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FAITHFULNESS AND UNFAITHFULNESS IN THE LORD’S WAR
Judges 1:1. Now after the death of Joshua.] The Speaker’s Commentary says on these opening words: “But from Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:9 is a consecutive narrative, ending with the death of Joshua. It is therefore impossible that it should begin with the death of Joshua.” This is obviously incorrect. “A consecutive narrative” is precisely what these two chapters are not; they are a narrative containing two long parentheses (cf. Introduction.) It is not necessary to offer any remark on the suggestion of the Commentary that, under certain circumstances, “the chapter might have begun, Now after the death of Moses,” and that, “If Moses is read instead of Joshua, all difficulty disappears at once.” This, in the face of Judges 2:2; Judges 2:7, is unanswerable from its innocence.
Judges 1:2. Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites?] Heb. = “Who shall go up for us to the Canaanites?” the purpose of the going up being stated in the words, “to fight against them.” “The reason why Judah was to commence the hostilities is not to be sought for in the fact that Judah was the most numerous of all the tribes, but rather in the fact that Judah had already been appointed by the blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49:8-10) to be the champion of his brethren.” [Keil.]
Judges 1:3. Come up with me into my lot.] This invitation must have been given to Simeon while the tribe of Judah was located in its own lot, though not in full possession of it. It is unnatural to suppose with Professor Cassel that when Judah gave this invitation to Simeon both tribes were dwelling at Gilgal, near Jericho, and that the Canaanites were in full possession of the territory assigned to Judah and Simeon. This would be to conclude that Joshua’s conquest of the south had almost entirely failed, and that during Joshua’s own lifetime, and is altogether at variance with Joshua 15:13-19; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 18:1; Joshua 21:43-45; Joshua 22:4; Joshua 23:1; Joshua 24:28, and, indeed, to the whole of the latter half of that book. The request for Simeon to aid in conquering the Canaanites in the lot of Judah, made under the promise that Judah would similarly assist the tribe of Simeon in their lot, shows that the men of Judah were only appointed to recommence hostilities on their own account. Thus, the phrase, “for us,” in Judges 1:1, must not be taken to mean that the Judahites were to make war on behalf of all the tribes, but that, after the death of Joshua, they were to begin, in their own tribe, to fulfil the commands of the Lord, and thus set an example of faithfulness to all Israel.
Judges 1:4. The Perizzites.] The Canaanites and Perizzites are occasionally put for all the inhabitants of the land, and the latter are spoken of, not simply as dwellers in the South, as here, but in all parts of the land (Genesis 13:7; Genesis 34:30; Joshua 11:3; Joshua 17:15.) Dr. Kalisch says, “The etymology of the word ‘Perizzite’ proves that they were the inhabitants of open towns and villages (פְּרָזוֹת p’râzoth); it is clearly explained by Ezekiel 38:11 to denote the population of places ‘without walls and bars and gates;’ and it is, in Esther 9:19, used for the unfenced cities, in contradistinction to the metropolis named in Judges 1:18. The two names of the Canaanites and Perizzites, if so coupled, designate, therefore, both the inhabitants of the walled towns and of the open country; and describe, with a certain emphasis, the two chief portions of the population.” In Bezek.] “According to the Onomast there were at that time two places very near together both named Bezek, seventeen Roman miles from Neapolis on the road to Scythopolis, i.e., about seven hours to the north of Nabulus on the road to Beisan. This description is perfectly reconcilable with 1 Samuel 11:8.” [Keil.]
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Judges 1:1-4
DEAD LEADERS AND LIVING DUTIES
One generation passeth away and another followeth. The book of Joshua began with, “Now after the death of Moses.” This book opens with the similar words, “Now after the death of Joshua.” Human life is a succession of revolutions, beginning with a cradle and ending with a coffin. Generations and individuals have in them, in their relation to other generations and individuals, much of variety, but something also of monotony. We see in these opening verses—
I. A great leader dead, and life’s duties as pressing as ever. Joshua had departed from Israel, but the necessity for conflict was still with them. Of that the people now made no question whatever. As Peter Martyr observes, “They doubted not whether they should make war against the Canaanites, but their doubt was which tribe should fight before all the others.” That the fighting must be done was sufficiently manifest to everybody. Possibly the death of Joshua at once made that more manifest than it had been for some time, the death of Israel’s mighty captain encouraging their enemies to bestir themselves.
1. Let who will and what will pass away, our own work only passes with our own life. Joshua himself had diligently laboured to the very last. After resting from war, he had divided the land; after dividing the land, he built his own city of Timnath-serah, and appointed the cities of refuge and those of the Levites; while the very close of life finds him twice gathering together and earnestly counselling the people of his charge. “The night cometh when no man can work;” till it come, no one should look to rest from what he has strength to perform. In God’s army there are no retired officers, and none on half-pay. He who is too “old and stricken in years” to fight as he fought when younger may still find some city to build, and some of his fellows who are less experienced than himself to whom he can offer holy encouragement and counsel. He who began by saying, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business,” never ceased to prosecute that business till He laid down His life upon the cross.
2. The advancement of God’s purpose is dependent on no life in particular. Though the great leader of Israel was no more, the conquest of the land must still go forward. Just as the advance of the people was not formerly stayed by the death of Moses, so they were not to be kept back now by the death of Joshua. Only God is necessary. There is no man who cannot be spared when God’s time comes for his removal.
3. Great lives are sometimes removed that other lives may better feel their responsibility and cultivate their strength. Children cannot always have their parents, without the penalty of always remaining children. He who is always led will never learn to lead. It had already been said of Jacob: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.” He who fears he may fall is in a fair way to learn how to stand.
II. Human direction suddenly failing, and Divine guidance specially sought. “After the death of Joshua, the children of Israel asked the Lord.”
1. Prayer prompted by the removal of long familiar light. Joshua had been the Lord’s guide and helper for the people. A consciousness of increasing darkness around us, or within us, should ever prompt us to come as near as possible to Him who is the Light of the world.
2. Prayer over unfulfilled commandments. The charge to cast out the Canaanites, and to make no alliance with them, had been very solemnly given by God. As long as Joshua was alive, he was the responsible head of the people. When Joshua was removed, the commandment forthwith became so much direct obligation resting upon every Israelite. Thus burdened, the people drew near unto God for counsel. Corporate duties are a matter for individual concern and supplication. That which is a national obligation affects also every citizen. A commandment of God fulfilled in humble obedience, is as a field sown with good seed, which will presently yield a harvest of blessing; a commandment unfulfilled, is ever tending to bring forth fruit unto our discomfort, and sickness, and death. He who neglects the Divine precepts is in sore need of prayer.
3. Prayer provoked by gathering dangers. The death of Joshua was very probably the sign for increased activity among the Canaanites. Adoni-bezek had evidently gathered a large army, or he could not have lost in one battle ten thousand men.
4. Prayer for God’s appointment of our post in life. “Who shall go up?” An appeal to God to assign the post of honour to whom He would. With some, it may have been an appeal to God in the hope of not being chosen. He whom God exalts should wear his honours meekly. He whom God calls to battle should enter into conflict without fear.
5. The realism of prayer to every true-hearted suppliant. It was no light thing to ask this counsel of God, and then wait for a categorical and manifest answer. All true prayer wants real courage. When a man knows God will answer, it is no light thing to pray. The man may be sent to the battle-field. He may be deprived of a great honour, or be charged with an arduous duty. Many engage in what they call prayer, who would not dare to come before God if they believed that He would audibly or visibly impose His commands upon them. It is because they never expect any answer that myriads are bold to pray.
III. An eminently faithful past demanding a no less vigorous future. “Judah shall go up.” As the Judges 1:8-16 show, the Judahites had already played a conspicuous part in those more detached conflicts which, after the great national battles, had fallen to the separate tribes. They had taken the lower city of Jerusalem (cf. Judges 1:8 with Judges 1:21, and Joshua 12:10), and under the lead of Caleb and Othniel, Hebron and Kirjath-sepher had both fallen before their attack. He who has done well in the past is under perpetual obligation to do no less well in the future. God also chooses those for new duties who have best served in the past.
IV. God specially choosing some of His servants, but leaving them liberty to seek the help of others. “And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot.”
1. The benefits of co-operation. What one cannot do, two can. What one can only do with difficulty, two can do easily. No one should despise the assistance of his brethren. He who accepts assistance should be willing to assist others: “I likewise will go with thee into thy lot.” This mutual help one of another becomes strength and joy to both.
2. The limits of co-operation. Judah might only seek aid from his own brethren. He might ask help from Simeon, but not from idolaters. God allows us to unite with all who are our brethren in Him, but He will suffer no union with the ungodly. For nothing more sharply than for this were the Israelites rebuked in the time of the monarchy.
V. The Lord’s call to great duties followed by His rich blessing on those who seek faithfully to perform them. “The Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand.”
1. God calls and sends none of His servants in vain. To be set to work by Him, is to be set to work which will be presently fruitful of enlarged possessions and greater peace.
2. God’s blessing answers to His own promise of blessing. To the man who is faithful, the Divine promise is the shadow which the actual mercy, in its coming to us, casts before. Thus, the words of promise in Judges 1:2, herald the same words, as history, in Judges 1:4.
3. God’s blessing satisfies His people’s highest hopes. If this was so with Judah in his earthly possession, much more will it be true in relation to the inheritance above.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
THREATENED DANGER AND ANXIOUS PRAYER.—Judges 1:1-2
It is thought that the Canaanites were, at this time, preparing to act on the offensive against the Israelites. From Judges 1:4-7, it would appear that large numbers of warriors had again ventured to mass themselves together. Probably Adoni-bezek was gathering his forces to attack the southern tribes of the recent conquerors of the land. Regarded in this light, the verses may be treated as follows:—
I. The Lord’s enemies threatening the Lord’s people.
1. The Canaanites may have judged Israel’s strength by outward appearances. Joshua was now dead. The able soldier could act against them no more. But they forgot Joshua’s God. Then, the Canaanites had long been allowed to rest in peace. Probably they learned to interpret this interval of peace as a sign of Israel’s weakness. Jehovah had not recently done many mighty works. They mistook the visible for the actual. Thousands do that every day that passes.
2. The Canaanites seem to have been tempted to renew the war by Israel’s apparent weakness. The time of the weakness of the Church is the time of the world’s boldness. But wicked men should remember the God of the Church: “These things hast thou done and I kept silence,” says Jehovah. He adds, “But I will reprove thee.” The silence of Jehovah is not any sign of His weakness.
II. The Lord’s people driven to prayer by danger. “Israel asked of the Lord.” The removal of Joshua, and the bold front of their enemies, made them ask counsel of God. His prayer has the following features:—
1. It recognised the necessity of human effort. “Who shall go up?” Some one must go. God will not so work as to save us from conflict; He thinks it enough to turn our conflict into victory.
2. It was a simple and direct prayer. It had no redundancies and “vain repetitions.” Men in deep want seldom use superfluous sentences and phrases. The eloquence of prayer is in its sense of need, and in its directness.
3. This prayer was based on a known command. There was no inquiry as to the work being a duty, but only as to the manner in which the duty was to be done.
4. The prayer manifestly anticipates some answer. The words of the inquiry leave no impression that the suppliants so much as thought of a refusal. They had no idea that God would be silent. Their brief and urgent question is full of the faith pressed upon the Hebrews of a later generation: “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
III. The Lord’s gracious answer to His people’s earnest inquiry.
1. The answer was prompt. It seems to have been given at once.
2. The answer was clear. It left no one in doubt. “Judah shall go up.”
3. The answer was in excess of the prayer. The people did but ask, “Who shall go?” God both answered that, and gave them a gracious promise of success: “Behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.”
4. The answer was sufficient. In the strength of God’s gracious words, Judah and Simeon went on to victory.
“GOD, WHO GIVETH TO ALL MEN LIBERALLY.”—Judges 1:2
I. God gives to all who ask.
II. God promises more than we ask.
III. God gives fully as much as He promises.
IV. God both promises and gives according to our need.
ENTICEMENTS TO PRAYER
“God gives more than is asked, or thought needful. The which dealing of His doth add yet greater heartening and encouraging of us to prayer. Joseph, whose feet were pinned in the stocks, prayed that he might be delivered out of prison; and God not only delivered him, but brought him out with great honour. Esther prayed against the spiteful attempt of Haman, that she and her people might be preserved from the deadly snare which he laid for their lives. But what did the Lord? He not only saved them, but utterly destroyed both Haman and all his seed. So, when the prodigal son, in his penury and misery, desired that he might be received but as a servant into his father’s house, he was taken in and entertained as a son, and nothing of the costliest apparel and daintiest food was thought too good for him.” [Richard Rogers, 1615.]
THE MANIFOLD MEANING OF GOD’S ANSWER TO ISRAEL’S PRAYER
“It asserts the sovereignty of God in disposing and ordering the work which His servants have to perform.
“It reminds us that every one is not to attempt everything; for Judah is to fight the enemy, and the other tribes are to remain at home.
“It promises victory, not to every ardent soldier who might volunteer to take the field, but to the tribe whom the Lord should order to the battle.
“It disturbs all rule-of-three calculations of success in proportion to the number of agents men may induce to go to work; success is for those whom the Lord shall send.
“It allows of no objection, no plea of incompetency, no deceitful humility, on the part of the called soldier; ‘Judah shall go up:’ it is the word of a King.
“It hides pride from man, by declaring that although Judah would conquer, it would be only through Divine ordination and help.” [Luke H. Wiseman, M.A.]
BEGINNING AND CONTINUING
“Israel is believing and obedient after the death of Joshua. Like a child after the death of its father, it has the best intentions. First love is full of flowing zeal. To begin well is never without a blessing. The best inheritance is to continue obedient towards God.” [Dr. Cassel.]
“The words, ‘I have delivered the land,’ are meant prophetically; with God that which is certain in the future is as if it were present.” [Lisco.]
“The death of Joshua is the date of degeneracy. So in spiritual respects: as long as the true Joshua lives in the soul, there is health. St. Paul says, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ ” [Origen.]
PRAYER TO GOD, AND CO-OPERATION WITH MEN.—Judges 1:3-4
I. God’s promises are not to provoke careless ease, but to stimulate us to holy caution and effort. Judah has received an unconditional and absolute promise, but seeks nevertheless the aid of Simeon. As Bachmann says, “It is not incompatible with the obedience of faith that Judah makes use of the helps placed by God at his disposal.” It would be incompatible with true faith not to use such helps.
II. Those who are “workers together with God” must not despise the aid even of their weaker brethren. When men are working for the Lord and with the Lord
(1) They must not seek aid from the Lord’s enemies;
(2) They have a claim on all who are brethren;
(3) The very weakest of their brethren may afford good help.
III. Such as seek help from their brethren should be very willing to render help in return. “Come with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot.” Trapp says, “The number two hath by the heathen been accounted accursed, because it was the first departure from unity.” By the Christian, with a loftier outlook, that same number two might rather be blessed, because it is the first number at which true unity can begin. Real union is not in any one particle, or unit, but in the blending of many. The weakest may find some one he can help—may help even the strong.
“Let me not deem that I was made in vain,
Or that my being was an accident,
Which Fate, in working its sublime intent,
Not wished to be, to hinder would not deign.
Each drop uncounted in a storm of rain
Hath its own mission, and is duly sent
To its own leaf or blade, not idly spent
’Mid myriad dimples on the shipless main.
The very shadow of an insect’s wing,
For which the violet cared not while it stayed,
Yet felt the lighter for its vanishing,
Proved that the sun was shining by its shade:
Then can a drop of the Eternal Spring,
Shadow of living lights, in vain be made?”
Thus, the weakest worker has his mission: there is some one to whom he may be of service; but he who receives aid from the weak should not refuse to help the weak.
IV. “Those who help one another in love have reason to hope that God will graciously help them both.” God helps us more willingly when we are found in the union of brotherhood, than in the isolation of selfishness. Judah might have triumphed without Simeon; what we should rather remember is this—with Simeon, Judah did triumph.” [Partly from Matt. Henry.]
UNION IN WORKS OF FAITH AND OBEDIENCE
“As by this specimen at the beginning of this book, showing what two tribes of Israel could do by faith and obedience against Adoni-bezek, who had subdued and enslaved seventy kings, God showed what the twelve tribes might have done, if they had believed and obeyed Him; and that all their subsequent miseries were due to defection from God. In like manner, also, the Christian Church, if men had followed the example of the Apostles—the Judahs and Simeons of the first ages—and gone forth in their spirit of faith and love against the powers of darkness, they might long since have evangelised the world. All the distresses of Christendom are ascribable to desertions from Christ, and not to any imperfection, as some have alleged, in Christianity.” [Dr. Wordsworth.]
THE USE OF MEANS
“All they are counted to tempt God, which trusting to God’s promises do neglect human help. Christ hath no otherwise confuted the devil, which counselled Him to cast Himself down headlong, under the pretence of God’s promise. David, in the latter book of Samuel, setteth himself forth unto us as an example, who being wonderfully adorned with the promises of God, used for all that in the insurrection of Absalom not only to flee away, but also the diligence of Hushai the Archite and of the priests. Yea, and Paul the Apostle, although his only confidence was in Christ, yet he appealed unto Cæsar, and made a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and testified that he was a citizen of Rome. It is evident, therefore, that we must use the help of nature and wisdom to obtain those things which God hath promised to give us. Wherefore the young men of our time are diligently to be admonished to attain unto languages, good arts and sciences, and that with great study; which they may, when opportunity serveth, use in preaching and defending the Gospel. For although God has promised that the preaching of His Word shall be fruitful through the benefit of His Spirit, yet must every man instruct himself in his vocation according to his ability.” [Peter Martyr, 1560.]
Judges 1:8. Now the children of Judah had fought, &c.] Heb. = “fought,” the pluperfect form not being given in the original. Still, the sense is, “they formerly fought,” “they had fought.” A similar use of the past for the pluperfect has been noticed under Joshua 8:12. For the time when Judah had fought against Jerusalem we may refer to Joshua 12:8; Joshua 12:10, when, though the king was slain, the strongholds of the city were not fully possessed (Joshua 15:63). As Mr. Groser observes, “It is inconsistent to suppose that Adoni-bezek was carried into a city which his captors had just taken and set on fire.” This eighth verse begins a parenthesis which extends to the close of Judges 1:16. The main object of the parenthesis is to show the conspicuous valour and fidelity which Judah, whom the Lord had just chosen (Judges 1:2), had already displayed in previous conflicts. The reference to Jerusalem in the close of Judges 1:7, naturally suggests the beginning of the parenthesis as in Judges 1:8. After the parenthetic account of Judah’s faithful courage at Jerusalem and Hebron, and after the author’s record that the children of the Kenite had settled in the wilderness of Judah, the history of the expedition of Judah and Simeon is resumed. This explanation gives a perfect sense, and in no way disturbs the record in the book of Joshua. Peter Martyr and Richard Rogers long since contended for this parenthesis as the correct exposition of the local value of the several verses.
Judges 1:9-15. And afterward, &c.] Cf. on Joshua 15:14-19.
Judges 1:16. The children of the Kenite.] The Kenites are first mentioned in Genesis 15:19. They were either a tribe of Midianites, or a people who, having long before the Exodus settled in the land of Midian, had established themselves there in some strength. Exodus 2:16 may mean that Reuel, or Jethro, was only a prince or priest of Kenites who had settled in the land of Midian; or he and his people may have been descendants of Abraham by Keturah, and thus a branch of the Midianites themselves. Numbers 10:29 favours the latter conjecture, Reuel being distinctly called “the Midianite.” In the time of Barak, a branch of these Kenites are found as settlers near Kedesh-Naphtali, by the Lake of Merom, or el Hûleh.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Judges 1:5-7
THE RECOMPENCE OF WICKEDNESS
This lord of Bezek had grown into a very formidable tyrant. The seventy victims whom he had overcome and so cruelly mutilated were doubtless only petty princes, or chieftains, of small cities and their surrounding districts. The number seventy seems to make it certain that the depredations of this monster were committed in the surrounding neighbourhood, and among tribes of his own people, the Canaanites, as well as among more distant enemies. Adoni-bezek cut off the thumbs and toes of the kings he had vanquished. This was no doubt done to render them unfit for war, and thus in an age when men reigned by personal prowess, to prevent them from again coming to the power of government. The mutilation practised by this tyrant upon the captive kings, became afterwards very common in Roman history, when men cut off their own thumbs to escape military service. On this Kitto remarks: “A trace of this practice exists in the word poltron, which we and the French have adopted from the Italian, which, while it immediately denotes a dastardly soldier who shrinks from his duty, etymologically signifies ‘cut-thumb,’ being formed from póllice ‘thumb,’ and trónco, ‘cut off, maimed.’ ”
I. The sin of Adoni-bezek.
1. He was guilty of great cruelty. No “custom of the times” could excuse this barbarity. The man himself felt that he had been remorselessly wicked, when a like judgment was inflicted on him by the men of Judah. By his own verdict he stands condemned. Cruelty is one of the most heartless forms of wickedness. It brings nothing to him who practises it. It is indulged in simply from brutal tastes, unless it be employed for purposes of extortion. It is a low delight in the sufferings of others. Cruelty is one of the most degrading forms of wickedness. Nothing so rapidly takes away a man’s manhood. It is at the very antipodes of the cross. The Cross of Christ is an exhibition of voluntary suffering that others might be spared pain; cruelty is a selfish and coarse delight in others’ pain. Nothing so enriches manhood as the spirit that sacrifices itself to save others; nothing so rapidly debases manhood as the spirit which delights in the pain of others. Reckless cruelty is the suicide of the moral nature. Cruelty is perhaps the most rapidly increasing and incurable form of wickedness. Some have given the palm to covetousness, but while covetousness seems ever fatal, the disease is of slower growth than cruelty. It takes but little time, after they have begun, beast-like, to taste blood, to make a Herod or a Nero; and from this vice, too, men never recover. Covetousness is a passion for self, heedless of others; cruelty is a passion against others, without even the motive of enriching self. There can be no place, even in hell, below where the cruel have their abode. This is the lowest discernible deep of the pit that is bottomless.
2. Adoni-bezek was guilty of haughty pride. It was not enough for him that the seventy kings should be mutilated; he made his poor maimed captives humble themselves daily in his presence, feeding them, like dogs, under his table upon the odds and ends which he chose to throw them. To the littleness of inflicting pain by a barbarous outrage, this tyrant added the further meanness of daily gloating over those whom he made to suffer. In this case it was true indeed, that “the haughty spirit goeth before a fall.”
II. The punishment of this man’s sin. The men of Judah “caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.” They used him as he had used others. They carried out the law of retaliation—“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,” as they had been taught by Moses (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20, &c.). With a fine adaptation of the words of Isaiah touching the fallen king of Babylon, Kitto says concerning the mutilated Adoni-bezek, “Nor can there be any doubt that when the seventy discrowned princes beheld their old oppressor thus brought low, they rose from the dust to greet him, crying, Art thou also become like unto us, thou that didst weaken the nations, thou that madest the land to tremble?” We see in the judgment which overtook this man—
1. Sin punished during the sinner’s lifetime.
2. Sin punished tardily, but no less certainly.
3. Sin so punished that the sinner is led to trace the connection between his own guilt and its consequences. “As I have done, so God hath requited me.” The punishment came in kind. The judgment was a mirror in which the criminal started as he beheld the features of his own manifold transgressions. God would not only have the guilty suffer; He would have them see clearly why they suffer.
III. The man’s acknowledgment of God’s justice. The narrative here throws into prominence the following points:—
1. An idolater’s knowledge of the true God. “God hath requited me.” This man must have frequently heard of the God of the Israelites during the miracles of the wilderness and the triumphs of Joshua. It was only in the hour of judgment that he acknowledged God. The most wicked will confess their faith in the Lord presently. In such faith we can trace no true repentance. It is the way of fallen spirits only to “believe” when they are made to “tremble.”
2. The activity of an idolater’s conscience. Adoni-bezek felt that this was a requital. Conscience may sleep long, but it wakes eventually in a power proportioned to the efforts which have been made to force it into quietude.
3. An idolater acknowledging the justice of God’s recompence of sin. “As I have done, so hath God requited me.” As the guilt, so was its reward. Long years of guilt, even in remorseless cruelty, cannot remove from the conscience its power of perceiving the justice of Divine punishment. It is only when men turn to speculating on the Bible theory of punishment that they get dissatisfied with what the Bible seems to reveal of the way of God in chastisement; those who suffer under God’s hand are ever seen acquiescing in the fairness of sin’s penalties. The penitent thief says, “The due reward of our deeds;” and the impenitent thief says not one word to suggest that he thinks contrariwise. Even Dives in torments does but speak of being tormented, and breathes no single word about injustice; nay, he even fears that his brothers must become as he is also. No sufferer under the hand of God, who speaks to us from the Bible, ever complains that the penalty is beyond the desert. Yet the Bible is very frank in its record of man’s rebellious words. This silence from murmuring, and this acquiescence in the fairness of Divine chastisements, are also significant. The debates on God’s justice in punishment will probably all be confined to time.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
GOD’S MINISTERS OF JUDGMENT.—Judges 1:5-6
“And they found Adoni-bezek,” &c. God has many ways of finding the transgressor. Sometimes He finds him with the messenger of disease; sometimes by losses or accidents; sometimes, as here, by the chastisements of avenging men; sometimes by the working of the sin itself. Thus Moses said to the tribes on the east of Jordan, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” God, eventually, always finds the sinner out by some instrument or other. Thus Samuel finds Agag (1 Samuel 15:33), and becomes the minister of Divine retribution; Saul finds and destroys the Amalekites four hundred years after they had fallen upon the Israelites (cf. 1 Samuel 15:1-7); Mordecai and Esther find and expose Haman; Daniel’s enemies are found by Darius and the lions. He who sins against his fellow-men should always be prepared to see his sin come back with a scourge in its hand. Jacob may deceive; he will presently be deceived. The Egyptians may murder the male children of Israel; the angel will avenge them in the death of the firstborn. David may sin against Bathsheba, and murder Uriah; his first sin shall be repaid to him in Absalom, and his second in Amnon. The retribution which overtakes Adoni-bezek is but a common issue of those transgressions in which one man does wilful harm to his fellows. It is noteworthy that all these prominent instances of retribution in the Scriptures are not punishments of sin in general, but the punishment of sins against men. It is as though God said, He who is guilty against men shall be requited during this life, even in the presence of men.
THE RELATION OF GOD’S CHASTISEMENTS TO MAN’S OFFENCES.—Judges 1:6-7
“God has not relinquished the government of the earth: He orders and overrules everything now as much as ever; and in His former dispensations we behold a perfect exhibition of the government which He still administers. Still, as formerly, does He requite the wickedness of men; sometimes on the offenders themselves, as when He smote Uzziah with leprosy; and sometimes on others upon their account, as when He slew seventy thousand of the people to punish the sin which David had committed in numbering his subjects. Sometimes He inflicts the judgment immediately, as on Herod, who was eaten up with worms; and sometimes after a long season, as on the sons of Saul for their father’s cruelty to the Gibeonites many years before. Sometimes His judgments are sent as preliminary to those heavier judgments that shall be inflicted in the eternal world, … and sometimes after the offenders themselves have been forgiven, as was experienced by David in his family (2 Samuel 12:13-14), and by Manasseh, whose iniquities were visited upon Israel after he himself had been received up to glory (2 Kings 24:2-4). Sometimes His chastisements had no particular affinity with the offence committed; and sometimes the offence was clearly marked in the punishment, as in the case of Joram (2 Chronicles 21:4-17), and as with David (2 Samuel 12:10-12; 2 Samuel 16:21-22). So minutely is this correspondence marked in the Scriptures, that even the time and the place are noticed as designed to manifest the very offence which God designed to punish; as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness forty years on account of their murmuring at the reports which were brought them by the spies who had searched out the land forty days (Numbers 14:33-34); and as Ahab’s blood was licked up by dogs on the very spot where dogs had licked up the blood of Naboth, whom he had murdered.
“We might further notice the correspondence between the spiritual judgments which God sometimes inflicts for spiritual transgressions. Those who will not hearken to His voice He gives up to their own counsels (Psalms 81:11-12); those who abandon themselves to all manner of wickedness, He gives up to vile affections and a reprobate mind (Romans 1:26-28); and those who will not receive His truth in order to salvation, He gives up to their own delusions that they may be damned.…
“If any imagine that this conduct of God was confined to the nation whose temporal Governor He was, we must remind them that He dealt precisely in the same way with the heathen nations (Isaiah 33:1), and has taught us to expect that He will do so to the end of time …
“From hence we may learn—
I. To investigate the reasons of God’s dealings with us. Every dispensation of Providence has a voice to which we should give diligent attention. I would say unto you therefore, ‘Hear the rod and Him that hath appointed it.’ If you see not the reason of it, go unto your God, and say, ‘Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me;’ and let no cross be suffered to escape from you, without having first paid to you that tribute of good which by the order of Providence you are entitled to exact.
II. To repent of particular sins.… God has borne with us indeed; but we must not consider His longsuffering as any proof of His approbation: He is recording everything in the book of His remembrance, and will call us into judgment for it, whether it be good or evil. Let us then search and try our ways; let us pray that He will not ‘remember against us the sins and transgressions of our youth.’
III. To abound in every work of good. The godly, no less than the sinner, shall be recompensed in the earth’ (Proverbs 11:31; Proverbs 13:21). Visit and relieve your sick neighbour, and ‘God will be with you in trouble, and make all your bed in sickness (Psalms 41:1-3).” [Charles Simeon, M.A.]
THE ACCUSING CONSCIENCE QUICKENED BY DIVINE JUDGMENTS.—Judges 1:7
By the recent discovery and invention of Professor Hughes, sounds that have never before been audible to men may now be heard distinctly. Through the wonderful powers of the microphone, much in nature which once appeared silent is now vocal; and, as years go on, we may expect these still small voices not only to be heard but understood. Just as the microscope has revealed a new world to the eye, so will the microphone discover a new world to the ear. Similarly, God has a microphonic way in the moral world of making that audible which many have long since ceased to hear. Paul speaks of men “past feeling” whose consciences are “seared as with a hot iron.” Such are not only past feeling the reproaches of conscience, but even past hearing them. Scripture history shows us very plainly, in not a few instances, that God has a method of making men hear again, who have long been deaf to the very feeble utterances of the conscience which they appear quite to have silenced. There are microphones in this moral world also, by which conscience not only becomes audible, but even over-whelming in the energy and terribleness of its tones. The following are a few of the forms in which the Bible shows us how the consciences of men may again speak so as to be heard in irresistible power:—
I. Conscience speaking through the pain of suffering in the present. Adoni-bezek can hear well enough through the pain of his own mutilation. “As I have done, so hath God requited me.” In similar circumstances, Pharaoh heard the reproofs of his conscience through the medium of the ten plagues (cf. Exodus 9:27-28; Exodus 10:16-17).
II. Conscience speaking through fear of suffering to come (1 Kings 21:20). The blood of Naboth cried out in the ears of Ahab at the very sight of Elijah. Hastening down to the vineyard, to take possession of the spoil of his murdered foe, he saw there, at the very gateway to the new estate, the terrible Elijah; and ere ever a word was said by the prophet, and in view of the judgment so surely casting its shadow before in the form of that stern Tishbite, conscience, silent in that dull bosom for many a year, made the poor guilty being cry in unmistakable alarm, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” Men who are sinning in peace, should now and then listen for the sounds of conscience through the judgment to come. In view of this, men have sometimes found conscience overmastering creeds. Thus Herod, the Sadducee, who believed in no resurrection, said when he heard of Jesus, “It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead.” Thus Volney prayed in the storm. Thus Byron struggled with himself to “be a man to the last.”
III. Conscience speaking through the sufferings of the innocent. Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver, but the thought of the guilt in which he had given Christ over to condemnation was too much to be endured. “When he saw that Jesus was condemned, he brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.… And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” Conscience becomes audible also through the medium of the sufferings and blood of the innocent. What may not the Herods, and Nero, and Domitian, and Marius, and other tyrants, have heard of the thunders of conscience, when, in their more reflective moods, they found the moral atmosphere about them clarified and made resonant by thoughts of their innocent victims! While an oppressor is always a coward, there must come a time when he had need be among the bravest of the brave.
IV. Conscience speaking through severely chastened piety (cf. 2 Samuel 16:10.) In the punishment which waits on sin, not only the deliberately wicked, but the fallen righteous, hear the rebukes of conscience as they have seldom heard them before. Even the cursing tones of Shimei sound in the ears of transgressing David as the voice of a messenger of his God.
V. Conscience speaking unto salvation through gratitude for deliverance and mercy (Acts 16:24-30; Luke 15:21). The jailor who had made the feet of Paul and Silas fast in the stocks, probably in antipathy towards them for the truth which they preached, heard conscience proclaiming his sin through the joy which he felt in the security of his prisoners and the consequent safety of his own life. He who in one moment “would have killed himself,” is made to ask in the next, “What must I do to be saved?” It is in the hour of mercy that conscience forces the heart to such tears for sin as make sin seem most loathsome. As Whittier has truthfully written it—
“Thy healing pains; a keen distress
Thy tender light shines in;
Thy sweetness is the bitterness,
Thy grace the pang of sin.”
Or, in the measure of an older and more familiar utterance, we have often expressed the feeling thus:—
“When beneath the Cross adoring,
Sin doth like itself appear.”
The true microphone for making the voice of conscience at once audible and helpful is the Cross of Jesus Christ.
VI. Conscience heard speaking after a silence of many years (Genesis 42:21-22). This was probably so in the case of Adoni-bezek; it was emphatically so with Joseph’s brethren. More than twenty years after their inhuman guilt they are made to say, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” That conscience has long been silent is no sign that it will not presently be heard in power. God knows how to awaken both what we call the sleeping and the dead.
VII. Conscience speaking in the presence of death (Joshua 7:20). Achan, who was deaf to all self-rebuke during the despoiling of Jericho, heard conscience speaking with awful plainness when he knew that he must die. The death-sayings of the wicked have been showing, through many generations, that the vaulted cavern of a visibly open tomb has ever been a kind of intensified whispering-gallery, back from which the once unheard reproofs of conscience have rolled with a terrible energy through the departing soul. When conscience is silenced here, it seems to take on a distinct tongue for every forgotten sin, and to become a very Babel there. Happy is that man who learns to say, “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid.”
“THE LAW OF REQUITAL.”—Judges 1:7
“This narrative is an illustration of a severe yet most holy law. ‘The Lord of recompences shall surely requite.’ ‘With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ This is the law under which we are now living. Let us study some of its bearings, that we may live with religious wisdom.
“ ‘As I have done, so God hath requited me.’ ”
I. “Then the life of man cannot escape the judgment of God. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked;’ man may deny it: may theoretically disregard it; but cannot escape it. At the heart of things is the spirit of judgment. Human life appears to be confused, but before the Almighty it has shape, and plan, and purpose.
II. “Then let no man take the law into his own hands. ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.’ … Why have we suffered loss in business? May it not be that we have oppressed the poor and needy? Why are our schemes delayed and thwarted? Probably because we have been obstinate and unfriendly towards the schemes of others. Why are we held in disesteem or neglect? Probably because of the contempt in which we have held our brethren.…
III. “Then every good deed will be honoured with appropriate reward. The law is equally effective on both sides. ‘God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love,’ &c. ‘Whosoever shall give a cup of cold water only,’ &c. ‘The liberal soul shall be made fat.’ Remember:
1. Good deeds are their own reward;
2. Deeds done merely for the sake of reward cannot be good.
IV. “Then, though justice be long delayed, yet it will be vindicated eventually. Adoni-bezek had run a long course of wickedness.… Yet see him in the grip of the law, and learn that the time of punishment is with the Lord and not with man. Do you think that you have outwitted the law of retribution? God’s hour is coming; a stormy and terrible hour.…
“But what of those who, having done evil, hate both themselves and their wickedness? There is a Gospel for such—‘Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,’ will destroy the evil of the past, and satisfy the otherwise inexorable law of retribution.” [Dr. Parker.]
NOTE.—For homiletic outlines and remarks on the paragraph that follows—Judges 1:8-16, see on the corresponding passages in the Book of Joshua, as treated in “The Preacher’s Commentary.”
Judges 1:17. And Judah went with Simeon.]
The history is here resumed, after the digression (Judges 1:8-16). Zephath or Hormah.] The latter name, meaning “a devoting,” was evidently given to Zephath on account of the ban of destruction, for the second time executed here (cf. Numbers 21:1-3, and Com. on Joshua 12:14). The LXX. have Ἀνάθεμα. “Now Sebaita, a large deserted town situated in a large plain at the foot of the Magrâh mountains, and not far from the head of the Wady el Abaydh. Five miles off is an old fort, on a steep hill. Perhaps this is the ‘watch-tower’ from which the place derived its name. This discovery was made by Professor Palmer and the late Mr. Tyrwhitt Drake.” [Groser.]
Judges 1:18. Gaza … Askelon … Ekron.] Cf. on Joshua 11:22; Joshua 13:3. After the conquest of these places by Joshua, they appear to have been re-occupied by the Canaanites. This is specially said of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod, even in the time of Joshua (Joshua 11:22). After events and statements show that the present subjugation was as imperfect as the former (Judges 14:19; Judges 16:2; &c.).
Judges 1:19. Could not drive out.] They were “not to be driven out.” “The expression לֹא יָכְלוּ (lo yâch’lu), ‘they could not,’ is purposely avoided. They would have been quite able when God was with them; but when it came to a contest with iron chariots their faith failed them.” [Cassel.] The inhabitants of the valley.] הָעֵמֶק, not הַשְּׁפֵלָה, as in Judges 1:9 of this chapter. “Emek is not applied to ravines, but to the long broad sweeps sometimes found between parallel ranges of hills.” [Dean Stanley.] Thus “the valley” would be suitable for the use of the chariots.
Judges 1:20. And they gave Hebron unto Caleb.] This is repeated for the same purpose as the repetition in the parenthesis (Judges 1:8-16), namely, to show Judah’s general faithfulness towards God and Israel. This faithfulness in fulfilling the Lord’s words, is given as an explanation of the Lord’s choice in Judges 1:2,—“Judah shall go up.”
Judges 1:21. Unto this day.] Therefore this book was written before the expulsion of the Jebusites by David (but cf. Introduction). “Jerusalem was a border city. In Joshua 15:63 we read that the Judahites did not expel the Jebusites from the upper city, or Zion; here we are told that the warlike Benjaminites failed to do so. There is no need to suppose an alteration in the text. This shows that Judges 1:8 records only the capture of the lower city.” [Groser.]
Judges 1:23. The name of the city before was Luz.] Cf. on Joshua 16:2, Preacher’s Commentary, pp. 267, 270. In these verses it is shown that the children of Joseph also, like those of Judah, began, after the death of Joshua, faithfully to execute the word of the Lord. But Judges 1:27-29 tell us that this fidelity was only very partial. They soon ceased to obey Jehovah, and “put the Canaanites to tribute.”
Judges 1:27-29. Neither did Manasseh, &c.] The condition of unbelieving inactivity noticed of Manasseh in Joshua 17:11-13, and of Ephraim in Joshua 16:10, is here shown to have continued to the time of the opening of the history in the book of Judges. Thus the latter part of this chapter does something more than show “the identity of the transactions referred to” in the book of Joshua. It shows that the want of faithful and vigorous transactions noticed there, remained to be noticed several years later. It is precisely this perpetuated inaction which leads to the further sins and the subsequent calamities of which the book of Judges gives the history. It is in this light that chaps. 1 and 2 become a very pertinent introduction to the whole of this book.
Judges 1:34. Forced the children of Dan into the mountain.] Probably with the iron chariots with which they were able to command the valley or more level ground adjacent to the mountains. Thus were the Danites straitened for room, and presently led to seek more territory, as stated in Judges 18:0.
Judges 1:35. In Mount Heres.] Lit., “The mountain of the sun,” or “the arid mountain.” Probably so named in connection with sun-worship, and the same as, or adjacent to, Ir-Shemesh, “city of the sun,” which occurs in the parallel passage, Joshua 19:41, and called Beth-shemesh, “house of the sun,” in Joshua 15:10; 1 Kings 4:9. It may be the modern Ain-Shems, about seven miles from Ekron, though this seems too far south for the hand of the house of Joseph to have been heavy upon the Amorites there, gradually making them tributary. The LXX. curiously render the first part of the verse, “And the Amorite began to dwell in the mountains of shells, in which are bears and foxes.”
Judges 1:36. From the going up to Akrabbim. Cf. Numbers 34:4, and remarks on Joshua 15:3. Some place Akrabbim ten miles due south of the Dead Sea, and others at the Pass es-Sufah, somewhat more west. From the rock and upward.] “ ‘From the rock’ cannot be understood as relating to the city of Petra, but must denote some other locality well known to the Israelites by that name. Such a locality there undoubtedly was in the rock in the desert of Zin, which had become celebrated through the events that took place at the Water of Strife (Numbers 20:8; Numbers 20:10), and to which, in all probability, this expression refers. The rock in question was at the south-west corner of Canaan, on the southern edge of the Rakhma plateau, to which the mountains of the Amorites extended on the south-west (cf. Numbers 14:25; Numbers 14:44-45, with Deuteronomy 1:44).” [Keil.] A line from the two points thus described is here said to have formed, probably, the original southern boundary of the Amorite kingdom.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE PARAGRAPH.—Judges 1:17-36
THE BATTLE THE LORD’S ONLY WHILE FOUGHT WITH THE LORD.—Judges 1:17-19
I. Men working together with each other, and working in the fear of God.
1. “Unity is strength” wherever unity is lawful. Had Judah become confederate with idolaters, such an alliance would have wrought weakness. When Judah went with Simeon his brother, the Lord went with them both.
2. To unite in God’s work is of no avail unless we unite to serve in the fear of God. That Judah and Simeon did this is evident. All Israel had inquired of the Lord, saying, “Who shall go up” (Judges 1:1)? In their victory over Zephath, they both devoted the city to the Lord, and re-named it Hormah, in token of having executed again upon it Jehovah’s ban of judgment (see Critical Notes). Not only did they thus show that they were walking in the fear of God; they also “gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses had said,” knowing that it was God who had spoken through Moses. Thus did Judah and Simeon start aright in this terrible work of war and judgment. God does not overlook even the faithful beginnings of those who depend upon His help and have respect unto His commandments.
II. Men working together with God, and thus working triumphantly. Zephath fell before them, and they took Gaza, and Askelon, and Ekron, with the territory bordering upon each. 1. Success is not because of our co-operation with men, but because of our union with the Lord. “The Lord was with Judah.” The Lord was not kept from working with Judah by the fact that Judah had sought the help of Simeon. Had not Judah taken wise precautions, then the Lord might not have helped. God, also, helps them who wisely help themselves. Yet, though Simeon’s aid was thus approved of, the battle was the Lord’s. After we have done all that we can, He is our help and our shield.
2. The Lord does not withhold His help because our union with Him may soon fail. He who said to Peter, “Before the cock crow thou shalt deny Me thrice,” saw well enough how soon Judah and Simeon would deny Him. Yet God began with blessing the men who began by trusting. The crown of life is promised to those who are “faithful unto death;” but our Lord does not withhold all His mercies till we have proved our abiding fidelity. There are many victories given to us on this side of the crown. He who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” gives that day’s bread in answer to that day’s believing prayer.
3. The union with God that comes of even a small faith, may, nevertheless, lead to mighty victories. The trust of Judah which utterly failed in sight of the iron chariots, could only have been feeble in these earlier conflicts. Had it been strong, the iron chariots could not so speedily have turned it into unbelief. Yet even with this feeble faith, Zephath, and Gaza, and Askelon, and Ekron were overcome. Union with God is everything. The faith that is just enough to lead men to union with God is as victorious as though it were perfect faith. It is not the amount of our faith that triumphs, but the fact that the Lord is on our side. Strong faith has most of rest and peace; strong faith gives most honour to God; but the faith that just suffices to do the Lord’s bidding is also certain of victory. The trembling households of Israel, on the night of the slaying of the first-born, were just as safe as the confident households, if they had possessed faith enough to sprinkle the blood as they had been directed. The trembling gazer at the brazen serpent was healed as completely as the man who had no doubt of the result. She who did but find faith enough to secretly touch the hem of her Lord’s garment found it better than twelve years’ aid from the physicians. He who has faith enough to do his Lord’s bidding, has also enough to command his Lord’s help; and salvation is of the Lord’s help, not of the measure of our trust.
III. Men working successfully with God, and yet coming to a point where God is no longer trusted. “And Jehovah was with Judah; and he took possession of the mountain, but the inhabitants of the valley were not to be expelled, because they had chariots of iron.” Had Judah still trusted in the Lord, Judah had still been victorious.
1. Where faith is severely tried, some promise may generally be found to sustain it. It was so here. God had already said, through Moses (Deuteronomy 20:1), “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them; for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Similarly, some promise stands over against all our temptations to unbelief.
2. The promises and our own personal experience always point in the direction of abiding trust. As far as the men of Judah had trusted, they had not been confounded. They had conquered in every field where they had ventured to fight. Our past experience of God’s help is never out of harmony with His written encouragements.
3. In spite of both promises and experience, it is all too easy to give way to doubt. God continually encourages men to go forward, and when, having known nothing of defeat, He sets before them an open door to some mercy in which all previous mercies might become crowned and complete, they shrink back in dismay, and thus risk the loss of everything. One may almost hear the Divine voice saying in this trial also, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
4. He who doubts God becomes subject to the repeated rebukes of history. The people were rebuked by history which many of them might well remember. At the waters of Merom, under Joshua, they had defeated their enemies who were “as the sand upon the sea-shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many” (Joshua 11:4). In the days yet to come multitudes of their grandchildren would see them reproved again. Bidden to the battle by a woman, Barak, a century later, led his little army against the multitudinous array of King Jabin, and Sisera, and his “nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him,” were discomfited, “and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword, and there was not a man left” (Judges 4:7; Judges 4:13; Judges 4:15-16). Thus does God ever beset us behind and before with proofs of our folly in all our unbelief of His holy words.
MAKING SHIPWRECK OF FAITH AFTER A GOOD VOYAGE.—Judges 1:19
I. Faith failing after much faith in the past. Judah had believed much, and therefore “the Lord was with Judah.” Their previous faith is seen in three things.
1. They had faith to offer acceptable prayer. In common with all Israel they had asked of the Lord, “Who shall go up for us?” &c. That prayer was so offered that the Lord heard.
2. They had faith to accept the issues of prayer. He who really prays commits himself to great responsibilities. God may send him into the very forefront of the battle. Judah had so prayed. “And the Lord said, Judah shall go up.” This post in the van of the Lord’s war had been faithfully accepted.
3. They had faith not only to go to battle, but to win victory after victory. He that girds on the harness for God has faith, but he who continues his trust till the Lord makes him more than conqueror has yet a better faith. This also had Judah known. The Canaanites and the Perizzites, with Adoni-bezek, had been overcome. Zephath, Gaza, Askelon, and Ekron had also fallen. For all that, the faith of the men of Judah failed before the iron chariots. They were like those of whom Paul wrote: “Holding faith and a good conscience;” that in their earlier career: “which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck;” that in their later. To such, Paul said elsewhere: “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” It is those that stand who have need to take heed lest they fall.
II. Faith failing by reason of looking on the things which are seen. The men of Judah looked on the iron chariots, and became disheartened and afraid; they should have looked on God’s well-known love and oft-proved power to help them.
1. No man can rightly understand the things of this life. We judge of things in fragments and sections. Our view is too limited even for a bird’s-eye view of what God sees as a whole. Even momentary defeat is often the way to victory. It was so at Ai. What if Joshua, instead of prostrating himself before the Lord in humble inquiry, had given up the war? Where, then, had been the inheritance? We are not told that Judah had been defeated even once by the iron chariots. But what if this were so? It might have been God’s well-prepared way to more effectual victory. He who judges life and God by the few things which he can see, is in much the same position as a man who should attempt to decide on the merits of a painting by gazing at a square inch cut from the large picture on the canvas.
2. That man is wisest who rests in the well-proved love and wisdom of God. Philosophy has not ventured to raise any quarrel against the child who trusts in a wise and good father in preference to his own narrow judgment. It is only when our decisions have to do with the far more intricate perceptions of religious life that some would-be wise men tell us that it is not well to trust a Father in heaven whose love and mercy have been manifestly displayed for six thousand years. “We have no data,” they tell us, “whereby to form any opinion of your religious matters; and we decline to accept your Christianity.” As though any one of them would venture to commend the presumptuous boy who said to his father about some sphere unknown to his narrow wisdom: “I have no data; and I must decline to walk when I cannot see clearly for myself.” A great deal of our walking, even in temporal things, has to be done by faith in some one else. Must it not be so, much more, when the path we travel leads to a life and a world that no living man has seen?
3. Thus, he best hears, and best fights, who endures “as seeing Him who is invisible.” “No man hath seen God at any time,” as he has seen an earthly parent; yet he who walks the path of the Divine testimonies humbly will say, with no lack of confidence, “The only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” The whole question of modern faith rests here: Is Jesus Christ to be believed? was He false? or was He mistaken? Till that is settled by all who doubt it, nothing else is worth arguing.
III. Failing faith declining the conflict, and thus getting nothing more of victory. Judah rested, and forthwith God rested. In that case there was nothing for it but that conquest should cease also. In this mood, not an acre more could be added to the inheritance. How silently God seems to have rested! For some time we hear of no single word of reproof or exhortation when He had been thus dishonoured. God left His people to find out by bitter experience their sin against Him, and their folly as it concerned themselves. It is not seldom thus. God sits in silence which we might well feel to be appalling, and leaves unbelief to work out its own shame and pain. Meanwhile, the enemies of faith find power enough to become “as thorns in the sides” of those who have forgotten their God.
IV. The failing faith of leading men becoming utterly ruinous to the faith of others. Judah had been chosen to take the lead in the war which followed the death of Joshua. While Judah was strong in faith, Simeon was strong also. Perhaps it was under the influence of their joint victories that Joseph was stirred up to the conflict in which Bethel was taken. When Judah fell, defection forthwith spread itself throughout all Israel. Benjamin, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulon, Asher, and Naphtali all failed in the failure of Judah. And not long after it remained to be written: “And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites.… And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgat the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves.” “No man liveth to himself.” He who fails in faith, destroys the faith of others. Ruinous, indeed, are the results when they fail whom God has called and qualified to lead.
GOD LEAVING HIS PEOPLE HELPLESS.—Judges 1:19
“The Lord was with Judah” only so long as Judah believed. God declines to help those who decline to trust in Him. It would do His people harm. It would put a premium on doubt, and timidity, and idleness, were the Lord to present His soldiers with victory while they refused the conflict. Dr. Thomas remarks on this verse: “It is said that God could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they—the inhabitants of the mountain—had chariots of iron.” But it is not said that God could not drive them out. Even in the English text the sense is clearly intimated as being—Judah could not drive them out, the nearest antecedent being “Judah,” and not “the Lord.” But the Hebrew certainly does not say that “God could not” drive them out. The literal rendering of the verse stands thus: “And was Jehovah with Judah, and he took possession of the mountain; but not to be expelled (were) the inhabitants of the valley, for chariots of iron (were) to them.” This is very different from “God could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley.” It is undoubtedly true, as a point of doctrine, that God cannot do that which is wrong, and which would work evil. It is thus similarly said of Christ in His own country, “He could there do no mighty work,” the reason assigned, elsewhere, being that this was “because of their unbelief.” God could not help the unbelieving men of Judah with mighty works: still, that is not how “it is said” in this verse.
NO PLEASURE IN THE DEATH OF THE WICKED
“As Augustine has said, ‘God is not a cruel tormentor, but a just corrector.’ Moreover, because holy men are very familiar with God, and therefore when by some heavenly revelation they are ascertained of His will, because they exceedingly love Him they cannot but allow His sentence; yea, they faithfully pray that the same may be accomplished; although, in that they be men, they be both sorry and also take it grievously to have their neighbours so vexed. After which sort Samuel mourned for Saul the king, whom he knew nevertheless to be rejected of God. Jeremiah also wept for the captivity which was at hand; and Christ wept for the city of Jerusalem which should be destroyed. They which be men indeed, cannot but be sorry for their neighbours and their own flesh when it is afflicted. Neither doth God require of us that we be stoical and lacking in compassion.” [Peter Martyr.]
THE GIFT OF HEBRON TO CALEB.—Judges 1:20
This verse is certainly not “a conclusive proof that this campaign (of Judah and Simeon) took place in Joshua’s lifetime,” as stated by the Speaker’s Commentary. All the time the Canaanites were in such force in the lot of Judah as is represented in Judges 1:3-6, Caleb could not have held Hebron in peaceable security. He might have continued to hold the city from the time of his victory (which is recorded both in Joshua 15:13-14, and in the retrospective parenthesis of this chapter) to the time of the campaign of Judah and Simeon; but the city was, probably, more or less threatened by the growing power of the Canaanites. After the victories of the two tribes, Caleb’s possession of Hebron would have been comparatively undisturbed. But the men of Judah, so far from taking any advantage over Caleb, gave him Hebron, as Moses had said. They did not give him the city for the first time; Joshua had given it before the men of Judah gave it, and Moses before Joshua. To say that the gift as stated here is “a conclusive proof that the campaign took place in Joshua’s lifetime” has no more force than to say that Joshua 14:13 is a conclusive proof that Joshua’s gift of Hebron took place in the lifetime of Moses. Hebron was given to Caleb, in promise, by Moses; it was re-given by Joshua, when the adjacent country had been partly subdued. With this title to the city, Caleb wrested it from the Canaanites, and apparently held it amid increasing dangers till the overthrow of Adoni-bezek and the conquest of Zephath and the western strongholds, at which time its security was threatened. From this danger the two tribes delivered Hebron; and as situated in their own territory, and liberated by their efforts, the men of Judah still gave the city to Caleb. They thus confirmed the previous gift of both Moses and Joshua. The verse is really needed here as an assurance that Caleb was suffered to retain his heritage. The retrospective clause with which the verse closes, is simply a repetition, quite in keeping with the author’s manner throughout the chapter.
THE INACTIVITY OF BENJAMIN.—Judges 1:21
The boundary of Judah and Benjamin divided the city of Jerusalem, the lower city belonging to the former tribe, and the upper city with its stronghold, so long retained by the Jebusites, to the latter. The eighth verse tells us that the men of Judah had taken that part of the city which lay in their territory, while this verse records the slothfulness of the men of Benjamin in suffering their part of Jerusalem to remain in the hands of their enemies.
I. Benjamin’s want of faith. There was want of faith
(1) in God’s warnings (Numbers 33:55);
(2) in God’s willingness or power to help;
(3) in the blessings which ever follow obedience.
II. Benjamin’s want of love. Love to God should have prompted the people at least to make an effort to do as God had commanded them. They seem, however, to have made no attempt to take the city. The Lord had done great things for them, but they were not glad enough in Him even to strive to obey. Love to their brethren should have stimulated them to the attack. This motive failed also.
III. Benjamin’s want of zeal. The people of the tribe seem to have quietly settled down to make the best of things as they were. He who lacks faith and love now will be no less wanting in zeal for the Lord of Hosts. The issues of life as to life’s conflicts are also out of the heart, and he who would win many victories must keep his heart with all diligence.
IV. Benjamin’s readiness to copy a bad example. Judah was the first to go up against the Canaanites. For a time the men of Judah walked by faith, and conquered; then they walked by sight, and the iron chariots were too much for the courage which depended on what could be seen. The Benjaminites were far more ready to copy the bad example than the good. Evil is ever more contagious than virtue. The pre-disposition of the heart is ever toward sin. He who walks much with evil-doers has need of great grace to keep him from following evil.
V. Benjamin’s lost opportunity. The city which the people feared to attack now was not taken till four hundred years afterwards (2 Samuel 5:6-10). The Lord was waiting to be with Benjamin, just as much as He was “with Judah” and “with Joseph.” But Benjamin let the day for conflict go by, and for four centuries no occasion of sufficient promise to stimulate them to victory ever returned. Even when the city was taken, Saul the Benjaminite king was passed over, and David who was of, in this matter, the more faithful tribe of Judah, was chosen as the instrument for adding the stronghold of Zion to the territory of Israel. Henceforth, this part of Jerusalem became at once “the City of David,” “the City of the Great King,” and the site of the temple of Jehovah. Opportunity once forfeited by sinful unbelief and sloth is often slow to return. “To-day is the accepted time” for a good many mercies that may have fled for ever to-morrow.
CHRONOLOGICAL NOTE.—“We have a firm datum for determining more minutely the time when the book of Judges was written, in this statement that the Jebusites in Jerusalem had not been rooted out by the Israelites, but dwelt there with the children of Benjamin ‘unto this day.’ The Jebusites remained in possession of Jerusalem, or of the citadel Zion, or the upper town of Jerusalem, until the time when David went against Jerusalem after the twelve tribes had acknowledged him as king, took the fortress of Zion, and made it the capital of his kingdom under the name of the City of David (2 Samuel 5:6-9; 1 Chronicles 11:4-9). Consequently the book was written before this event, either during the first seven years of the reign of David at Hebron, or during the reign of Saul, under whom the Israelites already enjoyed the benefits of a monarchical government, since Saul not only fought with bravery against all the enemies of Israel, and ‘delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them’ (1 Samuel 14:47-48), but exerted himself to restore the authority of the laws of God in his kingdom, as is evident from the fact that he banished the wizards and necromancers out of the land (1 Samuel 28:9). The Talmudical statement therefore in Bava-bathra, to the effect that Samuel was the author of the book, may be so far correct, that if it was not written by Samuel himself towards the close of his life, it was written at his instigation by a younger prophet of his school. More than this it is impossible to decide. So much, however, is at all events certain, that the book does not contain traces of a later age either in its contents or in its language, and that Judges 18:30 does not refer to the time of the captivity.” [Keil.]
Dr. Cassel further remarks on this point, “If our book had not been written before the time of David, references to his reign could not be wanting. From Othniel’s time, the tribe of Judah, David’s tribe, falls into the background. The mention of it in the history of Samson is far from honourable. The relatively copious treatment of affairs in which Benjamin figures, points to the time of King Saul. While the history of Othniel is quite summarily related, that of Ehud is drawn out to the minutest detail. Similarly rich is the flow of tradition in the narrative concerning Gibeah (Judges 19:0 seq.). Saul says of himself that he is ‘of the smallest of the tribes’ (1 Samuel 9:21). This history of Gibeah explains the cause of Benjamin’s smallness, and traces it to the savage war made on him by Israel.”
FAITH, OBEDIENCE, AND VICTORY.—Judges 1:22
I. Faith and obedience helped by brotherly union. The house of Joseph consisted of both Manasseh and Ephraim. So long as they worked together, these brother-tribes seem to have gathered encouragement from each other. When they were united, Bethel was fearlessly, diligently, and successfully attacked. Separating from each other, both Manasseh and Ephraim are found slothful, weak, and disobedient (Judges 1:27-29). Says a Spanish proverb: “Three, helping each other, are as good as six.” Similarly an Italian proverb tells us that, “Three brothers are three castles.” In the Lord’s work we all need each other.
II. Faith and obedience stimulated on the ground of former mercies. It was against Bethel that the children of Joseph went up. The very name was an inspiration: fighting for the “house of God,” would not God certainly be with them? But the name had, no less, an inspiring history. Here good old Jacob, their common father, had seen his vision of the angel-trodden ladder, set up between earth and heaven, and “he called the name of that place Bethel” (Genesis 28:19). William Hazlitt remarks in his opening lecture on the English Poets: “There can never be another Jacob’s dream. Since that time, the heavens have gone further off, and grown astronomical.” Doubtless; there cannot be any dreaming of the ancient vision over again, yet who does not feel that the original dream has lost nothing of its power even to us, the astronomical vastness of our unladdered heavens notwithstanding. What an inspiration it must have been to the sons of Joseph as they went to battle on this scene, made so bright to Jacob with the vision of ascending and descending angels of his God! Again, God had sent Jacob to Bethel after his return from Laban. Here, at the Divine command, he had built an altar; at this very spot the nurse of Jacob’s mother lay interred; here the new name “Israel” had been confirmed; on this very ground the promise had been given that “a nation and a company of nations” should be of Jacob their father; here the covenant to Abraham and Isaac had been renewed, “And the land, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land;” and here, for the second time, had Jacob set up a pillar of stone, and poured oil upon the top of it, and called the name of the place the “house of God.” That this history was carefully remembered is clear from the fact that the name Bethel was again substituted for Luz; and that the history was reverently cherished is no less clear from the way in which for a long time after, Bethel was made a place for enquiring of the Lord (cf. Judges 20:18; Judges 20:26-27; Judges 21:2). These memories of God’s mercies to Jacob, and of the absolute promise on that very spot to give the land to his seed, could not have done other than make the house of Joseph strong for this conflict. The very stones could hardly “hold their peace” if faith and zeal should falter here. On not a few of the fields where God calls us to conflict, similar encouragements wait to strengthen all who will reverently search them out.
III. Faith and obedience helped by the Lord at the very outset. “And the Lord was with them.” No sooner does Joseph go up to the Lord’s war, than the Lord goes with him. He who sets out for God, and in obedience to God, has God with him even at setting out. On the contrary, he who declines to begin to walk in the way of the Divine commandments, can never have it truly written that “the Lord was with him.” This word occurs no more in this chapter. It was not spoken of any of the tribes who did not attempt to drive out the inhabitants; equally, when Manasseh and Ephraim failed in faith and obedience, nothing more is said of the Lord’s presence. He who never begins to serve God never feels able to serve; he who sincerely attempts to fight against sin in himself or in others, only finds that he is helpless when he ceases to be sincere. Even the withered hand can begin to move when it tries to lift itself at the bidding of Christ.
IV. Faith and obedience crowned with victory. Bethel fell, and its inhabitants were slain, according to the Divine commandment. There can be no question of victory when we begin and continue and end our warfare with the Lord of Hosts for our helper. If the Lord be on our side, greater is He that is for us than all they which be against us (cf. 2 Kings 6:16; 2 Chronicles 32:7; Psalms 55:18). To all who faithfully contend, seeking His help, Christ has certainly promised the crown of life.
LUZ AND BETHEL.—Judges 1:23
The word Bethel occurs before, Genesis 28:19, in which place this name is said to have been given to Luz by Jacob. In Genesis 12:8, we are told that Abram removed from the plain of Moreh “unto a mountain on the east of Bethel.” This is only an evidence that the book of Genesis was written after Jacob’s vision, and that the new name which Jacob had given to Luz is carried back by the author, with an anachronism, to the time of Abram. As to the slightly different sites of Luz and Bethel, see Preacher’s Commentary on Joshua, p. 270.
THE TRAITOROUS BETHELITE.—Judges 1:24-25
There is no reason for thinking that this man believed in God, and that from motives of religious faith he betrayed his city to the Israelites. Some of the older authors have compared his case to that of Rahab. It need hardly be said that, in motive, they are evidently and utterly unlike. Rahab was manifestly overwhelmed with the conviction that the God of the Israelites was the true God, that the end of her people was at hand; and in that belief she sought a refuge for herself and her household under the mighty God of Jacob, through the medium of His people. This Bethelite probably believed nothing of the kind. He expressed no faith in God; not casting in his lot with God’s people, he evidently got away from them, with his family, as soon as he could make his escape; and, so far from being oppressed by the sense of his traitorous conduct, he called his new city by the name of the city he had helped to deliver up to the Israelites. On the other hand, Dr. Adam Clarke’s abuse of the poor creature is needlessly extravagant. He was probably no willing traitor. He did not betray his city for gain. The man had not had the advantage of Dr. Clarke’s training, nor had he breathed the healthy atmosphere of a land which had long been blessed with great civil and religious liberty and knowledge. He was merely a weak man, trembling for his personal safety, and having perhaps no small fear for his family. His act was not an exalted one, but the ordeal which he had to undergo might have sorely tried even a better man.
THE BETHELITE IN “THE LAND OF THE HITTITES.”—Judges 1:26
The land of the Hittites must not be confused with the land of the Chittim, which probably had its original centre on the sea-coast north of Sidon, and subsequently extended to Cyprus and to some of the adjacent islands and coasts of the Mediterranean. Dr. Cassel is of opinion that “Movers has successfully maintained that חִתִּים and כִּתִּים refer to the same race of people.” This, however, cannot be, unless we are prepared to ignore the Biblical account of their entirely distinct origin. The Chittim, or more correctly the Kittim, were descended from Japheth; while the Hittites were the sons of Heth, or Cheth, and thus belonged to the family of Ham. The Scripture account of the two races is, from the first, so distinctly and consistently maintained, both as to the territory occupied and the Hebrew spelling of the two names, that no considerable intermixture of the two families is at all probable. In Genesis 10:4 and 1 Chronicles 1:7, Kittim, the son of Javan, the son of Japheth, is named as the father of the people dwelling in what the E.V. invariably calls Chittim. From the first to the last of Old Testament notices, these Kittim are mentioned as a maritime people, dwelling to the north of Canaan, and they are, moreover, repeatedly associated with the great Tyrian and Sidonian commerce (cf. Numbers 24:24; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 23:12; Jeremiah 2:10; Ezekiel 27:6; Daniel 11:30). On the other hand, the Hittites are kept equally distinct both orthographically and geographically. Though a numerous people, they were manifestly of feebler character and of more uncertain locality than the hardy commercial Kittim of the north. Tribally, their dwelling-place twice appears as being in the neighbourhood of Hebron (Genesis 23:17-20; Genesis 49:30), and twice as “in the mountains” (Numbers 13:29; Joshua 11:3). Generically, the words חִתִּים (Hittites), and מַלְכֵי הַחִתִּים (Kings of the Hittites), are occasionally used to describe the Canaanites under a common appellation (Joshua 1:4; 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6). With these facts in view, it obviously cannot be correct to treat the Hittites and the inhabitants of Kittim as “the same race of people,” notwithstanding that subsequent Phœnician coins may be “designated by the terms חת and בת.”
As to the town built by this Hittite from Bethel, the site of it is unknown. Speaking of the ruin of the older Shechem, Dean Stanley remarks: “The very graphic description of Shechem in Theodotus as ‘under the roots of the mountain’ is decisive against placing it on the summit of Gerizim. He speaks of the name ‘Louzah,’ as given to the ruins of Gerizim by the Samaritan high-priest at Nâblus, which certainly agrees with the position of Luza noticed by Jerome (Onomast., Luza). Can this be the second Luz, founded by the inhabitants of Luz when expelled by the Ephraimites from Bethel?” This may be, but it scarcely seems probable when we are told that the man went “into the land of the Hittites” to build his city, and when we bear in mind that Ebal and Gerizim were held at this time by the powerful tribe of Ephraim, and that only Gezer is named, in Judges 1:29, as a place from which the Ephraimites had failed to expel the Canaanites,—Gezer being near to Beth-horon, and standing on the southern boundary-line of the tribe (Joshua 16:3).
HELPERS OF THE LORD’S PEOPLE
“There are four classes of persons whose various conduct towards the Church of God, and to the Gospel preached by her, is represented by four cases in the books of Joshua and Judges.
1. There is the case of the man of Bethel. He might have dwelt with the men of Joseph at Bethel, and have become a worshipper of the true God, and have thus become a citizen for ever of the true Bethel, the house of God, which will stand for ever. But he quits the house of God to propagate heathenism and idolatry. The man of Bethel, therefore, is presented to us in this Scripture as a specimen of that class of persons who help the Church of God in her work from motives of fear, or of worldly benefit, and not from love of God; and who, when they have opportunities of spiritual benefit, slight those opportunities, and even shun the light, and go away from Bethel, the house of God, as it were, unto some far-off land of the Hittites, and build there a heathen Luz of their own.
2. There is the case of the Kenites (Judges 1:16), who helped Judah after their victories in Canaan, and were received into fellowship with them.
3. There is the case of the Gibeonites, who came to Joshua from motives of fear, and were admitted to dwell with Israel as hewers of wood and drawers of water.
4. There is the case of Rahab. She stands out in beautiful contrast to the man of Bethel. He helped the spies of Joseph, and was spared, with his household, but did not choose to live in their Bethel. But Rahab received the spies of Joshua, even before he had gained a single victory, and she professed her faith in their God; and she was spared, she and her household, and she became a mother in Israel, and an ancestress of Christ.” [Wordsworth.]
“It is of no avail to conquer by faith, unless it be also maintained in faith; for Bethel became afterwards a Beth-aven, a House of Sin.” [Dr. Cassel.] Cf. 1 Kings 12:29; Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5. The remark, however, of Gesenius should here be borne in mind: “The Talmudists have confounded this town with the neighbouring city of Beth-El, from the latter having been sometimes called by the prophets, in contempt, Beth-Aven.” Beth-Aven, as is seen by Joshua 7:2, was near to Ai on the east side of Bethel.
MANASSEH AND EPHRAIM.—Judges 1:27-29
These verses are, in substance, a recapitulation of the previous statements in Joshua 16:10; Joshua 17:11-13. But the repetition, so far from being needless, is necessary on two grounds; it shows that since the negligent beginning recorded in the book of Joshua there had been no improvement, saving in the capture of Bethel. This continued disobedience is also set forth as an introduction to, and a reason for, the calamities recorded throughout this book of Judges.
For additional homiletic remarks on the subject of these verses, see the Preacher’s Commentary on Joshua, pp. 266, 272–274, 280.
FORSAKING THE LORD’S WORK.—Judges 1:27-28
These records which follow to the end of the chapter, remind us of the unfinished towers which were spoken of by our Lord, and of the war under-taken with too little thought (Luke 14:28-32). There are a great many unfinished towers in the world which ought never to have been begun; there are a great many more which, having been begun, ought certainly to have been completed. Just the same may be said of life’s conflicts. Manasseh, and Ephraim, and the rest of these tribes, did not fail in completing their warfare because they had begun imprudently, but because they did not continue believingly. The tower of conquest was unfinished, not because they had not counted the cost at the beginning, but because they forgot their infinite resources in the help of Jehovah. We see in these verses—
I. Men forsaking a work which had been begun after long preparation. The plagues of Egypt, the miracles of the wilderness, the gifts of the manna and other supplies, and the long period of discipline in the desert, were all designed to lead up to the full inheritance of the land.
II. Men forsaking a work which had already been prosecuted with great energy and at great cost. How strikingly does the indifference here contrast with the passage of the Jordan, with the rapid movements at Beth-horon and the Waters of Merom, and, indeed, with the vigour displayed in all the earlier part of the campaign! What vast efforts and unflinching zeal had been previously expended on this great work of conquest! Now, with the inheritance almost in hand, the strife is abandoned. The Church has thrown away not a little energy for want of just a little more. When the seed of past efforts is not cultivated right up to the point where harvest is sure, it may, after all our labour, only result in a harvest of thorns which vex us (cf. Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:13; Judges 2:3).
III. Men forsaking a work about which they had cherished ardent hopes. The whole way up from Egypt had been a long path of expectation. Enthusiasm had often been high, as in the song at the Red Sea, and in the service at Ebal. We see here brilliant hopes blasted for ever for want of a little more faith and a little more service. How many of our once cherished visions have fled for the same reason!
IV. Men forsaking a work in which they had already won splendid triumphs. The path of their past prowess was almost vocal against this sinful inaction and unbelief. The ruins of Jericho were a protest that must have seemed almost audible to the few more godly of the host. The great days of Beth-horon and of Merom might well have waked every sleeper with loud-echoing rebukes.
V. Men forsaking a work to which God had commanded them, in which God had marvellously helped them, and in which He no less waited to help them still. They did not “remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” “They forgat His works.” No less did they forget His absolute commands, and His unbroken promises. Herein they grievously sinned, and in this sin lies the terribly appropriate introduction which this chapter makes to the great sorrows and humiliations and further transgressions recorded throughout this entire book.
UNCONQUERED PARTS OF OUR INHERITANCE.—Judges 1:29
The fruits of the most brilliant victories blighted for want of grace to follow them up.
The inheritance which has been won by much faith becoming a ground of temptation and trouble for want of a little more faith.
The unconquered parts of our estate in God bringing a curse on us in those we have conquered (cf. 1 Chronicles 20:4; 2 Samuel 21:18).
The possessions which the Lord’s people fail to win, given to them presently under circumstances of much humiliation (cf. 1 Kings 9:15-17).
The Lord’s help failing when men fail to diligently use it. The Lord who had been “with Judah” and “with Joseph,” was no less ready to be with Ephraim.
The ground for prayer becoming untenable to those who fail to take encouragement from the Lord’s goodness. David prayed (Psalms 138:8) “Forsake not the works of Thine own hands.” When the Israelites themselves forsook this work, they could hardly pray that the Lord would not forsake it.
The sinful disobedience of men carrying its own acknowledgment that it is without excuse. Manasseh and Ephraim, who thought they could not conquer, both put their enemies under tribute (Judges 1:28; 1 Kings 5:13; 1 Kings 9:15).
THE POSITION AND NEIGHBOURHOOD OF GEZER
“The situation of Gezer may be exactly determined from Joshua 16:3. The border of Ephraim proceeds from Lower Beth-horon, by way of Gezer, to the sea. Now, since the position of Beth-horon is well ascertained (Beit ’Ur et-Tatha), the border, running northwest past Ludd, which belonged to Benjamin, must have touched the sea to the north of Japho, which likewise lay within the territory of Benjamin. On this line, four or five miles east of Joppa, there still exists a place called Jesôr (Jazour, Yazûr), which can be nothing else than Gezer. It is not improbable that it is the Gazara of Jerome (p. 137, ed. Parthy), in quarto milliario Nicopoleos contra septentrionem, although the distance does not appear to be accurately given. The Ganzur of Esthor ha-Parchi (2:434), on the contrary, is entirely incorrect.
“The position of Gezer enables us also to see why Ephraim did not drive out the inhabitants. The place was situated in a fine fertile region. It is still surrounded by noble corn-fields and rich orchards. The agricultural population of such fruitful regions were readily permitted to remain for the sake of profit, especially by warlike tribes who had less love and skill for such peaceful labours than was possessed by Issachar.” [Dr. Cassel.]
THE DISTRICT OF KITRON AND NAHALOL.—Judges 1:30
Kitron is taken by Gesenius to be the Kattath of Joshua 19:15, which is there mentioned with Nahallal, or Nahalol. The name of this latter place is from nahal, “to lead,” specially to lead to water, or with protecting care. Hence Gesenius supposes Nahalol to mean “pasture to which cattle are led out (cf. Heb., Isaiah 7:19).” Dr. Cassel thinks that Kitron and Nahalol were put to tribute for exactly the same reason as was Gezer—because they were both surrounded by rich pasture-lands. He further says of Nahalol: “It answers perhaps to Abilîn, a place from which a wady somewhat to the northwest of Seffûrieh has its name. For this name comes from Abel, which also means pasture. This moreover suggests the explanation why from just these two places the Canaanites were not expelled. They both became tributary, and remained the occupants and bailiffs of their pastures and meadows.” As similar features of profitable tribute are equally suggested by several of the names in the following verses, there seems some ground for the suspicion that greed and idleness, in some cases, had even more to do than fear with the disobedience of the various tribes.
THE POWER OF EVIL EXAMPLES.—Judges 1:30-33
A bad example is full of evil issues; what one tribe does another does also. All the western tribes, saving Issachar, seem to have followed the dereliction of Judah. Judah did run well, but the iron chariots, and a love of ease, became hindrances to a continued obedience to the truth.
The evil example of the great and powerful is specially harmful; Judah and Joseph draw all the rest in the train of their disobedience.
These evil examples and their evil results are all well remembered by God. Richard Rogers quaintly observes: “Let not men be deceived; God hath all these things and such like registered and written, not with ink and paper (for then there were hope that in time they might be worn out), but in His remembrance, which never faileth. If Paul, who is so rare a pattern of piety, desires that men follow not his example further than he follows Christ, what shall they have to answer who look no further than to this, that, however odious their doings are, they see others do the same? They that lead and entice us on by their example, cannot help us to bear our punishment when their own shall become intolerable to them.”
“Example is like the press: a thing done is the thought printed; it may be repeated, but it cannot be recalled; it has gone forth with a self-propagating power, and may run to the ends of the earth, and descend from generation to generation.” [Melville.]
“There is at the top of the Queen’s staircase in Windsor Castle, a statue, from the studio of Baron Triqueti, of Edward VI. marking with his sceptre a passage in the Bible which he holds in his left hand, and upon which he earnestly looks. The passage is that concerning Josiah: ‘Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.’ The statue was erected by the will of the late Prince, who intended it to convey to his son the divine principles by which the future governor of England should mould his life, and reign on the throne of Great Britain.” [T. Hughes.]
“I am not the rose, but I have been with the rose, and therefore am I sweet.” [Eastern Proverb.]
“Take away yourselves from among the evil ones; for if ye, being weak and unskilful, shall company with them, ye must needs both see and hear very many things against godliness and the religion which you profess. And because you are able neither to confute nor to reprove them, you shall seem to be as witnesses of blasphemies and a reproach of the truth. And, peradventure, there will remain a sting in your minds, wherewith your conscience will be vexed longer than you think for.” [Peter Martyr.]
UNDESTROYED MONUMENTS OF IDOLATRY.—Judges 1:33-36
The names of several of these places were notoriously derived from the idolatrous worship of which they were so many centres and strongholds. Beth-shemesh was “the house of the sun,” and Har-cheres, or Mount Heres, “the mountain of the sun.” These pointed to the worship of the sun. Of Beth-anath, “the house of response” (perhaps “of echo,” Gesen.), Cassel says: “The name indicates that its situation was that of the present Bâniâs, the ancient Paneas. The inscriptions on the grotto called Panium, still point to the echo. One of them is dedicated the ‘echo-loving’ Pan. The love of Pan for the nymph Echo was a widely-spread myth. Another inscription tells of a man who dedicated a niche to the Echo.” While the identification of Bâniâs with Beth-anath rather than with Baal-gad may be questioned, it is quite possible that the worship of the “echo-loving” Pan was carried on at Beth-anath also. In any case this town could not have been far from Bâniâs, or Cæsarea-Philippi. Eusebius and Jerome speak of it as Batanæa, fifteen miles east of Bâniâs, which is not a great distance for the spread of a prominent feature of idolatry.
These monuments of idolatry the men of Naphtali and Dan suffered to remain in their midst. They spared the inhabitants, and the towns, and the ancient idolatrous names, and thus helped to perpetuate in their very midst the pernicious idolatrous influence. Dan, in the south-western possession of this tribe, seems to have been overpowered for a time; but yet the “heavy hand” of the house of Joseph was stretched out only to make tributaries, and not to overthrow idolatry. To this arrangement Dan also probably consented.
“Our corrupt nature will show mercy only where severity should be used, and is altogether rough and hard where gentleness might be practised.
“Self-conceit, avarice, and self-interest can bring it about that men will unhesitatingly despise the command of God.
“When human counsels are preferred to the express word and command of God, the result is that matters grow worse and worse.” [Starke.]
“Obedience and love toward God are wrecked on greediness and love of ease.
“Perfect obedience is the only safe way. Every departure from it leads downhill into danger.
“The fear of God is still ever the beginning of wisdom; but it must not be mixed with the fear of men.
“Preaching is still ever effective; but respect to tribute and profitable returns must not weaken it.
“The Word of God has not lost its power; but the people who have it on their tongues do not thoroughly enter into its life.
“When confession and life do not agree, the life must bear the consequences.” [Dr. Cassel.]
“The sin prepared its own punishment, and the love of present ease became the cause of their perpetual disquiet.” [Scott.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19