“And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Starting here and six more times in this chapter we see this phrase, “And he did not drive out…” The command was to drive out completely or else you are going to pay for it, but they did not obey. They did not obey, and as the rest of the story of Judges makes clear, they did indeed pay for it. They stopped doing what the Lord had commanded, so He stopped helping them do it, so the peoples of Canaan remained in the land. The Lord had told them that if the peoples of Canaan were allowed to remain in the land, they would trip them up and lead them astray. If the people went astray, they were going to lose the blessings of obedience and gain the Lord Himself as their chief opponent. And it all happened.
It didn’t happen all at once, though. In fact, this first statement of their failure is not actually “did not,” but “could not.” Judah had been on a tear. They were even helping their brothers clear out their own lands. And the Lord was helping them as He promised.
But, that just begs the question of why they couldn’t beat the Canaanites with the chariots of iron on the plains. Well, in a strictly military sense, they were overmatched. And yet, they had the Lord with them so no one should have overmatched them. How and why did the Lord let this happen?
The straight answer is that we don’t know. Perhaps they got confident in all their victories and stopped leaning on Him for success. Maybe they didn’t try very hard. Maybe God was setting up a future test of faithfulness for the people. The bottom line is that we don’t know. What we do know, though, is that while Judah couldn’t, the others didn’t. And that made whatever problem there was initially many times worse.
Here’s the takeaway: When we don’t obey the commands of God fully, there will be consequences. They may not manifest themselves immediately–and sometimes they even manifest themselves generationally–but they will come. We need to seek the help and hope of the Holy Spirit to break this cycle when it begins to manifest in our own lives. We can’t linger in the failure of sin for even a second. There’s too much at stake.