Monday, March 17, 2008

Judges 1

Judges 1: Israel Fights the Remaining Canaanites

Synopsis

The book of Judges opens with the Israelites continuing to fight the peoples living in the Promised Land, in an effort to destroy them. (Some of the events in this chapter seem to be recaps of what happened in the book of Joshua.)

After Joshua passes away, the Israelites get ready to fight the remaining people living in the land, and they ask the LORD who should go first. He sends the tribe of Judah to fight the Canaanites, and the tribe of Judah brings along the tribe of Simeon to help them (with a promise that they, in turn, will help the Simeonites when it’s their turn).

The tribe of Judah is mostly successful in their efforts. They conquer their entire territory—including the city of Jerusalem, which they put to the sword and set on fire (sort of)—and drive out or destroy the people there. (This passage also recaps the story of Caleb giving his daughter Acsah in marriage to Othniel, which we read about in Joshua 15.) They then help the Simeonites take over their territory. (Including the city of Kephath, which they totally destroy; they decide to rename the city Hormah, which means “destruction.”

The Kenites—who are descendants of Moses’ father-in-law—also settle with the tribe of Judah in their territory, and live among them. I don’t know if this is good or bad, since they aren’t Israelites, but I know that it’s bad when the men of Judah fail to drive out the people who are living in the plains, because they have iron chariots. Also, it turns out that the destruction of Jerusalem wasn’t complete, because the Jebusites were left there, and lived among the tribe of Benjamin. (My guess is that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, but the territory around the city is the place where the Jebusites were left. Especially since verse 21 indicates that it’s the Benjamites who are unable to remove the Jebusites, not the tribe of Judah.)

The house of Joseph then gets ready to attack Bethel. They send in some spies, and they strike a deal with a man who lives in the city: If he helps them destroy the city, they’ll spare him and his family. He goes for the deal, and they destroy the city, but spare him. And there is an interesting side-note to this story: The city of Bethel used to be called Luz, and when the man from Bethel and his family are spared, they go off to the land of the Hittites and build a city, which the man calls Luz. I guess he was homesick for his old city.

The passage ends on some bad news, though; a number of examples are given of where the Israelites failed to drive out or destroy the people living in the Promised Land. In verses 27–36, numerous examples are given of Israelite tribes that fail to drive out or destroy different people groups. In most cases, the people who are not destroyed are pressed into forced labour, but in some cases, the Israelites can’t even do that, and just end up living among the people—which is the worst-case scenario!

Thoughts

I’ve been saying over and over again, in the book of Joshua, that the Israelites were going to get in trouble for not completely following the LORD’s command to destroy the people living in the Promised Land. This chapter (and the next) seem to be a bridge between the book of Joshua, in which they were mostly successful, and the book of Judges, where we will start to see that trouble manifesting itself. (I don’t know why I felt that I had to include so much foreshadowing; I knew that we’d get to the book of Judges eventually…)

When I see that the Israelites fail to drive out some of the people in the Promised Land, and that they press them into forced labour, I get a bit suspicious; is it possible that they purposely fail to destroy these people, because they want slaves? (Wouldn’t it be harder to subjugate a people than to destroy them?)

This is bad enough, but in some cases, the Israelites just seem to give up, and decide to live among the people they are supposed to be destroying. The LORD has been warning them all along not to mix with these peoples, because they’ll be ensnared by their foreign gods. The book of Judges will show us how this will play itself out.
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