The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 53: The Earlier Judges
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After the settlement in Canaan the tribes made no vigorous
effort to complete the conquest of the land. Satisfied with
the territory already gained, their zeal soon flagged, and the war
was discontinued. "When Israel was strong, . . . they put the
Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out."
The Lord had faithfully fulfilled, on His part, the promises
made to Israel; Joshua had broken the power of the Canaanites,
and had distributed the land to the tribes. It only remained for
them, trusting in the assurance of divine aid, to complete the
work of dispossessing the inhabitants of the land. But this they
failed to do. By entering into league with the Canaanites they
directly transgressed the command of God, and thus failed to
fulfill the condition on which He had promised to place them in
possession of Canaan.
From the very first communication of God with them at
Sinai, they had been warned against idolatry. Immediately after
the proclamation of the law the message was sent them by Moses
concerning the nations of Canaan: "Thou shalt not bow down
to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou
shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.
And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and He shall bless thy
bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the
midst of thee." Exodus 23:24, 25. The assurance was given that
so long as they remained obedient, God would subdue their enemies
before them: "I will send My fear before thee, and will destroy
all the people to whom thou shalt come; and I will make
all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send
hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite,
and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them
out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate,
and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little [p. 544] I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased,
and inherit the land. . . . I will deliver the inhabitants of the
land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.
Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.
They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make the sin against
Me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto
thee." Exodus 23:27-33. These directions were reiterated in the
most solemn manner by Moses before his death, and they were
repeated by Joshua.
God had placed His people in Canaan as a mighty breastwork
to stay the tide of moral evil, that it might not flood the world.
If faithful to Him, God intended that Israel should go on conquering
and to conquer. He would give into their hands nations
greater and more powerful than the Canaanites. The promise
was: "If ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which
I command you, . . . then will the Lord drive out all these
nations from before you, and ye shall possess greater nations and
mightier than yourselves. Every place whereon the soles of your
feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon,
from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea
shall your coast be. There shall no man be able to stand before
you: for the Lord your God shall lay the fear of you and the
dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as He
hath said unto you." Deuteronomy 11:22-25.
But regardless of their high destiny, they chose the course of
ease and self-indulgence; they let slip their opportunities for
completing the conquest of the land; and for many generations
they were afflicted by the remnant of these idolatrous peoples,
that were, as the prophet had foretold, as "pricks" in their eyes,
and as "thorns" in their sides. Numbers 33:55.
The Israelites were "mingled among the heathen, and learned
their works." Psalm 106:35. They intermarried with the Canaanites,
and idolatry spread like a plague throughout the land. "They
served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they
sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils: . . . and the
land was polluted with blood. . . . Therefore was the wrath of
the Lord kindled against His people, insomuch that He abhorred
His own inheritance." Psalm 106:36-40.
Until the generation that had received instruction from Joshua
became extinct, idolatry made little headway; but the parents [p. 545] had prepared the way for the apostasy of their children. The
disregard of the Lord's restrictions on the part of those who came
in possession of Canaan sowed seed of evil that continued to
bring forth bitter fruit for many generations. The simple habits
of the Hebrews had secured them physical health; but association
with the heathen led to the indulgence of appetite and passion,
which gradually lessened physical strength and enfeebled the
mental and moral powers. By their sins the Israelites were separated
from God; His strength was removed from them, and they
could no longer prevail against their enemies. Thus they were
brought into subjection to the very nations that through God
they might have subdued.
"They forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought
them out of the land of Egypt," "and guided them in the wilderness
like a flock." "They provoked Him to anger with their high
places, and moved Him to jealousy with their graven images."
Therefore the Lord "forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent
which He placed among them; and delivered His strength into
captivity, and His glory into the enemy's hand." Judges 2:12;
Psalm 78:52, 58, 60, 61. Yet He did not utterly forsake His people.
There was ever a remnant who were true to Jehovah; and from
time to time the Lord raised up faithful and valiant men to put
down idolatry and to deliver the Israelites from their enemies.
But when the deliverer was dead, and the people were released
from his authority, they would gradually return to their idols.
And thus the story of backsliding and chastisement, of confession
and deliverance, was repeated again and again.
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