“And it came to pass, that after the death of Joshua, that the sons of Israel asked of Yahweh, saying, ‘Who will go up for us toward the Canaanites, to begin to fight with them?’ And Yahweh said, ‘Judah will go up; behold, I give the land into his hand.’”
As we find ourselves beginning the book of Judges, note where it starts. Sometimes people are a little taken back at the reference here in verse one that these things take place “after the death” of Joshua and then we find the account of Joshua’s death in chapter 2. Yet, if we recognize that the role of the first two chapters of Judges is really more introductory than anything else — chapters that set the stage for what will follow, then we shouldn’t be too surprised at the way the narrative begins. Further, as the role of the book of Judges is to pick up after the end of Joshua’s ministry, it seems appropriate to set the stage for the failures of God’s people to subdue the land and then to go back and to record the actual death of Joshua and the forgetfulness of the people.
While the book of judges ought to grieve us due to the failures of the people to be faithful and to subdue the land, it should neither surprise us nor should it place us in a context where we can condemn. The reality is that the error of the people is nothing new. Adam and Eve fell into sin and thus failed to take dominion of the land. And even today, because of our sin, Christians do not faithfully exercise Biblical dominion over our communities — dominion exercised through the Great Commission. Many Calvinistic and Wesleyan churches alike have fallen into a form of practical-hypercalvinism, no matter what their official doctrines may say, for they sit back comfortable in their pews and never actively evangelize their neighbors, their co-workers, or even their family members — assuming that if God wants them saved, God will bring them to church. While indeed, God can bring folks to church, God ordinarily chooses to use his people as the tool by which he leads his elect from error to truth.
And much like the sons of Israel, we too need one to “go up” for us. The phrase, “go up for us,” when used in this context carries with it Messianic significance. There is an understanding that we are entirely unable to go up on our own — we need a representative. Ultimately, our Messiah will come in the person of Jesus, the second-member of the Godhead. Yet, for now, God sends the tribe of Judah — the tribe from which the Messiah will come — to lead the people into conquest. God has promised the land into his hand. And thus, the stage is set for the continued conquest of the land — one that will begin well, but that will have disastrous outcomes due to the faithlessness of the people. Yet, for now, the author of the book is giving us a birds eye view of the next stage of the conquest…though in many ways, the book of Judges is an account of the Canaanite culture’s conquest over the sons of Israel.
Though we are separated from these events by several thousand years, we are just as much in danger of the sin of these people — the sin of forgetting the things that God has done and falling into the pagan practices of the world around us. The book can be a disturbing book to read, but it carries with it an essential message for this generation to hear. May we all hear and take heed to the words of this book.