Judges 1: The continuing conquest of Canaan.
The book of Judges follows on almost seamlessly from Joshua. It is called ‘Judges’ because a number of regional leaders arose and made judgments for the people, often actively defending Israel from outside oppression. A pattern emerges in Judges: Israel disobeys the Lord – an enemy oppresses Israel – the Lord raises a leader – the leader is victorious against the enemy – there is peace for a time – Israel disobeys the Lord again.
There were twelve judges in all, about whom we either hear very much or next to nothing. The number twelve (as with the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples, and other examples in the Word), stands for all the various aspects of spirituality that we need to understand, develop, and put to use. A clue is often found in the meaning of their names, because biblical names are nearly always linked to spiritual qualities, such as ‘courage’, or ‘one who walks with God’ (see Swedenborg’s work, Arcana Caelestia 10216).
The theme of this first chapter is the further conquest of the land. The Israelites asked the Lord, “Who shall go up and fight for us?” And the Lord said that the tribe of Judah would go, because the Lord had delivered the land into their hand. Judah then called on the tribe of Simeon to join them, and they won many battles against the Canaanites still in the land.
One Canaanite king, Adoni-bezek, fled and was captured by the Israelites, who then cut off his thumbs and big toes. Adoni-bezek said that God had dealt justice by punishing him, as he had previously cut off seventy kings’ thumbs and big toes, and they had to gather scraps of food under his table.
Then Caleb, a leader of Israel during the journey through the wilderness, said that the man who took Kirjath-sepher (Caleb’s inheritance city) from the Canaanites would marry his daughter, Achsah. Caleb’s nephew, Othniel, took the city and Achsah was given to him. Achsah asked her father for the blessing of springs of water, and Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.
Next, spies were sent to Bethel. They met a man there, and said that if he directed them the entrance to the city, they would show him mercy. He helped them, and they took the city but showed mercy on the man and all his family. After all of this, the man built a new city called Luz in the land of the Hittites.
The chapter ends by listing the twelve tribes, as well as the Canaanite peoples who remained unsubdued in each of their territories.
The overarching spiritual theme of Judges is the process of our regeneration. As the opening of Judges reminds us, there were still parts of the land and various tribes that Israel needed to conquer. In fact, the Israelites never finished driving enemies out of their land. In the same way, we need to control our inherited human nature, but it is never completely wiped out (see Swedenborg’s work, Divine Love and Wisdom 238).
During regeneration, we will discover deeper and subtler self-centered states in ourselves, which need to be mitigated. Each judge raised by the Lord stands for our determination to deal with these states, using the Word as a guide. This brings us a period of peace, followed by the start of another personal discovery.
When the Israelites chose which tribes would fight for them, it was no coincidence that they selected Judah and Simeon. Judah (who was a prominent tribe of Israel) and Simeon (who usually acts with another tribe) stand for the highest things in our spiritual life: our love for the Lord, and our obedience to the Lord’s Word. Choosing Judah and Simeon as our strength will always bring victory in our regeneration (see Arcana Caelestia 3654 and Apocalypse Explained 443).
The spiritual meaning in the story of Adoni-bezek is about taking away the power of our self-love, as cutting off thumbs and big toes makes hands and feet virtually useless. When we work on our lower nature, we are to minimize its control over us. It is the same with any influences from hell; their power must end. Adoni-bezek’s comment about doing the same to seventy kings vividly describes how self-love can only lead to our downfall (Arcana Caelestia 10062).
The delightful story of Caleb, Achsah and Othniel illustrates that after battle, there is rest and reward. In the same way, we strengthen the ‘marriage’ of good and truth in us after overcoming spiritual struggles (see Swedenborg’s work, Divine Love and Wisdom 409). The springs of water given to Achsah stand for the truths which flow into our mind, both about the ‘upper’ things of the Lord and heaven, and those ‘lower’ ones about spiritual life and responsibility.
The episode about the man from Bethel means that when we open up our life to the Lord to allow Him to guide us, we become blessed (Arcana Caelestia 3928). Then our life can be re-built in very practical and good ways, represented by the Hittites.
The final mention of the Canaanites still in the land points to the continuing presence of our unregenerate qualities. Although we may progress through the work of regeneration, we are still human, and we will always have flaws left to improve on.