And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.
And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of the land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?
Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.
There have been times in the history of the Church of God when it has stood spiritually strong and prosperous; but these times have been rare and short lived. This was true of the generation that entered the land of Canaan with Joshua. It was a generation that was strong, stronger than their fathers who had perished in the wilderness, and stronger than their children that followed them. They were the ones who had grown to maturity during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness under the punishment of the wrath of God. They knew the seriousness of sin. Therefore they were strong. This was the generation that fought the battles of the Lord faithfully against the wicked inhabitants of Canaan; this was the generation that was so quickly roused against the tribes over Jordan when it appeared, even though mistakenly, that they built a strange altar at which to worship; this was the generation that kept itself pure from idol worship even after the death of Joshua. But such strength was unusual and it could not last. Younger generations grew and came to strength which did not know the chastisement of the wilderness, and gradually they departed from the way of the Lord.
After the death of Joshua there still remained much to be done before the land of Canaan would be exclusively the possession of the children of Israel. There were still many pockets of resistance in towns and districts throughout the land. Realizing its calling in this regard, the tribe of Judah called Simeon to join it in a campaign against the Canaanites that still inhabited the borders of their land. The campaign was eminently successful. Some ten thousand of the Canaanites and Perizzites were slain. But then they did a strange thing. They took Adonibezek, the king, captive and after cutting off his thumbs and great toes led him back from the battle as a trophy of war. He served admirably for this purpose, for as he himself said, “Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me.” But this was not the command of God. God never suggested that the enemies of Israel be held captive as trophies of battle, and surely not that their bodies should be mutilated. God had commanded for them immediate death without extended suffering. But here already the children of Israel were tempted to follow the example of the heathen rather than the way of the Lord.
Generally, however, in spite of this error, the tribe of Judah was more than usually faithful to its duty in the land of Canaan. They looked upon the heathen as the wicked nations that they were that had to be cleared from the land of covenant promise. Time and again they sallied forth in campaigns against their heathen neighbors, enlarging the borders of the land that had been given to them. Prominent among these forays were those of Caleb as he even in his old age rose against the giants of Anak that he might have Hebron as was promised. Under leadership such as his the tribe of Judah prospered and grew; but in this they were the exception. Save for a few scattered efforts, it was generally considered more convenient to allow the Canaanites to keep the scattered districts which they still possessed and live along side of them. After all, the people were tired of fighting and it seemed that more could be gained by working on the land they had obtained rather than always pressing on in battle to gain more and more when they did not readily need it.
In fact, as time went on, it began to appear that certain advantages might well be obtained from allowing these nations to remain scattered throughout the land of Israel. These peoples were by now all completely frightened at the power which Israel held in battle. They no longer showed any inclination to cause any trouble; rather they were more than willing to appease the wrath of Israel whenever the occasion called for it. This turned easily to the advantage of the people of Israel. Just to protect their own safety the inhabitants of Canaan were often willing to pay tribute at Israel’s demand and even to serve in the capacity of servants. In many cases formal agreements were made by which the children of Israel promised not to interfere with the life and possessions of the Canaanites if only they would faithfully render to Israel regular tributes. All told it appeared to be a rather profitable arrangement.
In this, however, there was something radically wrong. This was an arrangement quite different, for example, from that which was made by Joshua with the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites came to Israel in awareness and fear for the greatness of Israel’s God, and feeling the uselessness of the idol gods which they had worshipped. They came to Israel quite willing to surrender their own national identity, to be incorporated as servants into the nation of Israel, and to bow in worship before Jehovah the God that Israel worshipped. But this was not true of the rest of the peoples of Canaan. Their leagues with Israel were merely a matter of utility. They felt no fear at all for the God of Israel, and no willingness to bow before him and worship. They merely recognized Israel’s superiority in battle and paid the price of tribute so that they might continue to live in safety in the manner in which they were accustomed, They kept their idol gods; they continued their idolatrous festivities and practices; they continued to worship at their heathen altars. It was so that they could continue to do this that they were willing to pay the price of tribute.
The result of this indiscretion on the part of the children of Israel was far more serious than what they were at first inclined to think. We can just about imagine the excuses that were given. They were tired of fighting. They might far better occupy themselves with improving the land they already had instead of always pressing farther, that is, with doing something positive instead of always fighting. And what harm could possibly come from letting the few Canaanites that remained stay there. If they ever wanted to cause trouble, then Israel would be able to handle them. And as far as the idols and altars were concerned, they couldn’t change the hearts of those people just by taking their images away and that would only irritate them. And the children of Israel should be strong enough to resist any temptation they presented. Israel had learned often enough that the idols of the heathen were useless compared to the power of faith in Jehovah God. How could any Israelite ever be tempted by those childish practices after all that Jehovah had done? And then it paid well to have their tribute.
What the Israelites failed to take into consideration was the weakness of their own flesh. They might well have been strong enough then to stand in battle against any force the heathen could muster, but once years had gone by in which they refused to fight and use the strength that was given to them, they might well find that this strength had left them. Even more, it might well have appeared perfectly foolish to them to think that anyone would ever leave the service of Israel’s mighty God to bow before idols of wood and stone, but regardless of what common sense might dictate, the fact was that the festivities of idolatrous worship were very appealing to the lust of the human flesh, much more appealing than the discipline and worship of Jehovah. They were grossly overestimating their own strength when they thought no Israelite would ever leave the reasonable service of Jehovah just to cater to his fleshly desire. Man in his service of sin can be an utterly foolish creature. It was out of a wisdom that thoroughly understood human nature that God had commanded that idolatry be removed from the land of promise, and it was foolishness for them to use their reasoning to get around it.
Yet it was finally God Himself that had to point out to the children of Israel how seriously they were erring. While Israel was gathered at Bochim, very likely a place by the tabernacle at Shiloh, He sent His angel to speak to them. There the angel of the LORD said, “I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” Suddenly the people realized the seriousness of their error. They had relaxed so long from battle that now it was too late. God would no longer drive out these nations from before them as He would have if they had remained faithful to their original calling and intent upon entering Canaan. Forever these nations would be there to divide and ensnare them. Now they saw it, and there went up from the people a great cry of sorrow. That was why that gathering place was ever after called Bochim.
But the trouble of Israel did not lie just in the fact that God would no longer drive out the heathen from before them; it was also that through the years in which they had preferred ease to fighting Israel’s battles they had lost the courage and strength to resist evil. At Bochim they might well cry out with sorrow because of the judgment that was announced upon them; but when they returned to their homes there was still no one willing to do anything about it. Carnal ease had laid hold upon them and held them ensnared as with chains. Not as much as a gesture was made to force the heathen peoples among them to put away their idols and altars so that Canaan might be free from temptation even if the Canaanites themselves could not be removed. But no, the people mourned the future and went on living in their ease while the temptations of sin grew and came closer. And then it happened. Children of Israel began to join themselves to the heathen peoples and the service of their idols. It didn’t make sense; their own God was far greater and more powerful. But it was natural; sinful man is attracted to sin. It was what God Himself through His angel had said, “Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice; I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: that through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.”