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When Restraint Is Taken Away
The halfhearted efforts of the Israelite tribes in dealing with the inhabitants of Canaan as God had instructed resulted in God's refusal to drive out the remaining Canaanites. Instead, those Canaanites would be a continual source of misery and frustration for Israel. Yet when God told Israel that He would not drive out what Israel was only too willing to live with, all Israel could do was weep and sacrifice. They were unable to bring themselves to repentance. They were unable to rise up with one voice, confess their sin, and rededicate themselves to the prompt fulfilling of God's command if He would grant them forgiveness.
This lamentable condition was the result of missing components in Israel's character and government—components that are vital to any enterprise. The first component is strong, fearless, visionary leadership. Without leaders who are willing to lead, willing to set forth a vision and fearless in its pursuit, the people involved in the enterprise will limp along, wandering from pillar to post, never accomplishing any great thing. For Israel, the generation that went in to the Land of Promise under Joshua was a generation that had such leaders. Men like Joshua and Caleb, and the elders of Israel, though making occasional mistakes, were not afraid to lead. The vision was clearly laid out for them and they pursued it fearlessly, despite occasional errors.
But after Joshua and his generation died, the leaders who filled their offices were not cut from the same cloth. These men, and the people they led, "did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10). Now certainly they did know about God. They had been keeping His feasts, observing His Sabbaths, sacrificing at His tabernacle, and certainly they had heard the stories of the Exodus under Moses and the conquest begun under Joshua. These men, however, did not "know" the Lord nor His works in the sense of having personally experienced them.
These are the second and third necessary components to right character—a personal knowing of God and a sharp remembrance of His works. The second generation knew of God, but they did not personally know God; they had become lax in their spiritual condition. They knew of the Exodus, but they did not lay to heart the lessons of it. They knew of the conquest, but they had largely grown up during one of those tranquil periods in which God intended that Israel dwell in the land already conquered and build their strength for the next period of conquest.
A personal knowing of God, a remembrance of His works and strong, visionary and fearless leadership act as internal and external restraints on the carnal nature's desire to let down, compromise and just make do. When any one of those three elements is missing, the people are loosed of restraint and end up living comfortably with sin. Israel's second generation lacked those qualities, and as a result they did not pursue their God-given inheritance with vigor, but preferred to make do with what they had, to compromise and live with a certain amount of sin.
By not studying the Old Testament, people can slip into the same errors without realizing their predicament. Indeed, ancient Israel is supposed to be an example for us (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-9). As Christians we cannot afford to make the same mistakes. Each of us must come to personally know God, to have real and daily experience of Him. Each of us must develop a sharp memory for what God has done for Israel, for the Church and for us in our private lives. Leaders must lead. Do not be timid or fearful. A light yoke is laid upon each of us, therefore let us all work the harder that we may partake of a very bountiful harvest.