Judges 1: Judah’s Conquest

Original Publication Date
August 15, 2016
Nov 8, 2022 4:59 PM
Chapter StudyJudgesCanaanJudah
Bible References
Judges 1
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on August 15, 2016 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.


After Joshua dies, the Israelites have to continue the work he began to conquer all of the promised land. After leaders like Moses and Joshua, the Israelites ask God who will lead them now. God calls upon on the tribe of Judah to lead a conquest against the Canaanites. The tribe of Judah's reaction to God's command is rare amongst those called to lead in the book of Judges. Without protest or hesitation, they make plans to carry out the conquest. The tribe also invites the tribe of Simeon to join them in battle, promising to return the favor when Simeon goes to battle.


The willingness to obey God's command tells us that the tribe will be successful. God allows them to swiftly defeat the Canaanites and Perizzites.

During their siege of cities, they defeat a ruler named Adonibezek. While the man eventually dies, in a strange deviation from God's command, they first cut off the man's thumbs and toes! God never commands the Israelites to torture the Canaanites, so this seems to be something they decide to do on their own (and we know how bad their own ideas are...). This is perhaps one of their first steps away from God beginning their downward spiral after entering the Promised Land. Adonibezek finally dies in Jerusalem, though we are not told how far away this is from the battle site or how long it is before he's killed.

Next on Judah's mission was capturing the city of Jerusalem. They are able to defat Canaanites occupying the city with God's help and burn the city. It makes sense that this would be one of the cities God expected them to burn, as the fire would purify the land of any uncleanness, paving the way for the Temple Mount. However, we learn in Judges 1:21 that Jerusalem still isn't in the Israelites' possession. Throughout Judges we see nations take back parts of the land, apparently this is what happened in Jerusalem. Likely, when the people of Judah moved on to conquer a new city, another group overran Jerusalem.

After conquering Jerusalem, the tribe of Judah defeat the Canaanites in the mountains, Hebron and Debir. We are told that they defeat three men: Shesai, Ahiman, and Talmai. These are the same men we are told about in Joshua 15. Caleb, a man of Judah, defeats these three men to gain Hebron as his inheritance.

Just as the conquest of Hebron is restated, Caleb's subsequent betrothal of his daughter to the man who conquers Debir is retold. Othniel, Caleb's nephew, is the man who succeeds in this mission. Othniel and Caleb's daughter are first cousins, which would definitely be considered incest by today's standards, but is not forbidden based on God's definition in Leviticus. Othniel is discussed in more detail in


Conquests After Judah's

At some point, the time came for Judah to follow Simeon in to battle. The two tribes conquered the cities of Hormah, Gaza, Askelon, and Ekron, all of which were coastal cities. The men are able to defeat the Canaanites in the mountain, but do not conquer the men of the valley. In Judges 1:19 we are told that God was with Judah, so why couldn't they drive out the men of the valley? The verse blames the failure on the iron chariots of the men, but we know that if God can create the world, He can lead an army of men to victory. Scholars have interpreted this verse to mean the men of Judah feared the iron chariots and lacked the faith to engage their enemy in battle.[1]

We are not told this explicitly, however. It is possible that like the first battle at Ai, the men of Judah rushed into the battle with men of the valley without God' approval. In essence, God may have been with Judah when they fought the men of the mountains, but not against the men of the valley.

Judah's failure to claim the valley is the beginning of a long list of failures. Benjamin tries to retake the city of Jerusalem, which has been re-inhabited by a group known as the Jebusites, to no avail. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh fail, as well. In one situation, similar to the circumstance of Rahab, the men of these tribes receive help from a man of the city then choose to let him go free. Unlike Rahab who helped the spies willingly and immediately professes faith in God, the man in this case is asked for information and never professes any faith in God. It is not surprising that he goes on to build his own city.

Strangers in the Land

During the exodus, Moses invites his father-in-law's son to join them in Israel, but he refuses (see Numbers 10:29). Yet, when the men of Judah move through the land, his descendants seem to have a change of heart. They join the men of Judah and live amongst them. They are known as the Kenites. It is unclear whether this was permitted because of Moses' invitation way back when, or if this was another case of the Israelites simply doing their own thing.

During the conquests of other tribes of Israel, we see a similar pattern. Despite the fact that Israel eventually gains enough strength to drive out the Canaanites, they don't. Instead, the keep allow them to stay and force their enemies to pay tribute. Not only do the children of Dan let the Amorites stay in their cities, they retreat from the city and are forced to live in the mountains. Their failure to faithfully obey God's instructions leads to major problems down the road.

As unfortunate as it may be that the Israelites struggled with their faith and were unable to carry out God's instructions, this is a blessing in disguise. If the Israelites had been capable of keeping the commandments perfectly, there would have been no reason for God to send Jesus to save everyone.

References and Footnotes

  1. MacDonald, William. Believers Bible Commentary. pg. 265-266. 1989

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