Judges 2:1-3:6 – The Settlement of Canaan as a Theological Problem



This second introduction seeks to explain the defeats in Judges 1:27-36 as the result of a cyclical pattern: Israel’s apostasy (2:11-12), followed by oppression by the enemy (2:13-15), and God’s deliverance by means of a “judge” (2:16). The repetition of this pattern will structure the rest of the book.


Again the contrast with Joshua is striking. With Joshua at the helm, “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua” (Joshua 24:31a). As a result, Israel enjoyed success, victory, and total possession of the land. In Judges, the angel of the Lord informs Israel that their failure to subdue the land of Canaan is due to their failure to obey God’s commands, especially in the matter of worshiping Baal, the god of the Canaanites. By means of a flashback, the people are reminded of the faithfulness that characterized Israel as long as Joshua was alive (Judges 2:6-9 // Joshua 24:28-31).

The most important part of the introduction appears in verses 11-19, an intricate presentation of the recurring pattern of apostasy, oppression, and deliverance that will structure much of the following narrative, especially with regard to the major judges: Israel’s apostasy in serving the local Baals angers the Lord, who hands them over to domination by their rivals in Canaan (vv. 11-15). Moved by their distress, God would raise up a charismatic leader, a judge/deliverer who would throw off the foreign oppression. Upon the death of these leaders, however, Israel would fall back into apostasy and the cycle would repeat (vv. 18-20).

Why those nations were allowed to remain in the land, contrary to the account in Joshua, becomes clear in 2:20-3:6. They remain to “test” Israel’s faithfulness (vv. 1, 4). Unfortunately, Israel intermarried with these indigenous peoples and failed the test. The introduction suggests that the story of Israel recounted in Judges will not be a happy one; rather it will be one marked by decline and failure.