While studying the book of Judges a while back I noticed an interesting pattern in the first prologue to the book (1:1-2:5). The observant reader will notice that while this opening section is mainly written in summary format a few events are presented in more detail. These stories within the story are:
(1) The dialogue between Judah and Simeon (1:3)
(2) The capture of Adoni-Bezek (1:6-7)
(3) The conquest of Kiriyath-Sefer (1:12-15)
(4) The spying out of Bethel (1:22-26).
A careful look at these brief narratives reveals that they all contain an element of “quid pro quo,” that is, in each case a person receives something in return for what they have done:
- Judah promises Simeon to go with him into his inheritance, if Simeon goes up with Judah into his inheritance (1:3)
- Adoni-Bezek’s thumbs and big toes are cut off, just as he had cut off the thumbs and big toes of seventy kings (1:6-7)
- Othniel receives Achsah for conquering Kiriyath-Sefer (1:15-18)
- The man from Lus is spared for showing Israel the entrance to the city (1:22-26).
The significance of this pattern becomes clear once the larger storyline is taken into consideration. There we also find a quid pro quo that is summarized in the final short story of the prologue in 2:1-5: because Israel did not listen to the voice of God and made a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, God would not drive those inhabitants out before them anymore. Thus the individual stories in the prologue illustrate an important concept in the larger narrative and show that God’s dealings with Israel are just. Yet the beautiful thing about God is that this is not His final word. Throughout the rest of the book, he keeps raising up saviors for His people who lead Israel out of exile and drive the enemies from the land so that God’s promise of rest in the Promised Land may yet become reality.
The book of Judges begins with the phrase “after the death of Joshua…” (cf. Josh 1:1!) In light of the larger storyline of the Bible, why is it significant that Judges presents the conquest as taking place after the death of Joshua?