In the first essay on Judges, I provided a general introduction to the book. In this essay we will take up the author’s introduction in 1:1-3:6. In the general introduction I mentioned that some scholars argue that the author’s introduction actually consists of two introductions, which were interwoven by the author. The first is 1:1-2:5, which begins, “After the death of Joshua;” and the second is 2:6-3:6, which begins “When Joshua dismissed the people,” which obviously would have occurred before his death.
The first introduction provides background information for the main part of the book. In it we are told that following the death of Joshua the tribes resolved to continue the war of extermination of the Canaanites and that they had some initial successes. For example the tribes of Judah and Simeon defeated 10,000 Perizzites at Bezek (1:4). They also conquered Jerusalem (1:8), Debir (1:11), and some other cities, including several Philistine cities (1:16-18). Likewise the Joseph tribes took Bethel (1:22-26).
But these successes were limited. For example, as during the earlier conquests the tribes did not always occupy the conquered territory or cities. Jerusalem provides an illustration. According to 1:8, the tribe of Judah took Jerusalem and “put it to the sword and set the city on fire;” but 1:21 says,” the Benjamites did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived in Jerusalem among the Benjamites to this day” (the tribe of Benjamin is mentioned, because Jerusalem technically was in their territory). Thus Judah probably did not occupy the city after they defeated it; and the Jebusites reestablished themselves in the city after Judah’s army left the scene.
The other tribes did not have as much success as Judah and Simeon. Look at verse 27: “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of” several named villages. Rather as verse 28 indicates, “they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not in fact drive them out.” Then verses 29-30 indicate that the tribes of Ephraim and Zebulun did essentially the same thing.
Other tribes had even less success. Look at verses 31-32. The tribe of Asher not only did not drive out the Canaanites from the listed cities, but notice the significant change of language. Instead of saying that the Canaanites lived among the Asherites, the text says, “the Asherites lived among the Canaanites.” The same is true of the tribe of Naphtali in verse 33.
But the worst indignities were reserved for the Danites. The tribe of Dan not only failed to drive the Canaanites out of their inheritance, they couldn’t even settle there. Their original inheritance was in the plain west of Jerusalem. The cities are listed in Josh. 19:40-48.
But here verse 34 says, “The Amorites pressed the Danites back into the hill country; they did not allow them to come down to the plain.” You will remember that the “hill country” was Judah’s territory. As the passage continues, verse 35 tells us that some of the Amorites were subjugated by the Joseph tribes, but not by the Danites. Indeed the situation of the Danites was so precarious that some of them at least completely gave up on settling in the central part of Canaan and migrated far to the north to the city they named Dan. The record of that migration is in Judges chapter 18.
The second phase of the conquest went so badly in general that we see in 2:1-5 that the Angel of the Lord appeared on the scene to rebuke the people. Most evangelicals interpret appearances by the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament to be theophanies, which is the term used to denote a manifestation of the Lord himself in human form.
The emphasis here is on the broken covenant. The Angel of the Lord was saying that Israel had violated the covenant so badly that the Lord not only would not now drive out the Canaanites from before them, but he would use the Canaanites as a means of their chastisement. The children of Israel wept at the news, but it evidently was a superficial repentance in light of their subsequent behavior.
In 2:6-3:6 we get the second introduction, or at least an insertion of some material that records the death of Joshua. Indeed chapter 2:6-10 is paralleled in Joshua 24:28-31. The purpose of the author appears to have been to set the faithfulness of the people while Joshua was alive in contrast to the lack of faithfulness after he died. Verses 6-10 show the faithfulness; verses 11-19 the lack of faithfulness.
In a sense verses 11-19 summarize the period of the judges. The history consisted of a four-fold cycle. First, Israel would commit apostasy. They would abandon the Lord by worshipping other gods, verse 11. Then second, the Lord would become angry with Israel for their apostasy; and he would permit them to fall into servitude, verse 14. That is, the surrounding nations would defeat Israel and bring them under bondage. Third, the people would sincerely repent and call upon the Lord, verse 18. And finally fourth, the Lord would raise up a judge who would, by the power of the Lord, bring deliverance, verse 16.
Verses 20-23 indicate the results of Israel’s continued apostasy. In effect, the Lord washed his hands of Israel’s attempts to conquer the Promised Land. “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died,” said the Lord, verse 21. And verse 22 tells us that the Lord decided to use the Canaanite nations as a kind of continuing test of Israel’s faithfulness. So we have seen two purposes of the alien nations from the point of view of God’s sovereignty. One, they were used by the Lord to punish Israel. And two, they were used by the Lord to test Israel.
In 3:1-6 we see a third purpose served by the foreign nations. They provided Israel with a means of learning the art of warfare. Do you see that in verse 2? If you are wondering about that in light of their earlier conquests, Israel certainly had fighting skills; but they were skills of an earlier age. For example, they could not deal with chariots. The only recorded success against chariots on level ground by Israel was the battle alluded to in chapter 5, verses 4-5, where the chariots got bogged down in mud from torrential rain.
Of course Israel never actually passed the test represented by the nations. Rather they were punished severely by the nations. However, they did eventually learn the art of modern (for their day) warfare.
Turning to application, there are some things we can learn from this introduction about Israel’s religious values, which are applicable to our own time. I would like to suggest four.
First, it is clear that the Lord is righteous. We have seen that the people were unrighteous. And the reason they were unrighteous was because they were not living up to the standards of a holy God. The divine holiness always has made it impossible for God to be in relationship with sinful humanity. Thus sin must be punished. And of course that is what we see in Judges.
Second, it is just as clear that the Lord is sovereign. The author of Judges, like other Old Testament writers, emphasizes the sovereignty of God. When Israel was faithful to the covenant, the Lord by his omnipotent sovereignty delivered Israel against foes of greater numbers and superior technology. As we shall see, the Lord instructed Gideon, for example, to pare a force of 32,000 to 300 so that he could display his divine power. And in the song of Deborah we shall see how the Lord used the forces of nature to help Israel (5:4-5). But when Israel was unfaithful to the covenant, the Lord permitted the nations to punish that unfaithfulness.
Third, not only is the Lord righteous and sovereign, but he also is patient and gracious. As we read through the book of Judges, we will find the cycle of sin, punishment, repentance and deliverance becoming monotonous because it happened so often. But that is simply illustrative of the Lord’s patient forgiveness. Not only was he always loyal to his covenant, he always responded to sincere repentance with gracious deliverance.
And fourth, we learn something about the importance of faith. In the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11, we find the author including many of the judges in his list of heroes of the faith. And the reason is that they exhibited a great deal of faith. They not always were as moral as they should have been, but they were strong of faith.
Surely these four points are an encouragement to us. Not only can we rejoice in a righteous, sovereign God who is patient and gracious, we can know that faith in him will enable us to do mighty things and ultimately will bring us to the heavenly shore.