Chapter 1


        • I prefer the organization that the NLT Illustrated Study Bible utilizes, so my section headings generally reflect this arrangement.

        • Also note, beginning in this chapter I will use the Hebrew name of God (Yahweh) where the original text employs it, rather than the common English translation rendering, “the LORD”. This is for the purpose of clarity with respect to the variation in references to God throughout Scripture. I will be going back to correct the notes for Genesis through Joshua as well. However, this will likely take a while to complete since I will be working on it sporadically as time allows.

PROLOGUES (1:1-3:6)

    • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Two prologues (1:1-2:5 and 2:6-3:6) preface the body of the book. Both begin with the death of Joshua (1:1; 2:8), thus connecting Judges with the preceding narrative (Joshua 24:29-33)…”

Partial Conquest and Tribal Unfaithfulness

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The first prologue describes the unfaithfulness of the tribes in their failure to carry out Joshua’s farewell charge (Joshua 23).”

Judah and Simeon Conquer the Land

        • After Joshua’s death, the Israelites asked Yahweh, “Which tribe will go first to fight against the Canaanites?” Yahweh answered, “Judah is to go, I have handed the land over to him.” Judah said to his brother Simeon, “Come with me to the territory allotted to me to fight against the Canaanites. Then, we will go with you into your allotted territory.” So, Simeon went with him.

          • HSCB clarifies, ‘Although Judah and Simeon, the sons of Jacob, were long dead, the author used the device of personification to refer to their respective tribes…a man was considered to live on through his name, borne by his descendants.”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “According to Joshua 19:1-9, the territorial allotment of Simeon consisted of scattered towns within the grant of Judah. Within a century or two, Simeon ceased to exist as a separate tribe…”

        • Judah attacked and Yahweh handed the Canaanites and Perizzites over to them. In the city of Bezek, they killed 10,000 men, found and fought Adoni-bezek, and defeated the Canaanite and Perizzites.

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Adoni-bezek is probably a title (ie. ‘Lord of Bezek’) rather than a personal name.”

        • Adoni-bezek ran away, but they followed him, captured him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to gather scraps under my table. God has repaid me for what I have done.” The Israelites brought him to Jerusalem and he died there.

          • HCSB writes, “Assuming that Adoni-bezek was not exaggerating his military prowess, he would most likely have defeated those kings over a period of time. Thus 70 different kingdoms need not have existed in Palestine at the same time. Furthermore, the term translated ‘king’ (melek) could refer to local rulers who, today, might be styled prices, governors, or mayors.”

          • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible addresses three aspects of this passage: (1) the heinous sounding cutting off of the thumbs and big toes; (2) Adoni-bezek’s reference to kings scavenging scraps from his table; and (3) Adoni-bezek’s reference to “God” repaying him for his actions:

          • (1) “The mutilation of captives was common in the ancient world. Although we have no ancient records of the torturous cutting off of toes and thumbs, this action recalls the brutality of the Assyrians. The purpose of this kind of torture is not merely to incapacitate an enemy or to cause pain, but also to humiliate them (see next note) and prevent them from ever serving again as soldiers.”

          • (2) “By cutting off the fingers and toes of his enemies, Adoni-Bezek had treated them like dogs and reduced them to scavenging scraps under his table.”

          • (3) “Adoni-Bezek’s reference to God is ambiguous. In ascribing responsibility for his punishment to deity he uses the generic designation ‘elohim,’ which could refer either to Yahweh by the generic title or to his own pagan god. Since he was a Canaanite, we would not necessarily expect him to refer to Yahweh, the God of Israel.”

        • The men of Judah attacked and captured Jerusalem, killing its people and setting the city on fire. Then, they went to fight the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev, and the western foothills. They also marched against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly named Kiriath-arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. From there, they went to fight against the people living in Debir (formerly named Kiriath-sepher).

        • It seems to be the majority view that the events described here (and elaborated further in the verses following) are a retelling of the very same events described in the book of Joshua. The ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The capture of Hebron and Debir happened under Joshua (Joshua 10:36-39). This is an account of the same historical event; the parallel accounts in Joshua 15:13-19 and Judges 1:10-15 expand on the account of Joshua 10:36-39 (a summary of the complete campaign) by providing more detail of these specific battles.”

          • Guzik adds, “Here it is recorded that the city of Jerusalem fell to Judah. It was occupied for a time (Adoni-Bezek was taken there and died there), but later fell back to the Jebusites (see Judges 1:21). Under the leadership of King David Israel conquered the city again some 400 years later (2 Samuel 5:6-10).”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Hebron was the city nearest to Abraham’s dwelling by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 13:18); the patriarchs later lived and were buried there (Genesis 23:19; 35:27; 49:29-32). It was originally called Kiriath-arba (‘City of Arba’), after the legendary Arba, who was a ‘great hero of the descendants of Anak’ and ‘Anak’s ancestor’ (Joshua 14:15; 15:13). The Anakites, in turn, are identified with the dreaded Nephilites (Numbers 13:33; see Genesis 6:4).”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “Debir is located at Khirbet Rabud, south of Hebron and surrounded by the bed of Nahal Hebron…its water sources are located 2 miles north of the site at two wells (called the Upper and Lower Wells of Alaqa), which corresponds to Achsah’s request in v. 15.”

          • Guzik takes this opportunity to cite Cundall’s helpful use of Judges 1:9 to describe “the three major geographic divisions of Israel”:

          • The mountains, or more literally the hill country, ‘which describes the mountainous regions between Jerusalem and Hebron.’ The South, also known as the Negev, which is ‘the semi-arid area between Hebron and Kadesh-barnea.’ The lowland, sometimes called the Shelphelah from the Hebrew word used here. This ‘is the region of foot-hills running north and south between the coastal plain and the central mountain range.’”

Map via

image via

        • Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Achsah, as a wife, to whoever attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.” Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz, captured it. So Caleb gave Achsah to him as his wife.

          • In his commentary, John Gill calls attention to these familiar events as illustrative that this is indeed a re-telling of events that occurred during the time of Joshua- not after his death:

          • …the offer of Caleb to give his daughter in marriage to whomsoever should take it, does not seem so well to agree with times after the death of Joshua; since it is highly probable that Caleb, who was contemporary with him and Eleazar, was now dead, and at least cannot well be thought to have a young daughter at this time undisposed of in marriage; wherefore these facts are only repeated upon observing Judah’s having taken Jerusalem, to show what exploits were performed by men of that tribe; wherefore for what is after said, Judges 1:11, as is said in Joshua 15:15, where the same things are related in express words as here, containing the request of Caleb’s daughter…”

          • We’ve already discussed the controversies over Achsah being given as a “prize” in marriage, as well as who she was given in marriage to (her uncle or her cousin?). For review on those topics, the interested reader may refer to the notes for Joshua chapter 15.

        • When she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she dismounted her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What do you want?” She answered, “Give me a blessing. Since you have already given me land in the Negev, give me springs of water also.” So, Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

        • It should be noted that the Septuagint renders this passage a little differently- with Othniel being the one that urged Achsah to ask for the field. The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes that the Latin Vulgate follows the Septuagint rendering:

          • And it came to pass as she went in, that Gothoniel urged her to ask a field of her father; and she murmured and cried from off her ass, Thou hast sent me forth into a south land: and Chaleb said to her, What is thy request?” (LXX)

        • When the tribe of Judah left the city of palms, the Kenites (who were descendants of Moses’ father-in-law) went with them into the wilderness of Judah, which is located near Arad in the Negev. They settled there among the people of Judah.

        • There is some uncertainty with regard to the identity of the Kenites. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible sums up the options well:

          • Since Moses’ father-in-law is referred to elsewhere as a Midianite priest (Exodus 3:1; 18:1), either Moses had more than one wife, or the Israelites were fluid in their identification of the nomadic groups that migrated back and forth in the desert regions south of Judah. Otherwise, ‘Kenite” may refer to a Midianite clan or subgroup.”

        • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “…Moses offered them [Kenites] a share in the covenant blessing (Numbers 10:29-32). At least one clan of Kenites accepted the offer and was adopted into Judah, though members of the clan later shifted allegiance to King Jabin of Hazor (Judges 4:11, 17).”

        • The interested reader may refer to the gotquestions article, Who Were the Kenites, for additional information.

        • A second question arises here with respect to the identification of the location referred to as the “city of palms.”

          • The majority view seems to be that Jericho is the “city of palms.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers says, “Probably Jericho (see Judges 3:13; Deuteronomy 34:3; 2Chronicles 28:15).” Barnes Notes on the Bible adds, “The rabbinical story is that Jericho, with 500 cubits square of land, was given to Hobab. The use of the phrase ‘city of palm trees’ for ‘Jericho,’ is perhaps an indication of the influence of Joshua’s curse Joshua 6:26. The very name of Jericho was blotted out. There are no palm trees at Jericho now, but Josephus mentions them repeatedly, as well as the balsam trees.”

          • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible gives the opposing view, “…could feasibly refer to any oasis that featured date palms. Since all of the activity in this section takes place much further south than Jericho, it likely refers to a fortified oasis settlement in that region, perhaps Tamar on the western edge of the Arabah south of the Dead Sea.”

        • Judah went with his brother Simeon to fight against the Canaanites in Zephath. They defeated them and devoted it to destruction, so they named the town Hormah.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible make the following note regarding the Hebrew word herem used in verse 17a which is here rendered “devoted it to destruction”, “The Hebrew term used here refers to the complete consecration of things or people to the Lord, either by destroying them or by giving them as an offering.”

        • Judah did not capture Gaza with its territory, Ashkelon with its territory, Ashdod with its territory, or Ekron with its territory.

        • Here, I have opted to go with the Septuagint rendering rather than the Masoretic since it seems to me to be the more accurate. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges writes, “The statement that Judah captured three out of the five chief cities of the Philistines cannot be reconciled with any ancient tradition; it contradicts the next verse and Jdg 3:3, Joshua 13:2…The LXX reads ‘and Judah did not dispossess’ (a different word from ‘took’), and other versions insert the negative; this seems to get over the difficulty…” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers adds, “Three of the five Philistian lordships, to which the LXX add Ashdod (Azotus). In Joshua 13:3 these five townships are mentioned as still unconquered, and here the LXX put in a negative—’Judah did not inherit Gaza, nor,’ &c. St. Augustine had the same reading.”

Israel Fails to Conquer the Land

        • Yahweh was with Judah and enabled them to take possession of the hill country. However, they couldn’t drive out the people living in the plains because they had iron chariots.

          • There are more interesting issues with this passage than meet the eye. We’ll take a look at them in this order: (1) the alternative Septuagint rendering; (2) did they even have iron at this early juncture?; (3) did iron chariots overpower God?

          • (1) The Septuagint rendering says nothing at all about iron chariots. Instead, it reads, “And the Lord was with Judas, and he inherited the mountain; for they were not able to destroy the inhabitants of the valley, for Rechab prevented them.” * Some translations of the Septuagint read, “…for they were not able to drive out the residents of the valley because Rechab separated it.”

          • The obvious question now is, “Who or what is Rechab?” Well, Rechab is a who, and he’s mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. The gotquestions article, Who were the Rechabites in the Bible, contains some very interesting information. The following are excerpts:

            • The Rechabites were descendants of Rechab (or Recab or Rekab), a Kenite and thus related to the Midianites and Moses’ family by marriage (see Judges 1:16). According to Jeremiah 35:6, the Rechabites’ strict rules were put in place by a son (or descendant) of Rechab named Jehonadab (or Jonadab). This is the same Jehonadab who helped Jehu rid Israel of Baal-worship after the time of Ahab (2 Kings 10:15–27).”

            • The Rechabites (also Recabite, Rekabite) were a nomadic people group known for their strict rules to abstain from wine, from building houses, from sowing seed, and from planting vineyards (Jeremiah 35:6–7). The Rechabites were faithful to abide by these rules through the generations, all the way from the time of Jehu (2 Kings 10:15) to the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 35:8–10)—over 200 years.”

            • God used the faithfulness of the Rechabites to teach an important lesson to His people…God contrasted the obedience of the Rechabites to the disobedience of His own people. Again and again God had sent His prophets to tell the Israelites to turn from their wicked ways, but the people had not heeded God’s Word. “The descendants of Jehonadab son of Rekab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me” (verse 16)…As a result of the Israelites’ historic disobedience, God promised to bring disaster upon the nation (Jeremiah 35:17). But God commended the family of the Rechabites and gave them a promise: “Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me” (verse 19).”

            • (2) Too early for iron chariots?

              • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Textual and archaeological evidence shows that iron was known in the ancient Near East prior to what is known as the Iron Age (c. 1200-586 BC), but because of the difficulty in refining it (the ore has to be heated to 1530 degrees C), the refined metal was rare and precious… How much iron was used in the chariots is an open question. Obviously the chariots were not made entirely of iron, but the metal could have been used on the hubs or rims of wheels or to reinforce other features of the chariot or simply as decoration.”

          • (3) Did iron chariots prove to be more powerful than God?

            • HCSB explains that more complete information regarding the inability of Judah to take possession of this land is given in the next chapter of Judges, “Judah’s defeat by a nation that possessed iron chariots (when ‘[t]he Lord was with Judah’) did not mean that God was not all-powerful. God was capable of defeating iron chariots when He chose to do so (4:13-15). Chapter 2, furthermore, reveals that disobedience to God was the true reason the tribes lost their battles (2:1-3, 18-22).”

        • Hebron was given to Caleb, just as Moses had promised, and he drove out the three sons of Anak who lived there.

        • The Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites who were living in Jerusalem. So, to this day, they continue to live in Jerusalem among the Benjaminites.

        • Joseph’s descendants attacked Bethel and Yahweh was with them. They sent spies to scout out Bethel (formerly known as Luz). They saw a man coming out of the city and said to him, “Please show us how to get into the city and we will deal mercifully with you.” He showed them the way into the city and they killed everyone in the city except for the man and his family. That man went to the land of the Hittites, built a town, named it Luz, and that is still the name of the town to this day.

          • ESV Archaeological Study Bible writes, “Bethel was probably captured as part of the defeat of Ai. These verses provide more detail than does the earlier reference to Joshua’s conquest of Bethel (Joshua 12:16).” On this same topic, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Bethel is associated with the battle against Ai (Joshua 7:2) and is listed in the summary statement of kings that Israel had defeated.”

          • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes this interesting commentary, “If Bethel were a walled town like some of the major cities of Canaan in the Middle Bronze Age and Israel’s fortified towns of the Iron Age, then the request to be shown the entrance to the city sounds ridiculous, since any passerby could have observed the nature of the walls and the location of the gates. However, the archaeological record suggests that in the Late Bronze Period, the defenses of many towns involved a perimeter of houses constructed close together, a practice that continued into the following Iron Age. Presumably the spies wanted to know the best route of access to Bethel. Their appeal to a local citizen for aid is illuminated by second-millennium BC Mesopotamian correspondence between Zimri-Lim and his officials, who report the use of local people as scouts and guides when their army entered unfamiliar territory.”

Tablet of Zimri-Lim, concerning the foundation of an ice-house in Terqa, 1780 BC. Now in the Louvre.” Image via

          • The same source notes, “Contrary to the herem law, the house of Joseph not only spared the life of the ‘traitor’ (from the Canaanite point of view) but also allowed him to leave and build his own city and continue his life as a Hittite (v. 26).” The NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “To have mercy (Hebrew khesed) has the overtones of making a covenant (see also 8:35, ‘loyalty’).”

        • Manasseh didn’t drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo, or their surrounding villages. The Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When the Israelites grew stronger they made the Canaanites serve as forced labor, but never drove them out completely.

        • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “The Manassite failure to fulfill the divine mandate is summarized by listing a series of unconquered cities and their respective dependent territories in a narrow strip of land extending from the Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west. The order in which these towns are named does not follow a normal east-west itinerary. Rather, the narrator moves in a straight line from the eastern extremity (Beth Shan) to the center (Taanach) to the western extremity (Dor) and then from the southernmost (Ibleam) to the northernmost (Megiddo). The effect is not only to highlight Canaanite control of the fertile Valley of Jezreel, but also to highlight the geographic wedge this created between the northern tribes and Ephraim to the south.”

Image via NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible p. 407

        • Ephraim didn’t drive out the Canaanites that lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites continued to live there among them. Zebulun didn’t drive out the inhabitants of Kitron or Nahalol. So, the Canaanites continued to live among them, but served as forced labor. Asher didn’t drive out the inhabitants of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob. So, the Asherites lived among the Canaanites living in the land because they didn’t drive them out. Naphtali didn’t drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh or Beth-anath. So, they lived among the Canaanites, but the Canaanites served as forced labor.

        • Guzik notes, “Of the people of Zebulun we read that the Canaanites dwelt among them (Judges 1:30). Yet in Asher it was even worse; it was the Asherites who dwelt among the Canaanites. They suffered a worse degree of social and spiritual declension…The people of Naphtali combined both facets of capitulation to the enemy. In some regions of their territory they lived under the shadow of the dominating Canaanites; in other regions they put the Canaanites under tribute to them. Both facets fell well short of God’s command and intent for the people of Israel.”

        • The Amorites forced the Danites back into the hill country and wouldn’t allow them to come down into the plains. The Amorites were determined to stay in Mount Heres, Aijalon, and Shaalbim. However, when Joseph’s descendants grew strong enough, they made the Amorites serve as forced labor. The border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “This section provides a summary of areas that Israel did not conquer. Most of the sites were in the coastal areas, the Jezreel Valley, or to the northwest of Judah (western Benjaminite territory, including Gezer, Mount Heres, Aijalon, and Shaalbim).” The same source notes that Gezer, “…retained its independence throughout the Israelite settlement and conquest until being conquered again by an Egyptian pharaoh and given to Solomon in a marriage alliance as a dowry (1 Kings 9:15-17).” Additionally, “Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath were sites near the Sea of Galilee and were distinct from Beth-shemesh in western Judah. Beth-shemesh was a common name meaning ‘house of the sun.’ The Canaanites would have built temples throughout the land for their solar deity.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Dan’s failure to take the land represents total infidelity and led to the complete abandonment of a portion of the Promised Land (chs 17-18).”

          • Guzik writes, “The end result was that the Amorites had an appointed boundary within the inheritance of God’s people. This was an unnecessary and dangerous accommodation to the social and spiritual enemies of the people of God.”

        • Guzik concludes with the following modern day application, “There is a dangerous and seductive form of pacifism in the Christian life, which ignores the reality of the spiritual battle so clearly described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and referred to by analogy in the Book of Judges. This pacifist attitude will happily make a peace with the devil that basically says, ‘I will not harm your interests if you leave me mostly alone.’ This attitude of spiritual surrender is unacceptable for the Christian…At this period of time, the tribes of Israel at their best experienced incomplete victory; at their worst they simply surrendered to and accommodated the enemy. This makes us value the complete and glorious victory of Jesus Christ on our behalf all the more. There was nothing left incomplete in the victory He won for us on the cross and through the resurrection.”