Back | Main Contents
| Volume Contents | Forward
Israel in Canaan Under Joshua and the Judges
Summary of the Book of Judges - Judah's and Simeon's Campaign - Spiritual and national
Decay of Israel - "From Gilgal to Bochin."
IF evidence were required that each period of Old Testament history points for its
completion to one still future, it would be found in the Book of Judges. The history of
the three and a half centuries which it records brings not anything new to light, either
in the life or history of Israel; it only continues what is already found in the Book of
Joshua, carrying it forward to the Books of Samuel, and thence through Kings, till it
points in the dim distance to the King, of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who gives
perfect rest in the perfect kingdom. In the Book of Joshua we see two grand outstanding
facts, one explaining the outer, the other the inner history of Israel. As for the latter,
we learn that ever since the sin of Peor, if not before, idolatry had its hold upon the
people. Not that the service of the Lord was discarded, but that it was combined with the
heathen rites of the nations around. But as true religion was really the principle of
Israel's national life and unity, "unfaithfulness" towards Jehovah was also
closely connected with tribal disintegration, which, as we have seen, threatened even in
the time of Joshua. Then, as for the outer history of Israel, we learn that the completion
of their possession of Canaan was made dependent on their faithfulness to Jehovah. Just as
the Christian can only continue to stand by the same faith in which, in his conversion to
God, he first had access to Him (Romans 5:2), so Israel could only retain the land and
complete its conquest by the same faith in which they had at first entered it. For faith
is never a thing of the past. And for this reason God allowed a remnant of those nations
to continue in the land "to prove Israel by them"* (Judges 3:1), so that,
as Joshua had forewarned them (Joshua 23:10-16, comp. Judges 2:3),
"faithfulness" on their part would lead to sure and easy victory, while the
opposite would end in terrible national disaster.
* This is not in any way inconsistent with Exodus 23:29, etc., Deuteronomy 7:22.
For, as Keil rightly remarks, there is a vast difference between exterminating the whole
of the ancient inhabitants of the land, say, in one year, and suspending even their
Side by side with these two facts, there is yet a third, and that the most important:
the unchanging faithfulness of the Lord, His unfailing pity and lovingkindness, according
to which, when Israel was brought low and again turned to Him, He
"raised them up judges,... and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all
the days of the judge" (Judges 2:18).
The exhibition of these three facts forms the subject-matter of Israel's history under
the Judges, as clearly indicated in Judges 2:21, 3:4. Accordingly, we must not expect in
the Book of Judges a complete or successive history of Israel during these three and half
centuries, but rather the exhibition and development of those three grand facts. For Holy
Scripture furnishes not - like ordinary biography or history - a chronicle of the lives of
individuals, or even of the successive history of a period, save in so far as these are
connected with the progress of the kingdom of God. Sacred history is primarily that of the
kingdom of God, and only secondarily that of individuals or periods. More particularly is
this the reason why we have no record at all of five of the Judges* - not even that
Jehovah had raised them up.
* Tola (10:1), Jair (10:3), Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15).
For this cause also some events are specially selected in the sacred narrative, which,
to the superficial reader, may seem trivial; sometimes even difficult or objectionable.
But a more careful study will show that the real object of these narratives is, to bring
into full view one or other of the great principles of the Old Testament dispensation. For
the same reason also we must not look for strict chronological arrangement in the
narratives. In point of fact, the Judges ruled only over one or several of the tribes, to
whom they brought special deliverance. Accordingly, the history of some of the Judges
overlaps each other, their reign having been contemporaneous in different parts of the
land. Thus while in the far east across Jordan the sway of the children of Ammon lasted
for eighteen years, till Jephthah brought deliverance (Judges 10:6-12:7), the Philistines
at the same time oppressed Israel in the far southwest. This circumstance renders the
chronology of the Book of Judges more complicated.
The Book of Judges divides itself into three parts: a general introduction (1-3:6), a
sketch of the period of the Judges (3:7-16:31), arranged in six groups of events (3:7-11;
3:12-31; 4, 5; 6-10:5; 10:6-12:15; 13-16), and a double Appendix (17-21). The two series
of events, recorded in the latter, evidently took place at the commencement of the period
of the Judges. This appears from a comparison of Judges 18:1 with 1:34, and again of
Judges 20:28 with Joshua 22:13 and 24:33. The first of the two narratives is mainly
intended to describe the religious, the second the moral decadence among the tribes of
Israel. In these respects they throw light upon the whole period. We see how soon, after
the death of Joshua and of his contemporaries, Israel declined - spiritually, in combining
with the heathen around, and mingling their idolatrous rites with the service of Jehovah;
and nationally, the war with the Canaanites being neglected, and the tribes heeding on
every great occasion only their private interests and jealousies, irrespective of the
common weal (5:15-l7, 23; 8:1-9), until "the men of Ephraim" actually levy war
against Jephthah (12:1-6), and Israel sinks so low as to deliver its Samson into the hands
of the Philistines (15:9-13)!
Side by side with this decay of Israel we notice a similar decline in the spiritual
character of the Judges from an Othniel and a Deborah down to Samson. The mission of these
Judges was, as we have seen, chiefly local and always temporary, God raising up a special
deliverer in a time of special need. It is quite evident that such special instruments
were not necessarily always under the influence of spiritual motives. God has at all
periods of history used what instruments He pleased for the deliverance of His people - a
Darius, a Cyrus, a Gamaliel, and in more modern times often what appeared the most
unlikely, to effect His own purposes. Yet in the history of the Judges it seems always the
best and most religious whom the locality or period affords who is chosen, so that the
character of the Judges affords also an index of the state of a district or period. And in
each of them we mark the presence of real faith (Hebrews 11), acting as the lever-power in
their achievements, although their faith is too often mingled with the corruptions of the
period. The Judges were Israel's representative men - representatives of its faith and its
hope, but also of its sin and decay. Whatever they achieved was "by faith." Even
in the case of Samson, all his great deeds were achieved in the faith of God's gift to him
as a Nazarite, and when "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him." Hence the Judges
deserved to be enrolled in the catalogue of Old Testament "worthies." Besides,
we must not forget the necessary influence upon them of the spirit of their age. For we
mark in the Bible a progressive development, as the light grew brighter and brighter unto
the perfect day. In truth, if this were not the case, one of two inferences would follow.
Either we would be tempted to regard its narratives as partial, or else be driven to the
conclusion that these men could not have been of the period in which they are placed,
since they had nothing in common with it, and hence could neither have been leaders of
public opinion, nor even been understood by it.
From these brief preliminary observations we turn to notice, that there were altogether
twelve, or rather, including Deborah (Judges 4:4), thirteen Judges over Israel. Of only
eight of these are any special deeds recorded. The term Judge must not, however, be
regarded as primarily referring to the ordinary judicial functions, which were discharged
by the elders and officers of every tribe and city. Rather do we regard it as equivalent
to leader or ruler. The period of the Judges closes with Samson. Eli was mainly high
priest, and only in a secondary sense "Judge," while Samuel formed the
transition from the Judges to royalty. With Samson the period of the Judges reached at the
same time its highest and its lowest point. It is as a Nazarite, devoted to God before his
birth, that he is "Judge," and achieves his great feats - and it is as a
Nazarite that he falls and fails through selfishness and sin. In both respects he is the
representative of Israel - God-devoted, a Nazarite people, and as such able to do all
things, yet falling and failing through spiritual adultery. And thus the period of the
Judges ends as every other period. It contains the germ of, and points to something
better; but it is imperfect, incomplete, and fails, though even in its failure it points
forward. Judges must be succeeded by kings, and kings by the King - the true Nazarite, the
Lord Jesus Christ.
The period between the death of Joshua and the first "Judge" is summarized in
Judges 1-3:6. It appears, that under the influence of Joshua's last address, deepened no
doubt by his death, which followed soon afterwards, the "holy war" was resumed.
In this instance it was purely aggressive on the part of Israel, whereas formerly, as a
matter of fact, the attack always came from the Canaanites (except in the case of Jericho
and of Ai). But the measure of the sin of the nations who occupied Palestine was now full
(Genesis 15:13-16), and the storm of judgment was to sweep them away. For this purpose
Israel, to whom God in His mercy had given the land, was to be employed - but only in so
far as the people realized its calling to dedicate the land unto the Lord. On the ruins of
what not only symbolized, but at the time really was the kingdom of Satan,* the
theocracy was to be upbuilt. Instead of that focus whence the vilest heathenism overspread
the world, the kingdom of God was to be established, with its opposite mission of sending
the light of truth to the remotest parts of the earth. Nor can it be difficult to
understand how, in such circumstances, at such a time, and at that period of religious
life, any compromise was impossible - and every war must be one of extermination.
* It is difficult to resist the impression that Canaan was not only the focus of
ancient heathenism in its worst abominations, but the center whence it spread. Very much
in the mythology, and almost all the vileness of Greek and Roman heathenism is undoubtedly
of Canaanitish origin. Indeed, we may designate the latter as the only real missionary
heathenism at the time in the world. Consider the significance of planting in its stead
the kingdom of God, with its untold missionary influences and its grand purpose to the
world! We must also bear in mind, that the spread of Canaanitish idolatry would be greatly
promoted by the chain of colonies which extended from Asia Minor into Europe.
Before entering on this new "war," the children of Israel asked Jehovah, no
doubt through the Urim and Thummim, which tribe was to take the lead. In reply, Judah was
designated, in accordance with ancient prophecy (Genesis 49:8). Judah, in turn, invited
the co-operation of Simeon, whose territory had been parceled out of its own. In fact,
theirs were common enemies. The two tribes encountered and defeated the Canaanites and
Perizzites in Bezek, a name probably attaching to a district rather than a place, and, as
the word seems to imply, near the shore of the Dead Sea.* In the same locality
Adoni-bezek** appears to have made a fresh stand, but with the same disastrous
result. On that occasion a remarkable, though most cruel retaliation overtook him. As
chieftain of that district he must have been equally renowned for his bravery and cruelty.
After a custom not uncommon in antiquity,*** the many chieftains whom he had subdued
were kept, like dogs, "for lengthened sport,"|* under the banqueting table
of the proud conqueror in a mutilated condition, their thumbs and great toes cut off, in
token that they could never again handle sword and bow, nor march to war.
* Cassel derives the name from the slimy nature of the soil.
** According to Cassel: "My god is splendor," perhaps a sun
*** Cassel enumerates many such.
|* "In longum sui ludibrium," Curtius de Rebus: Alex. v. 5, 6.
It need scarcely be said, that the Mosaic law never contemplated such horrors.
Nevertheless the allied tribes now inflicted mutilation upon Adoni-bezek. The victors
carried him to Jerusalem, where he died. On that occasion the city itself, so far as it
lay within the territory of Judah, was taken and burnt. But the boundary line between
Judah and Benjamin ran through Jerusalem, the Upper City and the strong castle, which were
held by the Jebusites, being within the lot of Benjamin. In the war under Joshua, the
Jebusites had foiled Judah (Joshua 15:63). Now also they retired to their stronghold,
whence the Benjamites did not even attempt to dislodge them (Judges 1:21). From Jerusalem
the tribes continued their victorious march successively to "the mountain," or
highlands of Judah, then to the Negeb, or south country, and finally to the Shephelah, or
lowlands, along the sea-shore. Full success attended the expedition, the tribes pursuing
their victories as far south as the utmost borders of the ancient kingdom of Arad, where,
as their fathers had vowed (Numbers 21:2), they executed the ban upon Zephath or Hormah.
The descendants of Hobab (Judges 4:11) the Kenite* the brother-in-law of Moses, who
had followed Israel to Canaan (Numbers 10:29), and had since pitched their tents near
Jericho, now settled in this border land, as best suited to their nomadic habits and
previous associations (Judges 1:8-11, 16). The campaign ended** with the incursion
into the Shephelah, where Judah wrested from the Philistines three out of their five great
cities. This conquest, however, was not permanent (14:19; 16:1), nor were the inhabitants
of the valley driven out, "because they had chariots of iron."***
* This notice is here inserted, probably, because the event happened between the
taking of Debir (1:11) and that of Zephath (1:17).
** Only Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron seem to have been taken, but neither Gath nor
*** These were armed with scythes on their wheels.
But the zeal of Israel did not long continue. In fact, all that follows after the
campaign of Judah and Simeon is a record of failure and neglect, with the single exception
of the taking of Bethel by the house of Joseph. Thus the tribes were everywhere surrounded
by a fringe of heathenism. In many parts, Israelites and heathens dwelt together, the
varying proportions among them being indicated by such expressions as that the
"Canaanites dwelt among" the Israelites, or else the reverse. Sometimes the
Canaanites became tributary. On the other hand, the Amorites succeeded in almost wholly*
driving the tribe of Dan out of their possessions, which induced a considerable
proportion of the Danites to seek fresh homes in the far north (Judges 18).
* They drove them out of the valley (1:35) which constituted the principal part
of the possession of Dan (Joshua 19:40). The Amorites even "dared to dwell" in
Har-Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim (Judges 1:35), although they were afterwards made
tributary by the house of Joseph.
Israel was settling down in this state, when their false rest was suddenly broken by
the appearance among them of "the Angel of Jehovah."* No Divine
manifestation had been vouch-safed them since the Captain of Jehovah's host had stood
before Joshua in the camp at Gilgal (Joshua 5:13-15). And now, at the commencement of a
new period, and that one of spiritual decay, He "came" from Gilgal to Bochim,
not to announce the miraculous fall of a Jericho before the ark of Jehovah, but the
continuance of the heathen power near them in judgment upon their unfaithfulness and
disobedience. "From Gilgal to Bochim!" There is much in what these names suggest
- and that even although Gilgal may have been the permanent camp,** where leading
representatives of the nation were always assembled, to whom "the Angel of
Jehovah" in the first place addressed Himself, and Bochim, or "weepers,"
the designation given afterwards to the meeting-place by the ancient sanctuary (either
Shechem or more probably Shiloh), where the elders of the people gathered to hear the
* Cassel erroneously regards this as a human messenger from God.
** For the situation of this Gilgal, comp. a previous chapter.
And truly what had passed between the entrance into Canaan and that period might be
thus summed up: "From Gilgal to Bochim!" The immediate impression of the words
of the Angel of Jehovah was great. Not only did the place become Bochim, but a sacrifice
was offered unto Jehovah, for wherever His presence was manifested, there might sacrifice
be brought (comp. Deuteronomy 12:5; Judges 6:20, 26, 28; 13:16; 2 Samuel 24:25).
But, alas! the impression was of but short continuance. Mingling with the heathen
around, "they forsook Jehovah, and served Baal and Ashtaroth."* Such a
people could only learn in the school of sorrow. National unfaithfulness was followed by
* Ashtaroth is the "star-goddess" of the night, Astarte, whose symbol,
properly speaking, was the Asherah. It is impossible to detail the vileness of her
service. Mention of it occurs so early as in Genesis 14:5, where we read of Ashteroth
Karnaim, the "star-goddess of the horns," i.e., the quarter of the moon.
Yet even so, Jehovah, in His mercy, ever turned to them when they cried, and raised up
"deliverers." In the truest sense these generations "had not known all the
wars of Canaan" (Judges 3:1). For the knowledge of them is thus explained in the Book
of Psalms (Psalm 44:2, 3):
"Thou didst drive out the heathen with Thy hand, and plantedst them; Thou didst
afflict the nations, and east them out. For they got not the land in possession by their
own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the
light of Thy countenance, because Thou hadst a favor unto them."
This lesson was now to be learned in bitter experience by the presence and power of the
"to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments
of Jehovah, which He commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses" (Judges 3:4).
Back | Main Contents
| Volume Contents | Forward