God has not yet left Israel. His power is still present. The question only is whether there is faith present to make use of it. The cause of all decay is in the fact that the people of God forget the presence of the living, holy God in their midst. If the awareness of the value of God’s presence decreases, so does dedication to Him. As a result, the people become insensitive to the evil that is in the hearts of the enemies.
If they had really experienced the presence of God in their midst, they would not have tolerated the enemy in their midst. They would have been aware that it is sin and a dishonor for God to let the enemies live in the land of God, unpunished. God and the enemy can never go together; forgetting that means losing the blessings of the land. This first chapter increasingly describes this loss.
There are five successive phases to be discovered in the way in which the decay takes place:
1. disobedience to what God hath said (Jdg 1:3);
2. lack of trust in God (Jdg 1:19);
3. indifference (Jdg 1:21,27,28,29,30);
4. powerlessness (Jdg 1:31-33);
5. be conquered (Jdg 1:34).
The origin of all decay is disobedience to what God has said. God has answered the people’s question as to who will go up first. That answer is not open to two interpretations. Judah has to go up first. He has to do that alone. Yet Judah asks Simeon to go with him.
Judah could have given all kinds of acceptable and credible reasoning for this request to Simeon. They could say, for example, that the inheritance of Simeon is closely connected to theirs, or that it is nice to involve others in a work for the LORD. But all these kinds of reasoning, however well intentioned, can do nothing to detract from the simple command of God that Judah must go first. In the course of this chapter, we will automatically come to the phases in the decay that result from this.
1 The Successor of Joshua
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?”
The first verse indicates the connection with the previous book, Joshua. It is the same connection that is made in the first verse of that book with the preceding book, Deuteronomy. The book of Joshua begins with the words: “Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant” (Jos 1:1). There is a succession and there falls, so to speak, the mantle of Moses upon another servant of the LORD, who continues his work in the spirit and power of Moses (cf. 2Kgs 2:12-14).
The book of Judges begins with the words: “Now it came about after the death of Joshua.” This means that the example of the powerful active Spirit of Christ, of Whom Joshua is a picture, is no longer there. This time there is no successor either. The same applies to the time that follows the period described in the book of Acts. After the apostle Paul has disappeared from the scene, we do not hear of other apostles who have taken up his position.
The question that Israel is asking here shows that the people are still one. It is a question from all of them to God. There is no question here of everyone doing what is right in their eyes. The LORD is still recognized as their Leader.
2 Judah First
2 The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.”
If the people have to go up after being liberated from Egypt and setting up their camp in the wilderness, Judah is the first one to go up (Num 2:9; 10:14). Judah has a leading position in the wilderness. Now that the land must be conquered further, we see the same thing. Here too Judah must lead the way.
That fits the prophecy Jacob made. Judah is the tribe of the lion, from which will come forth the King given by God: “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him [shall be] the obedience of the peoples.”” (Gen 49:9-10).
The name Judah means ‘praise’. This contains the indication that a spirit of praise is the most important condition for conquering the land. Praise puts God first and means dedication to Him. Joy in obedience gives courage and enthusiasm.
3 Judah and Simeon
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.
As has already been mentioned, Judah is not obedient in performing God’s command. Instead of counting on the help and faithfulness of God and relying on His promises, Judah calls upon Simeon’s help to take possession of his inheritance. Simeon seems to be the most appropriate partner for Judah. Through the inheritance he is closely connected to him by God.
Simeon means ‘to hear’ and indicated fellowship. There is real fellowship only if it is based on the Word of God. Judah lacks simple faith. Human agreements never promote God’s work. God has said: “I have given the land into his hand” (verse 2). That should have been enough.
How often has God been dishonored by His people by relying on something or someone outside of Him. Further on in this chapter the weakness of Judah’s connection with Simeon comes to light. Despite the support of Simeon, there is no strength to drive out the enemy, who is in possession of iron chariots (verse 19b).
Doing something together has positive sides when it happens by order of God. Then it is expressed that God has given us to each other and that we need each other. Together you are stronger: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor” (Ecc 4:9). The united, together fighting the enemy we also see in the end time, when Judah and Ephraim together attack the enemies (Isa 11:14).
4 - 5 The LORD Helps
4 Judah went up, and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands, and they defeated ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 They found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and fought against him, and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
Despite lack of faith with Judah the LORD helps and gives him the victory. In this we can notice the grace of God. He does not dismiss Judah if this tribe fails in a particular case. What matters is how much we expect from God. He wants to give us complete victories. We too, only achieve partial victories if we are not completely and in everything dependent on Him.
The victory is at Bezek. The name Bezek means ‘breakage’. If there is a break in something, it is no longer whole, so the strength is gone. It can happen in the life of a believer that he no longer lives entirely for the Lord Jesus. There has been a break in his relationship with Him, perhaps through sin, perhaps through the hustle and bustle of life. Also in a local church it can happen that a break occurs between believers. Paul admonishes the believers in Corinth that they should all speak the same “and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1Cor 1:10).
Bezek is ruled by Adoni-bezek, which means ‘lord of the break’. Any break in the life of the believer or in a local church is caused by the fact that the devil, the true ‘lord of the break’, has had the opportunity to strike a blow. It is remarkable that Israel is the first enemy to meet this Adoni-bezek. Is it not also remarkable that Paul begins his exhortations to the Corinthians by pointing out to them the break in their midst?
The enemy is conquered when actions take place in obedience to the Word of God. That is how Israel does it, and that is how we should do it. In the sequel to 1 Corinthians 1 it is made clear how the enemy can be defeated. It is through “the word of the cross” (1Cor 1:18). That is, we must go back to the cross to be impressed again by what the Lord Jesus did there. On the cross, He restored every break, both in the personal life of the believer and in the life of the local church. If we confess what we have done wrong, the break will be made undone, no matter how and where it arose, and there will be restoration in the life of the believer and in the local church.
6 - 7 Repaid
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.
That Judah and Simeon are not completely in the way of God and do not act according to His thoughts is also evident from the way they treat Adoni-bezek. They do something God has not commanded them to do. Joshua never did anything similar with the kings of Canaan. It is an act of human retribution. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there a command from God to His people to torture their enemies. Indeed, they should not feel sorry for them and should kill them without pardon, but cruel treatment is not prescribed. What the people do here does not speak in their favor.
What Adoni-bezek says about it is another matter. Adoni-bezek acted in this way to increase his power and fame. As to him God uses the failure of Judah and Simeon to repay him. It pleads for him that in the treatment he undergoes he sees the righteous punishment of God. He acknowledges that this judgment rightly affects him. As he has done, so is he repaid.
In his case the word is fulfilled: “For whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). In several histories in the Bible we come across the truth of this word. And how often have we experienced this ourselves? Man meets what he does.
Adoni-bezek’s answer to the punishment he is being given is an opportunity to silence people who criticize Israel’s extermination of the inhabitants of Canaan. They should listen carefully to Adoni-bezek. The judgment of the inhabitants of Canaan is righteous and deserved.
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.
After a reference to Jerusalem in Genesis 14 – where the city is still called Salem – in Joshua 10 and the verses that follow something is said about Jerusalem for the second time in the Bible, in connection with war (Gen 14:18; Jos 10:1-5). Also here in Judges the name Jerusalem is mentioned in connection with battle. War is characteristic of the entire history of this city and will be so “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk 21:24).
If the Lord Jesus returns from heaven to accept His delayed kingship over Israel, those times will be over. Then the city will start to answer to the meaning of its name. Jerusalem means ‘foundation or possession of peace’ – salem means ‘peace’ – because Jesus Christ will reign there as the Prince of peace.
The conquest of Jerusalem by Judah is not complete. Despite the destruction of Jerusalem, the enemy has the opportunity to regroup and resist (verse 21).
9 The Canaanites
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.
Canaan is a son of Ham, the son of Noah (Gen 10:6). Noah curses Ham in his son Canaan. The history of the descendants of Canaan makes clear how this curse has taken shape. They live in the land which God has given to His people as an inheritance, but they have corrupted the land by their iniquity. They use the land of God for their own pleasures.
In Genesis 15, the Canaanites, along with nine other nations, are mentioned as inhabitants of the land (Gen 15:18-21; cf. Deu 7:1; Jos 3:10). In the land they form a separate group of inhabitants among the other inhabitants. In other texts the name Canaanites seems to be a collective name for all the inhabitants of the land (Gen 12:6; Jos 17:12-13; Neh 9:24).
What the Canaanites Represent
The Hebrew word canaan has been translated in some places as ‘merchants’ (Job 41:6; Isa 23:8). This immediately makes clear the spiritual meaning of this word. Canaanites represent people who make the things of God into a business from which you can have profit. It is that kind of people of whom we read: “Men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1Tim 6:5). Canaan represents a way of thinking where one is only interested in his own benefit, while there is no place for the will of God. It is purely the own will that is aimed at satisfying the own lusts.
This enemy is difficult to eradicate. He lurks in the hearts of all who are part of the people of God. Every member of God’s people must be aware of it. For example, he asserts himself when we have done something that arouses admiration with others. We can capitalize on this by committing others to us. The tribute that is given to us will be used to manipulate others and to make them work for our own purposes. Then, so to speak, God will not gain from it, but we ourselves. The result of what we do must be to glorify God and not us.
This ‘merchant-mentality’ is strongly expressed in the roman-catholic church. We even read from this church that it trades in “bodies and souls of people” as it literally says (Rev 18:11-13). For example, we can think of the indulgences, of which in the roman-catholic church there is indeed a trading in souls. God will judge this merchant system, which bears the name church.
As said, every child of God must take into account the activity of this enemy in his own heart and life. We must not feel sorry for him. He must be judged radically. This is done by giving him the place where he belongs, that is in the death. Then we will fulfill the task of considering our members of our earthly body as dead. Those members are “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col 3:5). We can see those members as an effect of the corrupt thinking mentioned in the just quoted verse from 1 Timothy 6 (1Tim 6:5). That’s no lie.
Every member is an enemy. Anyone who thinks they can be good buddies with one such member will be defeated by it. The Canaanite seizes its chance. Land is being lost. The blessings of God are no longer enjoyed. The Canaanites will make sure that we do not live in our cities, that is, that we will not enjoy any particular truth of Christ or anything valuable of Him that belongs to us. The way to being a slave of sin has been taken, until we are again a full slave totally.
10 - 12 Caleb
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.”
Judah moves on. His next goal is Hebron. The meaning of this name is ‘fellowship’. This city was first owned by the Canaanites who gave the city the name Kiriath-arba. Kiriath-arba means ‘city of giants’. In reality not the tribe Judah, but the individual Caleb has conquered this city (Jos 15:14-15). The fact that the capture of Hebron is attributed to the tribe shows that Caleb puts the mark of his personal faithfulness, strength, perseverance and faith on the whole tribe. The faith of the individual is attributed to the whole.
Caleb is not afraid of the giants. He has already shown this when he returns as one of the twelve spies to Moses with his account of what he has seen in the land (Num 13:30; 14:6-10,24,38). Ten spies have been impressed by the amazingly strong walls of the cities and the amazing giants that live there. According to them, they can never win. But the language of Caleb is different. The reason for this is that he does not compare the walls and the giants with himself and his own strength, but with God. What do thick walls and giants mean to the almighty God?
This faith shines between so much disbelief and deviation. This is also the case today in the church, where, in the midst of general decay, personal faithfulness occurs. This faithfulness is found among men and women who do not compare the difficulties with themselves, but put them quietly in the hand of the Lord and trust that He is above the circumstances and indicates a way of victory in them. Personal faithfulness still benefits the whole today. A ‘city of giants’ is then transformed into a city of ‘fellowship’. Where faith chases away the enemy, there is fellowship with God and His people instead.
The conquest of Kiriath-sepher connects to this. Kiriath-sepher means ‘the city of the book’. This is the name of the city if it is in the hands of the enemy. Possibly it is a center of Canaanite scholarship. Today we might call it a ‘university city’. The new name given to this city is Debir which means ‘(a living) oracle’ or ‘speaking of God’.
We can also learn a lesson from this. To unbelievers the Bible is just a book, or to people who, while speaking up for Christianity, have no life out of God. However, as soon as one gains new life through repentance and new birth, this book becomes “the Word of God” which “is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). Many have testified that through the new life they have started to see and read the Bible differently. What seemed like a dead letter at first, is going to live.
We will encounter ‘the Bible’, the Word of God, in the book of Judges in many more pictures. Victory over our spiritual enemies is only achieved if we make the Word of God our own by living according to it. Especially for elders or overseers, of whom the judges are also a picture, it is important that they know the Word of God. They must be able to teach (1Tim 3:2).
13 Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah for a wife.
There is another important aspect to Caleb’s attitude and behavior, and that is that he encourages others to behave in the same way. By his example he wakes this up in others. That’s still how it works. The faithfulness of the individual arouses others to act in this way. The name ‘Caleb’ means, among other things, ‘wholeheartedly’. It always comes down to an undivided heart. Whosoever serves and trusts God with all his heart achieves victories of faith. The spark of this enthusiasm of faith then jumps over to others, as here to Othniel.
The name Othniel means ‘lion of God’ or ‘my power is God’. In him we see an example of the heroism of faith. The cause of this lies not in his own power but in the power of God. He relies on that. Caleb’s proposal finds connection with him through the example he saw in Caleb.
An additional incentive is the reward that Caleb is promising. He promises that whoever takes Kiriath-sepher will have his daughter Achsah as his wife. This was not said to deaf ears in the case of Othniel.
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?”
Achsah will certainly have been an attractive woman. Nevertheless, Othniel will not have appreciated her primarily for her outer beauty. What kind of woman she is, is apparent from her name, her attitude, and her behavior. Her name means ‘ankle adornment’. This indicates that her walk, her way of life, is to the glory of God. She resembles the woman mentioned in 1 Peter 3 (1Pet 3:1-6). There is talk about adornment a few times. In her walk she is one who lives up to what God has said.
In the New Testament it says of the slaves that they “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Tit 2:9-10). To be able to adorn ‘the doctrine of God’, that is the teaching that God gives through His Word, we also need to know that doctrine. Achsah is interested in what God has said and promised. This determines her attitude and behavior. It is to be hoped that every Christian woman will follow her example.
This also applies to every Christian man. He may gain profit from what his wife radiates. Not only the Christian woman, but also the Christian man is responsible for adorning ‘the doctrine of God’ with his life. Through our way of life we adorn or disfigure ‘the doctrine of God’. It is about putting into practice what we have learned from God’s Word.
Caleb, Achsah and Othniel all belong to the tribe Judah, that is, they all belong to the tribe whose name means ‘praiser of God’ or ‘praise’. A walk in faith and trust follows from the praise of God. Whoever is thankful to God for His great goodness will show through his life that that gratitude is real. His life will become, as it were, one great praise to God. He will bring his life more and more into conformity with the Word of God. This is the inevitable consequence in the life of someone whose heart goes out to God and to what He has said.
15 Achsah Asks for and Gets Springs of Water
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.
Achsah is a beautiful woman, not only because of her outer beauty. This is not only reflected in the meaning of her name. What also makes her so attractive is her mindset, her behavior. This shows her actual, inner beauty. Precisely because of her mindset she is a great complement to Othniel.
Achsah possesses something of her father’s spirit. She is not satisfied with just having a property. She wants it to be a fertile property. The Negev is a land of sunshine and warmth, of fertility and beauty, but she wants to have something in it that enables her to fully enjoy that piece of land and that are springs of water. Caleb gives what she asks for. He gives her the upper springs and the lower springs.
We too can know that we ‘own a piece of land’. With us this is in connection with spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. However, enjoying it is something else than just owning it. An example can be found in the life of the apostle Paul. He speaks of ‘the upper springs’ when he speaks of ‘abundance’. For example, in the letter to the Romans, he speaks of “the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many” (Rom 5:15,20). He also mentions in that letter “that you will abound in hope” (Rom 15:13). In his second letter to the Corinthians, he writes that “our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2Cor 1:5) and later he says: “I am overflowing with joy” (2Cor 7:4).
Grace, hope, comfort, joy, it is all to be found in Christ in heaven. From these springs the believer can always draw, even if for him not everything prospers and grows. Then he knows that in Christ, the upper Spring, there is refreshment to be found that cannot be affected by adversity.
There are also the lower springs. Paul speaks of this when he speaks of ‘suffering need’ (Phil 4:12), of the times of trial. An example of this can also be seen in the second letter to the Corinthians when he says: “For when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need” (2Cor 11:9). It is a refreshment when there are brothers who help us in our need. That is a refreshment from a lower spring than the refreshment we receive from the Lord Himself. Yet the result of the refreshment is the same. We experience the blessing of the land when drinking from both springs.
The refreshment we receive from both the upper and lower springs makes the Lord Jesus greater. God is glorified when we ask great and good things of Him. We should not reduce Him to the limitation of our thoughts. He has brought His people into a good land, and it is His desire to bless them there. God has also brought us into a good land and He wants nothing more than to bless us there.
Unfortunately we see that even in our time only a few believers show the interest and commitment for the blessing we see in Achsah. There is an added application. Achsah is the wife of Othniel, who in our time represents an overseer in the church, someone who leads the people of God. Overseers are people who only function properly when they have a wife of the caliber of Achsa at their side. She is someone who encourages spiritual activity.
16 The Kenites
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.
Opposite the “spirit of … power and love and discipline” (2Tim 1:7) of Caleb, Achsah and Othniel are the Kenites. The Kenites come from Midian, to which also belonged the wife of Moses (Exo 2:15-21). Midian is a descendant of Abraham through his wife Ketura (Gen 25:1-2). Because of this, Midian is connected with Israel in a double way, namely through Moses as well as through Abraham.
It seems that the Kenites, at the invitation of Moses, went with the people when Israel left Egypt (1Sam 15:6). Yet they have never made themselves one with the people of God. It may be that Israel is a kind of nest for the Kenites, but not more than that (Num 24:21). This verse seems to confirm that (Jdg 4:17).
They do go up with the sons of Judah, but they go to live with Harad, without any fight. They will just live there “with the people”. They are people who maintain their wilderness habits while living in the land of blessing. They benefit from the security that the land gives them, without worrying about the blessings that the land contains. They adapt easily to their surroundings.
The meaning of the name Harad is in line with this. Harad means ‘place of the wild donkey’. A wild donkey represents a person who thinks and acts according to his own nature, without having a connection with God. To that place the Kenites go to live.
In Christianity we meet people who resemble the Kenites. These are people who talk a lot about the things of God, while their daily lives show that they’re busy with the things of men. They “are not setting” their “mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mt 16:23).
Let us be careful not to resemble them. This can happen if we feel comfortable with the people of God because they offer some protection, but we do not want to identify too much with them. We also feel at home with the people of the world. This kind of half-heartedness is not an adornment for someone who knows the blessings with which God has blessed him in Christ. Therefore we see this contrast between the Kenites and Caleb and his family.
17 Stand in the Victory
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.
After this section about the Kenites we follow Judah again in his fight to take possession of the piece of land he has been assigned. Now it even seems that Simeon took the initiative because, we read, “Judah went with Simeon his brother”. Together with his brother Simeon, he goes to the Canaanites who live in Zephath. After this city is captured, it is named Hormah, which means ‘ban curse’ or ‘total destruction’. The meaning of that name shows the way Judah and Simeon deal with this city. In this they act in accordance with God’s will and for their own good.
An enemy that has been completely destroyed will no longer bother us. Our problem is that we often do not break with the world radically enough. That will backfire on us at some moment. All too often we give the enemy the opportunity to recover from a defeat.
If the Lord Jesus says: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33), then we may regard the world as a conquered enemy. We can stand in the victory. The old apostle John encourages his readers with this: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1Jn 5:4). By the faith that works in the new nature, we will not give in to the temptations of the world. Our faith focuses on Him Who has conquered the world.
18 Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron
18 And Judah took Gaza with its territory and Ashkelon with its territory and Ekron with its territory.
Gaza means ‘the strong one’, Ashkelon probably means ‘trekking’ and Ekron means ‘infertility’. These three cities with their corresponding areas are also taken by Judah. These three cities are three of the five capitals of the Philistines. The Philistines will be discussed in detail in the course of this book.
19 The Weakness of Judah
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.
Judah overcomes and takes possession of territory because God is with him and he relies on Him. This is an encouragement for all those who dare to engage in spiritual struggle. The Lord is always with those who go with Him. Doing what He says means having Him with us. And which enemy is equal to us then? With the Lord we are stronger than any enemy. Without the Lord, we lose it from the weakest enemy.
Yet there is still something lacking in Judah’s faith. “But they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.” What’s the matter? God is with Judah if he keeps to the word God has spoken to kill all enemies. Unfortunately Judah does not fully trust God. He gets scared of the iron chariot. This stems from a lack of trust in Him, which is already evident from the fact that He has asked Simeon to go with Him (verse 3). For God, iron chariots are no problem at all (Jos 11:4,6,9; 17:18).
Whoever does not consider God’s power sufficient limits his victory. It is likewise with the walls of the cities and the giants in the land. He who compares it to his own strength, fades away, but he who compares it to God sees no difficulty at all. This is not to belittle the problem, but to bring it back to the proportions that apply to faith.
In Daniel 2 the force of iron is described (Dan 2:40). Nothing can resist the power of iron when we compare it to human power. But what is the power of iron for God? God breaks the iron with His mighty arm. For Him it is nothing more than “chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found” (Dan 2:35). Our problem is often that we think too little of God, so we measure everything by our own abilities. Then it turns out that we are not able to overcome a certain problem, which is to the dishonor of God and to harm and disgrace for ourselves.
20 Once Again Caleb
20 Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak.
Caleb’s attitude here forms a contrast with Judah as before with the Kenites. Where Judah fails, the faith of the individual prevails. Caleb is not afraid of the giants, like the ten spies at the time. He doesn’t feel like a grasshopper in their eyes, but he turns it around: the giants are grasshoppers in God’s eyes.
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.
After the detailed description of the fate of Judah and Simeon, the successes, or rather the failures of the other tribes, are quickly described. After Judah has not been able to expel the enemy (verse 19), it sounds like a recurring refrain in verses 21-36 that they “did not drive out” the enemies (verses 21,27,28,29,30,31,32,33).
The next one is Benjamin. The enemy defeated in verse 8 does appear to not have been completely defeated. There is one part left and that part offers great resistance. Perhaps this was possible because Judah has only conquered his own part of the city. Jerusalem lies on the border of Judah and Benjamin, so each of these tribes has a part of the city. Whatever the case, the enemy never sees himself as being defeated and is even able to survive because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people.
It is pure indifference that makes Benjamin let the enemy live in his midst. After all, Benjamin is the tribe of war. In his prophecy Jacob describes him like this: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he devours the prey, And in the evening he divides the spoil” (Gen 49:27). The name Benjamin means ‘son of my right hand’ and the right hand speaks of strength. Christ will soon reign on earth as the true Benjamin, as the true Son of God’s right hand. To this end, He will appear to judge. Now He is still in heaven. He “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).
Benjamin forgot what was said about him. He is unfaithful to his calling by indifference. Benjamin represents our place in Christ. When we forget that we are seated in Christ in the heavenly places and that we have a place in Him at God’s right hand, we become indifferent to the world around us and insensitive to the evil that reigns. We lose strength and the enemy can continue to influence us.
22 - 26 Joseph
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.
Here we read about Joseph. Although the LORD is with him, as with Judah, we have indications here too that he does not fully trust the LORD. He goes up against Bethel in faith, and therefore is the LORD with him. But then he starts sending out spies. Has the LORD commanded this? This reminds of the history in Joshua 2, where Joshua orders to spy out the land. The difference is that there it is a work of faith and that is missed here. The man from Luz turns out to be a traitor. Instead of joining the people of God, like Rahab, he builds up the city destroyed by the LORD.
Time and again we are reminded that we should not trust or let any enemy escape. In spiritual matters we cannot profit from ideas of the world, of which Joseph’s negotiations with the man from Luz are a picture. In the long run, we will end up being deceived. It seems that we will benefit from it, but that is only for a short time. Anything that we justify in our lives, when it is something of the enemy, of the flesh or of our own will, will at some point turn against us. Just like here with the man from Luz. The whole city is destroyed, but that man and his family they let go.
The names show us the lesson in their meaning. Bethel means ‘house of God’, Luz means ‘separation’ and Hittites stands for ‘children of horror’. The name of the city is first Luz, ‘separation’. As such, it is in the possession of the enemy. Separation is a biblical truth, but it can be taught and put into practice in a reverse, unbiblical way. Thus, this biblical truth becomes ‘property’ of the enemy.
An example of this we see with the Pharisees. Their name means ‘separated’. There are favorable exceptions among them, but in general the Pharisees are a group within the Jewish people that have separated themselves from the common people. They find themselves more holy than the rest. A few times the Lord Jesus calls them hypocrites. In Matthew 23 he denounces their hypocrisy in sharp words. They are characterized by tying up “heavy burdens” and laying “them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with [so much as] a finger” (Mt 23:4). This Pharisaism is in our blood.
This enemy must be dealt with. Then Luz can be renamed: Bethel, that means ‘house of God’. In the present house of God, the church, God dwells (1Tim 3:15). All who have life from God also live there. If the wrong separation has disappeared from our lives, we can put the good separation into practice. Good separation is separation to God, it is serving Him in His house with dedication. To be in His presence means to take into account that He is the holy God Who cannot tolerate any evil. The Psalmist says of God’s house: “Holiness befits Your house, O LORD, forevermore” (Psa 93:5b).
Another example of wrong separation is to start living as a monk. Without judging the motives that lead someone to such a life, the principle of monastic life is alien to Scripture. It presupposes a special sanctification to God that goes so far, that one separates oneself from the ordinary affairs of life in the world to dedicate oneself to the higher things. What is forgotten, is that sin is in the heart of man. This wrong, outward form of separation must be overcome.
It is regrettable that in some respects we are still maintaining this wrong separation. This wrong will certainly become stronger over time. The Hittites, meaning ‘the children of horror’, find a breeding ground there. Those who do not get rid of the Pharisaism in their lives will sooner or later be dominated by Pharisaism. The consequence of this will be that his life has a terrible influence on others.
27 - 28 Manasseh and the Canaanites
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.
From what is said about Manasseh, we get the impression that he has not taken full possession of any place. The whole region that has been allocated to him continues to breathe the Canaanite atmosphere. Although the Canaanites have become servants and their power has been broken in some way, they have managed to maintain themselves. Their will is stronger than the will of Manasseh. The will of the pagan peoples still has a strong influence on the weak people of God.
The influence of the world is a danger that threatens all Christians. The enemy may be obliged to acknowledge his superior in the believer, but when we ‘negotiate’ with him, he remains alive. We can be aware that the flesh should not be allowed to assert itself while at the same time we use it to achieve our goal. A certain Christian, for example, can speak well. For all sorts of reasons, he comes into a bad light, without it being guilty of it. Will he now pull all his oratorical talent out of the stops to prove his innocence, or will he surrender it “to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:23)?
We can also look at our reaction when a brother has wronged us. Do we then go to the worldly court or do we rather suffer injustice (1Cor 6:6-7)?
29 - 30 Ephraim and Zebulun
29 Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who were living in Gezer; so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. 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.
Ephraim and Zebulun also let the enemies live in their midst, they tolerate their presence. They do not realize that tolerating their enemies is dishonoring of God. It is sin. It simply means an indifferent attitude to God’s land that He has given to all of Israel.
31 - 33 Asher and Naphtali
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. 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.
Asher and Naphtali make it even worse. They live in the midst of the enemies themselves, so they are more or less absorbed by the nations. Here the roles are reversed. The unfaithfulness of the people is having ever greater consequences. Now it is not the enemies living among the Israelites, which also means unfaithfulness to God, but the Israelites now live among the enemies. The enemies continue to control the land and tolerate the Israelites in their midst. What a weakness among the people!
It looks like someone who is a Christian, who has a new life, but who is dictated in his life by his flesh, by his own thoughts. These thoughts are not formed by fellowship with God, but by fellowship with people and opinions of the world.
34 - 36 Dan, the Amorites and the House of Joseph
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; 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.
The tribe of Dan is the worst off. He cannot drive out the enemies, on the contrary, the enemies drive out the Danites from their inheritance. It is the last phase of the deterioration described in this chapter. The blessing of the land is no longer enjoyed in any way.
The attitude of the tribe of Dan is the same as that of the Christian who is completely absorbed by the things of the world. Certainly, he says he is still a Christian, sometimes he is in a Christian meeting, but his life and his speech hardly show anything that he is a real Christian. There is nothing to show that he likes to hear or talk about the things of God and the Lord Jesus. At home his Bible remains closed and he does not think of praying.
The Amorites are the first enemies that Israel has met and defeated on its way to the promised land. In connection with the Amorite, God says to His people: “begin to take possession and contend with him in battle” (Deu 2:24). This battle takes place before the people have gone through the Jordan. It is a terrain that is not in the promised land, but on the wilderness side of the Jordan.
Therefore, it does not speak of spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, but of earthly blessings. These blessings must also be conquered; we should thank God also for all earthly blessings. By earthly blessings we can understand things like health, a good marriage, a satisfying job, an invigorating time of relaxation. These are not our actual spiritual, heavenly and eternal blessings. We have earthly blessings in common with unbelievers. The only difference is that the Christian accepts these things from God’s hand and thanks Him for it, while the unbeliever does not.
But when the Christian takes such blessings for granted and even lives for them, he is spiritually driven out of his inheritance by the Amorites. He does his utmost to stay healthy, forgetting that he is in God’s hand; he does his utmost to keep his marriage good and never has time to serve someone else spiritually; his job is all for him, he is a real workaholic, which is at the expense of visiting Christian meetings; he does his utmost to make his next vacation an even greater success than the previous one: studying travel guides, weighing the different destinations, taking in as much information as possible, to be fully prepared to go to the chosen destination. But there is no interest, no commitment, no time for what God has prepared for those who love Him.
Fortunately, Joseph’s house is so attentive that it stops the Amorites. Fortunately, there are still people in the people of God who have an eye for the dangers of earthly blessings. Let us listen to them and make a profit from them.