Judges opens as though the great victories recounted in the book of Joshua will continue. Before the chapter ends, however, failure after failure becomes apparent.
A close look at the opening of the chapter reveals that all was not well even in Israel’s successes. Though Judah conquered Bezek and Jerusalem, Bezek was treated in the same manner as the Canaanites treated their captives. He was not put to death as the law demanded (Deut. 7:1-4).
Nevertheless, “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” (Judg. 1:19). This looks, at first, like a statement of success.
But the final part of the sentence raises a question. Why would iron chariots matter? God had promised that he would deliver nations mightier than Israel over to his people (Deut. 7:1-2). Joshua told the people of Ephraim and Manasseh that they would triumph over enemies with iron chariots (Josh 17:16-18). Within Judges itself, Sisera’s nine hundred iron chariots (Judg. 4:3) posed no problem when God had determined to give Israel the victory.
Judah’s inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain is thus a subtle indicator that not all is well with Judah.