And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.
That was not the plan that God had originally laid out for Israel. That was not what God had told them to do when He gave them instructions before they entered the promised land. What He had told them to do was go and utterly destroy all of the inhabitants. What He wanted Israel to do was eliminate those people and their gods completely so that they would not be drawn away and follow after those idols. And they started out strong. They started out doing just that, but then they left it incomplete. They took the easy way out. They went down a course that seemed to work well for them, but there would be consequences to face later.
But can’t we do the same thing sometimes? We’ll start off strong, gaining victories, following the course God has laid out. We’ll be fully dedicated at the beginning of some new endeavor, giving our all to the task at hand. But then maybe a challenge comes or we get a little lazy, and then we’re willing to settle for some lesser thing. We’ll be willing to dwell with some tributaries instead of gaining a complete victory and fully doing what God wanted us to do.
It seemed like such a small thing for Israel to just leave a few conquered people among them. It seemed harmless. But this would actually lead to big problems down the road as they were infected by the presence of those godless people among them, influenced by their sin, and facing the consequences of disobeying and forsaking God. There is always a price to pay for stopping short and settling for less, and we may never know what we miss out on or what might have happened if our obedience had been complete.
It’s easy to start off strong, but sometimes it’s hard to sustain our momentum for the long haul. It’s easy to be faithful for a while, but it’s harder to endure for a lifetime. It’s easier to gain those first few victories than the later ones. We can have a tendency to let up, to give ourselves a break, to think a more minimal effort is good enough. And sometimes we’re just willing to live with that. If we’ve started off strong, let’s not quit. Let’s not fall short of our ultimate goal. Let’s not leave something undone, but be encouraged to go forward into a complete victory that will be pleasing to God.