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Bible Commentaries
Judges 1

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Chapter 1. Success and Failure.

The Success and Obedience of Judah and Simeon (Judges 1:1-20 ).

After the death of Joshua the children of Israel enquired of Yahweh which tribes should first go up against the remaining Canaanites. Judah was ordered to go up, and with Simeon had success against the Canaanites under Adonibezek, whom they brought captive to Jerusalem, and against the Canaanites in Hebron, Debir, Zephath, Hormah, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of ‘the valley’, the coastal plain.

The Benjaminites did not have as good success as Judah against the Jebusites in Jerusalem. Judges tells us little of their other activities apart from the subjection of a part around Jericho under the Moabites (Judges 3:0) and their disastrous disagreement with the tribal confederacy in Judges 20:0. Their lot was between Ephraim and Judah (Joshua 18:11) and reached to the Jordan (Joshua 18:20).

The house of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) captured Bethel and made the Amorites tributary.

The tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali were relatively successful but, in disobedience to God, did not drive out the Canaanites from several places which belonged to them, though many of them eventually became their tributaries. We must recognise that Canaanite life was attractive in its own way. They were far more sophisticated than the Israelites, with many of the finer things in life, and their religion was seen as directly helping in the fruitfulness of the fields as by ‘sympathetic magic’ it ensured rain, and the new birth and growth of plants. This was partly accomplished by overt sexual activity which was seen to stimulate nature into activity. Small images of Baal and Ashtaroth (Astarte) were commonplace in Israelite homes of the period.

The Amorites were too powerful for the tribe of Dan, who had therefore to live in the hill country.

Verses 1-2

The Success and Obedience of Judah and Simeon (Judges 1:1-20 ).

After the death of Joshua the children of Israel enquired of Yahweh which tribes should first go up against the remaining Canaanites. Judah was ordered to go up, and with Simeon had success against the Canaanites under Adonibezek, whom they brought captive to Jerusalem, and against the Canaanites in Hebron, Debir, Zephath, Hormah, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of ‘the valley’, the coastal plain.

The Benjaminites did not have as good success as Judah against the Jebusites in Jerusalem. Judges tells us little of their other activities apart from the subjection of a part around Jericho under the Moabites (Judges 3:0) and their disastrous disagreement with the tribal confederacy in Judges 20:0. Their lot was between Ephraim and Judah (Joshua 18:11) and reached to the Jordan (Joshua 18:20).

The house of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) captured Bethel and made the Amorites tributary.

The tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali were relatively successful but, in disobedience to God, did not drive out the Canaanites from several places which belonged to them, though many of them eventually became their tributaries. We must recognise that Canaanite life was attractive in its own way. They were far more sophisticated than the Israelites, with many of the finer things in life, and their religion was seen as directly helping in the fruitfulness of the fields as by ‘sympathetic magic’ it ensured rain, and the new birth and growth of plants. This was partly accomplished by overt sexual activity which was seen to stimulate nature into activity. Small images of Baal and Ashtaroth (Astarte) were commonplace in Israelite homes of the period.

The Amorites were too powerful for the tribe of Dan, who had therefore to live in the hill country.

Judges 1:1

Now after the death of Joshua it happened that the children of Israel asked Yahweh saying, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them ’

“Now after the death of Joshua.” Judges is seen as the continuation of the prophetic history in Joshua. Joshua had died and now the children of Israel must continue to go forward. For a time they were faithful to Yahweh (Joshua 24:31) but gradually as they gained more territory they began to compromise with the inhabitants of the land and disobeyed Him by not driving them out.

“It happened that the children of Israel asked Yahweh.” At first all seemed well. The people came to Yahweh for His advice. This would mean that they gathered at the central sanctuary where the Tabernacle was, (now at Shiloh), and enquired through Urim and Thummim what they should do next. Now that they had no Joshua to look to they turned directly to Yahweh.

“Saying, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” ” Much land had already been conquered, but now further strategy was required. They could not fight on all quarters at once. This is an indication that at this stage the tribes were still working together. They were taking the tribal confederacy seriously. They looked to Yahweh as their Great King. There had already been a beginning before the death of Joshua. Sections of the hill country had been occupied, and movement had taken place into other territories.

But although the land had been divided between them, much remained to be taken. Some would hold their present positions while others would go forward. The first strike after the death of Joshua was important. Its success could enthuse the people and strike terror into their enemies, its failure could dishearten the tribes. As always when a great leader died people were beginning to wonder what would happen next.

The lesson for us here is how important it is to seek God’s face before we make important decisions.

Verse 2

And Yahweh said, “Judah shall go up. Behold, I have delivered the land into his hand ” ’

“And Yahweh said.” This would be through the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21). Questions would be phrased and then the Urim and Thummim used to obtain the answer ‘yes’ or ‘no reply’. There is no example of a ‘no’ answer from the Urim and Thummim anywhere, although it is possible that that also was obtainable. One suggestion is that each had one side with ‘yes on it and the other with ‘no’ on it. When they were thrown down in the Tabernacle ‘before Yahweh’, if two yeses came up the answer was ‘yes’. If two noes came up the answer was ‘no’. If one of each the answer was ‘no reply’.

“Judah shall go up.” This was not Judah in person, for he was long ago dead, but this meant the tribe of Judah. This way of speaking of the tribe as though it were a person is commonly found in the narrative (compare ‘Israel’). Judah was one of the most numerous and powerful tribes and destined to leadership in Israel (see Genesis 49:8-12).

“Behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.” That is, the part which had been assigned to them, part of which still remained to be conquered. They were assured that Yahweh had already determined on their success. God was with them. Although always, of course, conditionally on obedience.

Verse 3

And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And in the same way I will go with you into your lot.” So Simeon went with him.’

“And Judah said to Simeon his brother.” The leaders of Judah sought an alliance with Simeon for their task. Their possessions and inheritances lay near each other, and indeed those of Simeon were within the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, so that, as they lived in close familiarity with each other, their interests were closely connected.

“ ‘Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And in the same way I will go with you into your lot.’ So Simeon went with him.” The suggestion was that they should join forces, first in securing Judah’s allotted territory and then in securing Simeon’s allotted territory. And Simeon agreed. The negotiation would take place through the elders of each tribe, the ruling body comprising clan (sub-tribe) leaders and men of experience.

To some extent in the future Simeon would be assimilated into Judah, but they always maintained an independent existence in that union. They provided more men for David than Judah did (1 Chronicles 12:24-25) and under Hezekiah they won a significant victory against the Amalekites (1 Chronicles 4:41-43). When Israel split into two kingdoms they appear to have had divided loyalties, some joining the ‘ten tribes’ (this may simply mean ‘a number of tribes’ in accordance with number usage, compare Genesis 31:7), others remaining with, or later returning to, the house of David (2 Chronicles 15:9).

Verse 4

And Judah went up. And Yahweh delivered the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hand. And they smote of those in Bezek ten eleph men.’

“And Judah went up.” Judah was obedient to Yahweh’s command ‘go up’ (Judges 1:2). God had said ‘go up’ and they ‘went up’. Simeon went along with them.

“And Yahweh delivered the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hand. And they smote of those in Bezek ten eleph men.” Eleph could mean a clan, a family, a military unit, a captain or a thousand. The number ‘ten’ was also used to mean ‘a number of’ (Genesis 31:7; Job 19:3; Daniel 1:20). Here ‘a number of military units’ is probably what is meant. Numbers tended not to be used exactly, for most people were not numerate. This principle is important to understand. When it came to numbers they thought in approximations, just like we do when we say ‘there were hundreds of them’ when we mean ‘quite a lot’.

Numbers in early times had for them that kind of significance. ‘Two’ often meant ‘a few’ (1 Kings 17:12). ‘Three’ often meant ‘quite a few’. ‘Ten’ meant ‘a number of’ (Genesis 31:7). ‘A hundred’ meant ‘a goodly number’ (consider the hundred sheep of the parable), an ‘eleph’ or ‘thousand’ meant a greater number still, and so on. With our mathematically trained minds we find this difficult to appreciate. The aborigines in Australia would understand exactly, as would primitive tribes in many lands. Most of the Israelites would have looked on counting beyond ten as an arduous task. They had little need of numbering. So here ‘ten eleph’ might mean anything from say five hundred upwards.

The fulfilment of God’s promise had begun. The Canaanites and Perizzites in that part of the land were smitten, including a large number in Bezek.

“The Canaanites.” This was a term often used to designate all the inhabitants of ‘Canaan’ and could be used almost interchangeably with ‘the Amorites’, a name used in the same way. But at other times they were also distinguished from ‘the Amorites’, who when so distinguished were hill dwellers, occupying the hill country. It can, however, as here, denote a special group in the land, distinguished from a number of others (see references below), in this case in contrast with the Perizzites.

“Perizzites.” The name probably means ‘villagers’ and they seem to have been hill dwellers, thus living in small communities. They were one of the tribes which identified the land and were to be driven out of it (Genesis 15:20; Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 9:1; Jdg 3:5 ; 1 Kings 9:20; 2 Chronicles 8:7; Ezra 9:1; Nehemiah 9:8).

“Bezek.” The site is not as yet identified. A number of Bezeks have been mooted. It was not an uncommon name, possibly because connected with a god of that name.

Verse 5

And they found Adonibezek in Bezek, and they fought against him, and they smote the Canaanites and the Perizzites.’

Adonibezek (‘my lord is Bezek’) was a powerful local king, mentioned because he was seen as a dangerous foe. But like the others he could not stand up to the onslaught of Judah and Simeon. ‘They smote the Canaanites and the Perizzites.’ Their campaign was in general successful.

Verse 6

But Adonibezek fled, and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.’

Adonibezek fled but was captured, and then they cut off his thumbs and his great toes. This was to disable him to prevent him from causing further trouble, for he was a formidable foe. But it was also because he himself so treated chiefs he captured, which possibly included captured men of Judah. If so they were following the legal dictate, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.

The men of Judah were clearly horrified at this treatment meted out by him to his prisoners. Entering Bezek they had found these once important men, including possibly a few of their own who had been captured, disabled and scrabbling around the floor. So horrified were they that they exacted particular revenge for them. We do not read of this treatment accorded to prisoners elsewhere.

Verse 7

And Adonibezek said, “Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table. As I have done, so God has requited me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem and there he died .’

He received what was his due for he had done this to his enemies and had further humiliated them by making them fight for scraps of food tossed to them from his table. The kings would be petty kings, ruling cities and small towns, although he was probably speaking broadly of leading men in general, and, as was common with war leaders, exaggerating.

“Seventy” is a round number indicating divine perfection (perfection in the eyes of the gods), seven intensified. Seven was seen as such a number throughout the ancient world. Thus he saw the number of kings he had so mistreated as a goodly number.

“As I have done, so God has requited me.” He recognised the justice of the situation, and the writer wishes us to recognise it too. Those who misuse others bring judgment on their own heads.

“And they brought him to Jerusalem and there he died.” He may have been badly wounded, or his wounds may have gone gangrenous for he died shortly after. ‘Brought him to Jerusalem’ signifies ‘to the district round it’, for their next task was the subjugation of that city.

Verse 8

And the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.’

This may have been the lower city, or a temporary occupation of the whole. Contrast Joshua 15:63. But that was a statement of the general position with regard to the fortress of Jerusalem. Here they captured part of it and slew those within it, but their occupation was clearly only temporary. They did not have the means to fortify it, or sufficient men to leave behind to defend it, as they moved on to other victories. Thus they set it on fire.

It may be that the city was at this time only lightly defended due to the Jebusite fighting men being involved elsewhere fulfilling treaty obligations in the face of other Israelite activity. Thus when those men returned they would be able to retake it from the token force left behind to defend it. This is by no means a rare occurrence in warfare.

From now until Judges 1:36 we should note the difference between ‘smote’ and ‘drove out’ and ‘did not drive out’. ‘Smote’ or ‘took’ indicates victory but not necessarily possession, ‘drove out’ indicates permanent sole possession and obedience, ‘did not drive out’ indicates possession, cohabitation and disobedience. Thus Jerusalem was taken and smitten but not possessed (Judges 1:8), and later cohabited (Judges 1:21). Hebron was smitten (Judges 1:10) and possessed (Judges 1:20). Zephath was smitten and ‘devoted’ (Judges 1:17). Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron were taken but not possessed (Judges 1:18). The hill country was possessed but the coastal plain was not (Judges 1:19).

The fact that part of Jerusalem later held men from Judah and Benjamin probably refers to a situation where a part of the city was retaken at some stage but not the whole (the city was divided by a ravine), and that eventually they made their peace with the Jebusites and associated with them and lived among them, contrary to God’s commands. The main fortress was formidable and was not finally permanently taken until the time of David.

Jerusalem was an ancient city under that name and is mentioned in the Egyptian Execration texts (c 19th century BC), in the Amarna letters (c 14th century BC) and in later Assyrian documents. Its name probably originally meant ‘the foundation of Shalem’, a Canaanite god. But the Israelites associated it with their word ‘Shalom’ which meant peace (Hebrews 7:2).

Verse 9

And afterwards the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who dwelt in the hill country, and in the south, and in the lowland.’

The invasion under Joshua had defeated the forces that had come against it, had weakened the Canaanites, and had subdued parts of the land, especially in the hill country, and they were able to settle down and be at peace. But they saw the whole land as being given to them by God and it was their aim to subdue the whole, and their remit was to drive out the inhabitants. Thus their aim was to attack the hill country, the lower hill country (the Shephelah - the lowlands) and the lands to the south (the Negeb), followed by the coastal plain.

Verse 10

Referral Back to Previous Conquests by Judah in the Time of Joshua (Judges 1:10-20 ).

Judges 1:10

And Judah went against the Canaanites who dwelt in Hebron. Now the name of Hebron was previously Kiriath-arba. And they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai ’

The first attack was on the hill country. Hebron was first taken by Joshua, and the inhabitants put to the sword (Joshua 10:36-39) , but while Joshua was employed in making other conquests, the Canaanites who had fled into the mountains clearly took possession of it again. Thus it had to be re-subdued. This kind of situation occurred regularly. Joshua’s onslaught was in order to gain a firm foothold in the land, but the occupation of all cities permanently would take more time. It was an art that had to be learned.

In this case the re-conquest took place through Caleb while Joshua was still alive. It was referred to as being carried out by Joshua as the overall commander-in-chief in Joshua 11:21-23, but this does not prevent it having been done by Caleb, for he was acting under Joshua’s leadership. The reason it is described here is that it is seen as being part of Judah’s total conquest of his portion. The writer was not so much concerned with chronology as giving a total picture (the lack of interest in chronology of Israel comes out in that their verbal system was only able to express it imperfectly. For example, they had no pluperfect. Their tenses indicated either completed or incompleted action. What mattered to them was that things were done, not when they were done).

Hebron had been granted to Caleb, the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite (Numbers 32:12; Joshua 14:13) who was associated with Judah (Joshua 15:13), and he then proceeded to take it as described here and in Joshua 15:13-19. Some would see this as indicating a Kenizzite invasion from the south not directly connected with the Israelite invasion, but there is nothing in the text to suggest it. When ‘Israel’ came out of Egypt they were made up of many nations (Exodus 12:38), which would include Kenizzites, natives of Canaan (Genesis 15:19), who had sought refuge at some time in Egypt. It is far more likely that such people, participating in the exodus, would become worshippers of Yahweh, than that a Canaanite tribe invading on their own would.

“Now the name of Hebron was previously Kiriath-arba.” (‘The city of four’ or ‘the city of Arba’) - see Genesis 23:2. According to Joshua 14:15 LXX it was the ‘mother-city of the Anakim’. There is no reason to doubt that Arba was a name as suggested there, and it was certainly related to the Anakim in some way in the Hebrew text which may suggest it was named after a famous ancestor of the Anakim, possibly named Arba because he had the strength or usefulness of four men.

“And they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai.” These were children of the Anakim (Numbers 13:22), outsized men and leaders who were renowned fighters (Deuteronomy 9:2).

Verse 11

And from there he went against the inhabitants of Debir. Now the name of Debir before was Kiriath-sepher.’

After Hebron Caleb’s next object was Debir, a city at the southern end of the Judean hills. It is called Kiriath-sannah (city of palm leaf) in Joshua 15:49. Here it is called Kiriath-sepher (city of writing) as in Joshua 15:16. Both names connect with scribal activity (palm leaves were writing materials) which suggests it was well known as a scribal city. Thus its local names

Verse 12

And Caleb said, “He who smites Kiriath-sepher, and takes it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife”.’

This was a kind of test of suitability. Chief’s daughters were given to mighty champions to ensure continual strong leadership. Compare Saul’s offer in 1 Samuel 17:25. It is understandable why Saul did not fulfil his promise. When he made it he was expecting a champion not an inexperienced young man.

Verse 13

And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it, and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.’

It was probably Kenaz who was Caleb’s younger brother. The son and daughter were thus cousins. Othniel was probably Caleb’s hope in the first place. ‘Son of Kenaz’ might simply indicate that he too was a Kenizzite, but it is unlikely that Caleb would give his daughter to his younger brother in this way (Leviticus 18:9), and there is no reason why a Kenizzite should not be called Kenaz.

Verses 14-15

And it happened that when she came to him, she moved him to ask of her father a field, and she lighted from her ass, and Caleb said to her, “What is it you want?” And she said to him, “Give me a blessing, for you have 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.’

The dowry Othniel requested, at her suggestion, was land, and when his wife discovered where this was, in the South, she approached her father to ensure good waters supplies, necessary in that region, by asking for permanent springs, which he gave her as a wedding gift.

This account is paralleled in Joshua 15:16-19. It may have been copied from there, but more probably both were taken from a record made of the wars in Canaan similar to ‘the book of the wars of Yahweh’ (Numbers 21:14). For such were looked on as religious events confirming the covenant, not just as history.

Verse 16

And the children of the Kenite, Moses' brother-in-law (or ‘father-in-law’), went up from 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.’

“The children of the Kenite, Moses” brother-in-law’ (the word can indicate brother-in-law or father-in-law depending on how it is pointed. Ancient Hebrew had few vowels. The vowels were added later by a system known as ‘pointing’). We may reasonably see these as the family of Hobab (Numbers 10:29-32), as Judges 4:11 confirms. They went up from the city of palm trees (see on Judges 3:13). On the basis of Judges 3:13 this would be Jericho. The Targum also calls it the city of palm trees because of the many palm trees that grew near it. An alternative would be Zoar at the southern end of the Dead Sea which was called the city of palm trees in the Talmud.

In the latter case it would be possible that Hobab’s family had remained around Zoar once he had fulfilled his function of acting as Israel’s eyes in the wilderness, especially if he had married a Kenite wife. Then he would here be reconnected with Israel. But in view of Judges 3:13 it is much more likely that they were living in the area around Jericho and went with Judah from the area of Jericho where they had been living. After all, if they were in Zoar, why should they leave a place they had been in for thirty eight years, an area where the Kenites were until much later (1 Samuel 15:6; 1 Samuel 27:10), to live with Judah? Whereas the area around Jericho may have been seen as vulnerable to outside attack (Judges 3:13).

Excursus. The Kenites.

We should note that Reuel and Jethro (Exodus 2:18; Exodus 3:1; Exodus 18:1), are actually never said to be Kenites. They were priests of Midian. It is Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, who is said to be a Kenite here (compare Judges 4:11) but not previously. His connection with the Kenites may thus have been through his wife. Moses had in fact pressed Hobab his brother-in-law to leave the Midianites and join them in their venture to Canaan (Numbers 10:29-32). The impression is that Hobab did so as an experienced wilderness dweller in order to act as their eyes. Once he had fulfilled his responsibility and they had arrived in Kenite territory in the land of the south, he may well have married a Kenite wife and linked up with the Kenites who were tent dwellers like himself.

But having been converted to the worship of Yahweh during his time with Israel, he was ready when the time came to throw in his lot, along with his family, with Judah. Some, of course, consider the Kenites to have been original Yahweh worshippers on the basis of Exodus 18:0, but this raises more difficulties than it solves. It is noteworthy that Jethro offered sacrifices to ‘God’ not to Yahweh, and was never called a Kenite.

Even if they were right, and it must be considered very doubtful, the name is not really relevant. What is relevant are the teachings and customs connected with the name. The Kenites would have had to turn their own ideas (which would not have been based on the Exodus experience) upside down to submit to the tribal covenant and have subjected their own time honoured customs to the new ideas of the confederacy. For a proud tribe this would be unlikely. And yet here they seem to happily combine with Judah in the covenant by choice. Thus it is more likely that this only refers to the family connection of Hobab.

The name of the Kenites probably connects them with ‘smiths’ and thus metalworkers. They were resident in Canaan in the time of Abraham (Genesis 15:19), and Saul, who connects them indirectly with the Amalekites but as separate from them, saw them as having been favourable to Israel when they came out of Egypt (1 Samuel 15:6). He also clearly saw them as a separate tribe not connected with Judah at that time, and that is acknowledged by David who associates them with the Jerahmeelites. These Kenites thus resided on the southern borders of Canaan (1 Samuel 27:10; 1 Samuel 30:29), and had not as a group combined with Judah. That was reserved for the household of Hobab. That at least some more of them eventually merged with Judah is probable from 1 Chronicles 2:9; 1 Chronicles 2:26; 1 Chronicles 2:55, probably in the time of David’s reign. There is no reason, apart from their possible connection with Jethro, through Hobab, to connect them with the Midianites.

(End of Excursus.)

Verse 17

And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they smote the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it, and the name of the city was called Hormah.’

The alliance continued their work by capturing Zephath. The impression given is that it was in Simeonite territory as ‘Judah went with Simeon’. It was ‘devoted’ to Yahweh and therefore totally destroyed, possibly as the first city to be captured for Simeon. Hormah means ‘devoted’ (i.e. to God). But it may also be because of the vow made in Numbers 21:1-3, it being seen as a permanently ‘devoted’ place. It may have been connected with ‘the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah’ (2 Chronicles 14:10). Otherwise it is unknown. Mareshah was part of Judah’s inheritance, in the midst of which was Simeon’s.

Verse 18

Also Judah took Gaza, with its border, and Ashkelon with its border, and Ekron with its border.’

These were city states in the coastal plain, from Gaza in the south to Ekron in the north, a distance of thirty to forty miles. No mention is made of Gath or Ashdod, which along with Gaza was where Anakim still survived (Joshua 11:22). These were possibly the cities they did not conquer because they had iron chariots (Judges 1:19). It may even be that the reason that they took these three cities so easily was because the fighting men of the cities had joined those of Ashdod and Gath with a view to defence from an attack by Israel from the highlands, not anticipating an attack from the south. All five cities had been captured by the invading Sea Peoples, the Philistines, and formed the foundation of their state, ruled over by five Tyrants who worked in unison. Note that Judah ‘took’ but did not ‘possess’.

Joshua 13:1-3 suggests that the Philistines had already arrived, and extensive excavations at the large mound that is thought to be the site of Ekron have indicated no city after the early bronze age before that built in the early iron age, probably by the Philistines.

But one thing to be considered is that LXX here reads ‘did not take’. This may simply be because it saw it as a contradiction to Judges 1:19, but it may be because it read it in its Hebrew texts. This would in fact find support in the pattern of the narrative. ‘Smote Zephath --- did not take Gaza --- drove out the inhabitants of the hill country --- could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley --- drove out the three sons of Anak --- did not drive out the Jebusites.’ In each case a positive followed by a negative. This seems fairly strong support for the negative reading.

Verse 19

And Yahweh was with Judah, and he drove out inhabitants of the hill country, for he could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron.’

The hill country was permanently and solely possessed, but not the coastal plain. The idea is not that Yahweh could not, no such thought was in the writer’s mind, but that Judah failed. God would only help them so far. This may have been because they were dilatory, or because of fear and lack of faith in Yahweh (compare Joshua 17:16 and note the promise for the future in Joshua 17:18; see also Judges 4:3). We should note that Joshua was not defeated by the chariots (Judges 11:9).

If Judges 1:18 is not read with a negative as LXX, it may be that this indicates that they succeeded at first in initially capturing three of the cities, taking them by surprise by coming from the south, but that their success was only temporary, and that then they were overcome by combined forces with their chariots, and after a time driven out of all. In this respect the non-mention of Ashdod is significant, and if the newly arrived and settled Philistines were expecting an attack from the East they may well have gathered their forces near Gath.

Verse 20

And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had said, and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak.’

This repeats what has already been described in Judges 1:10 with the addition that Hebron and its surrounding area was specifically allotted to Caleb and his family in accordance with the word of Moses. Hebron was actually made a Levitical city. The three sons of Anak were as in Judges 1:10. The stress here is that Moses’ words came true. The divine history is seen as one ongoing history, being fulfilled within the plan of God.

Verse 21

God’s Activities Through the Other Tribes and Their Disobedience (Judges 1:21-36 ).

Judges 1:21

And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. But the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.’

This seems to mean that they could have driven them out of the part of Jerusalem and its surrounds that they occupied, but that they did not. They were disobedient.

In Joshua 15:63 we read that Judah could not drive the Jebusites out of their part, which probably included the fortress. Thus the successful attack in Judges 1:8 may simply be referring to the capture of the lower city, or it may be that, due to the absence of the Jebusites on a military expedition, they were then able to take the upper city and sack it, but not to retain it because at the time they had to move on. After which the Jebusite soldiers returned. It is noticeable that there is no mention of driving anyone out there. The purpose was not possession. Then when the fighting men of the Jebusites returned they retook the city and from then on were invulnerable in the upper citadel.

But the main purpose of this verse is to point out the disobedience of Benjamin in contrast with the obedience of Judah and Simeon. This is then to be followed by the disobedience of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher and Naphtali, and the failure of Dan. Reuben and Gad were of course across the river beyond the Jordan.

Issachar is not mentioned and may possibly be seen as united with Zebulun, like Simeon with Judah. Note that they were also praised in the song of Deborah (Judges 5:15), yet omitted in Judges 5:18 where those who were faithful to the call are mentioned, (even though they were one of them), and are not mentioned in the prose account in Judges 4:0. Again presumably they were seen as one with Zebulun (see also Deuteronomy 33:18 where they are included in the blessing of Zebulun).

Verse 22

And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel, and Yahweh was with them.’

It appears that Bethel, having possibly (but not necessarily) been taken along with Ai in the days of Joshua 8:0, had again been occupied by Canaanites after the Israelites moved on. It lay on the borders of the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Therefore they combined together to take it.

“And Yahweh was with them.” Thus they would be victorious.

Verse 23

And the house of Joseph sent to spy out Bethel. Now the name of the city was previously Luz ’

Scouts were sent out to weigh up the situation and bring back information that would aid in the attack. The fact that Yahweh was with them did not excuse them from sensible behaviour.

“Now the name of the city was previously Luz.” Bethel was the name given to the area by Jacob and later applied to the city by Israel. But the Canaanites called it Luz (Genesis 28:19; Genesis 35:6; Genesis 48:3).

Verse 24

And the spies saw a man come out of the city, and they said to him, “Show us, we pray you, the way in to the city, and we will deal with you with kindness”.’

The spies managed to capture a man who had left the city, innocent of the fact that an enemy was so close. Then he was taken for questioning. He was no doubt given two options, torture or a reward for his help. We do not know how soon he gave in but in the end he did.

Verse 25

And he showed them the way in to the city, and they smote the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man go and all his family.’

“And he showed them the way in to the city.” He betrayed his fellow Canaanites and showed them a means by which they could enter the city.

“And they smote the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man go and all his family.” The men of Joseph broke into the city and slaughtered its inhabitants. However, like Rahab before him, the man, by his action, saved his family. His departure was presumably a condition of the deal, or possibly his conscience was such that he could no longer stay near the place where he had betrayed his comrades. Either way it meant that the men of Joseph had fully obeyed Yahweh. They had either slain or driven out all the inhabitants.

Verse 26

And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city and called its name Luz, which is its name to this day.’

The man left Canaan with his family and reaching the land of the Hittites built a new city, calling it Luz, possibly as a kind of guilt offering for what he had done. The Hittites, as a once powerful nation, dwelt in Syria, and their empire would shortly collapse.

In all this the tribes of Joseph, (Ephraim and Manasseh), were obedient to God’s command to drive out the Canaanites. But this would soon change. Does the change from Joseph to Ephraim and Manasseh indicate the idea of covenant unfaithfulness resulting in division? Or that simply they divided up to go after their selected territories, or in order to make up ‘the twelve’ once Levi had received Yahweh as their inheritance (Joshua 13:33).

Verse 27

And Manasseh, did not drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns. But the Canaanites would dwell in the land.’

The tribe of Manasseh was divided in two, one section being Beyond Jordan, and the other in the section of Canaan north of Ephraim and south of Zebulun and Issachar. Their territory included the powerful Canaanite fortresses mentioned and much lowland territory. This territory had a strong Canaanite presence, unlike the hill country.

But there were large forests which would make infiltration possible until Manasseh was strong enough to take over the territory, apart from the large cities, and then finally to take over the large cities themselves. These were too powerful to be overcome immediately, but there would come a time when it was possible, and yet when that time came Manasseh compromised with the Canaanites. That is the main point here, that they allowed the Canaanites to remain even when they could have done something about it, and that meant fraternising with them and assimilating their ways and their debased religion.

Megiddo. In terms of the times Megiddo was a huge city. Situated at one side of the Valley of Jezreel it guarded the main trading route between Mesopotamia and Egypt. It had previously been under Egyptian control, but at this time Egypt was too concerned with its own internal affairs to be bothered about Megiddo. It must have seemed invincible, but it was totally destroyed c.1150 BC and replaced temporarily by a small village. We can note how it is not mentioned in the song of Deborah, which rather mentions another powerful city, ‘Taanach by the waters of Meggido’ (Judges 5:19), demonstrating the accuracy of the song. Its king was earlier slain by Joshua (Joshua 12:21) but the city itself resisted invasion (Joshua 17:11-12) and survived until Israel became too strong for it to do so any longer. Its final destruction was probably by Israel who then occupied the mound. It was later rebuilt and became a powerful Israelite city.

The same applied to Taanach. Taanach was on the other side of the Valley of Jezreel. It is mentioned in both Egyptian and Assyrian records. It too held out for many years but it too was finally destroyed by the Israelites. Ibleam, which was south of Megiddo and Taanach, was also a powerful fortress city. Dor was on the coast, and on the arrival of the Philistines, ‘the Sea People’, was, along with Bethshean (1 Samuel 31:10), which also protected the Valley of Jezreel, occupied by them. Both continually resisted Israelite attack and once occupied by the Philistines and their allies were invulnerable to it, but were eventually defeated, although possibly not until the time of David.

Verse 28

And it happened that when Israel had grown strong, they put the Canaanites to taskwork and did not utterly drive them out.’

At one stage or another Israel obtained control of these cities and their surrounding villages, but when they did so they did not drive the Canaanites out, but allowed them to remain, and subjected them to slavery in direct disobedience to God’s commands. Their desire for ease and mastery overcame their willingness to obey God. Thus they began to fraternise with them, and to learn their ways, for the Canaanites were more sophisticated than the Israelites and would seem to have much to offer. The criticism here of the tribes includes criticism of David for he too failed to carry out God’s command concerning the Canaanites. Both Manasseh and Israel were at fault in all this, and it led to religious syncretism, and infection with the teachings and practises of Canaanite religion, along with their depraved activities.

Verse 29

And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer, but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.’

Gezer was in the hill country and easier to subdue. It was on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa, on the most northern ridge of the Shephelah, overlooking the Ayyalon valley. But when they captured it Ephraim allowed the Canaanites to remain among them and set them to taskwork (Joshua 16:10). Pharaoh Merenptah later boasts of capturing it, (he also claimed to have destroyed Israel!), and archaeological evidence suggests it was later taken by the Philistines. But the Ephraimites and the Canaanites would have lived side by side under the Philistines, with the inevitable results to the purity of their religion and their lives.

Verse 30

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol, but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributary.’

These cities are probably the Kattath and Nahalal of Joshua 19:15 and were probably sited at the northern end of the plain of Jezreel. But they have not been identified. Again the same complaint is made, the people of Zebulun did not obey Yahweh and failed to drive out the Canaanites, instead putting them to tribute and receiving tribute from them. And fraternisation resulted in degradation. They did not realise what spiritual poison they had among them.

Verse 31

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob.’

These cities were mainly in the plain of Acco. Rehob means ‘open place, market place’ and is mentioned in a list of Raamses II placing it in the southern part of the plain. Aphik (Aphek - Joshua 19:30) means ‘fortress’. A number of cities went by the name. Achzib was a harbour town. It is probable that Zidon refers to the inhabitants in the area below the city of Zidon, for Zidon itself was not a part of their inheritance (Joshua 18:28). Their borders reached to Tyre and Zidon but did not include them.

Verse 32

But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.’

Note the significance of the words. They ‘dwelt among the Canaanites’. It may be that they simply went and dwelt amongst them and made no attempt to drive them out.

Verse 33

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, nor the inhabitants of Bethanath, but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, nevertheless the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, and of Bethanath became tributary to them.’

Like Asher, Naphtali lived among the Canaanites, but eventually became strong and subjected them to tribute. Their concern was wealth, not obedience to Yahweh. They did not obey Yahweh and drive them out. Once again fraternisation led to degradation.

So the sad tale of all the tribes is of disobedience to the covenant. Having obtained their foothold they spread and gradually gained control, but ignored the commands of Yahweh and allowed Canaanite influence to degrade them. It is one long story of disobedience. It is one thing to start off determined to be obedient, it is more difficult to maintain it as time goes by. Indolence, greed, and worldliness all combined to seek to prevent it. The way of living of the sophisticated Canaanites must have been a great temptation to these newcomers from the wilderness, and their easy moral ways (Baalism had no ethical teaching that we know of) would appear to many to be preferable to the stern demands of Yahweh.

The lesson for Christians in all this is the danger of compromise. If we do not rid ourselves of temptations when we can, the time will come when they take us over.

Verse 34

And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill country, for they would not allow them to come down to the valley.’

These Amorites were a strong group occupying, (but not solely), extensive land. Unfortunately for Dan they were in Dan’s territory around Aijalon and resisted all attempts by Dan to drive them out. Dan was able to occupy the hill country but not the fruitful plains. Seemingly there were few Canaanites or Amorites in those hills, which suggests living conditions there were difficult. The lands assigned to Dan were fruitful, but for that very reason they were well populated. As we know from elsewhere their faith in Yahweh was so weak that they were disobedient and many of them deserted the territory and made a new home for themselves with their own syncretistic religion (Judges 18:0). From there we learn of their bent towards idolatry.

Verse 35

But the Amorites would dwell in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributary.’

These Amorites occupied extensive lands (but not as sole occupants) going from Aijalon in the north to Akkrabim, below the Dead Sea, in the south, so they could call on extensive help. Mount Heres is unknown, although many relate it to Bethshemesh. It means the mountain of the sun and was probably thus associated with idol worship. Aijalon was a town built on a hill, commanding from the south the entrance to the valley of Aijalon. It was thus on the main trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt and was of great importance. Shaalbim was a town near Aijalon (see 1 Kings 4:9; Joshua 19:42 (Shaalabbin); 2 Samuel 23:32 (Shaalbon)). It is therefore understandable that the Amorites should fight desperately to keep them.

“Yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed (‘was heavy”), so that they became tributary.’ This may have been after Dan had migrated north. Thus what Dan could not do, Ephraim accomplished. The Amorites were not invincible. But again Ephraim were disobedient, for instead of driving them out they made them tributary. Their desire for tribute was greater than their love for Yahweh.

Verse 36

And the border of the Amorites was from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upwards.’

Akkrabim was a mountain pass at the southern end of the Dead Sea (Numbers 34:4; Joshua 15:3), between the Arabah (the rift valley of Jordan) and the hill country of Judah. Sela means ‘the rock’ and could be used of any rocky place.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/judges-1.html. 2013.
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