1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, "Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?" 2 The LORD answered, "Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands."
When Moses died, God chose Joshua to be his successor. In contrast, when Joshua died, no successor was chosen. The Israelites are in Canaan, have begun to take possession of it, and are living in the areas allotted to them by God.
The Israelites responded by asking God who would lead them to fight the Canaanites left in the land. Israel had leaders. Joshua 23:2 refers to elders, leaders, judges and officials that were present in every tribe. But, they wanted a leader over all.
God directed the tribe of Judah to take the lead. Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 49:9-12 was a prophesy of Judah’s leadership in Israel, which would lead to the kingship of David and his descendants, and the kingship of Christ. This command was repeated when the tribes went up against Benjamin, and the Lord directed Judah to lead, in Judges 20:18.
3 Then the men of Judah said to the Simeonites their brothers, "Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours." So the Simeonites went with them. 4 When Judah attacked, the LORD gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, "Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them." They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there. 8 The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.
Judah recruited Simeon to fight with them, and promised to return the favor. The cities assigned to Simeon were within the land allotted to Judah (Joshua 19:1, 9). (Jacob’s blessing included saying that Simeon would be dispersed within Israel, according to Genesis 49:7.)
Judah was victorious, and the Lord gave them victory initially. This included defeating and capturing Adoni-Bezek, the Lord of the city of Bezek, who was quite the warrior-king, commanding 10,000 men and having a history of cutting off the thumbs and big toes of the kings he conquered, to mark them as defeated and to prevent them from fighting again. God returned the favor to him. See Leviticus 24:19.
Judah went on to attack Jerusalem, although it would be given to the tribe of Benjamin. They succeeded in taking the city, but, according to later verses, did not drive out the Jebusites and occupy the city. They might have left that job for Benjamin. Israel did not occupy Jerusalem until David took it, as a member of the tribe of Judah, as recorded in 2 Samuel 5:6-10.
9 After that, the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10 They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). 12 And Caleb said, "I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher." 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage. 14 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him [a] to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, "What can I do for you?" 15 She replied, "Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water." Then Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.
Judah proceeded south from Jerusalem and attacked Hebron, the first city from which David ruled as king. (Hebron was formerly called Kiriath Arba, or town of Arba, after Arba, the father of the Anakites.
Then, they went a little further south to Debir. There, we see Caleb is still in the battle despite his age. Joshua 14 tells us that Moses and then Joshua gave Hebron to Caleb, with the land around it, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly. He was 85 years old then, and claimed to be just as vigorous to go out to battle as he was when he was 40.
Then there is a little human interest story that Caleb promised his daughter in marriage to whomever would capture Debir. Caleb’s nephew, Othniel, took him up on it. Then his daughter, quite an operator, asked for some additional land to get the springs of water for her land in the Negev, which is a very dry region. Othniel would become the first of the judges.
16 The descendants of Moses' father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms [b] with the men of Judah to live among the people of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.
Moses’ wife’s family got around. When we see his father-in-law first, Moses has fled Egypt for Midian and met him there. Exodus 2:16 tells us the father-in-law was a priest in Midian. We also know that he joined Moses on part of the Exodus. This verse shows us that the family moved to the City of Palms, which is Jericho, and now moved south the Desert in the Negev to live with the people of Judah. This verse tells you that the family of Moses was important to Israel, even though Moses was long dead.
17 Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their brothers and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed [c] the city. Therefore it was called Hormah. [d] 18 The men of Judah also took [e] Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory. 19 The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots. 20 As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak. 21 The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
Judah and Simeon continued to carry out the Lord’s command and subdue the land given to them. They attacked and drove out the Anakites.
But, we see the beginnings of trouble. Judah was unable to drive the Canaanites from the plains, being outmatched by chariots. The Benjaminites failed to run the Jebusites out of Jerusalem. Yet we had seen before that the Israelites had won battles when outnumbered and with inferior arms, because the Lord won the battle for them.
22 Now the house of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the LORD was with them. 23 When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), 24 the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, "Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well." 25 So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. 26 He then went to the land of the Hittites, where he built a city and called it Luz, which is its name to this day.
27 But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. 28 When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. 29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. 30 Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labor. 31 Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Aczib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob, 32 and because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. 33 Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. 34 The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. 35 And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the house of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. 36 The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion [f] Pass to Sela and beyond.
The tribe of Joseph had to go back and attack Bethel, the city next to Ai, which was the second city conquered by Joshua. There is some thought that the city was sealed off and the entrance was not readily apparent, as the Israelites inquired how to get into the city.
Starting in verse 27, you see a pattern of not fulfilling the command of the Lord. The Israelites allowed the Canaanites to remain in the land, even though they made slaves of some of them. The Amorites were not driven out either. Deuteronomy 7:2 said “Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.” Verse 5 says This is what you are to do to them: Bread down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.