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Bible Commentaries
Judges 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-3

The Book of Judges begins with a conjunction translated "now" or "and." God intended Judges to continue the narrative of Israel’s history where the Book of Joshua ended (cf. Joshua 1:1). This verse provides a heading for the whole Book of Judges with the actual events following Joshua’s death not being narrated until after the record of his death in Judges 2:8. Another view of the relationship of Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 to the death of Joshua is that all of Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 records events after Joshua’s death, and Judges 2:6 gives a recapitulation of his death. A third view is that Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 begins after Joshua’s death, but what happens after Judges 1:9 occurred before his death. [Note: See F. Duane Lindsey, "Judges," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 376.]

The Israelites wisely sought God’s strategy in proceeding against their foe. They may have done this with the high priest and his use of the Urim and Thummim (cf. Numbers 27:21). Each of the major divisions of Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 opens with a form of the verb ’alah (to go up; Judges 1:4; Judges 1:22; Judges 2:1). This verb also appears in Judges 1:1-3.

Judges 1:2

The Lord’s appointment of Judah as the first tribe to initiate hostility was in harmony with Jacob’s prophecy that Judah would be the leader of the tribes (Genesis 49:8-12).

"The opening scene of the book offers so much promise. The theocratic system is still in place. Israel is sensitive to the will of God, and God responds to the overtures of his people. . . . By raising the reader’s expectations this way the narrator invites us to share the intensity of his own and God’s dis-appointment with his people in the period of settlement. Judges 1:1-2 throw the remainder of the chapter and the book into sharpest relief." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 87.]

Judges 1:3

Judah naturally and properly, I believe, invited Simeon to join in this battle. After all, the Simeonites lived within the territory of Judah and there-fore enjoyed an unusually close relationship with the people of Judah.

Verses 1-5

A. Hostilities between the Israelites and the Canaanites following Joshua’s death 1:1-2:5

". . . archaeology shows that the superpowers (Babylonia, Assyria, the Hittites, and Egypt) were relatively weak during the days of the judges and the monarchy. Internal affairs kept them busy at home. This, humanly speaking, made possible the survival of the nation of Israel. The smaller, local enemies were trouble enough for her armies." [Note: Arthur H. Lewis, Judges and Ruth, p. 13.]

1. Initial successes and failures ch. 1

The attitude of the Israelites toward the Canaanites changed in the years following Joshua’s death.

Verses 1-6


The first major section in the book (Judges 1:1 to Judges 3:6) explains very clearly why the period of the judges was a dark chapter in Israel’s history. God revealed the reasons for Israel’s apostasy and consequent national problems in terms too clear to miss.

The years immediately following Joshua’s death saw a transition from success to failure. The events of this period set the scene for the amphictyony (rule by judges) and provide a background for the main part of the book (Judges 3:7 to Judges 16:31).

"The Book of Judges may be viewed as having a two-part introduction (Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 and Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6) and a two-part epilogue (Judges 17:1 to Judges 18:31 and Judges 19:1 to Judges 21:25). Parallel ideas and motifs link the first introduction (Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5) with the second epilogue (Judges 19:1 to Judges 21:25), and in like manner the second introduction (Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6) with the first epilogue (Judges 17:1 to Judges 18:31)." [Note: J. Paul Tanner, "The Gideon Narrative as the Focal Point of Judges," Bibliotheca Sacra 149:594 (April-June 1992):149.]

Verses 1-21

The leadership of Judah 1:1-21

Verse 4

Bezek was obviously a stronghold of the Canaanites and Perizzites at this time since the Israelite forces were able to smite them near this town. The word translated "thousand" (Heb. eleph) can also mean "military unit." In Judges 20:10 it refers to a unit of 10 men. Consequently the meaning here may be 10 military units rather than 10 thousand soldiers. [Note: See my note on 20:10.]

Verses 5-7

Adoni-bezek (lit. Lord of Bezek) was the title of the king of Bezek (cf. 1 Samuel 11:8-11) rather than his proper name. The modern town name is Khirbet Ibziq. [Note: Lindsey, p. 378.] The Israelites probably cut off this man’s thumbs so he could not wield a sword, and his big toes so he could not run away, as well as to humiliate him. These were evidently temporary measures until they could carry out God’s will and slay him. The loss of these digits also made it impossible for him to serve as a priest as well as a warrior, a dual function among many ancient eastern kings. [Note: Wolf, p. 386.] The king’s boast that he had similarly crippled 70 kings seems to have been an exaggerated one. Such boasts by warriors were common in the ancient world. Joshua had defeated fewer than 70 kings and in so doing had subdued the major part of Canaan (cf. Joshua 12). Gathering crumbs under the table like dogs (Judges 1:7; cf. Matthew 15:27) represented "the most shameful treatment and humiliation." [Note: C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, p. 253.] The soldiers evidently took Adoni-bezek with them to Jerusalem, the site of their next offensive, and either executed him there or he died from his wounds there.

"The focus on Judah and Jerusalem invites attention to the larger context of the prophetic canon. The humbling of Adoni-bezek, for instance, happens in Jerusalem (Judges 1:7). The later humbling of the Judean monarchy will also happen in Jerusalem, suggesting ultimately that God plays no favorites. God wills justice and righteousness, and the failure to embody it will eventually bring any people down." [Note: J. Clinton McCann, Judges, p. 29.]

Verse 8

Even though the soldiers of Judah and Simeon captured and burned Jerusalem, the Israelites were not able to keep the Jebusites from returning to control their ancient capital (cf. Judges 1:21; Judges 19:11-12; Joshua 15:63).

"The Jebusites were a mixed people who descended from early colonies of Hittites and Amorites in Canaan." [Note: Lewis, p. 22. See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Jebusite," by D. J. Wiseman.]

Jerusalem became Israel’s permanent possession years later when David finally exterminated the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-9). The Israelites’ unfaithfulness in subduing the land is one of the major emphases of Judges. [Note: Thomas L. Constable, "A Theology of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 107-8.]

Verses 9-10

Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Judges 1:10) were evidently the ruling lords of Hebron (lit. confederacy), the highest city in elevation in Judah (ca. 3,000 ft.). The older name of this town was Kiriath Arba, "city of four." This name may have its origin in an alliance of four communities in that area, or possibly from Arba, the father of Anak, who may have been the founder of the town or towns (cf. Judges 1:20; Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13; Joshua 21:11). [Note: Lindsey, p. 379.] The Anakim had become proverbially great and fearsome foes (cf. Deuteronomy 9:2).

Verses 11-15

Othniel was a bold warrior who followed in the train of his older brother Caleb. God later raised him up to be the first of the heroic judges listed in this book (Judges 3:7-11). The incident related here is also in Joshua (Joshua 15:15-19) and took place before Joshua died. The writer probably recorded it again here because the event was a significant part of the conquest of Judah’s inheritance (cf. Judges 1:20), and because it introduces the reader to Israel’s first judge.

Caleb rewarded Othniel’s bravery by giving him his daughter’s hand in marriage. The blessing she asked was the springs of water over which Caleb had authority. They watered the area around Debir, Othniel’s prize. Being in the Negev, water would have been essential for Debir to flourish.

"Another aspect of Judges 1:11-15 that anticipates the rest of the book of Judges is the prominence of the female character Achsah. . . . [S]he is not just the trinket that her name might suggest (’Achsah’ seems to mean an ornamental anklet or bangle). Rather, she demands ’a blessing’ (Judges 1:15; NRSV ’present’), and she gets it!

". . . the prominence of Achsah also clearly anticipates the major roles that women will play throughout the book of Judges. Like Achsah, several women are portrayed as active and assertive in the public sphere, especially Deborah and Jael (chaps. 4-5). But, as the book of Judges proceeds, the portrayal of women changes considerably. They become not leaders like "Achsah, Deborah, and Jael, but rather the victims of abuse. . . . The next time a woman is riding on a donkey is in Judges 19:28; and the woman, the Levite’s concubine, is a corpse, having been brutally abused, raped, and killed. Thus, by way of the contrast between Achsah and the Levite’s concubine, Judges 1:11-15 is yet another way that Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 anticipates the progressive deterioration that characterizes the book of Judges." [Note: McCann, pp. 32-33.]

Verse 16

The descendants of the Kenite, Jethro (Reuel), ". . . were probably a branch of the Kenites mentioned in Gen. xv. 19 along with the other tribes of Canaan, which had separated from the other members of its own tribe before the time of Moses and removed to the land of Midian, where Moses met with a hospitable reception from their chief Reguel [Reuel] on his flight from Egypt. These Kenites had accompanied the Israelites to Canaan at the request of Moses (Num. x. 29 sqq.); and when the Israelites advanced into Canaan itself, they had probably remained as nomads in the neighborhood of the Jordan near Jericho [the "city of palms," Judges 1:16], without taking part in the wars of Joshua." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 255. See also Block, Judges . . ., pp. 97-98.]

Verses 17-21

The soldiers of Judah and Simeon also conquered Hormah (lit. devotion or destruction), Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron (Judges 1:17-18). The "valley" from which the Israelites could not drive out the Canaanites (Judges 1:19) probably refers to the flat Coastal Plain. This inability was, of course, due to a failure in Israel’s trust and obedience (cf. Joshua 1:5-8; Joshua 17:16-18).

The reference to iron chariots (Judges 1:19) has caused problems for some readers since archaeologists have dated the Iron Age as beginning in 1200 B.C., about 150 years after the event recorded here took place. However the Hittites had mastered the production of iron by 1400 B.C. Evidently the Canaanites and Philistines had iron implements by 1350 B.C. The Iron Age is, after all, a general description of the period during which iron was the most important metal. [Note: See Jacquetta Hawkes, The First Great Civilizations, p. 113; V. Gordon Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East, p. 157; Leonard Cottrell, The Anvil of Civilization, p. 157; and Volkmar Fritz, "Conquest or Settlement? The Early Iron Age in Palestine," Biblical Archaeologist 50:2 (June 1987):84-100.]

Caleb had driven out the Anakim in Hebron earlier (Judges 1:20; cf. Joshua 15:13-14). The writer probably repeated the account here to fill out the record of the subjugation of Judah’s territory. "Then" (Judges 1:20) can also mean "and." It does not imply that the events of Judges 1:20 followed those of Judges 1:19 in chronological sequence.

Jerusalem (Judges 1:21) was on the border of Judah and Benjamin but mainly within Benjamin’s territory. The Hinnom Valley on the southern edge of the city was the boundary. Even though the soldiers of Judah and Simeon captured Jerusalem, the Benjamites could not hold it. This is evidently why the writer referred to the Benjamites at this point. This failure was another significant incident of inadequate trust and obedience (cf. Judges 1:19). It also foreshadowed the Benjamites’ role in the final disastrous chapters of the book (chs. 19-21).

Verses 22-26

The writer described Ephraim and Manasseh together as "the house of Joseph" (Judges 1:22-29). First, he narrated Ephraim’s activity (Judges 1:22-26). The Ephraimites’ treatment of the man of Bethel who gave them information violated God’s orders. They should have put him to death along with the rest of the Bethelites whom they did kill. This incomplete obedience is what the writer again emphasized in this passage that alludes to Bethel’s illustrious history (Genesis 28:18-22; Genesis 35:1-15; Genesis 48:3) and tragic future (1 Kings 12:25-33; 1 Kings 13:1-19; 2 Kings 23:15-17).

Verses 22-36

The activities of the other tribes 1:22-36

Verses 27-28

Manasseh failed to be strong in faith and trust too. Rather than exterminating the Canaanites, as God had commanded, the Israelites made them their servants.

Verse 29

The writer mentioned Ephraim again here, because he was emphasizing the Israelites’ treatment of the Canaanites, as well as the failure of each tribe.

Verses 30-33

The tribes of Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali also failed to drive the Canaanites out of their territories but compromised with these enemies.

Verses 34-36

The Amorites in the Shephelah (foothills) in the territory of Dan did not even allow the Danites to occupy the coastal areas of their possession. They forced them to stay in the eastern hill country of their territory.

"One does not have to look far for an explanation of Dan’s difficulties in settling its tribal allotment. The International Coastal Highway passed directly through its territory. This meant that any attempt to take control of the region automatically cut the main land link between Africa (Egypt) and Asia (Mesopotamia). Local centers and peoples in the area would be expected to resist any Danite offensive action. This is brought out vividly in the first chapter of the book of Judges, which in a few sentences [Judges 1:34-35] accurately describes this region of valleys (Sorek and Aijalon) and nearby Hill Country (just east of the Aijalon-Eshtaol route)." [Note: James Monson, The Land Between, p. 183.]

The Amorites retained domination of a section of territory in southern Canaan as far south as Sela (near Petra), a stronghold in the land of Edom (Judges 1:36). Like the earlier reference to the Benjamites’ failure (Judges 1:21), this mention of the Danites’ weakness anticipates that tribe’s tragic role in chapters 17 and 18.

The writer’s primary purpose in this chapter is quite clear. It was to relate his selective narrative of Israel’s victories and defeats to impress the reader with the failure of God’s people to drive out their enemies increasingly as the passage unfolds.

"This pattern of progressive failure is a fitting introduction to the book of Judges, because it anticipates the rest of the book in two ways. First, chapter 1 moves geographically from south to north . . . The series of judges, beginning in Judges 3:7-11, is not identical geographically; but it also moves from south to north . . . Second, and more important, the increasing failure evident in chapter one anticipates the progressive deterioration that occurs throughout the rest of the book . . ." [Note: McCann, pp. 29-30.]

"The lesson of Judges 1 is very clear. The people of Israel chose deliberately to obey God only partly. Rather than following the Lord wholeheartedly, they compromised. They went part way, and that compromise meant inevitable catastrophe." [Note: Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, p. 18.]

In the Pentateuch we saw God preparing the chosen people to live under His theocracy in the Promised Land. In Joshua we saw Him establishing them in the land so they could function as a theocracy. In Judges we see Israel for the first time in position to live under theocratic rule in the land. From the very beginning of Judges we see that they failed to take advantage of their great privilege to be a unique nation in the world. They failed because they would not trust and obey God consistently but allowed the Canaanites to remain in the land God wanted them to occupy exclusively. Theocratic rule began to break down as soon as Joshua’s generation died. Consequently God raised up judges to act as His spokespersons in the theocracy. Eventually He replaced them with the kings. The only time in Israel’s history when the theocracy functioned as God intended it to was in the later years of Joshua and in the early years of the next generation. [Note: See Wood, pp. 24-27, 45.] The first part of this chapter describes that period.

"Its [the Book of Judges’] primary purpose is to let the readers know why Israel did not experience the blessings that were available." [Note: Ibid., p. 135.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/judges-1.html. 2012.
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