The condition of Israel at the time of Joshua's death (Judges 1:1-16)
Judges 1: 1‑16 may be considered as a preface to the book of Judges, and the words, "Now after the death of Joshua, it came to pass," are the key to the whole book. It is not as yet, properly speaking, declension, but that which precedes it. What follows is governed by the fact, that Joshua, a type of the Spirit of Christ in power, was no longer in the midst of Israel. So also, in the church's history, the unhindered activity of the Spirit of God lasted but a short time. No doubt, as in the days of "the elders that outlived Joshua" (Judges 2: 7), the presence of the apostles stayed the tide of evil; but in both cases, the presence and working of certain deleterious principles, caused it to be foreseen, that when once the obstacle should be removed, the tide of declension would set in.
All was apparently going on well in Israel. The tribes take their several places in presence of a hostile world. They enquire of Jehovah, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first? God says: "Judah shall go up, behold I have delivered the land into his hand."(v. 1, 2) The answer was plain, Judah could count implicitly on God's faithfulness to His promise; but already we see that the simplicity of faith was lacking in him, and that his dependence on Jehovah was not so real as it appeared to be. "And Judah said unto Simeon, his brother, come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him." (v. 3) Judah seems to mistrust his own strength; but, instead of finding his resource in the God of Israel, he seeks it in Simeon, and in reality lacks confidence in Jehovah. True, he does not ally himself with the enemies of God; if his faith fails, he turns to his brother Simeon, only to his brother; but, nevertheless, under the pretext of pushing forward the work of God, we see, in principle, the dawn of human associations and alliances, which have become the ruling feature of all the present activity in Christendom. Did God require Simeon, in order to give Judah the lot of his inheritance?
The result of this combined action was apparently magnificent. We learn from Joshua 19: 9 that "the part of the children of Judah was too much for them." But the inheritance of the children of Simeon was not the best, for it was taken from what Judah could not keep; thus they received their portion out of that which was superfluous to another, at the southern limit of the land of Israel, in the border which looked towards the desert. It was not that God disowned either tribe, for it is written (v. 4), "the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand;" but warfare undertaken on the footing of a human alliance, bears more or less the imprint of its origin. The allies seize upon Adoni‑bezek and "cut off his thumbs and his great toes." (v. 6) This was not what God commanded of old, nor what Joshua did to the kings of Jericho, of Ai, of Jerusalem, of Makkedah, and all the kings of the mountain and of the plain. To mutilate the enemy was simply human retaliation. It had been, likewise, the custom of Adoni‑bezek thus to humble his enemies; keeping them, however, at his court, as their presence served to increase his glory as conqueror. We see similar things in the church's history. How many times she has made a show of past victories to exalt herself in her own eyes and those of others. The conscience of a humbled foe is often more accessible than that of the people of God in prosperity. Adoni‑bezek smitten by Judah, acknowledges having acted wrongly towards the vanquished kings, and bows to the judgment of God.
"And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron (now the name of Hebron before was Kirjath‑arba) and they slew Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjath‑sepher" (v. 10, 11). Joshua 15: 14, 15, ascribes to Caleb what our chapter attributes to Judah. Caleb's energy, perseverance and faith on this occasion were such that his whole tribe bore the imprint of it. In the early days of the church it was not so, when allwere of one heart and soul, and advanced with oneness of faith towards the goal. The coming to the front of individual faith is manifested far more distinctly in the course of the history of the judges raised up to deliver Israel; we see it, too, in the revivals which God works in our days; and while it is encouraging for the individual, it is humbling for the rest. What an honour for Caleb, that Judah should have gained the victory! On the other hand, let us not forget that each one of us may help to imprint weakness on the people of God as a whole. God grant that the church, though unfaithful, may have many Calebs in her midst to‑day.
There is further encouragement to be gathered from the history of this man of God. Individual faithfulness, even in the most corrupt days of the church, arouses and stimulates spiritual energy in others. Othniel, seeing Caleb's faith, is stirred up to act likewise. He serves his first campaign under him, and acquires for himself a good degree, for he becomes the first judge in Israel. But he is not satisfied with belonging to Caleb's family; he fights for the enjoyment of a new relationship, that of the bridegroom with the bride, and he gets Achsah to wife. Joshua 15 relates the fact in the same terms, for individual faith enjoys the same privileges as fully in a time of declension as in the brightest day of the church's history. The church has been unfaithful and has lost the sense of her relationship with Him, who, by His victory had acquired it for Himself; but this relationship may be known and enjoyed to‑day in its fulness by every one who is faithful.
This union gave Othniel a personal possession in the inheritance of him whose son he had become, and he had thenceforth an estate of his own. Our portion resembles his; we realize our heavenly position when we have taken our stand as regards the world, our hearts being attached to the person of Christ. Still this precious domain does not suffice to Achsah. The south land would be a barren field to her if her father did not give springs to water it. Achsah obtained the upper and the nether springs, just as in different circumstances, the saint passing through the valley of Baca, on the one hand makes it a well, and on the other sees rain from heaven filling the pools. Achsah is a thirsty soul, but she thirsts for Canaan's blessings. A Christian coveting the world is in a terrible condition, but God approves of and delights in one who thirsts for heaven. He satisfies such longings by copious springs, spiritual blessings which descend upon us and flow out from us. Those who covet the world, He visits with chastisements such as fell on Achan when he coveted the accursed thing.
The sixteenth verse, which closes this first division of the book, tells us of "the children of the Kenite, Moses' father‑in‑law." The history of this family, come out of Midian and allied to Moses, is full of interest. When Jethro returned to his own land, after having visited Israel in the desert (Ex. 18: 27), Moses asked his son Hobab to be to the children of Israel instead of eyes, to lead them in their encampments in the wilderness(Numbers 10: 29‑32); and in spite of his refusal, his sons, like Caleb, faithfully followed in the steps of the people of God. (Judges 4: 11, 1 Sam. 15: 6) Like Rahab, these children of a stranger amongst the nations, went up out of Jericho, the city of palm trees (Judges 1: 16, c.f., Deut. 34: 3), to cast in their lot with Israel. In cleaving permanently to Judah, they resembled Ruth. And like Othniel, they allied themselves with the family of Caleb, and out of it they had more especially for their chief, the faithful Jabez, the son of sorrow, who made his requests with understanding to the God of Israel, and to whom God granted that which he asked (1 Chron. 2: 50‑55, 1 Chron. 4: 9, 10). The Rechabites were descended from the Kenites (1 Chron. 2: 55, 2 Kings 10: 15, Jer. 35), and when their history closes in the Bible, they are praised as true Nazarites in the midst of the ruin of Israel. But alas! this faithful remnant come out from amongst the nations, plays its part also in the book of declension. We have an instance of it in Heber, the Kenite, in ch. 4. I cannot refrain from applying this history of the Kenites to the church called out from amidst the nations. Her testimony, too, is gone, but like the sons of Rechab amongst the Israelites, a faithful remnant in the midst of the ruin, can go on to the end in holy separation from evil, obeying the Word committed to them by their Leader.