I have decided my Monday Devotionals will take us through Judges just as they took us through Joshua. So, without further ado, a reading from the Book of Judges, the first chapter.
1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. 4 Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. 5 They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. 6 Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. 7 And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table. As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.
8 And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. 9 And afterward the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. (Judges 1:1-10 ESV)
So, Joshua is dead, and Israel is leaderless. There is no successor to Joshua. Not now. Not yet.
Instead, God picks the tribe of Judah, along with Simeon (because Simeon’s land is smack in the middle of Judah, and Simeon will disappear into Judah) to resume fighting, to continue to conquest.
But note here, even as God picks Judah and Simeon to lead the fighting (a collective leadership akin to the post-Stalin or post-Tito arrangements made in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia respectively, and it will face a similar end), the Lord is still doing the real fighting, is still achieving the real victories here, still delivering the Canaanites into Israel’s hands. These are not Israel’s victories. They never were, and they never will be. Nothing fundamental has changed.
Long-time reads of this blog (assuming there are any) will know I am not a believer in what comes around goes around, so I find the fate of Adoni-Bezek — אֲדֹֽנִי־בֶזֶק The Lord of Bezeq — intriguing. At the hands of the Israelites, he suffers the same fate he used to inflict upon those he conquered. I’m not inclined to call this justice poetic or otherwise, but he does confess — “So God has repaid me.”
But I cannot read this without also thinking of Jesus’ encounter with the gentile woman in Mark 7 (where she is described as Syropheonician) and Matthew 15 (where she is described as a Canaanite). “Yes Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28) He fed those he conquered with scraps, scraps they would have a hard time picking up because he deprived them of their thumbs. And now how is conquered, thumbless, trying to pick up scraps from under the table of Israel.
I’m not sure what this allusion — if Jesus is even drawing from this image of the conquered and humiliated foreigner (being a syrophoenician in Mark makes her an outsider; being a Canaanite in Matthew makes her a subject person) scrounging under Israel’s table — does. The story we have in both Mark and Matthew tell us that while Jesus sees his ministry entirely to the “Lost sheep of Israel,” and he basically calls the woman a “dog” in both passages, the story also gives us a Jesus surprised by her faith, and in both stories, her faith in Jesus heals the woman’s daughter.
By contrast, Adoni-Bezeq seems only to grasp that “God” (אֱלֹהִים, and not The Lord יְהוָ֖ה, which is how non-Israelites tend to meet the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) has paid him back. In the form of Israel’s conquest. Even this is faith, understanding that God is the author of one’s misfortune and poetic vengeance.
Perhaps we should be surprised by his faith, and never has there been such faith in Israel, to understand that God has repaid one’s own evil and oppression for evil and oppression. (This is a self-realization, not a self-righteous third person accusation. Remember that.) To have been the doer of evil who, now thumbless and toeless, gets what has really just happened to him. Because sometimes that happens.
It will happen later in this story, as faithless Israel is itself conquered and carried into exile. Recompense for its own sin. Faith in the righteous judgment of God is still faith. Even when there is no escape past “today you will be with me in paradise.”
It’s also interesting that Judah and Simon bring this conquered king of the Negev to Jerusalem, which is still at this point a Canaanite city that Israel is still making war against. The men of Judah manage to sack and burn the city here, but they don’t secure it. It is still full of foreigners.