Judges 1



Israel Fights the Remaining Canaanites (1:1–36)

1–2 At the time Joshua died (Joshua 24:29–30), Canaan had been essentially subdued by the Israelites; but there were many areas of the land where Canaanites were still living. It was now up to the Israelite tribes to occupy the remaining pockets of land and to destroy or drive out the Canaanites living there. In this endeavor, Joshua had assured the Israelites that the Lord would fight for them and give them success (see Joshua 23:1–5 and comment).

The Lord assigned to the tribe of Judah2 the leadership role in driving out the Canaanites (verse 2); the men of Judah were to be an example and lead the way in taking full possession of the land that Joshua had allotted to them (Joshua Chapter 15).

3–8 Since Simeon’s allotment of land lay within Judah’s allotment (Joshua 19:1,9), the men of Judah asked the Simeonites to join them in driving out the Canaanites (verse 3). They first attacked the Canaanites and Perizzites3 at a place called Bezek, and captured their leader Adoni-Bezek4 (verses 4–6). Then they cut off Adoni-Bezek’s thumb and big toe—a just punishment, since he had done the same to many others5 (verse 7).

After Bezek, the men of Judah attacked Jerusalem and took it (verse 8); they probably did so together with the Benjamites (verse 21), since Jerusalem was located within the allotment of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28). But the Israelites did not fully occupy Jerusalem at that time. The local inhabitants, the Jebusites, continued living there. Only much later, during King DAVID’s reign, was Jerusalem finally taken over by the Israelites.

9–10 Then the men of Judah proceeded to drive out the Canaanites from three main regions of southern Canaan: the hill country (the central mountainous region), the Negev (the southern desert region), and the western foothills (the region lying between the central mountains and the coastal plain along the Mediterranean Sea). They also advanced against Hebron, the city that had been given to Caleb6 (see Joshua 15:13–14 and comment).

11–15 See Joshua 15:15–19 and comment.

16–18 In verse 16, the descendants of Moses’ father-in-law are mentioned (see Exodus 2:15–21); they had been helpful to Israel during Israel’s desert wanderings. They moved from the City of Palms (Jericho) to live in the southern part of Judah’s territory, the Negev.

The men of Judah and Simeon also destroyed Zephath and renamed it Hormah (verse 17), which means “destruction.”7 The Israelites totally destroyed8 Zephath, in accordance with Moses’ command that all Canaanite cities must be completely destroyed (see Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 20:16–18 and comments). The men of Judah also captured three Philistine cities (verse 18), but only temporarily; later the Philistines would occupy the entire southern coastal region of Canaan and become troublesome enemies of Israel.

19–21 These verses describe the failure of Israel’s three southern tribes to fully occupy their territories. Only Caleb was completely successful (verse 20). The Canaanites’ iron chariots (verse 19) were part of the reason for Israel’s failure (see Joshua 17:14–18 and comment). But the real reason for the Israelites’ failure is revealed in Judges 2:1–5: they had disobeyed the Lord’s commands, and the Lord had stopped fighting for them (see Joshua 23:12–13 and comment).

22–26 In the rest of the chapter, the writer turns his attention to Israel’s northern tribes, here called the house of Joseph.9 The first city the northern Israelites attacked was Bethel10 (verse 22), which had originally been named by JACOB himself (Genesis 28:16–19). A man of Bethel showed some Israelite spies a way to get into the city (perhaps via a secret tunnel) and so the Israelites spared him and his family11 (verses 24–25), just as they had spared Rahab and her family during the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:25).

27–36 The northern tribes were even less successful than the southern tribes in driving out the Canaanites. Indeed, the most they accomplished was to subject the Canaanites to forced labor (verses 28,30,35), thereby gaining an economic advantage from them (see Joshua 17:12–13 and comment). Basically the northern tribes failed to heed the command of Moses (Deuteronomy 7:1–2; 20:16–18) and the warning of Joshua (Joshua 23:12–13).

In verse 34, the predicament of the Danites is noteworthy: the Amorites (Canaanites) had confined them to the hills. Joshua had already defeated the Amorites (Joshua 10:5–11), but because of disobedience and lack of faith the Danites were not able to possess their inheritance. What a sad testimony! A defeated enemy was keeping God’s people from entering into their full inheritance. Sadly, a similar thing is still happening today: a defeated enemy, SATAN, is still keeping God’s people from entering into the full joy and freedom they have been given in Christ.