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in the conquest of Canaan


Israel from about 1400BC to about 1000BC


We need to understand that the "judges" of this book were individuals who sometimes worked in a small area to lead the local people in the way of the LORD. They were not just "judges" as we think of the title today, e.g. "magistrates" (although they sometimes settled disputes), but were leaders (male and female) appointed by God to guide the people in time of need. They were normally fiercely independent from, yet respectful of, local tribal government, which made them ideal for God’s purpose. But that very independence also caused problems for Him too in that they did not always do things in the "way of the LORD."

They were not normally prophets (but one was), for those folk have a special job, announcing, "Thus says the LORD" and repeating His words for their listeners. Judges were workmen and women who literally fought for God, often in a misguided way, but always with a desire to help His people. Over a period of some four hundred years the church was captained by these men and women, sometimes singly, sometimes several at the same time in various localities, but all pointing upward to the Son of God to the best of their ability. From Joshua to Samuel (c1400 – c1000BC) they were those who would listen to and fight for God. Not because He wanted them to, but because that was how they saw Him and His way. The Spirit tells us of twelve of them (thirteen with Joshua), but there could have been more. Because the judges were fighting men and women (some Christians still are!) they saw the Son of God as a fighter too, and the writer follows their point of view. Also, because of their attitude, the Son of God had often to patch up their actions, and even, in some cases, guide them in the deed they were determined to do to obtain the best result for all involved.

As we read this record we must keep clear in our minds the fact that the Son of God does not punish, harm or destroy any one at any time, otherwise we will be continually confused by the way in which the writer of the books attributes these actions to his LORD.

This need not be a problem for us if we remember that the Bible points to God as its author, yet it was written by human hands. We can see this in the varied style of its different books which present the characteristics of the different writers. The truths revealed are all "given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16); yet they are expressed in the words of men. The Infinite One by His Holy Spirit has shed light into the minds and hearts of His servants. He has given dreams and visions, symbols and figures; and those to whom the truth was thus revealed, have themselves in person reproduced the thought in human language.

And He has recorded history as it was. Thus it is a true record, but not all that is written in it is truthful – it is often the opinion or statement of a man or a devil, or a history of what actually happened (and not want God intended), and only the Bible itself can show us which to accept at face value and which to investigate further.

The LORD thus speaks to us in imperfect speech, in order that our degenerate senses, our dull, earthly perception, may comprehend His words. In this is shown the Son of God's condescension for He meets fallen human beings where we are and trains us. The Bible, perfect as it is in its simplicity, does not ideally express the great thoughts of God, for infinite ideas cannot be perfectly embodied in finite vehicles of thought.

Yet we are told:


Romans 15:4. J B Phillips translation January 1962 ed.

"For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today; that when we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time."


The lives recorded in the Bible are authentic histories of actual individuals. From Adam down through successive generations to the times of the apostles we have a plain, unvarnished account of what actually occurred, and the genuine experience of real characters. It is a subject of wonder to many that inspired history should narrate facts in the lives of good men that tarnish their moral characters in our eyes. But we should know that the inspired writers did not fudge the truth to prevent the pages of sacred history being clouded by the record of human frailties and faults. Often they implored God that He would make public their errors so that others might learn from them. King David made his the subject of many of his songs (Psalms) and sang them over and over again in his court to show God’s goodness towards him! e. g. Psalm 51.

In fact, it is one of the best evidences of the authenticity of the Scriptures that the truth is not glossed over nor the sins of its chief characters suppressed. We are told what we need to know. How many biographies have been written of apparently faultless Christians, who, in their ordinary home life and church relations, shone as examples of immaculate piety? Yet had the pen of inspiration written their histories, how different would they have appeared? There would have been revealed human weaknesses, struggles with selfishness, bigotry, and pride, hidden sins, perhaps, and the continual warfare between the Spirit and the flesh.

Had uninspired persons written our good Bible, it would have presented quite a different appearance and would have been a discouraging study to erring mortals, who are contending with natural frailties and the temptations of a wily foe. But as it is, we have a correct record of the religious experience of marked characters in Bible history. Men and women whom God favoured, and to whom He entrusted great responsibilities, were sometimes overcome by temptation and committed sins (often not even recognising them as sins), even as we of the present day strive, waver, and frequently choose to err (without need, I might add). But it is encouraging to our desponding hearts to know that through God's grace they could gain fresh vigour to again rise above their faults; and, remembering this, we are ready to renew the conflict ourselves.

The Bible was written for the common people as well as for scholars, and is within the comprehension of all. The great truths that underlie men and women’s duty to their fellow men and to their Maker are clearly revealed; and those who really want the truth need make no mistake. The way is not left in uncertainty, as though we were standing where four roads meet, not knowing which one to take. The truth is our guide; it is to us like a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Every child of God should be intelligent in the Scriptures, and able, by applying the character of Jesus Christ as shown in the New Testament to the God of the Old Testament, to see the truth of the stories of old.

Here is a typical tale:


2 Kings 1:

2 And [king] Ahaziah [of Israel] fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said to them, "Go, inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease."

3 But the Angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that you go to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron? 4 Now therefore thus says the LORD, You shall not come down from that bed on which you are gone up, but shall surely die." And [having done so] Elijah departed [went back home].

5 And when the messengers turned back to him [Ahaziah], he said to them, "Why are you now turned back?" 6 And they said to him, "There came a man up to meet us, and said to us, ‘Go, turn again to the king that sent you, and say to him, Thus says the LORD, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that you send to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from that bed on which you are gone up, but shall surely die’."

7 And he said to them, "What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words? [What did he look like?] 8 And they answered him, "He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins." And he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite [the prophet of God]."

9 Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty [soldiers]. And he went up to him [Elijah]: and, behold, he sat on the top of a hill. And he spoke [threateningly] to him, "You man of God, the king has said, ‘Come down’." 10 And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, "If I be a man of God [beware], then let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty [if you try and take me]." And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.

11 Again also he sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty.And he answered and said to him, "O man of God, thus has the king said, ‘Come down quickly [or else]’." 12 And Elijah answered and said to them, "If I be a man of God [be very aware], let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty." And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.

13 And he sent again a captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought [begged] him, and said to him, "O man of God, I pray you, let my life, and the life of these fifty your servants, be precious in your sight. 14 Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in your sight [I’m only doing my duty and am aware of our danger]."

15 And the Angel of the LORD said to Elijah, "Go down with him: be not afraid of him." And he arose, and went down with him to the king.


What do you see in this story? Does it inspire you as it did the apostles John and James?


Luke 9:

51 And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up [crucified], He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for Him. 53 And they did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem [for the Passover].

54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "LORD, will You that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume [punish] them, even as Elijah did?"


Or do you see it as Jesus did?


55 But He turned, and rebuked them [sadly scolded them], and said, "You know not what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives [as Satan does], but to save them."

And they went to another village [turned the other cheek].


We must read the books of the Old Testament as Jesus did, in the light of the real character of God.

What killed those soldiers? It was the "fire of God", the power base that emanates from the Son of the living God. He was on the hill with Elijah (v15) and it was this fact that Elijah was trying to warn the soldiers about. To approach into that sinless area with murderous thoughts would be to commit suicide, and so Elijah was trying to save them from themselves!

It was this that the Son of man recognised when He read the story, and what John and James missed.

The many contradictory opinions in regard to what the Bible teaches do not arise from any obscurity in the book itself, but from blindness and prejudice on the part of interpreters. We often ignore the plain statements of the Bible to follow our own perverted reason. Priding ourselves on our intellectual attainments, or going by our feelings, we overlook the simplicity of truth; we forsake the fountain of living waters to drink of the poisonous stream of error because it strokes our egos!

If you find this concept difficult then consider Paul’s experience. He wrote:


Galatians 1:15-17

"When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb [natural human nature], and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia [to a solitary place], and returned again to Damascus." [He didn’t even go to Jerusalem till three years later, when he stayed fifteen days with Peter. Galatians 1:18.]


There is much to learn from Paul's not conferring with flesh and blood.

To be sure, he had no need to, since he had the LORD's own spoken word as well as His written one. But such a course as his is by no means common. For instance, men and women read a thing in the Bible and then must ask some other man's opinion before they dare believe it. If none of their friends believe it, they are fearful of accepting it. If the pastor, or some commentary, explains the text away, then away it goes. "Flesh and blood" (human nature) gain the day against the Spirit and the word.

When you cannot see how a certain statement harmonises with another, do not get impatient, and begin to doubt, but wait in faith, and God will explain it to you. Do not be afraid of waiting awhile. It may be the LORD has some other lesson for you to learn before you can understand this one. But while you are waiting, wait only on the LORD, and His words will explain themselves. As Paul advises you, "Consider what I say; and the LORD give you understanding in all things." 2 Timothy 2:7.

In searching the Scriptures we should not endeavour to interpret their utterances so as to agree with our preconceived ideas, but come as learners to understand the foundation principles of the faith of Christ. With eager interest, with fervent prayer, we should come to the word of God, that we may know what is truth, manifesting the same spirit as did Nathanael when he earnestly besought the LORD that he might know the truth. Light will come to every earnest seeker for truth, as it came to Nathanael. Jesus saw him as he bowed in prayer under the fig tree, and while he was still petitioning for light, the messenger came to call him, and to lead him to the Source of all light.


John 1:45-49

Philip finds Nathanael, and says to him, "We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." And Nathanael said to him, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" [Prejudice and unbelief sprang up in the heart of Nathanael, but Philip did not try to combat it.] Philip said to him, "Come and see [for yourself]." Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and says of him, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Nathanael says to Him, "Whence know You me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered and says to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel."


How easily was Nathanael convinced by the word of the Son of God!
And with what pleasure Jesus looked upon his sincere, guileless faith!


Verses 50-51

Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, believe you? You shall see greater things than these." And He says to him, "Verily, verily, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."


God never honours unbelief and questioning and doubt. When He speaks the manner of His word is to be recognized and then carried out in the daily actions. And if the heart of the enquirer is in living connection with God, the voice and the "way" that comes from above will be recognised.

To get back to our book:

Why did the Israelites indulge in such bloody slaughters when God had said He would remove their enemies from before them by the "Hornet"? [See Epilogue]. Weaponless when they left Egypt as a slave nation, they picked up the armaments from the bodies of the Egyptians washed ashore after the Red Sea disaster. And, true to God’s word, that "all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword," (Matthew 26:52) they, under Satan’s direction, imagined that they were to fight for themselves and protect themselves "under God", and "with His help", and many perished in the attempt. The Son of God now had to deal with a representative nation which was nearly as bloodthirsty and cruel as any of the pagan nations in the land of Canaan. But they were the "best of a bad bunch" so He stayed with them, endeavouring all the while to educate them away from violence while His enemy egged them on. It was a contest between two super powers.

All the important nations of the period were exhausted from wars and internal strife and Egypt had been decimated by the exodus events, so all the Hebrews had to handle were the Canaanites. The people had a few large cities, but the majority of the inhabitants lived in the country. Their religion was based on a fertility cycle, in which they thought that the productivity and well-being of life were dependent on the continued sexual activity of their gods and goddesses, so they depicted these activities in physical rituals. Such ceremonies appealed greatly to the Israelites and this helps to explain why the books of Moses contain laws regarding diet and human sexuality.

Joshua and his people entered the promised land near its centre, and then moved south for a prolonged campaign. After that, they pushed into the northern regions. The whole process took many years (possibly 15) and even then it was never really completed. (See Note 1) However, after about seven years the people of the land were sufficiently subdued for Joshua to allocate portions to the nine and a half remaining tribes. But they had to live mainly in the mountainous regions because the Canaanites kept control of the seacoast and the plains.

From internal evidence such as the record of Joshua’s death, and the use of the phrase "to this day" (5:9; 15:63 etc.) there are indications that the first book, or portions of it, could have been written by someone other than Joshua. Although this is not certain, the book does detail many of the events of his life during the invasion.

The book of Judges then completes the narration of the events up to the founding of the monarchy in Samuel’s time, warts and all.

In all of this we should not linger over the sad experiences of Samson and Delilah, the Levite and his concubine etc., but should see how the Son of God dealt with the situations He was given. Then we may trust Him to do for us what is necessary.


On to an important point

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Note 1:

Joshua 13:1  

Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said to him, “You are old and stricken in years, and there remains yet very much land to be possessed.”  Back


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