Judges 1

The Word Made Fresh

1After Joshua died the Israelites asked the LORD, “Which of us should go fight the Canaanites first?”

2The LORD said, “Judah. I have given the land to them.”

3The men of Judah said to their brothers, the men of Simeon, “Come, help us fight the Canaanites in our territory, then we will go with you to fight them in your territory.” The men of Simeon agreed. 4So, Judah engaged the Canaanites and Perrizites, and the LORD gave them victory. They defeated ten thousand of them at Bezek, 5attacking Adoni-Bezek and his Canaanite and Perizzite army. 6Adoni-Bezek ran, but they captured him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7He said, “I cut off the thumbs and big toes of seventy other kings, and they were beggars at my table. God has repaid me.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and that is where he died.

8Judah attacked Jerusalem and captured it with the sword and set it on fire. 9Then they turned to attack the Canaanites in the hill country and in the Negeb and in the lowlands. 10They attacked the Canaanites in Hebron (formerly Kiriath-Arba) and defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.

11Then they attacked Debir (formerly Kiriath-Sepher). 12Caleb said, “Whoever captures Kiriath-Sepher, I will give my daughter Achsah to be his wife.” 13Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, took the city, and Caleb gave Achsah to him.

14When she came to him, Othniel urged her to ask her father for some land. So, as she was dismounting from her donkey, Caleb asked, “What do you want as your bridal gift?” 15She said, “Since you have sent me to the dry Negeb, give me the springs at Gulloth.” Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

16The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, who was a Kenite, went with the men of Judah from Jericho, the city of palms, to the wilderness of Judah in the Negeb near Arad. Then they moved on and settled among the people of Amalek.

17The tribes of Judah and Simeon defeated the Canaanites at Zephath and destroyed the city. 18Judah took over the territories of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Edron. 19The LORD was with Judah and they were able to take possession of the hill country, but still could not displace the people of the plain, who had iron chariots. 20Hebron was awarded to Caleb as Moses had directed, and Caleb was able to drive out the three sons of Anak.

21The tribe of Benjamin, however, was not able to displace the Jebusites at Jerusalem, so they have lived there to this day among the Benjaminites.

22Joseph went against Bethel, and the LORD was with them. 23First, they sent spies to Bethel (formerly Luz). 24They met a man coming out of the city and told him they would not harm him if he would show them a way into the city. 25He showed them. They attacked the city and took it but let the man and his family go. 26He went to the country of the Hittites, and there he built a city and called it Luz, as it is called to this day.

27Manasseh was not able to drive out the Canaanites who lived at Beth-Shean, Taanach, Dor, or Megiddo, nor any of the villages around them. 28When Israel grew stronger they made the Canaanites work for them, but never drove them out.

29Neither did Ephraim drive the Canaanites out of Gezer. The Canaanites stayed and lived among them there.

30Zebulun did not drive the Canaanites out of Kitron or Nahaloi, but the Canaanites stayed and lived among them and were forced to work for them.

31Asher did not drive the Canaanites out of Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Achzib or Helbah or Aphik or Rehob. 32They had to live alongside the Canaanites there.

32Naphtali did not remove the people who lived at Beth-Shemesh or Beth-Anath, 33but they, too, lived among the Canaanites, and forced them to work for them.

34The Amorites pushed the tribe of Dan back into the hill country and did not let them come down to the plain, 35and they continued to live in Har-Heres, Aijalon, and Shaalbim, but the tribes of Joseph gradually overcame them, and they were put to forced labor. 36The Amorite border went up from Akrabbim, Sela, and beyond.

Commentary

1-7: Judges takes up where Joshua left off (but the death of Joshua will be reported again in chapter 2). However, Judges obviously relies on different source material, and there will be a number of scenes presented a bit differently from what we have previously read. We are told that after Joshua’s death the Israelites inquire of the LORD to resume their conquest of the land. We are not told where the inquiry is made, or how God’s word is imparted – perhaps by casting lots. In any case, Judah is chosen to be first in battle. They ask Simeon to aid them and together they defeat King Adoni-Bezek of Bezek. Adoni-Bezek’s name is very close to the Adoni-Zedek Joshua defeated some years before (see Joshua 10). The details, however, are new. The Israelites cut off his big toes and thumbs – a punishment apparently not unheard of in other literature of the time. He acknowledges the God of Israel’s supremacy, and is taken to Jerusalem, where he dies (although Jerusalem has not yet been captured by the Israelites.)

8-10: Now Judah successfully besieges Jerusalem and takes it. (Jerusalem is in Benjamin’s territory, however, and apparently Judah gives it over to Benjamin – see verse 21). Next, they move west and south, conquering Hebron in the process. Hebron is the town given to Caleb, and in Joshua 15:13-14 we were told that Caleb subdued Hebron. Here, he has been grafted into the broader story of the tribe of Judah.

11-15: These verses are practically identical to the story told in Joshua 15:15-19. Their insertion here underscores the suspicion that Joshua and Judges were ultimately compiled at different times by different compilers who had available to them similar as well as quite different sources of information.

16-19: These verses illustrate the confusion resulting from the attempt to harmonize different sources of information. Moses’ father-in-law was Hobab, or Jethro. Hobab is only mentioned in one other place (Numbers 10:29). Scholars are divided over whether this is another name for Jethro, or whether Hobab is Jethro’s son, therefore Moses’ brother-in-law, not father-in-law. In any case, we are now told that his descendants have teamed up with Judah/Simeon to subdue the southern coastal plains. Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron are Philistine strongholds which never are completely subdued until the time of David, and we will learn (1 Samuel 15:6) that king Saul urges the Kenites to leave before he attacks the Philistines there.

20: Caleb is given Hebron, as recorded earlier, long before Joshua’s death. The chronology is jumping forward and backward.

21: Now we are told that Benjamin can’t rid Jerusalem (taken earlier by Judah/Simeon) of the Jebusites who live there.

22-26: Joseph (Ephraim) conquers Bethel with the aid of an informant who later names another city Luz. This story is probably preserved in order to explain the relocation of Luz.

27-36: We are given a litany of failures by Manasseh (which had territory on both sides of the Jordan), Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. Except for Joseph/Simeon, none of the tribes west of the Jordan are successful in subduing the land. Dan, in fact, is pushed back from previously occupied territory.

Takeaway

So, the conquest of the land is not as swift and complete as the book of Joshua had described. This actually comes as a relief – the indigenous people are not slaughtered wholesale as indicated earlier. The Israelites will have to learn to live with other people and other cultures for a long time to come. God often puts us in places where we have to learn how to get along with people we’ve never met. God often takes us out of our comfort zone in order to accomplish God’s will. When we feel out-of-place, maybe we should ask why God might want us there.