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2. Judges

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I. Introductory matters.

A. The story that began with Joshua’s invasion of the land of Canaan continues with the settlement of a rough, primitive people in that land.

The first word in Hebrew is a grammatical construction that shows a connection with the previous story: wayehi (וַיְּהִי). The same word began Joshua and Ruth. So, these are all connected stories by the writers who are introduced to us in 1 Chron 29:29 and 2 Chron 9:29. Samuel, the seer (haro’eh הָראֶה), Nathan the prophet (hannabi’ הַנָּבִיא), and Gad the seer (haḥozeh הַחזֶה). These three notables are said to be the transcribers of the words/acts of David. In like manner, Nathan the prophet, the prophecies of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the visions of Iddo the seer, are preserving the words/deeds of Solomon and that of Jeroboam ben Nebat. In other words, there is a clear statement that these special men recorded and developed the stories prophetically. Therefore, as they shaped and organized the contents of their sources, we should expect a harmony between Joshua and Judges and not opposing stories, as the critics would have it.

The Book of Judges is a puzzling book. It tells of a people whom God chose as his own special people, whom he brought from Egypt and gave them the land of Canaan as an inheritance. However, there is little to commend these people—even their leaders. One man offers his only daughter as a sacrifice to Yahweh (whatever the sacrifice means), the two appendices are especially dark. The Danites rob Micah of his idol and his priest as they move into new territory where they will burn and pillage. These are acts of paganism. The men of Benjamin rape a woman all night whose “husband” freely gave her to them and callously demanded that she rise and go with him even though she was dead. This resulted in a civil war that decimated the tribe of Benjamin. The acquisition of wives for the 600 men left is itself cruel and pernicious.

Then, what can we say of Sampson who consorts with three different women, one of whom is a prostitute. All this while the spirit seizes him and uses him to carry out the divine will.

The only light in all this darkness is the little book of Ruth. It is full of love and sacrifice. Furthermore, it points to David, a godly young man who refuses to move against his king and sings songs of praise to his maker.

Perhaps, after all, it is the story of Yahweh’s grace in redeeming a people so lost and perverse. So, we will attempt to draw this together from God’s perspective (and that of the prophets) to help us see that God’s ḥesed (kindness/grace) available to his rebellious people is still available today.

B. The era of the judges.

Once upon a time, scholars argued about whether the date of the Exodus was early (c. 1441 B.C.) or late (c. 1275, 1220 B.C.) The early date was based on 1 Kings 6:1. That passage was treated as a literary number (12 x 4) and thus ignored for the late date. Now, of course, the critics argue about whether there was any kind of Exodus at all. They see gradual infiltration or internal revolt or any number of possibilities to account for the presence of a people called Israel in the thirteenth century B.C.

Without apology, I will be working from a date of 1400 for the conquest of the land, although most scholars today of all perspectives tend to argue for a late date, in spite of Bryant Woods revision of the excavations of Jericho.1 Much of the discussion concerns the thirteenth century.

This section presents one of the most difficult aspects of Old Testament Chronology. The first point of contact must be the 480 years between the Exodus and the fourth year of Solomon (1 Kgs. 6:1). The problem comes with the 450-year total of the data in Judges from the first oppression to Eli. If these years be taken consecutively, there are too many. Josephus, whose handling of biblical chronology leaves much to be desired, takes them consecutively and comes up with 592 years for the same period covered by 1 Kings 6:1 (by adding 111 years of servitude). The 450 years in Acts 13:19-20 is placed during the judges by some MSS and during the Egyptian period by others. Some people drop the periods of servitude to reduce the years in Judges, but the best solution is probably to assume that the years are not intended to be sequential, i.e., the various judgeships overlap since none of them is intended to indicate control over the entire 12 tribes.2

The chronology of the Judges

The clue to the period is Caleb’s age. At Kadesh-Barnea, he is 40. At the end of the settlement, he is 85. This gives 45 years from Kadesh-Barnea to the settlement. We already have 38 years as the period of wandering. Thus 7 years is left for the period of the conquest.

Era of the Judges

Chronological notes in the Bible

C. The historical situation.

There was a period of dormancy in Egypt during the 13th century. Ramases III was restoring it to power, but the invasions from the west (Libya) and the sea people called Tjeker, revealed in the story of Wen Amon,3 damaged Egypt. The Hittite empire in the north was also under pressure.

The sea people were repulsed by the Egyptians and settled along the coast—Ugarit, Sidon, Tyre. The Pelast seized territory from Joppa to Gaza (Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath). Many Canaanites moved and established their capital at Tyre and are called Phoenicians from that time on.4

The Merenptah stela gives us a date of 1210 for an Egyptian invasion that encountered a group called Israel. The period from 1210 to 1042 (almost 170 years) would be the period of the judges. “The latest setting of the book of Joshua (if granted even minimal credence) would then in principle lie immediately in the decade or so before 1210, along with any Israelite entry into Canaan from the outside.”5

Excavations suggest a time of anarchy. Bethel had four destructions by fire in two centuries. Megiddo had repeated troubles between its rebuilding and Solomon.

The surrounding nations were well organized, but Israel had no central government. Noth developed the idea of an amphictyonic organization on the order of some of the Greek states where a central sanctuary formed the focal point of the whole group.6

The tabernacle was set up at Shiloh. Josh 18:1; 1 Sam 1:3; 3:12; 4:3, Judges 18:31 (cf. 1 Sam 6:1 on the ark). The Tabernacle was also at Nob, 1 Samuel 21; at Gibeon, 1 Chron 16:39 (see Jer 7:12ff, 26:6ff for the destruction of Shiloh). The ark was at Bethel (Judges 20:27).

During the 12th century eastern Syria was inundated by Arameans. The capital was later at Damascus.7

The iron industry was controlled by the Philistines (1 Sam 13:19-22). The Hittites held the secret of Iron, and it may have been brought to Palestine by the sea people. Hence, the Philistines controlled it. The Iron Age begins at this time. Iron, as indicated, is of Anatolian origin (Heb.: Berzel = Latin: Ferrous; the “l” is intensive as in Carmel, rich vineyard). Israel must have had a low profile during this time.

The first oppression is from Chushan-rishathaim of Syria (Heb.: Aram). Chushan is a place name in the second millennium. It appears on a list of Ramases III (13-12 centuries B.C.)

D. The Joshua/Judges conundrum.

Critics argue that Joshua depicts a complete destruction of the people of Canaan, while Judges shows a more accurate picture of a long fight for control of the area. Kitchen responds, “Thus, to sum up, the book of Joshua in reality simply records the Hebrew entry into Canaan, their base camp at Gilgal by the Jordan, their initial raids (without occupation!) against local rulers and subjects in south and north Canaan, followed by localized occupation (a) north from Gilgal as far as Shechem and Tirzah and (b) south to Hebron/Debir, and very little more. This is not the sweeping, instant conquest-with-occupation that some hasty scholars would foist upon the text of Joshua, without any factual justification.”

Kitchen goes on to say, “Insofar as only Jericho, Ai, and Hazor were explicitly allowed to have been burned into nonoccupation, it is also pointless going looking for extensive conflagration level as at any other Late Bronze sites (of any phase) to identify them with any Israelite impact. Onto this initial picture Judges follows directly and easily, with no inherent contradiction: it contradicts only the bogus and superficial construction that some modern commentators have willfully thrust upon the biblical text of Joshua without adequate reason. The fact is that biblical scholars have allowed themselves to be swept away by the upbeat, rhetorical element present in Joshua, a persistent feature of most war reports in ancient Near Eastern sources that they are not accustomed to understand and properly handle.”8

E. The Judges.

Oppression under Chushan-Rishathaim

3:8

8 years

Othniel, rest

3:11

40

Oppression under Eglon of Moab

3:14

18

Ehud, rest

3:30

80

Oppression, Jabin of Hazor

4:3

20

Deborah, rest

5:31

40

Oppression, Midian

6:1

7

Gideon, rest

8:28

40

Abimelech’s reign

9:22

3

Tola

10:2

23

Oppression of Gilead by Ammon

10:8

18

Jair

10:3

22

Judges 11:26 Israel had land 300 years:

319

Jephthah

12:7

6

Ibzan

12:9

7

Elon

12:11

10

Abdon

12:14

8

Oppression of Philistines

13:1

40

Samson

15:20, 16:31

20

Eli

1 Sam 4:18

40

450 years

Samuel

?

Saul (mentioned only in Acts 13)

40

David

40

Solomon

1 Kings 11:42

40

There are thirteen names listed as judges. One has to evaluate the number in light of the biblical penchant to use the number twelve as special. An examination of the use of the divine, covenant name Yahweh is instructive in this connection.

Every chapter (story) of Judges contains at least one reference to Yahweh except for chapter 9 which has none. The least number of occurrences falls in the chapters that are the least resonant with the covenant-keeping God. Chapter 12 (one occurrence) is Jephthah’s war with fellow Israelites; Chapters 17-18 (one occurrence) give us the account of the idolatrous practices in the pre-Jeroboam era in the kings; Chapter 19 (one occurrence) is the gruesome account of the Levite’s concubine. Chapter 21, though it contains six references to Yahweh, is in conjunction with the combined tribal actions in acquiring wives for the 600 Benjamite men left after the civil war (viewed as good by the editor(s).

The fact that Yahweh’s name is missing from the narrative of Abimelech may point to the editor’s9 deliberate statement that Abimelech was illegitimate (not just physically, but metaphorically). This would mean that there were only twelve judges considered by the editor to be legitimate. Is it also possible that his name, “my father is king” and the fact that he calls himself king (Gideon had refused to rule over them) a premonition that the future kings will not always do or be what they should be? Abimelech is the only one of the thirteen names who demanded and received the position of king. Each of the six “minor judges” (Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibsan, Elon, Abdon) has neutral language: “after him came,” “arose to save Israel,” “he judged Israel after him.” Each of the other six has divine intervention to make them judges.

F. The purpose of the Judges.

The declension of Israel into idolatry, immorality, and violence which accelerates in the appendix on the Levite’s concubine, is indicated with the recurring phrase, “The Israelites did (or again did) evil in the eyes of Yahweh.” The solution to this is suggested in the other recurring phrase, “There was no king in Israel in those days.” The chaos and depravity seem to multiply when there was no successor to Joshua.

That this king should not ultimately come from Saul or his line is hinted at in the depravity of the Benjamites and thus Saul, who may have been a descendant of the Jabesh-gileadites.10 That the king should really be David may be intimated with the name Jerusalem in chapters 1-2 even though later it is referred to as Jebus and we are told that it was not defeated until the time of David. (Judah occupies 60% of the narrative in Chapter 1). The third appendix, Ruth, makes this clear with the genealogy of David through Ruth.

G. Kitchen on the settlement of the land.11

In speaking of Judges, he talks of the “deuteronomistic” theology as wrongly dated in 621. He shows that the same theme of Judges, sin, judgment, prayer, deliverance is found in 13th c. Egypt in more than one document.

“In the last quarter-century current knowledge of the processes of settlement, de-settlement, and resettlement in the Middle Bronze to Iron Age Canaan has been transformed, both by excavations at individual sites and by far-reaching and (at times) very thorough surface surveys. The gain in practical data is considerable. But given the differing intellectual starting points of the variety of scholars interested—both on the field and off it—much disagreement on the conclusions to be drawn has arisen and continues, not least on two issues: interaction with the biblical data and questions of ethnicity (Israelite or other).” (p. 222).

“Middle Bronze II was prosperous and numerous (1900-1550).

“In 16th to 13th BC, New Kingdom pharaohs incorporated Canaan and drained it. Population and number of settlements visibly declined.

“From 1230 onward Sea People ended up in Canaan (coastal and Jezreel). Edom and Moab and Ammonites appear. Arameans become prominent in the north. And Israel shows up on the Merenptah stela.

“With all this the text and archaeology agree.

“These and other surveys have shown a dramatic rise in the intensity of settlement in the hill country, especially north from Jerusalem, from around 1299 onward through Iron I. Thus, the Ephraim-Samaria survey registered just 9 sites for Late Bronze I-II (with another 3, LB/Iron I), a dozen at most. Then for Iron Age phase I, they were able to list not fewer than 131 sites (plus another 94 of Iron I-II), a huge increase. Next door in West Manasseh, Zertal noted some 39 sites for Late Bronze but over 200 for Iron I, again a huge increase. This great rash of farmsteads, hamlets, and small villages represents a wholly new development, as is universally admitted. In Manasseh at least, two-thirds of these sites were founded entirely new; one-third were both founded and abandoned during Iron I, while two-thirds continued to be used and developed in Iron II (monarchy period).”12 He argues that this growth is too rapid to sustain a “revolting peasant” and “early Hebrews indigenous to the highlands” theories.13

II. Outline of Judges.

A. The details of taking the land (1:1-36).

1. The battles of Judah (1:1-21.

2. The battles of Joseph (1:22-26).

3. The battles of Manasseh (1:27-28).

4. The battles of Ephraim (1:29).

5. The battles of Zebulun (1:30).

6. The battles of Asher (1:31-32).

7. The battles of Naphtali (1:33).

8. The battles of Dan (1:34-36).

Some observations.

1. Almost 60% of the chapter is devoted to Judah. When we add in the appendix of Ruth, that means the emphasis is on David and his tribe.

2. Issachar, Reuben and Gad are not mentioned because they are on the east side of the Jordan.

3. Judges 1:10-15 is a virtual duplicate of Josh 15:11-19.

4. Josh 10:1ff indicates that Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem, joined forces with others to fight Joshua. Josh 12:10 refers to the defeat of the king of Jerusalem. Judges 1:8 says that Jerusalem was captured, struck with the sword, and set on fire. But Judges 1:21 says that the Benjamites could not drive out the Jebusites and the latter have lived with the Jebusites up to the time of the writing of Judges. 1 Chron 11:4 and 2 Sam 5:6-10 recount the capture and defeat of the Jebusites under David.

A. Details of taking the land (1:1-36).14

1. The death of Joshua is a demarcation line in the history of Israel.

This strong, confident, man of God who clearly was a successor to Moses had no subsequent equal.15 No doubt, they met at Shiloh to consult Yahweh regarding the next action. The answer came back that Judah would open the attack on the Canaanites (1:1-2).

2. Judah and Simeon join forces (1:3-21).

Jacob displaced Reuben and Simeon with Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh (after reversing their birth order) (Genesis 48). Of Simeon and Levi, Jacob says, “cursed is their anger because it is strong and their wrath because it is harsh. I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel” (Gen. 49:7).

The tribe of Levi was scattered by becoming associates to the priests. They received no large allotments. Simeon, on the other hand, was integrated with Judah, and so lost its separate identity. Now, Judah calls on Simeon to join him in claiming their land (1:3).

In the successive battle at Bezek, Judah struck 10,000 men (1:4). The king of the Bezek was called simply “the Lord.” Judah and Simeon defeated him. When he fled, they pursued him, caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. Adoni-Bezek confessed to the justice of this act since he had done the same thing to 70 Kings. They brought him to Jerusalem where he died (1:5-7).

They then captured Jerusalem, struck it with the edge of the sword, and set fire to the city. As others have noted, this was more of a raid than destruction of the city (1:8).

Judah next fought against those in the hill country, the Shephelah and the Negeb. Hebron is an ancient town also known as Kiriath-arba (the village of four). The Caleb and his daughter story includes Othniel, the first of the judges. See p. 39 for the same account in Joshua (1:9-15).

The Kenites with whom Caleb is related, have a history with Israel going back to Moses. The word has the same root as Cain. Jael, who killed Sisera, was a member of the Kenite clan.16 These came up from the city of palms (usually an expression referring to Jericho). They joined with Judah and lived with the people south of Arad (in the Negeb) (1:16).

The city of Zephath, otherwise unknown, is mentioned next. It is probably somewhere in the Negeb. They renamed it Hormah, which means destroyed, or devoted to destruction (1:17).

The statement that Judah took three cities of the Philistines is puzzling, because we know that the pentapolis (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron) all maintained their independence throughout the Old Testament. Perhaps, as with many other such events, it was part of a blitzkrieg that could not be maintained (1:18).

Judah chose to cling to the mountain area rather than the plains in a show of cowardice, because of the presence of chariots reinforced with iron (1:19).

The historian now turns to Hebron with the reiteration of the promise of the village to Caleb by Moses. This concludes the section on Judah with a reminder of the promises made by Moses and thus Joshua (1:20).

The reference to Benjamin raises some issues. Why is the town referred to as Jerusalem in 1:8 whereas the emphasis is on the Jebusites in 1:21, and why is it captured and burned in 1:8 whereas the Benjamites are not able to drive the Jebusites out in 1:21? There are, no doubt ways to harmonize the two accounts, but they are not evident in the story. Is it possible that Benjamin’s inability to drive out the Jebusites a precursor to Saul’s ineffective rule as opposed to David’s (Jerusalem) successful one?

3. The battles of the house of Joseph (1:22-26).

This paragraph is dealt with as a unit, as the “inclusio created by vv 22 and 35 shows under the name of ‘house of Joseph.’”17

The house of Joseph went up to Bethel, and Yahweh was with them. Bethel, of course, was an ancient cult center going back to the time of Abraham. Dan and Bethel became the northern and southern boundaries of the Northern kingdom. Thus, we have contrasted the southern kingdom of Judah (1:1-21) and the northern kingdom of Israel.

4. The battles of Manasseh (1:27-28).

Manasseh was assigned the Jezreel valley, but they were unable to defeat the Canaanites in the towns of Beth-shean (east), Taanach, Dor (west), Ibleam, and Megiddo. Garstang refers to this as a “row of fortresses . . . reached from the River Jordan to the sea . . .”18

The failure of the future northern kingdom is revealed in the repetitious statement, “They could not drive out . . .” The only mitigating factor is that when they became strong, they brought the Canaanites into forced labor.

5. The battles of Ephraim (1:29).

It is interesting that only Gezer is mentioned as resisting Ephraimite control. Gezer was an ancient, important, fortified city. It was refortified by Solomon with the famous and controversial Solomonic gates.

The ominous statement, “the Canaanites lived among them” is a portent of things to come. The impact of the Canaanite social customs and religious practice was profound on the Israelites, especially the northern kingdom. The requirement to appear before the Lord three times annually was no doubt ignored by the north, especially the remote tribes.

6. The battles of Zebulun (1:30).

Nahalol probably lies toward the sea, and Kitron is not known at all. Both were beyond the reach of Zebulun, but the Canaanite lived among them and eventually became forced labor.

7. The battles of Asher (1:31-32).

The Asherites were assigned territory all along the coast as far north as Tyre. Seven towns are listed as having resisted Israelite dominance, and so were confined to living among them. There is no mention of forced labor.

8. The battles of Naphtali (1:33).

For some reason Issachar is omitted. Naphtali supported Barak (Judges 4:6, 10) and later Gideon (6:35; 7:23).19 Beth Shemesh (not the one in Judah) and Beth Anath sound like cult centers: the Temple of the Sun and the temple of the goddess Anath. They also lived among them and became forced labor.

9. The battles of Dan (1:34-36).

The Amorites are late comers. Their name apparently means wester-ners. Eventually, their name will dominate the other Canaanite names (see Gen 15:16, 21).20 These verses prepare us for the Danite migration to the northern-most point in Israel in the first appendix (Judges 18).

Butler nicely ties together this discussion of Dan with the future of the northern kingdom.21 Dan becomes the northern-most town and a cult center for the golden calves and Bethel the southern town (Amos 3:14).

B. The first appearance of the Angel of Yahweh who rebukes the people (2:1-5).

1. The Angel of Yahweh is an important person in the book of Judges. He is no doubt the commander of Yahweh’s army in Joshua 5:13-15. There is something superhuman about him, for Joshua falls on his face and worships him. Joshua was then told to remove his sandals because the ground on which was standing was holy (see also Exod 3:1-6). He is also prominent in chapter 5:23, chapter 6, and 13. Chapter 13 especially links his description to Joshua five and Exodus 3.22

2. Gilgal was a worship center for Israel (Josh 4:15-24). See also 1 Sam 7:16). The “gil” element indicates something round, so it may refer to a circle of stones. This was probably an ancient cult center adopted and adapted by Israel to a place of Yahweh worship (Hos 4:15; 9:15; 12:11; Amos 4:4).

3. The Angel reminds them, ritualistically, that Yahweh is the one who brought them up from Egypt and his promise that he would not break his covenant with them (2:1).

4. In spite of this glorious heritage, Israel violated his orders to destroy the religion and culture of the Canaanites (2:2).23

5. As a result of their disobedience, Yahweh said that he would not drive out the Canaanites before them. Rather, they would be left to torment the Israelites as snares, and their gods would be attractive to them. This is the first justification of the Israelites not being able to defeat their enemies (3:4).24

6. There seems to have been a form of repentance at the altar of Yahweh since the people weep and sacrifice to Yahweh. There is, however, no indication of a change of conduct. They change the name of the area to Bochim or “weeping.” The identification of Bochim in 2:1 is anachronistic. A later name is used for the older site.

III. Joshua again (2:6-10).

A. Chapter 1 has set the stage for the rest of the book of Judges.

The emphasis is on Judah and Joshua (Ephraim/Manasseh). They failed to carry out the admonition of Joshua, and there was no one following him who could rally the people as he. Now, we are ready for the recurring cycle of disobedience, punishment, cries from the oppression, and Yahweh’s deliverance.

B. Summary of Joshua’s ministry and death.

1. Joshua dismissed the people to go to their inheritance and begin their work of conquest (2:6). See Joshua 23 for a detailed discussion of their task and their warning.

2. Joshua and the elders, who had seen the miraculous works of Yahweh, were able to keep the people on track in obedience to Yahweh (2:7).

3. Joshua, the servant of Yahweh,25 died, and this became a historical dividing line for Israel. He was a ripe age of 110. He was buried in the tribal allotment of Ephraim in Timnath-ḥeres, north of Mount Gaash (2:8-9). Josh 24:30 gives Timnath-seraḥ which is an inver-sion of the letters of ḥeres which means the sun and presumably is parallel to the Hebrew word Shemesh, the sun, and thus may intimate some idolatrous practice in this city before Joshua was buried there. By inverting the letters, that possible reference to idolatrous practice is avoided.26

4. Finally, all the Israelites who had been born in the wilderness, who had seen the miracles of the Jordan River, the lengthening of the day, and other miraculous deeds of Yahweh, died. There were no more eyewitnesses of what Yahweh had done for Israel, now, the table is set for the cycle of disobedience.

IV. The first cycle of disobedience (2:11—3:11).

A. The historian now discusses the religious apostasy of Israel after Joshua and the elders’ death. (2:11-13).27

The primary deity of the Canaanites which Israel worshiped was Baal (plural in Hebrew). Since the word Baal means “Lord” or “Master” in Semitic, it is easily construed as a variety of deities including Yahweh.28 Because Baal was the God of fertility (rain, crops, pregnancy), his worship was very tempting to Israel. The goddesses Ashtaroth (2:13), and Asheroth (3:7) were female deities associated with Baal.

The act of turning to Baals had its opposite action of turning away from the God of their fathers, noted for bringing Israel up from Egypt. Since Yahweh is a jealous God, this obviously provoked him to anger. Thus, in summary, they abandoned Yahweh and served (worshipped) Baal and Ashtaroth.

B. The resultant punishment (2:14-15).

Yahweh gave them into the hands of marauding bands (cf. Judges 6) who plundered them. They were even traded as slaves (cf. Amos 1-2). Consequently, Israel could not resist their enemies. As a matter of fact, everywhere they turned, the hand of God brought calamity (not evil) on them. He had warned them of this previously. As a result, they were in great distress.29

C. Yahweh’s grace in delivering his people (2:16-18).

This section is a recapitulation of what he begins to set out in detail, beginning with 3:7. Even though Yahweh graciously delivered his people from the marauding bands, they turned away quickly and played the harlot with other deities and worshipped them. It is a felicitous thing that the English word adultery sounds so much like idolatry, since the Old Testament uses these concepts almost interchangeably. To go after other gods (idolatry) is to commit adultery against their husband Yahweh.30

D. God’s discipline of his people (2:19—3:6).

1. None of the judges we know anything about provided the leadership, spirituality, or organizational skills that Joshua and Samuel brought. Still, to the extent that they tried to lead the people, their influence died with them. Consequently, as soon as they died, the people went back to their apostate ways (2:19).

2. This, in turn, brought down Yahweh’s anger, because they violated the covenant made with their fathers. This could refer to the Abraham covenant or the Sinaitic which incorporated the others (2:20).

3. The result was that Yahweh would not drive out those who were left in the land. Now a second reason is given for Israel’s failure to drive out the Canaanites. The purpose now is to test their loyalty to Yahweh. This should not be construed as a contradiction to the Joshua narrative. As circumstances change, Yahweh can use them to effect his will. Certainly, the inhabitants of the land were a temp-tation to Israel, and they yielded to that temptation (2:21-23).

4. The people among whom the Israelites live (3:1-6).31

This is probably a third reason for allowing the Canaanites to live in the land. The Israelites were inexperienced in war and needed to learn to fight, so, those Yahweh left in the land would give them plenty of practice.

The Philistines are considered a Pentapolis. The five sarans or rulers seem to have some sort of pact. They are descendants of the Sea Peoples and seemed to have brought the secret of iron production. Saul is raised up specifically to defeat them, but it is left to David to subdue and subordinate them.

Canaanites is an older generic name for the majority of those living in the land.32 Verse five will give a further breakdown of the larger group. The Sidonians and Hivites are groups living in the Lebanese mountains from Herman to the Neo-Hittite city of Hamath (3:1-3).

Since the testing of Israel was caused by the inhabitants of the land, we are now told that Israel settled in among the people with little resistance: they intermarried and inner-worshiped to a devastating end (3:4-6).

V. The second cycle of disobedience (Othniel) (3:7-11).

A. Having set the stage of an overview, as it were, of Israel’s disobedience, the narrator now gives the first specific example.

The Israelites served Baals and Asherahs.33

B. Yahweh’s response (3:8).

The second step of the cycle is Yahweh’s anger. He “sells” them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim, king of Aram-Nahara. Butler reads his name as “Cushan the doubly wicked.”34 Aram-Nahara means Aram (Syria) of the two rivers or Mesopotamia. Garstang points out that the Hittites were dominating the upper Euphrates area at this time, and so Cushan may have been subordinate to them.35 The precise number of eight years indicates an actual figure, since it departs from the normal 20, 40, 80 numbers.36

C. Yahweh’s deliverance (3:9-10).

The first step takes place when the sons of Israel cry out to Yahweh for help.37 Yahweh graciously raises up a deliverer (mošia מוֹשִׁיעַ). This word is used rather than judge, and so indicates the primary purpose of the leaders.

Othniel is another Kennizite and the younger brother of Caleb. The statement that the spirit “came upon him” indicates that he was divinely chosen for this task. As a result, he became a Shophet or a judge. This indicates more than our concept of a judge. Except for Deborah, we do not see these leaders acting as judges (in our sense).

Othniel went to war against Cushan-Rishathaim, Yahweh gave them into Othniel’s hand, and he conquered this “doubly wicked Cushan.”

D. The resultant rest (3:11).

The number 40 appear some 91 times in the Old Testament. Six of them appear in judges. Thus, it may be a typical or rounded number. The land had rest for 40 years. Othniel, as the younger brother of Caleb, ties the story back to Joshua.

VI. The third cycle of disobedience (Ehud) (3:12-31).

A. The scene now moves to the trans-Jordan with Eglon, King of Moab, accompanied by Ammonites (north of Moab) and Amalekites (nomadic peoples) to attack Israel.38

This came about because Israel again did evil in Yahweh’s eyes. This is the rubric for abandoning the true worship of Yahweh and taking up the Canaanite religion practice again. They not only defeated Israel, but they repossessed the city of Palm trees, another phrase for Jericho. This is a very fertile oasis (even today). It was a much-desired place years later, in the Greek and Roman period.39 The Israelite bondage lasted 18 years, and apparently included an annual tribute, usually gathered from the crops and animals of the subdued peoples (3:12-14).

B. The cry for help, and Yahweh’s response (3:23).

1. The pressure becomes so great that the Israelites cry out to Yahweh for help. Yahweh raised up (this is equivalent to “the spirit of Yahweh came up on”) a deliverer named Ehud. The meaning of his name is not obvious. It may be akin to Ichabod, אִיכָבוֹד “where is the glory,” (1 Sam 4:21), and so “where is the beauty/honor.” He is the son of Gera and a Benjamite. So, Saul’s tribe shows up early. Like his 700 compatriots in Judges 20:16 who were left-handed slingers (there must have been a lot of inbreeding), Ehud is left-handed. Left-handedness has always been viewed negatively.40 So, the Hebrew says that he was damaged in his right hand. The Israelites made him their representative to take the annual tribute (gift) to Eglon and Moab.

2. Ehud takes advantage of his “limitation” to find a way to destroy King Eglon. He makes a short sword of bronze or iron and straps it on his right thigh under his garment where the guards would least expect it. It was a gomed in length (an unknown word). Thus, he was prepared to present the Israelite tribute borne by a number of servants. The narrator gives an aside that proves important for the rest of the story. Eglon was a very fat man. Some argue that this is not a negative description, but what happened later seems to belie that (3:16-17).

3. The story is shortened. He and the men with him have turned to go home and have reached Gilgal. This was the encampment to which Joshua and his people returned after the battles. It was a cult center with ancient connections. Here, Ehud dismisses the men with him to avoid the appearance of hostility and makes his way back to King Eglon’s house. It is strange to see the word idols (pesilim פְּסִילִים) associated with this sanctuary, but with the apostasy of Israel, nothing should surprise us (3:18-19a).41

Ehud makes his way to the guards and sends to the king a word: “I have a secret message (devar-sether דְּבַרסֵתֶר) for you, oh, King.” The King is intrigued by this Jew returning with a secret word. What could it be? So, he dismisses his courtiers and invites Ehud alone into his upper room. When Ehud announced that his message was divinely sent (God not Yahweh), Eglon arose to come closer (3:19b-20).

As the king drew near, Ehud reached to his right thigh, pulled out the short sword, and thrust it deep into Eglon’s fat belly. The hilt sank into the fat, and the fat closed over it, so that Ehud could not draw it out, and the feces came out of the belly. Then Ehud quietly left and locked the door behind him. (There was probably an audience room between the private chamber and where the guards and functionaries stood waiting) (3:21-23).

C. The surprise (3:24-25).

The functionaries assumed he was going to the bathroom, since the doors were locked. After a long wait (until they were embarrassed), they took the key42 to let them in, and he was prostrate, dead.

D. Ehud’s escape and call to arms (3:26-30).

The time they waited until embarrassed, allowed Ehud to make his getaway. His escaped, while they tarried, beyond the idols, (associated with Gilgal (3:19)) to Seirah. This name is unknown (3:26).

When he arrived at Seirah, he blew (same word as “thrust” his sword) the shofar in Mount Ephraim. Even though he was a Benjamite, his leadership extended to Ephraim and perhaps beyond (sons of Israel).43 These came down from the mountain with Ehud at the head (3:27).

His “military speech” was that Yahweh44 had given their enemies, Moab, into their hand. They took up the race again and captured the fords of the Jordan to Moab and refused crossing to anyone. Thus, they cut off any Moabites on the west side of the Jordan and prohibited any on the east side from coming to their assistance (3:28).45

They struck Moab at that time, 10,000 healthy and armed men, and permitted no one to escape The land was quiet 40 years (3:29-30).

E. The first minor judge (Shamgar) (3:31).

Shamgar ben Anath is an interesting name. Shamgar is not Hebrew, and Anath is the name of a female deity. In Ugarit she is the goddess of war. The name is usually considered to be Hittite or Hurrian. The fact that he attacks the Pelests (Sea People), may indicate that he is fighting as a mercenary of the Egyptians. This could account for the fact that the story consists of one verse absent of any of the normal literary markers.

Like Samson (with the jawbone of a donkey killing 1,000 Philistines), Shamgar struck 600 Philistines with an ox goad. The author assumes that Yahweh used Shamgar to deliver Israel, even though Shamgar may have known nothing of Yahweh.

VII. Israel delivered by two women (4:1-24).

A. The fourth cycle of disobedience (Deborah/Barak) (4:1-3).

We are here introduced to two different accounts of the same event: one prose and the other poetry. Block has an excellent comparison of the two types of literature.46 This allows a rare window into the differences of the two.

1. Ehud died, and the Israelites sinned again. Shamgar is ignored in the sequence (4:1).

2. Yahweh sold them into the hand of Jabin the Canaanite. Thus, he must be the head of a Canaanite coalition. His headquarters is in Hazor, one of the larger towns in ancient Canaan.47 Since the Scriptures say that Joshua burned Hazor, how could Jabin still rule from there in the time of the Judges (Josh 11:11-12)? It must have been partially or fully rebuilt, although Yadin says there was not much there during the time of the judges (4:2).

3. Sisera was the captain of the army of Jabin. Hess has an interesting comment on the ethnic origin of this man. “Which brings us to Sisera; along with Shamgar, it also seems to be a non-Semitic name. Only Sisera, among the people mentioned in the poem, is clearly not an Israelite. Nor is his name Canaanite (or Amorite), for a Semitic name can be Canaanite or Hebrew. And there are no correspondences among the Hurrian sources or any of the other common language families attested in the Levant in the Late Bronze Age or Iron Age I.” (4:2)48

Sisera lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. Zertal says, rather tentatively! “If I am right so far, Harosheth ha-Goyim, Sisera’s military base in Canaan (Judges 4:2), should be understood as the city of Harosheth of a particular tribe of the Sea Peoples, namely the Shardana, originally from Sardinia. But where in Canaan was this Haro-sheth?”49

4. The Israelites cried out to Yahweh. Jabin had 900 chariots of iron. He harshly treated Israel for 20 years. Iron appears in Israel in the 13th century. See p. 53 for discussion of Berzel (4:3).

5. The word Deborah normally means “bee,” but Hess argues for a divine name.50 Deborah joins the limited ranks of women prophetesses: Miriam (Exod 15:20), wife of Isaiah (Isa 8:3), Huldah, (2 Kings 22:14), and Noadiah (probably a false prophet, Neh 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and Phillip’s daughters (Acts 21:9). These women were referred to without criticism or limitation, so they must have been readily accepted in the Old Testament culture, although the stress on this passage by feminists ignores the fact that it is Yahweh who leads to victory (4:4).

The mention of Lapidoth, her husband is the only possible indication of limitations placed on her.51 She was rendering decisions for the people of Israel. Her location is similar to the three-city circuit of Samuel (Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, 1 Sam 7:16) who was also judging Israel. Block, however, argues rather convincingly, that the Israelites come up for the judgment, that is, to gain help from the oppression of Jabin.52 Deborah’s palm tree reminds us of the oak tree under which Heber was pitching his tent (4:4-5).

6. Deborah’s call to arms (4:6-7).

In response to Israel’s cry for help, she sends for Barak and gives him instructions. “Yahweh has commanded you to draw out from Naphtali and Zebulun 10,000 men to Mt. Tabor, and he will draw out (same word) Sisera with his army and multitude to the wadi Kishon where he will deliver them into your hand.”

It seems a bit unusual that Deborah knows about Barak when he lives in the northern tribe of Naphtali, and she lives much farther south near Bethel. Perhaps, since his name means “lightening,” he is known as a tribal leader or a warrior. The town of Kedesh is where the Hittites clashed with the Egyptians in the twelfth century.53 She apparently summoned Barak, since later she returns to Kedesh with him.

7. Barak’s refusal (4:8-9).

Barak’s demurral may seem strange for a warrior, but the Greek supplies a reason: “I do not know the day in which Yahweh will successfully send his angel with me.”54 This should be compared with 4:14 where Deborah says, “Arise, for this is the day which Yahweh has given Sisera into your hand. Will not Yahweh go out before you?” Thus, since the command from the Lord came through Deborah, he wanted her to reveal to him the day the Lord wanted him to act, but she could not do so unless she were with him (4:8).

Deborah agrees to go with him but warns him that there will be no glory accrue to him because Sisera will be sold (by God) into the hand of a woman. She then arose and accompanied him to Kedesh (4:9).

8. The Battle (4:10-16).

Barak mustered 10,000 troops from Naphtali and Zebulun to Kedesh. Deborah went with him (4:10).

A side bar in the story tells us that the non-Israelites, Heber and Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses had separated for some reason. They were both Kenites.55 Heber had pitched his tent (his nomadic existence was near) toward the oak of Zaanannim near Kedesh.56 Trees are often cult sites. When Abraham came to Shechem it was also to Elon Moreh (Gen 12:6). Elon Moreh means “the teaching oak.” A modern Israeli settlement bears that name (4:11).

Barak moved his troops to Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley. The troop movement was reported to Sisera, and he mustered his troops including his 900 chariots of iron from the barracks at Harosheth-hagoyim to the Kishon River. This is a significant stream that flows from Mt. Gilboa in the east, north-west to the Mediterranean at Haifa and Mt. Carmel (4:12-13).

Deborah calls the army to begin action with the command to rise up, because Yahweh has given Sisera into Barak’s hand and promised to go before him. This is the timing Barak wanted when he asked Deborah to go with him. Barak went down Mt. Tabor with his 10,000 troops with him (4:14).

The narrator tells us that Yahweh “discomfited”57 Sisera, all his chariots, and all his military group. The additional phrase, “with the edge of the sword” is considered an addition by some, but it probably only means that as Yahweh was creating confusion in the ranks, and Barak’s men were cutting down the enemy. As a result, Sisera jumped from his chariot and fled on foot (4:15).

Barak pursued the chariots and army all the way to their barracks at Harosheth-hagoyim. They cut down the army until not one was left (10:16).58

9. Sisera’s ignominious end (4:17-22).

Deborah had promised Barak that the honor of winning would go to a woman, and now the narrator, in a delightful fashion, shows us how it happened.

Because of a truce (perhaps a treaty) between Heber and Jabin, Sisera thought he would be safe in their tribal encampment. Jael goes out to meet Sisera (she is Heber’s wife, but we do not know why she takes the side of the Israelites).59 She urges Sisera to turn aside without fear and come into her tent where she covers him with a blanket.60 The word “blanket” is a hapax legomena, so we do not know precisely what it is (4:17-18).

He is exhausted and thirsty, so he asks for a drink. She brings him a goatskin of milk, gives him a drink, and covers him. He asks her to stand by the tent flap and tell anyone who asks that no man has come by (4:19-20).

Jael then took the tent peg in her left hand and the hammer in her right hand, approached quietly, plunged the tent peg in his skull, and drove it into the ground. Sisera was in deep sleep and exhausted, so, he never knew what happened. She then stood by the tent flap, and when Barak came by searching for Sisera, she called him over and introduced him to the dead Sisera with a tent peg in his head (4:21-22).61

Thus, the power of Jabin was broken by Yahweh at that time. However, it appears that there was a “mopping up” exercise, as the hand of Israel was increasingly strengthened until they had cut him off completely (4:23-24).

B. The poetic presentation of the same story (5:1-31).

There are differences between the poem and the prose, but there are also similarities. It would be mistaken to try to reconcile the differences; rather we should recognize poetic liberties.

1. Call for the song; and exulting in Yahweh’s mighty past (5:1-5).62

Both the protagonists sing this song. Clearly, they both receive honor for the victory over Jabin and Sisera.

This is a very old poem, and many of its words are subject to debate. Such is the case with the first two words. פֶּרַע pera‘ usually means something about free action, often of hair. Many suggestions have been made, although the most popular is “leaders.” KJV “avenging.” In NAS “leaders.” In NIV “Princes.” NJB “warriors in Israel unbound their hair.” We must rely on the parallel line for help: “the people volunteered.”63 Whatever the meaning, it is good news because the narrator praises the Lord. A similar line is found in verse nine (5:2).

Now the narrator calls on kings and princes to listen, because he is about to sing to Yahweh, the God of Israel. In Hebrew fashion, the first verb is singular, referring to Deborah, the addition of an additional subject (Barak) does not change the number. Perhaps this is why the number is singular in verse three (5:3).

The narrator harkens to the past to speak of Yahweh’s greatness. “Going forth from Edom” is a common motif (Isa 63:1-6). Seir is the other name for Edom, the perennial enemy of Israel. When Yahweh marched forth, the earth shook, the heavens dripped,64 and the clouds dropped water. The mountains flowed away from Yahweh, the God of Israel. “This one of Sinai” seems intrusive, but its appearance in Psa 68:8 and Deut 33:2 in similar contexts, lends credence to its presence here65 (5:4-5).

2. The current circumstances (5:6-7).

A more immediate time is designated with the mention of Shamgar and Jael. In that time, the caravans ceased. “Those who went forth on their travels, took their way along by-paths” NJB. While precise translation is difficult, the general meaning is that business, trade, and travel have been disrupted because of Jabin’s persecution. The next line has a difficult word פְּרָזוֹןפךֵראזוֹנ והךשׂה probably means something about peasantry.66 Since peasants are not going to cease, it must be something about their lifestyle. NIV says, “they have refused to fight.”

3. The raising up of Deborah (5:7b-8).67

In the midst of these dire circumstances, a prophetess arose, named Deborah. As such, she was a mother in Israel, one who succors her people. Most translators treat the next line as “they chose new Gods; then there was war at the gate.” Only NIV has “God chose new leaders.” Deut 32:17 is worth comparing to this verse. The rest of the verse indicates that Israel was unarmed, and, therefore, unable to defend herself.

4. The mustering of the people (5:9-11).

The narrator says his heart is on the leaders (lawgivers) of Israel. Those who are responding willingly among the people—bless the Lord. His attention has turned to those who would deliver the people from Jabin and Sisera. These are those who ride on tawny female donkeys (a sign of importance); those who sit on the rich carpets; who are walking on the way— sing (5:9-10).68

At the sound of those dividing sheep among the watering places, there they declare69 the righteous acts of God; the righteous acts to his peasantry in Israel. Then the people of Yahweh went down to the gates (5:11).

5. Raising up of Deborah and Barak (5:12).

“Arise, arise, oh, Deborah; arise, arise, declare a song. Stand up, oh, Barak, and restore your captives, son of Abinoam.” This is a call for the leaders to arise and lead the people who will respond to the call.

6. Participants and non-participants (5:13-18

Who came to the battle? Then a remnant will go down to the mighty ones, the people of Yahweh will go down to me among the military leaders. From Ephraim who are connected to Amalek. Perhaps some Amalekites had already penetrated Ephraim.70 After you, Benjamin among your people? From Machir leaders went down. Machir in Gen 50:23 and Num 32:39-40 relate Machir to Manasseh. And from Zebulun mustering a leader71 with a staff. (5:13-14).

The princes of Issachar were with Deborah, and Issachar was sent to the valley at Barak’s feet.72 Now for the first time, we hear of Reuben who lives on the east side of the Jordan. “Stout hearted rulers of the divisions of Reuben” (5:15).

Who did not come? Reuben is accused of sitting between the flocks, listening to the piping of the flocks. Then the same line as v. 15 is repeated except that for “rulers” we have a similar word meaning “searching”73 (5:16).

Gilead is staying on the other side of the Jordan (does Gilead represent the tribe of Gad?); Dan, why are you lingering by the ships? Asher lives by the coast and dwells on the ports (5:17).

Zebulun, a people reproaching his soul to death (cf. v. 14), and Naphtali is on the heights of the field (5:18).

7. The battle (5:19-22)

Kings came; they fought together. Then the kings of Canaan fought in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo. Boling, quotes Lapp, BASOR, 195 (1969) 33-49 as holding that Taanach was destroyed in the 12th century and that was caused by Deborah and Barak. They took no plunder of silver. The stars fought from heaven; from their highways, they fought with Sisera (5:19-20).

Verse 21 is difficult. The River Kishon swept them away; the ancient river; the River Kishon. My soul, march on with strength. Flooding in this area was not unknown, so, Sisera’s chariots would have become mired in the mud (5:21).

Then they struck the heels of the horse; from the fierce rushings of the mighty ones (5:22).

8. More non-participants (5:23)

Curse Meroz, said the angel of Yahweh. Meroz is unknown as a place or people. It “represents those Israelites who have taken their stand on the side of the Canaanites. Jael is the opposite.”74 She has taken her stand on the side of Israel.

Curse mightily her inhabitants.

Because they did not come to the aid of Yahweh;

To the aid of Yahweh among the heroes.75

9. Blessing of Jael, the Magnificat (5:24-27).

Blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite.

Blessed among women in the tent.

He asked for water; she gave him milk.

In a beautiful bowl, she brought near curds.

Her left hand went to the tent peg,

Her right hand to the workman’s mallet.

She struck Sisera; she smashed his head.

And she smashed and pierced his skull.

Between her knees he bowed—fell, lay down.

Between her feet he bowed—he fell.

Where he bowed, there, he fell destroyed.

10. The grief of Sisera’s mother (5:28-30).

Through the window, she leans out;

the mother of Sisera cries shrilly through the lattice.

“Why does his chariot delay coming?

Why do the steps (hoof beats?) of his chariots hold back?”

Her wise76 princess answers her.

Then she repeats her words to her:

“They have, no doubt, found and divided the spoil,

“A womb77 or two for each man”

“Spoil of dyed stuff for Sisera”

“Dyed work of double embroidery for the neck of the spoiler.”

11. The final word (5:31).

Thus, may all your enemies perish, oh, Yahweh,

and may all those who love him78

be like the sun going forth in its strength!

So, the land was quiet for forty years.

VIII. The judgeship of Gideon (6:1—8:35).

A. The cycle returns (6:1-10).

1. The tiresome refrain is given again: the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and he gave them into the hands of Midian seven years (6:1).

2. The unrelenting presence of Midian. These nomads were devastating the Israelites. As result, they resorted to primitive living to get away from them (6:2).79

3. In verse three, we learn that Amalek joins forces with Midian in the oppression. To them is added “the sons of the east.” There is now a conglomeration of trans-Jordanian people applying intense pressure on Israel and their livelihood.80 When Israel sowed (and it ripened), these three groups would come up and pillage the crops and thus leave Israel destitute.81 These marauders from the east brought their camels and all their livestock to destroy Israel. Consequently, Israel was very poor, and so they cried out to Yahweh (6:3-6).

4. Prophetic response. Yahweh answered their prayer by sending a prophet to reprimand them—not exactly what they asked for. Through him, Yahweh reminds them that he is the one who brought them from Egypt and the house of bondage. He delivered them from the power of Egypt and drove out the Canaanites and gave them the latter’s land. He told them not to become entangled with the gods of those in whose midst they live, but they refused to listen—end of discussion. Why is there no further discussion of Israel’s rebellion, and what would be required for the restoration to Yahweh’s favor? (6:7-10).82

B. The Angel of Yahweh (6:11-24)

1. The commissioning of Gideon (6:11-17).

a. The Angel of Yahweh shows up unannounced and sits under the oak tree83 in Orphrah which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. We have already spoken to the Israelite usage of trees as part of their religious practice.84 Gideon was surreptitiously beating out wheat kernels from the chaff so that it could be ground into flour. He was using a part of the wine press to accomplish his task (6:11).

b. The Angel shouts out a greeting: “Yahweh is with you, you mighty man of valor.”85 I take the greeting to be indicative rather than subjunctive. Not, “May Yahweh be with you,” but “he is with you” (Ruth 2:1, 17). Note that the same language is used of Boaz in Ruth 2:1, and that Ruth beats out her barley that she had gleaned during the day as Gideon was doing (6:12).

c. Gideon takes issue with the Angel (supposing him to be a man).86 The first is the statement that Yahweh is with him. If that were true, says Gideon, all this travesty would not have happened to them, for he would have manifested himself in miraculous ways according to the stories the fathers recounted to them. Instead, Yahweh has abandoned them and delivered them into the hand of the Midianites (6:13).

d. Then Yahweh87 turns to Gideon88 and lays a strong charge on him, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian, have I not sent you.” But Gideon gives his second objection, he is from the poorest family group in Manasseh, and he is the youngest in his father’s house. Most calls from God are responded to with protestations of inability (cf. Moses, Jeremiah). This is a normal reaction from a humble person. God often honors this humility by providing a sign (Moses, Gideon). “My command to go is sufficient for your sustenance in the battle to follow” (6:14-16).

e. Gideon senses that something more than normal is taking place,89 so he asks him for a sign to prove it. He asks the Angel of Yahweh to stay there until he returns with an offering. He accedes to the request. The word מִנְחָה minḥah can be simply a gift, or it may be an offering to God. I suspect Gideon has the latter in view.90 He then prepares a goat kid and broth and brings them to the Angel of Yahweh. The last word in v. 19 means to bring near. By changing the vowels, it can mean to draw near. The Greek has “he bowed down or worshipped.”91 The Angel instructed him on how to offer the gift. When Gideon finished, the Angel touched the offering with his staff, a fire burst out and consumed the offering. Furthermore, the Angel of Yahweh went up in the fire and disappeared. Now Gideon knew what he had begun to suspicion: the was the Angel of Yahweh and not a man (6:17-22a).

f. Gideon responded to the theophany by assuming that he would die since he had seen the Angel of Yahweh (or God) face to face. The same reaction comes from Manoah under similar circumstances (Judges 13:15-23). Yahweh then encourages him by saying that he would not die. Is it a voice from heaven? Gideon then builds an altar which he calls Yahweh Shalom (Yahweh is peace). It is still there in his town when the narrator pens these words (6:22b-24).

C. The challenge to Gideon (6:25-32).

1. The first act of obedience. There is a problem with the sacrifice to be offered. Gideon is told to take a bull (par פַּר) the bull (haššor הַשּׁוֹר ) belonging to your father. Then he is told to take a second bull seven years old. Some argue that the word “second” may refer to the fact that the first calf is to be devoted to Yahweh, thus only the second one would be left. Others argue for a second meaning for “second” such as “fat” (cf. the Greek). There is no good solution to this issue. That Gideon’s father was syncretistic in his faith is indicated by the fact that he has an altar devoted to Baal and a tree or pole (something that can be cut down) devoted to Asherah. One could argue that Baal refers to Yahweh (which it can, since it means Lord), but there is no getting around Asherah as a Canaanite deity. This indicates that much of early Israel was at best syncretistic.92 Then Gideon was told to build an altar to Yahweh his God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly fashion. He is then to take the second bull and offer it us as a holocaust offering on the wood of the Asherah. This is the ultimate insult to the Canaanite religion. Gideon then took ten of his father’s servants (indicating that his family was not as poor as he had argued earlier) and did as Yahweh had said. Because of his fear of his father’s house and the village people, he did it at night (6:25-27).93

2. The villagers react as expected when they see the damage done to their worship center, and when they find out it was Gideon, they demand that he be brought out and put to death. Fortunately, Gideon’s father defends him. He argues that anyone who defends Baal should be put to death. Does this mean that Joash has begun to agree with his son? The ambiguity of the situation is indicated by Gideon’s later action in 8:27 where Gideon makes a golden ephod and causes Israel to sin against Yahweh. Joash names Gideon Jerubbaal94 which indicates something about contending with Baal (6:28-32).

D. Gideon’s second request for proof of God’s presence (6:33-40).

1. The restatement of the Midianite threat and Gideon’s response (6:33-35).

It seems strange to have this paragraph followed by the next where Gideon expresses more doubt and need for more proof. The sequence of events here may not be in order. My guess is that the paragraph on the fleece preceded the Midianite threat, and the mustering of the troops followed the fleece requests.

The Midianites, Amalekites, and Easterners have invaded the Jezreel valley and set up camp. One can envision the black goat skin tents as seen still today in Jordan. The phrase, “the Spirit of Yahweh clothed Gideon” does not indicate his spiritually, but that God was about to use him.95

He blew the Shophar and his own village followed him, in spite of their recent set-to. He then sent messengers to Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. These all responded to his call.

2. Gideon’s request for more signs (6:36-40).

Gideon asks God to prove that he wants Gideon to deliver Israel by making the fleece wet but all the ground around it on the threshing floor dry.96 When that happened, and Gideon squeezed out a pail of water from the fleece, he still was not satisfied. Much like Abraham pleading for Lot in Genesis 18, he begs Yahweh not to be angry with him when he adds to his request.97 This time, he reverses the process, asking for the fleece to be dry and all the land to be wet. This apparently satisfied him, for he began maneuvers the next day.

E. Preparation for the battle (7:1-18).

1. The troops gather at Harod, and the Midianites are at Mt. Moreh (7:1).98

The narrator makes sure we understand that Jerubbaal is Gideon. Both names could be “nick” names. Gideon means something about cutting or chopping. The Israelites muster on the south side of the Jezreel valley near the Spring Harod. This spring is there today. The Midianites are camped north of him near Mt. Moreh in the Jezreel Valley.

2. The first winnowing (7:2-3).

Yahweh wants to be sure that he receives the glory for the coming victory, so he tells Gideon to dismiss everyone who is afraid. Some 22,000 people swallowed their pride and returned home. The phrase, “Let him return quickly from Mt. Gilead,” is strange. BHS suggests, וַיִּצְרְפֵם גדעון wyyiṣrepem Gideon: “And Gideon refined them.” The phrase “return quickly” is one word and a hapax legomenon (once appearing).99 Block has a better suggestion. Working from the Arabic name of Harod, Ain Jalud, he suggests that Gilead is a corruption of that name, since Gilead is on the east side of the Jordan.100 Now there were only 10,000 left.

3. The second winnowing (7:4-8).

Gideon’s heart must have sunk when Yahweh told him he would need to reduce his ranks further. There is some confusion on the actions. Apparently, everyone bowed on the knees, but one group lapped directly from the water and the 300 lapped from their hand as they bowed. Consequently, 9,700 made their way home.101 That left only 300 men to confront the thousands of enemies, but Yahweh told Gideon that he would deliver the people of Israel with a mere 300.

4. The third confirmation (7:9-15).

During the night Yahweh told Gideon to go attack the Midianite camp. But, he says, if you are afraid, then go down to the camp and listen to what you will hear. Gideon was apparently still fearful about his assignment in spite of all the signs Yahweh had given him. He is to take his servant Purah with him (7:9-11).102

Gideon took his servant, and they went to the edge of the armed camp. The enemy were scattered as far as the eye could see. Camels and people were like the sand by the sea. Gideon needed reassurance! There he listened as one of the Midianites shared a dream with his buddy. A barley cake comes bounding into the encampment, knocks over a tent, and turns it upside down. His friend interprets the dream and gives such specific information that it clearly is referring to Gideon. Gideon is impressed by this miracle, bows down to Yahweh, and then goes back to arouse his troops. He tells them to rise up for Yahweh has given the camp of Midian into their hand (7:12-15).

F. The battle (7:16-23).

He divides the 300 men into three groups. Then he gives a shophar to each along with an empty pitcher into which he places a torch. Where did he get this idea? Was it his own, or did Yahweh give it to him? (7:16).

He then tells them to imitate him as they surround the Midianite camp at the beginning of the middle watch (12:00-4:00 a.m.).103 They blow in the shophars, break the pitchers, hold up the torches and shout, “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” At that point all three groups blow in their shophars and break the pitchers. As a result, the suddenly awakened Midianites, surrounded by torches and the awful sound of the shophars, break in confusion and flee. The narrator wants us to know that the battle was the Lord’s, as he caused a great tumult, the Midianites fought each other in the dark and fled east as far as Abel Meholah on the east side of the Jordan. Then the men of Israel from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh were mustered to pursue Midian104 (7:17-23).

Gideon then sends messengers to Mount Ephraim, urging them to come down to the Jordan at Beth Barah (location not known, but it must been a ford in the Jordan) to capture the Midianites as they were crossing. There they capture the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb,105 whom they killed. They brought their heads to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan (7:24-25).

G. The internecine struggle (8:1-3).

Ephraim, somewhere along the way, argues fiercely with Gideon. “Why did you go to war without us?” He ameliorates their anger by telling them how much more they have done than he, including the fact that they had captured and executed Oreb and Zeeb.106

H. Gideon’s revenge (8:4-21).

1. Gideon and his 300 men have been running all the way to the Jordan, so they are exhausted as they are pursuing.107 He asks the men of Succoth for a little bread since he is pursuing the kings of Midian. When they refuse this small request for hospitality, he promises that when he returns, he will thresh their flesh with thorns and briars. Some criticize Gideon for this action, but it seems reasonable to me. He gets a similar reception at Penuel, and tells them that when he returns in peace, he will tear down their tower (8:4-9).

2. Zebah and Zalmunna were encamped in Karkor108 with some 15,000 left of the 120,000 soldiers. They were as exhausted as Gideon and his men. Gideon attacked them by way of the tent-dwellers (caravan route)109 east of Nobah and Jogbehah because they were resting securely. When the two kings fled, Gideon pursued and caught them. Then the whole camp trembled110 (8:10-12).

3. Retribution on Succoth and Penuel (8:13-17).

Gideon returned from the battle at the ascent of Heres.111 Here he encountered a youth who agreed to write down the 77 names of the princes and elders of Succoth.112 He takes vengeance on them113 as he had promised.114 As promised, he destroyed the tower and killed the men of the city.

4. Retribution on Zebah and Zalmunna (8:18-21).

He then asked the two kings of Midian what the men of Tabor looked like whom they had killed. When they convinced him that they looked like royal seed, he determined to kill them. When Gideon’s young son is afraid to kill them, the kings taunt Gideon who picks up a sword and kills them. Then he takes the ornaments from the camel’s neck.

I. Gideon’s afterward (8:22-35).

1. Gideon rejects the kingship (8:22-23).

The appeal of the people to become king (with a line of succession) indicates the hunger for good leadership. This will culminate in 1 Samuel 8 when the people ask Samuel to appoint a king. Gideon rightly refuses and indicates his orthodoxy with, “Yahweh shall rule over you.”115

2. Gideon apostatizes (8:24-27).

Ironically, in the next breath, Gideon asks for all the earrings taken from the Ishmaelites. The people gladly surrendered their earrings, and the weight came to 1700 gold shekels. In addition, they had crescents, pendants, purple garments that the kings wore, as well as the necklaces on the camels. With that gold, Gideon made an ephod and erected it in his city, and all Israel committed spiritual fornication there. Thus, it became a snare to Gideon and his family. How do we account for this abrupt turn around? Did Gideon, not happy with the aniconic worship of Yahweh, make a visible representation of him? Perhaps he was mixing the name Baal (lord or master) with Yahweh. Whatever, it was a very bad decision.

3. Gideon’s old age and his son Abimelech (8:28-32).

God had worked a miracle through Gideon, so that the Midianites were completely suppressed before Israel, and there were 40 years of peace in Gideon’s days. Gideon went home where he raised 70 sons (because he had many wives). In addition!, he had a concubine in Shechem116 with whom he had a son. Gideon named him “My father is king.” His name is portentous. This could refer to his god as a father or to Gideon even though he refused the kingship.117 He will be the subject of chapter 9. Gideon died in good old age and was buried in his tomb in his hometown.

4. Israel’s return to Baal worship (8:33-35).

After Gideon’s death, the people turned away from worship of Yahweh to the Baals. They made the specific Baal of Shechem, Baal Berith (Baal of the covenant) their own deity. This gives me pause as to what Gideon’s ephod represented. The people, at his death turned away from Yahweh and to the Baals.118 Thus, the ephod, while a snare to the people, still must have had some connection with Yahweh.119

The turn back to Baalism also meant turning away from Gideon and his family as well as from Yahweh their God who had delivered them from their enemies. They no longer felt any obligation to Gideon’s many children.

IX. The illegitimate judgeship of Abimelech (9:1-57).

If the usage of the covenant name Yahweh is significant to the narrator, the number of usages should also be significant. It is of interest that the Gideon saga has the most occurrence of any judge with 36. This, despite the effort of many commentators to denigrate the spiritual character of Gideon. Second place goes to the Deborah/Barak story with 20, third place goes to Chapters 1-2 with 21, and third to chapter 3 and Othniel with 15.

After that, it is all downhill. The call narrative for Samson has 16 occurrences, but the rest of the story has only a total of seven. The dark epilogues have only three occurrences in chapters 17-19, except for the Benjamite civil war with 14 in chapters 20-21.

All that brings us to chapter 9 where there are no occurrences of Yahweh in the entire episode of Abimelech’s ill-fated rule as king. I suggest that this indicates that the narrator considers Abimelech illegitimate and poses a warning to Israel regarding the problem with kings.120 True, Elohim appears six times (9:7, 9, 13, 23, 56, 57), leading some to argue for the E document. However, the use of divine names to identify sources has diminished in popularity. I suspect that Elohim has been used to note the religious “foreignness” of this chapter. If we do not count Abimelech, there are 12 judges, a good biblical number. Yahweh is not involved in the selection of Abimelech.

A. The crowning of Abimelech as king (9:1-6).

The narrator now picks up the thread begun in 8:31 with the birth of Abimelech. He goes to his kinsmen of Shechem and talks them into making him king. His argument in favor is twofold: “Is it better to have 70 men rule over you or one,” and “remember that we are kinsmen.” He is closer to the Shechemites through his mother than the Abiezrites. His relatives “tickled the ears” of the Bosses (Baalim) of Shechem and they responded favorably.

They paid him 70 shekels of silver from the temple of Baal Berith.121 With his new-found wealth, he hired a group of worthless and wanton men. This says something about Abimelech. These are red neck, beer drinking, no account men. So was Abimelech. Yet they had the ability to wreak havoc on the community. He went to Orphrah, to his father’s house and killed 69 (one shekel each) of his brothers.122 Jotham was hidden by someone, or he hid himself, and escaped his brothers’ fate.123

Then the Bosses of Shechem and those of Beth-millo124 brought Abimelech to the oak by the pillar125 in Shechem and made him king. What a disaster.

B. Jotham’s response (9:7-21).126

1. Jotham’s fable (9:7-15).

When Jotham was told, he went to the top of Mount Gerizim,9 127 the southern of the two mountains around Shechem and shouted out a parable. The parable says that the trees went out looking for a king. They were refused in turn by olive tree, fig tree, and the grapevine. Finally, the thorn bush agrees to rule over them and provide them shelter in his shadow but warns them that a fire will come out and devour them if they do not carry out their part.

2. Jotham’s application of the parable (9:16-21).

The application is fairly obvious. The Bosses of Shechem have made a bad bargain and will suffer for it. There will be mutual destruction of the Bosses of Shechem, Beth-millo and Abimelech. Then Jotham fled to Beer where he was able to avoid Abimelech’s wrath.

C. Rejection of the rule by God and the Shechemites (9:22-25).

Abimelech ruled as prince over Israel. How extensive was this rule? It seems circumscribed at first, but perhaps it was extended later. We are not told what his reign was like, but given his apparent narcissism, one can imagine.

The narrator says that it was Elohim who sent a spirit of calamity between the Bosses of Shechem and Abimelech.128 The purpose of this, as the narrator tells us, is that retribution might come upon Abimelech their brother because of the violence done to the 70 sons of Jerubbaal, because he killed them, but also upon the Bosses of Shechem because they strengthened his hand to kill his brothers. Consequently, they proceeded to interfere with the spoils system Abimelech had established by robbing everyone who came by. Obviously, the word would get to Abimelech.

D. Gaal, a new rival (9:26-29).

A newcomer shows up in Shechem with his brothers. He name was Gaal (“Abhorrent”) the son of Ebed (servant). These are “freebooters” as was Abimelech. He sets up shop in Shechem and the Bosses entrust themselves to him. But he did not know what he was up against.

They went to the field to harvest the grapes, made wine, held a festival, went into their temple, got drunk and cursed Abimelech. The name emor is probably a deity. Gen 34:1-3 describes the unfortunate en-counter of Diana, Jacob’s daughter, with Shechem son of Hamor. This would be like ben Hadad as the name of a Syrian dynasty.

Like a lot of bullies, Gaal brags that he would destroy Abimelech if he would only take a stand (“amass your army and come out”).

E. Abimelech’s plan to retake power (9:30-33).

Zebul, Abimelech’s lieutenant heard Gaal’s boast and sent word secretly to Abimelech. He says that Gaal is stirring up the city against him and advises him to set an ambuscade in the fields so that he can defeat the people as they come out.

F. Abimelech’s defeat of his rival (9:34-41).

The next day Gaal was suffering from a hangover. He thought he saw men coming down the mountain, but Zebul told him it was only a shadow. By the time he was convinced that what he saw was really men, it was too late. Zebul taunted him and told him to fight Abimelech. Gaal and the Bosses of Shechem engage Abimelech but were defeated. Abimelech returned to Arumah,129 and Zebul drove Gaal out of Shechem.

G. Abimelech’s defeat of Shechem (9:42-49).

When the Shechemites went back to the field to harvest grapes (they could not delay lest the grapes spoil, and they assumed with Abimelech and Gaal’s departure, v. 41, the war was over), Abimelech took his people and divided them in three groups. One group stood at the entrance of the city and another group attacked those in the field. He captured the city, killed all who were in it, and sowed it in salt.

The Bosses of Shechem and their families had taken refuge in the tower. Abimelech led the way in cutting down tree branches and putting them in the underground tunnel of the tower.130 They set the branches on fire and destroy about a thousand people.

H. Abimelech attacks Thebez (9:50-55)

He seems to be expanding his territory. Thebez is north of Tirzah, an early capital of Israel, and north of Shechem.131 We have already seen him in Arumah which is south of Shechem. Who are the men of Israel? They must have been some Israelites who decided to follow Abimelech and oppose the Shechemites. The Bosses of the city with their families fled to the tower and locked the door. Abimelech tried a repeat of his destruction at Shechem, but a woman threw an upper mill stone and it struck him in the skull (the narrator seems to enjoy having women kill the enemy). He tells his squire who bore his armor to kill him, and he did.

I. The narrator’s final judgment (9:56-57).

Divine retribution on both Abimelech and the Bosses of Shechem has come about. The curse of Jotham has been fulfilled. There is nothing said or intimated about Abimelech that is good. Thus, he is illegitimate, and should not be seen as a judge of God’s people.

X. Two minor judges (10:1-5).

A. The judgeship of Tola (10:1-2).

The name Tola (תּוֹלָע) means either “worm” or “scarlet.” This name, combined with Puvvah, appears in Gen 46:13; Num 26:23; and 1 Chron 7:1, 2. The normal words associated with judgeship are found here: “he arose after Abimelech to deliver Israel.” Apart from that we learn that he is the son of Puah and the grandson of Dodo, a man of Issachar. However, his judgeship took place in Ephraimite hill country in the city of Shamir. He judged Israel twenty-three years, died, and was buried in Shamir.

B. The judgeship of Jair (10:3-5).

Jair’s name is more encouraging. In means something about giving light, perhaps Yahweh gives light. Jair lived east of the Jordan in Gilead. He judged Israel 22 years. The word Israel probably does not encompass all Israel, but those located in Gilead and surrounding areas. He is noted for his 30 sons132 who rode on 30 donkeys, and they had 30 cities.133 They were called the Villages of Jair still in the time of the narrator. Jair died and was buried in Kamon.

These two judgeships indicate an extended period of peace and thus reflects on the administrative ability of the judges without resorting to warfare.134

XI. Israel revolts again (10:6-16).

A. The oppression (10:6-10).

“The Israelites again did evil in the sight of Yahweh and served . . .” For the first time we have articulated seven ethnic deities. Baals, Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram (Syria), Sidonians, Moab, Ammon, and the Philistines. But they abandoned the one true God, the covenant-keeping God, Yahweh. The Arameans worshipped the storm God, Hadad; the Sidonians Baal, Moab Chemosh, Ammon Milcom, and the Philistines Dagon. Block refers to this as the Canaanization of Israel.135

Consequently, the jealous God Yahweh became incredibly angry against Israel. He sold them into the hand of the Philistines136 and the Ammonites. This means that trouble was coming from the west and the east.

They (the Ammonites since the Philistines operated only on the west side of the Jordan) harassed for 18 years the east side of the Jordan in Gilead.137 The verbs are powerful: רָצַץ raṣaṣ and רָעַץ ra‘aṣ to crush to break. Their abuse of the Israelites east of the Jordan was devasting (10:8).

However, they were not content with that pillage. They also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah,138 Benjamin, and Ephraim. So, Israel was really distressed. Now, as usual, the Israelites have no place to turn but to Yahweh. They confess that they have abandoned their God139 and have served the Baals. Baal, the storm god, took many forms and had local manifestations, hence, the plural (10:9-10).

B. Yahweh’s response (10:11-16).

Yahweh reminded them that he had delivered them from the oppression of Egypt, the Amorites, the Ammonites, Philistines, Sidonians, Amale-kites, and Maon.140 Despite that, says Yahweh, you abandoned me and served other gods. Therefore, I am not going to deliver you now. You should cry out to those gods for help. But the Israelites would not cease crying out. Do whatever you wish to us (good in your eyes) but deliver us from our troubles. To show good faith, they got rid of their idols and served Yahweh alone. So, God’s “soul” was grieved at the travail of his people.

C. Basis of Jephthah’s summons (10:17-18).

Now the table is set. The Ammonites muster141 their troops and encamp against Gilead. The Israelites gather and encamp in Mizpah.142 Then the people, namely the princes of Gilead, met to discuss their leadership options. “Whoever is willing to lead the fight against Gilead shall be the head of all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Apparently, none of them were willing to lead the battle.143

XII. The judgeship of Jephthah (11:1—12:7).

A. Jephthah’s genealogy (11:1-3).

The action crosses the Jordan to the east territory of Gilead. Jephthah was a soldier’s soldier (mighty man of valor), but he had a dubious family history: his mother was a prostitute.144 As a result, he was driven out by his half-brothers. This begins to sound a bit like Abimelech. He fled to the land of Tob. This place is mentioned as part of the Aramean coalition that came to the defense of Ammon against David (2 Sam 10:6‑19). Tobiah the Ammonite is an obscure figure in Nehemiah (2:10). Most link him with the venerable Tobiad family of Transjordan and make him a Jewish governor of Ammon. A group of “empty” men scratch themselves together to follow him (sounds more like Abimelech).

B. Gileadites “eat crow” and plead with Jephthah (11:4-11).

When the Ammonites prepared to attack Gilead, the elders went to plead with Jephthah to lead them in battle. They ask him to become a leader (קָצִין qaṣin). Literally, it means “a decider” (11:4-5).

Jephthah asks logically why they have come to him to help when they get into trouble since they drove him out. The elders deflect his statement145 and tell him they will make him head of all Gilead if he will return with them. Jephthah brings in the name Yahweh at the beginning of his response. This goes counter to some commentators who take a negative view toward Jephthah. He reiterated their offer, and they swear before Yahweh to do it. He goes back, and the people of Gilead make him both “decider” and head. Jephthah then reiterates all these words before Yahweh in Mizpah (11:6-11).

C. Jephthah’s message to the Ammonites (11:12-28).

1. Ammon’s historical claim (11:12-13).

Jephthah sent messengers to ask the King of the Ammonites why he was making war. The answer is that Israel stole his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok (north and south) and the Jordan (west). Now he wants it back. This is a large piece of territory and takes in much of Reuben and Gad.

2. Jephthah’s historical lesson (11:14-22).

Jephthah’s argument is that Israel avoided the territory of Edom and Moab but captured from Sihon king of the Amorites, the land just stipulated by the Ammonite king.146

3. Jephthah’s application of the historical lesson (11:23-28).

Now Yahweh has deposed the Amorites and given their land to the Israelites. So why are you trying to possess it? Take what your god Chemosh has given you and be content with it, and we will take what Yahweh has given us (11:23-24).

Then Jephthah makes a second argument. Israel has dwelt in Heshbon, Aroer, and other towns next to the Wadi Arnon for 300 years.147 Why did you not try to take them back during that time? (11:25-26).

Furthermore, he says, I have not wronged you, so why are you trying to bring trouble to me? May Yahweh, the judge, judge between you and Israel. But the Ammonites would not heed him (11:27-28).

D. The Spirit Yahweh came on Jephthah and his rash vow (11:29-33).

This statement indicates that Yahweh was in the middle of this entire skirmish (in contrast to Abimelech where no mention of Yahweh is made). He even made a vow to Yahweh. Because animals were kept in the house, he expected the first thing to come out to be a cow or a sheep, but it turned out to be his daughter and only child. He then engaged with the Ammonites, and Yahweh delivered them into his hand. So, the Ammonites were humbled under the Israelites.

E. The fulfillment or the vow (11:34-40).

It is hard to imagine the distress of Jephthah when his daughter appeared, dancing and playing the timbrels. What is meant by the offering of his daughter? There are two basic theories: 1) she is turned over to a life of service (perhaps at the tabernacle like Samuel), or 2) she was actually killed and offered as a holocaust offering. The second is clearly prohibited by Yahweh, so my inclination is toward the first theory. However, with most of the Israelites being half pagan, the second one is possible.148

F. More centrifugal civil war (12:1-7).

The tendency for the tribal confederacy to fly apart is illustrated again and again in the judges. Just as the Ephraimites chided Gideon for not contacting them earlier (because of the spoils?), so they now chide Jephthah. However, Gideon assuaged their anger, but Jephthah did not. He claims that he called for them to help, but they did not come, and he had to take his life in his hand to deliver Israel from Ammon. So, he asks them, why have you come against me this day to fight me? They said, “Because you Gileadites are refugees in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” I assume that means, you do not belong here (12:1-4).

Jephthah captured the fords of the Jordan where Ephraimites who had not been killed tried to cross. If an Ephraimite tried to cross, claiming that he had escaped from the Ephraimites, they would ask them to pronounce the word for grain or Shibboleth. Their Ephraimite dialect pronounced it with a simple “s” and so it was a giveaway. Some 42,000 Ephraimites were killed at that time. What an awful time (12:5-6).

Jephthah then judged Israel for six years. He died and was buried in his city in Gilead (12:7).149

G. Three more minor judges (12:8-15).

1. Ibzan (12:8-10).

His home is Bethlehem. Is he related to David’s family? He seems to be noteworthy for the number of children he has. He has 30 sons for whom he brought wives and 30 daughters whom he gave to others.150 He judged Israel seven years. When he died, he was buried in Bethlehem.

2. Elon (12:11-12).

The next Judge is named Elon who came from Zebulun in the Galilee region. He judged Israel for ten years. When he died, he was buried in Aijalon, a town in Zebulun.

3. Abdon (12:13-15).

Abdon (something about service), the son of Hillel was from Pirathon in Ephraim. Again, he is noteworthy because of 40 sons and 30 grandsons. They, as with those of Jair, rode on donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. When he died, he was buried in his town in the land of Ephraim.151

XIII. The judgeship of Samson (13:1—16:31).

A. Israel again abandons Yahweh, and Yahweh abandons them to the hand of the Philistines (13:1).

The Pelest, as the Hebrew refers to the Philistines, are only mentioned five times in the first 10 chapters of Judges. In the Samson narrative, the name appears 24 times. From now on the Philistines will be prominent in the history of Israel. Saul was raised up to begin the attack on them, and David will finish. See pp. 153, for further discussion. Samson will make his contribution (Judges 13:5).

“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Yahweh” appears in 2:11; 3:9; 6:1. “The Israelites again did evil in the eyes of Yahweh” appears in 3:12; 4:1; 10:6; 13:1. This thematic statement appears a total of seven times. So, here we are again with an old problem and a new enemy.

B. Yahweh’s call of Samson (13:2-7).152

1. The situation (13:2).

Here we learn of a man named Manoah. He is from the village of Zerah of the tribe of Dan. This was prior to the northern migration of Dan found in the dark appendix (13:17-18). The other issue is that his wife (always unnamed)153 was barren. So, like Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, a supernatural conception takes place to produce an Isaac, a Samuel, and a John.154

2. The Angel of Yahweh appeared to the woman (13:3-5).

Here is the angel of Yahweh again. This passage is very similar to that of Gideon in chapter 6. In 6:14 it is Yahweh who turns to speak to him (although there is one manuscript that adds Angel). Furthermore, the standard idea that one cannot see God and live is expressed by Manoah in 13:22. Thus, there is no question that this is a theophany.

The Angel of Yahweh tells Manoah’s wife that she will conceive and bear a son. Having given her that marvelous news, he now provides details about the child. His mother is not to drink wine or intoxicating drink, nor shall she eat any unclean thing. The reason for this is that this boy is to be under the Nazirite vow from the womb (as was Samuel). Thus, Samson’s mother was a Nazirite until his birth.

Nazir (נָזִיר), as a vow, appears in Numbers 6 as well as this passage, Judges 16:17, and Amos 2:11-12. Normally, the Nazirite vow would be for a given amount of time. The one making the vow must abstain from alcoholic beverages and grape products. He is not to cut his hair or approach any dead body. In the case of Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist, the vow is not temporary but lifelong. When Samson’s hair was cut by Delilah, his vow was broken, and his strength left.

3. She tells her husband (13:6-7).

In this section, she identifies the Angel as the angel of God, and further describes him as being very awesome. She did not ask where he was from, nor did he volunteer his name. She then repeats the Angel’s story to her husband.

C. Manoah asks Yahweh to reappear (13:8-14).

He asked Yahweh to send the man of God again to instruct them as to what they should do with the child. Yahweh has already given explicit instructions, but Manoah wants more.

The Angel of Yahweh appears again, but not to Manoah. In these sorts of scenes, the woman is usually the more astute (cf. 2 Kings 4). The woman ran for her husband. He returned with her and asked the angel if he were the same one who had appeared earlier. He then asked the Angel what they are to do with the child, and the Angel of Yahweh told him again.

D. Manoah wants to feed him (13:15-23).

1. Offering must be to Yahweh (13:15-16).

Manoah then asked the Angel to allow them to prepare a kid (see Gideon in 6:18-19). The Angel’s response is strange. “I will not eat of your food, and if you make an offering, it must be to Yahweh.” Manoah did not recognize him and asked for his name155 (13:15-16).

2. The angel’s name is Pele (13:17-18).

He asked him why he wants to know his name since it is “miraculous.” The consonants פֶּלאִי Pel’y are used in the words “miraculous deeds” (6:13). I believe he is saying that his name is incomprehensible (13:17-18).156

3. Miraculous action (13:19-21).

The Angel then acted in accordance with his name. The same root פלא pl’ is used here: “he acted miraculously.” He apparently did something similar to that in Gideon’s story. He burned the offering and then ascended with it out of sight. Manoah and his wife were looking on. The Angel never reappeared to them.

4. Miraculous fear (13:22-23).

Then Manoah thought they would die for they had seen God. His wife, the logical one, says Yahweh would not have acted toward them as he did if he planned to kill them (13:23).

5. Fulfillment of the promise (13:24-25).

She bore a son (what a blessing!). She called him שִׁמְשׁוֹן Shimshon or Samson. This name means something about the sun. It is strange indeed that the Semitic sun God, Shemesh, should be used rather than one including Yahweh’s name.157 As the child grew, Yahweh blessed him. The spirit of Yahweh began to move in Samson158 locally between Zerah and Eshtaol in Mahaneh-dan (cf. 18:12).

E. The first encounter with the Philistines (woman of Timna) (14:1—15:20).

1. Samson chooses a wife (14:1-4).

It is strange that God uses methods he otherwise forbids to enact his will (see 14:4). He clearly forbids the intermarriage with non-believers, yet sanctions Samson’s marriage so as to stir up animosity with the Philistines.

Timnah is on the border with the Philistines. It was there that Samson saw and desired a woman. He returned to his parents and asked them to take her for him as a wife. In spite of their protestations to the contrary, he forcefully demanded159 that they take her as a wife for him.160

His parents did not recognize the hand of Yahweh in the matter. He was looking for something to stir up the hostility of the Philistines.161 The text states that, at that time, the Philistines were ruling Israel. The Israelites had accepted their foreign rule in spite of God’s command to drive them out.

2. The first act of supernatural power (the woman of Timnah) (14:5-9).

The three of them made their way to Timnah. Now when Samson, apparently separated from his parents,162 encountered a lion who came roaring at him. The spirit of Yahweh seized him, and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands, as one does a kid, but he did not tell his parents. He made his way to Timnah, spoke to the woman, and she pleased him (14:5-7).

He came back after a certain time to take her as a wife. On the way, he turned aside to see the corpse of the lion163 to discover that bees had made honey in the body. He scooped it out and ate as he walked and gave some to his parents but did not tell them its source (14:8-9).

3. Samson’s riddle (14:10-18).

His father went down to finalize the marriage arrangements,164 and Samson made a customary feast for the young men. This was expensive, for he had to sustain 30 companions,165 and the feast lasted seven days. Samson gave them a riddle based on the lion and the honey: “from the eater came out food and from the strong came out sweetness” (14:10-14).

The companions could not solve the riddle and faced with impoverishment due to the cost if they lost the wager, they threaten the woman with death. She pulled the feminine wile of “if you love me…” Samson finally yielded, and she passed on the answer (14:15-17).

On the seventh day, they gave the answer to Samson. Knowing full well what happened, he said, “if you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have known” (14:18).

4. The second act of supernatural power (30 Philistines) (14:19-20).

For the second time, the spirit seized him. He went to Ashkelon, killed 30 men, took their spoil,166 and seven garments, and gave them to those who had explained the riddle.167 His anger was still hot when he went up to his father’s house.

5. Samson’s next attack on the Philistines (15:1-8).

The time is the wheat harvest (important for what follows). He visited his wife to consummate the marriage. He also brought a gift of a kid. However, her father barred his entrance. He explained that he was convinced that Samson must have thoroughly hated her (for her betrayal), and so he gave her to one of his companions. Then in a cloying way, he says, “her sister is prettier than she, why not take her as a substitute (compare Laban with Jacob) (15:1-2).

Samson declares that anything he does to the Philistines cannot now be held against him (because of what they did to him) (15:3).

Consequently, he went out, captured 300 foxes, placed torches on each pair of foxes, lit the torches, and turned the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. The burning included shocks, standing grain, and came up to the olive vineyards. This was devastating destruction (15:4-5).

The Philistines want to know who did this dastardly deed and were told that it was Samson who was responding to the perfidy of his father-in-law. Then the Philistines burned the Timnite woman and her father to death. Such irony: the threat against them earlier is now carried out for different reasons. Samson proceeded to avenge himself of what they had done by a great violent attack. Then he went down and lived in a cleft of a rock (or cave, see the Greek) at Etam (15:6-8).

6. Judah’s perfidy (15:9-13).

The Philistines responded by besieging Judah, more specifically, they surrounded Lehi. The Judeans complained to the Philistines, asking why they are there. They say, we have come up to bind Samson so as to do to him what he did to us. What a series of tit for tats! (15:9-11).

The Judeans limply complied to their rulers by taking 3000 men to force Samson to surrender. This is a long way from where Joshua left them in chapter 1. He agrees to their timid request to bind him. Samson tells them to swear that they will not kill him. They agreed to bind him without killing him, and to turn them over to the Philistines. So, they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock (15:12-13).

7. The third act of supernatural power (15:14-20).

When the Philistine saw him, they roared out to meet him, but the spirit of Yahweh seized him, and the ropes on his arms became like flax when it is burned, and the bonds melted from his hands. This is wonderful descriptive language. He found a fresh (not yet dried) jawbone of a donkey. This is a formidable weapon. He reached out, grabbed it, and killed 1000 men. He then waxed poetic again and said,

“with the jawbone of a donkey (חֲמוֹר Hamor) a heap of heaps (חֲמוֹר חֲמוֹרִים amor ḥamorim);

with the jawbone of a donkey. I have killed a thousand men” (15:14-16).

When he finished his poem, he threw the jawbone away and named the spot. “Jawbone Heights.” Then, after all the exertion, he was terribly thirsty and cried out to Yahweh. “You have given into your servant’s hands this great victory, and now I must die of thirst and fall into the hand of these uncircumcised?” Then God split open a place168 in Lehi and waters flowed out of it. Samson drank, and his spirit returned, and he revived. Thus, he called it “the fountain of the one calling.” This fountain was still there when the narrator was writing. The passage closes with the same words as in 16:31, Samson judged Israel 20 years (15:17-20).

F. Samson’s second encounter with the Philistines through women (Prostitute and Delilah) (16:1-31).

1. The harlot of Gaza (16:1-3).

Samson went to the pentapolis city of Gaza. There he saw a harlot woman and went into her. It was reported to the Philistines.169 They surrounded the brothel and lay in ambush all night within the gate of the city. They kept quiet all night, hoping to kill him in the morning (16:1-2).

Samson lay in bed until the middle of the night, when he arose, seized the doors of the gate of the city along with the two door posts, pulled them up with the bolts, placed them on his shoulders, and brought them to the top of the hill overlooking Hebron. This passage leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Where were the Philistines while he was doing this? This distance looks formidable—40 miles —and uphill all the way. There is no mention of the spirit of Yahweh seizing him. However, nothing else was added to the narrative. Samson must have said, “Ha, that will teach you?” How does this further the conquest of the Philistines? (16:3).

2. The fatal encounter with Delilah (16:4-22).

The third Philistine woman with whom he interacts has a name. The meaning of Delilah is not clear.170 The Sorek Valley lies in the Shephelah or the lowlands of Israel. It is a place of choice vine growing.

This time the rulers get involved. Some action, they believe, must be taken. The leaders bribed Delilah to discover the secret of his strength. The bribe was high: 1100 silver shekels to be paid by each, or 5500 total (16:4-5).171

Delilah begins the first of four attempts to wheedle from Samson the source of his strength. He diverts her with seven fresh cords, new ropes, and weaving of seven locks of hair. Each time, she did what he told her and then called for the Philistines. Each time the ruse failed. She then used the same feminine wile as the Timnite woman: “If you loved me. . .”

Her constant nagging finally struck pay dirt,172 and he told her the truth. It would appear that the most important part of the Nazirite vow was the uncut hair. Commentators who carp at Samson’s other missteps miss this. She told the rulers, and they paid her off. She then had his hair cut off. The vow is over; his strength is gone. He did not know that Yahweh had departed him. The Philistines bound him, punched out his eyes, and brought him to Gaza where they bound him with bronze fetters and put him to grinding in the prison. However, his hair began to grow again (16:6-22).

3. The Philistines celebrate Samson’s humiliation (16:23-27).

A great celebration to the God Dagon was planned by the rulers.173 This would be an occasion of rejoicing. The people praise their god Dagon for delivering Samson into their hand. They have triumphed over one who ravished their land and piled up corpses. As the celebration tempo increased (their heart was good), they called for Samson to provide entertainment. Samson was brought from the prison, and he amused them. The text does not say what he did. The Greek says, “they mocked him.” They made him stand between the pillars (16:23-25).

Then Samson said to the young man (chosen to show how docile Samson had become) holding his hand, “lead me so that I might feel the pillars on which the temple is supported, so that I might lean on them.” There was a full house: the rulers, the men, and the women. Some 3000 were even sitting on the rooftop. They were watching Samson amuse them (16:26-27).

4. Samson’s final blow to the Philistines (16:28-31).

Then Samson called to Yahweh. This is the second time this is said of Samson (see 15:18). His prayer was simple, “Oh Lord, Yahweh, remember me and strengthen me just this time, Oh God, and let me this time take vengeance on the Philistines for one of my two eyes.” Then Samson leaned into the center pillars on which the temple stood and was supported, one with his right hand and one with his left. Then he said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then the temple fell on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus, Samson killed more in his death than he had in his life (16:28-30).

His brothers and extended family came down, took him up, brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He judged Israel 20 years. And so, he ended up where the spirit began to move him between Zorah and Eshtaol (16:31).

Samson: An appraisal

Samson is probably the most enigmatic personality in the Old Testament. On the one hand, he is separated by Yahweh from his mother’s womb to be a deliverer of Israel from the Philistines, and God is with him throughout his exploits of strength. On the other hand, he seems to be narcissistic, oversexed, and non-compassionate. What should we make of this? Modern commentators seem to be determined to psychoanalyze him, but their attempts have failed as much as Freud’s analysis of Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy.

Victor Davis Hanson in his The Case for Trump compares Trump to the Western frontier stories of Shane and Achilles of the Greek sagas.174 An amoral, crude, but extremely effective hero is brought in to defeat the bad person or persons who are plaguing the people. Samson seems to me to fit into that description. He opened the war against the Philistines that Saul and Samuel continued, and David completed. As Luther once allegedly said, “I am a dull axe, so more energy must be exerted to make it cut” (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Samson was a dull axe. Yet, as Butler says, “at least, the narrator wants to see Samson as more complex an individual than commentators often paint him. His weaknesses are all too obvious, but he also had a sense of need for God’s help, knew the source of his strength lay in his Nazirite vow, and called on God for help in his most threatening moments.”175 It should be a source of encouragement to know that even the worst of us can be used to accomplish God’s will.

XIV. Three appendixes to the book of Judges (Judges 17:1—Ruth 4:22).

One of the purposes of the Book of Judges is to show the moral decline from the triumphant Joshua and thus the desperate need for a good and godly leader. The first two appendixes are a nadir in that process. However, the Book of Ruth depicts good people (Naomi, Ruth, Boaz) and the founding of a godly line that culminates in David, a good and godly leader.176

A. The idolatry of Micah, and the migration of the tribe of Dan (17:1—18:31).

1. Micah’s idols (17:1-6).

The good side of the story is the place of Yahweh. This man Micah is from the mountains of Ephraim, and his mother named him, “Who is like Yahweh?”177 The rhetorical answer is, “No one.” When the woman’s son confessed to her that he had stolen her 1100 shekels of silver,178 his mother cried out, “Blessed (are you), my son by Yahweh.”179 This shows that Yahweh was special to the Israelites, but he was not unique. The Israelites continuously fell into syncretism in their worship. His mother declared her intention of completely dedicating (Hebrew construction) the silver to Yahweh to make a molten image.180 Block says, “The tragedy is that the actors do not realize the incongruity of their actions. Like Jephthah in 11:30-40, both Micah and his mother are deadly serious in their religious expression but thoroughly pagan in action.”181(17:1-2).

Micah returned the shekels to his mother, and she took 200 of them (where are the other 900?). The molten image wound up in Micah’s (house). The use of his name in the full form (מִכָיְהוּ; Micayehu) shows the irony of the situation. Micah (short form hereafter) had a shrine for which he made an ephod (chest piece), teraphim (probably the same as the molten image,) and consecrated one of his boys who became his priest. The narrator, as if shaking his head, reminds us that there was no king in Israel in those days, and that each person did what seemed right to him. This is reiterated in 18:1; 19:1; and 21:25 (17:3-6).

2. The apostasy of the Levite (17:7-13).

The picture of a wondering Levite looking for work speaks volumes of the religious situation of that day. This young Levite, who should have been trained and supervised for tabernacle work, must go about soliciting ministry. He is from Bethlehem Judah, from the family of Judah. He is a Levite, sojourning in Ephraim182 (17:7). He left home to go wherever he could find work. He wound up in Mount Ephraim making his way to the house of Micah (17:8).183

Micah asked him where he was from. He told them he was a Levite from Bethlehem and that he was going anywhere he could. Micah then makes a proposal. “If you will sign up with me to be a father and a priest, I will give you 10 shekels of silver annually, a suit of clothes, and your maintenance.” The priests served as fathers to the people who came to them. Technically, Levites were not priests, but what else is new in this syncretistic society? So, the Levite came (17:9-11).

The Levite was satisfied with the arrangements, and so became as one of his sons. Then Micah consecrated him, and he became a priest in his shrine. Micah was delighted and assumed that Yahweh would treat him well because of the priestly arrangement (17:12-13).

3. The migration of the tribe of Dan (18:1-31).

The reiterated theme, “there was no king in Israel” indicates a new segment in the story. The Danites were unable to capture their allotted area. “The Amorites forced the Danites into the mountains and would not permit them to come down to the valley” (1:34). Consequently, they decided to move. So, they selected five men of valor from the various parts of the tribe to spy out the land and to search it out. They came from Zorah and Eshtaol (Samson’s towns). They told them, “Go and search out the land.” Their journeys took them to Mount Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and they spent the night there (18:1-2).

While there they heard a Judean accent and noted the young Levite. So, they turned aside and asked him three questions: 1) who brought you here; 2) what are you doing in his place; and 3) what do you have here? He responded, “Micah did such and such to me and hired me; thus, I became his priest.” His apparatus (ephod, teraphim, etc.) indicates divination. So, they ask him to inquire of God (divine) so that they might know whether the way they were on would prosper.184 The priest said to them, “Go in peace; the way you are traveling is before Yahweh (right with Yahweh)” (18:3-6).

The five men went on their way and came to Laish. They saw the people there living securely as the Sidonians,185 quiet and confident, and there was no governor186 humiliating in anything in the land.187 They were far from the Sidonians, and there was no communication with anyone (18:7).188

They returned to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, and their brothers said, (What’s up?). They responded, “Get up,189 and let us go up against them, because we have seen the land and it is very good and you are keeping quiet—do not be lazy about going to possess the land.” They told him they would find the people living confidently and that God had given it into their hands. They said it was a place lacking nothing in the land (18:8-10).

Consequently, 600 men, equipped for war, moved out from the family of Dan from Zorah and Eshtaol. On their way north, they camped in Kiriath-jearim in Judah. Is this the entire tribe of Dan or preliminary movement to be followed later by more? Later in the story we have little ones. Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 503-04 argues that it is only part of the tribe. Their encampment made such an impression that the place was still called the Camp of Dan in the day of the narrator, look, it was behind Kiriath-jearim (18:11-12).

They crossed over from there to Mount Ephraim and came to Micah’s house.190 Then the five men who had spied out Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there is an ephod, teraphim, and a molten image? Now, you know what you should do” (18:13-14).

The 600 turned aside and came to the young Levite’s house at Micah’s shrine.191 They asked him how he was doing. The 600 men of war were standing at the entrance of the gate with all their military equipment. They must have been an imposing sight. The five spies enter the gate and took the carved image, the ephod (which probably covered it), the teraphim, and the molten image. The priest was standing at the entrance of the gate with the 600 armed men. These came to the shrine of Micah and took the carved image, the ephod, the teraphim, and the molten image. The priest asked them what they were doing. They told him to be quiet and come with them and be a father. “Would you rather be a priest for a one-man shrine or for a tribe and family in Israel?” The young Levite was delighted at these new prospects, so he grabbed the ephod, teraphim, and carved image and joined up. They put the little ones, the animals, and the valuables in front of them and moved out (18:15-21).

Micah and his neighbors discovered their loss when the Danites were some distance away, and they pursued them with much yelling. They overtook them and confronted them. The Danites asked them what their problem was that they were making so much noise. Micah said, “You have taken my gods that I made and the priest so that I have nothing left, and yet you ask what my problem is?” The Danites told him to quiet down or some of their nasty guys would kill them. The Danites went on their way, and Micah saw that they were stronger than he, so he turned back and went home. So, God uses the Danites to force Micah and neighbors back to aniconic worship of Yahweh.192 (18:22-26).

So, they took what Micah had made and the priest he had acquired193 and came to Laish, against a quiet, trusting people. They struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. There was no one to help, for they were far from the Sidon and had no com-merce with anyone.194 It was in the Valley of Beth Rehob. So, they rebuilt the city and lived in it (18:27-28).

They renamed the city Dan after their ancestor who was born to Israel, but the former name was Laish. So, the Danites erected the carved image,195 and Jonathan, ben Gershon, ben Moses,196 and his sons became priests to the tribe of Dan until the exile of the land.197 They set up the carved image Micah had made all the days the house of God was in Shiloh198 (18:29-31).

B. A Story of depravity, the Levite’s concubine (19:1—21:25).

These stories are masterpieces, and the literary connections are obvious. A young Levite from Bethlehem Judah makes his way to Mt. Ephraim where he will be involved in a false religion (Chapters 17-18). In this unit an old Levite makes his way from Mt. Ephraim to Bethlehem where a saga of sordidness and depravity begins (Chapters 19-21).

1. The Levite makes merry with his father-in-law (19:1-10).

The narrator provides a heading to set the stage for the ensuing disaster: “There was no king in Israel in those days.” There was an older Levite who was sojourning (note not living) in the remote parts or Ephraim. He had taken a wife for himself who was a concubine. This is the only place (out of 25) where הָאִשָּׁה ha’šišah (wife) is associated with a concubine. The word for wife is not used in the rest of the account when the Levite gives his testimony at Mizpah (20:4). He is referred to only as the husband of the woman who was murdered (not as the husband of the concubine). Likewise, 19:3 speaks of her husband. This should indicate that she was of a higher rank than an ordinary concubine.199

The Levite’s wife committed harlotry200 against him and went home to her father in Bethlehem Judah where she stayed four months. The Levite went after her to “sweet talk her”201 and bring her back.202 He had with him a servant (young man) and a pair of donkeys. She brought him to her father’s house. The girl’s (נָעֲרָה na‘arah) father saw him and rejoiced. A continual drink fest followed, lasting five days. Finally, on the fifth day, they started out late in the afternoon (they no doubt slept in). It is only three miles to Jebus.

2. The unhappy choice of Gibeah as a place to spend the night (19:11-15).

Since it was almost dark, and they were across the Hinnom Valley from the Canaanite town of Jebus, the servant recommended they spend the night there. However, the Levite was unwilling to stay in a foreign (not Israelite) city. He decided to move on to Gibeah203 or Ramah (19:11-13).

So, they crossed over the valley and went on. Just as the sun was setting, they came to Gibeah which belongs to Benjamin. They entered the city and sat in the street, but no one offered hospitality (19:14-15).

3. The hospitable Ephraimite in Gibeah (19:16-21).

An old man from Ephraim was living as a stranger in the city and had just come in from work in the field. The narrator wants us to know that he was an Ephraimite (as was the Levite), but the people of Gibeah were Benjamite (19:16).

The old man saw the travelers and asked about their journey. The Levite explained his situation. He was on his way home to his house204 in Ephraim, but no one was showing him hospitality in Gibeah. Furthermore, he would not be a burden, since he had provisions for both his people205 and his animals. The old man happily welcomed them into his home, fed the animals, washed their feet, and they ate and drank together (19:17-21).

4. The sexual perversion of the men of Gibeah (19:22-26).

This story is parallel to the Lot story and the men of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:4-14).206 Some would argue that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was a failure to provide hospitality, but Judges 19 belies that idea.

They were feeling merry (again!) when some worthless men ( בְנֵי בלִיַּעַל אַנְשֵׁי anše bene baliyya‘al)207 surrounded the house and were beating on the door. They said to the old man who owned the house,208 “Bring out the man who came to your house that we might know him.” “Knowing” someone is a euphemism for sexual rela-tions. Hence, they want to commit a homosexual act (19:22).

The old man is right in what he first says: “Do not do this wicked thing . . . do not do this foolish209 thing.” But the second statement is heinous. “I will bring out my virgin daughter and his concubine, and you may abuse them and do to them whatever you wish, but do not do anything foolish to this man.” There is no way to defend this as a cultural act. It is despicable in the worst way. He is more concerned about showing hospitality to the Levite than preserving a moral standard relative to the women210 (19:23-24).

When the men refused to listen to him, he seized his211 concubine and brought her outside to them. They “knew” her and abused her all night. They dismissed her as the sun arose. The woman came as dawn was breaking and fell at the entrance of the door of the house until full light (19:25-26).

5. The calloused response of the Levite (19:27-30).

The hardened heart of the Levite is unfathomable. He does not say anything about or to the woman. He probably slept all night while she was just outside being abused. And now he demands that she get up so that they can be on their way. When they got home, he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent them to all the tribes of Israel. The people are shocked at what they saw.

6. The assembly of the tribes at Mizpah and the testimony of the Levite (20:1-7).

The people of Israel were horrified at what had happened, and gathered from north to south, including the eastern portion of Gilead as an assembly or community212 to Yahweh at Mizpah.213 The chiefs214 of all the people, all the tribes of Israel presented them-selves in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 footmen who drew the sword.215 Then the Benjamites heard that the Israelites had come up to Mizpah216 (20:1-2).

The Israelites asked, “How did this wicked deed come about?” (Assuming the rape and murder, not the carving up of the woman’s body). Then the Levite, the husband of the woman who was killed, answered. He recounted the horrible event without implicating himself.217 He calls them “rulers of the city.” He adds that they were planning to kill him, but there is no indication of that in the original story. He then challenges all Israel to respond with advice on dealing with the men who did this (20:3-7).218

7. The military strategy (20:8-11).

The people arose and said that no one was to go home. At the first reading of the text, it seems their plan is to cast lots as to who would go up against the Benjamites. They would select ten percent of the people. However, this may be read to indicate that the ten percent “of those involved will be needed for the quartermasters corps.”219 They will take provisions and go against Benjamin because of their act of folly. So, all the men of Israel were gathered, joined as one man against the city.

8. The Benjamites refuse to yield up the wicked men (20:12-16).

The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin, asking, what is this evil which has been done among you? They then ask them to give up those worthless men so that they might be killed and thus root out wickedness from Israel. The Benjamite’s refused. One has to admire the courage of the Benjamites. They mustered for war to take on superior forces. There were 26,700 from Gibeah against 400 thousand of Israel. There were 700 choice “slingers” who were left-handed and could sling a stone within a hair’s breadth and not miss.220 The latter may help explain Benjamite victory over superior forces.

9. The assembly at Bethel; Judah leads out (20:17-19).

They also have moved from Mizpah to Bethel221 to seek the mind of Yahweh (although the word used is Elohim). The scenario is similar to 1:2. They ask who should open the battle, and Yahweh answers that it is Judah.222 So, the Israelites got up in the morning and encamped against Gibeah. The commentators suggest that Israel made their decisions and then asked God to “bless” them.223

10. The first defeat of Israel (20:20-23).

The Israelites (Judah?) went out for war and lined up against Gibeah.224 The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and killed 22 thousand Israelites. The people rallied, lined up again as at the first. They sought direction again from Yahweh, weeping all day. They ask whether they should fight again, and Yahweh said yes. The use of the word “brother” in reference to Benjamin, may indicate that the Israelites were having second thoughts.

11. Israel again assembles at Bethel to ask Yahweh’s mind (20:24-28).

The second confrontation resulted in another 18 thousand Israelites killed. There is still no mention of Benjamite casualties. Consequently, the Israelites gathered at Bethel (not Mizpah) to ask Yahweh what the problem was. They wept, fasted, and offered sacrifices. They enquired of Yahweh. As an aside the narrator wants us to know that the ark of God was at Bethel in those days. Where was the tabernacle? He also tells us that Phinehas ben Eleazar, ben Aaron was presiding over it in those days. The question posed was whether they should fight the Benjamites again. The answer from Yahweh was yes, with the promise of victory.

12. Benjamin was defeated (20:29-35).

A plan was made that sounds much like the defeat of Ai under Joshua (Joshua 8). A group of Israelites were placed behind the city as an ambush. The remainder of Israel lined up in front of the city, and the Benjamites attacked as before, and some 30 Israelites fell. This took place at the Y in the roads going to Bethel and Gibeah. The Benjamites fell into the trap, and the main force arose to attack them. They lined up in Baal Tamar as the ambuscade gushed out from its place in the Maareh-geba.225 Those before226 the city attacked with 10 thousand choice men from all Israel, and the fighting became fierce. The Benjamites did not know that there was a terrible blow coming on them. And so, Yahweh struck the Benja-mites before Israel, and the Israelites destroyed 25,100 fighting men in that day.

13. The decimation of the Benjamites (20:36-48).

The Benjamites saw that they were defeated. But Israel gave them space because they depended on the ambuscade they had placed behind Gibeah. The ambuscade quickly rushed against Gibeah (20:36).

The ambuscade drove them out and put the city to the sword. The agreed upon signal between the main force and the ambuscade was a great cloud of smoke rising from the city. So, the Israelites turned back in the war. The Benjamites had begun to kill about 30 Israelites, thinking that the Israelites were defeated as previously227 (20:37).

However, a cloud of smoke began to rise from the city, and the Benjamites turned back, and behold, the entire city was going up to the sky. Then the Israelites turned back, and Benjamin was terrified because they saw that a terrible blow was coming on them (21:38-41).

So, they turned from the Israelites to the way of the wilderness, but the battle followed them closely. The Hebrew of v. 42 is difficult. It seems to say, “those who were from the cities were killing them in their midst”228 (21:42-44).

They encircled Benjamin, pursued him, and trampled on him without letup229 until they were opposite Gibeah230 eastward. So, there fell from Benjamin 18 thousand men, all outstanding men. Then they turned and fled to the wilderness, to the Rock Rimmon. They “picked off” some five thousand men.231 They stuck close to them to Gidom. Then they killed another two thousand men. So, the total Benjamites who fell came to 25 thousand (21:45-46).

So, 600 men turned and fled to the Rock Rimmon232 and stayed there four months. Then the Israelites returned to Benjamin and struck them with the sword, the entire city, the cattle, and all that was found. Furthermore, they burned all the cities found (21:47-48).

14. The problem created by Israel (21:1-4).

When they were at Mizpah (before the war) the Israelites swore not to give their daughters to the Benjamites. Now they recognize that they made a mistake but cannot go back on their great oath. So, with the dismal prospects for the future of Benjamin, they weep until the evening. They ask how one tribe could be missing from Israel. Are they totally without self-awareness? Instead of punishing the city of Gibeah, they punished the whole tribe. Now they want to know how it happened. The next day they built an altar and offered holocaust offerings and peace offerings (cf. 20:26).

15. Remedy #1 for the lack of wives for Benjamin (21:5-15).

They said, “One tribe of Israel today has been cut off.233 They decided to go after those who did not join them originally at Mizpah. They had sworn to kill those who did not join them in the battle (21:5-7).

The logical thought process is 1) who did not join us, 2) they felt sorry for the 600 without wives, therefore, 3) Jabesh-gilead must pay the price. They would be attacked as in ḥerem warfare (see 1 Sam 15:1-9). Only single young women were spared. This resulted in 400 young virgins whom they brought to Shiloh. Can you imagine the terror of these teen-aged girls? (21:8-12).

So, they approached the 600 at Rock Rimmon and extended an olive branch. The Benjamites returned, and the Israelites gave them 400 women. The rest of the Hebrew is difficult. Literally, it says, “They did not find thus for them.” The best we can do is, “They did not find enough for them” (21:13-15).

16. Remedy #2 for the lack of wives (21:16-24).

The elders raised the issue of no wives for the 200. They said, “It is not right that one tribe in Israel should be wiped out. However, we cannot give our own daughters” (21:16-18).

So, they came up with a brilliant idea (they thought) to circumvent their oath. There is an annual celebration of Yahweh at Shiloh (north of Bethel, east of the highway going up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah) (21:19)

So, they told the Benjamites to hide in the vineyards and snatch the girls when they come out to dance. They concocted a story if fathers or brothers complained. They would say, “Be gracious to us concerning them, since we were unable to take wives for them in war (against Jabesh-gilead).” Furthermore, the Shilonites did not give them captive women. So, if they do not release their daughters, they will become guilty (of the great oath) (21:20-21).

The Benjamites followed through, snatched the girls, and returned to their old stomping grounds. They rebuilt their cities and lived in them. Then Israel returned to their homes (21:22-24).

17. Epilogue of the sad state of affairs in Israel (21:25).

The narrator shakes his head again (as do we) and explains that this mess was because there was no good king in Israel and everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes.

This verse provides a good lead into Ruth. We need a good king from a good line. That will be David. But why could not the elders make good decisions without a king? They did not consult Yahweh as to the proper action against Gibeah and Benjamin, even though they came to Mizpah to Yahweh. With the calamity of an almost extinct tribe, they still did not consult Yahweh for advice, but blamed him for the problem.

The people of Israel were in a sad state spiritually. They wanted Yahweh on their side but were unwilling to follow him uncon-ditionally. In spite of that, God gave the Benjamites the first king whose name was Saul. The destruction of the Jabesh-gileadites probably provided an ancestral mother for Saul and caused Saul to feel sympathy for the Jabesh-gileadites in 1 Samuel 11. Even though the narrator of Ruth sees this as God’s beautiful provision of David ten generations later. Still, it is ironic that the greatest leader ever in the Christian church was the second Saul of the tribe of Benjamin.


1Bryant Wood, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archae-ological Evidence,” BAR, 16:2, March/April 1990, pp. 44–47, 49–54, 56–57.

2Cf. Thiele, “Chronology,” Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary. See also L. Wood, “The Date of the Exodus,” pp. 66-87.

3ANET, p. 25-29.

4See Eric Cline, “1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Eric Cline)—YouTube” for an excellent lecture on the subject of the sea people.

5 Kitchen, OROT, p. 159.

6Noth, Old Testament World, and Das System der Zwolf Stamme Israels (1930) but this has largely been repudiated.

7Cf. Unger, Israel and the Aramaens of Damascus.

8Kitchen, OROT, p. 163. See also Provan, et al., A Biblical History of Israel, pp. 166-67.

9Since the “Deuteronomist” has fallen into disfavor, we are back to Samuel, Gad, and Nathan as potential editors of the historical books.

10Saul’s first battle was on behalf of the Jabesh-gileadites, and the latter travelled all night to remove his body from Beth Shean. See Merrill, A Kingdom of Priests, p. 181.

11Kitchen, OROT, p. 217.

12Ibid., p. 225.

13Ibid., p. 227.

14Garstang, Joshua, Judges, pp. 24-48, provides an interleaving of both accounts.

15Butler, Judges, p. lvii, “The opening refers to the death of Joshua, and the closing refers to the lack of a king. The first thus obviously, refers back to the book of Joshua, a reference made even more clearly in Judges 2:6-12. One can naturally assume that the final verse points forward to the story of at least one king who would lead the people, not one who would simply do right in his own eyes and lead the people to do the same.”

16For a thorough discussion of this complex group, see the ABD, vol. 4, loc cit. See also Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, p. 127.

17Butler, Judges, p. 26.

18Garstang, Joshua, Judges, p. 232.

19Butler, Judges, p. 30.

20See Ibid., for a discussion.

21Ibid., p. 32.

22See Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, pp. 127-28 and Butler, Judges, pp. 39-40.

23See my chapter, “The Ancient Middle East Culture and the Bible” in Bible History and Archaeology, pp. 51-63 and Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity, pp. 280-81. See p. 15 for Albright’s discussion of the extermination of the Canaanites.

24Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, p. 137, says, “Israel’s failure to conquer the land completely was not really due to the Canaanites’ iron chariots or obstinance (cf. 1:19, 27). Instead, their partial success could be attributed to their willingness to compromise with the native population and tolerate their pagan religion.”

25See Boling, Judges, pp. 71-72 for a discussion of “servant.”

26BDB sub תמנת חרס Timnath ḥeres.

27See Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, and Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan.

28See names such as Ishbaal (man of the Lord).

29LXX says that Yahweh greatly distressed them (καὶ ἐξέθλιψεν αυτοὺς σφόδρα).

30See Butler, Judges, p. 47 for a discussion.

31Ibid., believes that Chapter 3 sets up the testing conditions and then provides three examples of how the tests were met by Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar.

32See Ibid., p. 19.

33Asherah is usually singular and refers either to the goddess or some wooden representation of her. She is, no doubt, a part of the fertility cult. In Ugaritic literature, she is the wife of El, and so some argue that the inscription from Kuntillet ‘Ajrul indicates that syncretistic Israel has related Asherah to Yahweh. See John Day, “Asherah” in ABD, I 483-487.

34Butler, Judges, p. 64.

35Garstang, Joshua and Judges, pp. 263-64.

36Butler, Joshua, p. 65.

37Chisholm points to 1 Sam 12:10 which seems to indicate that their cry was accompanied by repentance, Judges and Ruth, pp. 170-71.

38Bryant Wood, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho,” BAR 16:2, 1990, 44-47, 499-54, 56-57, “The site is strategically located. From Jericho one has access to the heartland of Canaan. Any military force attempting to penetrate the central hill country from the east would, by necessity, first have to capture Jericho. And that is exactly what the Bible (Joshua 3:16) says the Israelites did.”

39Josephus says that “Antony gave Jericho with other cities of Judea as a present to Cleopatra (“Ant.” xv. 4, §§ 1-2; “B. J.” i. 18, § 5), who farmed out to Herod the revenues of the regions about the city (“Ant.” xv. 4, § 2). Four years later Herod received from Augustus the whole country (including Jericho) that had been in Cleopatra’s possession (ib. xv. 7, § 3; “B. J.” [Jewish Wars] i. 20, § 3).” https://www.jewish-encyclo-pedia.com/articles/8597-jericho.

40My mother told me that in the schools of Appalachia, left-handed children were forced to write only with their right hand. The French word for left hand is gauche, and the Latin is sinister.

41See Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 163-65 for a good discussion. He essentially agrees with me.

42See Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, p. 188 referencing King and Stager for a discussion of locks.

43Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 169, thinks Ehud is an Ephraimite, but 3:15 says he is a Benjamite.

44Some make much of this singular occurrence of Yahweh in the story, but Elohim is only used once in 3:20 by Ehud addressing a Moabite king.

45Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 179.

46Ibid., p. 176.

47“The site of Hazor, located in upper Galilee, consists of a 30-acre upper tell, plus an adjacent plateau at a lower level of over 175 acres. The tell, unlike the plateau, was occupied almost continuously from the 27th century B.C. to the 2nd century B.C. By contrast, the plateau, or lower city, was a part of Hazor only during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, from about the time of Abraham to the Israelite conquest. This was the Canaanite period, when Hazor was at its zenith, when, as the Bible tells us, Hazor was ‘the head of all those kingdoms’ (Josh. 11:10), a characterization confirmed by archaeological excavations. In Canaanite times, Hazor was the largest city in the area. Excavations also confirm that this great city was destroyed and burned by Joshua (Josh. 11:11–12),” Y. Yadin, BAR, 1:1 (1975), p. 1.

48Richard Hess, “The Name Game,” BAR 30:6 (2004) p. 41.

49Adam Zertal, “Philistine Kin Found in Early Israel,” BAR 28:3 2002, p. 60.

50Richard Hess, “The Name Game,” BAR 30:6, November/December 2004, p. 29, Deborah may be a shortened form of a name that included the name of a deity, which in the case of “Deborah,” was omitted. Thus, the name may have originally meant “(God) leads.” Such names are common in the ancient Near East and can appear with and without the name of a god or goddess attached.

51Boling seems to indicate that Barak was Deborah’s husband. Since Lapidoth means “torch” or “flasher.” Judges, p. 95. A bit farfetched.

52Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 196-197.

53See Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 203 for reasons for choosing northern Kedesh as the correct site.

54ὅτι οὐκ οἶδα τὴν ἡμέραν ἐν ᾗ εὐοδοῖ κύριος τὸν ἄγγελον μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ.

55See Judges 1:16 on the Kenites, “And the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad, and they went and settled with the people” (ESV). Arad is a long way from Kedesh, c. 130 miles.

56See Josh 19:33 for the Oak of Zaanannim as a boundary marker.

57Modern versions say “routed.” The Hebrew המה or המם hmh or hmm is a sound (onomatopoetic) like our hum. So, it must involve a supernatural noise that frightens the enemy. See Butler, Judges, p. 102 for a list of references for this action by God.

58This is the kind of hyperbolic statement we are accustomed to in ancient near east reporting and previously in Joshua and Judges.

59See Boling, Judges, p. 97.

60Jael is not the last woman to entice a man to his death. Cf. Delilah, Judith, and the prostitute in Proverbs. Boling, Judges, p. 98, says, “She doped him [with milk] and duped him.”

61I am astounded at the imagination of commentators who look for esoteric signi-ficance in the plainest of actions.

62See Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 212-13, for a discussion of the similarity of this song with others.

63Ibid., p. 220, “to let go, to abandon everything [for the battle].”

64Because “dropped” does not fit the context, BHS suggests נָמוֹגוּ (namogu) “to melt” or נָמוֹטוּ (namotu) “to move.” The Greek seems to support such a reading: ἐταράχθη.

65See Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 222-23, for a good discussion.

66Boling, Judges, argues for the meaning of “warriors,” p. 109.

67Hebrew: שַׁקְמתִי šaqmoti. The “š” represents a northern dialect or an older poetic form.

68 שִׂיחוּ śiḥu usually means “to meditate” or to “complain.” Here “sing” is better.

69יְתַּנוּ yettanu “to give,” but see Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 229 for a different ren-dering.

70Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 232.

71Treating מָשַׁךְ mašak as “muster” and ספֵר sopher as leader.

72Greek omits “as with Issachar so was Barak.”

73 חִקְקֵיvs. חִקְרֵי ḥiqqe vs. ḥiqre .

74Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 239.

75It seems strange that Judah is not mentioned. Boling, Judges, p. 119, says Judah may have gone her own way so as not to be praised or blamed.

76A few MSS have the singular as here.

77Perhaps a vulgar term for “girl.”

782 MSS, Syriac, and Vulgate have “those who love you.”

79See Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 252, for a positive view of Midian in earlier times.

80Note in Gen 37:27-28, Judges 8:24 that the Ishmaelites and Midianites are interchanged.

81“Until one comes to Gaza.” The extent of the pillaging was considerable.

82See Butler, Judges, p. 185 for a discussion of the omission of this paragraph from 4QJudga.

83Cf. Deborah sitting under the palm tree.

84See p. 77.

85Butler, Judges, “apparently this was what God was calling Gideon to become and what God’s presence would make of him,” p. 202. Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 260 thinks it might be just a flattering address.

86Note the theophany in Genesis 18.

87The Masoretic pointing אֲדנָי ‘donai (6:15) indicates deity, whereas אֲדנִי ’doni in v. 13 means “sir” or “master.”

88The Greek text has Angel of Yahweh, but this is probably an attempt to avoid the idea of God himself talking with a human being.

89Since “I will be with you” contains the letters of Ehyeh as in Exod 3:12, Boling, Judges, p. 132, believes it is Yahweh’s name in the first person. This, he says, explains Gideon’s change of attitude.

90Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 263, agrees.

91Boling, Judges, p. 128, “he divined.”

92Block, Judges, Ruth, rightly says, “before he can embark on God’s mission of deliverance Gideon must cut out the mark of apostasy at home,” p. 265.

93Butler, Judges, p. 206, “Fear of Yahweh does not control his motivation and activities. Fear of his family and friends does.”

94N. Steinmeyer, “Archaeological Evidence for Gideon the Judge?” Bible History Daily, July 15, 2021, “The inscription contains the first-ever archaeological occurrence of the name Jerubbaal, known in the Bible as a nickname of the judge Gideon (Judges 6:31–32), and it dates to around 1100 B.C.E.—right about the time that many biblical scholars believe Gideon would have lived. But since the biblical Gideon lived in the Jezreel Valley, nearly a hundred miles away, this inscription likely belonged to another Jerubbaal.” Heater: But Judges 6:4 indicates that the Ammonite despoliation took place as far as (עַד ’ad) Gaza, and 8:22 the men of Israel said, “Rule over us.” Admittedly, most of the action in this story takes place in the north, but it is still possible for a Jerubbaal inscription (in the south) to refer to Gideon (in the north).

95See Butler, Judges, p. 208, for a discussion.

96God’s will was already revealed. The fleece borders on divination. See Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 273.

97Gideon addresses the deity twice but uses the generic Elohim. The narrator uses it once. The name Yahweh is absent, but Gideon refers to him indirectly as “the one who spoke to him.”

98For the many battles fought in the Jezreel Valley, see Cline, The Battles of Megiddo.

99See Butler, Judges, p. 188, for a discussion of the word for “return quickly.”

100Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 276.

101Butler, Judges, p. 213, argues that “tent” was not home, but some kind of mili-tary establishment. This would allow them to be used in the future.

102Again, I am dismayed at how much commentators read into the text. Some develop entire scenarios regarding Gideon’s motives and attitude which are then developed further as the text proceeds.

103Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 282, “in the darkest hour of the night.”

104Ibid., pp. 283-84, quoting Klein, sees this as an abdication of Gideon’s faith. He should have allowed the 300 to complete the task. I am more inclined to give Gideon the benefit of the doubt and allow him to be practical in the mopping up operations.

105“The Raven and the Wolf.” “The Raven and the Eagle” were used to describe Sam Houston and Santa Anna respectively. See the book with that title by James Michener.

106Some argue that the dispute is over spoils. Ephraim does not believe she was called early enough to get her share of the spoils. See Butler, Judges, p. 217.

107Greek has wearied and hungry. Only one letter change is required for this, but Greek is the only witness for it.

108Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 291, locates this place 100 miles east of the Dead Sea, ap-proaching Midianite homeland. See Garstang, Joshua, Judges, pp. 322-23 for a detailed discussion.

109Ibid., p. 291.

110BHS suggests הִכְחִיד hikḥyd “to destroy” as Josephus seem to take it.

111KJV says “at sunup,” a possible meaning.

112This is an important statement, because it indicates that even young people could read and write at this early date.

113MT has only Elders. Greek has Rulers also.

114He “chastised them” is strange here (וַיֹּדַע wayoda’). BHS suggests וַיָּדַשׁ wayadaš “and he threshed.” Only one letter change is required, but there is no textual evidence for it.

115Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 296-301, goes to great lengths to argue that Gideon’s rejection of the kingship was a sham. I am more inclined to take it at face value.

116Shechemites are probably Canaanites.

117Boling, Judges, p. 163, argues that “my father” can only refer to Yahweh.

118Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 304-05, acknowledges that Gideon must have repres-ented some restraint on the people vis-à-vis Baalism.

119See Carol Meyers, “Ephod” in ABD, p. 550: “The ephod was both special garment and a ritual object, and in either or both of these aspects it functioned symbolically to bring a human representative of the Israelite community into contact with the unseen God.”

120Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, p. 316, quotes Schneider that the use of “ruled as prince” rather than “king” suggests that the text questions the legitimacy of Abimelech’s reign.

121See Lewis, Baal Berith, in ABD, I:550-51 for a discussion. Despite complete lack of details, scholars have no end of suggestions as to the identity of this deity and his relationship to Yahweh and his covenant with Israel.

122Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, p. 312, says, “Of all the characters who have appeared thus far in the pages of Judges, Abimelech most resembles the Canaanite king Adoni-bezek, who had mutilated and humiliated seventy rival kings.” Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 312, draws a six-point comparison with Jehu’s slaughter of Ahab’s 70 sons (2 Kings 10:8-10).

123A similar story to the preservation of Joash in Athaliah’s purge (2 Kings 11:1-3).

124Bolling, Judges, p. 175, argues that the Millo-house refers to the temple. “That Millo-house was destroyed long before the Book of Judges was put together means that we are dealing with authentic early tradition at the core of Jotham’s speech.” See also E. F. Campbell and J. F. Ross, “Excavations of Shechem and Biblical Traditions,” p. 289, BA Reader II, Reprint 1964, for a discussion of the archaeology and the text of Judges 9.

125Reading הַמַּצֵּבָה hammaṣṣebah for מֻצָּב muṣab.

126Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 325, says, “In function and content Jotham’s speech parallels that of the prophet in 6:7-10.”

127See Josh 8:30-35.

128Note that it was “an evil spirit from Elohim that seized Saul” (1 Sam 18:10).

129Reading וַיָּשָׁב אבימלח אֲרוּמָה wayashab Abimelech returned to Arumah, with GL, although Boling, Judges, loc. cit. stays with the MT and translates “presided at.”

130 צְרִיחַ eriaḥ. Meaning is not certain. Seems to be connected with the temple of El Berith (the Greek has Baal Berith).

131Kitchen, OROT, p. 186, “These facts suggest that in fact Shechem rapidly lost its local power after Labayu [Amarna tablets], and became a mere satellite, politically, of neighboring Tirzah.”

132Boling, Judges, p.188, argues that the 30 sons are a political relationship, not familial. The same would be true of Gideon’s 70 sons.

133MT repeats donkeys, but some MSS read עָרִים ‘arim, or cities.

134Boling, Judges, p. 189.

135Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 344.

136Garstang, Joshua-judges, pp. 329-31, says that Egypt had placed sea peoples in garrisons such as the pentapolis to control the land. With the decline of Egyptian influence in the Levant, the Philistines were positioned to assert their dominance over Israel.

137Boling, Judges, p. 191, “The narrative interest is on the Ammonite side, for it was on that side that Jephthah was effective.” The awkward syntax, “They oppressed Israel in that year, 18 years all the Israelites in Gilead” is explained by Garstang, Joshua-Judges, p. 331, as referring one year to the oppression west of the Jordan.

138The first mention of Judah since the opening of the book.

139A few MSS have “Yahweh our God.”

140Greek has μαδιαμ = Midian. The Meunites may have been a subgroup of the Midianites.

141The form is niphal or passive.

142Mizpah is an important town during this period, but it is on the west side of the Jordan. Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, pp. 533-34, thinks Jephthah may have been at Mizpah when he sent messenger to the Ammonite king. But there may had been a Mizpah in Gilead.

143Butler, Judges, p. 268, “Thus the people of Israel have to go to battle without a divine or human leader. They have to learn that God cannot be manipulated or predicted. They have to learn that serving God is a full-time job, not just an escape mechanism when trouble appears.”

144Boling, Judges, p. 197, says that “Gilead fathered him” is just a way of saying that he had no known father.

145Text is difficult. שַׁבְנוּ šabnu “we have returned” but it may mean we have repented. לָכֵן laken may be as in Greek, לא כֵן lo ken “not so; we have repented.”

146Boling, Judges, p. 203, says, “. . . Ammon had only recently emerged as a small national entity [in Num. 21] at the edge of the desert. Thus, the King of Ammon in this later period can only make his claims and charges in the name of Moabite sovereignty over the disputed territory . . .”

147300 is roughly equivalent to the combined times of oppression and rulership of the judges at this point.

148Butler, Judges, pp. 290-93, is rather adamant that the reference is to a life sacri-ficed by death. I am not sure his confidence is justified.

149Reading with the Greek בְעִירוֹ בְגִלְעָד be ‘iro begil’ad. Jephthah receives a lot of criticism from commentators, but Boling, Judges, p. 214, says, “All in all the pragmatic compiler leaves us with his impression that within his anxious limitations (11:30-40) Jephthah was a good judge, the best since Othniel.”

150See Butler, Judges, p. 297, for the idea the these are political alliances.

151The MT has in addition, “in the mountain of the Amalekites.” See also 5:14 for some connection between Ephraim and the Amalekites, if the text is correct.

152For an excellent discussion of the literary structure and the place of Judges 13-16 in the Book of Judges, see Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 391-394.

153The naming of her husband does not elevate him, as the narrative shows, but merely identifies him and his tribe.

154Butler, Judges, says, “As in the Gideon narrative, so here, the expected framework notice that God has raised up a judge is highly noticeable by its absence. Instead, a simple birth story ensues,” p. 322.

155Apparently, they wanted to name the son after this angel.

156Butler, Judges, p. 329, “The mysterious answer shows that God will not reveal himself completely. Manoah cannot have access to the inner reality of God represented by his name. That name is ‘Miraculous.’”

157See Boling, Judges, p. 225 for a discussion of the name.

158Butler, Judges, p. 330, “The spirit does not show approval of Samson’s spiritual condition, nor does it fill him with an inner spirituality. Again, as with Gideon and with Jephthah, the coming of the Spirit does not indicate a moral or devotional purity but a power to accomplish acts for God.”

159The Hebrew says literally, “Her take for me, for she is right for me.”

160Block, Judges, Ruth, goes too far, I believe, in seeing nothing but cultural significance in their concern. His is an argument from silence, p. 425.

161Note that God used a forbidden act (child sacrifice) to make a point with Abraham.

162BHS suggest deleting “his father and his mother” from the text. This makes good sense, but there is no textual evidence supporting it.

163The Nazirite vow in Num. 6 says not to come at dead bodies, but perhaps this does not include animals. This is contra Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 429-30, who seems intent on making a bad Samson worse.

164BHS suggests moving “Samson” in v. 10 to substitute for “his father…” Again, this makes more sense, but has no textual support.

165The Greek says these men were selected “for fear of him,” rather than the MT “When they saw him,” hence, they were body guards, not companions. These verbs רָאָה ra’ah “to see” and יָרֵא yareh “to fear” are easily confused.

166חָלִיץ aliṣ usually of armor, so something about stuff they had obtained through warfare. This is Samson’s substitute for the 30 sedinim or shirts.

167Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, p. 410, “Likewise, Samson’s murderous deed should be viewed as an act of war against the Philistines. From the very beginning of the story, we know the Lord intended to deliver Israel from the Philistines through Samson (Judg. 13:5).”

168There is a place in the Israeli Negev called “the Maktesh” or “mortar.” This is the same word.

169The Hebrew is strange. The Greek has “it was reported” to the Gazans. The text may be defective.

170Ugaritic does have a male name, Delil.

171Butler, Judges, p. 350 suggests a value of some $15 million.

172The Hebrew uses strong language.

173Some Philistine temple ruins have been unearthed by the river Yarkon near Tel Aviv.

174V. D. Hanson, The Case for Trump, p. 342 (Kindle Edition).

175Butler, Judges, p. 345.

176Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 4744, 75, lists nine points the first two appendixes have in common. His discussion makes an excellent contribution to the topic.

177Boling, Judges, p. 254, translates it “Yahweh-the-Incomparable.”

178This reminds the reader of the 1100 shekels times five used to bribe Delilah.

179See Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 479, for a discussion of the form leYahweh.

180This is considered to be hendiadys: the second word explains the first word further.

181Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 482.

182Elkanah in 1 Sam 1:1 is identified with Ephraim though a Levite.

183The shorter form of his name will be found in the rest of the story (17:8, 9, 10, 12, 12, 13; 18:2, 3, 4, 13, 15, 18, 22, 22, 23, 26, 27).

184They use Elohim rather than Yahweh, which is telling.

185 כְּמִשְׁפָּט צִדנִים kemišpat ṣidonim is puzzling. It could mean that they lived like the Sidonians, or that, in some sense, they were under the sway of the Sidonians.

186No one having restraint.

187The text is difficult with many attempts to translate it:

KJV There was no magistrate in the land that might put them to shame in anything.

RSV Lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth.

NASB There was no ruler humiliating them in the land.

ESV Lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth.

Boling, Judges, p. 263, says, no emendation is necessary. He translates, “without anyone perverting anything in the territory, or usurping coercive power.”

188Butler, Judges, p. 394, says, “Egyptian execration texts and Mari letters show that Laish was an important commercial city about 2000 B.C.E. Abraham’s armies chased the enemy here (Gen 14:14). The spies find the still well-to-do Late Bronze city, perhaps still relying on the Middle Bronze ramparts and fortifications.”

189Reading plural with several MSS.

190 בֵּית מִיכָה Beth Micah can be Micah’s house, a place called Beth Micah, or even Micah’s shrine.

191BHS treats this as a gloss.

192See Boling, Judges, p. 264. Butler, Judges, p. 396 says astutely, “The text places neither Micah nor the Danites in the role of hero or as part of God’s people. Rather the idolater is condemned along with the Levite and with the robbers who take priest and idolatrous cultic paraphernalia.” See Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 509.

193Thus, the silver Micah had stolen from his mother was stolen from him (at least the 200 shekels).

194Since “anyone” אָדָם adam and Syria אָרָם Aram look so much alike, one version of Greek has Syria. (This is true also in 18:7). Boling, Judges, reads Syria, p. 260.

195It is probable that Jeroboam I augmented this pagan worship in Dan with his golden calf (1 Kings 12:32-33).

196The Masoretes or scribes could not allow this apostate to be a son of Moses, so they inserted the letter “n” and made it Manasseh: מנשׁה with the “n” elevated.

197This may refer to the defeat and deportation of Dan by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. If so, the compiler is taking existing text and working it into the story of the Danite migration. However, Butler, Judges, p. 399, says, “If, as I understand the situation, the book of Judges was composed in its entirety in Judah during or shortly after the reign of Jeroboam, then the downfall of Shiloh, the central sanctuary in Jeroboam’s Ephraim, would be an important point of reference. The dual loss of Dan and Shiloh along with the destruction of Shechem under Abimelech should indicate that the site of the central sanctuary had been moved to Jerusalem.”

198Shiloh was apparently destroyed in the middle of the 11th century by the Phili-stines. See page 170 for a reference.

199Wright, “Family,” in ABD, pp. 766-769. “The status of wives was legally and socially quite distinct.” Butler, Judges, p. 421, says, “Schneider correctly suggests that the author was trying to establish that even though the woman character was a pilegesh, she was considered a wife in this case.”

200BHS proposes וַתִּזְנַח watiznaḥ with the Greek, “She became angry with him.” The ה “h” and the ח “heth” are easily confused, but no variants are indicated. Boling, Judges, p. 274, says she became an adulteress by walking out on him.

201Hebrew: “to speak to her heart.”

202Read the Qere not the Ketib (לַהֲשִּׁיבָה lahaššibah “to return her.”

203Gibeah was Saul’s home (1 Sam 10:26).

204The text says, “I am going to the house of Yahweh,” but there was no Yahweh temple at that time. So, most read “my house” including the Greek text. However, Butler, Judges, p. 408, says the absurd statement that he was going to Shiloh is part of his persona to be bragging about something.

205The reference to אַמָה ’amah (handmaid) says Butler, is negative and demeaning, “and may give the old man reason to offer her to the gang later,” Judges, p. 423.

206See Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 532-34, for a chart comparing Genesis and Judges and Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, p. 533-34.

207See Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 535, for a good discussion of this phrase.

208He had been sojourning long enough to own a home.

209See Butler, Judges, p. 424, for a discussion of this word.

210See Ibid.

211Probably refers to the Levite rather than the old man. The same word is used in 19:29 for seizing her to cut her up.

212See Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 551.

213Mizpah is a name used of more than one place. It has at its root the meaning of watch point. It refers to a place to meet Yahweh in Judges 11:11; 1 Sam 7:6, 16; 10:17.

214Unusual use of פִּנֹת pinoth,corners,” as those who supported the house.

215See Boling, Judges, pp. 284-85, for a discussion of these extraordinary numbers. See also Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 550.

216BHS adds (with no textual support), “But they refused to go in their midst.”

217Block, Judges, Ruth, “He transforms an explanation of the events into a self-centered apologia,” p. 554.

218Ibid., Judges, Ruth, p. 553-54, gives an excellent overview of the Levite’s rather duplicitous presentation of the story.

219Bolling, Judges, p. 284.

220This is a good place to see the meaning of חָטָא ḥata “to sin” in Hebrew: “to miss the mark.”

221Bethel (house of God) has a long cultic use. Later Jeroboam I will set up a golden calf here. A long, legitimate use of Bethel is indicated by the presence of the ark (is it being circulated?) and by legitimate priests (perhaps Phinehas II).

222Block, Judges, Ruth, suggests the propriety of Judah going first because the Levite and his concubine wife were from Bethlehem, p. 559.

223See, e.g., Butler, Judges, p. 444.

224See Block, Judges, Ruth, for a schematic comparing the three battles, p. 558.

225Boling, Judges, may be correct in assuming an MT corruption of לַמַּעֲרָב לְגִבְעָה lama’rab legibe’ah “to the west of Gibeah” p. 287.

226Hebrew. But several MSS and the Targum have מִנֶּגֶב minnegeb “from the south.”

227Boling, Judges, “Turning the boast of vs. 32 inside out, in an inclusio, using exactly the same wording,” p. 287.

228Ibid., p. 287.

229 מְנוּחָה menuḥah means “rest,” but the negative (no rest) is missing, unless the “m” serves that purpose. Greek has a place name, so, it may mean “from MinoHah.”

230Gibeah does not fit the geographic discussion and perhaps should be read Geba.

231See Boling, Judges, p. 288.

232See Patrick Arnold, “Rimmon (Place), ABD, pp. 773-74.

233Boling, Judges, points out that the verb נִגְדַּע nigda’ is part of Gideon’s name, “the hacker” pp. 291-92.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Teaching the Bible

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