"These are the nations that the Lord left in the land to test
those Israelites who had not experienced the wars of Canaan.
He did this to teach warfare to generations of Israelites
who had no experience in battle."
I'm sorry. What?
He left them? On purpose?
When I read this chapter recently, I asked God if He was punking me. But, apparently, everyone's Bible says this.
God leaves problems, challenges, even enemies in our path to "teach warfare." He didn't hold a class or send a memo. He created an environment that would guarantee future generations would get "experience in battle."
That seems all kinds of wrong. Why would He do that?
My first thought was because God doesn't raise snowflakes, He makes warriors. Booyah. He knew the experience of warfare would convince Israel that God was with them. That their faith would give them boldness. And that boldness would ensure they wouldn't shrink back from conquering new land.
It was like a one-two-three punch knockout strategy. God was showing Israel that their battles scars weren't injuries, they were military stripes marking their rank.
And now, 2017
One popular phrase I've heard this year has been, "May 2017 be your best year ever." I appreciate the sentiment. But I'm annoyingly future-minded, so my next thought is, "Does that mean 2018 will suck?"
It's not that I wouldn't mind 12 months of bliss. But, let's get real. There's no such thing.
I'd love to believe 2017 will be the year where everything goes amazingly perfect, all my goals are reached, all my hopes are realized, all my pain disappears, and all my days are a balmy 72-degrees with a light southerly breeze. I'd also love to have dinner with Cary Grant on a riverboat cruise, but I'm not going out shopping for water-resistant evening attire.
Sidenote question, is there such a thing as water-resistant evening attire?
Challenges will come
I say lots of things lightly, but not this. To be perfectly honest, I acknowledge this fact with a tinge of fear. Unknown challenges frighten me. As do unknown blessings. Anything unknown, basically. I don't like it.
But the longer I've thought about those verses in Judges, the less anxious I feel about approaching a new year with all those waiting unknowns.
In those verses, God appears to be giving Israel a glimpse into what's to come, as well as encouragement that He was the master planner behind it. He's showing them that the presence of enemies is not the absence of God, nor the indicator of future loss.
He didn't leave the enemies in the land to give Israel something to worry about. He left the enemy behind to give Israel victory.
God had promised Israel blessings. And the battles brought an opportunity for God to show Israel just how big, how monumental, how gracious, how lavish, His blessings would be. The reality of the challenges He left behind was actually evidence of the blessings He already had planned.
Yes? See where I'm going with this? I'm on a roll here, people. Can I get an amen? I'm going to pretend I got one.
All things new
There may be a few problems that followed you - uninvited like - into 2017. In fact, there may be a few problems that have crossed the midnight divide over many New Year's Eves.
When they appear yet again in a brand new year, it can make you feel as if this year will be like all the others - still no victory, still no overcoming, still no prayer answered, still no land conquered.
There's no way of knowing, of course, if this year will be any different. Any better. Any worse. You can't trust crystal balls, positive thinking, or pollsters to forecast the future.
What you can trust is this: God never leaves behind an enemy He doesn't already have a plan to defeat. He didn't for the Israelites and He doesn't for us.
So, take heart and hold on. Victory is coming. Neither the proximity of an enemy nor the length of the battle is an indicator of the outcome. God has a path for you, all He's asking is for you to trust Him.
And, who knows. 2017 really could be the best year, yet.