Biblical patterns not only repeat themselves throughout the Bible in the history of the nation of Israel, but have been frequently found to exist throughout all of human history as well. Like a great many spiritual movements and organizations through the whole of church history, Israel began right and was OK for awhile, but ultimately failed to achieve what it set out to accomplish. Why is that sometimes God’s people fail? What lessons can we learn and apply which might allow us to prevent repeating the same mistakes as past generations or efforts?
Read Chapter 1
Q: How would you describe the first main failure of God’s people?
A: They failed to conquer the land.
Q: What is the main difference between the events described in v.1-18 from those in v.19-36?
A: The first half records the early victories of Judah and Simeon while the second half is mainly focused on the repeated defeats of the rest of Israel. With the exception of Joseph taking Bethel, in v.22, the rest of the tribes were unable to drive out the enemy.
Q: How do these events relate to the way the book of Joshua ended?
A: In chapters 23-24, the last chapters in Joshua, Israel is warned of the consequences of not fully driving out the whole enemy.
“Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them. But you are to cling to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day...“For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.
— Joshua 23:6-8; 12-13
Point: The issue wasn’t limited to executing God’s wrath of judgment on those who steadfastly refused Him for other gods, but had far more to do about removing spiritual influences who were dedicated to seducing God’s people away from the One True God.
Q: Whereas it started out with a series of victories, how would you characterize the way things concluded?
A: With a series of compromises. They allowed those they couldn’t drive out to settle down with them and in some cases rationalized their failures by making slaves of the people they were supposed to remove.
Point: One of the mistakes believers make is the false notion that they can control or inhibit the bad spiritual influences which aren’t supposed to be allowed in the first place. If you can’t overcome the enemy, you won’t be able to ultimately control or limit them either.
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
— 2 Corinthians 6:14
Application: How might these lessons have replayed themselves in the history of the church in the Western world? What happens when, in the name of religious tolerance, spiritual influences dedicated to seducing us from Christ are allowed to grow side-by-side with our Christianity?
Q: Why did they name the place the Angel of the Lord appeared to them “Bochim”?
A: “Bochim” means “weeping”, as in their realization of what the consequences of their sin was bringing upon them. They did not weep because they were repentant, but because they were “caught” in sin.
Q: How does this contrast to v.1 where it says “the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim”?
A: Gilgal had been a place of great victory for Israel, and literally meant “a wheel rolling”. To go from “a wheel rolling” unto victory to a place of “weeping” due to defeat was a very powerful illustration of what was happening both literally and spiritually.
Point: Gilgal, the center of Israel’s military operations under Joshua had been forsaken as they attempted to continue the work from a new and weakened position in Bochim. Their tactical decisions reflect their eroding and changing commitment to God’s Word and ways. Just as they moved away from Joshua and the original generation spiritually, so they also moved away physically. One reflected the other.
Q: What is the primary cause cited for their defeat?
A: “But you have not obeyed Me”. (v.2)
Point: Their second reason for failure is they failed to consider the Law.
Q: What was the basis on which God had previously promised victory?
A: It was a conditional promise predicated on obedience and honor for God’s Word.
“Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
— Joshua 1:7-8
Q: Was this the first time God’s people were hearing that they were supposed to remain separate from the other nations?
A: No, this is what Deuteronomy 7 is dedicated to.
Q: So what is the chief problem experienced by the “next” generation which was not experienced by the previous one?
A: The latest generation “did not know the Lord” – in other words, did not put His Word into practice.
Q: What might this imply? Where might the issue of unfaithfulness have begun where the new generation is concerned?
A: The implication is that the older generation did not fully obey Deuteronomy 6, God’s instructions to teach their children the Law. The problem of disobedience to God’s Law may have begun in the “younger” generation because the “older” generation did not fully train them up in the way they should go.
Application: How might these events be playing out again in the church today? How has consideration for God’s Word eroded between recent generations? What is the inevitable result of failing to keep God’s Word?
Q: First they failed to drive the enemy completely out of the land, then they compromised obedience to God’s Word. To what did this inevitably lead?
A: To utterly forsaking God and pursuing other, false gods.
Q: How would you characterize the people’s third failure?
A: They failed to cleave to the Lord.
Point: The worship of Baal and Ashtaroth (male and female Canaanite deities) will plague Israel for the rest of its history leading up to being taken into captivity in Babylon. Once it was allowed entrance into their lives, it was extremely difficult to permanently exterminate.
Q: So when exactly did the Lord forsake His people?
A: When they finally and utterly forsook Him. The process of falling away began with tolerating the enemy and was exacerbated by disobedience to His Word. Ultimately it led to complete unfaithfulness.
Q: What was the God’s original intention in giving His people the Promised Land?
A: It was supposed to be the place where they enjoyed God’s “rest”.
Q: What is the irony of how it turned out due to their unfaithfulness?
A: They would spend periods of the next several hundred years in slavery, and periods of temporary freedom under various judges. The only “rest” they got were occasional periods of rest from the Lord.
Point: There is a stark difference between one’s faith being honed to spiritual perfection through tests and trials versus punishment for willful, sinful behavior and rejection of God’s Word and ways.
Q: When does it appear that God’s people returned to Him?
A: Only when judgment became so severe that they finally cried out to Him.
Q: Why do you suppose permanent rest eluded God’s people?
A: Because they only turned to the Lord in times of trouble and, once each particular judge was gone, fell back into sin again; the Lord was only really with the judges individually instead of the people collectively.
Application: How might this apply to spiritual movements or organizations which have appeared to have started out effectively but ultimately failed?
Q: What greater, repeated spiritual principle can be articulated by the fact that God ultimately allowed the nations to remain?
A: As seen throughout all of history, judgment always begins with God’s house first. He does not proceed to Final Judgment against non-believers until He’s first and fully dealt with those claiming to be His own.
Q: What is the specific sin of believers defined by God in v.20?
A: They “transgressed My covenant…and has not listened to My voice”. The “covenant” comprises the specific requirements of a right relationship with God entered into voluntarily and willfully to begin with, knowing up front all the requirements of God’s Word to maintain that right relationship. This isn’t occasionally backsliding or accidentally sinning, it’s purposely breaking the promise and commitment believers made to begin with.
These are all failures witnessed in professing Christians today. At times, instead of overcoming the enemy we instead compromise and allow the enemy to drag us down. There are times when we deliberately disobey God’s Word as well as many times when we fail to love Him and cleave to Him alone by faith. When this happens, God must chasten us and the sole remedy is for us to wholly repent and return to Him. Without true and sincere repentance where we permanently become faithful to Him alone, we find ourselves in a cycle of discipline from which we find no permanent rest except during our short bouts of temporarily returning to His Word and ways. The only permanent fix is exclusively clinging to Him alone, forsaking all others.