Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Judges 1

Verse 1

PREFACE (Judges 1:1-3:6)


In describing the repeated apostasies and subsequent invasions and oppressions of Israel, it was necessary to establish the REASON why God allowed such treatment of the Chosen People. That reason, of course, was their FAILURE TO OBEY God's instructions regarding driving out the corrupt pagan nations of Canaan. In line, therefore, with making this abundantly clear, the author of Judges included a recapitulation of many events recorded in the Book of Joshua. This recapitulation should not obscure the fact that the great burden of the Book of Judges relates to what happened "after the death of Joshua," as stated in Judges 1:1. In fact, "These words, `after the death of Joshua,' must therefore be understood as the title of the whole Book of Judges."[1]

The conquest of Canaan under Joshua was, of course, a success, but in the failure of the Israelites to make a complete destruction of the pagan inhabitants, the door was left open for all of the troubles that came upon Israel in the times of the Judges.

In my commentary on Joshua, we have already discussed practically all of the events mentioned from the period when Joshua was still living. A summary of the general failure of the Chosen People in their disobedience of the Divine instructions to drive out the reprobate nations of Canaan is provided by LaGard Smith in his Narrated Bible.[2]

REUBEN, GAD, and MANASSEH received their inheritance east of Jordan, but these tribes did not drive out the pagan inhabitants (Joshua 13:13).

EPHRAIM did not drive out the inhabitants of Gezer, but made slaves of them (Joshua 16:10; Judges 1:29).

MANASSEH allowed the Canaanites to live in their territory, where, when Israel was stronger, they enslaved the Canaanites, but did not drive them out (Joshua 17:11-13; Judges 1:37,28).

ISSACHAR and ASHER had part of their territory allotted to MANASSEH (Joshua 17:11), but their territory also failed to be purged of the Canaanites (Joshua 17:12).

JUDAH could not drive out the inhabitants of Jerusalem, despite an early victory over that city, and the Jebusites remained there until the time of David (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:8).

BENJAMIN, along with Judah, inherited Jerusalem, but they could not drive out the Jebusites.

ZEBULUN did not drive out the Canaanites from Litton or Nahalol, but they subjected them to forced labor (Judges 1:30).

ASHER did not drive out the pagan inhabitants of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Aczib, Aphek or Rehob, but continued to live among the Canaanites (Judges 1:31-32).

NAPHTALI failed to drive out the Canaanites from Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath, but continued to live among the pagans, and they required the citizens of those towns to become forced laborers for them (Judges 1:33).

DAN was guilty of the same failure. They could not drive out the Amorites from the plain, but when the power of Joseph increased, they pressed the Amorites into forced labor (Judges 1:33).

Thus, all of the Twelve Tribes utterly failed to obey the Divine injunction regarding the extermination of the pagan populations of Canaan. And the completeness of that failure is emphasized by the remarkable recapitulation here in this first chapter of Judges. This shameful lapse on the part of Israel was loaded with terrible consequences.

Not only did the Israelites associate with the residual pagan elements of Canaan, they made slaves of them. They began to intermarry with them. They indulged in the worship of their fertility gods with its shameful licentiousness. They forgot God, and in time, became just as evil as the Canaanites whom God had driven out before them. The repeated deliverances and restorations of Israel during the period of the Judges was God's way of preventing the total ruin and loss of the Chosen People.

"And it came to pass after the death of Joshua, that the children of Israel asked of Jehovah, saying, Who shall go up for us first against the Canaanites to fight against them? And Jehovah said, Judah shall go up; behold, I have delivered the land into his hand. 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. And Judah went up; and Jehovah delivered the Canaanites and the Perizites into their hand: and they smote of them in Bezek ten thousand men. And they found Adonibezek in Bezek; and they fought against him, and they smote the Canaanites and the Perizites. But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their food under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there."

"After the death of Joshua" (Judges 1:1). This is the title of the whole Book of Judges and does not apply to the numerous events recorded in this chapter, all of which occurred during Joshua's lifetime.

"Israel asked of Jehovah" (Judges 1:1). "This expression is found only in Judges and First Samuel. The ruler would apply to the High Priest to consult for him the Urim and Thummin ... The High Priest who was consulted here was Eleazar."[3]

"Judah shall go up" (Judges 1:2). The pre-eminence of the tribe of Judah appears quite early in this book, that tribe being the one through whom the Messiah was destined to come. Judah is here mentioned in conjunction with Simeon because their lots were intermingled (Joshua 19:1).

"Adonibezek fled; they caught him ... cut off his thumbs and his great toes" (Judges 1:6). Adonibezek here should not be confused with Adonizedek mentioned in Joshua 10. That one was king of Jerusalem, but Adonibezek was king of Bezek. As might have been expected, Dalglish supposed that the two names are actually references to the same person, basing his theory upon the fact that nowhere else in the Bible is the sacred name [~'Adonay] linked to a geographical location.[4] This does not appear to this writer as sufficient grounds for such a conclusion.

This record of the cruelty executed upon Adonibezek was no doubt included as an example of the "lex talionis," retribution in kind. Adonibezek himself accepted his punishment as something which he deserved.

The fact of Adonibezek's having captured and mutilated seventy kings indicates that these were very tiny principalities which he destroyed. The fragmented and shattered state of the whole land of Canaan is evident in this episode. This condition, of course, contributed greatly to Joshua's conquest of Palestine.

The loss of one's thumbs would prevent his use of any weapons of war, and the loss of his big toes would make flight impossible. Such treatment might have been imposed as a lesser penalty than death and as enabling the conqueror to procure the services of the defeated.

Verse 8

"Judah fought against Jerusalem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire. And afterward, the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites that dwelt in the hill-country, and in the South, and in the lowland. And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron (now the name of Hebron beforetime was Kiriath-arba); and they smote Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai. And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir. (Now the name of Debir before time was Kiriath-sepher.) And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kiriath-sepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it, and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife. And it came to pass when she came unto him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she alighted from off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wouldest thou? And she said unto him, Give me a blessing; for thou hast set me in the land of the South, give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs."

"And Judah fought against Jerusalem ... took it ... set the city on fire" (Judges 1:8-9). There is no need to view this as a contradiction of Joshua 15:63, where it is stated that Judah could not drive out the Jebusites. As Keil said, "To reconcile these statements is a simple matter."[5] Following this initial victory by Judah, the Jebusites recaptured the city of Jerusalem, strongly fortified it, and held it until the time of King David.

"The hill-country ... the South ... the lowland" (Judges 1:9). These three geographical characteristics of Canaan were:

(1) the mountainous region where Jerusalem and Hebron were located. Hebron had an elevation of 3,040 feet above sea level, and Jerusalem was 2,593 feet above sea level. These mountainous areas were the ones first taken by Israel and held the longest.

(2) The area called `the South' was the Negev, or desert country, which began a few miles south of Hebron and terminated at Beersheba.

(3) The `lowlands,' more properly `the Shephelah,' were the foothills lying between the coastal plain of Palestine and the Judean range of mountains. The Philistines were strongly entrenched in this area and were not dispossessed until the time of David, except occasionally when Israel under some strong leader would stage a temporary victory, sometimes lasting a long time.

"Kiriath-arba" (Judges 1:10) means the four-fold city, or tetrapolis. In Joshua 14:15, a man named `Arba' was described as the greatest man among the Anakim (the giants). He probably took his name from the city which he founded."[6]

"To him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife." (Judges 1:12). The champion who rose up to claim Caleb's daughter was Othniel, spoken of in our text as Caleb's younger brother. As Kyle Yates pointed out, however, the words thus translated may also be read as "Caleb's nephew."[7] "Othniel was also the hero of the deliverance from Chushan-rishathaim (Judges 3:9f)."[8]

"Give me a blessing" (Judges 1:15). Achsah's bold action demonstrated a great deal of discernment and ability on her part. The endowment which Caleb her father had given the newly-married couple was composed principally of very dry arid terrain, the value of which would be greatly enhanced by the additional ownership of springs of water. Caleb even went beyond what his daughter asked, blessing her with a gift not only of the Upper Springs but of the Lower Springs as well. This composes a very touching and beautiful episode in the history of Israel.

Verse 16


"And the children of the Kenite, Moses' brother-in-law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which is in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt with the people. And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they smote the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. And the name of the city was called Hormah. Also Judah took Gaza with the border thereof, and Ashkelon with the border thereof, and Ekron with the border thereof. And Jehovah was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the hill-country; for he could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses had spoken: and he drove out thence the three sons of Anak. 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."

"City of palm trees ... dwelt with the people" (Judges 1:16). `City of palm trees' is a reference to Jericho; and the `people' with whom the kinsmen of Moses dwelt were the Israelites.

"Zephath" (Judges 1:17). Yates has a very interesting discussion of this word. "From the same Hebrew root two words are formed: [~cherem], meaning `devoted' to a pagan god, and [~charam], meaning `destroyed.'[9] Zephath was [~cherem], that is, `devoted' to a pagan god and therefore offensive to the true God, and God ordered it to be utterly destroyed, which was thoroughly done. "They renamed the place `Hormah', which means `utter destruction.'"[10]

"Gaza ... Ashkelon ... Ekron" (Judges 1:18). These were three of the five leading cities of the Philistines, but Judah's taking them was apparently only a temporary achievement, for these cities continued to be controled by the Philistines. The next verse explains why Judah failed to keep these cities. The iron chariots of the Philistine (they were the people who dwelt in the "valley," that is, the Shephelah) gave them a military advantage. However, Judah held on to these cities for at least a century.

"It is a curious fact that when the Egyptian Pharaoh, Rameses III (1269-1244 B.C.) took Ashkelon, he found it inhabited not by Philistines, but by Hebrews."[11]

There is profound support in this fact for the date which we have assigned to the Conquest of Canaan, :1405 B.C.

"Rameses III possessed spears made of iron in the 13th Century B.C.,"[12] and Judges 1:19 here indicates that the Philistines were familiar with the use of iron at the time of the conquest of Canaan.

"The Jebusites dwelt with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day" (Judges 1:21). The meaning of this is that when Judges was written, King David of Israel had not taken Jerusalem away from the Jebusites, strongly supporting our placement of the date of its composition in the reign of Saul, as was the opinion of Sir Isaac Newton.

Verse 22


"And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel; and Jehovah was with them. And the house of Joseph sent to spy out Bethel. (Now the name of the city beforetime was Luz). And the watchers saw a man come forth out of the city, and they said unto him, Show us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city, and we will deal kindly with thee. And he showed them the entrance into the city; and they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let the man go and all his family. 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."

This paragraph recounts the capture and destruction of Bethel by the `House of Joseph,' the use of which name suggests that the half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim cooperated in this venture. It is of interest that God blessed their efforts, despite their use of treachery in the capture of Bethel. It seems not to have entered the minds of the Josephites that in their making a covenant with the traitor, they themselves were violating the commandment of the Lord.

The city of Bethel was in the mountains north of Jerusalem, having an elevation of 2,880 feet above sea level.

Verse 27


"And Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and its towns, nor of Taanach and its towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and its towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. And it came to pass when Israel was waxed strong; that they put the Canaanites to taskwork, and did not utterly drive them out."

Nothing demonstrates the gross wickedness of God's people any better than their treatment of the Canaanites whom they mercilessly enslaved for their own private advantage, wealth, and prosperity. Both the half-tribes of Joseph alike FAILED to do the will of God.

Verse 29


"And Ephraim drove not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them."


These tribes also violated God's commandment by their failure to drive out the Canaanites, finding it to their own selfish interest to enslave the peoples with whom they were not supposed to have any dealings whatever.

Verse 30

"Zebulun drove not out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them and became subject to taskwork. Asher drove not out the inhabitants of Acco, nor the inhabitants of Sidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Rehob; but the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out. Naphtali drove not out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, nor the inhabitants of Beth-anath; but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, and of Beth-anath became subject to taskwork. And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill-country; for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley; but the Amorites would dwell in mount Hezer, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so they became subject to taskwork. And the border of the Amorites was from the ascent of Akrabbim, from the rock and upward."

"From the ascent of Akrabbim, from the rock and upward" (Judges 1:36). "`The ascent of Akrabbim' is (in English) `the ascent of Scorpions,' the name of a mountain pass so-called from the abundance of scorpions in the whole region. The mention of `the rock' points to the neighborhood of Mount Hor and the city of Petra (which means `rock'). The exact location of this territory is not known but it is believed to be immediately south of the Dead Sea."[13]

The message of this whole chapter is evident enough. Israel totally failed to obey the word of the Lord regarding their replacement of the Canaanites. They enslaved them. They lived among them. They soon became tempted to worship their fertility gods. They did not destroy their pagan shrine, as God had specifically ordered them to do. Engrossed with their prosperity they soon forgot God, when this happened, God always brought enemies against Israel who oppressed and impoverished them, but God raised up various judges to deliver them, to bring them to repentance, and to restore them to the worship of the true God, and then, when peace and prosperity returned, the whole unhappy cycle was repeated again and again and again in the Book of Judges.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.