Peaceful coexistence was doubtlessly an enticing concept to the Israelites. Since shortly after leaving Egypt they had been at war. They had fought their way through the wilderness and then, after crossing the Jordan, they had fought a war of complete destruction against the great fortified Canaanite cities, subduing the Promised Land. But the complete victory wasn’t yet won. After the land was divided amongst the tribes, the “mop up” operations remained and would now be led by the leaders of the various tribes. One caveat though, the Canaanites wouldn’t be completely defeated all at once: (Exodus 23:29, 30) “I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.” In other words, it would take a few years—a couple more generations of war.
To a war-weary nation, this probably became discouraging. Enough blood, violence, struggle, and war! No one seemed to have the stomach for more war, and peaceful coexistence became more appealing as the years passed by.
The Bible doesn’t say, but I suspect that on the Canaanite side of the equation tolerance became the supreme virtue. Those Israelites who didn’t embrace this supreme virtue were probably quickly labeled hypocrites. If the Canaanites had owned cars, they probably would have put “coexist” bumper stickers on them . And when Israelites expressed disapproval of their sinful practices, they probably retorted, “Don’t judge me!”
Whether any of these really happened or not, peaceful coexistence had its effect. The Israelites began to think, “The Canaanites don’t seem to be terrible people. So what if they worship a different god? And we needn’t get involved in their corrupted practices—we can keep their customs at arm’s length. Besides, they make good slaves.”
The Bible does say in the book of Judges that tribe after tribe began to neglect the tearing down of the Canaanites’ altars. They neglected to drive the rest of the Canaanites out of the Promised Land. And some Israelites seem to have actually negotiated peace with them.
But peaceful coexistence came with a price: “‘…and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you,’” (Judges 2:2, 3). And thorns and snares are exactly what the Canaanites became to Israel. The Canaanites and their pagan religion corrupted the people both morally and religiously. In the end Israel ended up in cruel Assyrian and Babylonian exiles—all because of war-weariness and a willingness to settle for peaceful coexistence.
Our warning? We must not become war-weary. By this I don’t mean that we need to go literally take up arms, nor do we go around picking fights, but there are two arenas of battle that we must not abandon in our Christian walk.
The first is the battle we have with the “old man of sin”. God has in mind for us to completely drive out the old man of sin in our lives. There is no place for lust, envy, covetousness, hate, rebellion, or pride in the heart of the Christian, let alone outward sins such as fornication, theft, deception, murder, insolence, or high-handedness! But sometimes after having accomplished a basic victory over the capital sins of our lives, we also become weary of war against the flesh, become slack and satisfied with “peaceful coexistence” with our harmless little sins or vices. Perhaps we even think that they might be useful, like the Canaanites made good slave labor. But like the Canaanites, our harmless little sins always become spiritual thorns and snares.
The other arena of battle is with the world around us. The inspired apostle Paul often used battle metaphors as he spoke about Christians living in the world, not the least of which was the imperative to “stand firm!”—no less than 7 times. When battles were fought in the ancient world, the urgent command in battle was always to “stand firm”—don’t let the enemy break the line, don’t turn and run, hold your ground! To the battle-fatigued disciple, who may be weary about standing up against the world, who may be tired of being being called intolerant, who may be worn out from correcting false teachings, who are bushed from being the “bad guy” all the time, the command still remains “stand firm!” We need to continue to refuse peaceful coexistence with the immorality and false religion of the world.
One end result of becoming war-weary—as it was with Israel—is corruption and compromise with God’s enemies. I have seen war-weary brothers abandon the great virtues of courage, strength, perseverance, and holding the line against the enemy; embracing instead indiscrete tolerance, non-judgment, and coexistence—hardening their hearts toward clear Biblical teachings and conforming to the world rather than being transformed by the Lord and in turn transforming the world.
The other end result is—exile. Israel was exiled from her Promised Land for her disobedience to Assyrian and Babylon. The sort of exile that we face for our disobedience is not the kind that takes us out our country, it is something much worse, separation from God and our own Promised Land eternally.
Be a spiritual warrior. Don’t grow weary of the battle!