Judges 1:1-36 – The Settlement of Canaan as a Political Problem



The conquest of Canaan is presented as a gradual process with victories (1:1-21) and defeats (1:27-36) by various tribes.


Joshua 1-12 maintains that the settlement of Canaan by Israel was accomplished as a sudden and complete conquest by an Israel united under the leadership of Joshua: “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war” (Joshua 11:23).

Judges presents a different picture. Here, the settlement of Canaan is depicted as a series of military and political struggles in which one or two tribes, led by charismatic individuals, sought to gain control of the hill country lying between the bands of Canaanite city states in the plain. The early successes of Judah and the southern tribes (Judges 1:1-21) give way to crushing defeats of the northern tribes (1:27-36) with the exception of Joseph (1:22-26). As a foreshadowing of things to come, Joseph’s success at Bethel was based upon deception, as indeed Bethel’s former name, Luz, might imply. Politically, Israel suffered from a lack of unity and leadership.