When we consider Israel and her failings, it may be easy for us to observe her unfaithfulness and consider ourselves better than that. But “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). We can learn from them.
There are at least three early failures of Israel that contributed to their apostasies described in the book of Judges. All three are failures in obeying God’s commands and are bad outcomes that God even warned them about. Let us briefly consider what we can learn from their disobedience.
First, God had commanded them to drive out the inhabitants of the land: “When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you…you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess” (Numbers 33:51-52). “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Moreover, it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them” (Numbers 33:55-56). Israel never completed the doing of it. In Judges 1:21-36, the word of God says multiple times, “for they did not drive them out.” Because they never fully drove out the people in the land, Israel “dwelt among them”, intermingling with them, leading to their own doing of evil, which leads us to the second failure….
God had commanded them to destroy the idols of the nations: “You shall…destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish their high places” (Numbers 33:51-52). But they failed to obey this command also. “And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger” (Judges 2:12).
Third, they had been warned not to intermarry with the people of those heathen nations: “Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations – these that remain among you – and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive our these nations from before you” (Numbers 23:12-13). But they disobeyed this command also: “So the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods” (Judges 3:5-6).
Their disobedience to God in these three ways led to apostasy and God raising judges to deliver them over and over again. What can we learn from their failures?
First, when we think of their need to drive out the heathen nations completely, we might consider the admonition to us from the apostle Paul to “put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Like the driving out of the heathen nations, these evils need to be completely driven out – put to death – from our lives. These are not “fitting for saints” (Ephesians 5:3).
Second, just as then, idolatry is alive and well today, and it needs to be identified and destroyed. We may not, as the Lord describes in Isaiah 44:16-17, cut down a tree, burn half of it for warmth and carve the other half into an idol and worship it, but when we make someone or something more important to us than God and His will, then have we not constructed our own idol to which we pay homage?
Third, their intermarrying with the nations was an example of how “evil companionships corrupt good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33, ASV). We ought to be careful in our associations, as evil companionships can deceptively and quietly creep into our lives and then lead to our undoing.
The record of Israel’s failings are preserved for our good. In understanding their failures, we can learn to exercise godly wisdom to avoid similar mistakes, and in doing so please God.
– Larry Jones