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The DEEP

Justice

and God's long memory.

Judges 1:1–7 (ESV)

After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table. As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

It's hard for a modern reader to put themselves into the ancient mindset that Judges is written for. Today’s reading has two bits that nudge the reader toward that mindset.

First, Judah is preeminent because Reuben, Simeon and Levi were demoted over 400 years ago.

“Reuben, you are my firstborn, …
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; …
“Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men, …
I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”
— Genesis 49:3a, 4a, 5–6a, 7b (ESV)

This needs to be understood in terms of Exodus 34.

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, … but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” — Exodus 34:6a, 7b (ESV)

The line “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children” is serious, and God has a loooong memory.

The second bit is the cutting off of Adoni-bezek’s thumbs and big toes. While that’s “cruel and unusual”, the passage makes clear that this was an “eye-for-an-eye” punishment.

If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. — Leviticus 24:19–20 (ESV)

They could have just killed Adoni-bezek. They did this instead as “just deserts.”


Our challenge is to absorb the Biblical concept of righteousness. Life back then was, by our standards, unbearably cruel, but right and wrong were still fundamentally the same.

Basic biblical justice is that wrong begets consequences. That’s the foundation upon which grace is built.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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