A Faltering Conquest

The first two chapters of Judges set the stage for the remainder of the book. They present a pattern, both of victorious conquest as well as of crushing defeat.


A Partial Conquest

Judah & Simeon - Success!


Othniel & Caleb


Judah & Simeon - Failure!


House of Joseph - Success!


  • Manasseh
  • Ephraim
  • Zebulun
  • Asher
  • Naphtali
  • Dan



A Pattern for Failure

Angel of the Lord - A Promise of Judgment


Death of Joshua & the Coming of the Next Generation


Cycles of...

  • Rebellion
  • Retribution
  • Repentance
  • Redemption
  • Restoration



Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord, saying, "Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?" (Judges 1:1).

It has been suggested that the phrase, "Now it came about after the death of Joshua," is to be regarded as a title heading for the whole book, especially in light of the fact that Joshua is seen alive in chapter 2.

But such an interpretation is not necessary. Chapter 2 can easily be seen to be a flashback as the author steps back to view the entire period of the Judges, beginning with the career of Joshua.

In the absence of Joshua, the Israelites requested of the Lord what they should do. They knew that they were to fight the Canaanites, but they had no plan of attack. And so, they looked to the Lord for their leadership. This book begins on a positive note. Unfortunately, it will not end upon such a note.

1. Judah's Alliance.

And the Lord said, "Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand." (Judges 1:2).

Judah had already begun to show certain aspects of leadership among the tribes of Israel. This tribe had been promised a scepter and a ruler's staff (Genesis 49:10).

Judah exercised this quality of leadership by being the first to take up the continuing work of driving the Canaanites from the land.

Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, "Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you." So Simeon went with him. (Judges 1:3).

Simeon was the smallest of all the tribes - numbering only 22,200 at the second Wilderness census (Numbers 26:14).

And Judah went up, and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands... (Judges 1:4).

Notice that Judah didn't win because of the bravery of its men or because of a great strategy. Judah won because the LORD gave the victory.

This is repeated again in verse 19 which says that "the Lord was with Judah" as they took possession of the hill country. And yet, the fact that they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley and the lowlands was "because they had iron chariots" (1:19).

Is this a discrepancy? Not at all. The victory of the people of God was because God was with them. And the failure of the people of God was because they did not take advantage of the fact that God was with them. The enemy in the lowlands "had iron chariots." Do you see what had happened? The iron chariots of the enemy became more real to the men of Judah than the power of the Lord who was with them.

What is more real to you? What are the "iron chariots" in your life right now? What is it in your life that threatens to be more real to you than the power of God?

It might be a problem. It might be your career (that tends to be common among men). It might be your family or your finances or your future.

Be sure to take time occasionally for a REALITY CHECK. Reality is that God is here. And He is greater than your "iron chariots."

2. Adoni-bezek.

But Adonai-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes.

And Adonai-bezek said, "Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me." So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there. (Judges 1:6-7).

The cutting off of thumbs and toes rendered a warrior useless in battle. But this is not all. It also rendered him useless as a priest (Leviticus 8:23-24 describes the initiation rite of a priest - it involved placing blood upon the thumb and the big toe).

It was often the case in the ancient world that a king served a dual function both as priest and king. Indeed, many years before there had been such a priest-king at Jerusalem by the name of Melchizedek (Genesis 14).

3. Caleb & Othniel.

And Caleb said, "The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will even give him my daughter Achsah for a wife."

And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah for a wife. (Judges 1:12-13).

This is our introduction to Othniel. He will be seen in chapter 3 to be one of the Judges of Israel. He was a nephew to Caleb. He also becomes Caleb's son-in-law (perhaps this is where we get the term "kissing cousins").

The significant thing about Caleb and Othniel is that they were not Israelites by birth. They were Kenizzites. The Kenizzites were descendants of Esau. There had been Kenizzites in the land of Canaan for a long time. Indeed, the Kenizzites were one of the peoples which were in the process of being dispossessed by the Israelites.

When God gave His promise of a land to Abraham, He told him that he would be given as his inheritance the land of the Hittites and the Perizzite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the KENIZZITE (Genesis 15:18-21).

At some time in their lives, these men had disassociated themselves from their fellow Kenizzites and had identified themselves with Israel. They were not Israelites by birth, but they did receive an inheritance in the promised land.

Why is this important for me to know? Because I am not an Israelite by birth. I am not even related to Esau. And yet, I have received an inheritance. I have been grafted into the commonwealth of Israel in the same way that Caleb and Othniel have been grafted in.

Then it came about when she came to him, that she persuaded him to ask her father for a field, Then she alighted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, "What do you want?"

And she said to him, "Give me a blessing, since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water." So Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs. (Judges 1:14-15).

Caleb had already been given the area around Hebron for his inheritance (Joshua 14:13-15). This had been the land of the Anakim. The Anakim were some very BIG people who had very big walls around their cities. These were the men of whom the 10 spies had reported, "They make us look like grasshoppers!"

At the urging of his new bride, Othniel asks and receives a field as his inheritance in the new land. She goes one step further and asks for an additional inheritance - "springs of water." You see, the inheritance that was given to Othniel was located in the Negev - in the desert. Desert property is not of much value without springs of water to go with it.

Is there a principle here? Perhaps there is. Perhaps it is that we are not to be satisfied with the inheritance given to us - we are also to seek "springs of water."

What are the "springs of water" for which we ought to seek?

4. Failure to Drive Out the Inhabitants of the Land.

Verses 27-36 list failure after failure of the various tribes to drive out the inhabitants of the land. If you have ever done any gardening, then no doubt you have encountered those ugly, fast-growing blights upon the landscape known as weeds. When you have weeds in your yard, there are one of two things you can do.

m Pull them out, roots and all.

m Cut off the weeds at ground level.

The second of these two practices is not very successful. Why not? Because the weeds grow back. And that is what happened to the "weeds" in the land of Canaan. The Israelites became half-hearted in their work of weeding out the Canaanites from the land. And the results would eventually be devastating.



This chapter sets forth the pattern of the central part of the Book of Judges. It is a cyclical pattern.

1. The Coming of the New Generation.

And that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10).

The generation which came out of the Wilderness and which took the promised land committed itself to follow the Lord. But this had little impact upon the next generation.

They did not make the same decision to follow the Lord which their parents had made. They departed from the ways of the Lord.

Why? Was it because there was no training in the home? Perhaps. After all, Proverbs 22:6 says to "train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it."

But such training is no guarantee of spirituality on the part of the children. And the spiritual walk of parents is not automatically passed on to children.

There is a principle here. It is that the spirituality of one generation is no guarantee of spirituality in the next generation. The most that parents can do is to train up their children in the way in which they ought to go. But those children must develop their own relationship with the Lord.

This is not to downplay the importance of training up children in the way of the Lord. We are responsible for the upbringing of tomorrow's church. The church has always been only a generation away from extinction. Its only chance is always the new generation.

2. The Rebellion of Idolatry.

Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger. (Judges 2:11-12).

Their sin was the fundamental sin which underlies all other sins. It was the sin of idolatry. They "served the Baals."

Here is the principle. You will always serve something. Either you will become a servant of the Lord. Or else you will serve another god. It might be a god of your own making.

m Money.

m Power.

m Popularity.

Whatever it is, it involves idolatry. This does not necessarily mean that the Israelites completely abandoned the outward worship of the Lord. It is possible that they continued to give lipservice at the tabernacle. But they also began to worship the Baalim and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13).

This mixture of true religion and false is known as "syncretism." It is a smorgasbord type of religion, combining some true and some false. Satan is a master of this type of counterfeit. He presents himself as an angel of light. He mixes truth with lies and the result is poison (like mixing a teaspoon of arsenic into a full cup of coffee).

The modern term for syncretism is "pluralism." It is the idea that our culture should be a mixture of many religious ideas and that they all have equal value. Pluralism includes the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

3. Retribution - The Judgment of God.

And the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.

Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord has sworn to them, so they were severely distressed. (Judges 2:14-15).

When we read this, we are inclined to think of God as a fierce and a terrible Judge who is angry with those who have transgressed His law. And so we should. He IS described in these terms. But He is also a God of grace. And in the midst of this judgment, there is a message of grace.

You see, the enemies which God raised up were not only designed to JUDGE Israel - they were also designed to DRIVE Israel back to the Lord.

There is another reason that God raised up these enemies. It is seen in Judges 3:1-2. It is so that "the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war" (Judges 3:2). This seems to refer to the fact that the military capabilities of the Israelites were honed by their having to fight their enemies.

Many years ago I was involved in the martial arts. There is a lesson that I learned there. It is that shadow boxing has limited value. There comes a time when you have to go out and spar against an actual opponent.

The same is true of being a Christian witness. You can take dozens of classes and attend a host of seminars on personal evangelism. But you won't really learn how to share your faith until you go out and DO it.

4. Redemption - The Lord Raised up Judges.

Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. (Judges 2:16).

The word "judge" is the Hebrew word (SHAPHAT). When used as a verb, it usually carries the idea of the passing of some type of verdict and its resulting sentence. And yet, there is evidence that the judges of Israel did more than to merely hear legal cases.

The related Akkadian word SHAPITU carried the idea of an "officer." The Phoenecian SHUPHETIM described the "regents" and the Carthaginian SUPHETES were the "chief magistrates." Hence, it seems that the judges of Israel served as LEADERS to the nation. This leadership involved two aspects:

And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers. (Judges 2:17).

The fact that not listening to their judge is equated with turning to other gods indicates that one of the ministries of the judge was to call people to worship the Lord.

About the Author
Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?