TODAY’S READING: Judges 1–2
When Joshua led the people of Israel into Canaan, they were outclassed. Canaanite towns had public drainage systems and houses with paved floors. Canaanite culture was sophisticated with fancy pottery, detailed art, and exquisite jewelry. Archeology shows Israelite towns to be simple: comprised of houses with uncut stones and no mortar. As the time of the judges opened, “the Israelites were poor, oppressed, and threatened by the superior cultures of their new neighbors; they were barely clinging to existence.” The Israelites, a loose confederation of independent tribes, entered Canaan in force during a time when the power of that day’s superpowers (i.e., Egypt and Assyria) were at ebb tide. Two things kept that confederation together: worship and war.
In worship, the Israelites gathered around the ark, usually at Gilgal or Shiloh. In war, when there was an existential threat, a warlord rose to call the tribes together to fight. The threat of extinction had to be strong enough, and the warlord charismatic enough to forge unity. For the book of Judges is not so much about leaders that were judges (essentially, they were warlords who then tried their hand at administration only to fail), but about the Lord judging Israel when they wandered away from His mission. Chris Wright says, “Judges 2 describes the pattern set in the early generations after the settlement of the tribes of Israel in the land of Canaan. Time and again YHWH brought other nations as the tools of his anger against Israel’s rebellion and apostasy.” A missionary God and a missionary Bible insist on the nations of the world as central to the story. If Israel would not glorify God among the nations, then God would use the nations to remind His own people of His glory and nature.
Paul York comments on the up and down obedience of God’s people as regards God’s mission: “The people were first obedient then disobedient. During the good years, Israel showed the world that it was desirable to live inside of the covenant relationship with God. During the bad years, God’s judgements on Israel taught the ungodly nations that life outside of God’s protection was not worth living.” Judges 1 recounts the effect of not glorifying God among the nations. By not completely driving out the nations, Israel then became bound by them. We either win the nations or they win us. Our mission is to invite the nations to join Jehovah, and the blessings that result from our obedience are the most convincing invitation. We are not to leave Jehovah to join the nations—that blesses no one.
The Angel of the Lord (Judg. 2:1) appeared and reminded the wayward people of God what the main plot of the story was: God came down to save them out of the nations to keep His promise to Abraham and the fathers—I will be your God, you will be my holy people, and I will live among you and bless you to bless all nations. When this path is lost and when we realize it, we should join our fathers and weep (v. 4), for the unavoidable result is that the hand of the Lord will be against us for calamity wherever we go, whatever we do (v. 15). When we do cry and groan (v. 18), the Lord raises up warriors to get us back on track (v. 16). Those warriors remind us that it’s about God’s glory among the nations, and they lead us back to the covenant—the command to our fathers to bless the nations (v. 20). When God tests us, it centers around His covenant and the nations (vv. 22–23). We cannot escape the biblical reiteration of God being a missionary God and God’s people being a missionary people and missions being centered on all nations of earth glorifying Jehovah.
In our declining churches, we long for revival. We see that we have lost the faith and fervor of our fathers. The way back to the favor of the Lord for us is the same as it was for the people of God in the time of the book of Judges—a rededication to the glory of God being manifested and demonstrated among the nations of the world. Either we go to war for the glory of Jesus among unreached peoples or He uses those people to judge us.
 The Chronological Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. 257.
Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. 459.
 Paul York. A Biblical Theology of Missions. Springfield, MO: Africa’s Hope, 2008. 63.