Failure of Joseph: Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Judges)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

23 And the house of Joseph sent to descry (spy out) Bethel. (Now the name of the city before was Luz.)


The name Luz means “separation”. It was a Hittite city 17.7 km. (11 mi.) north of Jerusalem. In later times it was called Beth-el 9Josh. 16:2 ).

The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh took cautious measures to win the city. They sent spies to observe what part of the city was the weakest, or which way they might make their attack with most advantage. These spies got very good information from a man they providentially met, who showed them a private way into the town, which was left unguarded because, they believed it was so well concealed that there was no danger of it being discovered. The informer is not to be blamed for giving them this intelligence, if he did it from a conviction that the Lord was with them, and that the land was rightly theirs, any more than Rahab was for entertaining those whom she knew to be enemies of her country, but friends of God. Nor, should those be blamed who showed him mercy, gave him and his family not only their lives, but liberty to go wherever they pleased: for one good turn deserves another. But, it seems, he would not unite with the people of Israel. He feared them rather than loved them, and therefore he left for a colony of the Hittites, which, it should seem, had gone into Arabia and settled there upon Joshua’s invasion of the country. This man chose to live with them, and eventually he built a city, a small one, we may suppose, and he named it with the ancient name of his native city, Luz, an almond-tree, preferring this over its new name, which had a religious connotation, Bethel—the house of God.

24 And the spies saw a man come forth out of the city, and they said unto him, Shew us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city, and we will shew thee mercy.

Show us—the entrance into the city—Taken in whatever light we choose, the conduct of this man was deplorable. He was a traitor to his country, and he was an accessory to the destruction of the lives and property of his fellow citizens, which he most sinfully betrayed, in order to save his own. According to the rules and laws of war, the children of Judah might avail themselves of such men and their information; but this does not lessen, on the side of this traitor, the depravity of his actions.

we will show thee mercy
The children of Joseph wanted an entrance into the city that would easily yield to their fighting men -- that is, the unguarded avenues to the city, and the weakest part of the walls.

The Israelites might employ these means of getting possession of a place which was theirs by divine appointment: they might promise life and rewards to this man, if he would aid them in executing the will of God.

25 And when he shewed them the entrance into the city, they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let go the man and all his family.

The spies brought or sent notice of the intelligence they had gained to the army, which gave the Israelites the advantages over the unsuspecting soldiers and citizens of Bethel. They entered the city undetected and surprised its inhabitants, and put them all to the sword.

26 And the man went into the land

of the Hittites, and built a city, and called the name thereof Luz: which is the name thereof unto this day.

The land of the Hittites
Probably someplace beyond the land of Canaan, in Arabia, where these people emigrated when expelled by Joshua. The man himself appears to have been a Hittite, and to perpetuate the name of his city he called the new one which he now founded Luz, which was the ancient name of Beth-el. (10see Genesis 12:7, 8 and 11Genesis 28:18 ).

27 Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns: but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.
28 And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.
29 Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.

This chapter ends with the sad note of incomplete settlement of the land by the various Israelite tribes. It is not legitimate to call this an incomplete conquest, since the book of Joshua makes it clear that the land was totally under Israelite control in Joshua’s time, in accord with the promise of God. What it refers to is the fact that, having received their tribal allotments, the various tribes were unable or unwilling to bring their territory under total settlement so that the enemy could not filter back into their territory. Thus, Manasseh (vv. 27, 28) was unable to control Beth-Shean … Taanach … Dor … Ibleam … Megiddo. These cities formed a line of Canaanite resistance across the Plane of Esdraelon, separating the central tribes from the northern tribes. These particular cities were, for the most part, under Egyptian occupied control during this time and would, therefore, present stronger resistance to the Israelites (see G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology, pp. 53–55). Rather than totally driving out the Canaanites, Israel put them to tribute, meaning that they subjugated them to the status of taxpaying vassals. Next, it is stated that Ephraim did not drive the Canaanites out of Gezer. The city was later under Philistine control and was not fully conquered by the Israelites until 950 B.C. 12(I Kg. 9:16 ).

The series of defeats suffered by the Israelite tribes was the first indication that Israel was no longer walking by faith and trusting God to give them victory. The first step they took toward defeat and slavery was neglecting the word of God, and generations ever since have made the same mistake.

when Israel was strong—it was only after Israel gained strength that they acquired ground, and the tribes were able to control their lot (assigned territory).

Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer
Gezer, a large city, was located eighteen miles northwest of Jerusalem and within Ephraim’s lot, where it guards a pass from Joppa to Jerusalem. Entrenched behind walls fourteen feet thick, Gezerites were able to resist Israelite dominance. Ephraim, though a powerful tribe, neglected Gezer, and allowed the Canaanites to dwell among them, which, some think, hints at their allowing them a peaceful settlement, and indulging them with the privileges of an unconquered people, and exempting them from paying tribute.

The city became part of Solomon’s kingdom only when it was given to him as a wedding gift by the Egyptian Pharaoh 12(1 Kings 9.16).


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