What does Judges chapter 2 mean?The first verses of Judges chapter 2 are best understood as an extension from chapter 1. Israel failed, tribe by tribe, to drive the Canaanites from the land as God had commanded them. This seems to have been from some combination of indifference or fear. In response, God appears to the people at a place later named Bochim for its association with "weeping." References to "the angel of the Lord" suggest a physical presence of God—likely God the Son before His incarnation in Jesus Christ. This angel speaks to the people, as the Lord, using first-person terminology. He reminds them that He brought Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. He kept His word to them and promised never to break His covenant with them so long as they did not break theirs. Despite promises made to Joshua (Joshua 24:23–24), the Israelites did break the covenant with the Lord. They imitated and accepted the depraved people of Canaan. They left pagan altars intact. They did not obey the voice of their God (Judges 2:1–2).
As a response, God announces that He will not drive out the Canaanite people. By the end of the chapter, it will become clear that this happens in two ways: the people will be tempted and troubled by the Canaanites living in their territories, and they will be attacked and plundered by the territories they have not yet captured. The people the Israelites have allowed to stay in the land, and their false gods, will cause trouble and temptation for Israel. In response to God's rebuke, the people of Israel weep loudly and offer sacrifices to God. As the following verses show, this sorrow is short-lived and ultimately meaningless (Judges 2:3–5).
Starting in verse 6, the writer of Judges seems to re-introduce the storyline. He provides a key to understanding what will follow in the later chapters: the pattern repeated time and again between God and the people of Israel. To do this, the writer goes back to Joshua, who was faithful to the Lord. This information effectively repeats the content of Joshua 24:28–31. Joshua's leadership not only produced great victories in Canaan, but it also kept the people in faithful obedience to God. When Joshua and his peers died out, however, the following generations did not acknowledge the Lord or the miracles He had done for Israel (Judges 2:6–10).
Instead of following the Lord and keeping the covenant, the new generation of Israelites abandoned Him. As God predicted (Deuteronomy 20:16–18), the people began to worship the false gods of the people of Canaan. They honored idols such as Baal and Ashtaroth—Canaanite fertility gods—and performed all the degrading acts associated with those religions. This would have included things like temple prostitution and even human sacrifice (Judges 2:11–13).
God, provoked to great anger, would then use Israel's enemies as punishment. Unconquered enemy groups (Judges 3:1–4) would raid and enslave Israel, until the people were in great distress. Then the Lord would raise a deliverer, named using a Hebrew word loosely translated as "judge." These leaders combined spiritual, civic, and military efforts, specially empowered by God, to save Israel from the nations who afflicting her. The Lord would continue to guide His people through that human judge until the judge died (Judges 2:15–18).
Sadly, once each judge died, the pattern would begin again. The Israelites would go back to worshiping other gods. In fact, with every cycle, their sin became even worse than before. Once again, God's anger would burn. Once again, Israel's enemies would conquer her. The people would suffer. Another new judge would come and save the people, a peace lasting only until the judge's death. In response to their persistent sin, God stops enabling Israel's conquest of more territory in the Promised Land. He also leaves them to the consequences of allowing the Canaanites to persist in the land. He will continue to use those enemies to demonstrate whether Israel will turn and obey in response to suffering (Judges 2:19–23).
Chapter 3 begins with a brief explanation of the two main groups which will antagonize Israel during the era of the judges. Attacks, enslavement, and oppression come from the unconquered nations surrounding Israel (Judges 3:1–4). Temptation and idolatry come from the people living among Israel in the captured territories (Judges 3:5–6).