Pastor Tom Ascol begins a series on the book of Judges explaining Chapter 1, v. 1 through Chapter 2, v. 5. He develops the message using the theme that partial obedience to God is actually disobedience to the whole of God’s revelation.
The context of Chapter 1 looks back to God’s promise in Genesis of the land to Abraham’s descendants. That promise was reiterated in Joshua 1:2-3. Israel, in Deuteronomy 7:2-4, received commands as to how the conquest should take place. God ordered destruction by the conquerors, no treaty was to be made, and no intermarriage was to take place. Despite these commands, nearly the whole of Chapter 1 is given over to recounting the conquest and Israel’s failure to completely obey. Whether fear of iron chariots, human reckoning in keeping slaves, or compromising with those who should have been killed for secret information, the behavior of Israel showed their lack of faith in God and their willingness to disobey for expediency’s sake.
The Lord judged the partial obedience of Israel as full disobedience. Coming from Gilgal, the place of covenant renewal after the crossing of the Jordan, the Angel of the Lord reminds the nation of His grace toward them, His saving power in deliverance, and their obligation to keep His commandments. Israel’s failure to completely obey would result in severe repercussion for the nation for generations to come as God withdraws a portion of His power. No longer will He necessarily drive the local nations from before them. The intermingling with the Canaanites resulted in further sin which ultimately resulted in the conquest of the land by first the Assyrians in the north and then the Babylonians in the south centuries later.
Despite the rationalizations mentioned above attempted by Israel, the truth was Israel had decided they would not obey. Their failure was not the result of superior powers aligned against them; after all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Rather it was a lack of faith in God’s promises and the willful decision to compromise God’s commands. Human wisdom failed Israel.
Pastor Ascol found direct relevance to modern life. God’s commands for His children still stand. Yet we find ways to compromise. Little “white” lies, for instance, do not seem so bad until we recognizes they really indicate a lack of faith, a fear of worldly consequences and an ignoring of eternal consequences. Just as Israel should have, modern believers need to exhibit courage and strength in following God, even to what may seem like their hurt in the world. Faith in God’s promises should sustain believers even in the worst of trials.
Yet, there remains tension. God seeks perfect obedience, yet He is devoted to His children even disobedient children. The one and only way to resolve that tension was God’s provision of a Savior, one who could perfectly obey and who would willingly sacrifice for the eternal good of God’s own. Only as people place their trust in that Savior is the tension resolved.