Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
Thus, in the beginning of the book, we see evil and failure, and also simple and blessed deliverances. But alas! the picture darkens more and more. There are grievous features even in the conduct of the judges, and the state of Israel becomes worse and worse; until weary of the results of their own unfaithfulness, in spite of the presence of the prophet, and the express word of God, they reject the kingship of the Almighty to adopt human forms of government, and establish themselves on the same footing as the world, when they had God for their king!
This unfaithfulness, indeed, foreseen of God, was the reason why God left some of the nations in the midst of His people to prove them. The presence of these nations was in itself a proof of Israel's lack of energy and confidence in the power of God, who nevertheless would have preserved them from their subsequent disasters. But in the wisdom of His counsels, God, who knew His people, left these nations in their midst, as a means of proving them. Israel will be fully blest only under Messiah, who by His might will bring in their blessing, and by His might will preserve it to them.
Alas! this history of Israel in Canaan is also that of the assembly. Set up in heavenly blessing on the earth, it has failed from the beginning in realising that which was given to it; and evil developed itself in it as soon as the first and mighty instruments of blessing which had been granted it were removed. Things have gone from bad to worse. There have been revivals, but still the same principle of unbelief; and the decay of each revival has marked increasing progress in evil and unbelief in proportion to the good which has been thus forsaken. The revival never reaches to the extent of laying hold of what God is, what He revealed Himself as at first for His people, what the first power of revelation and action of the Spirit. When departed from, God is more and more lost. The part of His blessing afresh brought forward is neglected and abandoned, so that there is a more entire forgetfulness of Him, and nature and the world resume their place, but now not merely without, but to the exclusion of, God, and setting up of man and nature, by departing from the primitive source of blessing and strength [See Note #1].
Nevertheless God has always had His own people, and His faithfulness has never failed them, whether in secret, or manifesting openly, in His kindness, His grace towards His assembly in public power-a power that it ought always to have enjoyed. This sad succession of falls will have an end at the coming of Jesus, who will accomplish His purposes respecting the assembly in its heavenly glory; purposes, of which it should have always been the faithful witness here below.
The power and the presence of God did not forsake Israel at the time of Joshua's departure. It was always to be found wherever there was faith to make use of it. This is the first truth which this book presents. It is what Paul said to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do."
This presence of God with them in blessing to faith makes itself known at one time by victory over most powerful enemies (Jdg 1:1-7); at another by the obtaining of special blessing, "springs of water" (Jdg 1:13-15), and in all the detail of their realisation of the promises. The Philistines even were driven out (Jdg 1:18). But at the same time, the faith of Judah and Simeon, of Ephraim and Manasseh, and of all the tribes failed; and consequently their energy, and their sense of the value of God's presence, and of their own consecration to Him, failed also, together with their perception of the evil existing among their adversaries-a perception which would have rendered their presence in the midst of them insupportable.
What dishonour to God, what sin, to spare, to tolerate, such people! What unfaithfulness towards God was this indifference; and what an infallible source of evil and corruption in Israel! But they were insensible to all this. They were wanting in spiritual discernment as well as in faith; and the sources of evil and misery dwelt beside the people, even in the land, the land of God and of Israel.
It is a striking fact in man's history that the first thing that he has always done when God has set up something of His own on the earth has been to spoil it. Man himself eats the forbidden fruit; Noah gets drunk; Aaron's sons offer strange fire; Israel makes the golden calf; Solomon falls into idolatry; Nebuchadnezzar sets up his idol and persecutes. God's patience has gone on dealing with souls, all through, in spite of it.