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Causes for National Failure
Judges 1:1–36
Judges Lesson # 003
June 25, 2000

We have seen in Deuteronomy 17 that the king was required to make a copy of the Law and to read it on a daily basis. This emphasizes the fact that the ultimate authority for any judicial or political system must derive from God. When that absolute base is cut loose from the nation then it is set adrift on a sea of relativism, and that leads to the internal collapse of the nation.

Judges will portray for us what happened in Israel and what also is happening in our own nation. The introduction to Judges will review and summarize the entire history for us and outline the cycles of deliverance. The main section shows the breakdown of the leadership of the nation and shows that when the people’s value systems have deteriorated it affects the leadership as well

The leaders come out from the culture as a whole, they are not distinct from the culture as a whole. When we have leaders we see their value systems, their morals, their character: they are often a mirror of the culture as a whole.

The last four chapters of the book show how the spiritual values of the people have completely broken down.

The theme of Judges is rejection of divine authority and the concept of paganization of the nation Israel. The people have adopted pagan principles. “Pagan” is a term to describe anyone, no matter how wonderful they are, whose thought system is not based on the Scriptures. We will see that when a culture is paganized, t it assimilates pagan principles, policies, philosophies, politics, political theory, and procedures.

Procedures are methodology: they are how you do what you do. Often people think that methodology is neutral, that it doesn’t matter how we do what we do as long as what we want to do is the right thing. That is called “the end justifies the means”. How you do what you do, what your procedures are is as important as the ultimate goal.

We will see that Israel adopts pagan principles, policies, philosophies, politics, and procedures, which paganizes the culture. Thus, by the end of the book. they really don’t look any different from the Canaanite culture that surrounds them which they failed to remove from the land.

The point of this in terms of application as Church Age believers is that this portrays the principles of warfare. We know that as believers we are in a spiritual warfare. It is our task to have victory over thought processes in our lives. We are to take captive every thought for Jesus Christ. We need to look at Israel going into the land in terms of a new believer: looking at our mind and our thinking in the same way that Israel looked at the land.

God had given them the land: He had promised it to them, it was theirs by right. He gave them the title deed, but it was their responsibility to take control of the land, just as it is the believer’s responsibility to look at his mind, which is the basis for living life—everything that we think determines what we are. So also it is our task to go in and  root out every single aspect of human viewpoint thinking, every single false concept inour minds so that we can think as God thinks about life around us. That is a phenomenal task and we can only do it if we have absolutes, if we have the Word of God.

So we come to Judges 1:1, which locates us in time. As we get into this chapter we need to deal with a couple of introductory matters. The first thing we need to look at is that there are some apparent contradictions between Judges 1 and the events in Joshua. If we examine events in Joshua 14 and 15 it looks as if those events took place before the death of Joshua. Yet we have this temporal marker in the first phrase saying the events of this chapter came about after the death of Joshua.

Liberal critics, because they don’t understand the nature of Hebrew narrative, immediately assume that there are contradictions. The nature of Hebrew narrative is to write first a summary statement: you have a summary and then the writer will come back after the whole overview and fill in the details. We see something of that in the first chapter of Judges.

Judges 1 and 2 gives a summary of what happens throughout this entire period. There are some events in Judges Chapter two that will not take place until the very end of this period of time. If we read the first two chapters from a typical western frame of reference we will be all messed up in terms of sequence and chronology because we are thinking like a western European where everything has to be written in a chronological sequence.

But the Jews write from a logical sequence, not just chronological information, which doesn’t have a unifying theme and really doesn’t tie everything together. So Jewish history is written more logically than chronologically so that you are not left hanging: you get to see what the end results are before you get started. The liberal comes to Judges 1 and immediately says that there are some contradictions. Well there are some differences and you have to understand how to handle those differences.

If we compare the battles in Joshua, Joshua is the general and all twelve tribes are united. They crossed the river Jordan, all the tribes did battle; it is a national effort. But when we come to Judges 1 it is a tribal effort. In Joshua there is only one major war with various campaigns, whereas in Judges one it is broken down into a series of battles and it is not viewed as one total war.

Secondly, if we compare Joshua with Judges Chapter one we see that Joshua portrays more of an idealized or perfect war that is very organized and successful. Yet in Judges there is not that perfect type of organized warfare. In fact it is very negative and the further we get into Judges 1 the more negative the comments become.

The warfare is piecemeal, disorganized. Liberals say they are both telling the same story and don’t understand that there is a difference in terms of the way the narrative is approached.


A third point is that in Judges 1:9–12, we have the tribes fighting separately. In this chapter it is just the tribe of Judah that is going against the Canaanites.

Note Joshua 14:6:they were old men at this time and were referring back to the time that God had promised to give them the land. They met at Gilgal, which became a critical place in the history of the nation. After they had conquered throughout the land, they gathered at Gilgal where they divided up the land and consolidated the gains that they had already acquired. At this point Joshua and Caleb were both alive.

Note Joshua 15:13–14. Verse 13 describes giving the land to Caleb. In reading verse 14 it looks as if these events immediately follow the events of verse 13. But in verse 13 Joshua is alive so if 14 follows 13, then Caleb drove out and took possession of Debir and Hebron when Joshua was still alive. Judges tells us that it was after Joshua died: an apparent contradiction.

The writer of Joshua was not writing chronologically, he was writing logically. First he tells us that Caleb went to Joshua to get the rights to the land, then he tells us what was the ultimate result. He gives us the rest of the story right up front; he is not giving chronological history. That is why there is no contradiction.

Four reasons why Joshua and Judges are recording two different periods of time versus conflicting accounts of the same period of time:

a)      Judges 1:1 says that the book of Judges follows the book of Joshua. It is after the death of Joshua.

b)      In Judges 1:1 we are told that the sons of Israel (the entire nation) enquired of the Lord. This is not a procedure followed in the book of Joshua at all. So there is a new procedure for seeking the will of God. In Joshua the people went to Joshua and God spoke to Joshua.

c)      Judges 1:1 says, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites?” So we see that there is a theme of the individual tribes removing the remaining pockets of Canaanite resistance in their areas.  Each tribe still had pockets of resistance and they had to take them out in order to secure their domain. This was a different type of fighting from that which we find in Joshua.

d)     In Judges 1:3, “ … Come up with me into the territory allotted me.” So we see them taking out individual portions of their inheritance in order to have it divided up and to begin to settle in the land. We conclude from this that Judges 1 is not talking about the same period of time as the book of Joshua. Judges 1:3 presupposes that the tribe of Judah has already received its allotment of land from the major war that had already been fought.

In Judges 1:1–3:6  we have the introduction to this entire book; the main theme is Israel’s failure in the holy war. The mandate was to go into the land and to completely annihilate the Canaanites. Immediately that runs contrary to modern concepts of warfare: wiping out the women, children, and animals.

God did not want the Jews to be dependent on a pagan culture in any way, shape or form. God was going to demonstrate that He was completely sufficient for everything in the nation Israel. They did not need to borrow anything from a pagan culture. They did not  need to take their cattle, sheep, or anything; God would provide completely for Israel.

Yet they failed to trust Him and the result was national discipline and national disaster. So the first three chapters summarize the entire period of the judges. We are going to see the basic trends of history that go through this period. Chapter one will summarize Israel’s military response to the problem of Canaanite possession of the land. What we see here is that they decided to become comfortable, to settle down, and co-exist with the Canaanites.

That is typical of most believers: during the first two or three years: they decide what their ceiling is in terms of spiritual growth. They decide what their priorities are, how committed they are, how positive they are, and how far they really want to grow in the Christian life.

What happens is that they decide that maybe they will take out the major parts of human viewpoint thinking, but they don’t want to seem to be too enthusiastic or radical or that somebody might think they’re fanatics. “Let’s just deal with the basic issues of the faith and not get carried away with these things!”

But that is not the picture that the Bible portrays and the result is that once you reach that level of compromise where you are ready to co-exist with certain levels of false thinking in your mind [that is what human viewpoint really is], then that will eventually be your downfall It may take another fifteen or twenty years before that human viewpoint works itself out, but it will eventually destroy your spiritual growth.

God calls for people to be fully committed. That is why in Joshua 24:15, Joshua said, “… as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord.” “… choose you this day who you will serve.” Are you really committed? Do you really want to go all the way to spiritual maturity, or do you just want to make sure that your basic problems in life are somehow solved, that God will come along like a magical Satan Claus and deal with your problems here and there, whenever you have them?

Unfortunately that is how many people approach the Christian life; it is not a lifestyle. Doctrine is a lifestyle. That is why we need to be in Bible class every time there is one. It is the only way we can engage the process of continually renovating our thinking.

Chapter one is a chronicle of incomplete obedience, partial trust resulting in eventual failure and defeat. Chapter two gives the theological and spiritual interpretation of what happens in chapter one.

Judges 1:1–2 give us the time and the setting for the beginning of the period of the judges. Verse 1:“Who shall go up?” This is an imperfect tense in the Hebrew. The word alah does mean to go up, but in military context it is a technical term for attack. Verse 2: Judah is the first one. The Hebrew word nathan is roughly equivalent to the Greek word DIDOMI, the basic verb meaning to give or to grant.

Every time you see this verb where God is the subject the first thing that ought to come into your mind is grace. It is all grace. God is the one who has already given us everything. He has already given the land to Judah. The issue now: Is Judah going to exercise her volition to be completely obedient in doing it God’s way or their own way? Remember, a right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. A wrong thing done in a right way is wrong. Only a right thing done in a right way is right.

So we are going to see the foreshadowing of Judah already compromising divine procedure to accomplish the goal. They are going to say they have a little better way of doing things and the result is going to be catastrophic.

The emphasis in these first two verses is that God has already provided everything that is necessary for us in the spiritual life. God gave us all of the spiritual assets we need at the instant of salvation. He has given us all the information we need in the completed canon of Scripture. Sanctification is already ours postionally; now it is our task to go after it experientially, which means that we have to learn God’s policies and God’s procedures: we have to learn to think as God would have us to think.

Judges 1:3–20 outlines for us the successes and failures of Judah. We will see that Judah is criticized for adopting pagan methods of disarmament. In verse 16 they are criticized for allowing the tribe of Kenites to join them and then to assimilate the pagan culture. Then finally they are criticized for their failure to trust God in the battles in the lowlands just as they did in the highlands.

Judges 1:3: the alliance with Simeon. Judah and Simeon were the two sons of Jacob and Leah. They were natural and full brothers, so there was a close tie between these two tribes. Simeon, we note from the census in Numbers 26, was the smallest of the tribes.

Judges 1:4: “And Judah went up [attacked].” This indicates they are taking the initiative and they are going on the offensive to annihilate the Canaanites; “And the Lord gave”, the emphasis is on giving again; it is God’s grace and He gives them the victory. It is not dependent upon their might or military skill, it is dependent upon their spiritual condition, their obedience to the Lord.

The Perizzites are a different ethnic group. The term in the Hebrew, perez, means an unwalled city. So apparently the Canaanites lived in walled cities and these were those who lived in unwalled cities and became known as the Perizzites. The battle s at Bezek, just north of Jerusalem.

Judges 1:5–6: “But Adonibezek [Adonai is the world for Lord; bezek is the name of the city, so this would be the mayor or the king of the town. It is not his name, it is a title] fled … “and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.” Why did they do this? Disarmament. It is very hard to hold a sword or a spear, or to run fast, if you don’t have the thumbs or big toes. So it basically takes away his military skill.

Judges 1:7: Notice how God gives us His critique of the situation through the mouth of the pagan, “God has repaid me!” He doesn’t believe in God, he is just making a pagan statement that somehow there is justice, it has finally come back and I am getting what I deserve. But what we learn from this if we read between the lines it is the pagan Canaanite methodology of disarmament to cut off thumbs and toes.

Where does God say to Israel that they were to have this cruel and unusual punishment? He doesn’t. God’s standard was to annihilate, take his life, kill him, every single one of them. Don’t just disarm them, kill them, and remove them from the scene completely.

So right here we see a hint of Judah’s eventual compromise and assimilation; they are already beginning to adopt and operate under pagan practices and pagan methodologies, using “the end justifies the means”.

Judges 1:8 They fought against Jerusalem but were not able to keep it. They only had a military victory there.

Judges 1:9 We see that there has been a shift in terminology. Up to this point they were going up; now they are going down. In the topography of Israel Jerusalem is very high, so you are always going up to Jerusalem and if you are going somewhere else you are going down.

In Jewish thinking this is very concrete, up is not north and down is not south, as it is in our idiom. Up is ascending in elevation and down is descending in elevation. So they had victory in the highlands and now they are going down into the lowlands.

There are three geographical areas described here: the hill country is the area that will include Hebron and Debir, the Negev in the south which is mostly barren desert area, and the lowland which is the Philistine enclave along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This outlines Judah’s strategy and tactics.

Judges 1:10, “and they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai.” The Bible always talks about ethnic groups in terms of their father, the father of the group. Hebron is an important city. Later it became David’s capital city during the first seven years of his reign, before he took Jerusalem and united the kingdom. His taking Hebron is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Caleb.

Judges 1:11, they moved south to Debir, where something interesting takes place. Debir was formerly Kirjathsepher, which means “the city of the scribes”; it may have been a place where they kept archives and records.

Judges 1:12–15: While this doesn’t sound like much, it is a crucial episode in this whole narrative of Judges: it sets up a standard. Othniel and Achsah are set up by the writer as the ideal man and woman in God’s plan, against whom all other men and women in their relations to one another are evaluated throughout the rest of Judges. Nothing negative is there about either one of them; it is presented in a very positive light,  in contrast to everybody else in the book of Judges.

First of all it is necessary to be careful when reading this. In Caleb offering his daughter as a wife you have to realize that aside from the liberal agenda of western civilization in the last hundred years the normal operating procedure was for parents—because they obviously were smarter, they knew their children better, and they understood their strengths and weaknesses—to decide who their children would marry. This is not to diminish Achsah at all, it is not some kind of patriarchal agenda, do not read into this some western feminist human viewpoint.

This tells us what God thinks of the roles of the sexes is, not how modern man thinks these roles should work out. In fact Achsah is viewed here as the ideal woman. What she does is very similar to the standards that Solomon talks about in Proverbs 31 concerning a godly woman. This is a very honorable thing for her because Caleb is saying, “who is going to be the greatest military hero in the tribe? That is the man I want my daughter to marry”. She is going to have somebody who will provide for her, somebody who can protect her, somebody who can take care of her. So she is very honored to marry this kind of a man.

What we also see here is that Achsah looks at the situation, understands that Othniel has been given a land inheritance down in the Negev, a desert area, so she has her family’s interests as her priority. It is not her personal agenda, interests or career that is the priority, it is the family. She has a long-range view of the family in terms of sons, grandsons, great-grandsons, and future generations.

This section is a direct quote from the book of Joshua. Why does the writer pull in this quote from Joshua? It is to set up the standard against which all later male–female relationships are going to be evaluated in the book of Judges.

Achsah becomes the role model for the virtuous woman. Notice her values here: she shows initiative. She sees a situation, a problem, that there is something lacking, and she comes up with a solution. She shows intelligence. She understands the geography, the agricultural needs, and she is thinking of the long-range advantages to her family. She shows deference and respect for authority.

When she comes to her father and gets off the donkey, she is showing respect for him. She shows poise in the situation and doesn’t get carried away by emotion. She is showing clear objective thought, is well-mannered, knows how to handle herself in a crisis and she puts her family’s interests ahead of her own.

Othniel is presented as the ideal model of what a man should be like. He is the warrior who goes forth in the power and promises of Yahweh to do battle for the nation and accomplish his God-given mission. He has no doubts, he does not question God, he relies exclusively on the promise of God and shows initiative and leadership. He doesn’t worry about the obstacles, he is concerned about the God who overcomes the obstacles.

When we look at this whole episodes there are a couple of things we need to note. First of all, everyone involved demonstrates boldness, respect for authority, respect for one another. They understand their biblical roles in terms of leadership, response and help and assistance.

Achsah is fulfilling her role as a woman to assist the man. She is going to improve his lot. They show good manners and initiative. This is the picture of ideal culture. This is why men should always show deference and respect to their wives. If they do not show deference and respect, then the potential for abuse is present.

This is exactly what we are going to see in the structure of Judges: from this point on men become feminized. By the time we get to the end of Judges, women are abused and treated with very little respect. We see that this is the example of a paganized culture. There are role reversals: men are no longer the leaders and women have to stand in the gap. One of the things that goes along with this is that there is increased abuse and less respect between men and women, then marital breakdown, family breakdown, and social breakdown. All of these are the result of the relaxing of the standards in the Word of God. This is why good manners are so important.

In Judges 1:16, we see another episode. The descendants of the Kenites are not Jews, they are descendants of Moses’ father-in-law; a sub-tribe of the Midianites. Instead of conquering the Canaanites they lived with them. There is now co-existence with the enemy instead of the destruction of the enemy.

Judges 1:17. When the Jews were standing outside the land at Kadesh-Barnea, the spies came back saying they would not do it, they were afraid, so God said they would not enter the land.

So they changed their mind and said they would go in. Moses said it was too late and that if they tried to go in they would be defeated. They went in and were defeated at Hormah. So now the only place where we see Judah carry out the full command of God in terms of holy war is at Hormah. Why? Revenge motivation. They are not doing it anywhere else. It is important to understand the biblical text and what is going on in Jewish history or facts will be missed. Again they are beginning to compromise their values with human viewpoint.

Judges 1:19–20, even in spite of partial disobedience there is still grace, and God still gives us some victory but not the whole thing: “but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.” They weren’t trusting God. Earlier it did not matter what the enemy had. Now, because they are compromising their trust in the Lord, they only have incomplete victory.

Judges 1:21, Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites. There was co-existence. They mix human viewpoint and divine viewpoint co-equally in their thinking. The result is that it just gets worse.

The rest of the chapter, Judges 1:22–26 is a rehearsal of Israel’s failure. Joshua goes up against Bethel. They sent spies who saw a man coming out of the city. But this man was not a believer as was Rahab. The English is misleading here. The Hebrew for treating kindly is chesed, the word for loyal covenant love.

What we see here is the writer using a certain amount of sarcasm and irony in order to emphasize the failure of Israel. In the first half of the chapter Israel is the agent of God’s justice against the Canaanites and Israel is the object of God’s faithful love.

From this point on the Canaanites become the objects of Israel’s love and the Canaanites then become the instruments of God’s divine discipline on Israel. Then we see the consequences of their compromise.

Judges 1:27–28, “But Manasseh did not take possession” – from co-existence to failure; “but the Canaanites persisted in living in the land.” Judges 1:29, “Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites”; Judges 1:30–33, “Zebulun did not drive out …”, etc. Co-existence with the pagans in the culture: there has been compromise, then co-existence, partial failure, then defeat in Judges 1:3–36.

The lesson for us is that unless we are willing to follow God’s plan, God’s procedures, God’s promises completely, the end result is always going to be failure, catastrophe, and disaster in our lives because we will never have everything that God has promised us, has already given us, because in our volition we have not been one hundred percent positive to Bible doctrine and God’s Word.