Notes on Judges 1:8-20

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 1:8, KJV 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.

This event is written in the past tense, meaning or at least implying the Israelites had burned Jerusalem before this date. There is no other record in Scripture that this took place, during these days, but that in no way denies the accuracy and inspiration of this event. It could be that this event, the burning of Jerusalem, was the first action that Judah and Simeon completed before going on the campaign against other Canaanites, Perizzites, and possibly other tribes.

Jerusalem itself was at the northern border of Judah’s territory so it was logical for Judah to begin at the northern border and then head south. Simeon was given their inheritance in the southern part of Judah’s land (see Joshua 19:1-9).

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.

This may be a different campaign than in the previous verses. There is no mention of Simeon joining with them (Judah) on this excursion and there are three different locations or areas where the Canaanites were dwelling. The “mountain” may refer to Mount Zion or any of the other mountains around Jerusalem; the exact mountain is not specified.

The “south” may well refer to the “Negev” or southernmost extent of Israel’s Promised Land. Hebron and Beersheba were two of the cities in the “south”. The “valley” most likely does not refer to any of the valleys in the mountains or hill country but may refer to the land between the hill country and the coastal plain or “Shephelah” per Strong’s online concordance
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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.

Hebron was an old city (see Numbers 13:22) in the southern part of Canaan. Hebron is where Abraham and Sarah were buried (Genesis 23:19, 25:9), as well as Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob’s first wife, Leah (Gen. 49:31). Jacob had requested to be buried there as well (Gen. 49:29).

Hebron’s previous name was Kiriatharba, or Kirjatharba (Joshua 15:13 and 15:54), meaning the city of Arba. This Arba was “great among the Anakims (Josh. 14:15) but Caleb had faith in God that he would be able to expel the Anakims from his promised inheritance (Josh 14:12). Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai were among the sons of Anak (Numbers 13:22, Josh 15:14). Many years later, David would begin his reign over Israel, beginning at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:11).

11 And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before (was) Kirjathsepher:

Debir was probably located near Hebron, although not stated in this passage. The story of Debir’s conquest is found in Joshua 10 amd 11.

12 And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife.

We aren’t told why Caleb didn’t take the lead in conquering Debir/Kirjathsepher. He had already received the promised inheritance of Hebron but nothing had been said about any other territory.

Perhaps there was some reluctance on the soldiers’ part about going against Debir. Was that why Caleb offered his own daughter as a reward for the one who did defeat the city?

13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.

Othniel was Caleb’s nephew. Caleb kept his promise and gave Achsah, his daughter, to Othniel and she became his 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?

We do not know when this event took place; probably not too long after the wedding. It is also not clear what is meant by asking Caleb (her father) for a field. Caleb lived in Hebron, and Othniel and Achsah in Debir (unless he left that city after he conquered it) so what field is in view here? Then Achsah took it on herself to visit her father, who asked her “what wilt thou?” The next verse explains why.

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.

Achsah’s request was for a “blessing”, namely she wanted springs of water. These springs have been important for many years: it goes without saying that no one can survive very long without fresh water. This incident was also recorded in Joshua 15:15-19.

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.

According to Exodus 4:18, Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses--but he was a Midianite. He is only mentioned in the book of Exodus. Jethro was also called Reuel in Exodus 2:18. The connection between the Midianites (Jethro and his family were in this tribe) and Kenites is nowhere stated.

The “city of palm trees” was Jericho, according to Deut. 34:3. Jericho, however, had been destroyed early in the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 6) and apparently was still under Joshua’s curse (Josh. 6:26). Perhaps Israel had left the palm trees alone. The Israelites were forbidden to cut down fruit trees when attacking a city (Deut. 20:19-20) but nothing was said about palm trees.

At any rate, something must have happened (the destruction of Jericho?) which caused the Kenites to re-settle in the most southern part of the Promised Land.

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.

Now the tribes of Judah and Simeon united in battle against Zephath (location uncertain, only mentioned here), defeated it, and renamed it Hormah.

18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof.

These three cities were in the land of the Philistines. God had promised this land, mostly the sea coast and plains that led up to the hill country and mountains, in Joshua 15. This seems to be the first actual conquest of these cities. Notice that Simeon is not mentioned here.

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.

This is puzzling, how that Judah could drive out the mountain dwellers but not those of the lowlands. Something must have happened that is not recorded in the text which kept Judah from victory. Even chariots of iron were no match for God’s power.

20 And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses said: and he expelled thence the three sons of Anak.

This is recorded in this chapter, verse 10 and in Joshua 15:13-14.

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

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