Judges 1-2:5 | Week 1 | Finish the Job

The Lists in our Lives
 

You have a list. Everyone has a list. Maybe it’s a “honey-do” list or a list of assignments from Professor No-Fun or a list of New Year’s Resolutions you’ve just barely started or you’re almost done abandoning. Either way, you have a list.

This list, in some sense, guides your day to day life. You know, too, that if the list isn’t completed in the manner expected, credit won’t be given and you’ll suffer the exasperated sigh and gaze of a disappointed spouse, a lower grade on your assignments, the loss of a job promotion, or any number of other things. 

We know this truth intrinsically:

Incomplete Obedience Has Consequences

 
You Had One Job
 
 
The Israelites had left Egypt. They had wandered in the dessert while an unbelieving generation died off. They stood on the dry river bed of the Jordan River as the Lord held back the rushing torrent. They fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came a tumblin’ down. They continued the conquest of the promised land.
 
Their one job? Destroy the Canaanite presence in the promised land. Down to the last living thing. (Dt. 20:16-28)
 
Under Joshua, they secure a large portion of the promised land but fail to conquer the land and the people completely. Joshua, nearing the end of his life, understanding that finishing the job will fall to the next generation offers this charge to the people of Israel:
 
“14 Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:14-15
The people reply enthusiastically:
 
“16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
Joshua 24:16-18
 
This is good news. In fact, for a man facing his own mortality, wondering what his legacy will be, wondering if the stubborn, stiff-necked people will devote themselves to the Lord — their declaration is great news. It is a promise that can comfort an old man about an unknown future.
 
This is where the book of Judges really begins: with the good news of Chapter 24. Judges is a sequel of sorts to the book of Joshua. As readers, we’re meant to enter the first words of Judges with a cautious optimism.
 
The Book of Judges
 
Date: 1051 b.c. The book covers from 1375-1070 b.c.
 
Author: Samuel. We get this from rabbinic tradition as there is no attributed author within the book itself.
 
Title: The title “Judges” is from the latin translation of the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for “judge” denotes not only a position of legal decision making but also of leading deliverance against foes. A good way to think of the judges of this time, then, might be to think of them more like charismatic MMA fighters than our modern day judges. These men (and Deborah) were leaders of the tribe responsible for far more than just making legal decisions but also for the very leadership and protection of their tribes. 
 
Purpose: To show God as the ultimate judge and the ultimate source of salvation.
 
This book, with all of its intrigue, violence, and troubling descent into madness, is really a story about God. He’s the main character. It’s the Lord who appoints judges. It’s the Lord who empowers judges. It’s the Lord who hands over Israel to the canaanites. It’s the Lord who hears the cries of his people. And it’s the Lord who delivers his people. He is the preeminent character in this book.
 
Message: No matter how extreme the rebellion, God is able to save. 
 
The book of Judges, if you haven’t read it is riveting. It reads like a Hollywood blockbuster. If you got the team that made “God’s Not Dead” and “Fireproof” in a room with Quentin Tarantino and asked them to make a movie about God from this time period — you’d end up with the book of Judges. Things get dark, things get extreme but no matter how dark the cloud, God is always present, always working, always aiming at saving his people. 
 
Incomplete Obedience Has Consequences (Judges 1-2:5)
 
Remember, this book has us starting with a sense of cautious optimism from the Israelites declaration that they’ll serve their Lord. That they’ll finish the job of taking the promised land fully and completely. Chapter 1 is divided into two geographically distinct stories. Verses 1-26 are the accounting of the efforts by Judah and Simeon and others to take the southern portion of the land. Verses 27-36 give the accounting of the efforts of the tribes to take the northern portion of the land. This chapter begins to set the stage and the context for the descent into madness.
 
Judges 1:1-2: “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.”(emphasis mine)
 
Everything starts off the way it should. The people, now without a leader, turn to the Lord, their God for direction. They’re eager to finish the job and they know the only way it’s happening is by the power of the Lord. This is good. It shows an early understanding of God’s hand, his control, and his power. It shows an early understanding of their own inability, their own lacking, their own shortcomings. This is really good.
 
Judges 1:3: “3 And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him.” (emphasis mine)
 
It seems small but this turning to Simeon to ask for help is the beginning of the fracturing obedience and faithfulness of Israel. This small act communicated to God that his word was not enough. That, in fact, when God told Judah get fighting and God would deliver, Judah didn’t believe it was possible. The Canaanites were big, after all. Their cities had big, thick walls with strong iron gates. Their warriors had strong iron swords, shields, and chariots. Judah needed help. Judah needed back-up. Judah’s appeal for help was Judah correcting God on what it would take to accomplish the goal of taking the land. There would be consequences for this first act of obedience that would filter to the other tribes of Israel.
 
Consequence #1: The Southern Conquest is Stopped Cold (vv. 18-19)
 
Judges 1:19-20: “18 Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19 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.”
 
All of this land is to the west and south of Jerusalem (Check this Map).Judah is heading through the mountains and down into the plains toward the Mediterranean Sea. Verse 19 tells us that the Judah was able to take possession of the hill country but when it came to the cities on the plains (Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gaza) he could not drive them out because of their chariots. 
 
This is exactly why he had brought Simeon along. He knew that’s what would happen. How could God send them on this mission? How could God be so short-sighted? Why would God not allow his children to drive out the wicked Canaanites? If God is so good, so smart, and so wise — wouldn’t he have known they had chariots?
 
Reading verse 2 again reminds us of God’s command to the Israelites and specifically to Judah. Judah alone was to go, Judah alone was to fight, and the land would be delivered, chariots or no chariots, to Judah alone. It was his inheritance. It’s a poignant reminder that what God calls us to do, God equips to do. Our job is to act in faith and take the next step.
 
Consequence #2: Their Compromise Created More Canaanites (vv. 22-26)
Judges 1:22-26 “22 The house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.23 And the house of Joseph scouted out Bethel. (Now the name of the city was formerly Luz.) 24 And the spies saw a man coming out of the city, and they said to him, “Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly with you.”25 And he showed them the way into 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 and built a city and called its name Luz. That is its name to this day.
 
The tribe of Joseph is now in focus as they attempt to take their inheritance, the land from the Canaanites. Here arrives a story of intrigue. The forces of the tribe of Joseph arrive at Bethel and devise a way in by using a man from the city to sneak them in. They promise the man, this Canaanite, that if he would betray his city and let them in, he won’t be killed. Weighing his options, the man sneaks them in and the Israelites put the sword to the town. They keep their promise and the man is set free. 
 
On the face of it, this seems like a savvy and smart way to conquer the city of Bethel with minimal loss of life for the Israelites. All it cost them was the lives of one man. Sure their job was to kill every man woman and child in the land but certainly, God would understand if one man was spared. I mean, we TOOK THE CITY. Bethel is now Israelite territory.
 
It’s that last line in verse twenty six, though. This man they spared apparently had a city planning degree and a prolific ability to recruit and reproduce because he started a new city. The Israelites compromise actually created an opportunity for another Canaanite city to grow up. Their compromise of faith created more canaanites. It made the problem harder. 
 
Consequence #3: The Canaanites Remained in the Land (vv. 27-36)
Judges 1:27-36: “
27 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 persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.

30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.

31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, 32 so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.

33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.

34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. 35 The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor. 36 And the border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.”
 
Seven times the author uses the phrase “did not drive out.” Seven times the author notes the decision of the Israelites to leave the Canaanites in the land. Seven times the author uses the word “did not” instead of “could not.” This is the most damning aspect of this account: that in multiple verses, the Israelites choose to keep the Canaanites as slaves, as subjects, as water fetchers, gardeners, and the like. The text notes the Canaanite presence isn’t because of the Israelites couldn’t push them out but that the tribes made a choice to disobey God’s command and keep the Canaanites around. 
 
And so the Canaanites with all their pagan gods, attractive daughters, and strong sons would now stay in the land and inhabit the land God had given Israel. 
 
Consequence #4: The Lord Leaves the Canaanite’s as a Snare and Trap for Israel (vv. 2:1-5)
Judges 2:1-5 “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.” As soon as the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the Lord.”
 
Israel has forced God’s hand. They renewed their covenant to him at Shechem in Joshua 24. They promised to serve him and him alone. He promised to bless their obedience and curse their disobedience. God’s response is akin to “What have you done? Look at the position you’ve put me in! I have to keep my word.” And in an act of God’s faithfulness he tells them that he won’t remove the Canaanites but instead, because of their rebellion, they’ll live their lives fighting the Canaanites while pursuing the Canaanite idols. Their heads will desire freedom while their hearts long for enslavement. 
 
Finish the Job
 
In a lot of ways, this first chapter should come as a stark warning to us in the modern age with all its distractions, broken morals, and receding values. If we’re not careful and if we’re not diligent, Israel’s lot will be ours today. God did not abandon his children but he let his children have what they wanted. And in turning his children over to sin, they desired more and more. So much more that eventually, Israel ceased to look like Israel and resembled the Canaanites they were tasked to eliminate.
 
So, Christians, finish the job.
 
Do not give quarter to sin in your life. Do not allow attitudes to go unchecked. Do not allow sin to go addressed or unrepented. The Lord’s promise is the same as it always has been your obedience is blessed with more fruits of the spirit and more of the presence of God himself and your disobedience (incomplete or otherwise) will bring about the discipline of God in your life.
 
Obey and be blessed. Sin and be disciplined.