Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
Joshua, Israel’s leader and Moses’ successor, has died, and one obvious lesson that Joshua had forsaken of Moses was in training a mentor to follow his footsteps. Moses led Joshua right into his place after he departed, but Joshua neglected this vital aspect of leadership. Andy Stanley notes that in leadership “success is succession”; we must equip the next generation. Joshua had not done this. This negligence left Israel in sinful disobedience; with no leader and vision, they quickly reverted to selfish indulgence and cultural acceptance (an action God strictly forbade). The nations were now God’s tool to test Israel.
God used even Israel’s enemies as part of His sovereign plan to test Israel. Why was God testing Israel? Verse 2b notes that it was broadly God’s purpose to teach Israel. Teaching is best learned through experience. C.S. Lewis states, “Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.” Although Israel may have been blind to God’s sovereign plan and response to their disobedience, it is recorded as a blessing from God. The Lord took the sinfulness of man and the wickedness of Israel’s enemies to create a learning opportunity, and in turn, create steps towards growth. In order to grow, the Jews had to learn how to depend on God. Challenges are constructed to confirm.
Now as to God’s main aim in testing Israel: verse 4 declares that is was to “know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD”. It is at our breaking point, a period of strenuous tension and testing, where our obedience is most greatly tested and revealed. It is more importantly found that our disobedience is a direct revelation of our dependence. Our turning from God in hopes to satisfy carnality or “better ourselves” only exemplifies our independence from God. Better said, our obedience is in direct correlation with our dependence. If we are in true communion with God, our dependance will surrender to His immensity and capabilities, not our own.
Practically, we harbor the incalculable capabilities of God’s grace. There is nothing that we can not triumph in the power of Christ. God indefinitely leaves and uses our enemies, our struggles, and our circumstances in life to put our faith through the fire, in hopes to refine and refurbish it.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’
The Lord’s testing is a blessing in disguise. Do not neglect it, but capitalize on it in surrender and dependence on Him.