“Manasseh did not dispossess the House of Shean and its villages, or Tanak and its villages, or those who dwell in Dor and its villages, or those who dwell in Yibleam and its villages, or those who dwell in Megiddo and its villages. In this way, the Canaanites were prepared to remain in that land. And it came to pass that when Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor for they did not disposes them completely. And Ephraim did not disposes the Canaanites who dwelt in Gazer, so the Canaanites were in their midst in Gazer. Zebulon did not disposes those who dwelt in Qitron or those who dwelt in Nahalol. And thus the Canaanites dwelled in their midst but were put to faced labor. Asher did not disposes those who dwelt in Acco or Tsiydon — or of Achlab, Akzib, Chelbah, Aphiyq, and Rechob. Thus the Asherites dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites who dwelt in the land for they did not dispossess them.”
The pattern is clear. The Israelites were commanded to remove the Canaanites from the land. The Israelites were unsuccessful in doing so and thus we see this repeated chorus of Canaanites dwelling in the midst of God’s people. The author of Judges will later on explain to us the reason behind these defeats, but for now we focus on the Israelites’ repeated failure to complete the task that had been set before them.
As I reflect on these words, it strikes me that things haven’t changed very much in our world today. We try and share the Gospel in our communities, but in God’s design, we still remain with Canaanites in our midst. On one level, it is easy to point out that we as a church haven’t always been zealous at the work of taking dominion of our world and thus have fallen short of the task. We have become distracted, focusing on entertainment rather than focusing on than on the task at hand. We have become timid, fearing rejection from our friends and neighbors. We have become interested in popularity, caring that people like us more than caring that people respect us for communicating Truth with love. And we have become selfish, focusing on our wants rather than on the call to be salt and light to the world.
The failures of these Israelite tribes brought grief and hardship into their lives given the very presence of idols and sin in their midst. In the same way, we experience hardships because the the idols that we tolerate in our own land. The answer in our response, though, is not to pull back into our own isolated and sheltered communities — but to engage the world around us with the Truth of God’s word and with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we seek to do so we will indeed meet a great deal of resistance — sin entrenches itself in a community in which it is a part. At the same time, the opposition cannot stand against the might of our God. So why draw back and recoil in fear and worry about pressing the world regarding truth? Who can stand against the might of our God? None.