In these chapter, we are given a description of the borders of the allotment of land that was given to the tribe of Judah. Like the rest of the tribes, this portion of land was said to be “by their families” – that is, its size was based on the number of families in the tribe. The borders of this tribe were largely fixed, yet not unalterably; for a good deal of Judah’s land (being more than enough for them) was afterwards assigned to the tribes of Simeon and Dan.
Verses 13-19 contain another mention of Caleb inheriting the mountain of Hebron, and driving out the sons of Anak who lived there. Then, in order to stimulate the valor of those around him to follow his example, he offered the hand of his daughter Achsah in marriage to the man who would demonstrate his faith in the Lord by forcefully taking possession of the city of Debir (formerly known as Kirjath-sepher). Othniel – a relative of Caleb’s, who later became the first judge of Israel – won both the city and the wife. As part of her wedding dowry, Caleb gave his daughter a piece of southerly land, which would have been dry and parched. But upon her humble request, he also “gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs.”
In the “upper and nether springs,” the Holy Spirit has veiled a picture. The upper springs represent spiritual and heavenly blessings which relate to our souls – particularly, the Lord’s Covenant-love in the fullness of the Father’s mercy, the Person and offices of Jesus, and the precious gifts and influences of the Holy Spirit. The nether – that is, lower – springs are a picture of those blessings which relate to our bodies and our life here on earth. All these blessings – both of the upper and the lower springs – belong to all the sons and daughters of God! Since they have a relationship with Christ, these blessings are freely given by the Father as the lot of their inheritance.
The latter two-thirds of this chapter is a listing of the cities that were included in the allotment of land that was given to the tribe of Judah. From this enumeration of these cities, we may infer that the territory must have been somewhat thickly populated by the original Canaanite inhabitants; but no doubt many of these cities were very small, and – like villages of our present day – were occupied by only a few families. At this time, the tribe of Judah numbered 76,500 men of war, aged 20 and upwards; and as they did not require such a large portion of the country as was originally allotted for them, many of the cities were afterward given to the tribes of Simeon and Dan. Also, nine of Judah’s cities were later given to the priests (chapter 21:9-19).
The physical aspects of the territory of Judah were very diversified. In the south was the undulating pastureland, sometimes designated as “the wilderness of Judah.” In the east – immediately adjoining the Dead Sea – was Midbar, or the wilderness. This was a wild and desolate country, full of rocks and caves – the haunts of wild beasts and robbers. And one of its six cities, called Engedi, became famous in the history of Saul and David. West of this was the hill-country, on the mountain-tops of which were “the fenced cities of Judah.” Among these was Bethlehem, “the house of bread” – originally called Eph-rath or Ephratah. The hills of Judah are admirably suited for the cultivation of the vine; and here, in those days, grapes grew luxuriantly on terraces formed on the mountain-sides, and carefully guarded by walls and watch-towers. To Judah belonged the famous “valley of Eshcol,” and other choice localities where the vine abounded, and the grapes were the richest that the whole land produced. On the west, between the hill-country and the Mediterranean Sea, was the Shephelah (or “lowland”). This particular area was the territory of the Philistines for a long time. Thus the territory assigned to Judah was both prominent and extensive. In the days of the Judges, Othniel is named as belonging to this tribe. At a later period, Saul – a Benjamite – was anointed king over the whole land of Israel. But in the prophecy of Jacob, the “sceptre” was given to Judah (not Benjamin); and when it fell from the feeble hands of Saul, David the Bethlehemite obtained it. And it remained, with occasional interruptions, in the possession of David’s own tribe of Judah until Shiloh – that is, Christ the Messiah – came! (Gen. 49:10)
It is important to call the reader’s attention to a circumstance which may not, perhaps, immediately strike him; and yet the moment it is mentioned, he will see its interesting nature. The town of Bethlehem was little among the thousands of Judah (Mic. 5:2); but it became the birthplace of David the son of Jesse, and afterward of Him Who was David’s Son and David’s Lord. And even though Bethlehem was the highly honored spot of Jesus’ birth, it was not enumerated in this list of cities! Was it because Bethlehem, at that time, did not exist? No! Then was it because it would be like our Redeemer Himself – obscure and unnoticed? Dearest Lord Jesus! By Your glorious example, how greatly You put to shame all that we think great and excellent! In a later time period, the prophet Micah sung of Bethlehem on Jesus’ account; and then pointed to the one and only thing that made it truly excellent! (Mic. 5:2)
Lord, like Caleb’s daughter Achsah, we beseech You to give us a blessing; and what greater blessing can we have than Jesus? In Him are contained all the upper and lower springs of every joy! Amen.
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