Open your Bible to the 1st chapter of the book of Judges.
Judges 1 Commentary: Last Time
Last week we got a broad overview of this book. We saw its three main sections – the double introduction, followed by the cycles of judges in the middle of the book, and closed by the double conclusion. And through all of these sections and chapters we see a general downward progression in Israel’s morals, character, and worship. The degeneration evident in this book can get to be offensive and repulsive. In fact, at one point during the message last week I was overcome with a sense of how horrible things had really become in Israel during this time. I saw pained looks on some of your faces. Hopefully that wasn’t just a reaction to my teaching style! I think that was a reaction to the way this book portrays life in the days of the Judges. It was wicked. It was unclean. It was the kind of culture that God himself would have to judge and punish. In fact, if these Israelites didn’t turn from their sins and embrace the God of Israel they would need to be driven from their land…
Wait. You know, that kind of situation sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? A society becoming so wicked that God had to punish it by driving it from its land? And what I’m primarily thinking about is not our nation, though we are well-deserving of God’s punishment. What I see of the Israelites in the book of Judges – from start to finish – looks a lot like what I’ve heard about regarding the Canaanites. Why did God drive the Canaanites out of their land? Was it not for their constant and grave sin against the Lord? Why did God eventually after hundreds of years of patience need to drive the Israelites from their land? Was it not their constant and grave sin against the Lord? Yeah. So, what are we seeing here in the book of Judges, ultimately? If you were trying to summarize the events of this book, what would you say?
Some say the book is an apology for the monarchy. So someone in David’s time wants to write a book defending why Israel needs a king. Now, there surely is a sense in which this book shows us Israel’s need for a king – someone who will rule over them and help them do right in the Lord’s eyes. And yet, a human king didn’t do the trick, as we saw last week.
I think you can summarize the entire book of Judges like this: The Canaanizing of Israel. The double introduction shows how this process of Canaanizing started. The middle section relating the cycle of Judges shows us the increasing influence of the neighboring pagans over Israel. And the distressing double conclusion relates the utter saturation of Israel with the wickedness and godlessness of the surrounding Canaanites. The book of Judges. The Canaanizing of Israel.
Judges 1 Commentary: Progressive Canaanization
So today we’ll take a close look at the first of the two introductions to the book of Judges — 1:1 to 2:5. In our Christian lives we talk about this phenomenon called progressive sanctification. Well, what we see in this first introduction is basically the opposite of that process. So, in this lesson we’ll take a look at Progressive Canaanization. Not progressive sanctification – growing in holiness and Christliskeness. But progressive Canaanization – being conformed to the image of the ungodly pagan world around us.
Let’s read verses 1 through 3.
KJV Judges 1:1 ¶ Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? 2 And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand. 3 And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.
So, Joshua is now dead. Israel needs to complete the task that Joshua started that nation on. Joshua had led them to incredible victories. The land was taken. Now it needed to be possessed by Israel. Let’s see how they do.
All of Israel asked the Lord who should go up to fight against the Canaanites. This is noble. It shows that at least at the outset the Israelites cared about God’s priorities. They wanted to drive out the Canaanites initially.
And so the Lord tells them that the tribe of Judah should go up first. He gives the promise that he’s with them and has already delivered the land into their hand.
So, what does Judah do? The tribe actually turns around and asks Simeon to go and help them. That’s a little strange. Why would Judah need Simeon? Yes, Simeon lived within the tribe of Judah. They lived with each other, basically. But God said Judah would go. Why invite Simeon? I won’t make any more of that, but it’s just interesting. One commentary I read wondered if this is a sign of weakness in Judah – that they were too afraid or faithless to go alone? Maybe. But the text doesn’t explicitly say that’s the case, so we’ll just leave it at that.
Can I make a few points of application from this much that we’ve read thus far? Do you see some similarities to the Christian life from this passage? Israel has been handed a major victory. So have we. The Lord has saved us from sin’s penalty. Our flesh has been given a knock-out punch. Israel had to drive out the remaining Canaanites. If they didn’t, the Canaanites would become a major stumbling block to Israel. For you and I, we need to resist the world. It’s actively trying to shape us into its mold. We need to be transformed by renewing our minds.
And we’re not alone in this. Israel all together asked the Lord about who ought to attack the Canaanites first. Judah asked Simeon to help them, and maybe that was a good thing. Certainly in our Christian walk it’s alright and even advisable to not be islands unto ourselves. Iron sharpens iron. We’re not to forsake assembling together, but rather we need to encourage one another – day after day! Why? So that none of us would be hardened. How? By the deceitfulness of sin. We have internal Canaanites, so to speak, and they’re actively trying to shape us into their image. We need the fellowship of one another to keep us from being hardened.
How are you doing with this? When you come to church you can make small talk. You can talk about things that matter to you day in and day out – things like our homes and family and jobs and vehicles and health. In fact, we need to talk about these things. It’s legitimate. But do we forget to check up on one another spiritually? Are we individually walking with the Lord so that when we come to this place we actually have something to say?
Judges 1 Commentary: Judah and Simeon
Well, Israel asks God who should go up and fight the enemy. Judah should go. He takes Simeon. And let’s read verses 4 through 7.
4 And Judah went up; and the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men. 5 And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites. 6 But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. 7 And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.
So, Judah and Simeon go up, elevationally. That’s what the text says. They go up and attack a city named Bezek. Eventually Judah and Simeon capture the Lord of Bezek. And when they find him they cut off his thumbs and big toes. What’s the deal with that? Why would they do that? Let Adoni Bezek tell you. It’s divine retribution. This pagan ruler acknowledges that God’s people are being used in this case to be agents of God’s punishment. The Lord of Bezek tells us that he had 70 kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off picking up scraps under his table. And Adoni Bezek ends his aside with this statement, “as I have done, so God hath requited me.” God is paying me back.
Wow. So, what do we take away from this account? Do you suppose that the Israelites were mindful that they were agents of God’s judgment on the Canaanites? Surely some of them had this in mind. But I wonder if many Israelites didn’t think too much about that. Many were probably happy enough to be getting God’s benefits – free land, free homes, free fields. All for the taking. They just had to kill a few Canaanites to get it.
Did you know that God has a purpose for your life? He wants to bless you. He offers great and eternal reward for serving him. We’re not like Israel in the sense that we’re not killing God’s enemies. We’re actually delivering the news of eternal life to them. We’re not wrestling against flesh and blood as Israel did. We have an unseen enemy that we’re battling. And as we go about engaging in these things let us be mindful that God has divine purposes for the things he brings us through. He has a reason for your sufferings. He has a purpose for your having to deal with that difficult person or situation or temptation.
So, Israel takes Adoni Bezek on to their next destination – Jerusalem. And there he dies. Let’s read verses 8 through 15.
8 Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire. 9 And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites, that dwelt in the mountain, and in the south, and in the valley. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron: (now the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba:) and they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai. 11 ¶ And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjathsepher: 12 And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. 13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife. 14 And it came to pass, when she came to him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she lighted from off her [donkey]; and Caleb said unto her, What wilt thou? 15 And she said unto him, Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs.
So Bezek and Jerusalem were “up” in terms of elevation. Starting in verse 9 they start their descent “down”. They attack Hebron and kill Anakim – the giants who scared the 10 spies at Kadesh Barnea. Then they took what one commentary playfully calls “Bookville” – Kiriath Sepher, which basically means bookville or city of the book. And it’s here that we see this account of Caleb, Othniel, and Achsah. Remember? We saw this in the book of Joshua before. Caleb gave Achsah land in the desert. So she wanted springs of water to kind of balance out her land holdings.
Now, Othniel is the first judge mentioned in this book – here and in the section known as the cycles of the judges. And he gets married to this woman Achsah. I just want to briefly contrast this first judge and his wife to the last judge Samson and his… wives? Othniel marries within Israel to the daughter of one of the most faithful men in the land. Samson? He marries outside of his people to members of Israel’s enemies. Achsah could be considered opportunistic. She’s wanting all the land she can get, seeing as it’s so free and plentiful. What about Samson’s love interests? Think of Delilah. She’s opportunistic. But in a horrible way. She’s ready to sell her man to his enemies for money. Achsah is using her influence to persuade her father to give her – and certainly her husband Othniel – more land. Quite a contrast.
Ladies, can I encourage you to be an Achsah rather than a Delilah? Achsah nobly moved her husband to ask for a field from Caleb. But it actually sounds like she went ahead and did it. Why didn’t Othniel do it? I don’t know. Maybe he was too busy with other things. But it was in Achsah’s husband’s best interest to get this extra field. Sounds sort of like the woman in Proverbs 31, doesn’t she? Delilah on the other hand? She moved her “husband” – though she wasn’t actually married to Samson – she moved Samson to tell her his secret that would lead to his destruction. What was her motivation? The betterment of her husband-figure Samson? No. Money. Her own personal selfish gain. But what do you expect from Delilah? She is a Canaanite, after all.
So, back to the story line here. A while back Moses asked his father-in-law to come with Israel to the promised land. His father-in-law was a Kenite. And we finally see his group entering the promised land. Let’s read verse 16.
16 ¶ And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.
The Kenites go from Jericho – the city of palms – to a place in the Judean desert. Is this alright? I think it is. Apparently the Kenites came to Jericho after Israel had conquered it. So I would suppose they came in with Joshua’s approval at least.
And we’ll see more about the Kenites in the episode about Deborah and Barak later in the book.
OK, now Judah has his territory. So now Judah can go with Simeon to conquer his territory.
17 And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. And the name of the city was called Hormah. 18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof. 19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.
20 And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses said: and he expelled thence the three sons of Anak.
We need to point out a few things here. First, Judah and Simeon utterly destroyed Zephath. This is exactly what the Lord commanded Moses and Moses commanded Israel. This is exactly what Joshua led Israel to do during the conquest of the land. The word translated “utterly destroy” (cherem) is found 28 times in the book of Joshua. So you’d expect to find it much more in the book of Judges, right? The people need to keep doing what they were charged to do! Here’s a pretty stunning fact. This word cherem is used twice in the book of Judges. The first use is here. Can you guess where the second and final use of it is in this book? Probably not. I don’t blame you. I’ll tell you. It’s actually in chapter 21. That’s where the elders are trying to figure out how to not have Benjamin wiped off the map by finding wives for them. The elders advise that all Israel utterly destroy (cherem) the men of Jabesh-Gilead. What a contrast. Here Simeon and Judah are directing the cherem toward foreign pagan enemies. But by the end of this book they’re directing the cherem toward their own people. By that point they’re pretty thoroughly Canaanized.
And one sign of worldliness in us is quarrels and strifes – petty fighting amongst each other, gossiping, back-biting. I’m not talking about legitimate communications about genuine differences. I’m not talking about biblical discipline and confrontation. But the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians that one evident sign of that church’s carnality was their jealousy and strife amongst themselves. Be careful that you’re not focusing your resources away from doing God’s work of fighting our unseen enemies with your spiritual arsenal that you have in Christ in order to exchange friendly fire with your brethren.
One last thing to note about this section. Judah and Simeon did great. Really, no one did better than these two. But they didn’t drive out the Canaanites from the valley. Their excuse? Iron chariots, which no doubt would have been formidable in the valleys. But don’t you remember the great army that gathered against Joshua in Northern Canaan? More numerous than the sand on the shore. And yet God gave them victory over that army. And those folks had chariots! Curious.
And it’s just downhill from here. Let’s read about Benjamin in verse 21.
21 And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day.
So even though Judah and Simeon burned Jerusalem, Benjamin still couldn’t drive out the inhabitants. The Jebusites would likely have been pretty weakened by Judah’s previous attack. Why could Benjamin not drive them out? Well, no time to ponder that further.
Up to this point we’ve heard about three tribes in the south of Israel. Now we turn to the north. Verses 22 through 24.
22 ¶ And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel: and the LORD was with them. 23 And the house of Joseph sent to descry [“catch sight of”] Bethel. (Now the name of the city before was Luz.) 24 And the spies saw a man come forth out of the city, and they said unto him, Shew us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city, and we will shew thee mercy.
Interesting that Joseph had to re-capture Bethel. I wonder how the Canaanites got back into that city. They had been defeated with Ai back in Joshua.
This story of Joshua parallels that of Judah and Simeon. This is another united effort against the Canaanites. But the results aren’t nearly as impressive. For example, why is Joseph showing this Canaanite mercy? They should be showing him cherem! Let’s see what happens to this guy anyway. Verses 25 and 26.
25 And when he shewed them the entrance into the city, they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let go the man and all his family. 26 And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and called the name thereof Luz: which is the name thereof unto this day.
So they let the Canaanite go and he goes and starts another Canaanite city. Not smart. So, that’s how the united tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh did. Pretty underwhelming. But let’s see what they did separately. Verses 27 through 29.
27 ¶ Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns: but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. 28 And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.
29 ¶ Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.
I don’t like the pattern I’m seeing develop here. Yes, the Canaanites were pressed into forced labor when Israel was strong, but why didn’t they just drive them out when Israel was strong? Why didn’t they utterly destroy the Canaanites? Not good.
Well, let’s see if any of the other northern tribes fare any better. Verses 30 through 36.
30 ¶ Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries.
31 ¶ Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob: 32 But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: for they did not drive them out.
33 ¶ Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, nor the inhabitants of Bethanath; but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: nevertheless the inhabitants of Bethshemesh and of Bethanath became tributaries unto them.
34 ¶ And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley: 35 But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributaries.
36 And the coast of the Amorites was from the going up to Akrabbim, from the rock, and upward.
Asher and Naphtali kind of change the course of things and bring it down to a new low. The Canaanites don’t live among them. Now, these two tribes live among the Canaanites. The situation with the tribe of Dan is even worse. Dan was forced into the hill country because just like Judah they couldn’t handle the Canaanites in the valley. And the end of this sad tale is told in verse 36 where we’re told not of Israel’s boundary, but of the Amorites’.
But why? Is God unfaithful? Did he break his promise with the children of Israel to drive out the Canaanites? Let’s read God’s explanation of this series of events in 2:1-3.
2:1 ¶ And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. 2 And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? 3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.
An angel or messenger or emissary of the Lord goes up – just like Judah did at the beginning of this lesson. But this going up is not hopeful. It’s sorrowful. The messenger comes from Gilgal – the place where Israel camped when they first entered the land under Joshua. It’s where the men of Israel renewed the covenant of circumcision after their fathers failed to implement that rite for them.
And this messenger has a really somber message. God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt. He brought them into their promised land. He swore to never break his covenant with them. And he only asked them to not join hands with the wicked pagans but to destroy them. And Israel didn’t listen. So God refuses to drive out the Canaanites any longer. And as a result things will surely get worse from here on out. The people weep and sacrifice in verses 4 and 5. But they really need to get rid of the pagans and do what God wants them to do. Apparently they don’t do it.
For us, are you struggling with some life-dominating sin? Do you suppose the Lord is allowing you to experience that because you’re disobeying him in some other area? Have you dabbled with the world enough that perhaps the Lord has let you go to some degree? And now you’re able to enjoy unhindered the world and all its passing pleasures. How do you like it? It’s not what you thought it would be, is it? It’s not fun. It’s not fulfilling. It’s burdensome.
What does God call people who claim to be his and yet are friends of the world? Enemies. Adulteresses. It sounds hopeless. No, it’s not. God gives you the solution. Are you a sinner? Cleanse your hands. Are you double-minded? Purify your heart. How does this sound in this day when positive thinking is held in such high esteem? Be miserable and mourn and weep. Turn your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Here’s what all this indicates – that you are humbling yourself under the mighty hand of God. And if you do this, what’s his promise? He will exalt you. Draw near to God. What will he do in response? He’ll draw near to you. That’s a promise.
May the Lord help us to get and stay on the path of progressive sanctification – rather than the path that Israel chose of Progressive Canaanization.