Judges 1:1-2:19

1.  Succession plan.

Moses was the liberator. Joshua was the military leader for conquering the land. There was never any intention to have a leader after that. Everything was to be organized by tribes and local government. No President. No King. No standing national armies. It would be like our having States but no national government. There would be no United States – just States.
Some tribes do better than others at driving out the Canaanites. Some have to cooperate with each other and some do it on their own. Some few are unsuccessful and live with the consequences. There is no attempt to form a national effort to drive out the Canaanites. “Every boat on its own bottom”. This is how Joshua left them. Each tribe committed to obedience to a common Law.

The assumption is every tribe is capable of governing itself because they all have the same set of values in the Law. Such a system assumes people have the ability to govern themselves and do not need external controls except in extreme circumstances. They are to look out for each other but not dominate or control. They were to live, as far as possible, in peace with each other. They were not to compete with each other or form parties to wrestle for power over every tribe. They were family – each unique but meant to live together in harmony.
It didn’t work for a number of reasons but primarily because the people could not govern themselves. They had no internal gyroscope. They needed external control. Like the Garden of Eden, God put them in the middle of an almost impossible test. Canaan was a cesspool of temptation for Israel. You might say there was no worse place God could have put them. Everything in it appealed to their worst natures. But, God did not command them to clean up the Canaanites. He told them to drive them out of the land completely because they had violated the land itself with their corruption. He needed them to fumigate – not use air freshener.

“So vile had the practices of the Canaanites become that the land was said to “vomit out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:25) and the Israelites were warned by Yahweh to keep all his statutes and ordinances “that the land,” into which he was about to bring them, would not “vomit” them out (Lev. 20:22). The character of the Canaanite religion as portrayed I the Ugaritic literature furnishes ample background to illustrate the accuracy of these biblical statements in their characterization of the utter moral and religious degeneracy of the inhabitants of Canaan, wo were accordingly to be decimated and dispossessed.

They drove out some and thought reducing others to slaves was adequate. But they left their gods and their altars intact. They did not understand the corrupting power of what they had let remain. The Canaanites said to them, “Let us stay and work for you.” That’s always the case when we compromise. We think we are getting a good deal or the best of both worlds. But, what they discovered is the very same thing that had enslaved the minds of the Canaanites would enslave them as well. They soon lost their ability to resist and were, as God promised, were ensnared by the gods of the Canaanites.

2.  “They will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.”

A snare is a very particular thing. It is not like a minefield. A minefield is simply hidden destruction. A snare is not an overwhelming force. A snare depends on the nature of the prey as much as the design of the snare. That is what evil understands so well.

It’s important to know that false gods are not content merely to trick or make us stumble. The purpose of a snare is to catch an animal to kill it and eat it. False gods are not just false. They are fatal. Evil is not content to fool us. It desires us. “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7

“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James1:14-15

Desires are typically not overtly evil. We don’t get up in the morning with the thought of doing something evil on our list. In fact, they are mostly distortions of good things we have allowed to get out of place. St. Augustine called them “disordered loves” and what he means is It is love out of order. We most often think of sin in terms of behavior, bad deeds, actions- but Augustine helps us from another angle. There is an order to love. He said we should love God, love others, and then love ourselves. The problem comes when you love something you should love but that you should not love supremely.

Or a desire may be for something good but instead of waiting for the object of that desire – for joy, peace, contentment, love – we settle for a weak substitute instead. We choose happiness over joy, certainty over peace, and excitement over love. And we are dragged away by these cheap imitations and end up in sin because we have allowed a short-cut to drag us off the path. This is why they are called fruit of the spirit. They are what we should desire but they take time to ripen.

We think of being snared as simply being deceived by an opponent who is satisfied to see us frustrated or caught by him. It’s like a prank or a scam. That’s not the intent of evil. It is to consume our lives. That is the only thing that satisfies evil. To destroy what God loves. It desires us. And it only adds to its pleasure that we take part in our own destruction. It hunts us but we trap ourselves.

3.  Look at the nature and the principles of a snare.

a. Position your traps and snares where there is proof that animals pass through.

You may construct a perfect snare, but it will not catch anything if haphazardly placed in the woods. You must place snares and traps around the areas they frequent to be effective.

b. Concealment is important but it is equally important not to create a disturbance that will alarm the animal and cause it to avoid the trap. Don’t make the snare look or smell unusual or like a human. Even the slightest human scent on a snare is an alarm signal to the animal.

c. Traps or snares placed on a trail or run should use channelization. To build a channel, construct a funnel-shaped barrier extending from the sides of the trail toward the trap, with the narrowest part nearest the trap. Channelization should be inconspicuous to avoid alerting the prey. As the animal gets to the trap, it cannot turn left or right and continues into the trap. Few wild animals will back up, preferring to face the direction of travel. Channelization does not have to be an impassable barrier. You only have to make it inconvenient for the animal to go over or through the barrier.

d. The bait should be something the animal knows. This bait, however, should not be so readily available in the immediate area that the animal can get it close by. When using such baits, scatter bits of it around the trap to give the prey a chance to sample it and develop a craving for it. The animal will then overcome some of its caution before it gets to the trap.

This passage from “Screwtape Letters” illustrates better than anything I know the art of hunting with snares.

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

Obviously you are making excellent progress. My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position. We know that we have introduced a change of direction in his course which is already carrying him out of his orbit around the Enemy; but he must be made to imagine that all the choices which have effected this change of course are trivial and revocable. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space.

For this reason I am almost glad to hear that he is still a churchgoer. I know there are dangers in this; but as long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago. And while he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognised, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.

This dim uneasiness needs careful handling. If it gets too strong it may wake him up and spoil the whole game. On the other hand, if you suppress it entirely – which, by the by, the Enemy will probably not allow you to do – we lose an element in the situation which can be turned to good account. If such a feeling is allowed to live, but not allowed to become irresistible and flower into real repentance, it has one invaluable tendency. It increases the patient’s reluctance to think about the Enemy. In this state your patient will not omit, but he will increasingly dislike, his religious duties. He will think about them as little as he feels he decently can beforehand, and forget them as soon as possible when they are over.

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

4.  They wept and offered sacrifices but they did change their behavior. Nothing hardens the heart like frequent and sometimes extravagant sorrow with no change in behavior. Mere sorrow is not what God desires. It is a change in our behavior. It is a redirection of desire.

5.  And the snare is permanent because of their inability to eradicate the Canaanites.

But God in His mercy sends them judges as temporary heroes during a crisis. We can depend on heroes during a crisis but we cannot manage ourselves. The key to what God desires is not heroes but self-control. To master ourselves.

We have three stories of heroes here at the beginning and at the end of each the comment that the people were at peace as long as the hero lived – up to eighty years of good behavior – and then they revert to their faithless ways. There is no law in their hearts. They cannot master themselves. They do what is right in their own eyes. They were, at least at the beginning, attempting to do what made sense to them. These gods made crops grow. These gods made women have children. These gods made life easier. These gods were not evil. They were just another way to what God had in mind for us anyway.

The irony, of course, is that in the end they have no common understanding of what is right. The society disintegrates into small factions because “in those days everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It was the first postmodern society. What is right for you may not be right for me. Who is to say? What is right is whoever has the most votes. What is right is who can make people believe it is right. I read a good description of the Higgs Boson particle this week. It is the egg in a bowl of flour that makes it all stick together. A society with no common values is a bowl of flour with no egg.

All of us have particular snares in our lives and the bait is probably different for each of us. Each craving is unique and we can be certain that Satan has scattered bait all around our lives to entice us. We are not called to live in fear but in caution. Sin desires us and just keeps changing the bait in our lives. Sin creates that channel that gradually narrows until we find ourselves with no escape.

“But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

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