Failure of Joseph: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on Judges)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Chapter 3

Failure of Joseph Judges 1:22–29

22 And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel: and the LORD was with them.
23 And the house of Joseph sent to descry Bethel. (Now the name of the city before was Luz.)
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.
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.
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.
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.

22 And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel: and the LORD was with them.

And the house of Joseph,
The house of Joseph refers to the tribes of Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh, who dwelt beyond the Jordan. Beth-el was twelve miles north of Jerusalem. It was strategically located on the north-south trade route, and was a junction for traffic from the Mediterranean seacoast on the west and from the Jordan valley via Jericho on the east. Bethel has been commonly identified with modern Beitin, about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, though some evidence favors El-Bireh two miles further south. Beth-el means “house of God,” a name given to it by Jacob in 1Genesis 28:19, where it is also noted that its original name was Luz. Beth-el remained a very important city in and throughout biblical history. Originally, it was evidently a strong Canaanite cult-center. It later became a prominent city in Israel; and finally, it lapsed into a center of idolatry.

In addition to Judah and Simeon, only the two tribes of Joseph are credited with military victories. (These verses perhaps refer to the conquest of Bethel while Joshua was still living 2Jos. 12:16 , just as the previous verses concerning Hebron and Kirjath Sepher go back to the days of that great general.)
They attacked the city of Bethel, formerly called Luz, and destroyed it. Excavations at the site of Bethel reveal burned brick; ash filled earth, and charred debris, evidence of the thorough devastation of this Canaanite city by the Israelites. But their mistake was in promising safety to a collaborator. He promptly started building another city by the name of Luz in the land of the Hittites. Keep this bit of information in mind, because it will show later that unjudged sin survives and has to be met later.

As we have said earlier, the city of Bethel is mentioned many times in the Bible. The Ephraimites, at one time, went all-out to gain total control of that city. Bethel is mentioned in the tribe of Benjamin, 3Jos. 18:21, 22. It is spoken of in 4Joshua 18.13 as a city within the borders of that tribe, but, it seems that the borderline went through it, so that one half of it only belonged to Benjamin, the other half to Ephraim; and perhaps the actions of the Ephraimites at this time, to recapture it from the Canaanites, secured it entirely for them henceforth, or at least the greatest part of it, because afterwards, we find it under the power of the ten tribes (and Benjamin was not one of them). Jeroboam, one of the kings of the ten northern tribes set up one of his calves in it.

they also went up against Bethel:
Bethel was a well-known city and holy place in central Palestine, about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. Observe these details about the city,

• If we are to accept the precise report of 5Genesis 12:8, the name of Bethel would appear to have existed at this spot even before the arrival of Abram in Canaan.

• Genesis13:3 and 4 says that Abraham returned to Bethel to worship God after he returned from Egypt. “And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD”

• Bethel was the scene of Jacob’s vision. “And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awoke out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first” (Gen. 28:11-19) It is interesting to note that Jacob had this dream where God instructed him to return to his native land, and it happened while he was resting at Bethel. I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.” (Ge. 31.13)

• Jacob lived there according to this passage from Genesis. “And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother. 8But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth (Gen. 35:1-8).

• Finally, we have one fascinating detail about how the city was breached in the account of the capture of Bethel. The Israelites spotted a man coming out of the city and forced him to tell them of the secret tunnel into the city. They came through it, surprised the inhabitants, and killed everyone in it except the man who had shown them the way in 6(Jg. 1:22–26 ). These secret entryways were used for launching attacks on the besiegers or as ways of escape should the city fall. The Israelites simply reversed the process.

• It is interesting to note that in return for his help, they let the man that told them about the secret tunnel, and his family, escape into the land of the Hittites, i.e., northern Syria (as opposed to the great Hittite Empire which was located in Asia Minor). The escapee from the Canaanite city of Luz established a new and unknown city by the same name in the area beyond the Orontes River in the territory which was under Hittite control. Bruce suggests that this man may have been an immigrant Hittite who had settled in the hill country of Judah.

and the LORD was with them.
After its conquest, Bethel is frequently heard of; in fact, it is mentioned more often in scripture than any other city, except Jerusalem. In the troubled times when there was no king in Israel, the people went to Bethel when they were distressed to ask for God’s counsel; 7Judges 20:18, 26, 31;821:2. The house of Joseph (Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh), wanting to gain the divine favor, were blessed by receiving His Favor, for it says The Lord was with them, and He would have been with the other tribes if they would have exerted their strength. The Word of the Lord was their helper, namely, Christ himself, the captain of the Lord’s host, now that they acted separately, as well as when they were all in one body.

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