign that they could have destroyed those altars and didn’t.
Dan follows this same pattern in their conquest. They could not take the plains (presumably because of chariots) and were forced into the mountains like Judah. But, it appears that they became strong enough to destroy the Canaanites, but instead chose to put them under tribute. This theme is recurrent. Again and again Israel chooses Mammon over obedience.
God Evaluates Israel (2:1-5)
We are told that the Angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim, the implication is that the tabernacle (and therefore God’s presence) had been moved. Gilgal literally means “Rolling” and it got the name because it is the place where Israel had their foreskins rolled off as they entered the land. Bochim means “Weeping,” and the meaning comes from this episode here. The Angel of the Lord, who speaks as God Himself which is reasonable to conclude He is actually the pre-incarnate Christ, says to Israel: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to this land that I had promised Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. I said this covenant I make with you I am never going to break. Therefore, you cannot make any covenants (or treaties exacting tribute) with the Canaanites. Instead you will tear down the places they worship demons at. But you did not do what I said. Why have you disobeyed? Because of this, I am not going to drive these people out. They are going to be thorns in your side (just like the curse against Adam, where the earth will produce thorns instead of fruit), and the demons they worship will entice you and your children into a deadly trap.”
The people heard God’s judgment against them and they wept loudly. They gave this place a new name “Place of Weeping” and they did the only thing they could, they offered their sacrifices and offering and worshiped the Lord. They had sinned a great sin, but they had turned to the Lord and called upon His name. Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice, but it is better to return to worship the Lord seeking His forgiveness rather than continuing on in your sin.
The most important thing to understand when you are reading the Bible is knowing who you are in the story. All of the covenant promises God made to His people throughout history belong to the church.
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