The Political Decline of Israel (Judges 1:1-36)

The Political Decline of Israel (Judges 1:1-36)


I was never good at geography. And I’m not alone. In 2006, a study revealed that 63% of Americans (18-24yo) couldn’t locate Iraq on a map. Furthermore, 50% couldn’t find New York! The following year, during the Q&A portion of Miss Teen USA, Caitlin Upton from South Carolina, suggested the reason Americans were so poor at geography was due to a lack of maps…Facepalm!

Well, like it or not, geography is the primary subject of this chapter. Judges 1 is theological geography.

Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “the medium is the message.” In Judges, we might say “the structure is the message.” So far, the structural and thematic introductions have highlighted the downward spiral of Israel’s failure to accomplish the work left by Joshua.

Will Israel complete the conquest? Conquest > Coexist.

Despite the downward spiral of the Israelites, God never left his people without hope.

Read Judges 1:1-36

God’s Preservation of Hope

God’s provision after the death of Joshua (2, 4). The people of Israel inquired of the Lord and he informed them that he had given the land into the hand of Judah. God is beginning to fulfill his promises (Gen. 49:8-10).

  • Victory (4-10): The Lord of Bezek, conqueror of 70 kings, is overpowered by the people of the Lord God. His incapacitation and humiliation was divine retribution. Even the Canaanites understood God’s justice.
  • Blessing (11-15): Gospel vignette – The one who conquers a wicked city will receive the reward of a bride, land, and springs of water. Achsah’s initiative and positive expansion of Othniel’s land is commendable. This peaceful cooperation contrasts with the complete disregard of women at the end.
  • Fulfillment (16-17): 1. The family of Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, are adopted into Judah. 2. Judah accomplishes the work Joshua had left them (Hormah/Harem).

God’s presence with Judah and Joseph reveal his covenant faithfulness (19, 22). The Lord was with the only successful tribes. Points us forward to Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us”, came to unite all nations to himself.

  • Unity: Tribal unity led to success (3, 17). The largest tribe (Judah) joined forces with the smallest tribe (Simeon). Joseph, which included Ephraim and Manasseh, met early success when they combined forces (22-26).

    DRD The unity and fellowship of God’s people is not a wimpy idea weak Christians dote on. It is an essential condition for experiencing the strength of our God.

God always preserves hope. When Israel was in the midst of deterioration, a remnant remained steadfast (Ruth). Corruption in world > pessimism. Progressive secularization in each generation causes feelings of hopelessness.

It is difficult to trust the promises of God when the situation looks hopeless. We are prone to act by sight, not faith. Let this passage encourage you. God will never leave his people without hope (2 Pet. 3:9).

We need the older generations to teach the younger generations about God’s faithfulness.

Unfortunately, God’s preservation of hope led to increasing compromise in…

Israel’s Toleration of Evil

The work was never expected to be easy. The victory was to be accomplished in stages (Exod. 23:29-30). Ongoing faithfulness was required.

Mission Failure: We know the Lord was with them. We know the Lord promised them victory. Hadn’t they heard Joshua’s encouragement (Josh 23:5)?

  • Judah’s Ferrumphobia (19): Moses spoke of stronger armies (Deut. 20:1), Joshua specifically warned them of chariots of iron (Josh. 17:18).
  • Benjamin’s Disobedience (21): No longer “could not”, but “did not”.
  • Joseph’s Pagan Treaty (22-26): Notice the similarities/differences with Jericho.
    • Surveillance team/spies
    • Receive help from an ordinary citizen
    • A reward is offered for the assistance provided
      • The reward followed Rahab’s testimony concerning the Lord’s favor upon Israel and she acknowledges him as the only true God.
      • Here the reward is offered without testimony. They were making a forbidden treaty.
    • After the city is conquered…
      • Rahab and her family integrate into the Israelite community.
      • The man was allowed to build his own city and continue to live as a Hittite within the Promised Land.
  • Increasing Failure (27-36): Israel in control (enslaved Canaanites) but tolerated their presence in direct violation of God’s command.
    • Manasseh subjected the Canaanites to forced labor.
    • Ephraim allowed Canaanites to live within their territory.
    • Zebulun subjected the Canaanites to forced labor.
    • Asher lived within Canaanite territory.
    • Naphtali lived among Canaanites who were subject to forced labor.
    • Dan driven into the hills of Amorite territory.

Toleration becomes apostasy within a single generation! Living with the Canaanites quickly becomes worshiping with the Canaanites. Small compromises compounded to the point of complete chaos and rebellion.

In Judges 1, we see a superior nation compromising her morals in order to accommodate others. Now, I know that’s hard to see the relevance today… When we are in desperate times, we can cry out to the Lord, and he will hear us (Psalm 34:17-18). Does God hear your cry in the midst of a world filled with tension of every kind?

Israel’s repeated faithlessness was met with God’s repeated faithfulness.


We can get bogged down by political failures. But our hope is not in the success of our nation. The Church is often guilty of Canaanization. Following after the pattern of this world we compromise God’s clear commandments and forfeit the blessings God associates with obedience.

Despite the downward spiral of the Israelites, God never left his people without hope.

  1. God’s Preservation of Hope will one day culminate in our eternal enjoyment.
  2. Israel’s Toleration of Evil was once and for all defeated in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a Savior who was never guilty of any degree of compromise.