Judges 1:21-2:5, The Victors Capitulate

And he brought them to the territory of his holiness,
The mountain that his right hand had acquired.
And he drove out the nations before their faces,
And he apportioned to them an inheritance with the measuring line,
And he settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
But they tested and rebelled against God the Most High,
And his testimonies they did not keep.
And they turned back and dealt treacherously like their fathers;
They have twisted round like a deceitful bow.

    Psalm 78:54-57

Apostasy does not usually happen in an instant. It is not like walking along and then suddenly and unexpectedly falling headlong into a hole. Apostasy is a slow relaxation that imperceptibly gives way to atrophy. White gradually darkens and black gradually lightens in smooth gradients as people cast aside the objective truth of God’s Word. In the midst of such gray one can only navigate according to one’s passions or the opinions of the day, or one is simply blustered about by the devil’s winds.


21 But the sons of Benjamin did not dispossess the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. And the Jebusites have dwelt with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

Jerusalem was originally part of Benjamin’s inheritance, not Judah’s, per Joshua 18:28. That verse from Joshua also notes that another name for Jerusalem was Jebus, hence the name “Jebusites.” We heard in Judges 1:8, “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.” Yet it seems that Judah left a good number of the Jebusites alive, who then took back the city.

When the time came to dispossess (again) the inhabitants of Jerusalem in Judges 1:21, the Benjaminites did not do so. Not to say they didn’t try. It says in Joshua 15:63, “But the sons of Judah were not able to dispossess the Jebusites who inhabit Jerusalem.” Judges 1:21 and Joshua 15:63 may refer to a single attempt of Benjamin and Judah on Jerusalem, given that the city was near their border and they frequently joined with each other (these two tribes have had a very strong connection ever since Judah offered his life for Benjamin’s in Gen. 44:33).

“We tried to drive out the Jebusites with their false gods,” this much they could say. And small comfort, since they had apparently passed up the opportunity to destroy them entirely in Judges 1:8. Over time the presence of the Jebusites proved too much for God’s people. By the time we get to King David the city must be taken all over again: the Jebusites controlled it completely (1 Sam. 5:6-7, 1 Ch. 11:4-5). Certain things must be eradicated, not weakened halfway and then accepted. Jebusites and false teaching are two of them.

22 And the house of Joseph went up, they also, against Bethel, and Yahweh was with them. 23 And the house of Joseph spied out Bethel (the name of the city had formerly been Luz). 24 And the spies saw a man coming out of the city, and they said to him, “Show us the entrance of the city and we will deal mercifully with you.” 25 And he showed them the entrance of the city, and they struck down the city with the mouth of the sword; but the man and all his clan they sent off. 26 And the man went to the land of the Hittites, and he built a city and called its name Luz; that has been its name to this day.

“The house of Joseph” likely means Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, especially since after this account we hear a report of Manasseh (Judg. 1:27) and then Ephraim (Judg. 1:29).

This account is a disappointing parody of Rahab in Jericho. Spies came to both Jericho (Josh. 2:1) and Bethel (Judg. 1:23). In both instances, a native of the city assisted the Israelites (cf. Josh. 2). Again in both instances, the Israelites destroyed the city (cf. Josh. 6).

And yet there is a marked difference. Rahab believed in the Lord and then lived in Israel. She became one of God’s people. But here in Judges the house of Joseph makes a rather threatening deal with an inhabitant of the city, and instead of believing in the Lord and desiring to join Israel, the man goes his own way and perpetuates the name of the place that the house of Joseph captured.

This brief account reads like the tarnished silver of days gone by. If the capture of Jericho was a beautiful flower in full bloom, then the capture of Bethel droops and withers in comparison.


27 Nor did Manasseh dispossess Beth-shean and its towns, nor Taanach and its towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and its towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns, for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in this land. 28 And it came to pass when Israel became strong that he set the Canaanites to forced labor, but he did not drive them out completely. 29 Nor did Ephraim dispossess the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites dwelt in his midst in Gezer. 30 Zebulun did not dispossess the inhabitants of Kitron nor the inhabitants of Nahalol, but the Canaanites dwelt in his midst, and they became subject to forced labor. 31 Asher did not dispossess the inhabitants of Acco, nor the inhabitants of Sidon, nor Ahlab, nor Achzib, nor Helbah, nor Aphik, nor Rehob. 32 So the Asherites dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites who inhabit the land, because he did not dispossess them. 33 Naphtali did not dispossess the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, nor the inhabitants of Beth-anath, and he dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites who inhabit the land. And the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.

The book of Judges simply states the matter of fact, “They didn’t dispossess the people,” but the book of Joshua twice uses the phrase “were not able” (15:63 and 17:12), showing that in at least two instances the people attempted to take the cities and didn’t let them go out of plain laziness.

It was the Lord’s business to dispossess the peoples before Israel, and Israel had known that there would be a remnant of the native people (Josh. 23:12). The Lord had his reasons for leaving this remnant of the Canaanites and other nations (Judg. 3:1-4). Israel’s duty, though, was this: don’t intermarry or make covenants with this remnant, nor bow down to their gods.

Yet, as we will see in the first few verses of chapter 2, Israel is by no means innocent in all this.


34 And the Amorites pressed the sons of Dan toward the hill country, for they did not allow him to come down to the lowland. 35 And the Amorites were determined to dwell in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim. But the hand of the house of Joseph was heavy, and they became subject to forced labor. 36 And the territory of the Amorites was from the Ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela upward.

The significance of this brief account will become clear as we near the end of Judges, but we can peek ahead a little. The sum of it is this: Dan did not get his inheritance. His territory was supposed to extend from the hill country down to the sea, but the Amorites persisted in the land. Dan did not defeat them. Dan did not subject them to forced labor. Dan had to leave. It says in Joshua 19:47, “When the territory of the people of Dan was lost to them, the people of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and after capturing it and striking it with the sword they took possession of it and settled in it, calling Leshem, Dan, according to the name of Dan their father.”

This verse from Joshua is expanded in Judges 18:27-31 (there the city is called Laish instead of Leshem). Dan ends up in the northernmost part of Israel. The phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” becomes a common way of saying “throughout all Israel,” Dan was so far north (and nowhere near his allotment). Dan also set up an idol when he took that city, but more on that in its place.

Thus far we’ve heard a lengthy catalogue of cities that the Israelites did not capture, culminating in Dan losing his inheritance entirely. And now we get the details of why this happened:

2:1 And the angel of Yahweh went up from Gilgal to Bochim, and he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and I brought you in to the land that I swore to your fathers, and I said: ‘I will never violate my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of this land; their altars you shall tear down.’ But you have not listened to my voice. What is this you have done? 3 And I also said, ‘I will not drive them away from your faces, and they shall be against your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ ” 4 And it happened as the angel of Yahweh spoke these words to all the sons of Israel that the people lifted up their voice and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim, and they sacrificed there to Yahweh.


The word “capitulate” comes from the Medieval Latin verb capitulare, which means to draw up under chapter headings. In terms of battle, it means surrendering and agreeing to live under certain terms (see etymonline.com, “capitulate”). The defeated enemy is the one who capitulates. The victor has no need to capitulate, because… he’s the victor.

And yet Israel, the victor, capitulates. The Lord gave him the land, according to promise. He was driving out the nations, according to promise. And then Israel began to make deals and draw up terms of cohabitation with the native peoples, as if God’s people were the ones who had to surrender – as if God had never made a promise.

Apostasy does not usually happen in an instant. It happens by selling off the Scriptures one word at a time. The devil, the world, and the sinful nature bruise faith’s knuckles as faith holds onto God’s promises, and peel back faith’s fingers one at a time with things like apathy (it’s so much work to guard God’s Word all the time), and doubt (we’re on our own out here), and the appearance of things (these are mighty nations we’re up against).

When faith becomes weak, then instead of standing before enemies with the confidence of God’s promises, one can only stand before enemies with one’s own resources. If one’s own resources are not sufficient for the task, then it’s time to make a deal. Thus it is that those who have already won auction off their hope like those who have lost.

So Israel did in the conquest of the promised land. He began to capitulate. He decided to draw up terms instead of drawing swords. He decided, “You know what? Let them have their Baal. It’s not going to hurt us just being there. We’ll remain true to the Lord.” He decided, “We’ll subject them to forced labor (and then pretend that’s compatible with not being able to drive them out). After all, we have a history of being slaves in Egypt; it’s high time other nations served us. Plus having slaves is great!”

Now you might wonder, “What does this have to do with the Church today?” The history of God’s people is a history of warfare, and not just any warfare. The history of God’s people is a history of theological warfare, a war of gods. Joshua had already made the point to the Israelites, “What are you going to do: worship the gods of the nations that have been defeated by the Lord, or worship the Lord who defeated all the other gods? This is really obvious.” (cf. Josh. 24:15). Point being, God’s people are in a theological warfare that has already been decided. There’s already a victor, and it’s the one true God.

The history of the Church continues to be a history of theological warfare. The enemies are not Canaanites, but false doctrines. The weapons are not swords and spears, but words: the Word of the Lord versus the devil’s lying tongue. Heresy says, “Worship another god.” And God’s faithful people say, “Are you daft? You already lost! Why on earth would we forsake Christ so that we can be on the losing side with you?”

But if the devil, the world, and the sinful nature have loosened faith’s grip with their assaults, the result is that we act like we haven’t won – indeed, we act like we might lose! This is why the chief duty throughout the Old Testament as regards God’s Word is keep. Keep it. Keep God’s Word.

“Keep” in the Old Testament does not mean “do” or “fulfill,” as related as those ideas might be. “Keep” in the Old Testament means “keep watch on,” “guard,” “protect,” “hold on to.” As much as a Christian is a doer of the Law (or tries to be), more than that a Christian is the keeper of a great treasure: a keeper of the Word of the Lord. This Word forgives our sins. This Word conquers death. This Word strengthens faith. This Word is perfect and eternal and God has deigned to speak it to us lowly, sinful mortals.

And shall we give up this Word? To heresies that have already failed? To gods that are no gods? To the high and mighty who fell to the ground when Jesus merely said, “I am” (Jn. 18:5)? That would be ridiculous! We might as well give up breathing, or eating! That we should give up life is silly enough, but that we should give up life in favor of death? How laughable!

Yet Israel lifts up his voice and weeps because he has acted out of unbelief. He has capitulated. He has tolerated false gods and false doctrines in his midst, perhaps because it was the path of least resistance and he was tired of resisting, perhaps because he feared for his survival, perhaps because there was some worldly benefit in it for him, perhaps all of these.

God’s people still do these things. And when the Lord confronts us with our sins by his Word, we don’t excuse, we don’t justify, we don’t explain. We weep. “You have not listened to my voice.” And we weep. We repent, and we turn to the Lord’s sacrifice.

And our crucified Lord forgives, and by his Word he pulls us back from the slow walk down the road of apostasy.

Return to Yahweh your God,
For gracious and merciful is he,
Slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
And he relents over harm.

    Joel 2:13

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