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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 1

 

 

Verses 1-36

INITIAL VICTORIES, YET IMPAIRED

(vv. 1-26)

Joshua having died, Israel does not subside into indifference, but realizes that there is territory that should be possessed. They therefore appeal to the Lord as to who should carry the attack against the Canaanites (v. 1). The answer is "Judah shall go up," and the decisive promise of God is given that He has delivered the Canaanites into Judah's hand (v. 2). Judah means "praise," and the spirit of praise to God is surely that which rightly leads against whatever enemies, for it give God the honor for accomplishing the victory.

However, before proceeding to battle, Judah asks the help of his brother Simeon, promising that he too (Judah) would later help Simeon in his battles (v. 3). Of course we see human wisdom in this, but it was not God's wisdom, for God had promised the victory to Judah. Would he not have gained the victory without other help? But this illustrates our own weakness which has so often been repeated in the Church of God. Instead of acting simply by faith in the clear Word of God, we seem to require some visible support to accompany this.

In the succeeding verses, it is Judah who gains the victories, and Simeon is mentioned only in verse 17 as accompanying Judah. The Lord delivered the Canaanites and Perizzites into Judah's hand and 10,000 of them were killed in battle (v. 4). Bezek, meaning "lightning" seems a formidable foe, but the power of God is greater. They captured its king, Adoni-Bezek ("lord of Bezek") as he was fleeing, but instead of putting him to death, as God had ordered, they compromised by cutting off his thumbs and big toes (vv. 5-6). His own words in verse 7 are his condemnation. He had done the same to 70 kings whom he had put under subjection to him, and now he says that God had repaid him in kind. We maybe sure he had no righteous reason for maiming those kings, though Israel had serious reason for killing him. God had decreed this because of the demon worship to which these Canaanites had given themselves up. That demon influence would not be stamped out by merely maiming the ungodly king. These things teach us that we are to show no mercy to sin, but to "putto death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5).Yet Adoni-Bezek died, so God intervened to carry out the proper sentence against him.

Judah also fought against Jerusalem and captured it, setting the city on fire (v. 8). But this evidently was confined to the southern part of the city, for the city was on the border between Judah and Benjamin, and in verse 21 we read that Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem.

After this Judah went to the southern mountains and lowlands to fight against the Canaanites (v. 9), but nothing is said of any clear conquests there. However, verses 10-15 evidently refer to what had taken place before and recorded in Joshua 15:13-19. This is worth repeating, for it emphasizes the faith of individuals who stand out as true witnesses for God. But first Hebron was attacked by Judah and three prominent men there killed (v. 10). Joshua 14:14 tells us that Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb. His faithfulness was rewarded by his possessing the city which means "communion," surely a most precious possession.

Caleb, a faithful warrior, was evidently leading Judah, and they continued to Debir (meaning "oracle", but called Kirjath Sepher before, meaning "city of the book." For if we lay hold of the truth of God in our souls, we shall have grace to speak "as the oracle of God." Caleb then offers his daughter to the man who would conquer Kirjath Sepher. Caleb's younger brother, Othniel, meaning "lion of God" accepted the challenge and conquered the city. His courage was consistent with his name. How lovely a picture is this of one who takes the Word of God as his own possession and greatly profits by it.

Othniel thereby gains a bride who manifests a faith similar to his, so that there seems no doubt they would be greatly blessed together. She urged Othniel to ask her father Caleb for a field, then followed this up by asking herself from her father springs of water. She was evidently a worker, for it would require work to water the field from the springs, so that fruit might be produced. May we too have such concern to bear fruit that will glorify our Lord. If we ask God in faith for such things, He surely delights to give, just as Caleb gladly gave his daughter the upper springs and the lower springs (v. 15). The upper springs remind us of truth of the higher, most exalted character, such as Ephesians gives in regard to our blessings and position in heavenly places in Christ, while the lower springs furnish refreshment for a consistent, devoted walk on earth. How good it is if we can be well balance din valuing both of these sides of the truth.

In verse 16 we read of the children of the Kenite, Moses' father in law, who was not of the demon worshipers of the land of Canaan, but had evidently accompanied Israel into the land. But they had not been accepted as true Israelites, though generally friendly to Israel, and they settled in the south of Judah. One of these, Heber, had separated himself from the Kenites (Judges 4:11) and his wife Jael was highly commended for her killing Sisera when he fought against Israel (Judges 4:21; Judges 5:24-27). Yet the Kenites are included in the eventual judgments of which Balaam prophesies in Numbers 24:18-24, for as a nation they were always separate from Israel.

Together with Simeon, however, Judah attacked and utterly destroyed Zephath, so that it was called Hormah ("destruction"). At the time also Judah took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron with their surrounding territory. These were three of the five Philistine cities that we find later under the control of the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:17-18), so that Judah did not maintain her authority after her victory. However, Judah did drive out the mountaineers, yet could not expel the inhabitants of the lowland because they had chariots of iron (v. 17). This was a poor excuse, for is God inferior to iron chariots? What Judah needed was the faith of a Caleb, and at this point we are again reminded that Caleb had (before) expelled the three giant sons of Anak from Hebron (v. 20).

But though Judah had clearly weakened, yet Benjamin was already weaker still. Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, so they remained among Benjamin in the same city (v. 21). In fact, it appears evident that the Jebusites were in control there until eventually they were dispossessed by David and his men (2 Samuel 5:5-9) years later.

The house of Joseph is spoken of in verse 22, which may include both Ephraim and Manasseh, though Bethel was in Ephraim. They sent spies to spy out Bethel, the name of which was first Luz. They had not the boldness to attack the city, but when the spies saw a man coming from the city they offered to showhim mercy if he would show them the entrance to the city (v. 24). He did this, and the city was delivered into their hands. But they let the man and his family go. Actually this promise to the man was disobedience to God.

The spiritual significance of all this is striking. Luz, meaning "separation," is changed to Bethel, meaning "the house of God." Thus, true separation in the conduct of those faithful to God, is precious when conjoined with the positive truth concerning the house of God. However, the man who was let go went to the land of the Hittites and built another city he called Luz, the name of which was not changed. In other words, he engineered a "separation" that had nothing to do with the house of God. If Christ is not the Object of our separation, then that separation is totally sectarian.

In all of these things, up to the end of verse 26, whatever victories Israel was able to accomplish were accompanied by such compromise as to greatly weaken her testimony to the greatness of her Lord. This is a lesson for us today of the greatest importance. We naturally think it to be kind and considerate to show a spirit of compromise. In matters that concern only our own rights, this is perfectly alright. But when the truth of the Word of God is involved, we are badly wrong to compromise its message in the least degree. If we are decisive in standing for God's truth, Satan will accuse us of being inconsiderate and cruel, but the believer is not to be deceived by such accusations, rather to depend simply on God to back up His Word.

ISRAEL'S GENERAL FAILURE

(vv. 27-36)

Before chapter 1 ends the picture becomes much more bleak. Manasseh did not expel the inhabitants of four major cities and their villages (v. 27). We are not told they could not do it, but only that they did not. Apparently they did not even try. Are we not often too much like them? We easily become apathetic and unconcerned about diligently obeying the Lord in taking possession of what is rightly ours. The Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. Their name means "traffickers," standing for those who make merchandise of the things of God. When the Lord Jesus came to Jerusalem, "He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business" (John 2:14). Did He compromise with them? Absolutely not! "When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and over turned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" (v. 15). If unbelievers find material gain in being linked with Christianity, they will not easily give up this lucrative business. But such a spirit should be thoroughly judged by the child of God, as it was by the Lord Jesus.

When Israel became strong enough they put the Canaanites under tribute, thus making them pay for what gains they made, but did not drive them out (v. 28). This was compromise with the enemy, not obedience to God.

Ephraim failed to drive out the Canaanites from Gezer, so they were also exposed to the painful results of having an enemy within (v. 29). The same was true of Zebulon and two specific cities, though Zebulon compromised by putting the Canaanites under tribute also (v. 20). If we look beneath the surface, shall we not likely find that this spirit of making merchandise of the things of God is tolerated because of our own selfishness?

Seven cities are listed whose inhabitants Asher failed to drive out (v. 31), and in this case it is said, not that the Canaanites dwelt among Asher, but that the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites! Thus the Canaanites were predominant. This tells us that material gain was predominant over spiritual prosperity, a sad fact that has too often been repeated in Church history, and glaringly so in the boast of the Laodicean church, "I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing(Revelation 3:17)

It is similarly said of Naphtali that, failing to drive out the inhabitants of two cities, they dwelt among the Canaanites (v. 33). However, in this case, the inhabitants of those cities were put under tribute, showing that Naphtali did have the ascendancy. But this compromise again left them too closely identified with the enemy, the Canaanites. Thus, there are congregations today that do put spiritual things first, yet consider it necessary to make money matters a very important part of church life. This is clearly a compromise. In all of these cases, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulon, Asher and Naphtali, it was the Canaanites who were left to trouble them. This enemy stands for the policy of using spiritual things for material gain, and Israel has been for centuries afflicted by this evil. The Church has sadly followed in the same course. May we more deeply take to heart the words of Colossians 3:2, "Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth."

The Amorites were a different enemy, and they forced the children of Dan into the mountains, allowing them no place in the valleys. Amorite means "a sayer," reminding us of the Lord's words in Matthew 23:1-2, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not according to their works, for they say, and do not." This is hypocrisy, which will force us virtually into the mountain, above the common level, leaving the impression that we are better than we are, for we can speak of high and lofty things, while not having the lowliness of heart to appreciate the valleys, where true fruitfulness may be produced. To merely talk about the truth of God without acting on it is putting ourselves in a high place, and not humbling ourselves to cultivate the valleys, the place where fruit is to be expected.

Though Dan was so weak, the house of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) evidently had more energy, for when they became strong they put the Amorites under tribute (v. 35). This of course would be in the territory of Joseph. Putting the Amorites under tribute was again a compromise, just as we would publicly recognize that hypocrisy is bad, yet tolerate it in actual practice. To judge it thoroughly and fully requires the decision of true faith and self-judgment.Which of us is not guilty of hypocrisy in some way?

Dan later sought territory elsewhere, as Judges 18:1-31 records, and settled in the north of the land (ch. 18:27-31), but that tribe was guilty of introducing idolatry into Israel.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Judges 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/judges-1.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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