My last blog we looked at who wrote Judges and also at what we can learn as we look at the book of Judges.
Judges Chapter 1 is an account of the successes and failures of the Israelite tribes A large part of the chapter is about the tribe of Judah in “possessing” what had been “taken” under Joshua. “Possess” Hebrew “Yarash” means to own to control, belongs to you. Where as “take” Hebrew “lakad” means to own while living there but to loose it if you leave. With Joshua the tribes had taken much of the land but had not possessed it as yet.
As we read read on we will see that certain cities had been conquered by Joshua but discover that in Judges it had landed back in the hands of the Canaanites or as soon as the tribes had moved on to fight another battle. Who were the Canaanites? From scholars we understand this term Canaanite to refer in a non-specific way to all the various tribes and people who lived in Canaan. So as soon as the Israelites moved on or negotiated a peace deal or used the people as serfs or labourers they moved back in again. This was also due to the fact that there were too few people to occupy and possess the land so the people who had been displaced and not killed as God had ordered the Israelites to do moved back. In Joshua chapter 13 we see that the land was divided among the Israelite tribes with each tribe receiving their inheritance. In Judges each tribe now needs to possess their inheritance. This would mean more battles but then they would need to occupy it and start planting and living on the land. Judah did reasonably well, but the other tribes did not.
We will see evidence, as it were, for Israel’s failure in chapter one, but the real reason is given in the Lord’s rebuke in Chapter 2
The chapter starts off by telling us that Joshua has died. Joshua did not hand the leadership over to a new leader or tell the Israelites who was to lead them upon his death. Joshua had been a good leader looking to the Lord and in a way had been like a king but in God's way not man's way. Yes he had made his mistakes but had followed the Lord. The people started off in the right way by asking the Lord who was to go and fight against the Cannanites as they were eager to possess their land. We also read at the end of the Book of Joshua that Eleazer who was the the son of Aaron the 1st High Priest had died. Eleazer had become High Priest after Aaron. We know that the Tabernacle was at Shiloh but did the people ordain a new high priest and get him to use the urim and thummim for an answer we don't know but do know that the Lord said that the tribe of Judah was to go first and that the Lord would hand the land over to them. We see that the tribe of Judah asked his blood brother the tribe of Simeon (both of them had the same mother Leah) to join them and that they would then help the tribe of Simeon. The way this is written some might think that this is a personal name of a leader but it is the tribal name and not an individual. We are not told who are the leaders from the tribe of Judah or Simeon. Simeon and Judah had the same tribes around them that the Lord had told Israel to get rid of.
The tribes of Judah and Simeon go off and fight the Cannanites and the Perizzites which the Lord places into their hands and they kill 10000. They find the leader Adon Bezek (Lord Bezek) . Again who is this man.? Adon Bezek is not a persons name but a title “Lord of Bezek”. David Cassel a Jewish Theologian suggests that the name means “My god is splendour” maybe they worshipped the sun. Bezek would be a family name of an established dynasty passed down from one ruler to the next. An example would be the “Prime Minister” but which Prime Minister? We do not know the actual name of the person or where Bezek is. What we do know is that he was powerful, very strong and cruel. He had cut off the thumbs and big toes of many of the leaders of tribes that he had fought against. This was a common practise in those days to make sure that the leader could not be able to go and lead in battles again. He would not be able to hold a bow or sword and his balance would not be good at all. He says that he has reaped what he has done to other people. They the tribe of Judah and Simeon then take him up to Jerusalem where he dies but scripture does not say that he was executed. We see that Judah and Simeon fight against the Jebusites and take Jerusalem but very quickly give it to the tribe of Benjamin to whom the land belongs. We read later on that the tribe of Benjamin did not do what they had been told to do by the Lord. Instead they made a pact with the Jebusites and they continued to live there. Many years later we will read of King David conquering Jerusalem. The tribe of Benjamin seems to loose their land or allow pagans to live on the land and carry on in Pagan and idolatrous worship whereas the tribe of Judah possesses the land. If we go back to Scripture we see and read what Judah and Simeon should have done. I think if we read what the Lord told the Israelites to do we should know that Adon Bezek should have been put to death immediately. We see that Judah and Simeon disregard God's commands and conform to their human wisdom. We read in Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered right.” They used there wisdom and not God's wisdom. We will see this over and over again in the Book of Judges. It makes me think do we ask God what he wants us to do in situations or do we sort out things our way.
Judah and Simeon carried on possessing the land but did not kill the people it seems that they made packs with them and used them as serfs and allowed them to carry on false worship.
We then read about Caleb, Caleb who had been with Joshua and the only other person to give a good report on the land and say that the Lord would give it to them. He offers his daughter Akhsah as a reward to the man who attacks and takes Kiryat-Sefer. His nephew Othaniel captures it and so Caleb gives his nephew his daughter in marriage. He also gives his daughter as well as land in the Negev. She then gets Othaniel to ask for wells as it is no good having land in the dessert if you have no water.
Judah and Simeon carry on possessing the hill country but are unable to take the plains from the Cannanites due to their iron chariots. Have Judah and Simeon become complacent and forgotten what the Lord did for them. Are chariots too hard for the Lord to defeat. I believe they had not followed the Lords instructions to kill all. We read right back in Exodus 23:29 -30 “I will not drive them out before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you become fruitful and inherit the land.
We then read in verse 22 that the Tribe of Joseph which is made up of Manasseh and Ephraim attack the city of Beit-El that at one time was known as Luz. When the Tribe of Joseph spies approached the city a man of Beit-El decided to co-operate with the spies and show ed them how to get into the city undetected. In return the spies promised to let the man and all of his family survive. This reminds one of the Jericho attack and Rahab the prostitute from the early parts of the book of Joshua, but that’s where the similarity ends.
This man of Beit-El expressed no interest in the God of Israel, and one would see that his only motive was self-preservation to the point that he was willing to commit treason to save his own skin. There was no honour in what happened here as there was when Rahab had converted before she met the spies and her allegiance to the God of Israel was at the heart of her decision. We get told that the man went into the land of the Hittites which would be in Turkey today and there built another city called Luz. I wonder if he did this out of guilt , but it is interesting that we are not told the man’s name, is this because we do not need to know the name of traitors so that he would not remembered or honoured.
From here to the end of chapter one we gets a list of failed attempts by the Israelite tribes to possess and drive out various groups of Canaanites from their territories.
From all of this we can see that the tribes did not drive the Canaanites out and so the Cannanites remained and lived in the land with the Israelites. The Israelites preferred diplomacy rather than obeying the Lord. They could not move about easily as they did not possess all the land. What became the worst sin of all in the eyes of God was the wickedness of the Israelites to allow the Canaanites to carry on their false worship to false gods and idols and thus they slowly drew the Israelites in to following their ways instead of being a Holy Nation to YHWH.
Israel decided it was better to maintain a good relationship rather than to eject the Canaanites from the land. In fact they saw that if they could subdue them they could use them as a labour force so why kill or send away.
As we close this first chapter we can see that man does not like war and would rather compromise so as to live in peace. What we need to remember is that when God has a plan and tells us to follow his plan if not we will reap the consequences. We might not understand at the time why YHWH wants things done in a certain way but it will unfold as to why. God's peace is absolute and does not allow compromise.
Israel saw nothing wrong in the way they went about settling in Canaan. Israel saw nothing wrong in the l and and why God said to clear the land but we can see what happened. The Canaanite gods looked better as they had visual statues etc and so took part in their neighbours’ festivals and customs, even giving respect to their former enemies’ beliefs and to their false gods, and as a result enjoyed a measure of rest and fruitfulness that was mostly man made, and thus bore little resemblance to what Godly rest and fruitfulness looked like. Inter- marriage between Canaanites and Hebrews became an everyday affair with little resistance or thought, both sides saw it as a good thing. Israel was blind to their condition and would not accept that they had broken faith with their God because they felt so good about themselves.
What can we learn from this first chapter?
Today we will look at an outline of the book of Judges Shof'tim in Hebrew.
Have any of you read the Book of Judges in it's entirety and understood what is being said. Having started to read the book it has been amazing as to what I have learnt as well as what I have found out as I have looked at the Hebrew. I have realized that in places the English words used do not give us the true understanding of what the writer of Judges was saying.
Having started to look for commentaries and articles on the book I noticed that many Christian scholars are not to sure what to say and how to look at the book where as Jewish Scholars do not seem to like to spend time in unpacking the book as it points to the Israelites failures. As we go through the book you will start to understand why. What can we learn from the book of Judges and how can we change as we understand this book.
We understand from the Talmud and Biblical Scholars that the author of Judges was the prophet Samuel even though there are no allusions to Samuel in the book. There is some evidence that has been found which points to the time of writing this book to shortly after Saul was crowned king in about 1051 BCE. The phrase “In those days Israel had no king” shows that when written Israel now had a king.
We have a statement in Judges 1 :21 which states that the Jebusites are still living in Jerusalem but King David drove them out when he conquered the city in 1004BCE (2Samuel 5:6-7).
In Judges 1:29 we also read that the Canaanites were still living in Gezer and we know from 1Kings 9:16 that the Egyptians gave the city to Solomon's wife as a wedding present. This shows us that the book was written before King David and King Solomon's reign as kings.
Many of you as children heard the stories about Gideon and Samson and how brave and strong they were but if you look a little deeper you will notice that they are men who have great flaws in their lives, yet God uses them. When we look at King David we see a great man who was an adulterer as well as a murderer. King Solomon a man of great wisdom but later in life bowed down to idols or allowed his wives to bow down to them. Yet God used them mightily.
The book in Hebrew is called Shof'tim (Judges) and comes from the verb “shaphat” which means to judge, justify or deliver. The book gets it's name from the men who were mostly called by God to deal out justice for an oppressed people. They were used in a way like a rescuer but it is a lot more than this and in fact a lot more than what we understand as a Judge today. It can also mean the Leaders of rulers.
What was the role of a Judge at the time the events in Israel take place:-
When we are disobedient it will always brings judgement. The Israelites give us a perfect example of what we are not to do. Instead of learning from experience that God will always punish rebellion against Him, they continued to disobey and suffer God’s displeasure and discipline. If we continue in disobedience, we invite God’s discipline, not because He enjoys our suffering, but “because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he disciplines everyone he accepts as a son" (Hebrews 12:6).
The Book of Judges is a book about God’s faithfulness. Even “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13) Though we may be unfaithful to the Lord, as the Israelites were, He is still faithful to save us and preserve us. (1 Thessalonians 5:2) as well as to forgive us when we seek forgiveness. (1John 1:9).
The theme of Judges is the downward spiral of Israel’s national and spiritual life into chaos and apostasy, showing the need for a godly king to lead them. (17:6; 21:25).
What was the purpose of the Book?
I would think that the book of Judges was written to show the consequences of religious apostasy and to point the way to a king who, if righteous, would lead the people to God. The book is very different to the Book of Joshua with all of Israel obeying God's Torah most of the time which is very different to the ending of the book of Judges, which shows Israel's disobedience to God. This disobedience continued and grew more serious—and more debased—throughout the period of the Judges. Time and again Israel turned its back on God and embraced the gods and the ways of the Canaanites & Philistines, as we read in chapter 2:16 -23 Israel’s history unfolded in this period in a cyclical or repetitive way: each cycle took Israel further downward in its debasement and apostasy. By the end of the book, Israel had violated its covenant with God in almost every way imaginable.
The book ends with a verdict that allows the reader to think that had God allowed Israel to have a king as soon as they left Egypt things might have been different as it says “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” 21:25. If Israel had a king they might obey the Torah of God.
Lord help us to look to you and not to the left or the right. Help us not to look at what other people have but again to look to you. Help us to spend time in your word so we can learn and understand how we can go wrong. Show us when we are looking to false gods. In Yeshua's name.
Next time we will start looking at chapters 1& 2