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Judges chapter 1

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9And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites, that dwelt in the mountain, and in the south, and in the valley. 10And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron: (now the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba:) and they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai. 11And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjathsepher: 12And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. 13And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife. 14And it came to pass, when she came to him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she lighted from off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wilt thou? 15And she said unto him, Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs. 16And the children of the Kenite, Moses' father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people. 17And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. And the name of the city was called Hormah. 18Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof. 19And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. 20And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses said: and he expelled thence the three sons of Anak.
21And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day. 22And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel: and the LORD was with them. 23And the house of Joseph sent to descry Bethel. (Now the name of the city before was Luz.) 24And the spies saw a man come forth out of the city, and they said unto him, Shew us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city, and we will shew thee mercy. 25And when he shewed them the entrance into the city, they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let go the man and all his family. 26And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and called the name thereof Luz: which is the name thereof unto this day. 27Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns: but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. 28And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out. 29Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them. 30Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries. 31Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob: 32But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: for they did not drive them out. 33Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, nor the inhabitants of Bethanath; but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: nevertheless the inhabitants of Bethshemesh and of Bethanath became tributaries unto them. 34And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley: 35But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributaries. 36And the coast of the Amorites was from the going up to Akrabbim, from the rock, and upward.

What does Judges chapter 1 mean?

The book of Judges marks the beginning of a new era, starting after the death of Joshua (Joshua 24:29–30). Rather than following a single, central leader, the Israelites would answer to Yahweh directly in a kind of theocracy. Before he died, Joshua left three crucial legacies for God's chosen people. First, they had a strong position in the Promised Land after breaking the Canaanite stronghold over the region (Joshua 24:11). Second, each tribe clearly understood their God-given mandate to wipe out the remaining inhabitants of the land in their respective territories (Deuteronomy 20:16–18; Joshua 23:12–13). Finally, Joshua left Israel with a renewal of their covenant with God, in which they agreed to forsake all other gods and commit themselves to worship and obey Yahweh alone (Joshua 24:24–28).

Judges begins with a report on the effort by each tribe to drive the Canaanites out of their regions. It begins on a positive note. The people ask the Lord who should attack the Canaanites first. The Lord tells Judah to begin and promises the land has been given into their hand. Judah invites the people of the tribe of Simeon to fight with them, promising to assist Simeon in capturing their territory when the time comes (Judges 1:1–3).

Success is immediate. Judah destroys a city called Bezek, though they fail to destroy the leader of the city. This man is labeled with the title Adoni-bezek. Rather than following God's command to destroy the wicked Canaanites, the men of Judah cut off the enemy leader's thumbs and big toes. This imitates Canaanite practice, as the defeated leader points out. It also defies God's desire that Israel not take on Canaanite sins. The Adoni-bezek is taken to Jerusalem, where he dies. Next, Judah captures and wipes out the inhabitants of Jerusalem—or possibly a fortification near it—and sets it on fire. Then they proceed to fight in the hill country, the desert wilderness of the Negeb, and the lowland (Judges 1:4–10).

The writer of Judges then repeats a report from the book of Joshua (Joshua 15:15–19). The report explains how Caleb, who had been given Hebron in the hill country, defeated the Anakites there and then gave his daughter in marriage to the one who defeated the nearby city of Debir. He also tells how the descendants of Moses' father-in-law moved into the region of the Negeb, in southern Judah, and lived among the people (Judges 1:11–16).

Finally, Judah and Simeon together destroy the city of Zephath, while Judah captures Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron. Because the Lord was with Judah, the tribe took full possession of the hill country. It could not drive out the occupants of the western plain, however, because of their iron chariots. Given what happens to Israel in the following chapters, this failure seems to be one of faith, not of God. Most likely, the people of Judah lost the nerve to confront their enemy and settled for a less-than-total victory (Judges 1:17–20).

This last failure is the first hint of what is to come for all the other tribes. After Judah's success, reports on the other tribes are mostly disappointing. The tribe of Benjamin is unable to drive out the new—or surviving—occupants of Jerusalem. Ephraim, "the house of Joseph" (Genesis 48:3–6) destroys and takes possession of Bethel, but a Canaanite man they allow to live builds another Canaanite city to replace it (Judges 1:21–26).

From there, the news in Judges chapter 1 is all bad. None of the other tribes completes their task of driving the inhabitants from the land or destroying them. This includes the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. Some grow strong enough to eventually enslave the Canaanites in their territories. And yet, despite growing in power, they disobey God's command to devote all the inhabitants to destruction (Judges 1:27–36).

God's command to purge Canaan of its wicked inhabitants was meant to keep Israel from taking on their evil practices. The very next chapter of Judges shows how Israel's disobedience led to immediate consequences (Judges 2:1–5). Much of the rest of the book of Judges details the echoing effects of Israel's complacency.
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