Failure of Judah Part 5 of 8 (series: Lessons on Judges)
by John Lowe
Here, while on the verge of taking the war to the people who lived in the valleys, the men of Judah failed, and thus spoiled the influence which their example up till now might have had on the rest of the tribes, who followed them in this instance of their cowardice, rather than in all the other instances of their courage. The people that lived in the valleys had iron chariots, and therefore it was thought unsafe to attack them: but didn’t Israel have God on their side, whose chariots are thousands of angels (Ps. 68:17 ), before whom these iron chariots would be like stubble to the fire? Is it true that God expressly promised by the Oracle (v. 2) to give them success against the Canaanites in this very expedition, and therefore they would have been successful even against those iron chariots? Yet they suffered from their fears, which prevailed against their faith; they could not trust God if they were under any disadvantages, and therefore they dare not face the iron chariots, but shamefully withdrew their forces, when with one bold stroke they might have completed their victories; and their cowardess eventually led to deadly consequence.
And then, Caleb, with the help of the tribe of Judah took possession of Hebron, which, though given to him by Joshua ten or twelve years before (as Dr. Lightfoot computes), but because he was employed in public service, for the settling of the tribes, which he preferred before his own private interests, it seems he did not until now make himself master of it. He was so very content serving others, while he left himself to be served last; few are like-minded, for all seek their own, 36(Phil. 2:20, 21 ).
The capture of Hebron, which became the early Judean capital, is credited here to Judah, but Joshua 14 and 15 tell us that Caleb was the one responsible for the conquest of this city. There is no discrepancy here, since Caleb was from the tribe of Judah. These verses (9, 10) probably refer to Caleb’s conquest of the city (see v. 20) and not to a subsequent expedition after Joshua’s death, even as the capture of Kirjath Sepher by Othniel is repeated in verses 11–15, although it took place previously 37(Josh. 15:16–19 ). Hebron was located about twenty miles south of Jerusalem in the highest mountains of Judah. The patriarchal burial ground was located there (Gen 23). It had been assigned earlier to Caleb 38(Num 14:24 ) in anticipation of his subsequent conquest, which is also related in Joshua 15. It was previously called Kirjath-arba, meaning “fourfold city” or “tetrapolis.” It was the home of the giant-like Anakim. The names of Sheshai … Ahiman … Talmai are of Aramaean origin; they were descendants of the great Anak whose people had frightened ten of the twelve Jewish spies who were the first to explore the land 39(Num. 13.22, 28 ).
Next, Caleb turned his attention to the city of 40Debir, which was formerly known as Kirjathsepher (“city of books” or “scribes”). Cundall suggests Caleb’s interest in this area may have come from his original assignment as a spy to reconnoiter this territory. Debir was eleven miles southwest of Hebron and has been identified in archaeological excavations as Tell Beit Mirsim. Caleb promised to give his daughter Achsah to be the wife of the man who would take the city. His nephew Othniel, who would later become the first judge, accepted the challenge and conquered the city, and wins the lady (v. 13), and by his wife’s interest and influence with her father gains a very good inheritance for himself and his family, v. 14, 15.
Othniel, undoubtedly was chosen as a judge because of his relationship to Caleb. Nepotism was prevalent even in that day. If he had been the son-in-law of Joe Doakes, he probably would never have been a judge. Many men today occupy positions of prominence, not because of their ability, but because of a certain relationship or circumstance.
The bravery of Othniel and the leadership of the tribe of Judah appear again in the invasion described in chapter 3. His wife’s request for the springs of water was extremely important since they were in a very arid region near the Negev. Discoveries in this area have revealed many water shafts, or wells, that could provide adequate water for those living in the area.
Springs—basins or pockets of subterranean water.
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.
The reference to the Kenite refers to the nomadic people who later settled among the Amalekites. "The Kenite," was probably descended from the people of that name 41(Nu 24:21, 22 ). The Kenites are also associated with the Midianites (Ex 18), indicating their constantly nomadic condition. They were related to the Israelites through Moses’ marriage to Zipporah 42(Ex 2:21 ). As a rule, they remained in a favorable relationship with the Israelites while preserving their identity, until even as late as the time of David. In Judges 4 the Israelite defender, Jael, is married to Heber the Kenite. The Kenites continued to dwell with the children of Judah, though they never were truly converted.
The city of palm trees commonly refers to Jericho, though this has been questioned by some. Most Hebrew scholars suggest that the phrase dwelt among the people be amended to read “dwelt among Amalek.” Arad is normally identified with Tell ’Arad, seventeen miles south of Hebron. The remainder of this section describes the conquest by the tribes of Judah and Simeon over Zephath, which was renamed Hormah, meaning “devotion to destruction.” Next, they conquered Gaza … Askelon … Ekron, which later formed part of the Philistine pentapolis, though at this time, prior to the arrival of the main body of Philistines in this area, they were still under Canaanite control. Verse 19 indicates that Judah was able to conquer the hill country but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley where the use of their chariots of iron neutralized the Israelite attack. It would be many years until the Israelites acquired a knowledge of ironworking, giving the Canaanites a superior advantage in this skill which they had learned from the Hittites. Verse 21 notes that the children of Benjamin were not able to drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. Since Benjamin and Judah formed a common tribal border near Jerusalem, it is not unusual for this reference to include the Benjamites. The text also notes that the Jebusites still held the city “unto this day” (i.e., the time when this book was written.) Thus, the initial victory of the men of Judah against Jerusalem was already lost, and the city reverted back to Jebusite control. It would never permanently come under Israelite conquest until it was taken by David and Joab 43(II Sam 5:6–9 ).
The children of the Kenite, Moses' father-in-law— For an account of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, see Exodus 18:1-27; 48Numbers 10:29, etc.
The city of palm trees—This seems to have been someplace near Jericho, which is expressly called the city of palm trees, 44Deuteronomy 34:3; and though destroyed by Joshua, it might have some suburbs remaining where these harmless people had taken up their residence. The Kenites, the descendants of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, were always attached to the Israelites: they remained with them, says Calmet, during their wanderings in the wilderness, and accompanied them to the Promised Land. They received there a lot with the tribe of Judah, and remained in the city of palm trees during the life of Joshua; but after his death, not contented with their portion, or molested by the original inhabitants, they united with the tribe of Judah, and went with them to attack Arad. After the conquest of that country, the Kenites established themselves there, and remained in it till the days of Saul, where they mingled with the Amalekites. When this king received a commandment from God to destroy the Amalekites, he sent a message to the Kenites to depart from among them, as God would not destroy them with the Amalekites. From them came Hemath, who was the father of the house of Rechab, 451 Chronicles 2: 55, and the Rechabites, of whom we have a remarkable account; 46Jeremiah 35: 1, etc.