Were the Chariots of Iron Too Powerful for God? Josh 17, Jdg 1

Are Joshua 17:18 and Judges 1:19 contradictory concerning whether the chariots of iron were too powerful for God? Learn possible solutions to this problem.
Bible "contradictions"
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Quick Answer

    <p>Here are three possible explanations:</p>

    <ol>
      <li>The pronoun, "he," likely refers to Judah, not to God. So, the verse is saying that <strong>Judah</strong> took possession of the hill country, but <strong>Judah</strong> could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.</li>
      <li>God's promise to help His people drive out the inhabitants was <strong>conditional</strong>. God said he would only do it if His people were <strong>obedient</strong>. The phrase, "he could not drive out the inhabitants," could simply be another way of saying, "he did not drive out the inhabitants because Judah had not met the condition of obedience."</li>
      <li>Perhaps Judah had already possessed that area at a previous point in time, but the inhabitants with the chariots of iron had retaken that area by the time of Judges 1:19.</li>
      <li>The phrase, "its farthest borders," in Joshua 17:8 may not include "the inhabitants of the plain," in which case Joshua 17:18 does not apply to these inhabitants.</li>
    </ol>

    <h2>The argument</h2>

    <p>Some say that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether God is omnipotent, or all-powerful, since it seems God could not overcome enemies with chariots of iron. Here are the relevant passages.</p>

    <h3>God is omniponent, or all-powerful</h3>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Joshua 17:18</strong> - but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For <strong>you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron</strong>, and though they are strong.”
    </blockquote>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Matthew 19:26</strong> - But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but <strong>with God all things are possible</strong>.”
    </blockquote>

    <h3>God could not drive out the inhabitants</h3>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Judges 1:19</strong> - And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but <strong>he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron</strong>.
    </blockquote>

    <h2>The solution</h2>

    <p>There are several possible solutions to this alleged contradictions.</p>

    <h3>It was Judah, not God, who could not drive out the inhabitants</h3>

    <p>It is likely that the pronoun, "he," in Judges 1:19 refers to Judah, not to God. So, the verse is essentially saying, "And the Lord was with Judah, and <strong>Judah</strong> took possession of the hill country, but <strong>Judah</strong> could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron."</p>

    <h3>God's promise was conditional</h3>

    <p>God's promise in Joshua 17:18 was conditional. God said that He would only help the Israelites drive out the inhabitants if they were obedient.</p>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Judges 2:2a-3</strong> - 2a ...<strong>But you have not obeyed my voice</strong>. What is this you have done? 3 <strong>So now I say, I will not drive them out before you</strong>, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
    </blockquote>

    <p>If the Israelites did not obey God, then God would not drive out the inhabitants for them, which may be the case in Judges 1:19.</p>

    <h3>"he could not drive out" may be anthropomorphic, or describing God using human terms</h3>

    <p>Even if the pronoun, "he," in Judges 1:19 refers to God, it could simply be an example of anthropomorphism, or describing God using human terms and language. Thus, the phrase, "God could not drive out the inhabitants," could simply be another way of saying, "God did not drive out the inhabitants because of Judah's disobedience."</p>

    <p>Another example of anthropomorphism is Exodus 7:5, which says, "The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” God does not have hands. Exodus 7:5 is simply describing God using human terms.</p>

    <h3>Perhaps the Israelites had possessed that area previously</h3>

    <p>Another possible explanation is that the Israelites had already possessed that area before, but the inhabitants had retaken that land by the time of Judges 1. If this is the case, then God would have fulfilled His promise in Joshua 17:18. Perhaps something happened after the Israelites took possession of that land that caused them to lose possession of it by the time of Judges 1.</p>

    <h3>Perhaps God never promised that area</h3>

    <p>Joshua 17:18 says, "you shall clear it and possess it <strong>to its farthest borders</strong>."</p>

    <p>Judges 1:19 says, "he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out <strong>the inhabitants of the plain</strong>."</p>

    <p>Another plausible explanation is that "its farthest borders" includes "the hill country," but not "the plain." If this is the case, then God's promise could still have been fulfilled, even without Judah gaining possession of the plain area.</p>

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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