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Modern readers wrestle with the violence in the Old Testament. In the wake of events like the holocaust, when the Jews were slaughtered by the millions, many do not see God as a protecting God or as a God of might.

But in Judges we learn about a God who fights for His chosen people or empowers champions to protect them. This was certainly the way the people of God in the time of Judges thought about God, as defender and protector, and the way people in the ancient Middle East understood faith, worship, and divinity. But the Lord is different from all the other gods. He is jealous, so when His people abandon Him, all that power is turned against them in the form of invading armies. The Israelites have need of judges who can lead them in their military exploits and who can keep them faithful to the mighty God of Israel.

After Joshua died, the people of Israel asked a question of the Eternal One.

Israelites: So now who will lead us in our wars against the armies of Canaan?

Eternal One (to the leaders of Judah): Judah will go and fight. See, I am giving the land into their hands.

The tribe of Judah enlisted support from the tribe of Simeon.

Tribe of Judah: If you will help us fight for the land we were given in Canaan, we will do the same for you.

The tribe of Simeon agreed to help them. 4-5 So Judah and her ally went up to fight against Adoni-bezek at the town of Bezek, and the Eternal gave them victory over the Canaanites and the Perizzites. They killed 10,000 of them at Bezek; and although Adoni-bezek tried to escape, they caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes, which rendered him useless for basically anything.

Adoni-bezek: In my time, I cut the thumbs and toes off 70 kings and left them to scramble for scraps under my table. And now God has done the same to me.

They carried him away to Jerusalem, where he died.

Then the people of Judah attacked Jerusalem; and when they had captured it, they killed many, burned the city, and destroyed it. After that the people of Judah swept down upon the Canaanites remaining in the highlands and in the lowlands and in the southern desert. 10 Judah campaigned against the Canaanites of Hebron (formerly Kiriath-arba), where they defeated Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, 11 and then they went out in battle against the people of Debir (formerly Kiriath-sepher). 12 It was about this battle that Caleb had made a vow.

Caleb: Whoever attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher will receive my daughter Achsah as his wife.

13 Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz, captured the city, so Caleb gave Othniel his daughter Achsah to marry. 14 When she came to Othniel, she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. As she dismounted from her donkey, Caleb approached her.

Caleb: What do you wish?

Achsah: 15 Here is what I would like as a wedding gift: since you have given me a place in the southern desert, also give me some springs of water.

And so Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

16 The people who descended from Moses’ father-in-law, Hobab the Kenite, went with the people of Judah from the city of palm trees into the wilderness of Judah, and they settled there with the people, the Amalekites, in the southern desert near Arad.

17 Then Judah and Simeon defeated the Canaanites who lived in Zephath and destroyed them completely, so their city was renamed Hormah, which means “destruction.” 18 Judah went on to take the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron and all the land surrounding them. 19 The Eternal was with Judah, and the tribe conquered all of the highlands. But those living in the plains had iron chariots, so Judah could not drive them out. 20 Caleb received the land of Hebron, as Moses had promised many years earlier, and he drove out the three sons of Anak. 21 The people of the tribe of Benjamin, however, did not drive the Jebusites out of Jerusalem, and the Jebusites live alongside the Benjaminites in Jerusalem to this very day.

22-23 The tribe of Joseph went up against Bethel (which was formerly known as Luz), and the Eternal supported them. They sent out spies 24 who intercepted a man leaving the city.

Spies: Show us the way into the city, and we’ll spare you.

25 He showed them the way, and they destroyed the city with swords; but as they had promised, they let the man and his family go. 26 This man went into the land of the Hittites, and there he established a city; he called it Luz, and that is still its name.

27-28 The tribe of Manasseh failed to drive out the people who lived in the cities and surrounding villages of Beth-shean, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, and Megiddo. The Canaanites continued to live in those regions for they were determined to live there; but when the people of Israel grew strong, they made the Canaanites their slaves and did not completely drive them out.

29 So it was with the tribe of Ephraim, who did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer but lived among them.

30 Zebulun also did not drive out the people of Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them and became their slaves.

31-32 Asher failed to drive out the people of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, and Rehob; instead, the tribe of Asher lived among the Canaanites who lived in the land.

33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh or Beth-anath but lived among these Canaanites who lived in the land. They also became the slaves of Naphtali.

34 The Amorites pushed the tribe of Dan back into the hills and did not allow them to dwell in the valley. 35 The Amorites persisted in living on Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the tribe of Joseph overpowered them and forced them into labor. 36 In those days, the border of the Amorites ran from the heights of Akrabbim to Sela and beyond.

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