Failure of Judah Part 1 of 8 (series: Lessons on Judges)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Chapter 1
Failure of Judah Judges 1:1-1.20


1 Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?
2 And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.
3 And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.
4 And Judah went up; and the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men.
5 And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
6 But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.
7 And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.
8 Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.
9 And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites, that dwelt in the mountain, and in the south, and in the valley.
10 And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron: (now the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba:) and they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai.
11 And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjathsepher:
12 And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife.
13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.
14 And it came to pass, when she came to him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she lighted from off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wilt thou?
15 And she said unto him, Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs.
16 And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.
17 And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. And the name of the city was called Hormah.
18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof.
19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.
20 And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses said: and he expelled thence the three sons of Anak.


After the death of Joshua, the nation of Israel was ruled by judges, or heroic military deliverers, for about 300 years until the united monarchy was established under King Saul. The era of the judges was a time of instability and moral depravity, a dark period when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6). The judges tried to rally the people against their enemies, but many of the judges were morally weak and the people often turned to idolatry. Along with the well-known judges, there were several minor judges whose battles are not recorded in the Bible: Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.

What began with conquest (vv. 1.1–1.26) soon became compromise (vv. 1.27–1.36) as the defeated tribes gave in to the enemy. IF WE DO NOT DEFEAT THE ENEMY COMPLETELY, THE ENEMY WILL EVENTUALLY DEFEAT US. Israel learned their ways and worshiped their gods, and the Lord had to chasten His people to bring them back. They forgot the warnings of Moses (Deut. 7) and Joshua (Josh. 23).
It has well been said, “The one thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.” Read 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 and take it to heart.

NOTICE: Throughout this passage, the names of the 12 tribes are personified; for example, it says in verse 2, Judah shall go up. It is the tribe of Judah that is the subject, not the son of Jacob, whose offspring were the tribe of Judah.

1 Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the 1 Canaanites first, to fight against them?

After the death of Joshua and the move of the two and a half tribes to the east side of the Jordan River, the Israelites’ purpose was to attack the remaining Canaanites and wipe them out, but the nation did not function with one great army. Individual tribes fought to claim their inheritance, and often they worked together, but something was definitely lost in the transition. GOD’S PEOPLE MUST ENDEAVOR “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

The transition from Moses’ leadership to that of Joshua is one of the most encouraging events in all of Scripture. However, no strong central ruler took over after the death of Joshua (in 1390–1380 B.C.). While the book of Joshua represents the high point of victory for the Israelite tribes, the book of Judges, by contrast, presents the tragic defeat that was the result of compromise with their enemies. Joshua is a picture of the potential of total victory that is available to every child of God, while Judges is a picture of potential defeat which will be experienced every time one fails to totally drive out the enemy. The literary format of Judges is remarkably similar to that of Joshua, in spite of the fact that one book deals almost exclusively with victory, while the other deals almost continually with defeat. Israel is now pictured as settled in the land by the tribal allotments that had been apportioned to them by Joshua. Although the initial conquest was lightning-quick, and decisive, the settlement of the tribal territories was slow and cumbersome. Many pockets of resistance remained; and in time the Israelites settled on a policy of coexistence, rather than total conquest.

The contrast between Joshua and Judges presents a parallel between the unconditional and conditional covenant agreements of God. God had unconditionally guaranteed the land to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 15). However, under Moses, He had established a conditional covenant to determine whether or not they would be blessed in the land they were to possess (Deut 28). The Bible makes it clear that man can do nothing to earn his own salvation; but it is also equally clear that in order to enjoy the salvation that has been given to him as a free gift, he must become obedient to the lordship of Christ. Faith, not obedience, determines one’s salvation. Obedience determines the degree of blessing to be enjoyed by the saved person. There is, therefore, no real contradiction then between Joshua and Judges. The victory reported so decisively in Joshua was a reality for the Israelites. However, their subsequent compromise of coexistence with their enemies led to their losing much of the land which they had initially acquired. The people of Israel owned the land, but they didn’t possess all of it; and therefore they couldn’t enjoy all of it.

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