Judges 1:5-7: The Curious Case of Adoni-Bezek

Verse 5:[1] And they found Adoni-bezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.

[And they found Adoni-bezek, אֲדֹנִ֥י בֶ֙זֶק֙] It signifies the lord (king [Arabic]) of Bezek (Bonfrerius, Syriac). אֲדֹנִי/Adoni, in the place of אֲדוֹן/Adon: the י/yod is paragogic[2] (Drusius); it does not have the force of a time; as in the case of מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק/Melchizedek,[3] אֲדֹנִי־צֶדֶק/Adoni-zedek,[4] אֲבִימֶלֶךְ/Abimelech[5] (Bonfrerius). Moreover, in Hebrew phraseology one is said to have found enemies that happens upon or falls upon them unexpectedly, which happened here (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals[6] 1:2:21:243). Note that בֶּזֶק/Bezek here, contrary to the custom of nouns marked with six points,[7] has an accent on the final syllable (Drusius).

Adoni-bezek; the lord or king of Bezek, as his name signifies, in Bezek; whither he fled, when he had lost the field. Against him, that is, against the city wherein he had encamped himself, and the rest of his army.

[They struck] It appears that he speaks of another slaughter, namely, after the assault on the city of Bezek[8] (Bonfrerius).


Verse 6:[9] But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.

[With the extremities of his hands and feet cut off] They translate the בְּהֹנוֹת, extremities (Septuagint); knuckles (Jonathan); thumbs (Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Vatablus, Pagnine, Montanus, Tigurinus, Malvenda,[10] and others in Lapide and Bonfrerius). Question: Why did they do this? Responses: 1. By the just judgment and instinct of God, as a punishment in kind (Lapide, Martyr). 2. So that he would not hereafter be able to take up arms, or to flee on foot (Bonfrerius, Menochius, Serarius). Pierius[11] notes that the hand formed with the thumb cut off was a symbol of a man inept for war (Serarius). Therefore, it was punished severely upon some that, for the sake of avoiding war, had cut off their own thumbs, as it is related by Valerius Maximus[12] in his Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings[13] “Concerning Severity”, and by Suetonius[14] in his “Augustus”[15] 24. The Athenians cut off the thumbs of the Æginenses[16] that were strong enough for naval service, lest they should vie with them (Bonfrerius). 3. Such things were done as a reproach to idleness, for with an idle hand, but fleeing on their feet, they appeared (Serarius). Whence worthless and idle men are called Poltroni by the Italians and Gauls, which is to say, pollice trunci, mutilated with respect to the thumb (Lapide).

Cut off his thumbs and his great toes: That he might be disenabled to fight with his hands, or to run away upon his feet. And this they did, either by the secret instinct and direction of God, or upon notice of his former tyranny and cruelty expressed upon others, in this manner, as it follows: either way it was a just requital.


Verse 7:[17] And Adoni-bezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes (Heb. the thumbs of their hands and of their feet[18]) cut off, gathered (or, gleaned[19]) their meat under my table: (Lev. 24:19; 1 Sam. 15:33; Jam. 2:13) as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

[Seventy kings] This is not strange (Grotius). For, either they were merely the Petty Kings of the diverse cities (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Menochius, Martyr). Before Ninus, as Justinus[20] testifies, each King was content with the borders of his own city[21] (Martyr). Or they were Kings of the some places, some of which succeeded others (Menochius out of Tostatus.

Threescore and ten kings; which is not strange in those times and places; for these might be either, first, kings successively, and so there might be divers of those kings in one place, and so in others; or, secondly, contemporary kings. For it is well known that anciently each ruler of a city, or great town, was called a king, and had kingly power in that place; and many such kings we meet with in Canaan; and it is probable that some years before kings were more numerous there, till the greater devoured many of the less.

[Amputated, etc.] Hebrew: their thumbs were amputated; that is, by my decree, so that in this manner they might be made inept for war, and so that I might deter others from war itself (Vatablus). Perhaps also in punishment for broken treaties: For the thumb was a sign of a treaty and of peace. See Pierius’ Hieroglyphics 25 “Pacification”; and Tacitus’[22] Annals 12 concerning the Armenians and Iberians[23] (Bonfrerius).

Having their thumbs cut off, that so their hands might be unable to manage weapons of war.

[They were gathering under my table, etc.] Note, 1. the cruelty, in that he thus would make mockery of his captives; 2. the luxury of his meals, inasmuch as seventy men were fed from the fallen remains (Menochius).

Gathered their meat under my table; an act of barbarous inhumanity thus to insult over the miserable, joined with abominable luxury.

[As I have done, so God hath requited me, אֱלֹהִים] He aptly makes use of this word, which signifies God insofar as He is a Prince and Judge. He here acknowledges the providence and avenging justice of God, and appears to have been converted to the knowledge of the true God, because he speaks of God in the singular number (Bonfrerius). But, because he did not call upon God, etc., it appears that sorrow, rather than a pious sense of the soul, extorted this speech from him (Martyr).

God hath requited me: he acknowledgeth the providence and vindictive justice of God, which also Pharaoh did, and others too, without any true sense of piety.

[They brought him to Jerusalem] That is, to the suburban territory of it (Cajetan[24] in Bonfrerius, Josephus in Lapide): or, into the city itself, which in the following verse is found to have been taken (Menochius). Now, he lived all the time that the city was being captured (Bonfrerius). Now, they led him about thus mutilated, to promulgate an example both of the most just judgment of God, and of the victory acquired by the Jews by the help of God. But already this first beginning of victories was augmented by the favorable outcomes of affairs (Montanus’ Commentary). Moreover, יְרוּשָׁלִַם/Jerusalem is singular, not dual, in number:[25] 1. because the singular pronoun is subjoined to it in verse 8[26] and elsewhere: 2. because the final ם/mem is not servile, but radical, since the word is composite (as it seems to Mercerus[27]) from יְרוּ (in the place of יִרְאוּ, fear ye) and שָׁלֵם/Salem, the ancient name of the city, Genesis 14:18. Nevertheless it has the appearance of the dual; perhaps because it was δίπολις, a twofold city, that is, an upper, and lower (Piscator).

They brought him; they carried him in triumph, as a monument of God’s righteous vengeance. To Jerusalem; it being the metropolis of the nation.

[And there he died] Not helped by the attention and remedies of physicians, because God had commanded that the Canaanites were to be killed; and he was worthy of a thousand deaths in addition (Martyr). The sorrow of conscience so aggravated the pain of the wounds (which were not otherwise lethal), that it brought death (Montanus’ Commentary).

[1] Hebrew: וַֽ֠יִּמְצְאוּ אֶת־אֲדֹנִ֥י בֶ֙זֶק֙ בְּבֶ֔זֶק וַיִּֽלָּחֲמ֖וּ בּ֑וֹ וַיַּכּ֕וּ אֶת־הַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֖י וְאֶת־הַפְּרִזִּֽי׃

[2] That is, a letter added to the end of a word, sometimes to add emphasis.

[3] Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4.

[4] Joshua 10:1, 3.

[5] Genesis 20; 21; 26.

[6] Samuel Bochart (1599-1667) was a French Protestant pastor and scholar with a wide variety of interests, including philology, theology, geography, and zoology.  Indeed his works on Biblical geography (Geographia Sacra) and zoology (Hierozoicon, sive Bipertitum Opus de Animalibus Scripturæ) became standard reference works for generations.  He was on familiar terms with many of the greatest men of his age.

[7] Segholate nouns take an accent on the first syllable.

[8] In the Hebrew text, the Atnah (֑), the greatest division within the verse, is found under בּ֑וֹ, separating it from what follows.  So, the Hebrew accents suggest different punctuation:  And they found Adoni-Bezek in Bezek, and the fought against him: and they slew the Canaanite and the Perizzite.

[9] Hebrew: וַיָּ֙נָס֙ אֲדֹ֣נִי בֶ֔זֶק וַֽיִּרְדְּפ֖וּ אַחֲרָ֑יו וַיֹּאחֲז֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ וַֽיְקַצְּצ֔וּ אֶת־בְּהֹנ֥וֹת יָדָ֖יו וְרַגְלָֽיו׃

[10] Thomas Malvenda (1566-1628) was a Spanish Dominican.  Within his order, he was widely regarded for his abilities in philosophy and divinity.  His exegetical labors are preserved in his Commentaria in Sacram Scripturam à Genesi ad Ezechielem.

[11] Pierio Valeriano (1477-1558) was an Italian Renaissance humanist, specializing in Egyptian Hieroglyphics.  His Hieroglyphica sive de Sacris Ægyptiorum Litteris Commentarii was an important Renaissance dictionary of symbols.

[12] Valerius Maximus was a first century Roman collector of antiquities.

[13] Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium Libri Novem.

[14] Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 75- c. 130) was a Roman historian.

[15] De Vita Cæsarum “Divus Augustus.”

[16] That is, the inhabitants of Ægina, one of the Saronic Islands of Greece.  Athens and Ægina were bitter rivals throughout the fifth century BC.

[17] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲדֹֽנִי־בֶ֗זֶק שִׁבְעִ֣ים׀ מְלָכִ֡ים בְּֽהֹנוֹת֩ יְדֵיהֶ֙ם וְרַגְלֵיהֶ֜ם מְקֻצָּצִ֗ים הָי֤וּ מְלַקְּטִים֙ תַּ֣חַת שֻׁלְחָנִ֔י כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֔יתִי כֵּ֥ן שִׁלַּם־לִ֖י אֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיְבִיאֻ֥הוּ יְרוּשָׁלִַ֖ם וַיָּ֥מָת שָֽׁם׃

[18] Hebrew: בְּֽהֹנוֹת֩ יְדֵיהֶ֙ם וְרַגְלֵיהֶ֜ם.

[19] Hebrew: מְלַקְּטִים.

[20] Junianus Justinus was a Roman historian of the third century.

[21] Philippic Histories 1.

[22] Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56-c. 117) was a Roman historian.  The information that he preserves about his era and its emperors is invaluable.

[23] Annals 12:47:  “It is a custom of these princes, whenever they join alliance, to unite their right hands and bind together the thumbs in a tight knot; then, when the blood has flowed into the extremities, they let it escape by a slight puncture and suck it in turn.  Such a treaty is thought to have a mysterious sanctity, as being sealed with the blood of both parties.”

[24] Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) was an Italian Dominican.  He was a theologian of great repute, and a learned proponent of a modified Thomism (Neo-Thomism).  Due to his considerable talents, he was made a cardinal.  Cajetan proved to be one of the more able opponents of the Reformation.

[25] ַיִם- is the dual ending.

[26] Judges 1:8:  “Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it (וַיִּלְכְּד֣וּ אוֹתָ֔הּ וַיַּכּ֖וּהָ) with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.”

[27] John Mercerus (c. 1510-1572) was a French Catholic Hebraist, successor to Francis Vatablus as Professor of Hebrew and Chaldean at the Hebrew College, Paris (1549), a scholar and lecturer of great reputation in his day.  He was suspected of having Calvinistic sympathies.

2 thoughts on “Judges 1:5-7: The Curious Case of Adoni-Bezek

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘How [Bezek’s] king was taken and mortified. His name was Adoni-bezek, which signifies, lord of Bezek. There have been those that called their lands by their own names (Psalm 49:11), but here was one (and there has been many another) that called himself by his land’s name. He was taken prisoner after the battle, and we are here told how they used him; they cut off his thumbs, to disfit him for fighting, and his great toes, that he might not be able to run away, Judges 1:6. It had been barbarous thus to triumph over a man in misery, and that lay at their mercy, but that he was a devoted Canaanite, and one that had in like manner abused others, which probably they had heard of. Josephus says, “They cut off his hands and his feet,” probably supposing those more likely to be mortal wounds than only the cutting off of his thumbs and his great toes. But this indignity which they did him extorted from him an acknowledgment of the righteousness of God, Judges 1:7. Here observe, (1.) What a great man this Adoni-bezek had been, how great in the field, where armies fled before him, how great at home, where kings were set with the dogs of his flock; and yet now himself a prisoner, and reduced to the extremity of meanness and disgrace. See how changeable this world is, and how slippery its high places are. Let not the highest be proud, nor the strongest secure, for they know not how low they may be brought before they die. (2.) What desolations he had made among his neighbours: he had wholly subdued seventy kings, to such a degree as to have them his prisoners; he that was the chief person in a city was then called a king, and the greatness of their title did but aggravate their disgrace, and fired the pride of him that insulted over them. We cannot suppose that Adoni-bezek had seventy of these petty princes at once his slaves; but first and last, in the course of his reign, he had thus deposed and abused so many, who perhaps were many of them kings of the same cities that successively opposed him, and whom he thus treated to please his own imperious barbarous fancy, and for a terror to others. It seems the Canaanites had been wasted by civil wars, and those bloody ones, among themselves, which would very much facilitate the conquest of them by Israel. “Judah,” says Dr. Lightfoot, “in conquering Adoni-bezek, did, in effect, conquer seventy kings.” (3.) How justly he was treated as he had treated others. Thus the righteous God sometimes, in his providence, makes the punishment to answer the sin, and observes an equality in his judgments; the spoiler shall be spoiled, and the treacherous dealer dealt treacherously with, Isaiah 33:1. And those that showed no mercy shall have no mercy shown them, James 2:13. See Revelation 13:10; 18:6. (4.) How honestly he owned the righteousness of God herein: As I have done, so God has requited me. See the power of conscience, when God by his judgments awakens it, how it brings sin to remembrance, and subscribes to the justice of God. He that in his pride had set God at defiance now yields to him, and reflects with as much regret upon the kings under his table as ever he had looked upon them with pleasure when he had them there. He seems to own that he was better dealt with than he had dealt with his prisoners; for though the Israelites maimed him (according to the law of retaliation, an eye for an eye, so a thumb for a thumb), yet they did not put him under the table to be fed with the crumbs there, because, though the other might well be looked upon as an act of justice, this would have savoured more of pride and haughtiness than did become an Israelite.’

  2. Think on our current political landscape…

    Thomas Brooks’ “An Ark for God’s Noahs”: ‘When wicked men are at the highest, then are they nearest their fall; as you may see in Psalm 37, and Psalm 73, and in those great instances of Pharaoh, Adoni-bezek, Ben-hadad, Ahab, Sennacherib, Haman, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Herod, etc. [Exodus 14; Judges 1:6, 7; 1 Kings 20, 22; 2 Kings 19; Esther 6:4; Daniel 5]. Look, as the ship is soonest cast away when she is top and topgallant, so when wicked men are top and topgallant, when they are at the height of all their pomp, bravery, and worldly glory, then God usually tumbles them down into the very gulf of misery. The great ones of the world have suddenly fallen from their highest honours and dignities, and have been sorely and sadly exercised with the greatest scorns and calamities.’

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