Adoni-Bezek is a name meaning “lord of Bezek” and is mentioned in Judges 1:5–7: “It was there that [the men of Judah] found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Then Adoni-Bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.’ They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.”
This violent ruler was defeated by the tribe of Judah, with Simeon’s help. Adoni-Bezek’s captors cut off his thumbs and big toes. Then he was taken as a prisoner to Jerusalem where he later died. God did not specifically command the maiming of the lord of Bezek, yet the king himself confessed that the act was just, based on his treatment of other rulers.
The town of Bezek is today called Khirbet Ibziq, a village north of Tubass in the West Bank (see 1 Samuel 11:8). The facts that Adoni-Bezek oversaw 10,000 soldiers and that he had tortured 70 kings indicates that he was very powerful. Bezek, meaning “lightning,” may have had a connection with the worship of the Canaanite storm god, Baal, whose images typically depicted him holding a lightning bolt.
Some point out the torture of Adoni-Bezek as either an evil act or an act of retributive justice, but it is clear that the Israelites’ treatment of this king was an act of disobedience. Deuteronomy 7:24 says, “He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them.” Rather than torturing the kings they defeated, the Israelites were commanded to completely destroy them.
This lack of obedience in completely defeating their enemies is a repeated theme in Judges. Judges 1:19 and 21 say, “The men of Judah . . . took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron. . . . The Benjamites . . . did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.” The final verses of chapter 1 also emphasize the incomplete nature of the conquest of the Promised Land. This introduction sets the reader up for what follows—an ongoing cycle of sin that leads to oppression from enemies, followed by a calling out to God, and then the raising up of a judge to rescue the people.
Adoni-Bezek was an evil Canaanite ruler. He was one among many whom the people of Israel defeated, yet he was allowed to live in direct disregard of God’s command. The Book of Judges provides many other examples of the Israelites’ disobedience and how it led to difficult times for Israel until they returned to Him in repentance and obedience.