In our study of the book of Judges, we look at the deep decline of Israel from being led by God to self rule. The book tells the history of Israel from the death of Joshua to the age of the prophets.
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, 'Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?'
After the death of Joshua, the people looked to God for their guidance. This is a good thing as that is what God had planned for them. Life in the promised land was to be led by God being with the people. He has led them to victory over the Canaanites and they were established in the land. The challenge facing them at this time was to occupy (dwell) in the land. God had given them the land but they had to grab ahold of it and get rid of those that were already there. As Christians, we have God with us through the Holy Spirit as we dwell in this world. This is our promised land and we are being prepared for the new heaven and new earth.
The Lord answered, Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.' 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.
When they inquired of the Lord, the answer was that Judah was to go forth and that God had already given them the victory. Instead of believing that and trusting in the Lord, they went to their fellow Israelites for help. Although this may sound like a good thing, it was not because they did not trust in God. As Christians, we often do the same type of thing as we seek the counsel of men instead of acting on the word that God has already given to us. If we are in Christ, then, He has already given us the victory and the ability to dwell in this world with Him as our guide. Our fellowship with other Christians is a good thing to build us up and to encourage us but it is through the strength of God that we can glorify Him in our walk.
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.
With the help of the tribe of Simeon, Judah attacked and was victorious. They captured Adoni-Bezek who was one of the major kings of the area. He had defeated seventy kings and mutilated them by cutting off their thumbs and big toes. It is interesting to note that this pagan king acknowledged the fact that it was the one true God who had done this to him.
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.
It is interesting to note that Judah conquered Jerusalem but they did not occupy the city. It would not be occupied by Israel until it was captured by King David. Judah continued to have success in all of the battles in the south and the west.
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.
This passage recounts the fact that even Joshua was just a man and he made mistakes just like the rest of us. We do not know why he made this deal but victory in battle was an accepted way of paying the bride price at the time.
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. 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.
This passage shows us the failure of the leaders of Israel as Caleb gave his daughter land and water in the desert. This is not a bad thing in itself; the bad thing is that we do not see any mention of taking the matter to God to see what His will was in the matter.
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. Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron - each city with its territory.
The men of Judah kept their word and went with the Simeonites to battle the Philistines. They were able to take the cities to the west and on the coast. These were important commercial cities as they were on the main route from Egypt to Mesopotamia.
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.
Here, we see the failure of Judah to completely drive out the people from the lands that they conquered. This is one of the main limitations of men as leaders in that we are willing to compromise. The land had been given to them and, instead of taking full possession of what God gave them, they compromised and took what they could with their own strength. This compromise had consequences for the people of Israel and the same is true for us, as Christians, in our walk in this world.
The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
Here, we see the failure of the men of Benjamin as they did not completely control the city of Jerusalem. They had victory over the city but it would not be totally occupied until the time of King David.
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 the name to this day.
The tribes of Joseph were Ephraim and the western part of Manasseh. We see that they attacked Bethel after sending a spy to check it out. They trusted in the eyes of men instead of the wisdom of God but God allowed them to take the city. They spared a man and his family in exchange for telling them how to get into the city and we see that the man went on to establish another city. This man named it Luz which was the old name for Bethel.
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.
In their own strength and wisdom, the tribe of Manasseh failed to fully take the land. They would compromise and justify it in their own minds by making the Canaanites slaves but it would cause problems on down the line.
Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer but the Canaanites continue to live there among them.
The parade of failures of men continues with Ephraim. We are reminded that Ephraim would be the first tribe to turn to idolatry and it started here with their failure.
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 list of failures continues tribe by tribe. They probably thought that they were being victorious but they were not gaining total victory. Living among the Canaanites would come back to haunt them as they descended into idolatry just like the Canaanites.
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.
The description of the failures of Israel ends with the fact that the Amorites had boundaries inside the promised land. These failures have lasting consequences as the land of Israel is disputed even to this day.