2:1 The angel of the Lord frequently represents God himself, bringing his word to his people (6:11-24) and protecting them from their enemies (Ex 14:19). The reference to Gilgal may be to his previous appearance there to Joshua as commander of the Lord’s army (Jos 5:13-15). Now after Israel’s inadequate attempts to “go up” (in warfare) against the inhabitants of Canaan, the angel of the Lord went up against them.
2:2-3 Israel had been given specific instructions on what they were to do (and not do) with the Canaanites in the land (e.g., Ex 23:20-33; 34:12-15; Jos 23:13). God’s continuing to drive them out was conditioned on their obedience.
2:4-5 The people wept loudly and offered sacrifices, the outward signs of repentance. They even memorialized their response in the name given to the place, Bochim (“Weeping”). Yet their actions in the rest of the chapter cast serious doubt on the authenticity of their repentance.
2:6-13 This passage is a flashback summarizing the beginning of the book of Judges. Baal was the Canaanite god of storm and rain, while Ashtoreth (also known as Astarte) was his consort, the goddess of love and fertility. Both of these deities were worshiped under a variety of local manifestations and were perceived as the key to agricultural success in the land of Canaan.
2:14-15 The consequence of Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness was the covenant curse (Dt 28:48). Instead of the Lord fighting for Israel and handing their enemies over into their power, the Lord gave them over into the hand of their enemies, and they suffered greatly.
2:16-19 Because of their distress, the Lord raised up judges for Israel, and they saved them from the power of their marauders. There is no mention of repentance by the people; the judges were raised up as the result of the Lord’s pity on their groaning. In relenting from the punishment he had imposed on his people, the Lord showed himself to be “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth” (Ex 34:6). The judges typically governed Israel (or part of it) and sought to lead them in the ways of the Lord during their lifetimes—a ministry that is most evident in the life of the final judge, Samuel. Yet their influence on the people was limited, and after each judge died Israel invariably reverted to their idolatrous ways. This period of Israel’s history was a downward spiral, with each generation acting more corruptly than their fathers. The judges slowed rather than stemmed the rising tide of iniquity.
2:20-23 It was a mark of the Lord’s anger that he no longer referred to Israel as “my people” but as this nation. Since they refused to drive out the Canaanites, the Lord would leave the Canaanites among Israel as a test of their faithfulness. Each generation would now have to demonstrate its own faithfulness to the Lord in a hostile environment.