“And the people of Israel did the Evil in the eyes of Yahweh. Thus, he gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years.”
As much as this sounds like a soap opera to many of our ears, this is the story not only of ancient Israel but of peoples, nations, and churches throughout the ages — even today. We would think, having been given the Scriptures, that we would learn from the errors of those who have gone before us, but we do not. Even as individuals, we fall repeatedly into patterns of sin rather than pursuing righteousness.
Midian is to the southeast of Israel and lest we forget, the Midianites too descended from Abraham (Genesis 25:2) and it was to Midian that Moses fled when he was fleeing Egypt (Exodus 2:15). Yet, it was the Midianites who allied with the Moabites to destroy Israel as they crossed the wilderness for the Promised Land, first, by hiring Balam to curse them (Numbers 22:4) and then by enticing the men to defile themselves with Moabite and Midianite woman in Baal worship (Numbers 25:1-6). Finally, Israel defeated them in battle (Numbers 31). Thus, while there is a historical connection between these two peoples (Abraham), there is no love lost between them as tribes and nations.
More sadly, because of the sin of God’s people, those they had once conquered now become the conquerors. Such is the importance of knowing your past and being rooted firmly on the Rock of Jesus Christ. It should stand as a reminder to us today of the importance of remaining ever vigilant against those who would usurp the freedom of God’s people.
Yet, society today seems to have neglected it’s past and forsaken its foundation in Christ. The Christian church still faces challenges to orthodoxy from within as false teachers and cults try and seduce those who do not understand what the scriptures teach about the character of the Triune God. Many protestants are turning their back on hundreds of years of sacrifice for the Truth and are returning to Rome as well. The Muslim hordes who were stopped first at the Battle of Tours and then outside the walls of Vienna. And as a result of us forgetting the wondrous things that our God has done, like the ancient Israelites, our society and culture is being dominated by liberalism, idolatry, atheism, Islam, and cultism in numerous shapes and sizes — and such is being found even in the church.
“Naphtali did not dispossess those who dwell in the House of Shemesh or those who dwelt in the house of Anath; and they dwelled in the midst of the Canaanites who dwelt in the land. Thus, the House of Shemesh and the House of Anath became forced labor for them. And the Emorites tormented the sons of Dan in the mountainous region, thus they did not give them the ability to come down to the lower plains. And the Emorites were prepared to dwell in the mountains of Cheres, in Ayyalon, and in Sha’albiym, but the hand of the house of Joseph was glorious and they became forced labor. And the border of the Emorites was from ascents of Aqrabiym to the cliffs and above.”
We draw the introductory history to a close…again, this is designed to overlap the end of the book of Joshua and to prepare us for the context of the book of Judges that follows. Chapter 2 will shift from looking backwards to looking forwards and in many ways will summarize Judges as a whole. But for now, we must content ourselves with once again reflecting on the consequences of a partial victory. Indeed, there are benefits that can be gained through the forced labor of the pagan peoples, but largely the presence of the idolatry of the pagans has a devastating effect on the people.
But let us pose the question, what if the people were not inclined to stumble at the paganism of the Canaanites. Instead, what if the evangelistic fervor of the people were such that it was the Canaanites that were converting to Judaism? What a different conversation we might be having. Interestingly, while I am not an advocate of slavery in any form and the American manifestation of slavery that took place several centuries ago is not anything that could be described as good, may I at least offer that many Africans, who had grown up in an Animistic religion, were converted to Christianity. We don’t typically think of forced labor and slavery as being redemptive in any way, but shall we not celebrate the thousands of souls that were saved because of this horrible practice? Might we say with Joseph, that “While you intended it for evil, God intended it for good”?
Surely some of these Canaanites that were put to forced labor converted, but mostly the Canaanite practice influenced the Israelites to fall into sin. How about those influences in your life? Are your non-Christian friends influencing you or are you influencing them? At the end of the day, are they more like you or the other way around? A vital and healthy faith ought to influence others without being influenced by the unbelief of others. Though, much like ancient Israel, that doesn’t much happen in our churches. Were that it would. May we strive for it to be so.