The book of Judges is the history of Israel during the government of the Judges, who were occasional deliverers, raised up by God to rescue Israel from their oppressors, to reform the state of religion, and to administer justice to the people. The state of God's people does not appear in this book so prosperous, nor their character so religious, as might have been expected; but there were many believers among them, and the tabernacle service was attended to. The history exemplifies the frequent warnings and predictions of Moses, and should have close attention. The whole is full of important instruction.
Proceedings of the tribes of Judah and Simeon. (1-8) Hebron and other cities taken. (9-20) The proceedings of other tribes. (21-36)
Verses 1-8 The Israelites were convinced that the war against the Canaanites was to be continued; but they were in doubt as to the manner in which it was to be carried on after the death of Joshua. In these respects they inquired of the Lord. God appoints service according to the strength he has given. From those who are most able, most work is expected. Judah was first in dignity, and must be first in duty. Judah's service will not avail unless God give success; but God will not give the success, unless Judah applies to the service. Judah was the most considerable of all the tribes, and Simeon the least; yet Judah begs Simeon's friendship, and prays for aid from him. It becomes Israelites to help one another against Canaanites; and all Christians, even those of different tribes, should strengthen one another. Those who thus help one another in love, have reason to hope that God will graciously help both. Adoni-bezek was taken prisoner. This prince had been a severe tyrant. The Israelites, doubtless under the Divine direction, made him suffer what he had done to others; and his own conscience confessed that he was justly treated as he had treated others. Thus the righteous God sometimes, in his providence, makes the punishment answer the sin.
Verses 9-20 The Canaanites had iron chariots; but Israel had God on their side, whose chariots are thousands of angels, ( Psalms 68:17 ) . Yet they suffered their fears to prevail against their faith. About Caleb we read in ( Joshua 15:16-19 ) . The Kenites had settled in the land. Israel let them fix where they pleased, being a quiet, contented people. They that molested none, were molested by none. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Verses 21-36 The people of Israel were very careless of their duty and interest. Owing to slothfulness and cowardice, they would not be at the pains to complete their conquests. It was also owing to their covetousness: they were willing to let the Canaanites live among them, that they might make advantage of them. They had not the dread and detestation of idolatry they ought to have had. The same unbelief that kept their fathers forty years out of Canaan, kept them now out of the full possession of it. Distrust of the power and promise of God deprived them of advantages, and brought them into troubles. Thus many a believer who begins well is hindered. His graces languish, his lusts revive, Satan plies him with suitable temptations, the world recovers its hold; he brings guilt into his conscience, anguish into his heart, discredit on his character, and reproach on the gospel. Though he may have sharp rebukes, and be so recovered that he does not perish, yet he will have deeply to lament his folly through his remaining days; and upon his dying bed to mourn over the opportunities of glorifying God and serving the church he has lost. We can have no fellowship with the enemies of God within us or around us, but to our hurt; therefore our only wisdom is to maintain unceasing war against them.
Judges 1:1-3 . THE ACTS OF JUDAH AND SIMEON.
1. Now after the death of Joshua--probably not a long period, for the Canaanites seem to have taken advantage of that event to attempt recovering their lost position, and the Israelites were obliged to renew the war.
the children of Israel asked the Lord--The divine counsel on this, as on other occasions, was sought by Urim and Thummim, by applying to the high priest, who, according to JOSEPHUS, was Phinehas.
saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first--The elders, who exercised the government in their respective tribes, judged rightly, that in entering upon an important expedition, they should have a leader nominated by divine appointment; and in consulting the oracle, they adopted a prudent course, whether the object of their inquiry related to the choice of an individual commander, or to the honor of precedency among the tribes.
2. the Lord said, Judah shall go up--The predicted pre-eminence ( Genesis 49:8 ) was thus conferred upon Judah by divine direction, and its appointment to take the lead in the ensuing hostilities was of great importance, as the measure of success by which its arms were crowned, would animate the other tribes to make similar attempts against the Canaanites within their respective territories.
I have delivered the land into his hand--not the whole country, but the district assigned for his inheritance.
3. Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me . . ., that we may fight against the Canaanites--Being conterminous tribes ( Joshua 19:1 Joshua 19:2 ), they had a common interest, and were naturally associated in this enterprise.
Judges 1:4-21 . ADONI-BEZEK JUSTLY REQUITED.
5, 6. Bezek--This place lay within the domain of Judah, about twelve miles south of Jerusalem.
found Adoni-bezek--that is, "lord of Bezek"--he was "found," that is, surprised and routed in a pitched battle, whence he fled; but being taken prisoner, he was treated with a severity unusual among the Israelites, for they "cut off his thumbs and great toes." Barbarities of various kinds were commonly practised on prisoners of war in ancient times, and the object of this particular mutilation of the hands and feet was to disable them for military service ever after. The infliction of such a horrid cruelty on this Canaanite chief would have been a foul stain on the character of the Israelites if there were not reason for believing it was done by them as an act of retributive justice, and as such it was regarded by Adoni-bezek himself, whose conscience read his atrocious crimes in their punishment.
7. Threescore and ten kings--So great a number will not appear strange, when it is considered that anciently every ruler of a city or large town was called a king. It is not improbable that in that southern region of Canaan, there might, in earlier times, have been even more till a turbulent chief like Adoni-bezek devoured them in his insatiable ambition.
8. Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it--The capture of this important city, which ranks among the early incidents in the war of invasion ( Joshua 15:63 ), is here noticed to account for its being in the possession of the Judahites; and they brought Adoni-bezek thither [ Judges 1:7 ], in order, probably, that his fate being rendered so public, might inspire terror far and wide. Similar inroads were made into the other unconquered parts of Judah's inheritance [ Judges 1:9-11 ]. The story of Caleb's acquisition of Hebron is here repeated ( Joshua 15:16-19 ).
16. the children of the Kenite, Moses' father-in-law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah--called "the Kenite," as probably descended from the people of that name ( Numbers 24:21 Numbers 24:22 ). If he might not himself, his posterity did accept the invitation of Moses ( Numbers 10:32 ) to accompany the Israelites to Canaan. Their first encampment was in the "city of palm trees"--not Jericho, of course, which was utterly destroyed, but the surrounding district, perhaps En-gedi, in early times called Hazezon-tamar ( Genesis 14:7 ), from the palm-grove which sheltered it. Thence they removed for some unknown cause, and associating themselves with Judah, joined in an expedition against Arad, in the southern part of Canaan ( Numbers 21:1 ). On the conquest of that district, some of this pastoral people pitched their tents there, while others migrated to the north ( Judges 4:17 ).
17-29. And Judah went with Simeon his brother--The course of the narrative is here resumed from Judges 1:9 , and an account given of Judah returning the services of Simeon ( Judges 1:3 ), by aiding in the prosecution of the war within the neighboring tribes.
slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath--or Zephathah ( 2 Chronicles 14:10 ), a valley lying in the southern portion of Canaan.
Hormah--destroyed in fulfilment of an early vow of the Israelites incursions in that quarter, came successively to Gaza, Askelon, and Ekron, which they took. But the Philistines seem soon to have regained possession of these cities.
19. the Lord was with Judah; . . . but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley--The war was of the Lord, whose omnipotent aid would have ensured their success in every encounter, whether on the mountains or the plains, with foot soldiers or cavalry. It was distrust, the want of a simple and firm reliance on the promise of God, that made them afraid of the iron chariots
21. the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem--Judah had expelled the people from their part of Jerusalem ( Judges 1:8 ). The border of the two tribes ran through the city--Israelites and natives must have been closely intermingled.
Judges 1:22-26 . SOME CANAANITES LEFT.
22, 23. the house of Joseph--the tribe of Ephraim, as distinguished from Manasseh ( Judges 1:27 ).
24. the spies . . . said, . . . Show us, . . . the entrance into the city--that is, the avenues to the city, and the weakest part of the walls.
we will show thee mercy--The Israelites might employ these means of getting possession of a place which was divinely appropriated to them: they might promise life and rewards to this man, though he and all the Canaanites were doomed to destruction ( Joshua 2:12-14 ); but we may assume the promise was suspended on his embracing the true religion, or quitting the country, as he did. If they had seen him to be firmly opposed to either of these alternatives, they would not have constrained him by promises any more than by threats to betray his countrymen. But if they found him disposed to be serviceable, and to aid the invaders in executing the will of God, they might promise to spare him.
27-36. The same course of subjugation was carried on in the other tribes to a partial extent, and with varying success. Many of the natives, no doubt, during the progress of this exterminating war, saved themselves by flight and became, it is thought, the first colonists in Greece, Italy, and other countries. But a large portion made a stout resistance and retained possession of their old abodes in Canaan. In other cases, when the natives were vanquished, avarice led the Israelites to spare the idolaters, contrary to the express command of God; and their disobedience to His orders in this matter involved them in many troubles which this book describes.