These two chapters set the stage for all that follows. They tell us the situation with Israel – their plight to finish conquering and settling Canaan and what the new nation looks like in its early years. And, this picture is not a good one. From the beginning we see that the young nation, the people of Yahweh, are already forgetting their covenant promises. Their allegiance to God seems to last only as long as is needed to defeat the next army. They stopped short of driving out all the sinful people of the land, as God had commanded. They settled for allowing many to remain. Though Israel had been warned not to make alliances, they entered into treaties with their new neighbors. Even more, Israel was strictly told not make slaves of the people of Canaan. Slavery, like what they experienced in Egypt, was forbidden. But they do just this anyway.
The “holy” people are not longer holy. The word holy means set apart, separate, different and reserved for a special purpose. This was supposed to be Israel – set apart from all other nations, the people of the true God who stand as an example to everyone else. Instead, they quickly become just like all the peoples around them. The greatest sign of this, and perhaps the greatest sin of Israel, is that their zeal for God and their covenant relationship with him is not passed on to their descendants. Not only are they not upholding their promises, they haven’t raised their children to know or follow God. When Moses came to his last days, he led Israel in a renewal of their covenant with God. At the end of Joshua, this second leader does the same. But Judges tells us that after Joshua and the elders of his generation passed away, their children knew neither God nor what he had done. The older generation did not raise their children to worship God. They didn’t know why it mattered that they be holy. They weren’t raised to continue proper worship. They didn’t understand the history of their people or all God had done.