“The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, Turned back in the day of battle.” Psalm 78:9 (NKJV)
The best I can tell, there is no one particular event that this refers to. Instead this seems to be a sort of summary of what happened when the people of Ephraim decided that they wouldn’t finish the job of conquering their part of the Promised Land. Rather than driving out the inhabitants of the land as God had said, they turned back in the day of battle and allowed the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer to live among them (Judges 1:29).
We are not told here or in Judges why they turned back in the day of battle. However, that the Psalmist includes the fact they were armed and what they were armed with suggests it had nothing to do with not being able to drive them out. They were equipped with the finest weapons of the time and they had God’s promise to help them drive out the Canaanites and yet they turned back in the day of battle. Why? Maybe…
It was too hard?
It would take too long?
It seemed unnecessary to totally remove the people of the land?
They worked out a nice compromise with the people that was advantageous for them?
We just don’t know for sure. What we do know is the result of their turning back.
They Stopped Following God. “They did not keep the covenant of God; They refused to walk in His law,” Psalm 78:10 (NKJV)
There seem to be two reasons for this. First, is simply that turning back from the battle was itself a forsaking of God’s covenant and a refusal to walk in His Law. God had clearly told them they were supposed to completely drive out the people of the land. They were not supposed to make any sort of treaty with them at all. Yet they turned back in battle, and they did make a treaty with them (Joshua 16:10). They stopped following God by not fully obeying Him.
Secondly, disobedience begets disobedience. Once they broke God’s covenant in turning back in the day of battle, and refused to walk in His Law by making a treaty with the people of the land, it became much easier to disobey God in other areas. If you already have a treaty with the people why not let your children marry their children? If your children are marrying their children, why not see how they worship their gods. If you’re seeing how they worship their gods, you might as well add worship of their gods to your religious life. If you’re adding worship of their gods to your religious life you might as well… You see how disobedience begets disobedience?
They Forgot God. “And forgot His works And His wonders that He had shown them.” Psalm 78:11 (NKJV)
Once they had stopped following God, the next logical step is to forget God. I don’t think the idea of forgetting God means they were like, “God who???” Rather I think it carries with it the idea of taking no thought of God. They forgot God by not considering what He had said when making their decisions. God’s will, and God’s Word had no place in their decision making process. Where God’s will and God’s Word were supposed to be the foundation of every decision they made it was instead never consulted or considered.
“How often have we also, although supplied with every gracious weapon, failed to wage successful war against our sins, we have marched onward gallantly enough till the testing hour has come, and then “in the day of battle “we have proved false to good resolutions and holy obligations.”
Isn’t there a great temptation to turn back in the day of battle with the world, the flesh and the Devil?
Perhaps because it’s too hard. Let’s face it, spiritual battles are tough. Our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the Devil, aren’t shrinking violets that scream, cry and run away at the first sign off our opposition to them. They fight back and they fight dirty. There are times when it seems easier just to turn back in the day of battle. Don’t!
Perhaps because it’s taking too long. Spiritual battles are not only tough, they are long. Our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the Devil, are playing the long game. They aren’t going to give up just because we fought and won today. We see this in the temptation of Jesus. After He’d been victorious Satan left until a more opportune time (Luke 4:13). Satan was playing the long game then, and he plays the long game now. There are times when we’ve fought, and fought and think it’s never going to end so we may as well turn back in the day of battle. Don’t!
Perhaps because it seems unnecessary to totally remove this issue (whatever this issue is for us) from our lives. It’s so easy for us to rationalize, minimize, or justify compromise with the world, the flesh, or the Devil. These range from “Everyone else is doing it…” to “It’s not that big of a deal…” to “Society has changed it’s view on…” It’s really easy to come up with a reason why we don’t have to completely remove the issue from our lives but this is turning back in the day of battle. Don’t!
Whatever the reason the result is the same. Turning back in the day of battle will always lead us to be unfaithful to God.
We cannot look back and remain faithful to Jesus.