God had promised the Israelites that He would go before them and drive out the inhabitants of the land (Exodus 33:1-2). The Israelites needed but to trust in Him and fight with His help. Yet, they were warned against failure. God told them, “But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell” (Numbers 33:55).
In the passage before us, the conquest under the leadership of Joshua is over. He is dead. However, there are still pockets of the Canaanites and others throughout the land. The Israelites still must drive them out. God had told them, “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 I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land” (Exodus 23:29-30). They were to finish the job over a period of time.
But something happened. The tribe of Judah conquered several cities, “but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron” (v.19). They tried but failed. Then, instead of seeking God’s face until the victory was won, they gave up. Pretty soon the remainder of the tribes just stopped trying. Judah “could not” but the others “did not.” We read this about Benjamin (v.21), Manasseh (v.27), Ephraim (v.29), Zebulon (v.30), Asher (v.31) and Naphtali (v.33). Even when Israel became strong, they simply collected tribute instead of driving the people out as they had been told (v.28). And, as the remainder of the book of Judges proves, these people did become pricks in their eyes and thorns in their sides.
In a picture, God saves us and brings us into the promised land. Yet, there remain pockets of resistance in our lives. We still have besetting sins, weaknesses of character, bad habits that give way to the world, flesh and devil. God expects us to fight against these enemies and to ever strive to grow in grace. Yet, many believers decide the battle is too difficult. They choose the easy way of compromise. They decide that the pockets of resistance are small and not worth the trouble.
Yet, these areas of our lives continually trouble us. They keep us from a victorious life. God would help us if we would just continue in the fight. But we quit on God. Have you made peace with a besetting sin in your life? Have you given up on the battle? Have you given your flesh a win by default—because you did not even show up? Then repent of your sin of not fighting and return to the battlefront. Give yourself to God afresh. He is still there. He will still give the victory!