A Meditation on Judges 2: 1-3

Kevin J Youngblood

Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” (Judges 2:1-3)

The opening paragraph of Judges 2 fascinates for several reasons. Who is this “angel of YHWH”? What was he doing in Gilgal to begin with? Why is he delivering a prophetic oracle? Shouldn’t a prophet be doing that instead of this “angel of YHWH”? Let’s start with the curious detail that “the angel of YHWH went up from Gilgal to Bochim.” The narrator says this in passing as if we readers should know exactly what he’s talking about; yet this is the first mention of Gilgal in the book of Judges. The narrator is assuming that we’ve read Joshua and therefore know that Gilgal is where Israel camped during the Canaanite campaign. In other words, this was their military base of operations (Josh 4:19; 5:10; 9:6; 10:6-9). Therefore, this is also where Joshua encountered the mysterious “commander of YHWH’s army” before whom he bowed. I think the narrator means for us to recognize this “angel of YHWH” as none other than the commander of YHWH’s army who commanded Joshua to remove his shoes and who accepted his worship (Josh 5:13-15). In other words, this is YHWH himself appearing to Israel as the divine warrior. As the psalmist reminds us, “The angle of YHWH encamps around those who fear him and delivers them” (Psalm 34:7).

This identification is critical for understanding Judges 2:1-3 because of the nature of the conversation Joshua and YHWH had in Josh 5:13-15. When Joshua first saw the figure with drawn sword at Gilgal, he thought it was a human combatant. He approached him and asked, “Are you on our side or on our enemy’s side” – a logical question under the circumstances. YHWH, however, answers with a simple and somewhat confusing “No!” or perhaps better “Neither!” YHWH makes clear to Joshua that he does not take sides in human conflict. He is no national deity who lends guaranteed, unqualified support to Israel. Joshua is asking the wrong question. The right question is on whose side is Israel. This is a needed reminder at a time when any and everybody is trying to recruit God to their own personal causes and agendas. God does not jump on bandwagons, join causes, side with a particular political party, campaign for candidates, or sign on to any human agenda. God has his own agenda and invites us to join his cause.

Now, back to Judges 2:1-3. How appropriate that YHWH himself, in the guise of commander of the heavenly army, the divine warrior, confronts Israel at the very moment that they broke ranks with his cause. God, therefore, announces that he is abandoning them to their own devices until they decide to rejoin his cause instead of pursuing their own. In fact, the Hebrew expression “the angel of YHWH went up from Gilgal to Bochim” is a Semitic idiom indicating the launch of a military offensive. In other words, YHWH is telling Israel, “Consider yourselves at war with me.” Jesus echoed this same sentiment in Matthew 12:30 when he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” God leaves no room for neutrality in spiritual warfare. There is no such thing as a spiritual Switzerland.

The significance of YHWH’s appearance here as the divine warrior and of his decision to deliver this divine message personally rather than via a prophet has to do with what a significant moment Israel’s occupation of the land is in redemptive history. It began with YHWH’s appearing to Joshua to set the agenda for the campaign (Josh 5:13-15). It now unravels with YHWH’s appearing to all of Israel to condemn their compromise with Canaan. They cannot simultaneously be in covenant with Canaan and in covenant with YHWH. In fact, they cannot even be neutral.

I am deeply convicted as I reflect on these two texts (Josh 5:13-15; Judges 2:1-3). How often have I tried to recruit God to my causes and my agendas rather than joining his. When not attempting to recruit God to my causes, I often find myself seeking neutrality, trying to occupy some middle ground between the holiness to which God is calling me and the evil that is engulfing the world. Of course, I do not want to be a part of the world’s rebellion against God, but I also don’t want to be fanatical or perceived as extreme. These texts, however, allow for no neutrality in spiritual warfare. There is no Switzerland between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God.



With Joshua I bow before you in utter surrender to your divine cause and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Forgive me for mistaking you for some human volunteer whose allegiance is up for grabs among the competing agendas of this world. Forgive me also for seeking neutrality in spiritual warfare instead of the enthusiastic and determined pursuit of holiness. This is the snare that more often than any other has trapped your people.

Lord Jesus, I want to be decisively with you and not against you. Forgive me for the times that I in my ignorance, like Peter, stood in your way instead of following you to your cross.

Holy Spirit, lead the way. Sabotage my every attempt to replace the divine agenda with a human one. Thank you for leading the charge against my flesh and convicting me when I am tempted to compromise and covenant with it.