Failure of Judah Part 2 of 8 (series: Lessons on Judges)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Article 1.1: The Limits of Early Israelite Control

The resistance came from their perennial enemies, the Canaanites. The term 1Canaanites is generally used as a designation for all the aboriginal tribal inhabitants of the Levant (i.e., Palestine). Sometimes a distinction is made between the Canaanites and the Amorites (for a thorough discussion of these peoples see A. R. Millard, “The Canaanites,” and M. Liverani, “The Amorites,” in Peoples of Old Testament Times, and also E. Anati, Palestine Before the Hebrews). The Canaanites were a loosely confederated settlement of various city-states and did not represent a strong unified central government. The Perizzites, Jebusites, and Amorites are generally considered to be related to one another. The Canaanites had already developed their own religious beliefs and practices by this time. Their religion was essentially that of a nature cult based on a pantheon of gods led by El and Baal.

The tribes of Judah and Simeon, who were tribal blood brothers, allied themselves to go to war against the Canaanites and the Perizzites of whom they slew ten thousand men in Bezek. The tribe of Simeon was not assigned a specific territory of its own and was allowed to settle within the portion assigned to Judah 2(see Josh 19:9 ). Thus, the two tribes became virtually inseparable. The location of Bezek is unknown (possibly Khirbet Bezqa near Gezer) and the meaning of the name of its king Adoni-bezek is “lord of Bezek.” He is not to be confused with Adoni-zedek of Joshua 10. Adoni-zedek was previously the king of Jerusalem and was the leader of the southern confederation of Canaanite cities against the Gibeonites. Adoni-bezek, by contrast, was defeated at Bezek and brought to Jerusalem afterwards. The passage indicates that Adoni-bezek had conquered seventy kings, whom he brought under his submission by having their thumbs and their great toes cut off. This may seem strange to the modern reader, but was very significant in the ancient Near East. Physical mutilation disqualified a person from religious or political office 3(see Lev 21:16–24 ). It was also used to render a person militarily impotent. By having his thumb cut off he could no longer handle a weapon effectively. That the defeated kings gathered their meat under my table (Judges 1.7) indicates that they became vassals, servants of the overlord and were allowed to remain alive. In a similar fashion, Adoni-bezek was allowed to remain at Jerusalem until he died.

Afterward, the tribe of Judah fought against Jerusalem … and set the city on fire. The site of Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Its original location was on the Hill of Ophel, south of the area where the Temple would later stand. It is referred to as the city of Salem in 5Genesis 14:18. It is mentioned in the Tell Mardikh Tablets found at Ebla and in the Tell El-Amarna Tablets as “Urusalim,” one of the most important Canaanite city-states. It is also mentioned in Egyptian texts as early as 1900 B.C. (for a discussion of this important city and its archaeological remains see M. Avi-Yonah, Jerusalem and C. Pfeiffer, Jerusalem Through The Ages). The fact that this passage states that the children of Judah conquered Jerusalem, whereas 6Joshua 15:63 states that they had not done it “unto this day,” would indicate the antiquity of the date of the book of Joshua. In the Joshua reference, the Jebusites are referred to as controlling the city. Some have suggested that the tribe of Judah conquered the city itself, but not the stronghold of the Jebusite tower. 7Judges 19:10, also indicates that the Jebusites were again in control of the city, which was not permanently conquered and settled by the Israelites until the time of David 8(I Chr 11:4–9 ).

Now after the death of Joshua
How long after the death of Joshua this happened, we cannot tell; it is probable that it was not long. The enemies of the Israelites, after finding out that their champion is dead, would naturally take advantage of their unsettled state, and make incursions into their country to attempt to recover their lost territory, and so the Israelites were obliged to renew the war. While Joshua lived he directed them, and all the tribes were obedient to him, but when he died he left no successor with the same authority that he had.

the children of Israel asked the Lord
The divine counsel on this, as on other occasions, was sought by consulting the oracle of God for direction—WHICH OF ALL THE TRIBES SHOULD FIRST ATTEMPT TO CLEAR THEIR COUNTRY OF THE CANAANITES, AND TO ANIMATE AND ENCOURAGE THE REST. The people must consult the Oracle of God, the high priest, who, according to JOSEPHUS, was Phinehas; and then they would receive the word of command; for God himself, was their King.

saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first
Joshua had left no successor; therefore everything relative to the movements of this people must be determined either by whim, or by special direction of the Lord. The question they ask is, Who shall go up first? By this time, we may suppose that there were so many of them that the places they were in possession of began to be too small for them, and they realized that they must thrust out the enemy to make room; now they enquire who should be the first to take up arms. Whether each tribe was determined to be first, and so went all-out for the honor of it, or whether each was afraid of being first, and so endeavored to decline it, is not known; but by common consent the matter was referred to God himself, who is the fittest both to dispose of honors and to allocate work.

They were correct, they needed a leader who would bring all the tribes together, and then lead them into battle. They were also correct in asking God to select such a leader. But we will find that they do not follow God’s instructions to kill all the inhabitants of the land and that will result in continuous suffering and fighting for the people of God.

The weakness of the twelve tribes is revealed from the word go. They asked the Lord what they should do and who should go for them to fight against the Canaanites. The Canaanites were well entrenched in the land because the Israelites failed to drive them out. They were a thorn in Israel’s side during the reigns of Saul and David.

2 And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.

Judah had been assigned the territory west of the Dead Sea and South of Jerusalem (Jebus), the territory known as Judea in NT times (Josh. 15.1-63).

God selected Judah to go up first. He would be the one to take the leadership in warring against the Canaanites in the south. And God promised him success: "I have delivered the land into his hand”, to be possessed by him, and therefore, I will deliver the enemy into his hand. God’s purpose is stated as an accomplished fact. The assurance of success is stated as an inducement to be actively and confidently working to accomplish God’s purpose. Notice: The land in question is not the whole country, but the district assigned for Judah’s inheritance.

And why must Judah be first in this undertaking? Let me give you four reasons:
1. Judah was the most numerous and most powerful tribe, and therefore Judah would be the first to fight. Note: God appoints service according to the strength he has given. Those that are the most able, from them the most work is expected.
2. Judah was first in dignity, and therefore must be first in duty. He it is whom his brethren must praise, and therefore he must lead in perilous services. Let the burden of honour and the burden of work go together.
3. Judah was the kingly tribe 6(Gen 49.8, 9 ). Judah believed God’s promise, obeyed God’s counsel, and even asked the people of the tribe of Simeon to go to war with them. Since Leah had given birth to Simeon and Judah, these tribes were blood brothers 7(Gen 35.23 ). Incidentally Simeon actually had its inheritance within the tribe of Judah 8(Josh 19.1 ).
4. Judah was the one selected by God; and therefore Judah must be the first to fight.
5. Judah was the tribe out of which our Lord was to spring: so that in Judah, Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, went before them. Christ engaged the powers of darkness first, and foiled them, which animates us for our conflicts; and it is in him that we are more than conquerors.
Observe, the service and the success are two-sides of the same coin: "Judah shall go up; let him do his part, and then he shall find that I have delivered the land into his hand.” His service will not bring victory unless God gives success to the undertaking; but God will not give the success unless he vigorously applies himself to the service.

the Lord said, Judah shall go up
The predicted pre-eminence of Judah 9(Ge 49:8 ) was thus conferred upon Judah by divine direction, and its appointment to take the lead in the ensuing hostilities was of great importance, because the measure of success by which its arms were crowned, would animate the other tribes to make similar attempts against the Canaanites within their respective territories.

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