The author of Judges tells us that when the tribe of Judah descended into the lowlands to conquer the indigenous Canaanites inhabiting their tribal allotment, they failed to drive them out completely due to the Canaanites’ tactical advantage of iron chariots. Furthermore, he refuses to provide extra details on the matter (Judg. 1:19).
Why would the author insert such a vague reference to this failure, especially since the rest of Judah’s incursion appeared successful? Recall Joshua 17. After they blanched at the prospect of leaving the hills to engage the iron chariots in the plains, Joshua guaranteed the house of Joseph victory over the “strong” Canaanites.
Consequently, two questions surface. First, what’s the big deal with iron chariots? In short, the Canaanites had them and the Israelites did not. Iron significantly outclassed all of the other materials used for military purposes. Moreover, chariots contributed dynamically to engagements in the lowlands. Israel did not possess chariots, and when they encountered these fortified war machines on the plains, it resembled an engagement between foot soldiers and tanks.
In light of this, our second question arises: how could Joshua guarantee victory against such odds? Flash back to Exodus 23. God, speaking to Moses, promised to send His angel before the Israel ites and to blot out the Canaanites. Joshua assured victory on account of God’s pledge (not to mention His precedent).
Yes, Judah failed badly. The message rings through loud and clear, and it rings through to us today. We as Christians may not fight battles with iron, but we do engage in spiritual warfare. How often do we face the “strong” enemies of the world and shrink away in fear or indifference? Our condition makes this reaction unthinkable, for we too have a predecessor — Jesus. Our Savior has crushed the head of our enemy. Now, we too can go forth against our adversaries in the knowledge that victory belongs to the Lord.