Comments On Judges
Leslie M. Grant
Joshua, a type of the Lord Jesus, was a successor to Moses. But there was no successor to Joshua. It was necessary for Israel to have a designated leader to establish them in their land, then the people were left responsible to subdue their enemies in their own territory and possess all the land. But the faith of the people soon waned badly, so that the book of Judges stands in sad contrast to the book of Joshua. Again and again Israel lapsed into a state of departure from God, and over and over again God raised up a judge or a deliverer to rescue them from their enemies. A similar tragedy has occurred in the professing Church of God. After the apostles laid the foundation by which the Church was established, no leader was designated by God to continue the apostle's work, for the Holy Spirit had been given to all believers (Acts 2), and the Word of God also given, by which all believers unitedly were furnished with all that was necessary to maintain a godly witness to the truth. But the history of the Church has been one of failure and disobedience, relieved only on occasion by God's intervention in revival, but in general sinking lower and lower, so that today a spirit prevails everywhere such as is expressed in Judges 21:25, "everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
The first chapter of Judges (up to verse 19) shows that Israel did have ability given of God to act for Him and drive out their enemies, even though Joshua had died. If they had continued to depend on God in genuine faith, their victories would have continued also. But at the end of verse 19 the breakdown began that very soon crippled the strength of the nation, so that what began well ended in dismal failure.
INITIAL VICTORIES, YET IMPAIRED (vv. 1-26)
Joshua having died, Israel does not subside into indifference, but realizes that there is territory that should be possessed. They therefore appeal to the Lord as to who should carry the attack against the Canaanites (v. 1). The answer is "Judah shall go up," and the decisive promise of God is given that He has delivered the Canaanites into Judah's hand (v. 2). Judah means "praise," and the spirit of praise to God is surely that which rightly leads against whatever enemies, for it give God the honor for accomplishing the victory.
However, before proceeding to battle, Judah asks the help of his brother Simeon, promising that he too (Judah) would later help Simeon in his battles (v. 3). Of course we see human wisdom in this, but it was not God's wisdom, for God had promised the victory to Judah. Would he not have gained the victory without other help? But this illustrates our own weakness which has so often been repeated in the Church of God. Instead of acting simply by faith in the clear Word of God, we seem to require some visible support to accompany this.
In the succeeding verses, it is Judah who gains the victories, and Simeon is mentioned only in verse 17 as accompanying Judah. The Lord delivered the Canaanites and Perizzites into Judah's hand and 10,000 of them were killed in battle (v. 4). Bezek, meaning "lightning" seems a formidable foe, but the power of God is greater. They captured its king, Adoni-Bezek ("lord of Bezek") as he was fleeing, but instead of putting him to death, as God had ordered, they compromised by cutting off his thumbs and big toes (vv. 5-6). His own words in verse 7 are his condemnation. He had done the same to 70 kings whom he had put under subjection to him, and now he says that God had repaid him in kind. We maybe sure he had no righteous reason for maiming those kings, though Israel had serious reason for killing him. God had decreed this because of the demon worship to which these Canaanites had given themselves up. That demon influence would not be stamped out by merely maiming the ungodly king. These things teach us that we are to show no mercy to sin, but to "putto death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5).Yet Adoni-Bezek died, so God intervened to carry out the proper sentence against him.
Judah also fought against Jerusalem and captured it, setting the city on fire (v. 8). But this evidently was confined to the southern part of the city, for the city was on the border between Judah and Benjamin, and in verse 21 we read that Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem.
After this Judah went to the southern mountains and lowlands to fight against the Canaanites (v. 9), but nothing is said of any clear conquests there. However, verses 10-15 evidently refer to what had taken place before and recorded in Joshua 15:13-19. This is worth repeating, for it emphasizes the faith of individuals who stand out as true witnesses for God. But first Hebron was attacked by Judah and three prominent men there killed (v. 10). Joshua 14:14 tells us that Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb. His faithfulness was rewarded by his possessing the city which means "communion," surely a most precious possession.
Caleb, a faithful warrior, was evidently leading Judah, and they continued to Debir (meaning "oracle", but called Kirjath Sepher before, meaning "city of the book." For if we lay hold of the truth of God in our souls, we shall have grace to speak "as the oracle of God." Caleb then offers his daughter to the man who would conquer Kirjath Sepher. Caleb's younger brother, Othniel, meaning "lion of God" accepted the challenge and conquered the city. His courage was consistent with his name. How lovely a picture is this of one who takes the Word of God as his own possession and greatly profits by it.
Othniel thereby gains a bride who manifests a faith similar to his, so that there seems no doubt they would be greatly blessed together. She urged Othniel to ask her father Caleb for a field, then followed this up by asking herself from her father springs of water. She was evidently a worker, for it would require work to water the field from the springs, so that fruit might be produced. May we too have such concern to bear fruit that will glorify our Lord. If we ask God in faith for such things, He surely delights to give, just as Caleb gladly gave his daughter the upper springs and the lower springs (v. 15). The upper springs remind us of truth of the higher, most exalted character, such as Ephesians gives in regard to our blessings and position in heavenly places in Christ, while the lower springs furnish refreshment for a consistent, devoted walk on earth. How good it is if we can be well balance din valuing both of these sides of the truth.
In verse 16 we read of the children of the Kenite, Moses' father in law, who was not of the demon worshipers of the land of Canaan, but had evidently accompanied Israel into the land. But they had not been accepted as true Israelites, though generally friendly to Israel, and they settled in the south of Judah. One of these, Heber, had separated himself from the Kenites (Judg.4:11) and his wife Jael was highly commended for her killing Sisera when he fought against Israel (Judg. 4:21 and 5:24-27). Yet the Kenites are included in the eventual judgments of which Balaam prophesies in Numbers 24:18-24, for as a nation they were always separate from Israel.
Together with Simeon, however, Judah attacked and utterly destroyed Zephath, so that it was called Hormah ("destruction"). At the time also Judah took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron with their surrounding territory. These were three of the five Philistine cities that we find later under the control of the Philistines (1 Sam. 6:17-18), so that Judah did not maintain her authority after her victory. However, Judah did drive out the mountaineers, yet could not expel the inhabitants of the lowland because they had chariots of iron (v. 17). This was a poor excuse, for is God inferior to iron chariots? What Judah needed was the faith of a Caleb, and at this point we are again reminded that Caleb had (before) expelled the three giant sons of Anak from Hebron (v. 20).
But though Judah had clearly weakened, yet Benjamin was already weaker still. Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, so they remained among Benjamin in the same city (v. 21). In fact, it appears evident that the Jebusites were in control there until eventually they were dispossessed by David and his men (2 Sam. 5:5-9) years later.
The house of Joseph is spoken of in verse 22, which may include both Ephraim and Manasseh, though Bethel was in Ephraim. They sent spies to spy out Bethel, the name of which was first Luz. They had not the boldness to attack the city, but when the spies saw a man coming from the city they offered to showhim mercy if he would show them the entrance to the city (v. 24). He did this, and the city was delivered into their hands. But they let the man and his family go. Actually this promise to the man was disobedience to God.
The spiritual significance of all this is striking. Luz, meaning "separation," is changed to Bethel, meaning "the house of God." Thus, true separation in the conduct of those faithful to God, is precious when conjoined with the positive truth concerning the house of God. However, the man who was let go went to the land of the Hittites and built another city he called Luz, the name of which was not changed. In other words, he engineered a "separation" that had nothing to do with the house of God. If Christ is not the Object of our separation, then that separation is totally sectarian.
In all of these things, up to the end of verse 26, whatever victories Israel was able to accomplish were accompanied by such compromise as to greatly weaken her testimony to the greatness of her Lord. This is a lesson for us today of the greatest importance. We naturally think it to be kind and considerate to show a spirit of compromise. In matters that concern only our own rights, this is perfectly alright. But when the truth of the Word of God is involved, we are badly wrong to compromise its message in the least degree. If we are decisive in standing for God's truth, Satan will accuse us of being inconsiderate and cruel, but the believer is not to be deceived by such accusations, rather to depend simply on God to back up His Word.
ISRAEL'S GENERAL FAILURE (vv. 27-36)
Before chapter 1 ends the picture becomes much more bleak. Manasseh did not expel the inhabitants of four major cities and their villages (v. 27). We are not told they could not do it, but only that they did not. Apparently they did not even try. Are we not often too much like them? We easily become apathetic and unconcerned about diligently obeying the Lord in taking possession of what is rightly ours. The Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. Their name means "traffickers," standing for those who make merchandise of the things of God. When the Lord Jesus came to Jerusalem, "He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business" (Jn. 2:14). Did He compromise with them? Absolutely not! "When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and over turned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" (v. 15). If unbelievers find material gain in being linked with Christianity, they will not easily give up this lucrative business. But such a spirit should be thoroughly judged by the child of God, as it was by the Lord Jesus.
When Israel became strong enough they put the Canaanites under tribute, thus making them pay for what gains they made, but did not drive them out (v. 28). This was compromise with the enemy, not obedience to God.
Ephraim failed to drive out the Canaanites from Gezer, so they were also exposed to the painful results of having an enemy within (v. 29). The same was true of Zebulon and two specific cities, though Zebulon compromised by putting the Canaanites under tribute also (v. 20). If we look beneath the surface, shall we not likely find that this spirit of making merchandise of the things of God is tolerated because of our own selfishness?
Seven cities are listed whose inhabitants Asher failed to drive out (v. 31), and in this case it is said, not that the Canaanites dwelt among Asher, but that the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites! Thus the Canaanites were predominant. This tells us that material gain was predominant over spiritual prosperity, a sad fact that has too often been repeated in Church history, and glaringly so in the boast of the Laodicean church, "I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing (Rev. 3:17)
It is similarly said of Naphtali that, failing to drive out the inhabitants of two cities, they dwelt among the Canaanites (v. 33). However, in this case, the inhabitants of those cities were put under tribute, showing that Naphtali did have the ascendancy. But this compromise again left them too closely identified with the enemy, the Canaanites. Thus, there are congregations today that do put spiritual things first, yet consider it necessary to make money matters a very important part of church life. This is clearly a compromise. In all of these cases, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulon, Asher and Naphtali, it was the Canaanites who were left to trouble them. This enemy stands for the policy of using spiritual things for material gain, and Israel has been for centuries afflicted by this evil. The Church has sadly followed in the same course. May we more deeply take to heart the words of Colossians 3:2, "Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth."
The Amorites were a different enemy, and they forced the children of Dan into the mountains, allowing them no place in the valleys. Amorite means "a sayer," reminding us of the Lord's words in Matthew 23:1-2, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not according to their works, for they say, and do not." This is hypocrisy, which will force us virtually into the mountain, above the common level, leaving the impression that we are better than we are, for we can speak of high and lofty things, while not having the lowliness of heart to appreciate the valleys, where true fruitfulness may be produced. To merely talk about the truth of God without acting on it is putting ourselves in a high place, and not humbling ourselves to cultivate the valleys, the place where fruit is to be expected.
Though Dan was so weak, the house of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) evidently had more energy, for when they became strong they put the Amorites under tribute (v. 35). This of course would be in the territory of Joseph. Putting the Amorites under tribute was again a compromise, just as we would publicly recognize that hypocrisy is bad, yet tolerate it in actual practice. To judge it thoroughly and fully requires the decision of true faith and self-judgment. Which of us is not guilty of hypocrisy in some way?
Dan later sought territory elsewhere, as Judges 18 records, and settled in the north of the land (ch. 18:27-31), but that tribe was guilty of introducing idolatry into Israel.
THE REPROOF OF THE ANGEL OF THE LORD (vv. 1-6)
Israel's failure called for strong reproof. The angel of the Lord, who is the Lord Himself, not a messenger from God, but the messenger, came from Gilgal to Bochim (v. 1).Gilgal speaks of the self-judgment of sin in the flesh, but Israel had neglected this after settling in the land. If we too neglect the self-judgment that is necessary for a walk with God, the result will be Bochim, meaning "weeping."
He tells Israel, "I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers, and I said, I will never break My covenant with you." Certainly God was true to His Word, but Israel had covenanted to obey God's law, which included the command that they should make no covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan. But they had not obeyed. He asked them why? But they had no answer (v. 2).
Therefore they must suffer the results of this disobedience (v. 4). Since they would not cooperate with God, He would not drive out the inhabitants of the land, but would leave them to cause constant distress and trouble, exposed to the snare of being deceived by the idolatrous worshipers of Canaan.
The power of these words did at least have some effect on Israel, causing the people to weep, the meaning of the name Bochim, and they sacrificed there to the Lord. We might wish that this had more lasting effect, but it seemed only transitory.
JOSHUA'S DEATH AGAIN EMPHASIZED (vv. 7-10)
While Joshua and the elders who had observed the great works of the Lord continued to live, Israel continued to serve the Lord in some evident measure. But Joshua died (at age 110--v.8), together with the older generation of Israel, and another generation followed who did not follow the faith of their fathers, not knowing the Lord or the work He had done for Israel (v. 10).This may have been greatly due to Israel's negligence in obeying God's Word to diligently teach their children (Deut. 31:10-13). But just as Israel so soon began their process of disintegration, so the Church very soon after its inception, departed from the truth on which it was established, and most sad disastrous results have followed (Acts 20:29-30, 2 Tim. 2:16-21).
ISRAEL'S FAILURE AND GOD'S GRACE (vv. 11-13).
This section is a summary of what follows in the book of Judges, showing how often Israel departed from God and how God dealt in grace, giving them various deliverers who arrested the general trend for a time, yet after each deliverance Israel sinking lower and lower.
They began their descent by serving the Baals (v. 11). This word means "lords," just as today there are many who will talk about "the Lord" while not at all meaning the Lord Jesus, for "there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords" (1 Cor. 8:5).People commonly prefer a substitute that will not try their consciences.
Thus, Israel "forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt" (v. 12),being seduced by the idols of the nations among whom they lived. Added to the worship of Baal, however, was that of the Ashtoreths (v. 13), female goddesses, the name meaning "thoughtsearching." This may sound good, but in leaving Christ out of it, it is merely self-occupation that gives the impression of spiritual exercise, something like transcendental meditation does. Every believer should recognize and abhor all such imitations.
Such departure must incur the anger of God, who delivered Israel into the cruel hands of the very nations whose gods they were adopting, and their enemies gained ascendancy over them (v.14). They must learn the governmental results of their own folly, and must learn that God meant what He said when warning them of such calamity on account of their disobedience (v. 15).
Yet God graciously intervened on such occasions to raise up judges whom He used to liberate Israel (v. 16).However, while appreciating their deliverance, they were not prepared to give the judges the honor of their submitting to the Word of God which the judges gave them (v. 17), but turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked.
After every time of deliverance, when the judge died, Israel reverted to their low state or even lower than before, serving and bowing down to idols (v. 19). Can we wonder that God's anger was hot against Israel? Because of Israel's transgressing God's covenant, He declared He would no longer drive out before them any of the nations that had been left when Joshua died (vv. 20-21). Instead, He would use those nations to test Israel (v. 22). The very fact of these nations' demon worship ought to have stirred Israel's revulsion against such evil rather than to seduce them to follow the same practices. Thus it was a test, but one that proved Israel rebellious.
THE NATIONS LEFT TO TEST ISRAEL (vv. 1-6)
The younger Israelites had not learned war, and were faced now with learning it by means of the nations left in the land, for God is not going to exempt any believer from the conflict that is necessary if we are to possess the territory He has given us. We tend too easily to simply rest on the fact of the conquests of our fathers and settle down in a self-complacent attitude that soon works havoc.
These remaining enemies included five lords of the Philistine (v. 3), whose defeat recorded in Judges 1:18 (at least of three of the five) was evidently not total, for those cities, Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron are found later under Philistine control (1 Sam. 7:17). The Philistines (meaning "wallowers") are those who adopt the truth outwardly, but only to wallow in it, assuming a form of godliness but having no vital enjoyment of it (2 Tim.3:5). This evil too frequently attacks the Church of God today, and enslaves some.
The Canaanites ("traffickers") were also determined to stay in the land. They represent the mercenary spirit of seeking material gain from spiritual things, an evil that Israel failed to banish from their land. The Sidonians (meaning "hunters") were also a test to Israel. Hunting is generally seen in scripture in an unfavorable light, as David expresses to Saul, "For the king of Israel has come out to seek a flea, as when he hunts a partridge in the mountains" (1 Sam. 26:20). This spirit of inquisition has terribly affected the Church of God through the years. There are those who hunt out what they claim to be evil and have by this means exterminated more true believers than they have heretics. Added to these were the Hivites (meaning "livers"). They stand for the hypocrisy of claiming that a decent life without any confession of Christ is sufficient to give one a favorable position before God. This is a subtle enemy indeed. May we be preserved from this wickedness.
Verse 4 tells us those nations were left to test Israel, but verse 5 immediately follows to show that they failed the test, for they intermingled by marriage among these nations and served their idols. Added also to these nations mentioned in verse 3 were the Hittites ("children of fear"), Amorites ("sayers"), Perizzites ("squatters") and Jebusites ("treaders down"), so that all these evils very soon afflicted the Israelites. Such being the case, they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and Asherahs (v. 7). Once the thin edge of the wedge of evil begins its work, it is not long before it brings a complete cleavage. If once we welcome evil, we shall soon find that it is far too strong for us, and we become slaves.
DELIVERANCE THROUGH OTHNIEL (vv. 8-11)
Because of Israel's harmful associations with the evils in the land, God send an enemy from a distant place, Mesopotamia, to conquer Israel and hold them in hard bondage for eight years (v. 8). Mesopotamia means "exalted" and the name of its king, Chushan-Rishathaim means "blackness of doublewickedness." Likely his mother did not give him that name, but God does, for it is the greatest wickedness for one to exalt himself to the heights of highest honor, as the Anti Christ will (2 Thess. 2:3-4). This enemy of Israel therefore reminds us of "every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:5). This kind of pride amongst the people of God calls for the sternest self-judgment, for we are worthy only of humiliation, not of exaltation.
Why did Israel take so long to cry out to the Lord for deliverance from such oppression? Because they had accustomed themselves to serving idols and were probably expecting the idols to help them. Thus God allowed time for them to learn that their idols were no help against their enemies, but when they turned to Him He graciously answered by raising up Othniel as a deliverer (v. 9). Othniel, Caleb's younger brother, had proven himself faithful to God before this (Judg. 1:12-13). His name means "lion of God," so that he was a suitable instrument for God to use against Mesopotamia, meaning "exalted." Fleshly exaltation appears strong, but it is strong only in black wickedness. The lion, the strongest of beasts, emphasizes strength, but "lion of God" reminds us of Paul's words, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 3:13). When we give the place of highest exaltation to the Lord Jesus, as is only right, then we should know how to cast down the proud exaltation of the flesh, in the strength of the Lord.
By the power of the Spirit of God Othniel judged Israel and went out to war (v. 10). No details are given as to how he defeated Chushan-Rishathaim, but the fact is reported that God gave this enemy into Othniel's hand so that his power was broken. Little is said as to the prowess of Othniel in whatever engagements that may have taken place, for the emphasis is on God's faithful grace in delivering Israel. Yet Othniel was a faithful, devoted man of God, for he judged Israel forty years during which the land had peace (v. 11). Forty years of no recorded history is in itself a commendable testimony to good government. Then Othniel died.
ANOTHER DELIVERER -- EHUD (vv. 12-30)
Again turning from the Lord and falling into sin, Israel suffered from Moab, Ammon and Amalek, with Eglon, king of Moab taking the lead in this oppression (vv. 12-13). They were able to take possession of the city of palms, Jericho, which Israel had before taken by the power of God when entering the land (Josh. 6). The same power of God could have certainly enabled Israel to hold Jericho, but Israel had displaced God with his idols. Thus, Eglon made Jericho his headquarters in Israel. Jericho's name means "fragrant," speaking of pleasant, favorable circumstances, which were most suitable for a man like Eglon.
Moab is the very picture of self-satisfied, self-indulgent religion such as is seen in Laodicea, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). "Moab has been at ease from his youth; he had settled on his dregs, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into captivity. Therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent has not changed" (Jer. 48:11).
Such a religion is most attractive to fleshly people, so that Moab attracts Ammon and Amalek (v. 13). Ammonmeans "peoplish," and its king was called Nahash (2 Sam. 10:2),meaning "serpent." Thus, Ammon stands for sectarian religion that emphasizes the people, but is energized by Satan. Those who advocate satanic teaching are glad to indulge in fleshly evil also. Amalekmeans "licking up." This was the first enemy that attacked Israel when they came out of Egypt (Ex. 17:8). It speaks of the lusts of the flesh, the details of sinful desire that "licks up" all proper exercise. These are indeed devastating enemies when they are submitted to, and Israel submitted for 18 years (v. 14).
Only after this long period of degradation did they finally cry out to the Lord, who is always ready to hear and respond to need when it is confessed. On this occasion He raised up a Benjamite named Ehud, meaning "I will give thanks." He illustrates the positive attitude of thanking God in the midst of affliction. He was left handed, yet Benjamin's name means "son of my right hand." The right hand is seen as the hand of power in scripture, and the left hand speaks of weakness. Ehud had learned the lesson, "when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor.12:10). Depending on God, he became a bold man of faith.
Ehud was sent by Israel to carry tribute to the king of Moab at Jericho (v. 15). But he had prepared himself by having fastened under his clothes on his right thigh a dagger he had made himself. It was double edged and about 18 inches long (v. 16). Eglon was a very fat man, a suitable representative of the self-indulgence of which Moab speaks (v. 17).
Ehud presented the tribute of Israel to Eglon, then left with his attendants, but sent them away while he turned back alone, to tell Eglon he had a secret message for him (v. 19). Eglon had no suspicion of one man alone, and specially after Ehud had brought Israel's tribute to him. He would be interested also to know what the secret message was, so he ordered his servants out, while Ehud was allowed to come into his upper bedroom (v.20). Eglon was seated, but rose up when Ehud told him, "I have a message from God for you." With no delay Ehud quickly took his dagger with his left hand and plunged it so hard into Eglon's belly that the hilt of the dagger went in also (v. 22). What an indication is this that the judgment of God is upon those "whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their mind on earthly things" (Phil.3:19).
Working quickly, Ehud went out, locking the doors behind him, and leaving. The servants of Eglon were surprised to find the doors locked, but thought Eglon must have private matters to engage him (v. 24). Finally, after waiting a long time, they used a key to open the doors and found their master dead (v.25). But Ehud had had plenty of time to escape.
However, this evil enemy, Moab, had enslaved Israel for 18 years. Israel had called on God for deliverance (v.15). Now they must be prepared to act in subjection to God, to break the power of Moab's oppression. Ehud blew a trumpet in the mountains of Ephraim, taking advantage of the weakened condition of Moab. The Lord worked in the hearts of the children of Israel to impel them to follow Ehud, who led them to the areas of Jordan near Jericho (v. 28), where they monitored the fords leading away from Israel toward Moab. Since Moab was only using Jericho as a headquarters in Israel, and Israel was taking control in its own land, the Moabites wanted to escape back to their land. But with the fords taken, the men of Moab could not escape and Israel was able to kill 10,000 men of the enemy, all stout men of valor (v. 29). The word "stout" has the meaning of "oily" or well fed, not necessarily strong, but living off the fat of the land. Thus the wealthy, easy going religion of Moab was defeated by the faith of Ehud in leading Israel. This victory was so decisive that Israel's land was at peace for 80 years (v. 30).
SHAMGAR (v. 31)
The Philistines were always a thorn in the side of Israel, just as their successors, the Palestinians, are today. After Ehud (possibly before Ehud had died, but after his work of deliverance) Shamgar, the son of Anath is briefly mentioned as having killed 600 Philistines with an ox-goad. He evidently had no better weapon, but used what he had very effectively, just as we too should use what the Lord puts in our hand, whether for defeating enemies or for the blessing of His people. Both of these ends were accomplished in Shamgar's victory. His history is confined only to one verse, but it is in scripture for eternity.
DEBORAH AND BARAK (vv.1-24)
Ehud evidently judged Israel during 80 years of peace, but after his death Israel again turned from the Lord's ways, doing evil in His sight. It is not said what evil, but their lapses apparently always involved worshiping the idols of the nations. On this occasion the Lord delivered Israel into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan (v. 2). Jabin's name means"he will understand," for Canaanites ("traffickers") are keen to discern where they may make material gain, and religion is one of the most convenient ways for them. This enemy has too often afflicted the Church of God too. The commander of his army was Sisera, and Israel was under bondage to them for 20 years (v. 3) until they could no longer endure the cruel bondage they suffered. Material gain may be attractive to us at first, but it will soon involve us in things that cause the believer's conscience to trouble him enough to cry out for deliverance. This enemy was a formidable one, having 900 chariots of iron.
There was no man in Israel able to take the place of judge among them, so that a woman, Deborah, had taken this responsibility (v. 4). It was an abnormal state of affairs, but if men fail in their responsibility, God does not fail, and He will use a woman to accomplish His ends. Deborah's name means"the word," reminding us that it is by the word of God that our true deliverance comes. This is a fitting answer to the pride of human understanding and discernment, which have no basis in pure truth. Deborah was not a military leader (v. 5), but she sat in quiet retirement under a palm tree between Ramah (meaning "height") and Bethel ("the house of God"). Ramah would speak of her dwelling above the level of her surroundings, as we also ought to. Bethel reminds us that the house of God was an important matter to her, as indeed should be the case with every believer today. In such a place she was able to give good advice to those who came to her for judgment.
Through Deborah God gave a message that she communicated to Barak, the son of Abinoam (v. 6). Barak means"lightning," which is swift and effective, though Barak was not so "swift to hear" when Deborah told him that the Lord had commanded that he assemble 10,000 troops from Naphtali to attack Sisera, with the assurance that God would deliver Sisera into his hand. In spite of this being God's commandment, Barak told Deborah decidedly that he would obey only if Deborah went with him (v. 8). It is good that he felt his weakness, but it is not good that he should depend on a woman for strength, or indeed even to depend on man or anything else that he might think of as dependable. He should depend fully on God. No doubt he had faith in God, but his faith was weak.
However, Deborah agreed to go, but not without reproving his timidity, telling him that the glory of the victory would not be his, for she assured him "the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman" (v. 9). This was a true prophecy, though Deborah was not likely thinking of Jael (vv. 17-21) when she spoke this.
Since the Lord had given the command, He also moved the 10,000 men to respond to the call of Barak to arms (v. 10). At this point the report of verse 11 intervenes. Heber the Kenite (of the descendants of Moses' father-in-law) had separated himself from the Kenites, and was living now near Kadesh. The Kenites were not of the inhabitants of Canaan, though they were not Israelites, but Heber evidently decided in favor of identifying himself with Israel, no longer with the Kenites.
Sisera, hearing of the movement of Barak and his men, was well prepared with an army including 900 chariots of iron (vv. 12-13). But this was nothing to the God of Israel, and Deborah's faith was undaunted. Her words to Barak were firm and decided, telling him to act immediately, for this was the day the Lord had delivered Sisera into Barak's hand. "Has not the Lord gone out before you?" were words of strong encouragement to Barak (v. 14).
With the Lord going before, the victory was assured and decisive. Sisera, his chariots and all his army were totally routed (v. 15). Sisera himself left his chariot and fled on foot. He evidently escaped the observation of the Israelites, but otherwise "not a man was left of all the Canaanite army" (v.16).
Sisera, the commander of the Canaanites, when soundly defeated by Israel, was able to escape alone, and to find the tent of Heber the Kenite (v. 17), whom he thought to be friendly to him because there was no conflict at that time between Heber and Jabin. When Sisera approached, Jael, the wife of Heber, met him with welcoming words (v. 18), inviting him into the tent, where she covered the weary man with a blanket. He asked for water to drink, and she gave him milk.
Then he instructed her to stand at the tent door while he slept, and to lie to anyone who might come to ask if any man was in the tent (v. 20). But she had no such intention. Instead, while he was asleep, she took a tent peg and a hammer and drove the peg through his temple so powerfully that the peg pierced into the ground below (v. 21). If her action had been with selfish motives, this would have been murder, but since Sisera was an oppressor of the people of God and it was a time of war, the Lord approved of her killing this enemy of God.
Barak and his army had missed Sisera and were looking for him after this. When Barak approached the tent of Heber, Jael came out to meet him (v. 22) and invited him into her tent to find the man he was looking for. Then Barak would realize the truth of Deborah's prophecy that the Lord would sell Sisera into the hands of a woman (v. 9).
Thus God subdued Jabin, king of Canaan that day (v. 32), and Israel was able to apply more and more pressure on him until he was destroyed. After this we read of no more military action of the Canaanites against Israel in the book of Judges.
THE SONG OF DEBORAH AND BARAK (vv.1-31)
To celebrate God's great victory over Canaan, Deborah and Barak sang a remarkable song. Since Deborah's name is mentioned first, it seems likely that she composed the song (v. 7). It begins with leaders in Israel taking their proper place to provide leadership as ordered by God. But what rightly accomplishes this is the willing response of the people in offering themselves to engage in warfare for the Lord's sake. Kings and princes are summoned to hear the praises of the Lord for this great victory (v. 3).
Then the Lord is addressed in verse 4. He is seen as going out from Seir, marching from the field of Edom. Edom (the same name as Adam with only the vowels changed, for the flesh loves to disguise itself) pictures the strength of the flesh. The Lord leaves all that behind, for fleshly energy means nothing to Him. He marches in majestic splendor, causing the earth to tremble and the heavens to pour torrents of water. The gentle rains speak of the blessing of the Word of God that brings forth fruit. But when rain is increased to a downpour, this pictures the Word of God bringing judgment. Just as bright sunshine can be a blessing and yet excessively hot sun a curse, so sufficient water is good, but excessive water an unwelcome affliction. God can easily use for judgment that which He first intended for man's good.
"The mountains quaked before the Lord" (v.5--NASB). Mountains symbolize authorities, and this includes Mount Sinai, which expresses the authority of law over Israel. The awesome majesty of God was evident when the law was given. "Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly" (Ex. 19:18). Who will not fear before a God of such magnificent power and splendor?
Verse 6 goes back to speak of the sad condition into which Israel had fallen before their victory over Sisera. "In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, and the travelers walked along the byways." This was because of Philistine and Canaanite oppression (Ch. 3:31 and tie. 4). Israelites were afraid to come into the open, walking on highways, because endangered by the hostility of their enemies, so that they sought the obscurity of the byways. This is a reminder of Psalm 84:5, "Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee,...they in whose heart are the highways" (JND trans.). The highways lead straight on to a certain destination, so that having the highways in the heart speaks of having the attitude of going unhinderedly onward towards the goal in glory of being with the Lord (Phil.3:14), and therefore not inclined to turn into the byways, the devious, winding paths that may draw less attention, but are not the straight paths of faith. Let us have firm decision in making Christ in glory our one real Object, not turning to one side or the other.
Also, "village life ceased." This too became endangered, for in the villages there was no protection. In times of peace and prosperity, village life can be very pleasant. Everyoneknows everyone else, and life goes on without great trouble. But the Philistines and Canaanites would threaten any attempt to continue village life. Similarly, Satan attacks small assemblies of God's people today by mocking them for continuing to maintain a small testimony, and tempting some to give this up.
Sad conditions in Israel continued until" I, Deborah, arose a mother in Israel' (v. 7). How beautiful to read this! She does not say, "a leader in Israel," but "a mother." It was because of her mother's heart that she was moved as she was, out of care for the people as though they had been her children.
Israel had foolishly chosen new gods (v.8) and this was followed by losing their defense: "not a shield or spear was found among forty thousand in Israel." Thus Satan, in injecting his idolatrous religion into Israel, had divested Israel of any protection against the Philistines and Canaanites. These tactics are used by evil nations today. They urge other nations to disarm, telling them this is the way to have peace, but when they do disarm, they find themselves exposed to the oppression of the enemy. But the Lord tells believers to "Put on the whole armor of God' (Eph. 6:11), for the enemy is both deceitful and treacherous.
Yet, in spite of the lack of weapons, Deborah says her heart was with the rulers of Israel who offered themselves willingly to engage in battle with Sisera (v. 9). Their good influence spread also to the people.
But there were some who did not act on the call of God. Instead, they were riding on white donkeys, sitting in the place of judges, walking far from the noise of the archers (vv. 10-11). They chose not to be involved, yet were judges. Many today do the same. They can stand back and criticize the way things are done, considering their judgment to be very wise, yet take no part in fighting against the enemy. They are bidden to speak. What can they say for themselves?
However, in the end they would have reason to recount the righteous acts of the Lord, among the watering places. They would be refreshed and benefited by the Lord's blessing, though not part of the army. Instead of merely judging then, they would be subdued by the evidence of God's working, and would speak of this. For God's actions had liberated the villages in Israel,and the people would no longer fear to enter the gates.
"Awake, awake, Deborah! awake, awake, utter a song! Arise, Barak" (v. 12). Most translations do not translate the following words precisely as in the Hebrew language. The NIV renders it, "Take captive your captives, O son of Abinoam," but JND's margin says that this is literally, "Take captive your captivity." Ephesians 4:8 speaks similarly of Christ, "He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men." As Israel was in a state of captivity, Barak led captive this very state of captivity, thus releasing all who were in bondage. The Lord too, by His perfect sacrifice on Calvary, has led captive the state of captivity in which people were held, so that the people (believers) are set free. This is confirmed in Hebrews 2:14-15: "In as much then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Christ has not taken these people (believers) captive, but has released them from captivity.
The nobles and the mighty (v. 13) were those who oppressed Israel, and the Lord came down against them. Ephraim, Benjamin and Zebulon are mentioned favorably (v. 14) and also Issachar, taking their stand with Deborah and Barak (v. 15), and willingly going with them into battle. But Reuben was evidently troubled by internal disunity and did not arrive at any decided conclusion. There were divisions and great resolves of heart, but these were apparently like New Years resolutions that completely fail. How many there are who have apparent real concern, yet never take a decided stand for the Lord! Reuben sat among the sheep-folds to hear the bleatings of the flocks. Are we like them in any way? Instead of doing the work the Lord puts before us, do we just sit down to hear the bleatings (the complaints) of the sheep? They had great searchings of heart; but it seems to have borne no fruit in decided action (v. 16).
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan (v. 17).This was the land they had chosen, and they were content not to involve themselves in helping the rest of Israel in their conflict. We too may find it easy to excuse ourselves from being involved in the conflict of the saints of God just because we are geographically at a little distance from them.
"And why did Dan remain on ships? "The ships speak of trade and commerce, so that the inference is that business was more important to Dan than conflict for the Lord. "Asher continued by the seashore, staying "by his inlets." It seems Asher, like Dan, did not want his life disturbed, for he had inlets by which he was profited. "By the seashore" infers too that he was gaining from the Gentiles (of whom the sea speaks), and association with the world will always hinder true service for the Lord.
In commendable contrast to this, Zebulon was willing to risk its life for the Lord's sake (v. 18), and Naphtali also chose the field of battle. There are always dangers in conflict, but when it is for the Lord, should we fear such dangers? Let us rather "put on the whole armor of God."
In this song of Deborah and Barak the battle is briefly described in graphic language in verses 19 to 22. When the kings of Canaan fought, they found that the heavens fought against them (v. 30), and the stars. This is significant of spiritual authority higher than an earthly level, and which Canaan was not prepared to meet. It was earthbound men who challenged the authority of the Lord Jesus in His acting for God on earth. They asked Him, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?' (Mt. 31:23). He asked them a most penetrating question in return, "The baptism of John -- where was it from? From heaven or from men?" (v. 25). This defeated them, and they admitted themselves unable to answer. Thus too, heaven's authority defeated Sisera and his hosts. Without this, Barak and his men could not have gained the victory.
The river Kishon is also mentioned as having part in this victory (v. 21). God had said He would influence Sisera to come to Kishon (tie. 4:7), and it may be that many of his army were literally swept away by the torrent, possibly because trapped by Israel's army.
A bitter curse is pronounced against Meroz for not coming to the help of the Lord (v. 23). There must have been a special reason for this curse, for the curse is not pronounced against others who failed to come, Reuben, Gilead, Dan and Asher (vv. 16-17).
In contrast, Jael is said to be "most blessed among women" (v. 24). When Sisera asked for water, she gave him milk, a picture of giving the simple, elementary truth of God even to an enemy (v. 25). But Sisera pictures one who does not respond to the truth, and grace refused results in judgment. The tent peg speaks of the truth of God also as that which sustains the pilgrim character of a believer, for it keeps the tent in place. Jael did not hesitate to use this for the execution of Sisera in his sleep (v. 26). She illustrates the faith that is willing to use the truth, whether in grace or in judging for God.
Deborah also thinks of how the women of Canaan would be affected at this time. The mother of Sisera looked through the window in anxious wonder as to why he took so long to come home (v.28), for Sisera and his armies were accustomed to winning their battles with no difficulty. Her wise friends, and she herself, thought the answer was that Sisera and his men were engaged in taking time to gather and divide the spoil taken from Israel, girls and garments, etc. What a shock it would be to these women to find that both Sisera and his armies were not only defeated, but destroyed!
"Thus let all your enemies perish, O Lord!" In this present day of grace we do not pray that people will perish, but we do pray that principles of evil that attack us may be fully defeated. In fact, we are to put to death such things as "fornication, uncleanness, passionate desire and covetousness which is idolatry' (Col. 3:5). But in contrast, those who love the Lord shall be like the sun coming out in its full strength (v. 31). This anticipates the millennium, when "the Sun of righteousness" will arise with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2). Christ is the Sun, but believing Israelites will then be like Him, just as we (believers of this dispensation) will be like Him in heaven (1 Jn. 3:2). Following this victory that land was at peace for 40 years (v. 31).
THE OPPRESSION OF MIDIAN (vv.1-10)
However, Israel again repeated the evil of departing from the Lord. This time the Lord used Midian to put them under a yoke of oppression which lasted seven years (v.1). Midian also attacks the saints of God today. Its name means "strife," so it speaks of the spirit of quarreling that too frequently arises in the Church of God, and often results in divisions and separations.
Because of the Midianites the children of Israel made dens, caves and strongholds in the mountains (v. 2). Thus the spirit of strife makes us draw back, tending to isolate ourselves from others. We know this attitude comes from our fleshly nature desiring evil things, so that unity among the people of God suffers deeply. We foolishly want our own way, and this infringes on what someone else wants. God's way is forgotten.
When crops had been sown, the Midianites would come, accompanied by Amalakites and others from the east, destroying the produce of the earth (vv. 3-4). Amalek speaks of the lusts of the flesh, which we may always expect to accompany an attitude of strife (Midian). The results of such an attack will also always be to destroy all spiritual growth and prosperity.
It does not appear that Midian was interested in settling in the land, but they came as marauders, taking what they could and destroying everything else. They came with their own live stock and their tents, staying long enough each time to destroy all that Israel had. How striking a picture is this of the painful desolation that takes place when the spirit of strife and quarreling gains a foothold among God's people! What need there is then of peace makers, who are indeed called "the sons of God" (Mt. 5:9)
When Israel finally cried out to the Lord (v. 7), they cried simply because of their misery. The Lord did not therefore immediately relieve them, but sent a prophet for the purpose of pressing on Israel the fact of their own guilt being responsible for these troubles (vv. 8-10). As He had done many times before, He reminded them by the prophet that He had brought Israel up from Egypt, from the house of bondage, bringing them to their present land and driving out their enemies before them. The amazing wonder of all this had failed to so impress Israel as to cling firmly to the Lord. Yet God had told them, "I am the Lord your God: do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. "How little effect God's Word had in their hearts: they did not obey His voice. This message should certainly have brought them down in repentant confession of their guilt, and it may have been so in some measure, for it was this that God was seeking.
GIDEON CALLED TO DELIVER ISRAEL (vv. 11-23)
The Lord does intervene for Israel's deliverance. The angel of the Lord, who is the Lord Himself, came to the home of Gideon the son of Joash, sitting down and appearing to Gideon as he was threshing wheat by the winepress, where he could be hidden from the Midianites (v.11). Gideon's threshing wheat is a picture of one studying the Word of God, separating the chaff of one's one conceptions from the pure seed of the truth of God.
One who is prepared in secret by meditation on God's Word is the one who will be fitted for conflict on God's behalf.
The Angel's greeting must have been rather a shock to Gideon, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" (v. 12). Hiding as he was, he certainly would not feel mighty. But his response is most admirable, "O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us." Gideon was not thinking from a personal point of view, but was concerned about his nation Israel, God's miracles of the past, His bringing Israel out of Egypt, etc., yet now leaving them under the oppressive yoke of Midian (v. 13).
The Lord answered him, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianite. Have I not sent you?" (v. 14). Gideon might well wonder what might the Lord was speaking of, for Gideon only felt weakness. But Gideon had strength he was not aware of. The fact of his having a heart of true concern for his people, while feeling his own helplessness, was strength in God's eyes. Paul later learned this valuable lesson -- "when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).
However, Gideon protested to the Lord that his family was the weakest in Manasseh and that he himself was the least in his father's house (v. 15). Perhaps this was true, but he did not understand that God chooses the foolish things of the world, the weak things, the base things, and things that are despised, to bring to nothing the things that are naturally dominating (1Cor. 1:27-28). God does not choose those who are naturally the most competent in order to do His work, for if he did, we would attribute that person's success to his own ability, and God would not have all the glory.
The Lord allows Gideon no excuse. He has called Gideon and Gideon must obey. But He encourages Gideon by His Word, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man" (v. 16).
But Gideon desires more confirmation, as though it was necessary when God had given him His word! The Lord graciously responded to Gideon's request, however, to remain until Gideon brought an offering (v. 18). To Gideon's credit, the offering was very appropriate. The young goat is typical of Christ as the Substitute for the sinner (and Gideon knew that he needed a Substitute). Unleavened bread speaks of Christ as the perfect, sinless Man, while the broth seems to indicate the offerer's appreciation of the sacrifice, being easy to assimilate. Gideon presented all these to the Angel of the Lord (v. 19).
When Gideon obeyed the Angel in laying the meat and unleavened bread on a rock, the Angel used His staff to touch the offering, which was immediately consumed by fire that came out of the rock (vv. 20-21). The broth had been poured out, but the meat and unleavened bread went up totally to God in fire.
Certainly this signified that God had accepted Gideon's offering and Gideon had every right to be at peace, as believers have now in realizing that God has accepted the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. But Gideon was troubled in realizing the greatness of this person whom he had seen, -- the Angel of theLord, -- not simply "an angel" (v. 22). For God had said to Moses "no man shall see Me, and live" (Ex. 33:20). But while it is true that God's glory is so great that it is impossible for us to contemplate, yet it was in manhood form that the Angel (the Lord Jesus) had appeared to Gideon, so that Gideon did not see the greatness of God's glory, but only a very limited manifestation of God. Therefore the Angel set Gideon at rest, telling him, "Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die" (v. 23). Of course he would not die. The Lord had told him he would deliver Israel
Gideon did not rush into service for theLord. Instead he built an altar to the Lord, calling it "The Lord is peace" (v. 24). The altar speaks of Christ, and Gideon's building it speaks of his building a relationship with the Lord Jesus on the basis of His sacrifice, for sacrifices were made on the altar. Now, from the place of peace, Gideon is preparing for war.
IDOLATRY JUDGED: THE LORDEXALTED (vv. 24-35)
However, there was another matter that the Lord required Gideon to face before he could depend on God to give him a victory, for there was idolatry in the house of Gideon's father. Gideon must tear down an altar of Baal that was there and demolish a wooden image which was beside it (vv. 25-26). This was a negative work, but absolutely necessary. Then he was to replace this with an altar to the Lord, and offer the second bull that belonged to his father. Thus, what was positive was to replace the negative. The wood of the image was to provide the fire for the sacrifice.
Gideon obeyed, taking ten men who were his servants to accomplish this serious work. They did this at night, however, because Gideon feared the opinions of the men of the city. There was timidity in his faith, but nevertheless faith acted. True courage does not mean having no fear, but is seen rather in acting rightly in spite of fear.
When the destruction of the image and of Baal's altar was discovered in the morning, the men of the city demanded of Gideon's father that he must deliver up Gideon to be executed (vv.28-30).
Certainly God would not allow this, for He had chosen Gideon as deliverer of Israel, and He will fully honor obedience to His Word. So that it was God who disposed Joash to answer as he did. Rather than be on the defensive, Joash took a firm, decided stand with his son. He was no doubt dissatisfied with his own idol, and told the men to let Baal plead for himself if he was really a god. In fact he demanded that anyone who would plead for Baal should be put to death! (v. 31). This decided language evidently silenced all opposition. From that time Gideon was given the name Jerubbaal, signifying his contention against Baal (v.32).
The Lord then moved the Midianites and Amalekites and other peoples from the east to gather a great army in the Valley of Jezreel, for the defeat of these enemies was not to be partial, but total (v. 33). When this tremendous army was gathered, we are told "But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon" (v. 34). This is really the deciding factor, as is confirmed by Isaiah 59:10: "when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him." Overwhelming numbers mean nothing to God. Gideon blew a trumpet and the men of Abiezer were gathered to follow him. Also, he sent messengers to all Manasseh, Asher, Zebulon and Naphtali, and found a willing response from these (vv. 34-35).
THE WET AND DRY FLEECE (vv. 36-40)
In spite of these encouraging signs, Gideon felt he needed something more than this, and asked the Lord to cause dew to fall only on a fleece he laid on the threshing floor, leaving all the surrounding area dry (vv. 36-37). If so, he said, this would be assurance that God would save Israel by Gideon's hand. The Lord graciously answered, so that Gideon wrung out a bowl full of water from the fleece in the morning, while all the surrounding area was dry (v. 38).
Yet even then Gideon's apprehensions were not fully relieved. He asked God (apologetically) to give him one more sign, that this time the fleece might be dry and the ground wet with dew. Again God showed Gideon the kindness of answering just as he desired (vv. 39-40).
Today there are some Christians who use this history as an excuse for expecting some material sign from God as to what His will may be in a certain matter. But let believers remember that we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, and we may fully depend on God's Word in connection with the leading of the Spirit, so that we need no confirming signs, but simply a genuine communion with the Lord and faith in His Word.
ISRAEL'S ARMY REDUCED BY GOD (vv. 1-9)
Gideon's influence had gathered 32,000 men, and they encamped south of the encampment of the Midianites, prepared for battle (v. 1). Compared to Midian, this army was pathetically small, but in God's eyes not small enough. He told Gideon that there was a danger of Israel's boasting of their victory if they thought that their strength had anything to do with it. Therefore, he must decrease his army. First, he was told to tell any who were afraid, to leave. This depleted their number by 22,000, leaving only 10,000 (v. 3). But the Lord required a further decimation, telling Gideon to bring the army to the water to test each man as to how he drank. Those who got down on their knees to drink were refused, but those who took the water in their hands to lap it were chosen to go with Gideon (vv. 4-5). Only 300 passed this test (v. 6), but this was sufficient for God to use. He promised Gideon that by the 300 men He would deliver the Midianites into his hand (v. 7).
Gideon and his 300 men were on a hill above the camp of the Midianites, while 31,700 of his men returned home! Certainly the Lord knew that Gideon would feel pathetically weak with his small company, so he told Gideon to go down to the camp with only Phurah his servant, to hear what those in the camp might be saying (vv. 10-11). Verse 12 tells us of the tremendous number of men and of camels that might well have struck fear into Gideon's heart.
But God had sent a dream to a Midianite soldier and God so ordered events that the man was telling his dream to another, which Gideon heard from the shadows. He had dreamed that only a loaf of barley bread had tumbled into the camp of Midian, overturning and collapsing a tent (v. 13). What a surprise it must have been to Gideon to hear the man's friend interpret the dream as he did! He made not the slightest question that this dream indicated that Gideon the son of Joash would lead Israel in defeating Midian, God delivering all the camp of Midian into his hand (v. 14).
GOD GIVES THE VICTORY (vv. 15-25)
How could the slightest doubt remain in the mind of Gideon? He may go forth with firm confidence. Yet first he takes time to worship the Lord in the calmness of being guided by His faithful hand (v. 15). Then he alerted his 300 men for immediate action. He divided them into three companies of 100 each, giving each man a trumpet and a pitcher with only a lighted torch inside. The men came to the edge of the camp, being spaced wisely around the camp (v. 16).
Then Gideon told them to look at him and to do do as he did. How lovely a picture of having Christ as our true leader! He does not only tell us what to do: He shows us by His own example, and we need only to follow Him (v. 17).
When Gideon blew the trumpet, they were told to do likewise, and say, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon" (v. 18). Coming then in the middle of the night, just after the changing of the watch, the trumpets were blown and the pitchers were broken so that the torches were exposed. Thus 300 lights suddenly appeared around the camp of Midian (vv. 19-20). Rushing from their tents, the Midianites, hearing the trumpets and seeing the lights, were thrown into confusion (v. 22). They thought the enemy had infiltrated into their camp, and therefore lashed out with their swords against others who had swarmed out of their tents. Thus the Lord set every man's sword against his own companions, and the whole army fled.
It was the element of surprise that gained the victory. God's methods of warfare are different than men's, and the spiritual significance of God's instructions to Gideon is by far the most important matter for us in this victory. The light speaks of the testimony of the truth of God in practical life. The vessels speak of our physical bodies. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Cor. 4:7). But the vessel must be broken that the light may shine out, as 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 indicates, for the vessel must not have the honor for the victory: that honor belongs to God alone, though He uses frail human beings to accomplish His own ends. The trumpet speaks of testimony also, not the testimony of practical life, as the lights, but a declared testimony. In other words, we are called to both declare the truth of God and to live the truth of God.
The enemy being routed, then Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and Manasseh gathered and pursued the Midianites (v.23). Also Gideon sent messengers throughout Ephraim to bring their armies to help in mopping up operations by taking from the enemy the watering places that are so necessary for the welfare of an army. In doing this they also captured and killed two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, then brought their heads to Gideon on the other side of Jordan.
GRIEVOUS WORDS AND A SOFT ANSWER (vv. 1-3)
But the men of Ephraim were resentful that Gideon had called them so late rather than when he began his campaign against Midian (v.1). They did not stop to consider that it was God who ordered the assault on Midian. They probably did not know that God had reduced the army to 300 rather than increasing it by the inclusion of Ephraim. Gideon could have pointed these things out to them, but instead he took a wiser way of using a soft answer to turn away their anger.
If they thought that Gideon was seeking honor for himself, such an attitude on their part would melt away when Gideon told them that he had done little in comparison to Ephraim. They had taken a part that was most important in completing a victory over the enemy. Why should they feel as though they had been left out? God had used them to destroy the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, so that Gideon asks them what he had done in comparison to them? This humble attitude of Gideon produced good results, for the anger of the Ephraimites subsided. Thus, strife in the camp was averted and the armies left free to finish their work.
COMPLETING THEVICTORY (vv. 4-21)
Gideon with his 300 men pursued Zeba and Zalmunna, kings of Midian, becoming weary after a long day's conflict. Crossing the Jordan, they came to Succoth, a city of Israel, and there asked for bread for the army (v. 5). Certainly they were entitled to this, for they were fighting Israel's battles. But the leaders of the city, haughtily refused, saying, in effect, that if they had already defeated Zeba and Zalmunna they might have reason to expect food from Succoth (v. 6).
Gideon therefore warned them of what he would do when he had captured these two kings. He would return and tear the flesh of the leaders with thorns and briars (v. 7). This would not be pleasant, but it was a righteous revenge.
Another city in Israel, Penuel, when asked for food, spoke in the same insulting way to Gideon. How sad it is when God's people not only give no support to those who are fighting God's battles, but rather insult them! In the case of Penuel, Gideon tells them that when he returned he would tear down their tower. The tower was for the purpose of watching against enemy attacks, but Penuel had no concern for opposing the enemy. Then of what use was their tower?
Zeba and Zalmunna were in Karkor, with15,000 men, for 120,000 of their army had been killed, an amazing decimation (v. 10). The 15,000 were evidently practically paralyzed with fear and unable to resist the assault of 300 men! They had traveled some miles, and felt secure from further conflict (v. 11), then when attacked were totally routed. Of course it was the Lord who gave the victory, and they took captive the two kings, Zeba and Zalmunna (v.12).
Returning from the battle, as they neared Succoth, Gideon caught a young man who was resident in that city, to learn from him who were the leaders and elders of Succoth. He was given 77names (v.14). Therefore he faced these leaders with the fact of his now having captured Zeba and Zalmunna, reminding them of their insulting words (v. 15), and "taught" them with thorns and briars of the wilderness, as he had promised (v. 16). This meant they were physically torn by the thorns and briars (v. 7), certainly a painful infliction, to say the least!
Then he tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city (v. 17), likely meaning the leaders among them. We are not told why there was a difference between the punishment given to the men of Succoth and those of Penuel, but no doubt Gideon had a reason for this.
Following this Gideon asked Zeba and Zalmunna what kind of men they had killed at Tabor. This killing must have taken place some time before, but we have no record of it. They answered that those men resembled Gideon, their appearance being as sons of a king (v. 18). So Gideon tells them they were his own brothers, and if Zeba and Zalmunna had let them live, Gideon would not kill them (v. 19). Gideon may have been too partial in saying this, for these kings were enemies of God, which is more serious than their attitude toward individual Israelites who were Gideon's relatives.
He gave orders to his eldest son to kill the two kings, but being young, he was not a hardened warrior and would not attempt such work (v. 20). Zeba and Zalmunna then told Gideon he should kill them, for they say, "as a man is, so is his strength." Gideon responded by killing them both, then took as spoil the crescent ornaments that were on their camels' necks. There is some significance in this, little as we might perceive it.
A GOLDEN EPHOD(vv. 22-28)
Gideon had earned the respect of Israel, but just as the people who had witnessed the Lord's feeding of the five thousand wanted to take Him by force to make Him a king (Jn. 6:15), so the men of Israel wanted Gideon to reign over them and his sons to succeed him in reigning (v. 22). They thought this was the way to perpetuate the blessing that God had brought to them through Gideon. But this would be confidence in the vessel, not confidence in the Lord. Gideon perceived this immediately and refused their proposition, telling them the Lord should rule over them, not Gideon or his sons (v. 23)). This was wisdom and faith that would have been most fruitful if Gideon had left it at that.
However, Gideon made a very grave blunder in another direction. He requested (not demanded) that the people should give him the golden earrings they had taken as plunder from the Midianites. They willingly did so, and with this large amount of gold Gideon made an ephod and set it up for public display in Ophrah, his own city (vv. 25-27).
He had certainly not enquired of God as to this matter, but evidently thought it was a nice religious symbol of God's approval. How deceiving was such a thing! An ephod was the most important article of the high priest's clothing, the vesture in which the breastplate with its twelve precious stones was set (Ex. 39:2-21). But Gideon was not a priest. Nor did God ever suggest an ephod being set up by itself: it was to be worn.
The sad mistake of Gideon in making a golden ephod involves a most serious lesson for believers today. One may rightly realize he is not to be a ruler over God's people, and yet assume the place of being their spiritual adviser, the one through whom the people may receive their spiritual instruction. Thus many today want to give to a godly man the honor of being called "reverend," expecting him to be more spiritual than others. With such an arrangement the people excuse themselves from requiring the exercise of being in God's presence for themselves, to receive instruction directly from Him. This dependence on a man is a worse evil than people think. It is really idolatry, just as the people came to Gideon's house to honor the golden ephod. Gideon would say that the ephod was intended just as a reminder of God's authority, but God commanded Israel only to make a linen ephod, and that to be worn by a priest, so that the golden ephod actually became an object of worship to Israel (v. 27). However, the land remained in peace for forty years in the days of Gideon (v. 28).
GIDEON'S DEATH (vv.29-35)
Gideon then lived in his own house, with no more exploits to occupy him. We are told he had seventy sons, his own offspring, because he had many wives (v. 30), as well as having a concubine who bore him one son named Abimelech. God had said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24), so that having more than one wife was contrary to God's will, though many believers in the Old Testament did so.
Gideon died at a good old age (v. 32), and as soon as he died, Israel again reverted to their idolatrous worship of the Baals, and particularly Baal-Berith, meaning "lord of the covenant." This speaks of Israel being degraded to a covenant relationship with God which is not God's covenant at all, but rather a promise of serving the Lord that is merely of the flesh. God's covenant with Israel was that of the law of Moses, but false lords advocate a falsified covenant. Thus Israel was guilty again of not remembering the Lord God who had delivered them from their enemies, and forgot Gideon and his house (vv. 34-35). It is with good cause that Christians are told, "Remember those who rule (or have taken the lead) over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Heb. 13:7). Paul speaks here of those leaders who have passed away. We are not to forget their faith and their example.
ABIMELECH'SCONSPIRACY (vv. 1-6).
Abimelech did not only forget his father's example, but deliberately chose a contrary path of proud self-pleasing. He wanted to rule over Israel and recognized that in order to do so he must find a following that would reject all 70 of Gideon's sons who were born to him by his wives. He therefore persuaded his mother's relatives to speak to the men of Shechem, asking them if is better that 70 of Gideon's sons should rule over them or just one (vv. 1-2). He appeals to the fact that he himself is their own flesh and bone.
No one had suggested that Gideon's 70 sons should rule over Israel: likely those sons knew that their father had refused the place of ruler (tie. 8:22-23). But a small minority can often force its way into prominence. A little money (seventy shekels of silver) was given Abimelech by his relatives, with which he hired worthless and reckless men to carry out his evil designs (v.4). Then, to quell any likelihood of opposition, he went to Ophrah and killed the other sons of Gideon except the youngest, Jotham, who was able to hide (v. 5). This awful crime of mass murder of his own brothers meant nothing to him. None of them had shown any aspiration to reign over Israel, but he wanted to make sure that none of them would.
Then a small segment of Israel's population, the people of Shechem and of Beth Millo, gathered together and made Abimelech king. There appeared to be no energy on the part of the other tribes to resist this arrogant usurpation of authority. It may be that most just ignored him, for nothing is said of his even attempting to attract the other tribes to him. Yet he was considered king over all Israel (v. 22).
JOTHAM'S PARABLE(vv. 7-21)
But God had one voice of testimony to raise against the wickedness of Abimelech. Jotham went and stood on Mount Gerizim, which was close to Shechem, and was evidently given a powerful voice to address the people of Shechem.
His parable of the trees was clear and to the point. He spoke of their intention to have a king reigning over them, so they first asked the fruitful olive to rule. But the olive was producing what men needed, and refused to rule, in order to do its proper work. Why should it leave its true function "and go to sway over the trees?" (vv. 8-9).
In Jotham's parable, after the olive tree was asked to reign and refused, the trees asked the fig tree to reign over them. But the fig tree answered in a way similar to that of the olive. It was already bearing good fruit: should it leave this in order to merely wave its branches above the trees? (vv.10-11). The vine was still more lowly and weak, but it was producing the grapes that made wine to cheer both God and man. Exchanging this just to vaunt its own pride over others had no appeal to the vine (vv. 12-13).
Therefore the trees offered the bramble the same position. Of course the bramble produces no fruit whatever, but harmful thorns. Having nothing worthwhile to do, it grasped the opportunity to immediately issue an ultimatum that the trees take shelter under its shade, which of course is no shade at all, with the threat that otherwise fire would come out from the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon (vv. 14-15).
This is arrogant dictatorship, but Israel had allowed this very thing in the case of Abimelech. He was servant only to his own pride, and contemptible as his pride was, he would threaten the cedars, whose dignity was high above the bramble, with destruction from his own person!
Jotham then applied this parable in a practical way. If the Shechemites had acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, if they had really dealt well with Gideon and his house (v. 16), then they would have reason to rejoice in Abimelech (v. 19). But in verses 17 and 18 Jotham reminds them that his father had risked his life in fighting for Israel, delivering them from the Midianites (v. 17). But he tells them they had risen against his father's house, killing 70 of his sons (less one) and making Abimelech king, he who was the son of Gideon's bondmaid (v. 18).
If this was truthful and sincere dealing, then let them rejoice in Abimelech and let him rejoice in the people of Shechem (v. 19). Of course it is evident this was not truthful dealing, but grossly wicked. So Jotham adds, "if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem, and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!"(v. 20). This was a prophecy God had put into the mouth of Jotham and it was fulfilled only three years later. But Jotham then ran away, going to Beer to live at a distance from his cruel brother (v. 21).
JUDGMENT UPON SHECHEM AND ABIMELECH (vv. 22-57)
After Abimelech had reigned only three years, God intervened by moving the men of Shechem to change their attitude toward Abimelech. No doubt the arrogance of the man had proven too much for them. But God intended that both they and Abimelech should suffer the consequences of collusion in wickedness (vv.23-24). They had made Abimelech king, but had no sense of fidelity to him, so were willing to depose him. They put men in ambush against Abimelech, robbing all the people who passed that way. But Abimelech was told about this and of course avoided the danger to himself (v. 25).
Another man, Gaal, the son of Ebed, was ready to take advantage of the situation, and coming to Shechem, won over the confidence of the Shechemites. He was a similar character to Abimelech, aspiring to have all authority in his hands. To celebrate the promotion of Gaal, the people gathered grapes from their vineyards, pressed out the juice and went into the house of their idol, eating and drinking and cursing Abimelech. Such is the folly of men of the world.
Gaal then could be very bold in questioning, "Who is Abimelech and who is Shechem, that we should serve him?" (v. 28. This is a case only of one potsherd of the earth striving with another, and the proud words fall from his lips, "If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech" (v. 29). Then he issued a message for Abimelech to increase his army and come out to battle.
However, Zebul, the ruler of the city, did not sympathize with Gaal, though he had evidently kept quiet. He sent messengers secretly to Abimelech, warning him of what Gaal was doing (vv.30-31), and advising him to take his army by night and wait in the field outside the city, ready to attack the city in the morning (vv. 32-33). Abimelech acted on this advice, having all his army ready for a surprise attack on Gaal and his men.
Early in the morning Gaal went out and stood at the entrance to the city gate, and he said to Zebul who was with him, "Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!" (vv. 35-35). Zebul was ready to divert him, and told him he saw only the shadows of the mountain as if they were men. But Gaal was now intent on watching, and insisted that there were two companies of people coming from different directions (v. 37). Then Zebul taunted Gaal with the reminder of his words, "Who is Abimelech that we should serve him?" He told him these were the very people he had despised (v. 28). Now they were ready to fight before Gaal was, and Gaal must gather his army on short notice. But he had committed himself: he could do nothing else.
With Abimelech's superior army and with the element of surprise, the followers of Gaal were soundly defeated and many fell wounded. But at this time Abimelech withdrew to Arumah, while Zebul drove Gaal and his brothers from Shechem (v. 4). Actually, it was better for Gaal that they did this, for he likely would have been killed if remaining in Shechem. Nothing is said about what happened to him after this, however.
The city of Shechem had not been captured, and for some reason people were coming from the city the next day. Abimelech heard this (v. 42) and with three companies approached the city, lying in wait. When he saw people coming out of the city he attacked, with one company occupying the gate of the city, the other companies destroying those who had come out (vv. 43-44). All that day Abimelech fought against the city, overcame it and demolished it, sowing it with salt to make it unfit for bearing fruitful vegetation (v. 45). He had told the Shechemites before that he was their flesh and blood (v. 2) and gained their patronage. Now he has no hesitation in destroying his own flesh and blood!
But the men of the tower of Shechem were evidently not in the city of Shechem. When they heard that Shechem had been destroyed they gathered in a stronghold of a temple of an idol, Berith (v. 46). What else could they do when they had refused God as a stronghold? Abimelech heard this and led his men to the location. Cutting down branches of trees, they used these to set afire that burned into the stronghold and destroyed it, killing about one thousand men and women.
Thus the first part of Jotham's parable was fulfilled, that fire came out from Abimelech and consumed the men of Shechem (v. 20), those who had made Abimelech king. This was an awesome judgment of the city and the tower of Shechem!
Abimelech, in the confidence of conquest, then went on to Thebez, taking the city, though the people of the city escaped to a strong tower, barring it against Abimelech (v. 51). Again Abimelech had the intention of burning this tower, but made the mistake of venturing too close. A woman in the tower (her name unknown) dropped a large millstone from the top of the tower on the head of Abimelech, crushing his skull. He was able only to call quickly to his armor bearer to kill him with his sword -- not to save him from suffering, but so that people would not say that a woman killed him! (vv. 53-54). Such was the pride of this ungodly man. Whatever his thoughts were, it was still a woman whom the Lord used to defeat him, and the record certainly inspires no admiration for Abimelech.
With Abimelech dead, there was no leader and no reason for his servants to fight any longer. They all left and returned to their homes (v. 55). Thus, as God had prophesied through Jotham, the Shechemites were destroyed by Abimelech and he was killed by a Shechemite woman. Whether Abimelech or the men of Shechem, they all reaped what they had sown, their gross evil recoiling on their own heads (vv. 56-57).
TOLA'S 23 YEARS AS JUDGE (vv. 1-2)
Abimelech had been no help to Israel in his three years of authority, now another man, Tola of Issachar, "arose to save Israel" (v. 1). We are not told what he saved Israel from, and nothing is said of his character or of his actions. But if he saved Israel from the idol worship they had adopted, this was good work. Generally, where there is no recorded history the implications are good. He judged Israel 23 years and died. Though there is nothing particularly outstanding in the good he did, yet there is nothing to the contrary.
JAIR JUDGING ISRAEL 22YEARS (vv. 3-5)
Jair was from Gilead, and again there is nothing said of his character or of what he may have done. He judged Israel for 22 years. But he evidently made provision for his own family, each of his 30 sons having a city and each riding on a donkey. This may imply that Jair was partial to his family, therefore not particularly concerned about all Israel. It is said only that he judged Israel, not that he saved Israel, as did Tola. But combining the length of Tola's and Jair's tenure, there was evidently comparative peace for 45 years.
FAILURE AGAIN AND ITS RESULTS(vv. 6-18)
Once more the children of Israel fell into the evils of idolatry, serving many false gods of the nations around them, from Syria, Sidon, Moab, Ammon and the Philistines. How easily it seems the people of God slip into the habits of the ungodly world around us! We hardly realize how far we have fallen until the Lord brings on us the results of our disobedience and we suffer at the hands of the enemy.
We too have many enemies ready to take advantage of us to cause us harm and damage, not enemies of flesh and blood, but spiritual enemies, of which the many enemies of Israel are symbolical. If we are not on guard, we may too easily be overcome by them.
The Lord's anger was such that He sold Israel into the hands of the Philistines and the children of Ammon (vv. 6-7). The Philistines (meaning "wallowers") stand for formal ritualistic religion that is only a shell without reality. If this kind of thing is adopted, Ammon is ready to take advantage of it. Ammon (meaning "peoplish") speaks of false, satanic doctrines that please the people. The king of Ammon was named Nahash, meaning "a serpent" (1 Sam. 10:2). Thus, wicked doctrine will thrive under a formal show of religion, but it is intensely sad when believers in any measure fall under such influence. Just as Israel accepted this kind of compromise, so they found themselves oppressed by it, and for 18 years (v. 8).
At first this affected only those east of Jordan, but Ammon then crossed the Jordan to attack Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim (v. 9). After years of such oppression, the children of Israel finally cried out to the Lord in confession of their sin in having forsaken Him and served idols (v. 10).
The Lord did not immediately deliver them, but answered them severely, reminding them that He had before delivered them from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the people of Ammon and the Philistines. Also the Sidonians, the Amalakites and Maonites had oppressed them and God had delivered Israel from them (vv.11-12). Why should He deliver them any more if they give themselves up to false gods? Let them pray to the idols they have chosen (vv. 13-14). Thus God makes them think over the enormity of their sin in forsaking Him.
What could Israel do? They knew their idols had no ability to help them. They could only again confess their sin before God and show themselves willing to accept any governmental consequences God might send. Only they entreat Him to deliver them (v. 15). At the same time they put away their foreign gods, and took the place of serving the Lord (v. 16). God, seeing this change in their attitude, "could no longer endure the misery of Israel." In spite of their disobedience over and over again, His compassion was always awakened by their turning to Him in their misery. Wonderful indeed is the grace of our God and Father!
Satan is always alert to see any turning to God on the part of God's people, and will very soon prepare war against them. The Ammonites gathered and camped in Gilead, being anxious to repress any revolt against their oppression (v. 17). The Israelites however had energy enough to assemble also and camp in Gilead, though as yet they had no leader strong enough to follow. They knew it was time they broke the yoke of Ammon, but questioned who could take the responsibility of leading Israel into battle (v. 18).
JEPHTHAH; AN UNUSUAL LEADER (vv. 1-11)
There was one man whose capacities for leadership stood out above others in Israel, Jephthah a Gileadite, but he was not popular, being the son of a prostitute (v. 1). His father's wife had sons who, when they grew up, refused to own Jephthah as their brother and expelled him from any inheritance in his father's house (v. 2). Of course Jephthah's birth was not his fault, but his father's. But this made no difference to his brothers.
Jephthah went to the land of Tob, evidently east of Gilead, and there his abilities attracted the following of unwholesome characters (v. 3). They "went out" together, likely as a band of marauders, by which means Jephthah evidently made a name for himself.
When Ammon then came to make war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to Tob to urge Jephthah to consent to be their commander to fight against Ammon (vv. 4-6). Jephthah reminded them that they had shown hatred toward him by expelling him from his father's house, and he asks why then were they coming to him when they were in distress (v. 7). Thy had no real answer except that now they were turning back to him to ask him to be their head in fighting against Ammon (v. 8)
Jephthah would agree on one condition. If he defeated Ammon, would Israel agree to make him their head? In acceding to this proposition, the elders called God as a witness to their agreement (vv. 9-10). Bringing him to Mizpah the elders and the people appointed Jephthah as their head, where he spoke to them as in the presence of the Lord (v. 11).
HIS DISPUTATION WITH THE KING OF AMMON (vv. 14-28)
Rather than going to battle first, Jephthah sent a message to the king of Ammon asking him why he had come to fight against him in his land (v. 12). The king of Ammon sent the reply that Israel had taken away Ammon's land when they came out of Egypt. So now he demanded that Israel should restore those lands peaceably.
Jephthah replied that Israel had not taken the lands of the Ammonites, but had in fact bypassed Moab and Ammon, but when the Amorites refused Israel permission to pass through their land, Israel had defeated the Amorites and took possession of their lands (vv. 16-21). These lands therefore were not taken from Ammon, but from the Amorites, but now Ammon was demanding them (v.13).
Jephthah, in answering the king of Ammon, asks, since the Lord God of Israel had dispossessed the Amorites before Israel, was it right that Ammon should possess that land? (v. 23). In fact, Jephthah tells them that they can possess what their idol Chemosh was able to give them, but what the Lord God had given Israel would not be given up (v. 24).
He reminds Ammon of the animosity of Balak toward Israel when they came out of Egypt (Num. 22-24), but that he did not fight against Israel. Were the Ammonites better than Balak that they could hope to defeat Israel? (v. 25). Also, now that Israel had dwelt for 300 years in Heshbon and Aroer and their villages, why did Ammon not in all this time recover (as they considered they wanted to do) that land if it was really theirs? (v. 26).
Therefore, Jephthah concludes, the sin was not on Israel's part, but on the part of the Ammonites, and he appeals to the Lord, the Judge, to render fair judgment in this matter (v.27). The king of Ammon had no reply to this, but simply refused to consider Jephthah's words (v. 28). Let us remember that Ammon stands for the fundamental false doctrines by which Satan seeks to destroy the people of God.
JEPHTHAH'S VOW AND CONQUEST (vv. 29-32)
God at this time gave His Spirit to Jephthah, as He did at various times in the Old Testament for a specific occasion (v. 29). This is not the indwelling of the Spirit such as was accomplished at Pentecost in Acts 2, but a temporary infusion of power given to one who was called to fight God's battle. With the confidence that God would back him up, Jephthah passed through Gilead and Manasseh and through Mizpah, with his army, boldly advancing toward the Ammonites.
Yet even having the confidence of God's favor, Jephthah sadly failed in making a foolish vow to the effect that if God would deliver Ammon into his hands, then at his return he would offer as a burnt offering to God whatever would first come out of his house to meet him (vv. 30-31). What was he thinking? Did he suppose that a sheep or an ox would come out of his door? God did not put this vow into his mind. If we too conceive some thought as to what we might do for God, let us first be sure God is moving us to do this, for we cannot trust our own natural thoughts.
Jephthah and his army went forward then to engage the Ammonites in battle, and the Lord delivered the Ammonites into his hands. The victory was decisive and complete, with a very great slaughter of the armies of the enemy (vv. 32-33).
Returning home to Mizpath, Jephthah was shocked to see his only child, his daughter, come out of the house to meet him with timbrels and dancing, for of course she knew of his great victory (v. 34). Certainly this should not have surprised him, but his vow had been without sober consideration.
Why did he not blame himself for his foolish vow? But he tells his daughter that she had brought him very low, as one of those who troubled him (v. 35). But he said that since he had given his word to the Lord, he could not go back on it. It is true that when a promise is made it should be kept. But since the promise involved wrongdoing, then it would only be right for Jephthah to confess before the Lord the foolishness of his vow, and therefore not keep it. This is similar to the vow of Herod that he would give to the daughter of Herodias whatever she wanted (Mt. 14:7). When she asked for the head of John the Baptist, he was sorry, but for his oath's sake (supposing this would preserve his integrity!) he ordered the murder of the prophet.
Jephthah's daughter showed a remarkable attitude of submission to her father, however, not protesting against this deliberate case of human sacrifice (v. 36). God never gave instructions for such a thing, but Jephthah was determined to fulfill his vow. The girl asked him, however, to defer the offering for two months, during which she would wander on the mountains with her friends, bewailing her virginity, that is, bewailing the fact that she would die without ever being married (v. 37).
Jephthah agreed to this, and after the two months his daughter returned and submitted to the ordeal of human sacrifice. We are simply told that Jephthah did to her as he had vowed (v.39). Thus she died without having a relationship with any man. We may wonder in what way Jephthah offered her. Surely no priest would consent to offer such a sacrifice, so that action had to be outside of the order God had established. But Jephthah seems to be the kind of a man who would not let anything stop him once he had committed himself.
Jephthah's daughter being gone, the daughters of Israel adopted a custom of going four days each year to the mountains to lament for her. Is there not a lesson in this for us today? One may be the victim of an unfair action, and we can do nothing about it. At least we can remember this injustice in self-judgment before the Lord. This is different than raising an indignant outcry against injustice, a common practice today, but learning to judge ourselves will bear much more good fruit than judging others.
AN UNNECESSARY CONFRONTATION (vv. 1-7)
The men of Ephraim assumed the same proud attitude toward Jephthah as they had before done toward Gideon (tie.8:1-2). When Jephthah had gained the victory over the Ammonites, they ought to have shown genuine appreciation of this, but instead they came with bitter enmity, being angry because Jephthah had not called them to help in the defeat of Ammon. They tell him, "We will burn your house down on you with fire!" (v.1).
Jephthah was not as wise as Gideon in the way he responded, however (tie. 8:2-3). In
Gideon's case a soft answer turned away wrath, but Jephthah was immediately on the defense, telling Ephraim in effect that he had expected them to deliver Israel from the Ammonites, but when they failed to do this, then he took his life in his hands and attacked the Ammonites, whom God delivered into his hands (vv. 2-3). Thus, Jephthah made it clear to them that they were in the wrong. But it does not usually sit well for people to have demonstrated to them that they are wrong, and in this case it led directly into conflict.
Sadly then, Jephthah led his army against his own Israelite brethren. Jephthah was more concerned about his own authority than he was for the glory of God. No doubt he was a believer, as Hebrews 11:32 indicates, but he lacked any spirit of counting others better than himself (Phil. 2:3). It ought to have been a sorrow to him that discord should arise within the nation Israel, but instead he was only angry with those he considered responsible for the discord. If he had only sought God's mind about this matter, how different would the history have been.
Of course the Ephraimites were wrong. They contemptuously considered the Gileadites as fugitives from Ephraim because they lived east of the Jordan. Because of this contempt therefore the Ephraimites were defeated, just as our own bad attitude will defeat us too (v. 4).
When the defeat took place, then men of Ephraim wanted to return to their own property west of Jordan. But Jephthah and his army took possession of the fords of the Jordan. They were determined to kill off every Ephraimite they could, so that they tested them by asking them to pronounce the word "shibboleth." Evidently the Ephraimites did not use the "sh"sound, and said, "sibboleth." If so, they would kill them (v. 6). Altogether there were 42,000 Ephraimites slaughtered! Usually when a battle is finished the victors would do no more than take captive those who were already defeated, so that this action of Jephthah was actually cold-blooded murder. Do things like this ever happen among Christians today? Though not precisely the same, yet there can too easily be a sectarian rejection of other Christians because they do not conform to our requirements. It is true that it is not possible to have full, unhindered fellowship with many Christians, but to condemn them because of their inconsistencies is the spirit of murder. These Ephraimites were no longer fighting against Jephthah. How much better it would have been to let them return to their land, and pray for them!
Jephthah lived after this only six years, during which he judged Israel (v. 7), but nothing is said of his government, whether to be commended or otherwise.
THREE MORE JUDGES (vv.8-15)
Three judges followed Jephthah, but nothing is said of their character or their actions. Ibzan had thirty sons and thirty daughters, all of whom were married, his sons being provided with wives from elsewhere, whether from Israel or from the nations is not clear. His government continued for seven years. At least nothing derogatory is said of him.
Elon judged Israel for two years, but besides this nothing is recorded of him but his death and burial (vv.11-12). Abdon followed to judge Israel eight years. Otherwise, we are only told of him that he had forty sons and thirty grandsons, all of whom were provided with donkeys to ride.
AMSON'S BIRTH PREVIOUSLY ANNOUNCED (vv. 1-25)
After this, because of Israel's further disobedience, the Lord brought them under bondage to the Philistines for forty long years (v. 1). In this case we are not told that Israel was broken enough to cry to God for deliverance. It seems as time went on, Israel became less and less sensitive to the seriousness of their evil condition. But God nevertheless had His eye on His people.
This time God chose to prepare a deliverer from the tribe of Dan, and He begins with the mother of the child to be born. The Angel of the Lord appeared to her, telling her that though she was barren, she would conceive and bear a son (v.3). The same was true of Sarah (Gen. 18:11-14), and later of Hannah (1 Sam. 1:2,20), then also of Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias (Lk. 1:7,13).In all such cases, does the Lord not seek to make it plain that the son born is to be in a special sense His?
When the Angel of the Lord appeared to the wife of Manoah, telling her she would have a son, he impressed on her to be careful not to drink wine or similar drink and not to eat anything unclean (v.4), for her son would be a Nazerite to God from his birth. His hair must not be cut. Compare Numbers 6:1-8, which chapter speaks of the vow as being voluntary. But God had decided this for Samson before his birth. There is serious spiritual instruction in what the Lord told the woman, however. Wine speaks of exhilarating joy, and certainly a mother should forego any kind of "living in pleasure" (1 Tim. 5:6). Eating unclean meats would speak of indulging in unclean, sinful practices. She was to have a son who would be influenced by her character and actions. We too have responsibility not to influence others badly.
The hair of the Nazirite was not to be cut. Long hair on a woman is a sign of her subjection to the authority of man (1 Cor. 11:10), and thus Samson's long hair would make him resemble a woman, thus emphasizing his total subjection to the authority of the Lord (v. 5). The Nazirite was a type of the Lord Jesus, whose perfections in these three points stand out beautifully. Not that He was a literal Nazirite, for He did drink wine and there is no indication in scripture that He had long hair, though people imagine this and have painted pictures that cannot be trusted.
The woman then came to her husband, Manoah, to tell him of this unusual visitation and the message given her by the Angel (vv. 6-7). Manoah was impressed, but felt it a heavy responsibility to train a son who was to have a special place in Israel. He prayed therefore that God would send the Angel back to teach them how to care for or train their son (v. 8). God answered this request by the appearance of the Angel again to the woman while she was alone. She ran to call her husband, who came immediately (vv. 9-11) and asked the question as to how the boy should be trained in view of his work (v. 12).
The Angel of the Lord however did not give any more information than He had to Manoah's wife. He does not say anything about the boy's training. Why not? Because the boy should be trained just as any other boy should be trained. But He does emphasize the responsibility of the mother. She was not to eat anything that came from the vine, nor to drink wine, nor eat anything unclean (vv. 13-14). This is a striking witness that the character and actions of a mother will have great influence over her children.
Manoah was evidently a God-fearing man, and he wanted to prepare a meal for the Angel. But the Angel told him He would not eat of his food, yet if he wanted to offer a burnt offering he must offer it to the Lord (vv. 15-16). The Angel was the Lord Himself, but Manoah did not know this, and an offering must not be made to a mere man nor a mere angel.
However, Manoah wanted to know this man's name so that he could honor him after his word came to pass (v.17). Thus, Manoah's thoughts were too much on the messenger, not on the Lord. So the Angel asked him why he enquired about His name, seeing it is wonderful (v. 18). In other words, His name was above Manoah's understanding, a name to cause him to wonder.
Then Manoah took his offering, a young goat, together with a grain offering, and offered these on a rock to the Lord. Then an amazing miracle took place before their eyes. As the flame of the sacrifice burned brightly, the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame (vv. 19-20). What a demonstration to Manoah and his wife that this Visitant was no less than the Lord Himself! The Lord Jesus is the true burnt offering, that which ascends in fire to God. So that this visitation is one of the theophanies of scripture, that is, an Old Testament appearing of the Lord Jesus before the time of His actual incarnation. No one can have any idea in what body He came, or whether it was a tangible physical body, but in each case it was a temporary appearing, not such as John describes in l John 1:1, where he speaks of the disciples handling the Lord Jesus with their hands.
Verse 21 informs us that Manoah realized that they had seen the Angel of the Lord, and he rightly deduces that this was God (v. 22), being afraid that they would die since they had seen God! For God had said to Moses, "No man shall see Me and live" (Ex. 33:20). However, this was not a full revelation of God, but only partial (See 1 Tim. 6:16).
Manoah's wife wisely answered her husband that if the Lord desired to kill them He would not have accepted an offering from them, nor would He have foretold the birth of Samson and given her the instructions He had. This was simple, straightforward logic. She was without doubt a believer, but she does not appear to have the same spiritual exercise as Hannah did (1 Sam.2:1-10).
Her son then being born, he grew and was blessed by God, who by His Spirit began to move him in a certain area. No doubt this had to do with a serious concern to honor the Lord, though as yet nothing was said as to anything that he accomplished. God was working with him, but we do not see in Samson a serious concern to be guided by the Word of God.
Samson was not a leader, but a rugged individualist. He knew the Philistines were oppressors of Israel, yet he consorted with the Philistines when it pleased him, and he attacked them when he pleased. This strange inconsistency is sometimes seen in the children of God today, those who will denounce the evils of mere ritualistic churches, yet identify with them for certain purposes. Thus the first action of Samson of which we read is his going down among the Philistines and finding a woman to whom he was attracted. So he asked his parents to get the woman for him as a wife (v. 2). They knew how inconsistent this was, and protested that he ought to at least find an Israelite wife. Samson did not even defend himself in this, but responded, "Get her for me, for she pleases me well" (v. 3). He showed no evidence of seeking God's will in finding a wife, but depended only on his personal feelings.
Yet, in spite of Samson's inconsistency, God was behind the scenes with the intention of having the authority of the Philistines challenged (v. 4). Samson's parents did not know this, of course. This does not excuse Samson, but it does show how God is sovereign in using any means He pleases in accomplishing His will.
Samson and his parents therefore went down to Timnah (v. 5), but while Samson was alone, a young lion came against him. The power and roar of the lion did not intimidate Samson, however. In this case is the first intimation of the great strength God had given him. With his bare hands he tore the lion apart! (v. 6). But this was because the Spirit of God came mightily upon him. This is significant of the power God gives believers over the power of the devil by His Spirit (1 Jn. 2:13). Samson did not even mention this episode to his parents.
At this time Samson talked with the woman toward whom he was attracted (v. 7) and was fully persuaded that he wanted her as his wife. Some time later he returned to claim her, and on the way turned out of the way to see the carcass of the lion he had killed. In the carcass was a swarm of bees, and honey (v.8). This is totally out of character for bees, for they usually avoid corruption of any kind. However, there is a serious lesson in this. Honey is the result of the gathering of nectar by the worker bees to be shared by all in the hive. Thus honey symbolizes the ministry of the Word of God, which is sweet, though not as sweet as the Word itself (Ps. 19:10). Samson was gifted by God to be of help to others, but he allowed his ministry to be linked with the corruption of death in his association with the Philistines. Honey itself resists corruption, so that though it would not contract the pollution, it was in a place not suited to its character. Samson should have been concerned thus about his inconsistency in consorting with the enemy, just as there was inconsistency in the fact of bees swarming in a dead body. Samson ate of the honey and also gave some to his parents, not telling them where it came from (v. 9).
Verse 10 and 11 indicate the marriage of Samson to the young woman. He made a feast to celebrate the occasion, and thirty young men (Philistines) were brought there as guests, to be Samson's companions. We do not read of any Israelite guests except his father and mother.
Samson proposed a riddle to the thirty young men, telling them that if they solved it he would give them thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing. If they did not solve it, then they must give the same to him. This was rather a foolish proposal, for what would he (one man) do with the clothes for thirty men? However, the wager was accepted, and he told them the riddle, "Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet" (vv. 12-14).
To answer a riddle like this the men would have to be able to read Samson's mind. Samson gave them the seven days of the feast to come up with the answer, but on the seventh day they threatened his wife with death if she would not find out the answer for them (v. 15). She did not tell Samson about the threat (as a wife surely ought to have), but she wept in urging him to tell her the answer to the riddle; and when Samson capitulated she told the Philistines the answer. How clear a proof was this that her heart was not with her husband but with her native people. Then the men gave Samson his own answer, "What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?" (v. 18). Of course no one would think of honey coming from a lion, and they knew nothing of a dead lion with honey in its carcass.
However, there is a spiritual significance in this riddle that is good for us. Samson, in common with all the deliverers in the book of Judges, reminds us of the Lord Jesus, not in his character, but in his conquests. Killing the lion speaks of a complete victory over Satan, which only the Lord Jesus has accomplished. For though Satan is strong, the Lord Jesus is stronger than he. The result of this victory means the sweetest blessing for those who trust the Lord Jesus. It was at the cross that the Lord Jesus totally defeated Satan, thus delivering every believer from Satan's power and giving them the positive blessing of eternal life.
Samson knew that his companions had learned the answer to his riddle from his wife, and tells them, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle" (v.18). It is certainly insulting to his wife that he would call her a heifer. But what did he expect after telling the answer to his wife, who was a Philistine?
But the Lord used this unsavory occasion of Samson's resentment against them to stir him up against the Philistines. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily and he went to Ashkelon, some distance away, and killed thirty Philistines, taking the clothing of these dead men to give to the men who had answered the riddle (v. 19). Thus he kept his bargain, but at the expense of the lives of thirty men who were not involved in the matter.
Samson's anger was such, however, that he did not stay with his wife, but went back to his father's house, where he remained for a while. The girl's father evidently considered this to be desertion, and therefore gave his daughter to Samson's close friend, one of the thirty companions of the Philistines (v. 20). Of course there was carelessness on Samson's part as well as looseness on the part of the girl's father.
DESTROYING CROPS AND PHILISTINES (vv. 1-8)
Samson eventually decided to visit his wife and took a young goat as a gift. She was evidently still in her father's house and her father refused him permission to go into her room (v. 1). He told him he thought that Samson hated the girl, so that he had given her to his friend. Then he offered her younger sister as a substitute (v. 2).
But this awakened Samson's anger and he considered now that he would be blameless in harming the Philistines. He did not understand the New Testament injunction to believers, "Do not avenge yourselves......for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). Then, amazingly, he caught 300 foxes (or jackals), turned them tail to tail with a torch between each pair of tails, lit the torches and turned the animals loose in the standing grain of the Philistines (vv. 4-5). This burned up the grain and the shocks of grain that had already been cut, but spread also into vineyards and olive yards. This of course was only personal revenge on Samson's part. No Philistines were killed, but their goods destroyed. Samson in this case did not at all consider the glory of God.
The Philistines wanted to know who was responsible for this destruction, and when told that Samson had done it because his father in law had given his wife to another man, they came and burned both the girl and her father to death (v. 6). People generally do not stop to think what might be of help in a bad situation, but only want revenge in some way.
Samson however was not happy that his wife and her father had been murdered, and it was his turn again to take revenge (v. 7). He attacked the Philistines with a great slaughter (v. 8). If we take judgment into our own hands we will very likely be unfair, going much farther in paying back in a wrong way than the wrong deserved. The Philistines had killed two people. Samson killed a great many! The Lord used this because the Philistines were oppressing Israel, but Samson's motives were not for God's glory, but rather for his own advantage. He was what we call a "loner." He had no ability to marshal Israel in going against the Philistines to free themselves from the oppression of the enemy. At this time Samson went to dwell in the cleft of a rock, certainly a better place than among the Philistines, for this speaks of dwelling in Christ.
But Samson's actions moved the Philistine army to come up against Levi (v. 9). The Israelites ask them why they had come, and are told that they came to arrest Samson to pay him back for his actions toward them (v.10). The men of Judah knew something of Samson's strength, and 3000 of them went to speak with Samson. They reproached him for his antagonizing the Philistines who were ruling over Israel (v. 11), and he defended himself by saying that he had simply taken revenge for what they had done to him. They told him then that they had come to apprehend him and give him up to the Philistines. Securing a promise from the Israelites that they would themselves not kill him, Samson allowed them to tie him up with two new ropes, for they wanted to be sure he could not free himself (v. 12).
When the Philistines saw him tied up they shouted in triumph against Samson. But their triumph was short-lived, for by the the power of the Spirit of God he broke the ropes as though they had been burned flax. Finding a jawbone of a donkey, he used this as a weapon by which he killed a thousand men (v.15). It seems astounding that one man could thus kill a thousand soldiers who would be outfitted with battle weapons. After killing a few of them, he did not even replace the jawbone with one of their swords, for in his hand the jawbone was fully effective. If there were more than 1000 there present, the rest must have retreated as quickly as possible. The enemy no doubt thought that Samson was simply a man of tremendous strength, but this strength was communicated by the Spirit of God.
Yet, Samson, in using the jawbone of a donkey, again broke the rules of his Naziriteship by touching the bone of a dead animal (Num. 6:6). He pictures a believer using a wrong weapon to fight God's battles. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds" (2 Cor. 10:4). Thus, we too may use fleshly means of contending for the truth, and God may still give grace for a victory, but with no credit given to the vessel. We read in 2 Timothy 2:5: "If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules." It is not enough to be on the right side; we must also act rightly if we are to have a reward for our work.
With Samson's excessive exertion he evidently lost a great deal of fluid through perspiration, and is made to realize that even after a great victory, death could easily overtake him. Water is a symbol of the Word of God, and God would have Samson to recognize his thorough dependence on His Word. We too need to get back to the refreshment of God's Word whenever we may have gained any spiritual victory. But God in grace provided Samson with water from a split in the rock in Lehi. Certainly God did not approve of Samson's many inconsistencies, but yet in grace He bore with him and sought means to encourage him, though Samson was a slow learner. We are told in verse 20 that he judged Israel 20 years. What form his authority took it may be a little difficult to understand, but he was able to withstand the Philistines that long, though never throwing off their yoke of oppression over Israel.
MORE BAD RELATIONSHIPS(vv. 1-22).
Samson had still not learned his lesson as regards Philistine women, and in Gaza he foolishly involved himself with a prostitute. When the Gazites knew of his being in the prostitute's house, they surrounded the place, waiting to kill him in the morning (vv. 1-2). They had locked the gate of the city, but Samson arose at midnight and without any opposition took hold of both gate posts and the doors of the gate, carrying them to the top of a hill (v.3). He could have easily just thrown them aside, but evidently wanted to show his contempt for the Philistines by giving them heavy work to retrieve their gates. We marvel at his strength, but what honor is it to Samson that he is found using his strength in unholy circumstances?
ENTICED BY DELILAH(vv. 4-21)
Samson again became involved with another Philistine woman whose name was Delilah. We are told he loved her, but no mention is made of his marrying her (v.4). The way in which he was deceived by women makes us marvel at his lack of discernment, but when once we take the way of pleasing our natural senses, we leave ourselves open to the most senseless alternatives: we become dense in our discernment.
The Philistine leaders realized that their best way of reaching Samson was through Delilah, and they put pressure on her to find out what was the secret of his great strength, offering her a large reward for this. She had no love for Samson and she asked him what could be done to so weaken him that he could be tied up and made unable to escape. Samson should certainly have seen the motive behind Delilah's demand, for who would want him deprived of strength except the Philistines? In fact, he very likely did discern this, for he deceived her by saying he would become weak if he were tied up with seven fresh cords (or bowstrings) that had not been dried (v. 7).
When he was asleep Delilah tied him up with these cords while Philistine men were waiting. Then she called his name, telling him that the Philistines were upon him (vv. 8-9). We may wonder why the Philistines did not simply go in while he slept and kill him. But it seems they wanted to take him alive to gloat over him before the crowd. Samson broke the cords as though they were mere strands of yarn. Of course the men would quickly get out of there!
After this encounter Samson certainly knew he could not trust Delilah, and she could not trust him either. What a miserable relationship was theirs! She accused him of lying to her, and persisted in demanding to know the secret of his strength. Again he deceived her by telling her that if he was bound with new ropes, never before used, he would become weak (v. 10-11). So she
repeated that procedure, with the same result, Samson breaking the ropes as though they were mere threads (v. 12). He should certainly have known by this time that she was working with the Philistines to destroy him, but his perception was blunted by his feelings.
When for the third time Delilah reproached him and demanded to know the secret of his strength, Samson came closer to the truth when he told her that if the seven locks of his hair were woven into the web of the loom, this would render him weak. Again, when she followed this instruction, the Philistines being there again, he easily broke the machine to free himself. But it seems experience taught him nothing.
After three experiences of having Delilah demand the secret of Samson's strength and of her having Philistines in her house ready to imprison him when he became weak, we should think that Samson would at least by now be on his guard. But he was not. Delilah had proven fully that she did not love him, and of course he was not married to her, but she was a determined woman, greedy for the gain she could get from her people, the Philistines. She kept pressing him daily, asking him how he could say he loved her when he withheld this information from her (v.15). Of course this was hypocrisy, for she had proved she had no love for him. But if we remain in evil relationships we shall soon succumb to evil. Samson then told her all his heart. He had been a Nazirite from birth, never having his hair cut. We have seen his long hair was simply a sign of submission to the authority of the Lord. If he was shaved, therefore, his strength would be gone. Surely he knew that Delilah would shave his head at her first opportunity!
She again called the Philistine men, then lulled Samson to sleep on her knees and had a man shave off his hair (v.19). Then she began to torment him, treating with contempt the one she claimed to love, then told him the Philistines were upon him. He thought he would as easily scatter them as he had before, but found himself without strength (v. 20). If we give up our place of submission to the Lord, we too will lose our strength, not physically, but spiritually.
However, the Philistines would rather not kill Samson, but did all they could to humiliate him. They put his eyes out, confined him in prison and gave him the hard labor of grinding (v. 21). A believer today, out of communion with the Lord, may find himself humiliated by those who hate his Lord, for God often uses ungodly people in the discipline of His own. Thus too, Delilah gained in every way she desired. She got rid of Samson and was well rewarded in money for her wickedness. But she did not consider how God would reckon with her!
SAMSON REGAINS STRENGTH TO DIE(vv. 22-31)
The Philistines did not realize they must keep Samson's hair cut if they wanted to keep him weak, but his hair began to grow in the prison (v. 22). Since they had blinded him, however, they thought he was no threat to them whatever.
The time came when they held a great celebration of their victory over Samson, giving the credit to Dagon, their fish-god for this triumph (v. 23). This worship of their idol was not too long sustained, however. When they brought Samson out to their huge idol temple, they gloated over his humiliated condition (v. 25). But they placed him in just the position that he wanted, between two pillars that supported the temple. These pillars must have been close together, and Samson asked a boy who was guiding him to let him feel the pillars so as to lean on them (v. 26). The boy was unsuspecting, though Samson would not require two pillars to lean on.
The temple was full of people, including the lords of the Philistines -- about 3000 men and women -- on the roof, evidently some kind of observation deck from which they could have a clear view of the proceedings inside (v. 27).
But Samson gave them some entertainment they had not expected! He prayed to the Lord that he might be given special strength that he might take vengeance on the Philistines for his two eyes (v. 28). Even at the end of his life it was not God's glory that meant most to him, but revenge for personal harm. This is a sad comment on the character of Samson throughout his life. Yet he was a believer, as Hebrews 11:32 indicates, and God answered his prayer by giving him superhuman strength.
With a pillar on either side of him he braced himself and pushed the pillars with all his might. No one in the assembly could have foreseen the result of this exertion, for the pillars crumpled and the whole building fell in (vv. 28-30). Samson's prayer, "Let me die with the Philistines" was answered. The death rate was shocking. We are not told how many died, but that by his death Samson killed more than he had in his life. The celebration of the ungodly was stopped rather abruptly!
Certainly it was fitting that so awesome a judgment should fall on the Philistines at this time, for they were taking delight in the humiliation of one who had once been strong, then was deprived of his strength. But more than that, they were engaged in offering sacrifice to Dagon, their idolatrous god, and thereby insulting and challenging the God of heaven and earth. Their god had no power to deliver them from a catastrophic end under the judgment of the God of Israel.
Samson's relatives were at least concerned that his body should not be left in the rubble of the Philistine temple. They came down and retrieved his body, taking it for burial in his father's grave (v. 31). The twenty years he had judged Israel did not relieve Israel of Philistine oppression, though he was a thorn in the side of the Philistines.
BOLD IDOLATRY IN ISRAEL (vv. 1-13)
Samson was the last judge in Israel. The last five chapters of Judges -- 17 to 21 -- deal with conditions during the time of the Judges, so do not necessarily take place after Samson. The history of Micah and the Danites (chapters 17 and 18) illustrates the spiritual corruption (idolatry) into which Israel sank so soon after coming into their land, while chapters 19-21 emphasize the moral corruption of the people. Certainly idolatry is the worst of these two, for it is against God, but no opposition from Israel was raised against idolatry, though they were incensed against the moral corruption (tie. 20:11-13). How sad it is that we generally think more of the people's rights than of God's rights!
Micah was from Mount Ephraim. We are introduced to him as confessing to his mother that he had stolen 1100 shekels of silver from her, reminding her also that she had pronounced a curse against the thief. His mother said nothing about the curse, but told him, "May you be blessed by the Lord, my son!" (v. 2).
Then she made it evident that she idolized her son, by telling him she had wholly dedicated this money to the Lord to make a carved image and a molded image for her son (v. 3). She evidently wanted her son to be religious, but was teaching him to refuse to obey the Word of God! The first of the ten commandments sternly forbad idolatry and image making (Ex. 20:3-4), but here this wickedness was rising in the midst of the land of Israel!
Micah's mother used 200 shekels for the making of the images. Are we like her in any respect? Do we speak of devoting everything to the Lord, then keep back nine elevenths for ourselves? But of course none of this was really devoted to the Lord, but to an evil purpose.
Micah also had a shrine. Where did he learn of this but from the idolatrous nations in the land? He made an ephod also, copying what was only to be worn by the high priest of Israel (Lev. 8:7). Then to crown his wickedness, he consecrated his son as his priest (v. 5). Scripture had declared plainly that only those of the line of Aaron were priests, and anyone who dared to infringe on this was to be put to death (Num. 18:1-7). Also, a priest was a priest for all Israel, not for a family. But independence is a natural weed of the human heart, and that independence expressed itself everywhere in Israel at the time: "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (v. 6).
At this time a young man, a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, was traveling, looking for a convenient place to stay (v. 7). A Levite at least ought to have consulted God and been guided by God as to where he should be, but he was like some preachers today who are looking for a church where they might find amore or less permanent position. One who is the Lord's servant should not be aimless and haphazard in what he does.
Coming into the mountains of Ephraim, the man happened to stop at Micah's house (v. 8). Micah inquired as to where he cane from, and when he learned the man was a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, Micah discerned a wonderful opportunity of having a Levite as his priest instead of his son (vv. 9-10). He offered him 10 shekels of silver per year, plus his sustenance (room and board) and a suit of clothes. Such bargains are made also today in Christian circles, and preachers are hired on agreed terms. This is not scriptural at all, but is plausible in the eyes of unspiritual people.
The Levite ought to have had sense enough to refuse this, specially when it involved him with idols and also elevating him to the priesthood (which was gross wickedness), but he was evidently insensible to the serious evil that was laid as a snare to his feet. The agreement was made, and then Micah consecrated the Levite as a priest, as he had done with his son. Who gave Micah the authority to consecrate a priest?
Yet similarly today, people are "ordained" by those who have no God-given authority whatever. In fact, each independent "church" has its own policies of ordaining. They think that the fact that God instructed Moses to consecrate priests of the line of Aaron is a justification for their consecrating priests or pastors or "reverends" as they see fit! They think that since God gave Moses such authority, they are within their rights to assume such authority too! But in the New Testament there is no suggestion of God giving to any man the authority to ordain others to any spiritual position.
Micah did not seek God's guidance at all, yet he said, "Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!" (v. 13). He did not remember that when Korah (a Levite) wanted to usurp the priesthood of Israel, God caused the earth to open and swallow him up (Num. 16:10, 31-32). Thus, at the first God had shown His great anger against such evil, which should have been enough to warn men, but later He allowed the evil to go unchecked. Why? Not that He hated it less, but patiently waited with a view to testing all Israel, so that when they failed the test, judgment was all the more severe when it eventually fell.
SPIES SENT FROM DAN TO SEEK PROPERTY (vv. 1-10)
At that time, though the tribe of Dan had been allotted territory west of Benjamin, bordering the Mediterranean Sea (Josh. 19:40-48), yet this was largely occupied by Philistines whom Dan did not have energy to expel. Thus verse 1 says that their inheritance had not fallen to them. Therefore they sent five men to look for what they considered a more suitable country (v. 2). Going northward they came to the mountains of Ephraim and found Micah's home a convenient place to lodge.
There they heard and recognized the voice of the consecrated Levite and asked him what brought him there. He told them Micah had hired him be be his priest (v. 4), and they were impressed enough to think him qualified as an intermediary on whom the could depend to inquire of God for them (v. 5) as to whether their way would be prosperous. The Levite did not need to inquire from God. He knew these men wanted a prosperous journey, so he gave them just the message they wanted, to go in peace, and that God's presence would be with them (v. 6). This poor man had no idea of the truth that Paul insists upon in Galatians 1:10, "If I still pleased men, I should not be a bondservant of Christ."
Proceeding much farther north, these five spies came to Laish beyond the borders of Naphtali, and found people living there in peace, having no near neighbors and no necessity for armaments or walled towns, with no king and no affiliation with any other people. This was just what they spies had been looking for, though it was a most unusual situation, much different than what Israel's 12 spies found when they went to spy out Canaan (Num.13:28-29).
When reporting back to their brethren in Zorah and Eshtaol, they urged them to take advantage of this opportunity of possessing a very good land without any significant opposition (vv. 8-10). They tell them God has given this land into their hand, though nothing is said of their inquiring of God or of God's directing them.
Six hundred men were considered sufficient for the expedition. They camped one night in Kirjath Jearim in Judah, and the next day came to the mountains of Ephraim, to where Micahlived.
Instead of avoiding the place they knew to be a house of idol worship, the five men told their company that in that house there were an ephod, household idols, a carved image and a molded image, -- in other words all they needed to have a well rounded-out religion! (v. 14). So it was not only Micah who had succumbed to the idolatry of the Canaanite nations, but in this case all the 600 men of Dan, who were willing to boldly rob Micah so that they themselves could be religious! What a condition was this so soon after Israel's entering into the land as recorded in the Book of Joshua!
While the 600 men waited at Micah's gate the five men went in and took all the things they had spoken of (vv.16-17). The consecrated Levite asked them what they were doing and was told to keep quiet, and go with the 600 men. For they asked him if it was not better for him to be a priest to a tribe of Israel than only of one man (vv. 18-19). When he heard this the pseudo-priest was glad. It meant nothing to him to steal the property of the man who had consecrated him and to leave his employment for a more lucrative job! (v. 20). But mere religion can make one a robber without conscience!
When Micah became aware of what happened, he gathered some of his neighbors and pursued the 600 men, calling out the them. They answered him by asking what ailed him that he would come after them with such a company (v. 23). Micah answered, "You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and you have gone away. What more do I have? How can you say to me, "What ails you?" (v. 24) Micah did not realize that he was far better off without these things. He had said before he knew the Lord would be good to him because he had a Levite as priest (tie. 17:13). But now the Lord was being good to him in depriving him of the priest and his idols.
The Danites abruptly told him to silence his voice, with the threat that angry men might attack and kill him and the members of his household (v. 25). Such was the cruelty of Israelites toward Israelites that early in their history in the promised land. What could Micah's small company do against 600armed men? They could only retreat to their own homes and leave their unprofitable idols to the detriment of the Danites (v. 26).
THE DANITES SETTLE IN THENORTH (vv. 27-31)
The 600 men likely felt that now they had some good spiritual guidance with the Levite as priest and idols and ephod, and they continued their journey north to Laish. The city had no defense and no other nearby cities to help them, so that they easily killed the people, burning the city. They probably did not like the buildings in the city so burned it so as to rebuild as they desired (vv. 27-28). They renamed it Dan (v. 29). The women and others no doubt followed them soon after.
Dan, having settled in the north of the land of Israel, became guilty of the great spiritual evil of public idolatry. Using the idols that had belonged to one disobedient man, they adopted a worship totally opposed to the law of the God of Israel. Together with this they had the Levite, Jonathan the son of Gershom, and his sons, established as priests (v. 30). This type of spiritual corruption has been sadly repeated in the professing Church today. Men who have some ability as servants of God, able to preach, have been given the place of spiritual intermediaries between the people and God, and even called "priests" in some denominations -- that is, priests in contrast to the common people. But whether called "priest" or "reverend" or given any other distinctive title, this is contrary to the truth of Christianity, having in it the element of idolatry, for it really usurps God's place in the thoughts of people.
Verse 31 adds significantly "all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh." God did have a center in Israel, though not yet in Jerusalem, but the Danites could assume they did not need that center since they had a worship of their own! As well as being against God, their false worship divided them from their brethren.
ANOTHER LEVITE'S DIVERSION (vv. 1:21)
The history of a different Levite was involved in the moral corruption that afflicted Israel in the time of the Judges. We are reminded in verse 1 that there was no king in Israel, but in spite of that a Levite should have been preserved from evil by the Word of God. More than once in the Book of Numbers God insisted "the Levites shall be mine" (Num. 3:12, 45). God claimed them in place of the firstborn in Israel (Num. 3:41). Therefore they ought to have been examples to the rest of the people. But instead we have seen a Levite involved in spiritual corruption in Chapters 17 and 18, and now in moral corruption.
This Levite took a concubine. "Marriage is honorable among all" (Heb. 13:4), but co-habiting together apart from marriage is dishonorable. Often this is done because the man does not want the responsibilities of marriage. In the Old Testament various believers took concubines, but it was never with God's approval, though God bore with it at the time.
If marriage had taken place, the woman may not have been guilty of sexual relations with other men. She may have felt herself more or less free because she was not married. Yet this was sad confusion. However, it seems she did not give herself up to prostitution, but rather went back to her father's house, being there four months (v. 2).
The Levite at least had concern enough for her to go to speak kindly to her so that she would come back with him. If he had decided to forgive her, why did he not then offer to marry her? The woman's father was glad to meet the Levite, but even he did not suggest they should be married. How like the laxity of our times!
The young woman had agreed to return with the Levite to his home, but her father detained him for three days of social enjoyment (v. 4). When Abraham's servant went to find a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:55-56), he would not consent to being detained, but this Levite remained for the three days and planned to leave early the fourth day. But the woman's father urged him to stay another day (v. 7) and he gave in to this. Then on the fifth day, instead of leaving early, he succumbed to the urging of remaining till afternoon! Again the woman's father urged him to remain over night and go the next morning (v. 9). But he felt, evidently, that he had given in too much already, and they started their journey late in the day (v. 10). This wavering indecision is a sad comment on the character of the Levite, one who had the place of the Lord's servant!
ALMOST LEFT WITHOUT SHELTER (vv. 11-21)
They could not travel far, and when darkness was near they passed near to Jerusalem, named Jebus at the time, for it was still in the hands of the Jebusites. The man had a servant with him who suggested staying at Jebus (v. 11), but the Levite did not favor staying in a Gentile city, and decided they should go to Gibeah, a city of Benjamin (vv. 12-13). By the time they arrived, darkness had fallen (v. 14).
They evidently asked in Gibeah if they could find lodging, but no one was willing to take them in, so they sat in the town square (v. 15). Such was the coldness of Israelites toward Israelites at the time. They might have fared better in the Jebusite city!
However, it happened that an old man came in just then from working in his field. He was not a Benjamite, but came also from the mountains of Ephraim (v. 16), and he was concerned to see people in the open without lodging. Asking the Levite where they had come from and where they were going, he found they belonged in Ephraim too, but that they could find no lodging in Gibeah (vv.18-19). The old man kindly invited them to his house, giving food for both themselves and their donkeys. He knew the danger of spending the night in the open (v. 21).
GROSS WICKEDNESSIN ISRAEL (vv. 22-30)
Sadly, here in Israel the wickedness of Sodom was repeated (Gen. 19:4-5). Perverted men surrounded the house and beat on the door, demanding that the visiting man would be given to them so they could abuse him homosexually. Though the old man pled with them, they were adamant, but they were given, not the Levite, but his concubine, whom they abused sexually all night, then let her go (vv.24-25). She was able only to get back to the door of the house before collapsing and dying (v. 26).
How could the Levite's conscience be clear before God in giving up the woman to this horrible violence? But we have seen there were previous steps of disobedience to God and spiritual degradation, and God allowed this to progress to this terrible point.
Surely the Levite ought to have been humbled to the dust before God, but when finding the poor woman on the ground at the door, he said to her, "Get up and let us be going" (v.28). He did not realize she was dead, but if she had not been dead, he was still being heartlessly inconsiderate.
He took her dead body back to his home, but instead of stopping to consider his own criminal responsibility in this whole matter, he decided to make a public outcry against Gibeah. The means he took was gruesome. He cut the woman's body into 12 pieces and sent them to the 12 tribes of Israel, evidently with a report of what had happened (v. 29). The Levite wanted revenge on a national scale, but we see no sign of self-judgment on his own part.
However, this method of raising righteous indignation in Israel was successful. All who received this kind of information accompanied by part of a dead body, were greatly incensed against the perpetrators of the crime (v. 30). Does this mean it was right to do it this way. No, indeed! The case ought to have been addressed more locally, and settled in the courts without becoming a national scandal. But where were the local authorities to be appealed to? Thus is illustrated the great weakness of Israel at the time.
JUSTICE FOR THE GUILTY REFUSED BY BENJAMIN (vv. 1-13)
All the tribes were united in their insistence that judgment must be carried out against those who were guilty of criminal abuse and murder. They did not have the same zeal for God's glory in judging the idolatry of Dan. In fact, Dan was included in the stand against this moral wickedness. Dan wanted to cast out the speck in his brother's eye while ignoring the plank in this own eye! (Mt. 7:4)
These tribes gathered at Mizpah (vv.1-2), and heard from the Levite the account of what had happened at Gibeah (vv. 4-6). He then appealed to them as Israelites, to give counsel and advice as to what to do (v. 7). Israel agreed together to take ten men out of every hundred in their tribes to go against Gibeah, all being united as one man with no dissenting voice (vv.8-11).
Yet, rather than attacking first, they sent messengers through the tribe of Benjamin, focusing on the great wickedness that had taken place in Gibeah and demanding that the perverted men be delivered up to suffer for it. It may have been wiser to appeal first to the city of Gibeah to give up these men, in which case great bloodshed might have been avoided, but if this was not done, still the tribe of Benjamin ought to have responded positively to this request, though it was given more in the form of a demand than a request. But they refused, thus expressing their approval of the wicked actions of these men and defending them.
WAR: ONE TRIBE AGAINST ELEVEN (vv. 14-48)
Thus Benjamin, foolishly taking sides with wickedness, gathered their armies to fight against Israel (v. 14). They had 26,000 warriors as well as 700 men of Gibeah. Among this 26,700 were 700 left handed men who were expert with slingshots, so that Benjamin was a formidable warrior tribe (vv. 15-16). Israel's army numbered 400,000, over 15 times the size of Benjamin (v.17). Therefore, it would be natural to think that Israel should triumph. However, Israel knew they should inquire of God, and asked Him which tribe should go first, and were told, "Judah first" (v. 18). Judah means "praise," but Israel was more intent on revenge than on praise, and did not realize their attitude was wrong.
If we think we can triumph over evil, we shall find ourselves badly defeated, as Israel did, for on the first attack they were defeated with the slaughter of 22,000 men (v. 21). Should this be surprising to us? No, it should not, for if we judge others without first judging ourselves, God will cause us to be humiliated.
Instead of being broken down before the Lord, however, Israel "encouraged themselves," but it is not said "in the Lord," as was the case with David in 1 Samuel 30:6. Yet they wept before the Lord and asked the Lord's counsel as to going against Benjamin. In fact, they say, "My brother Benjamin, "which showed at least a better attitude than that of anger (v. 23).
When Israel asked the Lord, "Shall I go up against my brother Benjamin," God told them to go, for His judgment against evil must be carried out. But why did they not ask the Lord what was the reason for their shameful defeat before? They did not ask this, and God did not answer any more than they had asked.
Therefore, when they went out the second day, Benjamin repeated their conquest of Israel, killing another 18,000 men (v. 25). What a terrible toll to pay in seeking the just judgment of the wicked men of Gibeah! But this has a lesson for us, telling us that sin is far too strong for us. We can never gain the victory over it in our own strength. Even a majority cannot win in such a battle. Only God can defeat the awful power that sin has wielded in raising itself against His people.
The second defeat of Israel shocked them enough to add fasting to their weeping. Fasting is symbolic of self-judgment, which is always vitally important when we think of judging others. But this was not all. They also offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord (v. 26). Fasting was an admission of their own unworthiness, which is the negative side, but the offerings speak positively, for they picture the one great offering of the Lord Jesus on Calvary, which is the only basis for either forgiveness of sins or for judging sin. So that in offering these sacrifices, Israel was giving God the place that is rightly His. The burnt offering reminds us that the glory of God is paramount, for this all ascended in fire to God. If Israel's motives were only for their own relief, this is not good enough. God's glory is far more important than Israel's honor. Yet the peace offering (in which the offerer had a share (Lev. 7:1-15), was added to indicate Israel's sharing with God in the value of the sacrifice of Christ, which would give Israel the right to share with God's work in judging evil.
At this time too we are told that the ark of God was present and Phinehas the priest stood before the ark to enquire of God (v. 28). Phinehas pictures the Lord Jesus as our Great High Priest, and the ark reminds us of Christ as the Sustainer of the throne of God, the One therefore in absolute authority. Priesthood speaks of His compassionate intercession, a lovely complement of His authority.
Thus, we are to learn that when God is given His true place and Christ is given His place, there will be no more defeat. The Lord told Israel, "Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand" (v. 28).
However, the battle was not an easy one. Israel set men in ambush all around Gibeah (v. 29) and others advanced toward the city (v. 30). The Benjamites came out and began to strike down and kill some of the Israelites, about thirty men (v. 30). The Benjamites were evidently strong, determined warriors, and thought they were in command of the situation again (v. 32). The Israelites encouraged this vain confidence of Benjamin by fleeing before Benjamin, but with the object of drawing them away from the city. Thus the forces of Benjamin were divided, and Israel's men in ambush burst forth from their places and ten thousand select men of Israel came against Gibeah (vv. 33-34). The men of Benjamin did not even suspect they were in a desperate situation.
But it was the Lord who defeated Benjamin before Israel (v.35), enabling them this time to destroy 25,100 Benjamites. This was a terrible decimation, for their entire army had numbered only 26,700, leaving only 1600 who were not killed. But it was still not as many as those of Israel killed by Benjamin!
AN EXPLANATION OF THE VICTORY (vvs. 36-48)
These last verses in the chapter form are capitulation of the victory of Israel that caused Benjamin to realize they were defeated (v. 36). The men of Israel had retreated at first from Benjamin because they relied on those who were in ambush, who, after the greater part of Benjamin's army was drawn away, rushed to attack the city (v. 37). They captured Gibeah without difficulty and set in on fire. The signal for the rest of Israel's army had been appointed as a cloud of smoke rising from the city (v. 38).
Therefore, when the Benjamites thought they were winning, the great cloud of smoke arose from Gibeah. Not only did the men of Israel see it, but also the Benjamites who were pursuing them (v. 40). The fleeing army of Israel turned back to face Benjamin; and Benjamin, seeing they were trapped between two companies of Israelites and that the one company had already vanquished Gibeah, were panic stricken (v. 41). They turned to one side and ran toward the wilderness, but the Israelites were prepared for this and therefore overtook Benjamin, surrounding them and "easily trampling them down" (v. 43).
In this first onslaught 18,000 men of Benjamin were killed (v. 44). The rest turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon. Israel pursued them relentlessly, killing 5000 of them on the highways and another 2000 who were able to flee farther into the wilderness (v. 45). Thus the total number of Benjamin killed was 25,000, all capable warriors.
Though Benjamin had been defeated with a terrible slaughter, there were 600 of their men who were able to escape to the Rock of Rimmon in the wilderness and remained there for four months (v.47). But Israel was not content with gaining the victory. In returning they burned the cities they came to in Benjamite territory and killed both men and beasts (v. 48). If the 600 men had not escaped, what would have happened to the tribe of Benjamin?
This whole history is extremely sad. Counting the men of Israel killed, -- 22,000 and 18,000 -- plus those killed in the last engagement, added to the 25,100 of Benjamin, the total number of deaths was over 65,000! If only Benjamin had honorably judged the men who were guilty of the horrible crime against the woman, this would have avoided the awesome slaughter of so many thousands. It is a lesson for us, a warning not to take sides with evil in any way. It will bring dire results, as well as being a dishonor to God.
TWO FOOLISH OATHS AND FOOLISH ACTIONS (vv. 1-14)
God had not told Israel to totally destroy Benjamin, including women and children, but Israel had done this except for the 600 men hiding in the Rock Rimmon. Now they realize that a tribe of Israel is on the verge of extinction. Why did they not think of this before? But they had virtually decreed that Benjamin should be extinct by the fact that they swore an oath to the effect that no woman of Israel must be given as a wife to a Benjamite (v.1).
Now Israel comes together at Mizpah in bitter weeping to inquire of God why a thing like this had occurred that there should be one tribe missing In Israel (vv. 1-2). But God was not to be blamed for this. They were to blame. They were to blame for their cruelty in exceeding the punishment of Benjamin beyond what was right, and now also to blame for the oath that they would not allow a woman of Israel to marry a Benjamite. It was they who put themselves in this sad predicament.
The next morning the people built an altar and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, perhaps remembering that when they offered these two kinds of offerings before, that this had resulted in their victory over Benjamin. But they did not enquire of God as to what to do. Instead they relied on their own religious reasoning. For they had made another unscriptural vow that any Israelites who did not come to help in the judgment of Benjamin were to be put to death. Deuteronomy 20:8 tells us that when Israel went to battle, those who were fearful and faint hearted were to be excused from warfare. If so, how could Israel demand death for those who did not come out to fight? But they evidently thought this a very religious thing to do.
Israel inquired as to others of the nation who did not come to the battle, and found that no one from Jabesh Gilead had responded (vv. 5-8). And again the people were guilty of heartless cruelty against their own brethren. 12,000 men were sent to Jabesh Gilead with instructions to utterly destroy every male and all women and children except those women who were virgins (vv.10-11). Did they consider the women and children as wicked people because the men did not go out to fight?
They brought back as captives 400 virgins from Jabesh Gilead (v. 12). Then they became guilty of breaking the oath they had made to the effect that no Israelite women could be given to the Benjamites. For they sent to the 600 men of Benjamin at the Rock Rimmon, announcing peace to them (v. 13), and gave them the 400 virgins of Israel they had captured from Jabesh Gilead! (v.14). Thus, though they had made a very religious, binding oath, they found means of rationalizing their way around the oath to ease their consciences. They added to this heartless cruelty against Jabesh Gilead the dishonesty of hypocritical deceit in breaking their oath.
But 400 women were not enough for the 600 men. The people felt sorry for Benjamin's predicament and rightly wanted to see Benjamin restored as a tribe (v. 15). But instead of seeking God's guidance as to this, they again resorted to their own reasoning. The elders consulted together, reminding themselves that they had sworn an oath against giving any woman of Israel to the Benjamites. But they had just given 400 of Israel's women to Benjamin!-- though they had killed their parents to do so.
Could they not have done anything different than they did? Yes, they could, and ought to have confessed before God and the people that their oath was totally wrong. Only their own pride stood in the way, just as was true in King Herod's oath to the daughter of Herodias, whom he promised to give her whatever she asked and she asked for the head of John the Baptist (Mt.14:7-9). Herod's pride concerning his oath did not permit him to confess the oath was wrong. So the elders of Israel, to save face, resorted again to a hypocritical action. How sad it is that we may easily resort to subterfuge to save our outward reputation!
There was only one way in which the elders of Israel could honorably escape from the snare into which their own folly had brought them. This was simply to acknowledge before God that the vow they had made to not allow any woman of Israel to marry a Benjamite was foolish and wrong, and therefore to seek the Lord's gracious release from the vow. But to them this was out of the question. They said very piously that they could not break their vow (though they had already hypocritically broken it); but it occurred to them that they might be able to furnish the Benjamites with wives in another way than by actually presenting the wives to Benjamin. Since there a yearly feast to the Lord in Shiloh (v. 19), they told the men of Benjamin to hide in the vineyards near the place of the feast; then when the young virgins of Shiloh came out to perform their dances, to run out and catch wives for themselves and return quickly to their own land (v.21).
Of course, even suggesting such a thing was breaking the oath they had made Israel to swear. Why had they made such an oath? Was it not because they considered the young virgins would be contaminated if they were given to Benjamites? But by having the Benjamites hide and then catch wives for themselves, they were outwardly putting the blame on the Benjamites for stealing the women, while the blame was plainly theirs for suggesting it. Their oath forbad the Benjamites from having wives from Israel, but they themselves encouraged the Benjamites to come and steal women as wives.
But more than this, the elders told the men of Benjamin that if the fathers or brothers of these young virgins came to complain to the elders, the elders would persuade them to be lenient toward Benjamin because Israel had not left wives for them in the war, and that it was not as though they were breaking their oath since the Benjamites had captured the women (v. 22). The elders did not even consider that it was they themselves who had deceitfully broken the oath!
Certainly God does not approve of such hypocrisy, yet by this means Benjamin was able to revive as a tribe and rebuild their cities (v. 23). However, the population of the tribe was greatly reduced, due to both their own foolish defense of men guilty of gross evil and to the heartless excess of judgment against them on the part of Israel. How solemn a warning to us is all this. On the one hand it warns us against daring protect evil when it is present, and on the other hand going to unnecessary lengths to punish evil. It appears that after a man had been put away from the Corinthian assembly for morally sinful practice (l Cor. 5), the Corinthians were not properly concerned as to his restoration, so that Paul had to tell them, "This punishment which was inflicted by the majority, is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow" (2 Cor. 2:6). Thus we see that in the Church of God too there is danger of such things, just as in Israel.
The Book of Judges ends with the same words given in Chapter 17:6, where the introduction of idolatry is reported in the case of Micah. Because there was no king in Israel, Micah considered he could do what was right in his own eyes. There was no authority to challenge him for insulting God by idolatry. Worse than this, the worship of idols was introduced into the whole tribe of Dan (Judg. 18:30-31), with no challenge whatever from the other tribes. Similarly, in the case of moral wickedness and the unscriptural way in which it was handled, Chapter 21:25 makes the significant comment, "In those day there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
Would Israel's problems be solved if they had a king? Israel thought so when they demanded of Samuel that they should have a king, like all the nations (1 Sam. 8:4-5). Samuel protested since he told them God was their king, but they were insistent, so God allowed them to have a king -- a man who was head and shoulders taller than other men in Israel, but he failed miserably and the whole history of Israel in the time of the kings proved this hope to be futile. Some kings were relatively good, others were very bad and involved Israel in sin and idolatry. Some were strong enough to rescue the two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) from excesses of idolatry and restore some worship of God, but eventually all collapsed, both among the ten tribes and the two tribes, and Israel has been without a king since then. Only when the Lord Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, takes His place in sovereign authority will Israel find a settled, lasting peace.
For believers today, though having no earthly king, we are infinitely blessed by having the Spirit of God dwelling in the Church, the body of Christ, providing guidance, strength and blessing for all His own. Our true authority comes from heaven, where the Lord Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, and those who are willingly submissive to the authority of the Lord Jesus do not need any authority of men on earth by which to be guided. Not that we are to do what is right in our own eyes, but by grace we are enabled to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.