Summary: We often believe that God can help us, but only up to a certain point. This belief conceals a measure of self-trust. If Judah had demonstrated the same faith about the chariots of iron as about the mountaineers, the chariots of iron would have been no better than chariots of straw.
Judges 1:19 - So the LORD was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron.
Joshua had divided the inheritance among the children of Israel. However, there were still lands to be possessed. After the death of Joshua, the children of Israel decided to fight against the Canaanites who had occupied their inheritance.
Israelites started well by trusting the Lord – The Israelites did not decide to fight the Canaanites on their own. Rather, they sought to Lord concerning which tribe must go up first to fight against the Canaanites. They also received the divine instruction that the tribe of Judah must go first. Judah went up city to city and smote all their foes. and the Lord was with him and delivered various territories of the Canaanites and the giants into his hands.
The reason why Judah was successful in all their battles was because they trusted in the Lord. As per the instructions of the Lord, they led the way in the battle and went conquering city after city, not doubting that God was with them.
Now coming to Judges 1:19. Judah had taken possession of the hill country, supposedly a rough terrain filled with rocky fortresses and natural barriers. They defeated massive cities and the giants. And now suddenly they are unable to drive the people of the plains – because the foes had iron chariots?
Consequently, few questions surfaces:
1. What is the big deal with iron chariots?
In simpler terms, the Canaanites had iron chariots while the Israelites did not. Iron undoubtedly surpassed all the other materials used in wars. These war chariots seemed to have scythes that were 1 metre long fitted in the axles of the wheels. Such novel war machines of those days contributed dynamically to battles in the lowlands. Israel did not have any such chariots, so it resembles a battle between foot soldiers and tanks.
2. If the Lord is Almighty and was with Judah, why was Judah not able to fight the chariots of iron?
Well, we need to be clear on the fact that the Lord indeed is Almighty and Omnipotent and is well able to destroy the chariots of iron.
Job 37:23 – “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power
Jeremiah 32:17 – “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”
After all, it wasn’t that long before in the history of the Israelites that the Lord had drowned the entire Egyptian army, including all its chariots, in the Red Sea.
We read another instance in the Bible of the king named Jabin who had 900 chariots of iron
Judges 4:3 - And the children of Israel cried out to the Lord; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel.
And we read of the marvellous victory that the Lord gave the Israelites who were under the oppression of king Jabin and his commander Sisera.
Judges 4:13-15 - So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.
We find that the 900 chariots of iron were no big deal for the Almighty God. The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots.
Then the question remains. Why did Judah fail to drive out the inhabitants of the lowland?
It was the will of God and the Israelites had a promise of victory against the Canaanites and it doesn’t matter what the situation or power of the enemy is.
Exodus 33:2 - And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.
The Lord had instructed the Israelites that since the Lord was with them, they should not be afraid when they see the numerous horses and chariots of the enemies.
Deuteronomy 20:1 - “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.