Notes on Judges 1:1-7

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 1:1, KJV 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?


The Book of Judges begins with this encounter after Joshua died (recorded in Joshua 24:29:30). Here at the first, the nation of Israel asked the counsel of God as to who (which tribe) should fight against the Canaanites. Some were still in the land and all were under the sentence of God’s judgment (Lev. 18:25, and Deut. 20:17; later, Judges 3:3). We are not told how long after Joshua died that the Israelites went to finish the job they had started. It seems they had every intention to fulfill God’s commands at this time.

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

The LORD had promised the land to the various tribes of Israel during Joshua’s time but they had not completely taken possession. Note that the nation had asked for God’s guidance and He gave it.

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.

Simeon had received their inheritance in part of Judah’s territory (Joshua 19:8-9). Theirs was the southernmost of the Promised Land on the west side of the Jordan River.

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.

God had promised victory over these pagan tribes several times before (Ex. 23:23, 33:2, e.g.). Israel had known of Perizzites as far back as the time of Abram (Gen. 13:7, 15:20) and Jacob (Gen. 34:30).

The exact location of Bezek is not specified but clearly it was somewhere in the land promised to Judah and Simeon. Bezek is only mentioned one other time besides this encounter, namely,

1 Sam. 11:8, but that may be a different city.

5 And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.

“Adonibezek” means “the lord of Bezek” and may be a title rather than his actual name. God had given victory to the Israelites, specifically Judah and Simeon, in this battle against the ruler, and all of the Canaanites and the Perizzites in that territory.

6 But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.

Apparently some rulers did “lead from behind” or run away when the battle started going against them. Much later, some of the kings of Israel would ask to be taken away from battles when they were wounded “in action”, like Ahab in 1 Kings 22:34 and Josiah in 2 Chronicles 35:23. We do not know if Adonibezek tried to escape on foot, by driving a chariot, or any other means. He didn’t escape.

But the punishment of removing his thumbs and “great” toes does not seem to be applied to any other person in the Bible. It is true that the Law specified “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc. (Exodus 21:24, Lev. 24:20, and Deut. 19:21)” but that did not seem to apply to Gentiles—they were never under the Law..

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.

Strangely, there is no record of any inquiry, trial, or anything else for Adonibezek except the punishment he received in verse 6. There is no other data. His utterance speaks to the judgment passed upon him: many years later Paul would write that a person reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7). Adonibezek received the same treatment as he had done to 70 other kings.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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