After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, ‘Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?’
2 The Lord answered, ‘Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.’
3 The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, ‘Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.’ So the Simeonites went with them.
4 When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.
7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.’ They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.
8 The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.
9 After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10 They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).
12 And Caleb said, ‘I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.’ 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.
14 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, ‘What can I do for you?’
15 She replied, ‘Do me a special favour. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.’ So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.
16 The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.
17 Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their fellow Israelites and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed the city. Therefore it was called Hormah. 18 Judah also took[e Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron – each city with its territory.
19 The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron. 20 As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak. 21 The Benjaminites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjaminites.
22 Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23 When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), 24 the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, ‘Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well.’ 25 So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. 26 He then went to the land of the Hittites, where he built a city and called it Luz, which is its name to this day.
27 But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. 28 When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labour but never drove them out completely. 29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. 30 Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labour. 31 Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko or Sidon or Ahlab or Akzib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob. 32 The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out. 33 Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced labourers for them. 34 The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. 35 And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the tribes of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labour. 36 The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond.
One commentator summarises the historical context of the Book of Judges as follows: ‘It had been forty years since Joshua triumphantly led the Israelites into the Promised Land. A new generation had emerged but there were still pockets of resistance from the Canaanites, Hittites and Philistines. It was time for God’s people to complete the conquest!’
It is gratifying and instructive to see the people of God turning to the Lord in prayer for help as they commence a new chapter in their history with the death of Joshua. The challenges facing them at that time were considerable; their enemies were numerous and Joshua was no longer present to lead them. But the Lord God is powerful and present with His people; He is able to fulfill His promises without the likes of Joshua. This is a salutary reminder for us to put our trust in God rather than man when we face challenges of any kind. This trust is reflected in the act of dependent prayer.
So the Israelites ask the LORD, ‘Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?’ The LORD answers, ‘Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.’ A specific prayer receives a specific answer from the Lord. The Lord promises His people victory through the leadership of the tribe of Judah. And we see this promised victory clearly displayed in the verses that follow (verse 3-19a). But God had promised His people ‘the land’, and they falter in their obedience due to unbelief (verse 21ff).
This outcome reminds the reader that we need a deliverer who will not fail. As we read on in the Bible’s story of redemption, we learn that complete victory does indeed come through Judah. However, it is not the tribe, but rather a descendant of Judah, Jesus, who secures victory over the enemies of sin and death, and the complete fulfillment of all God’s good promises to His people.
Prayer; Dear Lord, thank you for this episode in Israel’s history that portrays You as a God who hears and answers the prayers of His people. Forgive us, Lord, when we fail to turn to You in prayer and seek to handle the challenges we face in our own strength even though we are Your children.
Help us, we pray, like the Israelites here, to take You at your word and to act on Your promises. Forgive us when we, like the Israelites, falter in our obedience due to unbelief.
Lord, we see here that victory over the enemies of your people comes through Judah. We thank You, Lord, for Jesus, a descendant of Judah, who secures our victory over sin and death, and the fulfillment of all Your good promises to us as Your people. Amen.