Judges 1

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

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.

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