Joshua, Judges and Spiritual Warfare

It’s really quite a sad story, especially after so many miraculous victories under the command of Joshua. By the end of his life, they had conquered most of the Promised Land and had begun settling in quite nicely. Just before he died, Joshua basically told them that there was no reason this could not continue … if only they’d be faithful to the Lord.  He clearly warned them:

“If you forsake Yahweh, and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you evil, and consume you, after he has done you (so much) good.” The people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve Yahweh.” (So) Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen Yahweh yourselves, to serve him.” They said, “We are witnesses.”[1]

After Joshua died, the people did well for awhile. For example: “Judah went up; and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands; and they overcame ten thousand of them in Bezek. And they came across Adoni-zedek, and made war on him; and they overcame the Canaanites and the Perizzites.”[2]

But soon things began to change, slowly at first. As the armies of God’s people continued their conquest of the land, they failed (or refused) to expel all of the foreign, enemy inhabitants. God was still with them and still gave them victory, but “they captured the hill country, but did not expel the inhabitants of the valley because they were equipped with iron chariots.”[3]

And “the descendants of Benjamin did not expel the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem … (and the) army of the tribe of Manasseh did not conquer Beth-shean and its villages.”[4] Eventually, when “Israel had grown strong, they subjected the Canaanites to conscripted labor and never did expel them completely.”[5]

No wonder, then, that their failure to completely obey God eventually led to disaster. Compromise led to compromise until eventually “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers … and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were (still) all around them…”[6]

And so God “delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said… And they were greatly distressed.”[7]

The Book of the Judges, then, is a tragic chronicle of sin, rebellion, punishment and calamity followed by repentance, mercy and restoration … over and over again. “Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods.”[8]

Failure to completely obey, followed by direct disobedience, and playing “the harlot with other gods” always had a three-fold consequence. The people were either: 1) Executed … slaughtered, or 2) enslaved by their enemies, or at the very least 3) so oppressed that they were made to live in virtual desolation. In each episode, they would eventually turn back to God, but…

There are (at least) two points to note here, one more important than the other: 1) the children of Israel stopped and/or failed to physically fight their physical enemies, and completely eradicate them, but of more fundamental significance, 2) the children of Israel forgot God, turned away from the Lord, which is the same as to say they stopped and/or failed to spiritually fight their spiritual enemies in the much more important spiritual warfare.

Let’s be clear about this: The people first failed to completely obey God. This led to direct disobedience, and this led to playing “the harlot with other gods,” bowing down and worshipping them. The consequence of all this was either their slaughter (by their enemies), or their enslavement, or harsh oppression and desolation.

Before we stand back in shock and amazement that this could happen, that this pattern would repeat itself over and over again, perhaps we should realize that this same sort of repetition occurs among the people of God to this very day. At least I can look back over my own life and see this sad pattern being repeated again and again.

Can you? Most specifically in our spiritual warfare because, remember, the Apostle St. Paul tells us clearly, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”[9] In this, the story of the Judges has a lot to teach us.

Can you see the pattern here? God blesses and blesses us, answers prayer, gives us victory after victory, but then it happens. First, almost innocently it seems, we simply fail to obey God completely. This, however, eventually leads to direct disobedience, even while we may still profess to be Christian, but then we inevitably begin bending the knee and bowing the head to other “gods,” in whatever shape or form they may take these days in our culture.

What happens then? Well, of course, the pattern repeats itself and we experience a kind of spiritual “death,” we become enslaved to our enemies (or enemy, the Adversary), and end up merely existing in a kind of spiritual desolation. We may then repent (hopefully), and God then liberates us, giving us victory over our enemies once again … only for us to repeat the same pattern again, eh?

And it all begins with incomplete obedience or, perhaps more specifically where our spiritual warfare is concerned, failure to completely eradicate the enemy, choosing instead to allow those foreign adversaries to live and coexist with us. Eventually, though, mere coexistence is impossible. We begin to integrate and compromise with “the rulers … authorities … cosmic powers (of) darkness, (and) spiritual forces of evil.” And so follows the inevitable consequences.

It’s actually amazing that, as Christians, we so often wonder why we experience spiritual calamities and disasters (which often manifest themselves mentally and physically), and live in anguish and despair without even considering the possibility that we might have brought it all on ourselves! Especially when we have such a clear record of this happening among the people of God, not only in the Book of the Judges, but throughout Holy Scripture!

No! Instead let us “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil[10]… (and) pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which we were called and for which we made good confession…”[11]

As we remember the story of Joshua, the Judges and the children of Israel, especially in the context of our war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” let us keep in mind (and heart) that we do not have to repeat the same tragically sad pattern. No, instead we have the promise that we can be “more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.”[12] In fact, let us determine that we will not repeat this same tragically sad pattern! Amen.

[1] Joshua 24. 20-22 (WEB, World English Bible)

[2] Judges 1. 4-5 (BBE, 1965 Bible in Basic English)

[3] Judges 1. 19 (ISV)

[4] Cf. Judges 1. 21, 27

[5] Judges 1. 28 (ISV)

[6] From The Story (NKJV), 109

[7] Ibid 110

[8] Ibid 110

[9] Ephesians 6. 12 (ESV)

[10] Ephesians 6. 10-11 (NRSV)

[11] I Timothy 6. 11b-12 (NRSV)

[12] Cf. Romans 8. 37


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