The period between the death of Joshua and the first of Israel’s Judge is summarized in the first few chapters of this Book. It appears that under the influence of Joshua’s last address to the people – which was deepened, no doubt, by his death, which followed soon afterwards – the Israelites’ holy war against the Canaanites was resumed. The measure of the sin of these wicked nations was now full (Gen. 15:13-16), and the storm of God’s judgment was about to sweep them away. In that day, the Canaanites were a visible representation of the kingdom of Satan; and upon their ruins, Israel’s theocracy was to be built. In the place where the vilest heathenism had overspread the world with its shrouds of darkness, the Kingdom of God was to be established – with its opposite mission of sending the light of truth to the remotest parts of the earth!
The Israelites were convinced that the war against the Canaanites was to be continued; but it seems that after the death of Joshua, they were in doubt as to the manner in which it was to be carried on. Therefore, they enquired of the Lord concerning which tribe was to take the lead in this matter; and the Divine reply designated Judah to fill this role, in accordance with Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49:8. The people of Judah, in turn, invited the cooperation of the Simeonites – whose inheritance had been parceled out of their own. It is fitting that God’s people, in love, should help one another against their common enemies. These two tribes encountered and defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites in Bezek, a place that was probably near the shores of the Dead Sea. On that occasion, a remarkable retaliation overtook Adoni-bezek, the chieftain of that district. After a common but cruel custom of those times, the many rulers whom Adoni-bezek had subdued were kept under the banqueting table of this proud conqueror, with their thumbs and great toes cut off – disabling them so that they could never again handle sword and bow, nor march to war. The army of Judah and Simeon now did the same with Adoni-bezek’s thumbs and great toes, and this wicked king’s own conscience made him acknowledge the Lord’s righteousness and justice in dealing with him after the same manner in which he had been a tyrant to others. The victorious tribes of Judah and Simeon carried Adoni-bezek to Jerusalem, where he died. Upon that occasion, the city of Jerusalem itself was taken and burned – at least the part of the city that lay within the territory of Judah, for the city stood on the border between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. The inhabitants of the city were killed, except for those of the Jebusites who fled into the castle – which lay within the portion of land belonging to the Benjamites, and was occupied by the Jebusites until the time of David.
From Jerusalem, Judah and Simeon continued their victorious march, and full success attended the expedition. It seems that the men of Judah also came to Caleb’s aid in destroying the giants who lived in Hebron; and Caleb, being eager to return the kindness of his countrymen, endeavored to ensure that Debir was subdued as well. In order to expedite this, he offered his daughter Achsah as a bride to the man whose faith in Jehovah would prompt him to command the siege of that place. Othniel was the winner of both the town and the lady’s hand and heart, and mention is made again (as in Joshua 15:16-19) of the good inheritance – both physical and spiritual – that Achsah secured for her family from her father.
The campaign of Judah and Simeon extended through the highlands of Judah, then to the southern part of the country, and finally into the lowlands along the Mediterranean, where they took from the Philistines three of their five great cities. But this conquest was not permanent; nor were the inhabitants of the valley driven out, “because they had chariots of iron.” They may have had iron chariots, but Israel had God on their side – Whose chariots are thousands of angels (Ps. 68:17) – and yet they allowed their fears to prevail over their faith.
Sadly, the zeal of Israel did not continue for very long. In fact, it appears that Judah and Simeon were the only tribes that made a determined effort to rid their land of their Canaanite enemies! All that follows after this campaign of Judah and Simeon is a record of sorrowful failure and neglect – with the single exception being the taking of Bethel by the descendants of Joseph, owing to very good information that their spies obtained from a man whom they Providentially met with, who showed them a secret entrance into the town.
Thus the tribes of Israel were everywhere surrounded by a fringe of heathenism. In many parts of the land, the Israelites and the heathen lived together. Due to slothfulness, covetousness, and cowardice, the people of God would not take the pains to complete their conquests. They did not have the dread and detestation of idolatry which they ought to have had. The same unbelief that kept their fathers out of Canaan, now kept them out of the full possession of it.
What lesson does the Lord want us to learn from this sober narrative? The chief one is this: we can have no fellowship with the enemies of God within us or around us, without it being to our hurt. Many believers begin well but are hindered by the temptations of Satan; their graces languish, their lusts revive, and the world recovers its hold upon their hearts. And although the Lord will never let them fall away, it is sad to think of all their lost opportunities of glorifying God and serving His Church. Therefore, our only wisdom is to maintain unceasing war against all the enemies of our souls! May the Lord give us grace and strength to do so!
Lord Jesus! At the very mention of Your name, new strength is imparted to our souls. Uphold us and make us more than conquerors over our spiritual foes! Amen.
Join other families all around the globe! Receive the full-color, freely downloadable format of these thoughts in your email every day, and enjoy a FREE copy of my e-book A Call to Family Worship! It’s my prayer that you and your family will be equipped to receive abundant blessings from the hand of the Lord as you study His Word and worship in His presence together.
photo by Pamela Maxwell | Lightstock.com