The book of Judges gives us a glimpse into an interesting period in Israel’s history. At this point, Israel had no king and they instead had these “judges” appointed to oversee different factions of Israel after the death of Joshua. Dr. Thomas Constable, a retired seminary professor, describes the judges as “a cross-mixture between a mayor, a marshal, a prophet, and a general.” While God would eventually raise up kings later on in Israel’s history (see 1 Samuel), He would raise up judges in the meantime to lead Israel for specific seasons.
A theme throughout the book of Judges is that because Israel had no king, people did what was right in their own eyes. Even though Israel had strong leadership in the past (like Moses) and God had given them the 10 Commandments (and the rest of the Law) to know how to live within God’s standards, time after time Israel wandered away from God. While the book of Joshua is the story of Israel when they (for the most part) faithfully follow God, Judges shows the inverse of that.
Some of the stories that we will read over the next 21 chapters will be really heavy. The consequences of sin often are. Judges is a historical account of God’s people, both the good and the bad. Try to visualize what’s going on in each chapter. Each day as you open your Bible, take good notes. Read closely and carefully, paying special attention to the sequence of events that are unfolding before you.
As we read this book, ask yourself each day what God is trying to teach you (and us) through these stories. Why did the Holy Spirit preserve this book? What was God trying to teach Israel and what is he trying to teach us today? Sit with the characters. Sit with the stories. Let’s learn from these ancient stories today.
Read Judges 1
Israel Fights the Remaining Canaanites
1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”
2 The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.”
3 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.
4 When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.
7 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.
8 The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.
9 After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10 They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).
12 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.
14 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?”
15 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.
16 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.
17 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. 18 Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory.
19 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. 20 As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak. 21 The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
22 Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23 When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), 24 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.” 25 So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. 26 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.
27 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. 28 When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. 29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. 30 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. 31 Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko or Sidon or Ahlab or Akzib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob. 32 The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out. 33 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. 34 The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. 35 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. 36 The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond.
The beginning of Judges begins where the book of Joshua leaves off: with the death of Joshua. Israel is now without a leader, but they were given marching orders prior to Joshua’s passing. Joshua instructed the Israelites to drive out any inhabitants of their territorial lands and the Israelites had renewed their covenant with God. They agreed to forsake all other gods and worship and obey Yahweh (the one, true God) alone. If only it were that easy. As we will read throughout the book of Judges, that plan went awry pretty quickly.
Their campaign to drive out the Canaanites began with promise as Judah drove out its enemies as they were supposed to. However, a couple of quick victories were followed by a stalled effort as they encountered something they didn’t expect: iron chariots (v. 19). But it wasn’t simply that Judah was outmatched militarily. Time and time again throughout Israel’s history, God had proven that didn’t matter as long as Israel trusted Him. It was their lack of faith that led them to an incomplete obedience. They lost their confidence and settled for less than what God asked of them. From this point forward, tribe after tribe fails to complete their assignment.
By failing to purge the Canaanites from their land, the Israelites left the door open for themselves to walk in the ways of the Canaanites instead of Yahweh. When we leave Satan a foothold or when we cohabitate with sin (even just a little bit), we leave the door open for it to take over our lives. In the very next chapter of Judges, we will see the consequences of Israel’s disobedience. What was true for them is true for us today: sin always has consequences. Disobedience, partial obedience, and even delayed obedience all fall short of the complete obedience God is asking of us. While this chapter (and the rest of Judges) will feel heavy at times, it can also serve as a warning to us that we need to heed as we learn to fully submit to the work God has called us to do.
- What were God’s specific instructions for Israel to follow? Why were these so important?
- When has a lack of faith in your own life prevented you from fully following what God is asking to do?
- Can you think of an example in your own life where you are currently being disobedient, partially obedient, or your obedience is delayed? What are steps of faithfulness you can take today?
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4 thoughts on “Judges 1”
As we will continue to see as we read through the book of Judges, the unholy Canaanites will prove to be a dangerous foe to the Israelites. The outcome will depend upon the spiritual health/condition of Israel. Will they stand true to their faith, or will they compromise finding the pressures and temptations too great to withstand? We, too, have a choice to make in our current society where we daily face challenges to our faith. Our God offers forgiveness as well as justice. Let’s commit to completely obey God’s commands. I’m looking in my own life, what sin do I need to drive out?
God is so awesome. He so desires for us to be His kids. He makes a way over and over and over!!! Thankfully He sent His Son and His son was willing to die for us to give an eternal way to be with God forever. I am so thankful that Jesus paid it all and all to Him I owe. Through Christ we no longer have to work for our “salvation” He paid the ultimate cost. I see the correlation in what happened in Judges and where we are now. Once again so thankful for Jesus Christ but that does not give us a license to sin. We need to obey God and His word.
Thank you God for directing our paths and shining Your light on right paths for each individual that is reading this. God we love You, we want to follow You. Thank you for loving us soooooooo much!!! God give us desire to do all things without grumbling and disputes. Philippians 2:13-16, and that we can hold Your word of life to those around us in Jesus name amen
very well said
The definition of the virtue of obedience that I use with my young students is “doing what is asked right away, all the way, and in a happy way” or “quickly, completely, and cheerfully”. These sure help me when I am seeking to listen and heed God’s plans for me.