Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

1. The Inheritance of Israel (1:1-2:10)

An initial difficulty

The opening words of the Book of Judges present their reader with an awkward problem: “And it came to pass after the death of Joshua...” But the death and burial of that great leader are described in 2:8,9; and the opening section of the book up to that point includes hardly anything which is not to be found recorded already in the second half of the Book of Joshua. Every city whose capture is catalogued in Judges 1 is already recorded (in Joshua) as taken whilst that leader was alive. And indeed it would be hard to believe that the many incursions, by which the various tribes appropriated their inheritances, took place only after the life and rule of Joshua had come to an end — and he lived many years (40?) after the crossing of Jordan, dying at the age of 110.

One suggestion for coping with the difficulty is that through some scribal error the name of Joshua has replaced that of Moses in this opening phrase. Read: “And it came to pass after the death of Moses....” — and no problem remains, except that of evidence; for there is not a vestige of manuscript support for such a reading. However, that does not rule it out as completely impossible. The Massoretes were not as infallible as they are often made out to be.

A Remarkable Feature

There are other considerations of some interest which link this “preface” with the last five chapters of Judges. It is to be noted that:

  1. 1:1-2:10 and ch. 17-21 are similar in their frequent allusions to Judah and Jerusalem, and to the twelve tribes acting together; these receive hardly any mention at all in the main part of the book.
  2. these two sections have no references at all to judges ruling the people.
  3. there are quite a number of key phrases in common.
  4. inquiry of the Lord (by Urim and Thummim) comes in both, and not elsewhere in the book.
  5. Judah has precedence in the fighting: 1:2; 20:18.
It does not seem possible to offer an explanation as to why there should be these dislocations (regarding ch. 1 and ch. 17-21). The problem exists also in other prophetic and historical books (e.g., the text of Jeremiah; the last few chapters of 2 Samuel), but no one seems to know why.

With the main concerted opposition now broken, a directive was sought from the Lord as to which tribe should make the first move to appropriate its inheritance. Here was a people still with vivid memories of the recent disaster when, following their own wisdom, they attempted an easy-going capture of Ai. The Hebrew expression for “asked the Lord” is unusual, and occurs elsewhere only in the later chapters (18:5; 20:18,23).

Judah and Simeon

The answer by Urim and Thummim (Num. 27:21) selected Judah to make the first attack. This was in harmony with Jacob’s prophecy: “Thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies” (Gen. 49:8). Judah promptly sought the co-operation of Simeon. This, too, was right, for these two were sons of Leah and the inheritance of Simeon was already designated, not as a separate distinct territory, but as a number of towns dotted about within the southern part of the portion assigned to Judah (Josh. 19:1-9). This too was in accordance with Jacob’s pronouncement concerning the tribe: “I will divide them (Simeon and Levi) in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (Gen. 49:7). These Simeonites, although a depleted tribe, were a fierce lot. A passage at the end of 1 Chronicles 4 shows that their character and reputation lasted through the centuries.

Led by Caleb (Josh. 14:6), who although of Gentile origin was the prince of Judah, these tribal brothers went up from Gilgal and began a long series of military successes, against Canaanites (Gen. 9:25) in the lowlands, against the Perizzites living in the unwalled villages (so the name implies), and against the handful of strong cities dotted through the area.

An early outstanding victory was against Bezek, halfway between Jerusalem and the coast. The king of this place, Adoni-bezek, lorded it over the sheiks of no less than seventy villages and towns in that area. These, their subject status cruelly emphasized by the cutting off of thumbs and big toes (so that they could neither fight nor flee), gleaned their food under the feasting table of this “Lord of Lightning”. At least, that was the way he boasted about his power, but perhaps it was only a purple way of describing figuratively the strength of his tyranny. The men of Israel now chased him out of his stronghold, hunted him across the countryside, captured him, and meted out to him the identical treatment he had proudly decreed for others. Then they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died, perhaps as a result of wounds received in the fighting.

Adoni-Bezek and Christ

In itself it is a typical picture of a hard pitiless era. Yet how it takes on greater fulness of meaning when illuminated by one phrase from the lips of Jesus. He had sent out an augmented team of preachers in twos, seventy of them, and had given them not only a matchless message, but also powers to match the message. In due time they returned bubbling over with excitement at the success that had attended both their preaching and their working of miracles: “Lord, even the demons are subject unto us in thy name!” The Lord’s immediate response was: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” What was the connection?

Adoni-bezek, the Lord of Lightning, with 70 princes in thrall, was an apt figure of human sin and ignorance holding dominion over all the nations of the world (70 of them are listed in Genesis 10; 12 wells and 70 palm trees at Rephidim; 70 bullocks offered in sacrifice at the Feast of Tabernacles). As Jesus sent out his 70 in twos, so also a typical two, Judah and Simeon, had laboured together to break the power of the tyrant. They routed him in the place of his strength, hunted him down, and he came to his end at Jerusalem! Then is it absurd to think of Jesus seeing his 70 engaged in a corresponding campaign over a more tyrannous Lord of Lightning?


Jerusalem also was captured, burnt, and left desolate by the men of Judah. The appointed boundary between Judah and Benjamin passed through Jerusalem. The former did not seem greatly anxious to make the most of their capture (a strange irony, this, in view of the city’s later history!), so the Benjamites took it over, but in such inadequate strength that they could not hold it against the original Jebusites who gradually came back to their old homes. Eventually at some time during the period of the judges, they were able to expel the Israelites and re-assert complete control there until the days of David (1:8,21; 19:10-12; 2 Sam. 5:6).

Caleb’s inheritance

Next, Caleb turned towards the locality which had been designated by Moses as his inheritance (Deut. 1:36). Kirjath-Arba, which became Hebron, was inhabited by the sons of Anak, survivors of a race of giant stature. But Caleb, vigorous as ever (Josh. 14:11), and with the same strong faith and undaunted spirit which had held firmly on to God’s promises in the day of discouragement (Num. 13,14), was confident that God would prosper his enterprise. And He did.

Half-way between Hebron and Beersheba was a place called Kiriath-sepher. Evidently too pre-occupied in other directions to make this a personal target, Caleb called for volunteers against it, offering his own daughter in marriage as an added incentive. Othniel, his own nephew, responded to the challenge. At a blow he won a home and a wife. Achsah, with something of the go-getting spirit of her father, goaded Othniel to ask him to add a suitable area of cultivable land nearby. When her new husband was loth to press this further request, she did so herself, and was granted the upper and nether springs (fourteen of them, in two main groups) in the fertile hollow towards Hebron which would normally have been included in the territory of that place.

It seems very likely that the two unexpected verses about Jabez, cropping up in the middle of the Chronicles genealogies (1 Chron. 4:9,10), refer to Othniel. For the genealogy there is that of Judah, Othniel’s tribe, and Jabez calls on “the God of Israel” precisely as Caleb also does (Josh. 14:14), a thing to be expected since they were both of Gentile origin, being Kenizzites (v. 13 here). The phrase: “more honourable than his brethren”, may allude to the fact that other members of the family did not share his union with Israel; or it commemorates his fine work as saviour and judge of Israel (3:8-11). His request: “Oh that thou wouldest....enlarge my border” is matched in Judges by Othniel’s tactful incitement of his wife to ask for springs of water as an addition to her dowry — what Jabez very appropriately calls “a blessing” (1 Chron. 4:10 Jud. 1:15). And “God granted him that which he requested.” Evidently whilst Achsah was asking her father, Othniel was asking his Father.

This Kirjath-sepher (Book Town!), Othniel’s inheritance, was also known as Kiriath-sannah (Josh. 15:49), which might possibly mean Instruction Town. Its name became Debir, which is basically the Hebrew for Word. Thus all three names suggest literary pursuits. So it is not unreasonable to see here the existence of a primitive university. There is a hint of a possibility that in time it was taken over by the men of Simeon. This would perhaps account for the rabbinic tradition that it was from Simeon that the scribes of Israel originated.

Yet further south, beyond Beersheba, Hormah was devastated, and the Kenites (the Midianite tribe of smiths to which Moses’ father-in-law had belonged) moved in and appropriated the area for the Bedouin life they normally followed. Many years later they had to be warned off by Saul at the time of his campaign against the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:6).

Stronger opposition

Success dried up when Judah turned towards the sea. Here they encountered the cities of the Philistines who, only recently, had come across the sea from Crete and settled on the coastal plain. They had chariots of iron, possibly supplied or bought from Egypt (LXX: for Rechab — Egypt — prevented them). This gave them a telling advantage in pitched battles, and the faith of the Israelites in the prospering providence of God wilted under the strain. The Judges record (1:18) reads as though the Philistine cities were captured, but the next verse and the Septuagint version encourage the belief that a “not” has somehow dropped out of the text here. In the LXX it is there six times over. In fact, not until the time of David and Solomon was Israelite supremacy asserted over that region. Thus Dan also had to go without part of his inheritance. It was this deprivation which led to the Danite migration to the north not long afterwards (see Jud. 18).

Another collaboration in conquest was between Ephraim and Manasseh — the house of Joseph. Their portions fell in the central area, side by side. First, they blockaded Bethel-Luz, a border city of Ephraim and Benjamin (Josh. 18:13,22). It may be inferred that Luz was so-called by its Hittite inhabitants, whereas Bethel was the name given by Jacob and his descendants to the sanctuary of Jehovah just on the outskirts of the city (Gen. 13:3; 28:11,19,22; 35:7,8).

From a native of the place who was captured they learned, by trading the man’s life for the secret, how best to force the defences. At Beth-haccerem archaeologists found a one-man escape hole neatly hidden away (cp. 2 Kgs. 25:4). Presumably something of this kind was made known to the men of Israel, so that they were able to take Luz from within. In accordance with Deut. 20:16,17 the populace were destroyed; but since the man had been promised his life, the condition was insisted on that he cleared out, back to the Hittite land in the far north.

This proved to be Ephraim’s only big success. Was it lack of faith, resolution or armaments which led to such modest progress? Traditional fortresses still held by the Egyptians, like Beth-sh’an, Taanach, and Megiddo, stood out comfortably against the lightly-armed Israelites.

Israel and the Canaanites

In due time the tribes grew stronger. Yet even when their power preponderated they tolerated the Canaanites among them and did not sweep the Land clean of their evil religions and practices as Moses had insisted (Deut. 20:10-18). This happened with practically all the twelve tribes, but especially so in the north. The sequence of phrases is interesting:

v. 25:
“they smote the city with the edge of the sword.”
v. 27:
“the Canaanites were content to dwell in the land (i.e., alongside Israel).”
v. 29:
“the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.”
v. 30:
“the Canaanites dwelt among them and became tributaries.”
v. 32:
“the men of Asher dwelt among the Canaanites.”
v. 34:
“the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains.”
v. 35:
“the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed (over the Amorites), so that they became tributaries.”

This rather spineless disposition to tolerate the continuation of evil pagan religions in their midst, brought on Israel a sweeping censure: “the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim”, and there he reminded the assembly of all the people of their duty to the Lord who had so faithfully fulfilled His covenant to give them the Land. Then let them fulfil their side of the covenant, or they would soon find themselves paying with bitter experience for their indifference and flagging loyalty.

A rebuking angel

Who was this “angel” of the Lord? Was it the angel of the covenant who had given guidance to Joshua (e.g., Josh. 5:13)? Was it Eleazer or Phinehas the high priest (see Mal. 2:7)? Was it some unnamed prophet (cp. Mal. 3:6)? Or was it Joshua himself, and this remonstration a condensed version of the exhortation he addressed to the elders of Israel at Shechem (Joshua 24)? In favour of this idea is the fact that Judges 1 summarises much in the second half of the Book of Joshua, and then 2:1-10 would correspond with the end of that book. There is a good deal of similarity between the final exhortations of Joshua (in ch. 23,24) and this warning in Judges, so that the latter may readily be taken as a condensed version of the former. There is also the continuation in v. 6: “And when Joshua had sent the people away....”, as though defining here who the “messenger” was (cp. Josh. 1:28).

But in that case, why “the angel of the Lord”? Surely because Joshua was deliberately echoing the warning given to Israel by Moses about the Angel of the Covenant in their midst. This is readily perceptible in Exodus 23:20,23,24,32.

Then, where was Bochim, the place of Israel’s weeping, for Bochim was an eponym added because of this special occasion?

One would naturally assume Shiloh, the place of the sanctuary of the Lord (cp. Josh. 18:1). LXX adds “Bethel”, but this would not necessarily rule out Shiloh, for it was in truth the House of God. But on other occasions not long after this Bethel was a centre of assembly, sacrifice, and repentant weeping (20:18; 21:2,4 — Shiloh being ruled out, here, as being too remote). Also, there at Bethel was the altar of Abraham and Jacob, and close by it “the oak of weeping” (Gen. 12:3,4; 28:11,22; 35:7,8).

This section concludes with a repetition of the account given in Joshua of the death and burial of the great leader, who shares with Moses, David and the Messiah the high title of “Servant of the Lord”. They buried him in his own inheritance in Timnath-serah, within sight of the location of his mighty victory on the day when the sun stood still. In Judges 2:9 the name is given as Timnath-heres (the sun!). Is this just a textual corruption, or was the name changed to remind the people of that day of outstanding triumph?


Judges 1

The real beginning of Judges is in 2:8.

Asked the Lord; cp. 20:18. From Josh. 7:16-18 and into 1,2 Samuel allusions to this means of divine guidance are fairly frequent. See “Samuel, Saul, and David”, Appendix 1.

Go up, from Gilgal (in the early days of Joshua)? or just an idiom for assault? The order of the tribes in this ch. is roughly the same as in Josh. 15-19, but with Issachar omitted (why?).
Judah first, because of Gen. 49:8?

Delivered the land into his hand. Either (a) Judah’s success to be a token of the rest; or (b) “I have begun to deliver....”.
Judah, Simeon. God often sends His men in twos: Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1; Acts 8:14.
Adoni-bezek should probably be Adoni-barak, Lord of lightning. In Hebrew BZK is readily confused with BRK, as in Ezek. 1:13,14, and here especially because of the town Bezek in the same verse.
So God hath requited me. Philistines also acknowledged the power of the God of Israel: 1 Sam. 4:7,8; 6:5.
Set on fire; s.w. 20:48.
Valley: Shephelah, the coastal plain.
Canaanites. Here, Anakim: Josh. 15:13-19; 11:21, a conquest certainly in Joshua’s lifetime. Anak means “chain”, a symbol of authority? 8:26.

Ahiman means “brother of the god of good luck”; cp. Isa. 65:11 RV. Contrast the tone of Num. 13:22,33.
Achsah probably means “the girl with bangles”.
Othniel, forefather of one of David’s captains; 1 Chron. 27:15.
What wilt thou? Caleb didn’t wait for her to ask.
Arad, the Eder of Josh. 15:21 (an easy error there).

The people. Amalek? 1 Sam. 15:6.
Zephath. This in accordance with Num. 21:3. Hormah means “given to divine destruction”. Cp. Josh. 19:4; 15:4 — hence Simeon here.
Accepting the LXX negatives, v. 17,18 give an ABAB formation. Note Deut. 7:22; 11:24.
Chariots of iron. The Iron Age was just coming in. In this Egypt would be ahead of the Canaanite nations. Later: 1 Sam. 13:19,20.
Jebus means “dry”. So also does Zion.
Put the Canaanites to tribute. A policy put in force once again in the time of Solomon: 1 Kgs. 4:12; 9:20-22. These surviving Canaanite settlements became running sores of moral infection: 2:12.
Gezer kept its independence until taken by an Egyptian army and given to Solomon as a wedding present! 1 Kgs. 9:16.
Zebulun....the Canaanites....became tributaries. With Issachar it may have been the other way round: Gen. 49:14,15. Would this explain the omission of Issachar from this chapter?
Acco, probably the Crusader city Acre.
Aijalon. The scene of Israel’s mightiest victory now back in enemy hands! Josh. 10:12.

Joseph prevailed. Apparently after a while the border places which Dan was too weak to capture were taken by Ephraim.
Amorites, an easy corruption of Edomites (LXX); and now the allusions to Sela (Petra) and Akrabbim fall easily into place.

Chapter 2

An angel of the Lord. Similar exhortations from a prophet come in 6:8ff; 10:11ff.

I will never break my covenant with you. But God cannot keep His covenant with a people who are set on disowning it; contrast Zech. 11:10.
Cp. also Deut. 7:2,5.
“You would not, therefore I will not”; cp. Rom. 1:28.

In your sides. The italics show AV in difficulties. The slightest possible emendation (of a very common textual slip) gives “your enemies”, cp. RVm.
Timnath-heres might also hint at faith in resurrection: Psa. 19:6.

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