“Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; Namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath.
And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” (Judges 3:1-4)
God deliberately left certain groups within Israel’s boundaries for two specific reasons. There are always enemies about looking for an opportunity to take advantage. Having enemies among them would keep Israel from becoming complacent, and give their soldiers experience. In addition, their presence offered other choices than serving God so that Israel would have to make a conscious choice whether to serve him or not.
It is the parents responsibility to teach their children how to live. Part of teaching them involves teaching them how to make wise choices. Children who have never been allowed to experience pain or loss or temptation or taught to deal with it are likely to be overcome by it. People who have never been in a position to decide whether to do right have not established their own set of standards.
Over the centuries, many groups have established communes or monasteries to isolate people so they would not be tempted. Today many are home schooling or sending their kids to private schools for the same reasons. Unfortunately, such efforts often result in students who are unprepared for real world temptations. A pastor I know tried this. All three of his daughters got involved in sexual promiscuity, with two of them becoming prostitutes for a time, while his son is involved with drugs and has spent several years in prison for other crimes.
God is omniscient and knew what Israel would do, and by limiting their exposure could control how far they went. Like students taking a test, most people do not realize the limits of their knowledge until they miss a question. It is far better to learn in a situation where a wrong answer doesn’t put people at risk.
“And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.
Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years. ” (Judges 3:5-8)
Allowing people to choose risks them making bad choices, and Israel mad bad choices. Surrounded by non believers, they began to marry people from other races and accept their religions. This quickly led to dropping their moral standards in other areas and turning away from God and his law.
God became frustrated with Israel’s lack of consideration and let them be conquered by Chushan-Rishathaim of Mesopotamia for eight years. Mesopotamia, “Land between The Rivers” was the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern Iraq and stretched from Ur of the Chaldees near the Persian Gulf northwest through Babylon and present day Baghdad to Nineveh and Assur in ancient Assyria.
“And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. And the spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim. And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.” (Judges 3:9-11)
God had allowed Israel to be overcome by Cushan-Rishathaim to teach them the importance of serving God. After eight years, they had had enough and sought God’s blessing again. Othniel, Caleb’s son-in-law and nephew had defeated the inhabitants of Debir. The Spirit of God inspired him to begin to straighten out Israel’s sin according to the law and moved him to revolt against Chushanrishathaim. His experience, and his association with Caleb made him an obvious choice for the people to follow.
As a result of his efforts to turn Israel back to God, there was a forty year period of peace. At the time he became judge, Othniel must have been nearly eighty, even though he had been born in the wilderness. He became judge sometime before 1650 BC.
It is important to note that the Judges judged Israel, they didn’t just deliver them. They pointed out what Israel was doing wrong and what God said to do about it.