When God brought Israel into the land He had promised to them, He gave them a directive—clear the land. Not for agricultural reasons, but for spiritual ones. Israel was to either drive out or destroy the peoples in the land and then get rid of their religious garbage. All of it. If they couldn’t get the people out, they were not to make any sort of treaty with them. When it’s broken down like that, it seems pretty simple. And even more so because, as long as they kept fighting and pushing out the previous residents, God was fighting for and with Israel. They had victory in the bag!
But, Israel maybe got tired of fighting. They maybe got complacent. Perhaps they captured enough land to satisfy their current needs. (Should we be surprised that Ephraim and Manasseh—the tribes who complained about not receiving enough land—left a rather large population of Canaanites to live in their inheritance?) Or maybe after the death of Joshua, Israel was suddenly floundering and didn’t know what to do.
It may seem like no big deal. Israel made it to the Promised Land! They had defeated enough of their enemies so that they could occupy the land comfortably and, of those enemies who had not been driven out, they were able to enslave many of them. Good deal, right?
Wrong. By failing to do the one thing God had commanded, Israel pretty much ensured their own failure for generations to come. God knew full well how fickle His people were. He knew that without a strong hand of leadership, they were apt to stray from the Law. Temptation was a deep pit made easy to fall into.
Had Israel managed to purge foreign gods from the land, temptation to stray from God would have been purged right along with them. Nothing God commands is just for the sake of doing it. The command to Israel to clear and clean out the land was for their own good. It would have been to their betterment. They could have lived prosperous and victorious. Instead, because they had turned from God, God turned from them and the battles they fought could no longer be won.
I think we can often be like Israel. We settle for good enough and fail to see the evil seep in from places we didn’t properly take control of. When we settle, our guard goes down and temptation sneaks up on us. Before we know it, we’re like Israel, trying to fight a battle we no longer have the ability to win. When God tells us to put aside our evil ways, it’s not because He wants to be mean, it’s because He wants to protect us.
The more we are able to drive worldly temptations from our lives, the better we are to withstand those temptations. But we don’t have to do all the work on our own. If we choose to fight, God will fight with us and for us and, if God is fighting for us, who or what can stand against us?
Daily Bible reading: Judges 1-2, Luke 7:1-30