“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.
“Manasseh did not drive out the House of Shean and its villages, or Taanak and its villages, or those who dwell in Dor and its villages or those who dwell in Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the intention of the Canaanites was to dwell in that land. When it came to pass that Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor but they did not disposes them entirely.”
And now one after the other, we find regions that did not entirely fall to the Israelites. The phrase that we find repeatedly, such and such a city “and its villages” literally reads, “and its daughters.” This is a figure of speech that reminds us that in the ancient times you would find that once a city was established, smaller villages would spring up around the main city. This provided both trade and protection for those living outside of the city walls — thus these villages could almost be seen as daughters of the main city.
Two things strike me as interesting as we enter into this string of partial victories. The first is that we often take for granted that the Canaanites would just be pushed out of the land. Yet these tribes and villages had been there for generations…many of them even before Abraham arrived in that region. As a result, they intended to fight for their land. God had given Israel the land, indeed, but they would need to take it from those who dwelt there and they would have to take it by force.
The second thing that strikes me about this passage is that the author points forward to the time when Israel would be established in the land and they would put these Canaanites to forced labor. Not only were the Canaanites unwilling to leave as the Israelites moved in their direction, the Canaanites were unwilling to leave even if it meant becoming slaves in the land that they still considered their own.
Somewhere we need to make the decision as to where the line is drawn when it comes to the land. In our more modern day, we celebrate the Pilgrims who traveled to America for religious freedom. Yet, the fact that they came here means that they left behind their land in the Old World to find new land here. For many of these Pilgrims, their faith meant not only were they persecuted in England, but had they stayed, they would have in essence become a servant to those around them (at least in religious matters). For many of them, that meant leaving for the hardships of the new world was the only reasonable option.
Here in modern America, though, I wonder sometimes whether there will come a time when we will have to make that decision ourselves. As America grows increasingly liberal and paganistic, to we remain and continue to be salt and light or do we immigrate to a place, perhaps like Africa, where we will be able to worship more freely? My prayer is that we don’t come to the point where we will have to make such a decision, the question we must ask ourselves, though, is when such a decision needs to be made and at what point do we act upon it. Again, let us pray that this is not a decision we will be forced to make.