Judah – O you! – your brothers shall give thanks to you.
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies.
The sons of your father shall bow down to you.
Judah is the cub of a lion;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouched, he lay – like a lion and like a lioness;
Who will make him rise up?
The scepter shall not turn aside from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And the obedience of the people is his.
The Book of Judges opens on a high note. As a whole you can look at the book as something of a descending scale that ends on a minor, dissonant chord. It begins as a symphony of harmonious faith and practice and ends as a cacophony of relativism and individualism. For now we find ourselves at the pinnacle of Judges. Let us enjoy the view while it lasts.
1 And it came to pass after Joshua died that the sons of Israel inquired of Yahweh, saying, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first to war against them? 2 And Yahweh said, “Judah shall go up. Behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into my allotment and let us war against the Canaanites; and I also will go with you into your allotment.” So Simeon went with him.
Joshua had led the Israelites on several major military campaigns. The Israelites had fought as one army against the inhabitants of the land. Now the strength of the Canaanites and other peoples was broken, and the individual tribes could handle whatever remnants were left in their respective allotments. Joshua died, and the Israelites buried him in his inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephaim (Josh. 24:30).
The time has come for the tribes to finish what the Lord had begun through Joshua: they must drive out the remnants of the inhabitants of the land. Now Israel had been no match (from a human perspective) against the Canaanites. When the spies reported back to Israel after spying out the land they lamented, “There we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Num. 13:33). Yet the Lord had given such mighty men into the hands of his people. The Lord has brought the people thus far, and only he can bring his work to completion.
And so the book of Judges begins with the Israelites turning toward the Lord and asking him how he intends to begin the end of the Canaanites. The Lord chooses Judah, the tribe that became part of the line of the promised Seed, the tribe from which Caleb hailed. In Israel’s later history Judah would beget King David, and Judah would outlast all the other tribes before succumbing to idolatry. From the book of Genesis to the time of Christ Judah has a reputation as the faithful one.
On a geographical note, Judah’s allotment in the land of promise entirely surrounded Simeon’s allotment. It was natural that they should go to war together.
4 And Judah went up, and Yahweh gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand. And they struck them down in Bezek, ten thousand men. 5 And they found Adoni-Bezek in Bezek and warred against him. They struck down the Canaanites and the Perizzites, 6 but Adoni-Bezek fled and they pursued after him. And they laid hold of him and they chopped off the prime digits of his hands and of his feet. 7 And Adoni-Bezek said, “Seven kings with the prime digits of their hands and of their feet cut off were scrounging under my table. As I have done, thus God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there.
The exact location of Bezek is unknown. The city is not mentioned in the allotments of the tribes in the book of Joshua. Regardless of the location, the event is quite significant in that Adoni-Bezek acknowledges the justice of what has happened. It’s easy to look at the mass destruction of the Canaanites and think, “What God is this that would do such a thing?” Adoni-Bezek gives us the answer: a just God, “As I have done, thus God has repaid me.”
8 And the sons of Judah warred against Jerusalem and captured it, and they struck it down with the mouth of the sword, and they sent off the city with fire. 9 And afterward the sons of Judah went down to war against the Canaanites who dwelt in the hill country, and the Negeb, and the lowland. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who dwelt in Hebron (now the name of Hebron had formerly been Kiritah-Arba), and they struck down Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.
Verse seven mentioned Jerusalem. Verse eight gives an account of its capture. Later in Judges 1:21 we’ll hear more about how the city was inhabited.
Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai are the three sons of Anak, who are mentioned again in Judges 1:20. When the spies had spied out the land it says, “They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt)” (Num. 13:22). These sons of Anak would be some of the Nephilim of whom we heard in Num. 13:33. One of the main emphases in the opening verses of Judges is this capture of Hebron.
11 Then he went from there against the inhabitants of Debir (the name of Debir had formerly been Kiriath-Sepher). 12 And Caleb said, “To whomever strikes down Kiriath-Sepher and captures it I will give Achsah my daughter for a wife.” 13 And Othniel captured it, the son of Kenaz and younger brother of Caleb, and he gave him Achsah his daughter for a wife. 14 And it happened when she came that she incited him to ask for a field from her father. And she came down from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 15 And she said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
Othniel will come up in Judges 3:7-11, the first of the six cycles of the judges (more on the judges cycles later). The mention of Achsah requesting and receiving land as an inheritance prepares us for the bold and faithful women in the third judges cycle: Deborah and Jael. In the genealogy of Caleb in 2 Ch. 2:42-50 Achsah receives special mention.
16 And the sons of the Kenite, father-in-law of Moses, went up from the City of Palms to the wilderness of Judah, which is in the Negeb of Arad, and he went and settled with the people.
The City of Palms is Jericho. Moses’ father-in-law is Jethro, who was the priest of Midian (Ex. 18:1). After the Exodus, Jethro came to Moses and brought along Moses’ wife (Zipporah) and sons. Moses had sent his wife and children back to Jethro at some point for unknown reasons. Jethro praised the Lord, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians!” (Ex. 18:10). At that time Jethro also brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. After Jethro spent some unnamed amount of time with Moses he departed back to his country (Ex. 18:27). Now in Judges, the sons of this priest of Midian come and settle in the land of promise. His descendant, Heber the Kenite, will come up in Judges 4 when Heber’s wife Jael uses a tent peg and hammer to nail something other than a tent to the ground.
17 Then Judah went with Simeon his brother and they struck down the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and they devoted it to destruction; and they called the name of the city Hormah. 18 Then Judah captured Gaza and its territory, and Ashkelon and its territory, and Ekron and its territory.
It seems probable that the Israelites called multiple places “Hormah,” which means “total destruction.” In Num. 21:3, during their wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites destroyed Arad and the surrounding cities and called the place Hormah. Both Judah and Simeon inherited cities called Hormah (Josh. 15:30, 19:4).
Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron were Philistine cities. While Judah inherited the coastline, the Philistines were disinclined to let it go. The Philistines will come into conflict with the Israelites in the book of Judges, and will continue to be enemies of Israel throughout the period of the kings.
19 And Yahweh was with Judah, and he possessed the hill country. But he was not able to dispossess the inhabitants of the lowland because they had an iron chariotry. 20 And they gave Hebron to Caleb, just as Moses had spoken, and he dispossessed from there the three sons of Anak.
Iron chariotry was a powerful military technology at that time. Iron chariotry will come up again in Judges 4. The Lord has a fine way of dealing with man’s advancements.
The overture of the book of Judges sounds forth, establishing phrases and motifs that will come up again in more depth later in the book. Woven into this overture are two themes that blast and echo like the horns of battle: Faithful Judah goes valiantly to war, and the steadfast Caleb inherits Hebron.
The Israelites had seen Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the sons of Anak, the Nephilim. “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers,” they said in their fear, “and so we seemed to them” (Num. 13:33). At this report of the spies, the Israelites said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:4).
Joshua and Caleb pleaded, “If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them” (Num. 14:8-9). How did the Israelites respond to this faithful plea? “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones” (Num. 14:10). The unbelieving often reward faithfulness with the threat of death.
But the Lord preserved the lives of Joshua and Caleb, and, unlike their would-be murderers, they entered into their inheritance. After Joshua’s military campaigns the people of Judah came to him. At that time the following took place:
6 And the sons of Judah drew near to Joshua in Gilgal, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You yourself know the word that Yahweh spoke to Moses, the man of God, concerning me and concerning you in Kadesh-barnea. 7 Forty years old was I when Moses, the servant of Yahweh, sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I returned him a word as was in my heart. 8 But my brothers who went up with me melted the heart of the people, yet I myself remained loyal to Yahweh my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land in which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and for your sons unto eternity, because you have remained loyal to Yahweh your God.’ 10 And now, behold: the Lord has preserved me, just as he said, these forty-five years from the time Yahweh spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold: I am today eighty-five years old. 11 My endurance today is strong, just as in the day when Moses sent me; as my strength was at that time, so is my strength now: to war and to go out and to come in. 12 And now give to me this hill country of which Yahweh spoke in that day, for you yourself heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and great, unassailable cities. I pray Yahweh will be with me and I will dispossess them, just as Yahweh said.” 13 And Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14 On account of this Hebron has been an inheritance for Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite unto this day, because he was loyal to Yahweh, the God of Israel.
And in Judges chapter 1 it comes to pass that Caleb inherits Hebron. He was eighty-five years old while Joshua was still alive; we don’t know how old he is in Judges after Joshua had died. Given his age, we might suppose that Caleb sent out troops to do the fighting for him. Yet he makes it clear to Joshua: he is as virile at eighty-five as he was at forty.
We read “he dispossessed from there the three sons of Anak” (Judg. 1:20). Can you picture it: an eighty-five-year-old man taking on the Nephilim, driving out three giant men – men of whom the Israelites were terrified, men who made them seem like grasshoppers? The hearts of the Israelites melted in fear, but Caleb remained loyal to the Lord.
And this loyalty is not something he stirred up or manufactured in himself. It was loyalty begotten of the Word of the Lord. The Lord had promised the land to our fathers. The Lord doesn’t lie. The Word of the Lord endures forever. The Word creates faith and everything that goes with it: steadfastness, endurance, loyalty.
By the Word of the Lord, the eighty-five-year-old man defeats three giants. And he inherits Hebron: the place of the Oaks of Mamre where Abraham encamped and built an altar (Gen. 13:18), the city near the field of Machpelah where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah were buried (Gen. 23:2, 17-20). And this reminds us of Jesus, who, not looking the part of the great warrior, defeated sin, death, and the devil, and won for an inheritance a bunch of dead sinners.
We never hear of Caleb’s death as we did with Moses and Joshua. We’re left with a last glimpse of him victorious in war, standing in the place of his forefathers, an aged and lasting savior keeping the grave of his ancestors for the day of resurrection. He may be the first shadow of Christ in the book of Judges, but he’s far from the last. Let us tarry here for the week, and prepare ourselves for the unfortunate descent that follows this glorious height.
Let the heavens and the earth praise him,
The seas and everything that glides in them.
For God will save Zion, and he will build up the cities of Judah,
And they shall dwell there and possess it.
And the seed of his servants shall inherit it,
And those who love his name shall dwell in it.