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Judges 2:1-3:6 – The Settlement of Canaan as a Theological Problem


This second introduction seeks to explain the defeats in Judges 1:27-36 as the result of a cyclical pattern: Israel's apostasy (2:11-12), followed by oppression by the enemy (2:13-15), and God's deliverance by means of a "judge" (2:16). The repetition of this pattern will structure the rest of the book.


Again the contrast with Joshua is striking. With Joshua at the helm, "Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua" (Joshua 24:31a). As a result, Israel enjoyed success, victory, and total possession of the land. In Judges, the angel of the Lord informs Israel that their failure to subdue the land of Canaan is due to their failure to obey God's commands, especially in the matter of worshiping Baal, the god of the Canaanites. By means of a flashback, the people are reminded of the faithfulness that characterized Israel as long as Joshua was alive (Judges 2:6-9 // Joshua 24:28-31).

The most important part of the introduction appears in verses 11-19, an intricate presentation of the recurring pattern of apostasy, oppression, and deliverance that will structure much of the following narrative, especially with regard to the major judges: Israel's apostasy in serving the local Baals angers the Lord, who hands them over to domination by their rivals in Canaan (vv. 11-15). Moved by their distress, God would raise up a charismatic leader, a judge/deliverer who would throw off the foreign oppression. Upon the death of these leaders, however, Israel would fall back into apostasy and the cycle would repeat (vv. 18-20).

Why those nations were allowed to remain in the land, contrary to the account in Joshua, becomes clear in 2:20-3:6. They remain to "test" Israel's faithfulness (vv. 1, 4). Unfortunately, Israel intermarried with these indigenous peoples and failed the test. The introduction suggests that the story of Israel recounted in Judges will not be a happy one; rather it will be one marked by decline and failure.

Judges 2:1-3:6

Israel’s Disobedience

2Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, ‘I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you into the land that I had promised to your ancestors. I said, “I will never break my covenant with you. 2For your part, do not make a covenant with the inhabitants of this land; tear down their altars.” But you have not obeyed my command. See what you have done! 3So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries* to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ 4When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the Israelites, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5So they named that place Bochim,* and there they sacrificed to the Lord.

Death of Joshua

When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites all went to their own inheritances to take possession of the land. 7The people worshipped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten years. 9So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

Israel’s Unfaithfulness

11 Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshipped the Baals; 12and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. 13They abandoned the Lord, and worshipped Baal and the Astartes. 14So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. 17Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord; they did not follow their example. 18Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. 19But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshipping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel; and he said, ‘Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their ancestors, and have not obeyed my voice, 21I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died.’ 22In order to test Israel, whether or not they would take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their ancestors did, 23the Lord had left those nations, not driving them out at once, and had not handed them over to Joshua.

Nations Remaining in the Land

3Now these are the nations that the Lord left to test all those in Israel who had no experience of any war in Canaan 2(it was only that successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before): 3the five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 4They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their ancestors by Moses. 5So the Israelites lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; 6and they took their daughters as wives for themselves, and their own daughters they gave to their sons; and they worshipped their gods.

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