What is the function of Israel?
"But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you."
Canaan was conquered in three campaigns and the land divided up among the tribes of Israel (Joshua 13-21), in accordance with God's plans, as given to Moses just before his death. In modern day's terms, we are looking at the geographical area of Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.
Some would quote from Joshua 11:23, 'so Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war'. He would use this as fuel for his argument against the literal reading of the Covenant with Abraham, by saying that here we see the fulfillment of the land promises - after all, doesn't it say 'Joshua took the entire land'? 'Yes', would say others, 'It does. But it says nothing about the land promised to Abraham, only that promised to Moses, a much smaller area'.
While Joshua and his generation lived, all went well. These were people who had walked in the presence of God, even if it amounted to travelling around in circles in the Sinai desert. These were people who were God-soaked to the core of their being, benefiting from His provisions and guidance, but also witnessing the penalties for misdemeanours - whether through plague, snake-bites or sudden earthquakes. They knew the score and, as crude as it may seem to our "sophisticated" 21st Century eyes, they were a people who needed to be moulded from scratch. So, when they left the desert for the Promised Land they looked to God and He alone for guidance and leadership. He went before them in battle and they had great successes as a result.
Yet, despite God's stern warnings and apparently brutal fulfilments, the land was not completely cleansed of idolatry and evil practices. As we enter the period of the Judges we find many remnants of the ancient peoples, still very much alive and kicking. The Philistines occupied the southern coastal plains, Moab was alive and well to the east of the Dead Sea, with Edom to the south. Canaanites were still everywhere and the greatest sin of the Israelites was their failure to follow God's command to eliminate them. As a consequence, immoral practices filtered into the Israelite community. It didn't take long. As soon as Joshua's generation passed away.
'Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook Him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths'. (Judges 2:11-13)
Before we start tut-tutting, stop and think for a moment how far we in the UK have come since the end of the Second World War. From being a church-going country, to one that worships at the altar of pagan gods, ranging from celebrity worship to Tibetan worship in cathedrals. In the time it took the Israelites to forget their victories under Joshua (with God's provision), we have proudly moved into a self-proclaimed 'Post-Christian' era, where God's values are undermined and His provisions taken for granted.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)