God remains faithful, even when His people are unfaithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:13)1
Overview for the book of Judges: What happens when a country’s leaders fail to exhort their citizens to live according to God’s standards of morality? The book of Judges answers that question. Over time, society will take God’s mercy and grace for granted. In most cases, society will also come to adopt a “libertarian” worldview of morality. Each person will do whatever is right in their own eyes. Each person will also pick and choose between the standards that God teaches in the Bible and mankind’s standards. Just as it is today, this was how the Jews lived between the time of Joshua’s death and the establishment of the monarchy: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 17:6; 21:25).
Both then and now, God warns believers not to adopt a libertarian standard of morality: “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes;” (Dt. 12:8). He knows that if believers accept all types of morality as equal, they will compromise their walk. For the Jews, He knew that they would eventually become “ensnared” by the practices of the Canaanites if the Jews did not kill them. These included child sacrifices, temple prostitution, and idolatry (Ex. 23:33). Because of these practices, the Canaanites were under God’s judgment (Gen. 15:13-16). The Jews were the instruments of His judgment against the Canaanites: “and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” (Dt. 7:2; 7:16; 20:16). Only women and children could be spared (Dt. 20:14).
Seven themes to the book of Judges. Samson, the presumed author of the book, wrote it after the Jews established a monarchy and order. Four times, he stressed the absence of a king (Jdgs. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). His inspired writings are divided into three sections. These include a prologue (1:1-3:6), which documents the compromise of Israel. The main body documents those whom God sent to deliver the people (3:7-16:31). The epilogue provides the conclusion (chapters 17-21). Samson was moved to document the cycle of sin that fell upon the Jews as they turned to the world and away from God. Throughout the book, the people ignored God and either embraced evil or allowed it to fester around them. When sin overcame them, the people then cried out for help. Out of mercy and grace, the Holy Spirit raised up leaders to help deliver the people. Yet, once freed of their oppression, the people returned to sin. This cycle then repeated. Through these cycles of sin, God reveals seven themes for all believers.
1) Faith. A prominent theme of the book is the faithfulness of God and the faithlessness of His people. In Genesis, He introduced His Covenant to turn the Jews into a great nation and give them the Promised Land. Between the books of Exodus and Joshua, He repeatedly demonstrated His faithfulness to the Jews. This included countless miracles. It also included delivering the Jews from bondage, guiding, feeding and protecting them in the wilderness, defeating their enemies, and delivering the Promised Land. Under Joshua’s leadership, the people remembered and celebrated His faithfulness. Just before his death, they renewed their Covenant with God (Josh. 24). Yet, after Joshua’s passing, the Jews took God’s many miracles and His faithfulness for granted. They no longer believed that God alone was enough for them. Out of a lack of faith, they failed to fully seize their spiritual inheritance. Among other things, they failed to fully drive out the remaining indigenous peoples as God had commanded. As a result, they suffered. As a related aspect of faith, believers are warned to trust God and not to lean upon either their own understanding or what the world may tell them (Prov. 3:5). The way that seems right to mankind leads to death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). The Jews did not fully trust God. Thus, they failed to fight their enemies. Or, they kept them as servants because they believed that they needed them (Jdgs. 1:28-33). Their failure to fully have faith in Him led to sin and sorrow.
2) Compromise. God also commanded His people to be sanctified and holy for His use. ‘“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.”’ (Lev. 11:45). He commanded them to drive out the indigenous peoples because He knew that their evil practices ranging from temple prostitution, fertility gods, and other forms of idolatry would become a snare to them. “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst.” (Ex. 34:12). “so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.” (Dt. 20:18). Without the faith to fully drive the peoples out, the Jews began to make compromises with the indigenous peoples. They began to mix God’s standards with the religious practices of the Canaanites. Over time, the Jews’ worship became corrupted. The Jews also lost sight of their purpose as His chosen people. They embraced the pagan culture around them and ceased to be a salt and light to the nations (Is. 42:6). These lessons apply today. Westerners have taken God for granted. They have also made compromises with the secular world around them. This includes embracing practices that He has called evil (Ro. 1:18-21).
3) Judgment. The Jews repeatedly rejected God. As a result, He judged them: “Many times He would deliver them; they, however, were rebellious in their counsel, and so sank down in their iniquity.” (Ps. 106:43). When His people turned from Him and refused to repent, He lifted His hedge of protection and allowed for curses to disciple His people. These curses became progressively stronger when the people refused to repent (Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68). A believer in Christ today is no longer under the curse of the Law. He took that curse for each believer and will forgive a believer when he or she repents (1 Jo. 1:9). Yet, for a nation, there is no promise in the New Testament that will free it from these curses when it collectively turns from God. These curses can include natural disasters, war, and disease. Believers who fail to defend God’s morality out of fear that they might offend will endure these same curses as the nation. Unless the Church can return western civilization back to God’s standard of morality, He will judge the nations. His judgment will begin with His people: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17). Thus, the book of Judges should serve as a wakeup call to the Church. It must return to God’s standards of morality. It must lead by example and preach His standards to a sinful society. Like the judges, the Holy Spirit will give power to those seeking to lead the people back to God.
4) Deliverance. As part of God’s grace, He raised up imperct leaders to deliver the Jews when they cried out from their judgment: “Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.” (Jdgs. 2:16). “After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.” (Acts 13:20). Representing the fullness of the Spirit, God raised up 12 judges. These included: (1) Othniel (3:9-11); (2) Ehud (3:15-30); (3) Shamgar (3:31); (4) Deborah and Barak jointly (4:4-5:31); (5) Gideon (6:11-9:32); (6) Tola (10:1-2); (7) Jair (10:3-5); (8) Jephthah (11:1-12:7); (9) Ibzan (12:8-9); (10) Elon (12:11-12); (11) Abdon (12:13-15); and (12) Samson (15:1-16:31). In the Bible, the number 12 symbolizes His perfect government. There were 12 tribes and 12 disciples. These individuals are all considered judges “shoftim” (שופטים) (male -“shofet” (שופט) female - “shofetet” (שופטת)). Yet, with the possible exception of Deborah (4:4-5), these people did not serve as the role of a judge over any type of legal proceeding. They were instead given power to deliver. In many cases, the Holy Spirit gave them supernatural powers (Jdgs. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sam. 10:6, 10; 11:6; 16:13). The Holy Spirit gave these leaders power so that they could lead the people back to God, a task that even they frequently failed at. Some are remembered in the New Testament as heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32). Others failed in their calling. Each major deliverer generally grew more sinful than the prior deliverers. Gideon reminded the Jews that Yahweh was their true deliverer: “But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”’ (Jdgs. 8:23; 11:27). Nehemiah also made clear that Yahweh was the one true deliverer: “Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them, but when they cried to You in the time of their distress, You heard from heaven, and according to Your great compassion You gave them deliverers who delivered them from the hand of their oppressors. But as soon as they had rested, they did evil again before You; therefore You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they ruled over them. When they cried again to You, You heard from heaven, and many times You rescued them according to Your compassion,” (Neh. 9:27-28). Yahweh’s role as deliverer is emphasized by the fact that the term “judge / shofet” is only used once as a title in reference to Him. During Jephthah’s address to the Jews, he called Yahweh their “judge / shofet”. (Jdgs. 11:27). This pointed to Jesus, who is mankind’s deliverer or “shofet”. Isaiah prophesied the Messiah who would deliver mankind (Is. 61:1). Jesus later fulfilled this prophecy (Lk. 4:18-21; Jo. 3:16).
God sent delivers to every part of the Promised Land2
5) Obedience. Each time God delivered the Jews and answered their cries for help, they sadly fell back into sin. This cycle of sin, bondage, cries for help, and deliverance repeats throughout the book. The Jews failed to break the cycle because they lacked obedience. Moses and Joshua frequently exhorted the Jews to be obedient to God’s Covenant, which centered around the Ten Commandments (e.g., Dt. 6:3-4; 9:1; 20:3; Josh. 1:7). Yet, like society today, they refused to remain obedient. Christians should never be misled into believing that obedience will lead to salvation (Gal. 2:21). The New Testament is clear that Christians are not “under the law” in the sense that they must comply with it to be saved (Gal. 5:18; Ro. 7:6; 8:3; Matt. 5:17). Even when you try, you cannot be righteous before God without Christ (Ps. 143:2; Ro. 3:10, 20; 4:15). But Jesus also says that, if you love Him, we will keep His Commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). The “commandments” that He referred to were the Ten Commandments. He was the “I AM” who gave these commandments at Mount Horeb to Moses (Ex. 3:14; Jo. 8:58). His “disciples” were the “disciplined ones” in keeping His Ten Commandments. Whether you follow the Law out of love is also a test for whether you really know God: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor. 7:19). If you follow the Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit out of love and not obligation, you are a witness to His light. Conversely, you dishonor God when you break it (Ro. 2:23). Likewise, when the Church ceases to preach God’s standards of morality, it ceases to be His “salt and light.” (Matt. 5:13-16). Today, things that were once called evil are now called good. God warns against this: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is. 5:20). Thus, the Church cannot do as some Jews did and adopted mankind’s morality.
6) Testing in times of peace, plenty, and prosperity. Throughout the Bible, God reveals that He tests the hearts of His people: “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (Jer. 17:10; 20:12). He cannot tempt you (Jam. 1:13-14). He instead tests you to show you where your heart is evil (Jer. 17:9). David invited God to search his heart to expose his sins (Ps. 139:23). His openness to learning from his sins is what made him a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). In the Bible, God’s testing is frequently revealed through the number 40. For example, the Jews were tested through their 40 years in the wilderness. “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Dt. 8:2). Moses was tested on Mount Horeb for with 40 days without food (Ex. 34:28). Jesus was also tested after 40 days in the wilderness without food (Lk. 4:2). The Philistines also tested the Jews for 40 years (Jdgs. 13:1). What the book of Judges adds to our understanding about God’s testing is that He also tests the hearts of believers during times of peace, plenty, and prosperity. Each time God delivered the Jews, they returned to sin (Jdgs. 2:19). They turned to sin following the deaths of: (1) Joshua (Jdgs. 2:10-13); (2) Othniel (Jdgs. 3:12-14); (3) Ehud (Jdgs. 4:1); (4) Gideon (Jdgs. 9:33); and (5) Tola and Jair (Jdgs. 10:6). Beginning with Ehud, God gave the Jews three 40-year-periods of peace and prosperity during the reign of each deliverer (Jdgs. 3:11; 5:31; 9:28). The Jews failed each prior test by returning to idolatry. They then received a 45-year-period of peace as a fourth test under Tola and Jair (Jdgs. 10:1-3). With three strikes, they did not deserve another test. The extra five years (a symbol of grace) after the fourth 40-year-test symbolized God’s mercy and grace in giving them another chance to correct themselves. The western world has been blessed with an unparalleled period of peace and prosperity. God is also testing our hearts in this prosperity. We have also failed His many tests.
7) Mercy and grace. Part of His Covenant provided that He would bless the nation when they obeyed His Covenant. Yet, He also warned that He would lift His hedge of protection and allow for “curses” to discipline them when they disobeyed Him. Each time the Jews became consumed with idolatry and sin, God kept His word and allowed these “curses” to fall upon the nation. Yet, when they repented, He showed both mercy and grace by lifting these curses. “To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him;” (Dan. 9:9). “But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” (Ps. 130:4). “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Ps. 86:5). But believers must never misuse His mercy and grace as a license to sin more: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Ro. 6:1). “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:7-8). Believers must therefore repent of their desires of the flesh when they reemerge. Out of love and devotion, believers should be motivated to live their lives as a living sacrifice free from sin as a thank you to Jesus for their deliverance. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Ro. 12:2).
Introduction: The books Deuteronomy and Joshua both end with the death of great leaders for God; Moses and Joshua. The books of Joshua and Judges both begin with God’s calling for the Jews to fully claim the spiritual inheritance that He promised them in the Promised Land. Following Moses’ death, Joshua responded to that calling in faith. By contrast, following Joshua’s death, the nine and a half tribes who lived in the Promised Land responded to His calling with doubt. As a result, they failed to fully drive out the Canaanites and fully seize their inheritance. Their failures of faith would also cause them to later make accommodations with the Canaanites and stumble into sin. From this chapter, God reveals seven lessons about faith.
First, from the failure of the tribe of Judah to fight alone in response to God’s direction, He reveals that true faith never doubts His Word. Second, from Caleb’s use of his inheritance to inspire others to serve God, He reveals that true faith inspires others to serve Him. Third, from the request of Caleb’s daughter Achsah for a land with water, He reveals that believers are called upon to thirst for their full spiritual inheritance in Christ, the true water of life. Fourth, from the failure of Judah and Simeon to drive out the armored chariots of Gaza, He reveals that true faith trusts in Him and never fears the enemy. Fifth, from the compromise of Ephraim’s soldiers with the Hittites, He reveals that true faith never compromises with the enemy. Sixth, from the failure of the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali to drive out the Canaanites, He reveals that true faith produces the fruit of obedience. Finally, from the defeat of the tribe of Dan at the hands of the Amorites, He reveals that true faith produces victory for Him.
Judah’s failure of faith to fight the Canaanites alone. Following Joshua’s death, God called upon Judah alone to drive out the Canaanites who were still in control of Jerusalem. But instead of responding with faith, they turned to the tribe of Simeon for help: “1 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?’ 2 The Lord said, ‘Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.’ 3 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. 4 Judah went up, and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands, and they defeated ten thousand men at Bezek.” (Jdgs. 1:1-4). Judah’s failure of faith came from their failure to fully trust God. Instead, they leaned upon their own understanding that they would need the help of another tribe to succeed (Prov. 3:5). But the way that seemed right led to death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). They would temporarily take and burn the City. Yet, because of their lack of faith they would fail to hold it. The lesson is that unless you fully trust God, your faith is lacking. Your success in God will be proportionate to your faith in Him.
Simeon’s sins against God. If Judah’s sin was a lack of faith, Simeon’s sin was its greed for lands that did not belong to it. Simeon was the second son of Jacob and Leah, the unloved wife (Gen. 29:33). Although he would have become the first-born child in terms of his rights of inheritance after Rueben’s sins in sleeping with his father’s concubine, Simeon lost his chance to become the first-born due to his own sins. After their sister was raped, Simeon and Levi killed the people of Shechem in cold blood as an act of revenge. They further defamed God in doing so by asking the people of Shechem to be circumcised in order to make peace with them. They then slaughtered the men as they recovered (Gen. 28:27-29; 34:25-26). At the time of Jacob’s death, he warned that Simeon’s descendants were cursed because of his actions. They would be “scattered” throughout Israel: “Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly . . . I will disperse them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” (Gen. 49:6-7). They were not promised their own territory. Unlike Levi (Josh. 13:32-14:5), the Simeon tribe never repented for the sins of its father. Zimri was a leader from the tribe of Simeon. He openly brought a temple harlot home for all to see after God began to punish the nation of Israel for its temple prostitution (Nu. 25:6, 14). Of the 24,000 people who died in God’s punishment (Nu. 25:9), most were believed to be from this tribe. While in the wilderness, Simeon’s tribe declined in size from 59,300 to 22,200 fighting men (Nu. 1:23; 26:14). This was a decrease of 37,100 fighting men or 62.56% of its fighting aged population. In absolute terms, Simeon went from being the third largest tribe to the smallest. At the conclusion of his life, Moses blessed all of the tribes except for the tribe of Simeon (Dt. 33). In a fulfillment of Jacob’s prophesy (Gen. 49:6-7), the tribe of Simeon did not receive its own inheritance. The tribe received an inheritance amongst scattered cities within the lands of Judah in southern Israel. Thus, unlike other tribes, it had no boundaries for its lands (Josh. 19:1-9). Sadly, they continued to diminish in strength after entering Israel, just as God foretold through Jacob. Many believe that the tribe was eventually absorbed by the tribe of Judah. They responded to Judah’s calling out of a greed for land that God had not promised them.
Judah’s capture and torture of lord Bezek. In the Torah, God called upon the Jews to kill the male inhabitants of the Promised Land because of their sins (Dt. 7:2; 7:16; 20:16). But He never called upon the Jews to torture their prisoners as the pagans did. The tribe of Judah, however, adapted the ways of the Canaanites in torturing a local chieftain named “lord Bezek” who was known for torturing his prisoners: “5 They found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and fought against him, and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. 6 But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Adoni-bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and their 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.” (Jdgs. 1:5-7). “Adoni Bezek” translates as the “Lord of Lightening”. His ruthlessness inspired fear in others. Bezek knew that he was being repaid for the torture that he inflicted upon countless others. But vengeance belongs to God alone (Lev. 19:18; Dt. 32:35; Ps. 94:1; Ro. 12:19). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Ro. 12:17). As the instruments of God’s judgment, Bezek was entitled to a quick and merciful death. Judah’s use of torture showed that it had become like the ones it came to judge. Believers must be holy and set apart from the world (Lev. 11:44-5; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pet. 1:16). If you act like a nonbeliever, what kind of light are you to others?
Hans Holbein 1497/8-1543 “The Punishment of Adonibezek” (woodcarving - 1538)3
The torture of Adoni-bezek (1728)4
The temporary capture of southern Jerusalem. During the conquest of Israel, the Canaanite King of Jerusalem united the five remaining powerful kings to destroy the Gibeonites for their betrayal and their decision to serve the Jews (Josh. 10:1-5). The Jews later executed this king (Josh. 10:22-27; 12:10; Dt. 21:22-23). But another powerful Jebusite king took his place. Jerusalem was originally promised to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh. 18:16, 28). Yet, because they lacked faith and trust in God, Benjamin could not drive out this new Jebusite king. Through the Holy Spirit, the task for taking
Jerusalem then fell to its southern neighbor Judah (Josh. 15:8). Judah was temporarily successful in sacking and burning the city: “8 Then the sons of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire.” (Jdgs. 1:8). Joshua, however, tells us that Judah was not successful in fully driving out the Jebusites who controlled Jerusalem: “Now as for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the sons of Judah could not drive them out; so the Jebusites live with the sons of Judah at Jerusalem until this day.” (Josh. 15:63). Thus, it remained a territory that was considered unsafe during that time of the judges (Jdgs. 19:10-12). The Jebusites remained in the area and continued to threaten the Jews. Araunah the Jebusite is just one example (2 Sam. 24:16). They threatened the Jews until David defeated them (2 Sam. 5:6-10). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). The tribe had one high point when God appointed Ehud from the tribe of Benjamin as Israel’s second deliverer or judge. He assassinated the Moabite King Eglon and then inspired the Jews to rise up in rebellion against the Moabites (Jdgs. 3:15-26). But the tribe of Benjamin slid back into sin after Ehud’s heroism. Judges chapter 19 documents the brutal gang rape and death of a Levite’s concubine in the Benjamite town of Gibeah. Judges chapter 20 documents the sad civil war that broke out between 11 of the tribes and the tribe of Benjamin as a result of this gang rape. Through this civil war, 65,700 people died. The Benjamin tribe was almost exterminated. It was left with only 600 survivors (Jdgs. 20:36-48). Yet, because God is a God of mercy and grace, He gave the tribe another opportunity to redeem itself. He appointed Saul from this tribe as Israel’s first king. But Saul failed to live by the Spirit. The leadership mantle then fell back to the tribe of Judah through David. Unlike Benjamin, will you act in faith during your difficult challenges?
The siege of Jerusalem5
Caleb’s use of his gifts to inspire others to service. In contrast to the faithlessness of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin, God provides (out of chronological order) the account of Caleb’s faith in seizing the lands. Caleb used his special inheritance to encourage others to seize their inheritance: “9 Afterward the sons of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country and in the Negev and in the lowland. 10 So Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba); and they struck Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. 11 Then from there he went against the inhabitants of Debir (now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher). 12 And Caleb said, ‘The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will even give him my daughter Achsah for a wife.’ 13 Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah for a wife.” (Jdgs. 1:9-13). This repeats an account told in the book of Joshua (Josh. 15:13-17). Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies who did not fear the “giants” in the Promised Land (Nu. 13:30). For his faith, God gave him the lands that he walked upon as a special inheritance for his descendants (Josh. 14:6-9). In Old Testament times, a father had control over his children’s marriages. Kings would frequently offer a daughter in marriage to unite kingdoms or as a reward for great acts of valor. Saul, for example, offered his daughter to any man who killed Goliath (1 Sam. 17:25). Caleb offered his daughter to the man who would show the faith to seize control of Debir / Kirjath-sepher. A brave warrior’s acceptance of the challenge foreshadowed David’s acceptance of the challenge of conquering Jerusalem. Shortly after this, he was crowned king of Israel (2 Sam. 5:1-13). At the time he began his conquest, David was based in Hebron, which was close to Debir. Thus, David followed in the footsteps of the plan that Caleb laid out here. Both accounts signal the importance for believers to fully seize their spiritual inheritance. They also highlight the importance of using your gifts or “talents” to inspire others. Are you using your gifts to mentor someone to grow in their walk with Jesus?
Seize your spiritual inheritance. Jesus has also given every believer an inheritance of “talents” that are to be used for His glory (Matt. 25:14-30). If you have been given gifts for teaching, preaching, hospitality, prayer, or any other skill, He wants you to seize and develop those talents for His glory. If you are successful and make money, that money should be used to further His kingdom. Yet, you should avoid using your gifts to chase after either money or power: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:10). Likewise, the pursuit of the idols of the flesh like drugs, alcohol, pornography, fornication, and adultery will only lead to misery. Are you laying claim to God’s spiritual inheritance for you or the things of the flesh?
Achsah’s request for Caleb to provide lands with water. After receiving her inheritance, Acsash realized that her inheritance did not include irrigated land. Thus, she approached Caleb to ask that he also bless her with fertile lands: “14 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?’ 15 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. 16 The descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the city of palms with the sons of Judah, to the wilderness of Judah which is in the south of Arad; and they went and lived with the people.” (Jdgs. 1:14-16). This account also repeats an account that appears in Joshua (Josh. 15:18-19). Acsash symbolizes the Church. When the Church thirsts for righteousness, Jesus will reward it, regardless of the obstacles that it faces. Ascah also foreshadows the women of the gospels who sought out Jesus and refused to be turned back by the crowds and by Jesus’ own disciples. As a result, they found salvation, healing, and blessing for themselves and their families (See Matt. 9:20-22; 15:21-28; 26:7-13; Mk. 7:24-30; 14:3-9; Lk. 2:36-38; 7:11-15, 36-50; 8:43-48; 13:10-17; 18:1-5).
If you seek after His righteousness, He will reward you as well. Jesus also promised that if you search after His righteousness, you will find fulfillment: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6). “[B]ut whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (Jo. 4:14). “A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps. 63:1; 42:2; 43:4). Are you pursuing after the things of God that bring satisfaction or the dry things of the world?
The failure of Judah and Simeon to defeat the armored chariots of Gaza. While Judah and Simeon’s partial faith resulted in a partial victory in Jerusalem, it resulted in total failure when they attacked Gaza: “17 Then Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they struck the Canaanites living in Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah. 18 And Judah took Gaza with its territory and Ashkelon with its territory and Ekron with its territory. 19 Now the Lord was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots. 20 Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak.” (Jdgs. 1:17-20). “Fear” is sometimes referred to as “false evidence that appears real.” The iron chariots might have seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. These chariots may have been part of the reason why the Canaanites looked like “giants” to the ten spies who counseled the Jews against invading the Promised Land (Nu. 13:33). Thus, before the Jews invaded the Promised Land, Moses specifically warned the Jews not to fear these chariots: “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you.” (Dt. 20:1). When Joshua had faith, God defeated these warriors in iron chariots: “Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.”’ (Josh. 11:6). Because Judah and Simeon lacked faith, they did not follow in Joshua’s victory.
The failure of the tribe of Benjamin to defeat northern Jerusalem. As stated above, the tribe of Benjamin also failed in its faith to drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem: “21 But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.” (Jdgs. 1:21). Jerusalem proved to be a thorn in the Jews’ flesh until the arrival of King David. It also foreshadowed the sins of the flesh that God warned would make the holy city a stumbling stone for peace to this day: “It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.” (Zech. 12:3). The lesson is that sin cannot be left unchecked, even if it is in your brother’s land. If left unchecked, it will rise like leaven in bread. Are you ignoring the sin within the community around you?
Do not fear your enemies when you serve God. Joshua was present when the Jews rebelled at the edge of the Promised Land. To avoid this same mistake, he encouraged the Jews not to fear the battles that awaited them: ‘“5 No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.”’ (Josh. 1:5-6). God repeatedly told His people not to fear when they faced trouble (e.g., Gen. 15:1; 46:3; 20:20; 1 Sam. 11:13; 12:16; 2 Kgs. 6:16; Is. 7:4, 41:10-13). The battle against the enemy always belongs to Him: “The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes,” (Dt. 1:30; 3:22). ‘“Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.’” (2 Chron. 20:15; 32:7-8). He always wants you to rely on Him, regardless of what lies behind you or in your past. He will be your rear guard: “But you will not go out in haste, nor will you go as fugitives; for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” (Is. 52:12). Jesus later told the disciples in the stormy sea: ‘“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’” (Matt. 14:27; Mk. 6:50; Jo. 6:20). Peter, however, sank in the sea when he took his eyes off Jesus and became afraid of the many waves (Matt. 14:30). Has your fear caused you to take your eyes off Jesus?
Ephraim’s compromise with the Hittites. While the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin failed to drive out the more militarily advanced enemies, the tribe of Ephraim (referred to here as Joseph) made accommodations with some Hittites to drive out others: “22 Likewise the house of Joseph went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23 The house of Joseph spied out Bethel (now the name of the city was formerly Luz). 24 The spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, ‘Please show us the entrance to the city and we will treat you kindly.’ 25 So he showed them the entrance to the city, and they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go free. 26 The man went into the land of the Hittites and built a city and named it Luz which is its name to this day.” (Jdgs. 1:22-26). God warned the Jews not to leave behind the Canaanites who escaped the larger battles for control of the Promised Land (Josh. 17:11-13). He also warned the Jews not to make peace with the people of Canaan because of the threat that they would pose to the Jews if left behind (Nu. 33:52-56; Dt. 7:1-2; 20:16-18). The tribe of Ephraim failed to obey God’ commands.
Make no provision for the flesh. Like the Hittites, your flesh is also at war with the Spirit for control of your body. Like the Jews, you must make no provision for the flesh: “. . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Ro. 13:14). “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . .” (Ro. 8:7). The lusts of the flesh can also defile you (Mk. 7:20). When you give into the lusts of the flesh, you let the ruler of this world control you: “[T]he lust of the flesh . .. is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 Jo. 2:16; Ro. 8:8). Moreover, without Christ, “. . . flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 15:50; Ro. 8:6, 13). “[O]ne who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption . . .” (Gal. 6:8). When you do sin, are you seeking the Lord each day to renew your mind and repent of any evil thoughts? (Ro. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 6:15).
The Jews lacked the faith and obedience to drive out all the Canaanites6
Manasseh’s failure to drive out the Canaanites. Not all of the tribes failed in battle. Some had the faith to succeed. But they lacked the obedience to kill the Canaanites as God had ordered. Some, like the half tribe of Manasseh, elected to keep their captured Canaanites as slaves: “27 But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. 28 It came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.” (Jdgs. 1:27-28). Joshua, a hero of the faith and the successor to Moses, was a member of the Ephraim tribe (Nu. 13:8, 14:6-9). But the people of Manasseh failed to follow his righteous example. They were disobedient because they did not fully trust God. They believed that they needed to keep the captured Canaanites as servants to cultivate land. Yet, through their disobedience, they sowed the seeds of sorrow. They would adopt the Canaanites’ wicked practices. They would then reap the fruits of their disobedience: “You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies . . . ,” (Hos. 10:13; Job 4:8; Gal. 6:7).
Ephraim’s failure to drive out the Canaanites. Unlike Manasseh, Ephraim failed to defeat the Canaanites in battle: “29 Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who were living in Gezer; so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.” (Jdgs. 1:29). Like a patient who tolerates cancer, the cancer in Ephraim’s land would grow. It then threatened Ephraim’s existence. Along with the northern tribes, it would fall into apostasy. After Solomon’s death when the Kingdom of Israel separated into two, Ephraim was the dominant power in the north. But the tribe of Ephraim was later condemned for its pride (Jdgs. 8:1; 12:1). It was then condemned for apostasy (Ho. 4:17; 5:3). Its pride led to its decline (Prov. 16:18). The Assyrians later deported this tribe.
Zebulun’s failure to drive out the Canaanites. Like Manasseh, Zebulun defeated the Canaanites in their land. Yet, also like Manasseh, it lacked the obedience to kill the captured soldiers: “30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites lived among them and became subject to forced labor.” (Jdgs. 1:30). Zebulun’s decision to turn the Canaanites in their land into slave labor would again create problems in the future. They would cause the tribe of Zebulun to become corrupted in their worship and fall into sin. God also promised Zebulun the fertile lands near the seashore near Sidon in Southern Lebanon (Gen. 49:13; Josh. 19:10-16). Yet, they never fulfilled that blessing.
Asher’s failure to drive out the Canaanites. Moses blessed Asher and promised that it would walk in the Spirit and be favored by its brothers: “24 Of Asher he said, “More blessed than sons is Asher; may he be favored by his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil. 25 Your locks will be iron and bronze, and according to your days, so will your leisurely walk be.” (Dt. 33:24-25). The oil referenced here alluded to the oil trees where it would reside near the Mediterranean Coast. Oil was also a symbol of the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). The metals also symbolized the strength and protection that God would give it. Yet, like Ephraim, Asher failed to defeat the Canaanites: “31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, or of Achzib, or of Helbah, or of Aphik, or of Rehob. 32 So the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out.” (Jdgs. 1:31-32). Their failure of faith would also threaten their future existence.
Naphtali’s failure to drive out the Canaanites. Moses blessed the tribe of Naphtali with fertile farm lands: “23 Of Naphtali he said, “O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord, take possession of the sea and the south.” (Dt. 33:23). Like Manasseh and Zebulun, Naphtali defeated the Canaanites in their land. Yet, like these two other tribes, it lacked the obedience to kill the captured soldiers: “33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, but lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; and the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath became forced labor for them.” (Jdgs. 1:33). As a result of disobedience, it would eventually be swept away by their enemies (2 Kgs. 17:7-23).
The defeat of the tribe of Dan. The tribe of Dan not only lacked the faith to drive out the Canaanites, its faith was so weak that the Canaanites drove the tribe of Dan from its land: “34 Then the Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the valley;” (Jdgs. 1:34). True faith would have produced victory. Being driven from their homes showed that they had the weakest faith of any tribe. Out of mercy and grace, Israel blessed Dan as a future tribe of mighty warriors who would judge the wicked amongst God’s people. “16 ‘Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 ‘Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward. 18 ‘For Your salvation I wait, O Lord.” (Gen. 49:16-17). Moses also blessed Dan as a tribe of mighty soldiers in God’s army: “22 Of Dan he said, “Dan is a lion’s whelp, that leaps forth from Bashan.” (Dt. 33:22). Samson, from the tribe of Dan, later emerged as God’s final judge (Jdgs. 13:2). Samson, however, was not trying to start a rebellion against the Canaanites. Instead, he was trying to marry into the Philistine nation. The tribe of Dan later failed to settle in its assigned territory in southern Israel. Its leaders stole idols and set up a counterfeit religion in the far north (Jdgs. 18:30-31). After Northern Israel broke away from Judah in the south, King Jeroboam turned the isolated city of Dan into a center of idolatry for the entire northern Israel with a pagan golden calf and a counterfeit priesthood (1 Kgs. 12:28-31). Dan’s counterfeit religion and its idolatry in turn brought God’s curse upon it (Dt. 27:15). The tribe is omitted from the 144,000 who are saved during the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:5-8). But Ezekiel reveals that the tribe will survive during the Millennial Reign (Ezek. 48:1-2). Thus, even when mankind is unfaithful, God remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). Dan’s tribe was meant to be a nation of mighty warriors for God. Today, the battles believers fight are not against flesh and blood. They instead fight spiritual battles (Eph. 6:12). God is looking for soldiers for His army. Will you respond and serve Him?
Ephraim’s enslavement of the Amorites in Dan’s territory. Although Ephraim later defeated the Amorites in battle, they showed their disobedience by placing them into slavery: “35 yet the Amorites persisted in living in Mount Heres, in Aijalon and in Shaalbim; but when the power of the house of Joseph grew strong, they became forced labor. 36 The border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.” (Jdgs. 1:35-6). Again, Ephraim sowed the seeds of its future demise. The failures of these tribes are recorded for your instruction (1 Cor. 10:11). If you fail to obey God’s Word, you may suffer misery and sorrow.