The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Of all the divine attributes, only God’s omnipotence is named in the Creed: to confess this power has great bearing on our lives. We believe that his might is universal, for God who created everything also rules everything and can do everything” (268).
Yet how can God be omnipotent when the Bible says he was defeated by iron chariots? This is a common atheist meme and was even the title of a now-defunct atheist wiki called “Iron Chariots.” The claim references Judges 1:19: “And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron.”
This part of the book of Judges describes the Israelites attempting to drive the remaining Canaanites out of the promised land. You should know that later in the book the tribe of Judah was able to drive out the Canaanites and their iron chariots. Judges 4:15 describes how God “routed” the Canaanite commander, Sisera, and his 900 iron chariots.
Judges 1:19 isn’t saying God failed to drive out the Canaanites in the plain. The pronoun “he” in this verse refers to the nearest proper noun, or the tribe of Judah. It was Judah who took possession of the hill country but failed to secure the plains. The Lord was “with Judah,” but that doesn’t mean Judah accomplished all their goals. Genesis 39:21 says the Lord was with Joseph while he remained falsely imprisoned for two years because a person who promised to free him forgot to do this (Gen. 40:23)
This only meant God did not abandon Judah during their failure to capture the valley, which was due in part to a lack of faith. According to James Jordan’s commentary on Judges:
Chariots could not function in the hills, so Judah did not have to fight them there. Where the iron chariots could function, however, Judah did not succeed . . . as Judges 4 and 5 will show, God is fully capable of dealing with iron chariots. Thus, the problem was not the iron chariots. The problem was faith, or rather the lack of it. (13)
Ultimately, the book of Judges reveals that God keeps his promises to us even when we break our promises to him. That’s why in the next chapter in Judges, after the defeat of other tribes is described, God says “you have not obeyed my command. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you”. (Judges 2:2-3).
God never abandons us, but he also lets us suffer the consequences of abandoning him, so let us pray to always remain faithful to him no matter how many “iron chariots” we face in our own lives.