We are here told what remained of the old inhabitants of Canaan. 1. There were some of them that kept together in united bodies, unbroken (Jdg. 3:3): The five lords of the Philistines, namely, Ashdod, Gaza, Askelon, Gath, and Ekron, 1 Sam. 6:7. Three of these cities had been in part reduced (Jdg. 1:18), but it seems the Philistines (probably with the help of the other two, which strengthened their confederacy with each other thenceforward) recovered the possession of them. These gave the greatest disturbance to Israel of any of the natives, especially in the latter times of the judges, and they were never quite reduced until David’s time. There was a particular nation called Canaanites, that kept their ground with the Sidonians, upon the coast of the great sea. And in the north the Hivites held much of Mount Lebanon, it being a remote corner, in which perhaps they were supported by some of the neighbouring states. But, besides these, 2. There were every where in all parts of the country some scatterings of the nations (Jdg. 3:5), Hittites, Amorites, etc., which, by Israel’s foolish connivance and indulgence, were so many, so easy, and so insolent, that the children of Israel are said to dwell among them, as if the right had still remained in the Canaanites, and the Israelites had been taken in by their permission and only as tenants at will.
Now concerning these remnants of the natives observe,
I. How wisely God permitted them to remain. It is mentioned in the close of the foregoing chapter as an act of God’s justice, that he let them remain for Israel’s correction. But here another construction is put upon it, and it appears to have been an act of God’s wisdom, that he let them remain for Israel’s real advantage, that those who had not known the wars of Canaan might learn war, Jdg. 3:1, 2. It was the will of God that the people of Israel should be inured to war, 1. Because their country was exceedingly rich and fruitful, and abounded with dainties of all sorts, which, if they were not sometimes made to know hardship, would be in danger of sinking them into the utmost degree of luxury and effeminacy. They must sometimes wade in blood, and not always in milk and honey, lest even their men of war, by the long disuse of arms, should become as soft and as nice as the tender and delicate woman, that would not set so much as the sole of her foot to the ground for tenderness and delicacy, a temper as destructive to every thing that is good as it is to every thing that is great, and therefore to be carefully watched against by all God’s Israel. 2. Because their country lay very much in the midst of enemies, by whom they must expect to be insulted; for God’s heritage was a speckled bird; the birds round about were against her, Jer. 12:9. It was therefore necessary they should be well disciplined, that they might defend their coasts when invaded, and might hereafter enlarge their coast as God had promised them. The art of war is best learnt by experience, which not only acquaints men with martial discipline, but (which is no less necessary) inspires them with a martial disposition. It was for the interest of Israel to breed soldiers, as it is the interest of an island to breed sea-men, and therefore God left Canaanites among them, that, by the less difficulties and hardships they met with in encountering them, they might be prepared for greater, and, by running with the footmen, might learn to contend with horses, Jer. 12:5. Israel was a figure of the church militant, that must fight its way to a triumphant state. The soldiers of Christ must endure hardness, 2 Tim. 2:3. Corruption is therefore left remaining in the hearts even of good Christians, that they may learn war, may keep on the whole armour of God, and stand continually upon their guard. The learned bishop Patrick offers another sense of Jdg. 3:2: That they might know to teach them war, that is, they shall know what it is to be left to themselves. Their fathers fought by a divine power. God taught their hands to war and their fingers to fight; but now that they have forfeited his favour let them learn what it is to fight like other men.
II. How wickedly Israel mingled themselves with those that did remain. One thing God intended in leaving them among them was to prove Israel (Jdg. 3:4), that those who were faithful to the God of Israel might have the honour of resisting the Canaanites’ allurements to idolatry, and that those who were false and insincere might be discovered, and might fall under the shame of yielding to those allurements. Thus in the Christian churches there must needs be heresies, that those who are perfect may be made manifest, 1 Cor. 11:19. Israel, upon trial, proved bad. 1. They joined in marriage with the Canaanites (Jdg. 3:6), though they could not advance either their honour or their estate by marrying with them. They would mar their blood instead of mending it, and sink their estates instead of raising them, by such marriages. 2. Thus they were brought to join in worship with them; they served their gods (Jdg. 3:6), Baalim and the groves (Jdg. 3:7), that is, the images that were worshipped in groves of thick trees, which were a sort of natural temples. In such unequal matches there is more reason to fear that the bad will corrupt the good than to hope that the good will reform the bad, as there is in laying two pears together, the one rotten and the other sound. When they inclined to worship other gods they forgot the Lord their God. In complaisance to their new relations, they talked of nothing by Baalim and the groves, so that by degrees they lost the remembrance of the true God, and forgot there was such a Being, and what obligations they lay under to him. In nothing is the corrupt memory of man more treacherous than in this, that it is apt to forget God; because out of sight, he is out of mind; and here begins all the wickedness that is in the world: they have perverted their way, for they have forgotten the Lord their God.