After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”
The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” Judges 1:1-2
Reuben had forfeited the birthright as Jacob’s firstborn son due to gross sin. While Jacob was in mourning for his wife Rachel, who had died in childbirth, Reuben slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah who had been Rachel’s handmaiden.
Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi who were the second and third born sons of Jacob were indignant and very angry because Shechem had violated their sister Dinah. Because Shechem desperately wanted to marry Dinah, Simeon and Levi used the situation to deceive Shechem and the men of the city to enter into an agreement with them.
Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.” Genesis 34:13-17
Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. Genesis 34:25-26
The consequence of their act of violence was twofold. First Simeon and Levi, who were next in line after Reuben, both forfeited the birthright. In addition their offspring, who would eventually enter into the Promised Land, would be dispersed in Israel. During the days of Joshua, the Levites did not receive an allotted territory but were scattered throughout Israel is designated cities. The Simeonites, on the other hand, received their inheritance within the territory of Judah.
Although Judah was the fourth born son of Jacob, because his three older brothers forfeited their rights, he took a prominent position in Israel. The tribe of Judah was the first tribe selected by the LORD to fight and defeat the Canaanites in order to acquire their allotted land.
King David, who descended from the tribe of Judah, would defeat and subjugate all the enemies of Israel. Messiah Jesus, the Son of David, would be born King of the Jews.
The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So the Simeonites went with them. Judges 1:3
Since Simeon’s allotment of land was within the territory of Judah, the Simeonites agreed that they would join with the Judeans to first fight the Canaanites to conquer the outer territory. Then the Judeans would join the Simeonites to fight against the Canaanites who resided within the territory of Judah.
When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.
Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there. Judges 1:4-7
Bezek (lightning) was a Canaanite city which was taken captive by Judah. Adoni-Bezek means the Lord of Bezek. When they cut off the king’s thumbs and great toes, he confessed that this was righteous judgment upon him because he had done the same to seventy kings whom he made crawl under his table and eat scraps like dogs.
The cutting off of the thumbs makes waging war with the hands impossible. The cutting off of the big toes makes walking difficult and running away hopeless. This act was to totally humiliate one’s enemies and assure that they would be unable to retaliate or escape.
The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.
After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. Judges 1:8-10
Joshua from the Tribe of Ephraim and Caleb from the Tribe of Judah were amongst the twelve spies sent to spy out the Land of Canaan after the Exodus. When the spies returned, the other ten spies spread a bad report among the Israelites.
They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. Numbers 13:27-28
That night the Israelites, gripped with fear, grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They accused the LORD of bringing them to the land only for them to die by the sword of the Canaanites.
Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they. Numbers 14:5-12
Moses interceded on behalf of the rebellious Israelites and the LORD forgave them, but none of that generation with the exception of Joshua and Caleb would live to enter into the Promised Land.
…not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. Numbers 14:23-24
After Canaan had been conquered and Joshua was dividing the land west of the Jordan River, Caleb said the following:
I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’
“Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”
Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. Joshua 14:7-13
Talmai, Ahiman and Sheshai were Nephilim, three giant sons of Anak whom Caleb and the spies saw in Mount Hebron when they went in to explore the land. They were driven out and slain by Caleb.
From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).
And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage. Judges 1:11-13
Debir means “the oracle.” Afterwards it became a town assigned to the Levites. Forty-two cities scattered throughout the portions of the other tribes were set aside as cities of Levites. In these cities, the Levites served as spiritual teachers to the people of Israel. In a sense the Levites were oracles who were the spokespersons of God.
Caleb’s younger brother Othniel was given his niece to be his wife for his victory in capturing Debir.
One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”
She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs. Judges 1:14-15
Behind every great man is a great woman. Aksah, Caleb’s daughter and Othniel’s wife, urged her husband to ask Caleb for a field. Caleb gave them a field in the northern Negev. Then she asked her father for the upper and lower springs which fed into the fertile land which lay at the foot of the mountain slope.
The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad. Judges 1:16
The Kenites were a nomadic clan. One of the most recognized Kenites is Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, a priest in the land of Midian.
Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their fellow Israelites and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed the city. Therefore it was called Hormah. Judges 1:17
Hormah is a noun meaning, “a place devoted by ban.” The verb form literally means “executed the ban upon it” or utterly destroyed it.
Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory. Judges 1:18
These three cities were in the country of the Philistines, upon the sea-coast. Because the Israelites were content with taking these cities and making the people pay tribute instead of destroying them, the Israelites did not hold the cities long before the Philistines recovered them again.
The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron. As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak. Judges 1:19-20
You will note that verses 19-20 of the first chapter of Judges are a summary statement concerning Caleb and the men of Judah. It is also important to note that the Judeans were unable to drive out the people from the plains.
The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites. Judges 1:21
The land of Canaan was conquered around 1400 B.C. The Jebusites were not driven out until the time of King David around 1050 B.C. three hundred fifty years later!
Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, “Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well.” So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. He then went to the land of the Hittites, where he built a city and called it Luz, which is its name to this day. Judges 1:22-26
Ephraim and Manasseh comprised the tribes of Joseph. Joseph’s father Jacob had been tricked into marrying Leah. Although Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob, he was the firstborn son by Rachel. Both of Joseph’s sons were granted territory in the Promised Land. Therefore, Joseph received a double portion as if he was Jacob’s firstborn. Half of the tribe of Manasseh occupied territory on the east side of the Jordan River and the other half of the tribe occupied territory on the west side of the Jordan.
But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.
Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. Judges 1:27-29
The Hebrews who themselves had been enslaved and pressed into force labor in Egypt did not drive out the Canaanites but pressed them into forced labor.
Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labor. Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko or Sidon or Ahlab or Akzib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob. The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out. Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the tribes of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond. Judges 1:30-36
Not one tribe of Israel succeeded in driving out the idolatrous Canaanites but they were content to live among them as slave masters.
Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 20:17-18
The failure of the tribes to obey God’s command to destroy the Canaanites would ultimately result in cycles of apostasy and divine discipline. After years of enemy oppression, the people cry out to God and pray for forgiveness and God sends a judge to lead them to freedom. There is a time of peace and obedience during the judge’s lifetime and then the people fall into sin again.