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The DEEP

Failure 101

Could vs. couldn't.

Judges 1:16–21

Now the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the City of Palms with the children of Judah into the Wilderness of Judah, which lies in the South near Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people. And Judah went with his brother Simeon, and they attacked the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah. Also Judah took Gaza with its territory, Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 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. And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had said. Then he expelled from there the three sons of Anak. But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

Oh, no! Chariots of iron! Run away!

Too bad Joshua is dead, because he could have told them about how he felt when the commander of the army of the LORD suddenly showed up right in front of him holding a sword (Joshua 5:13). After prostrating himself and worshipping, Joshua asked him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”

The response is surprising and a great lesson—“Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.

The commander of the army of the LORD doesn’t give a fig about iron chariots.

The Israelites shouldn’t either.


The book of Judges is about failure, and the failures have gotten off to a great start.

Judah could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland. Also, the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem.

Notice the difference between could not and did not here. The ESV, NIV, NKJV and the old King James Version all translate these verses this way. So, could not really does mean could not.

But we know that they actually could. God keeps His promises. How can it be that they could not?

Actually, they never could in the first place. God could. They only could in the sense that they could be successful if they turned to God for success. Welcome to Failure 101.

They could not because they thought they could. If they understood the truth that they could not and leaned on God’s promises, they would.

Thus begins the direct application of the lessons of Judges to us. We face could not situations all the time. That’s often what drives us to our knees. The trick is to hit our knees every time we think, “We could.”

The beginning of could is understanding our couldn’t.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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