Judges 1:1-7

1And it came to pass after the death of Joshua that the children of Israel asked Jehovah, saying, Which of us shall go up against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?
2And Jehovah said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.
3And Judah said to Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, and let us fight against the Canaanites, and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot; and Simeon went with him.
4And Judah went up; and Jehovah delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they smote them in Bezek, ten thousand men.
5And they found Adoni-Bezek in Bezek, and fought against him, and they smote the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
6And Adoni-Bezek fled, and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.
7And Adoni-Bezek said, Seventy kings, with their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gleaned under my table: as I have done, so God has requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died. (Darby’s Translation)

1. A Brief History of Man

In our trek through the Bible, one thing should be noticed: it was always God’s intention to rule over man personally. We see this in the Garden of Eden, where God placed man, with no king or governor to keep an eye on him or make up laws for him to obey. That was God’s desire, to walk and fellowship with His creation, with nothing and no one in between them. For some reason, man didn’t like that arrangement, because he wanted knowledge so he could be as smart as God and look after himself. God promises to give man the “desires of his heart,” and sometimes those desires do more harm than good.

When man sinned, he became separated from God. God no longer walked and talked with him. After the Fall of man, we see God talking only to certain men very sparingly. Man wanted to rule himself, and God let him. But God still loved His creation, so He worked behind the scenes to put His man in the place of leadership. This was the case with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. He made sure that His man was leading His people.

Eventually, Moses was called, then Joshua, to lead God’s people. In time, though, God decided that man needed to be led by more than just a military leader, like Joshua, so he called the house Aaron to become His priests, or representatives before the people.

But the people weren’t satisfied with that, and so the Lord allowed His people to choose judges to help make decisions for them and to keep the peace. Yet we read this very sad report in Judges 2:10, 6, 17-19,

10And also all that generation were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, which knew not Jehovah, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.6And Jehovah raised up judges, and they saved them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.17But they did not even hearken to their judges, for they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves to them; they turned quickly out of the way that their fathers had walked in, obeying the commandments of Jehovah; they did not so.18And when Jehovah raised them up judges, then Jehovah was with the judge, and saved them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for it repented Jehovah because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and crushed them.19And it came to pass when the judge died, that they turned back and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down to them: they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way. (Darby)

It wouldn’t be long after that period that God’s people wanted a king, and God allowed that. But it was never, ever God’s intention that His people should be governed by any man. It was always God’s plan that He and man should live together in complete harmony. One day, that will be the case. But it’s not today.

2. Setting the Scene

The book of Judges opens with the end of Joshua. Joshua had been an outstanding military genius, in every sense of the word. In fact, the surrounding nations were so scared of Joshua that not one of them dared attack Israel after the land was divided up among the tribes.

Now, let’s pause for just a second, because this was really a momentous time in the history of the world. With Canaan conquered and allotted to the respective tribes, the most anticipated day of God’s people was at hand. Over six centuries earlier God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would become a nation and possess this very land. Finally, that promise was fulfilled.

Imagine, if you can, what it must have felt like for these people. They had been either nomads or or strangers in a strange land for hundreds of years. But now, they were in a land all their own, and free to plan their own futures and carve out their own way of life.

It was also a day of great promise, because Israel had been raised by God to be His special people, who would bear witness to His great mercy and endless glory. Israel had every right to expect abundant prosperity from the hand of God. Just read what they looked forward to:

1And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of Jehovah thy God, to take heed to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that Jehovah thy God will set thee supreme above all nations of the earth;2and all these blessings shall come on thee and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of Jehovah thy God. (Deut. 28:1, 2 Darby)

That was all they had to do! All they had to do was simply listen to God and obey Him. Unfortunately, this grand and glorious future would never come to pass, because God’s people never met this one, simple condition. Once again, all the wonderful blessings were forfeited.

A key verse in the book of Judges is this one:

[E]very man did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6b, Darby)

This book demonstrates, virtually on every page, how tragically true this was.

But before we read of this cycle Israel’s sin, invasion, oppression, and deliverance, we read this curious incident in the first few verses of chapter one.

3. The Road to Victory, and Failure

Seeking direction, verses 1, 2

The great military leader is now dead and, perhaps his one major failure was that he didn’t appoint a successor. This left the people in a quandary: military action was required, but they didn’t have a leader. What would they do? To whom would they turn? The enemy was literally crouching at the door, waiting for the precise moment to pounce. The people knew they had to do something to head off any invasion, but the problem was what to do and who would do it.

In a moment of, perhaps inspiration, the people turned to God for direction, and God communicated to them, likely through the Urim and Thummim, handled by the high priest. God’s direction was clear and unmistakable: Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, and the name of the tribe that descended from him, would go up and fight and experience victory at the hand of the Lord. God’s promise in verse two that He had already given His people the land, paralleled His encouraging words to Joshua after the death of Moses, indicating that the promise lived on even after Joshua’s death. The promises of God are forever and not dependent on any particular man; we cannot thwart the plans of God. That’s why “the gates of Hades” cannot prevail over the Church of Jesus Christ. That’s why, no matter what dire circumstances you may find yourself in, God’s promises concerning you must come to pass.

Adding to the Word of the Lord, verse 3

Curiously, the men of Judah seemed to feel inadequate for some reason, so they asked men from the tribe of Simeon, descendants from the second son of Jacob, to come and fight along side them. Again, we see the people of God asking God for help, God coming to their aid, and then instead of simply doing exactly what God prescribed, they embellished His command with some ideas of their own. Even though they would experience victory in this battle, this decision was an ominous portent.

The Lord Versus the Lord of Bezek, verses 4, 5

At any rate, the two tribes went and fought the Canaanites and the Perizzites. The Canaanites were people who lived in the land of Palestine. The Perizzites were what we would call “mountain people,” the name meaning”rustics” or “country people.” They also lived in the are of Palestine.

God honored the efforts of Judah and Simeon by granting the promised victory. By the time smoke of battle cleared, some 10,000 Canaanites and Perizzites lay dead. Near the Canaanite village of Bezek, near Gezer, the Israelites found a petty king named Adoni-Bezek and there they defeated his army. Adoni-Bezek means Lord, or Ruler, of Bezek. It is likely a title, not a name. There was a man with a similar name mentioned in Joshua 10:1, Adoni-Zedec, but he is no relation to this king.

Lex Talionis, verses 6, 7

With his army all but dead, Adoni-Bezek took off, headed for the hills. But the Israelite warriors gave chase and caught the king, captured him alive and amputated his thumbs and his big toes. This surgery rendered the king useless in battle and as a priest, the office a king would also hold. He would now be unable to handle weapons or run.

This treatment, at first, seems harsh. Why not just kill the man, like his army? But by his own admission, Adoni-Bezek’s treatment at the hands of the Israelites was no less than he deserved. Apparently he had done the exact same thing to 70 royal captives. And interestingly enough, this pagan kind had some knowledge of true God, and he recognized his punishment as an act of retributive justice.

Eventually, this king would die in Jerusalem.

Summary and Lessons

The first seven verses of the first chapter of Judges are rich in content, meaning, and application. First, the inescapable law of sowing and reaping is graphically illustrated in the story of Adoni-Bezek. Consider what he himself said:

Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.

This calls to mind the words of Paul in Galatians 6:7,

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

This kind sowed brutality and what he sowed he reaped. But he reaped more than he sowed, for his reaping resulted in an early death, whereas his victims lived.

Second, conscience and an innate sense of fairness testified to the justice of his fate. He knew that he was getting just what he deserved. The law of retribution is inescapable.

Finally, we see in the Israelites adding to the word of the Lord a stubborn streak and an insistence in doing things their own way. The will of God just wasn’t enough. They sowed seeds of disobedience. A seemingly small footnote in a victorious battle, but one that indicated a pattern of disobedience that would be their downfall.


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