In the history of God’s people there have been innumerable ups and downs in terms of faithfulness and sin. Perhaps nowhere is this made clearer or more explicit than in the book of Judges. Following immediately on the heels of the initial faithfulness that allowed the conquest of the land by Joshua and the first generation of Jews who entered the land is the dreadful compromise, sin and idolatry the characterizes the following generations. It’s this turn around that leads to the famous cycles of slavery and deliverance that we find all throughout the narratives of the judges.
How could things change so quickly and so drastically? First, the initial generation rested too soon and second, they failed to teach the next generation who God was and what he had done for them (Judges 2:10).
When Joshua and first generation entered the land, they experienced initial success. They conquered cities, they defeated giants, the tribes moved into their allotted portions of the land, but they pulled up before the finish line. It started with small compromises (allowing some Canaanites to remain in the land and live with them) which lead to greater failure (eventually the tables turn and it is the Israelites who are said to be living among the Canaanites), which eventually led to complete defeat (some tribes like Dan being completely driven from the land of their inheritance).
Not only that, but for all their obedience in the initial conquest, they completely dropped the ball in terms of their responsibility to teach their children the ways and character of God (Deut. 6:4-9, 20-25), “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10). Because of these failures, Israel would spend centuries whoring after the gods of the Canaanites and suffering the horrible consequences.
If God knew the consequences that would result from the Canaanites not being fully driven out of the land (which he most assuredly did), why did he allow it to happen in the first place? The author of Judges anticipates this objection and answers it straight away, “It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (Judges 3:2).
The people needed to learn that there even was a war going on, but they also needed to learn how to fight.
God was not teaching them the Art of War Sun Tzu style. God is not so much concerned with tactics and maneuvers (although godly wisdom will teach us these things). His primary concern is faithfulness and obedience. These are the weapons by which God’s armies win battles. God grants victory to armies that march around a city seven times and blow trumpets. God grants victory to the army of thousands that whittles itself down to 300. God grants victory to the leader who holds his arms up in the air while the battle rages on. However, true faithfulness and obedience can only come from a knowledge of who God is and what he has done, which is recorded for us in his law-word.
All of this is no less true or important for Christians today. The secular humanism that we wage war against is nothing more than a “sophisticated” Baalism. They both believe in the ultimacy of nature, that there is no creator to whom man is responsible and that man can save himself through manipulating and mastering nature. It hasn’t even bothered to get rid of the child sacrifice!
Our number one responsibility as Christians is to teach the next generation God’s law and how to apply it in every area of life. By doing so we are teaching them war. We are teaching them how to live faithfully in the face of God’s enemies and how to defeat them through prayer and obedience and sacrifice.
And just like those in the days of the judges we will fail. We will stumble. We will turn aside from God. But even when we are faithless, God is faithful. He has sent his Son, the true Judge, Deliverer and Saviour. He has struck the definitive blow to our enemy but has graciously allowed us to enter into the “mopping up” operation. Don't bemoan the fact that we are surrounded by enemies. He could have easily removed every foe from us at the cross, and there will come a day when he will, but in the meantime his desire for us is that we learn war.