Then Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs. (Judges 1:12-15)
I think most people who have read through the Bible, even if they haven’t read through all of it, have at some point looked at a passage and asked the question, “Why is this here?” In some cases a person might scratch their head and wonder why God decided to include such a narrative in the canon. But hopefully such head scratching recognizes that there is no issue with God’s eternal decision to reveal what He has willed to reveal. The issue is always with us. After all, our finite minds fall well short of God’s infinite wisdom. But with that being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if the passage above has prompted some to ask something like the aforementioned question. Hopefully this teaching can provide some clarity to replace any potential confusion.
First, let’s consider what’s going on in the passage and then we’ll ask the question we alluded to earlier; namely, “Why is this here?”
In this passage Caleb offered to give his daughter Achsah as a wife to whoever attacked Kirjath Sepher and took it (vs.12). The modern reader might read that and think, ‘That is horrible! He offered his daughter as a kind of prize to whoever attacked and overcame a city… that’s absurd.’ That assessment is flawed in more ways than one. First, as Albert Barnes notes, in ancient times fathers assumed an absolute right over their children and especially in the arrangement of their marriage. It was a cultural norm and should havereflected the father’s loving-concern for his daughter. Second, Caleb’s offer was connected to the conquest of the land and the fulfillment of God’s command to Israel in the Mosaic Law. Thus, the person who responded to the challenge would be someone who believed God to do what God had promised. He would be a man of faith, similar to Caleb. Caleb, then, was not uncaring in the way he handled his daughter Achsah; rather, he promised her to the man who fearlessly exercised confidence in God.
More about that later…
Caleb’s nephew, Othniel, responded to the challenge, took the city, and was given Achsah as a wife (vs.13).
As the story continues Achsah told Othniel to ask her father for a field (vs.14a). Although she urged Othniel to make that request we don’t see him approach Caleb, rather, we see Caleb approach Achsah and ask her, “What do you wish? To which Achsah responded,
“Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” (vs.15a)
Caleb had given Achsah land in the South; however, finding water in that generally arid land was a challenging thing. Typically someone would have to dig pretty deep to find it. However, if someone had access to a spring, in that case they’d have steady access to water for their fields, themselves, and their livestock. Achsah, seeing this could be a potential issue, asked her father for springs of water and in response he gave her both “the upper springs and the lower springs” (vs.15b). This was yet another token of his affection for his daughter.
That’s the breakdown of the story; so now comes the question: “Why is this story here in the opening chapter of the Book of Judges?” Here are the following possible reasons:
1. This passage introduces us to Othniel who would become the first judge of Israel. So then, from both a historical and literary standpoint this background is both appropriate and purposeful.
2. Caleb modeled the kind of protective concern that the men of Israel ought to have had for their wives and daughters. He wanted her to have a worthy husband; one who trusted God. And he wanted her to have provision via the inheritance he gave her. This kind of protective concern stands in sharp contrast to Jephthah’s vow that led to the death of his daughter and the brutality of the tribe of Benjamin towards a Levite’s concubine later in the Book of Judges. As the moral fabric of the nation of Israel degenerates throughout the book, so do familial relationships. Caleb, in a sense, then, exemplifies how it ought to have been. And if we need what was exemplified in Caleb further specified for us, Paul and Peter put it like this: men who love Christ must love their wives like Christ loved His church (Eph 5:25a), not be harsh with them (Col 3:19), and be considerate of them (1 Pet 3:7). Likewise, they must also train their children in the way of the Lord (Eph 6:4), not exasperate them (Col 3:21), but instead model the self-sacrificing example of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5:2).
3. God loves to tell the stories of those who’ve trusted Him; thus, He chose to record this story of Caleb and Othniel both here and in Joshua 15:13-19. Both men are examples of those who trusted the promises of God and they stand in contrast to the unbelieving disobedience we see characterize the Book of Judges as a whole and the latter part of chapter one.
4. Our Heavenly Father, like Caleb –as he is depicted in this narrative, loves when His children come to Him and ask freely for what they want. All Achsah did was ask her father for springs of water and he generously gave springs in the north and the south. She didn’t jump through spiritual hoops; she simply asked and Caleb, reflecting the generosity of our heavenly Father (cf. Lk. 12:32), gave what he thought was best for her. Knowing, then, that we have a Father who is infinitely more generous than Caleb, how much more should we be both diligent and bold to approach our heavenly Father with our needs, requests, and concerns? After all, if we (and that includes Caleb) being evil know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts and the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him (Mt 7:11; Lk 11:13)?