Judges 1:19 Chariots of Iron
To those who have been with us through the book of Joshua, this has already become a familiar chapter. Stories of victory like that of Caleb have been a blessing (15:16 - 19) but warnings of failure (23:13) have prepared us for sad conclusions like these found here in verse nineteen to the end.
I think the story of Caleb’s victories and others in the tribe of Judah were perhaps placed first to show that it was possible to be victorious over great odds such as the giants of Anak (v.20). Certainly it was, as stated (v.4), that the Lord gave them great power for Simeon and Judah to slay 10,000 men.
But to be up against chariots of iron, surely, we might say, God does not expect us to defeat them! Dare we think even for one minute that He Who is spoken of in Psalm 68:17 as having 20,000 chariots and in Daniel (7:10) a force consisting of 100 million angels could not vanquish such a relatively small host. We read later (II Sam.8:9) of David taking from Hadadezer a thousand chariots and how Saul eventually overcame the Philistines who had 30,000 (I Sam.13:5). In II Kings 6:17 Elisha shows his young servant that God’s chariots of fire have the enemy surrounded..
I have heard some Christians say about a habit like smoking, “but I’ve tried to give up it and just haven’t been able.” These iron chariots entrenched in the valleys of Judah represent failure to lay hold of God’s promises and the experience of victory. It is sin, pure and simple, to allow them to remain and acknowledging it as sin is half the battle. For us the next step is understanding that we are dead to sin and counting on it by faith as we are taught in Romans six. We cannot drive out these habits but God can.
As for these enemies, they were trusting in their chariots for security. How foolish for them to do so and for us, as well, for Psalm 20:7 tells us that “Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” To trust our meager resources rather than relying upon our heavenly Father is surely a great mistake.
Judges 2:2 Why Have You Done This?
There is such a danger that young people raised in Christian homes, though they make a profession that they have received Christ as their own personal Saviour, may really not know the Lord. As in this chapter, once the generation which personally experienced first hand the cost of taking the land from the Canaanites had passed off the scene, the one that followed apostatized. In verse ten we note that as soon as by the second generation this happened and it was due to the fact that they did not know the Lord or His works that He had done for Israel. Sadly they quickly forsook Jehovah worship and “served Baal and Ashtaroth,” which, we read, made the LORD very angry (v.14) and His reaction “why have you done this?” produced such weeping that a place was named (Bochim) for the fact.
This leads us, as indicated by the opening lines of our devotional, to think about how this applies to us. Many a believer who has children has wept to see them turn their back on God. Perhaps it will not be as open in the second generation but wait until the third! Often young people make professions to please or appease their parents but how they raise their children will often bear out the fact that they did not really know the Lord.
What is the answer? Just as with Israel, the problem develops as a result of failure to be completely obedient. Hard as it seemed, the Canaanites were to be utterly destroyed. The equivalent to this in the Christian life is the absolute surrender of the body to the Lord (Romans 12:1). Failure to do this, and I think it is frequent, means a life lived “in the flesh” the fruit of which will be the loss of children (and grand-children) (Deut.28:32 & 41) to the cause of Christ. The general reason is failure of the children to see a genuine example of dedication. The father, for example, never prays, the parents do not conduct family devotions, they do not teach or practice tithing or sacrificial giving, they let pleasure and family come before church attendance, etc,.etc. “Why have you done this?”
Judges 3:2 To Teach Them War
Evidently it was God’s plan to have Joshua conquer the land of Canaan and then have the tribes do a mop up operation which would be a gradual process in order that the grass roots would experience the victory closer to home and would more personally taste the struggles and reap the rewards God would give them. It would be war but with His absolute blanket of protection a warfare in which they could not lose so long as they kept their eyes on Him. I guess you can see the parallel to this in New Testament terms.
Christ has won the battle against sin and it is but for us to resist it in our members by believingly taking the victory. As long as we play by His rules we can’t help but be overcomers. His death has delivered us from sin’s guilt and procured for us a robe of righteousness. The power of sin is being broken gradually as we apply the truth of His death and resurrection in our daily confrontation with it. That’s where the concept of “ reckoning” comes in. There is never a thought that it will not work but it is based on our full surrender (Rom.12:1).
We see this in the type. As long as Israel was dedicated to annihilation of the Canaanite there would be no loss of life on their part but when they compromised in the slightest way they were on their own (2:1-3). Of course as soon as they repented He came to their rescue by sending them a judge (champion) but it was an undulating experience much as that of the carnal Christian in his spiritual ups and downs.
The child of God who will not say to God with all of his heart “I yield to your absolute control” is, in effect, worshiping at the shrine of self which is as bad if not worse than an Israelite bowing the knee to Baal and Ashtaroth. I remember when I, as a teenager surrendered my life to Christ. Do you also remember doing this sometime in the past. Do you practice the reckoning process? Do you think in terms of being dead to sin whenever it appears in your life? Have you experienced the result of doing this? Forgive these questions, but the subject in these chapters is such a good picture it seems a perfect time to drive it home.
Judges 4:9 The Hand of a Woman
Reading about Jabin and Hazor makes one wonder about the fact that Joshua had been victorious over a king by that name and had burned Hazor. I checked this out on my computer and found that Gill, and several other reliable commentators all believe that this Jabin here in Judges may be a son or grandson and that Hazor was probably rebuilt. Certainly, “stranger things have happened!”
One story predominates our chapter and an exciting one it is. The ladies like it especially because there is not just one female star but two! Of course Deborah was a famous judge who dwelt under a palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim (v.5) but the other one was just a humble tent wife named Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite whose fame was about to ascend as she played a valuable and beneficent part, skillful as a wild goat (ibex) on a mountain side (all pictured in her name).
Sisera, captain of the enemy host had under his command nine hundred armored chariots and had oppressed Israel for twenty years. Against such a formidable host Barak, Deborah’s general of sorts, declined to go unless the prophetess accompanied him, which she did.
The important One in the battle was Jehovah Who caused Barak to be victorious so that the only man left was Sisera who had apparently escaped.
I guess we will have to wait until we get to heaven to find out what motivated Jael to do what she did, especially since we are told that between Jabin and the house of Heber there was peace. Obviously she was not in agreement with her husband’s politics. She welcomed Barak and proudly displayed her handiwork for which later she was extolled in Deborah and Barak’s duet as being blessed above women in the tent (5:24). Was she a God-fearing woman who may have prayed that morning that He might use her in a special way? We do not know, but He certainly did!
Judges 5:12 Awake My Soul and Sing
The LORD had put a new song in Deborah’s mouth (Ps.40:3) and she wrote it down so many could see it and fear and trust in the LORD. Probably Barak had nothing to do with its composition but he helped her sing it. Over 60 times David admonishes us to sing.
It is no wonder that this song was written, for the LORD had done great things for Israel and she was glad! Not all of us are poets or song writers, so we are thankful when those who are, utilize their skills to make lots of money and especially when they sing to Baal and Ashtaroth and have the ability to cross over and make a few ditties to keep the young people happy in our evangelical churches – oops, now where did that come from? Some cynic must have snuck that in.
Seriously, the whole thing must be pure if Jehovah is to be pleased. I do not respect publishers who sneak Mormon or liberal song writers into our hymn books and I really believe we should refuse to buy recordings that feature the Mormon Tabernacle choir or Catholic songs about Mary.
What did Deborah write about? One thing was the willingness of some of God’s people to serve Him, but she also had some negative thoughts about those who reneged. Can you note the difference? Those who failed to respond would be those in verses 7 and 23 contrasted with those in verses 14 and 18.
It is also noteworthy to observe some of the means God used, such as the river Kishon (v.28) and the stars. Could these be angels or does it refer to weather conditions (v.20)?
The last verse has a great thought in it as she closes by speaking of those who love the LORD being like the sun going forth in his strength, reminding us also of Ps.19:5.
Judges 6:12 Mighty Men of Valour?
If you are reading through Judges and you haven’t noticed yet, you soon will, that it is, to
say the least, enigmatic. Today we launch out unto a sea of Bible characters that really make us wonder at the inclusion of their names in the catalogue of faith which is Hebrews eleven. It is really amazing that God sees anything in us that is commendable and that He does in them is certainly an encouragement, yet there are listed in verse 32 the very names of Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah. And as men of faith! It must have been smaller than the proverbial grain of mustard seed but not so minute that Jehovah’s microscopic eye missed it. Barak had to have a woman go with him to battle before he would agree to go. There must be more here, for certain, than meets our critical eye. And are we ever surprised to hear God call Gideon a “mighty man of valour!”
As the LORD addresses him in v.14 his reaction seems to betray anything but a great faith and again as he asks for one sign after another and as he obediently cuts down the grove where Baal is worshipped, but does it at night for fear of his father’s household, he doesn’t seem to be demonstrating great valor.
All of our doubtings aside, the one outstanding fact was that the Spirit of the LORD came upon him (v.34). This is that selfsame Spirit that changed Peter from a shrinking violet to a roaring lion and gave him courage to preach Christ to the Pentecostal multitude. Oh, by the way, this is the same Spirit who indwells every believer and may just be the reason that God sees anything good or useful in us.
Gideon had lots of failings (8:27) and many wives (v.30) but God used him in spite of this. How much more He might use us as yielded believers, Oh we of little faith!
Judges 7:2 Your Hand Has Saved You?
We have heard this story so many times that we might miss the point of it if we are not careful. It is an excellent picture of the lesson in I Cor.1:25-29. Hopefully, parents conducting family devotions will not overlook the illustrations in God’s wonderful picture book, the Old Testament. How forceful are the words that come at the end of this text “that no flesh should glory in his presence.”
Facetiously we ask, “why should Jehovah even think such a thing of Israel?” Now if He were talking about the stout heart of the king of Assyria we would not be surprised to hear God chiding him for boasting. “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith” (Isa.10:14)? Would Israel ever thus be tempted to so vaunt itself?
Well, He is taking no chances this time and the scenario makes for one of the most exciting stories within the sacred page. These Midianites have joined forces with the Amalakites plus even more “children of the east” “coming like grasshoppers for multitude,” their camels “without number” employing a scorched earth policy (6:4), but Jehovah has a plan...you see, there is this mighty man of valour....
So, in our chapter God taps the resource but He wants to make it absolutely clear that this contender with the infamous Baal (center column), this axe in God’s hand, doesn’t take or get the credit, so after whittling down his army to 300 from 32,000 with trumpets, pitchers and lamps in hand, this Jerubbaal otherwise known as Gideon sets out his strategy and achieves unbelievable results. Of course, it is the “sword of the Lord” and not Gideon that make it all come together in a victorious rout. Once again God’s right hand “is become glorious in power” and “hath dashed in pieces the enemy” (Ex.15:6) but let us not miss the point, He did it in such a way that absolutely, “no flesh should glory!”
Judges 8:35 The House of Jerubbaal
It is no wonder “as soon as Gideon was dead that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim” for had they not done the same thing after Joshua died (Judges 2:10&11). It is scary to think how quickly memories fade and how little respect is paid to earlier generations who often sacrificed much to gain the privileges enjoyed by those who follow.
John Gill, in speaking of the fact that the descendants who followed Gideon’s generation did not show kindness to his house, a failure made so much the worse since he had been so good to Israel, lists the following examples. “In exposing his life to danger for their sake, in delivering them out of the hands of their oppressors, in administering justice to them, in protecting them in their civil and religious liberties, and leaving them in the quiet and peaceable possession of them” he had indeed done them much good for which they should have been grateful.
Ingratitude to His servants is symptomatic of a lack of gratitude to God for raising up those thru whom much blessing comes.
It is true that this man had his weaknesses but does not the Bible make it clear that most men do. In spite of them Gideon who was called Baal fighter by his father (6:32) was called by God a “mighty man of valour” and he had faith to believe that God had delivered Midian into Israel’s hands. Through the instrumentality of 300 men, not one of which was lost (8:4), a vast host of 120,000 was vanquished (v.10).
What life would be like without the savory presence of Godly men and women, we can only guess, and though they are soon forgotten after their passing, the difference their lives have made can only be measured by eternity.
Abimelech’s name means my father is king and many of our spiritual fathers are indeed kings in God’s eyes of whom He is their King. King of kings and LORD of lords!
Judges 9:57 The Curse of Jotham
There is a lot of emphasis in this chapter about reigning and this chapter is the only one in Judges where the word is even used. It might be well to refer back to 8:23 for Gideon’s response when it was suggested that a dynasty of rulers be created. He had it right when he said that what was important was that “the LORD shall rule over you.” Would that this had been the case.
Instead, his son by the Shechemite concubine, Abimelech, gains the ascendency by murdering 69 of Gideon’s sons to reign over Israel three years (v.22) before an unnamed woman finishes him off with a well placed piece of millstone which being dropped on his head crushes his skull. It was certainly “good riddance” but only after this bramble had turned against those who had promoted him over the trees.
Gideon’s youngest, Jotham, escaped his half-brother’s slaughter and eloquently, by means of a parable, epitomized the situation before going into hiding fearing reprisal (v.21).
Note that it was God Who “sent an evil spirit” to cause dissension among them and a requiting of both Abimelech and the men of Schecham for their evil deeds (v.24), a fact which demonstrates that though these were dark and desperate times, yet Jehovah was still actively caring for His people. The conclusion of the chapter again bears out this fact (v.56-57).
You will do well if you can keep the characters straight in the little known episode of Gaal’s attempted coup. Verse 28 is confusing. Actually it is Abimelech versus the Shechemites and Gaal is proposing to lead the latter in a rebellion. (Try another version on this one.) Abimelech using some interesting strategy succeeds in putting it down, killing 1000 men and women at the Tower of Schechem. He should have quit when he was ahead or perhaps we might say while he had a head. At the next tower he came off rather badly to put it mildly. You can come home now Jotham, the sin of Abimelech has found him out and the fire of God’s judgement has consumed the bramble!
Judges 10:7 Sold into the Hands of the Enemy
The Hebrew lexicon in Strong’s Concordance gives as a meaning for the word sold “to
sell as merchandise, a daughter in marriage, into slavery.” This is the picture of what Jehovah did to His daughter Israel because of their forsaking Him to serve other gods. Verse six shows the extent of idolatry into which Israel had lapsed in the few years since they crossed Jordan to their new home. In all probability it was intermarriage that resulted in this apostasy even as Moses had said it would in Deut.7:3 and 4. The only way this was to be avoided was to “utterly destroy them”and “make no covenant with them or show mercy unto them”(v.2).
As He promised, Jehovah’s anger waxed hot against Israel and as they had given their sons and daughters into union with the Canaanites, He, in turn, sold them into the hands of the enemy which in this case would be the Philistines and the Amorites.
How many Christians do you know who have witnessed the tragedy of having their children marry into the world and now have hardly any opportunity of seeing their grandchildren brought up to know the Lord? Do we realize that the anger of the Lord is hot against them? Has He not warned us not to love the world? Grandparents who, looking back, see how they failed by letting the world come into their homes by way of TV, worldly music, etc. are paying an awful price for their compromise.
The example of repentance is also found in this chapter. “We have sinned against thee” (v.10) and it is wonderful to behold how even though He hesitated, the LORD’s soul was grieved for their misery (v.16) and in the next chapter He raised up another judge.
Judges 11:34 His Only Child
Jephthah at first seems to be a wise man because he sought to handle the Ammonites diplomatically but all admiration for him evaporates due to the utter stupidity of his rash vow. A man of “valour” he certainly was and a man of deep devotion (v.11) he may have been but an absolute fool he was in actuality. What did he expect would greet him upon his return since he had only the one child? No mention is made of a wife though he may have had one. Was his mother-in-law staying with him or perchance he had a pet lamb? He would not have been the first if Nathan’s parable was rooted in reality (II Sam.12:3). Only in the book of Judges might we expect to meet the likes of Jephthah and I suppose he’s not so bad really in comparison to Samson and we must step lightly here since these both found honorable mention in the faith chapter.
But who really is deserving of our deep admiration in this chapter? Who else but his nameless daughter If our hearts nearly break as we view Isaac bound to an altar on Moriah with his father’s sharpest weapon poised over his youthful chest (Gen.22:10) our imagination is totally challenged and sensibly stunned as we seek to conjure up the scenario necessarily required for the enactment of Jephthah’s misplaced zeal. We strain to hear if we might some sound from the heavens granting reprieve, we search the archives in vain for some expositional relief but at best we can only hope that there may be some misunderstanding on our part as we are forced to await the unveiling of this story’s final chapter until we see Him Who wipes away all tears.
Finally, since there must be faith to emulate in this sad tale let us admire the courage of a man who apparently paid his vow while we struggle to accept his rationale and may we especially adopt the example of the total resignation of the daughter’s amazing surrender of her will to her father, in our relationship with ours in heaven.
Judges 12:6 Shibboleth
Those Ephraimites must have naturally loved a good fight. Here they are once again complaining that there was a battle and they were left out of it (v.1). They had said the same thing to Gideon concerning his fight with the Midianites. That time Gideon had sweet talked them out of their passionate desire for blood but Jephthah was not so fortunate. Besides he had a thing against these hypercritical Ephraimites anyway because when he needed them to help they had reneged.
The Gileadites were victorious under Jephthah’s leadership and an interesting episode took place at the end of the internecine battle that resulted in a new word being added to our English dictionary. It so happened that the people of this particular family group found it hard or impossible to get their mouth and tongue to work right to pronounce the sh sound and the Gileadites knew it. As the escaping Ephraimites tried to pass themselves off as Gileadites, the latter asked for a password that the former could not successfully pronounce.
It was at a particular fording place on the Jordan river where this scene took place and try as they would, that word Shibboleth just wouldn’t come out right. The best they could do was to say Sibboleth no matter how they framed their mouths. It cost them their lives.
Webster gives the following definitions to the word Shibboleth: “1.a. catchword, slogan; b. use of language regarded as distinctive of a particular group— 2..a custom or usage regarded as a criterion for distinguishing members of one group.”
The day we cross Jordan it will be on the basis of one word, Jesus, which we have confessed with our mouth and on Whom we have believed with our hearts. We take this word by faith and only the saved can say it right. The language of heaven is distinctive of our special group. All others will be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Judges 13:18 His Name is Wonderful
There are several reasons why we must conclude that the angel of the LORD Who appeared unto Manoah and his wife was none other than the Lord Jesus. If so, then we are reading about a Christophany or a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Godhead. We are told that whenever Deity is seen it is always Jesus (Jn.1:12). The Father God is a spirit (Jn.4:24) and, of course, the third member is the Holy Ghost, neither of Whom can ever be seen by the unaided naked eye.
There is no question that this angel of Jehovah is Deity for He accepts a burnt offering and reminds Manoah that such an oblation must always be offered only to Jehovah (v.16).
The word translated angel means a messenger and comes from an unused Hebrew root meaning to despatch as a deputy. It would seem that whenever the Godhead needed a contact to be made among men by a being resembling a human, the pre-incarnate Son of God was sent, the translators calling Him, the Angel of Jehovah. They could have just as easily called Him the Messenger of the LORD for the word translated here angel is found in the KJV translated 98 times by the word messenger. Usually it is plural so could not refer to the Son of God and in other cases the context determines the same. (Example I Kings 19:2) (check out Malachi 3:1).
The word secret (v.18) is an interesting word. There was a question as to whether it had been copied incorrectly so the translators followed a marginal note placed by the scribes and called qere. The word that we have in our KJV is taken from a root meaning “to be marvelous, be wonderful, be surpassing, be extraordinary, separate by distinguishing action.” The word wonderful in Isaiah 9:6 is taken from this root.
The Messenger’s Name was secret for it was Jesus (Matt.1:21) though not yet revealed. A wonderful, marvelous Name.
The wondrous things He did were probably like those done by Him under similar circumstances when He visited Gideon (6:21).
Judges 14:24 Little Son
For forty years the Philistines had ruled over the children of Israel as God’s hand of judgement lay heavily upon them but now they have a deliverer in Samson whose name means little son. The little one has grown up and in this chapter we are treated to an example of just how strong he has become.
As for the matter of his wanting a wife from among the Philistines, we have it loud and clear that, whether Samson knew it or not, it was of Jehovah and apparently was for the purpose of bringing him to the attention of the Philistines. We tend to think of Samson as a womanizer and he certainly fell into sin in the latter part of his life but we need to remember that in his early life the Spirit of Jehovah was moving in him (13:25) as he judged Israel for the first 20 years (15:20).
There is no doubt that he was smitten with this young lady and while his parents were basically right God allowed the relationship to ripen into marriage (v.15) and the resulting circumstances must have been heart breaking for the young man. We know that God’s ways are often unfathomable to us and here is an example. Samson violated God’s word (Deut.7:3) by forging a relationship expressly forbidden but God allowed it to apparently produce motivation in Samson to avenge himself for her duplicity which caused her father to give her to a friend of Samson’s which, in turn, caused him to do further aggravation to the Philistines in the matter of the foxes, etc. As we see in the next chapter, they recognized the reason for Samson’s revenge (15:6) and in their revenge murdered the wife and her father placing the blame for the escalation upon his unwise actions. There is no doubt that God’s plan of stirring up trouble between Samson and the Philistines was certainly working. And through it all Samson must have been made to see that he was being chastened for his disobedience.
Here, in the familiar story of the barehanded slaying of the lion, we have seen the little son becoming the one who in future chapters will be the slayer of thousands earning him the reputation of being the destroyer of the Philistines (16:24).
Judges 15:17 Jawbone Hill
Let’s talk a bit about this business of the jawbone, a most interesting story. Samson had let himself be turned over to the Philistines by the cowardly men of Judah who preferred peace at the price of subservience to the enemy. Once Samson was delivered to them at a strategic moment and with the supply of God’s Spirit he laid hold of a fresh jawbone of an ass to use as a weapon and slew a thousand men.
This victorious assault was reminiscent of the days when Jehovah had promised that any man-jack among them could do as much and two could put ten thousand to flight (Deut.32:30).
As previously mentioned, it is apparent that in his earlier years Samson was quite in touch with his God Who had specifically raised him up to deliver Israel. We have in this story two references to Jehovah’s attendant favor as the Nazarite youth performed physical feats. The Spirit had come mightily upon him but suddenly an Elijah-like depression grips him and in great thirst he calls to the Almighty for help.
The One Who lives and seeing Hagar provided a well for her relief (Beer-la hai roi -Gen.16:14) now succors Samson on this hill of the jawbone (Ramoth-lehi) and living water springs up from a depression in the hillside which ever after was known as the well of supplication (JFB).
We find that we too can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us and in our
moments of deep need we too find that He is the Source of all supply. May we never forsake, as Israel did, the fountain of living (springing) water to manufacture cracked and empty cisterns of self-effort (Jer.2:13). As the hymn writer says: “from strength to strength go on, wrestle and fight and pray, tread all the powers of darkness down and win the well fought day.” (Soldiers of Christ Arise- Charles Wesley.)
Judges 16:28 Samson’s Last Prayer
Samson’s life ends with this sad story of his entanglement with Delilah, the Philistine Mata Hari. Like Solomon, his love for strange women has gotten him into trouble. We are told twice (15:20 and 16:31) that he judged Israel for twenty years and it was actually near the beginning of Israel’s problems with the Philistines who no doubt arose in power as the Canaanite kingdoms were vanquished and the Midianites were destroyed, probably about 1150 BC. In judgement God had sold Israel into the hands of the Philistines who now had subjugated them for the last forty years.
In comparing dates we find that Samson who was born about 1100 BC was a contemporary of Ruth whose story takes place at this time (according to one source). Another important person also was born during the life of Samson, Samuel, by name (about 1060 BC) and during his life problems with the Philistines continued (the ark of the covenant being captured - about 1050, for example).
It is quite possible that Samuel was the author of the book of Ruth and the Chronicler of Judges. Samson was the last of the judges unless Samuel be considered one, although he was in a different class, being a Levite.
Speaking of dates it should be noted that the next five chapters chronologically belong near the beginning of this book almost 300 years prior to Samson’s time. Possibly Samuel’s reason for doing it this way was to show how desperate the times were during Judges, providing a backdrop for the beautiful book of Ruth. A careful study indicates that all of these stories took place near Bethlehem where Ruth and Boaz lived or involved people from that vicinity. More about this later.
We must not forget that Samson was raised up by God to deliver Israel and even in his death he was fulfilling this purpose. In spite of his carnality he was not forsaken and when his hair began to grow he noted that his great strength returned as well. It is an encouragement to us when we too have failed the LORD to realize that when we repent we may still have a measure of usefulness though there may be a price to pay (David)..
Judges 17:6 “No King in Israel”
At first it might surprise you to know that these last five chapters occur in time near the
beginning of Judges rather than at the end, proof of which we will offer later when we deal with chapter 21. In the meantime, however, we need to establish that they were written as a block bearing certain characteristics that tie them together. Obviously chapters 19 - 21 are all one story about the Levite who sent the parts of his abused concubine to each of the twelve tribes and the resultant action taken by them upon the Benjamites. Chapters 17 and 18 have nothing to do with the subject of the prior portion of the book which tells us about thirteen judges from Othniel (3:9) to Samson (16:31), a period of about 300 years. What this block of chapters tells us is what life was like in Israel when there was no-one ruling in the land. Note the phrase “in those days there was no king in Israel” occurring at the beginning of the two parts of the story of the first Levite, Jonathan, (17:6 & 18:1) and again at the beginning of the story of the second Levite (19:1) and then at the close of the book (21:25). Like bookends, the statement “but every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” is an apt appraisal of all the unpleasant material in between!
Note also that the characters in both episodes are amazingly similar. Each tells a story about a young person from Bethlehem-Judah, each involves a Levite as the main character and all through both stories the name of Mount Ephraim occurs for a total of seven times!
Add to these facts the probability that Samuel wrote all of this, that he too came from Mount Ephraim, that he and his father were Levites and that the story of Ruth which takes place in Bethlehem-Judah was also probably written by him and you have a most interesting scenario.
Whether it was intended or not, all of this makes for quite a background for Samuel’s introduction of David who would be king in Israel and the sweet romance between two beautiful people stands out in bold relief against the sordid backdrop of what was happening all through Judges as men did what was right in their own eyes.
“Out of thee (Bethlehem) shall come a Governor that shall rule my people Israel” (Matt.2:6).
Judges 18:29 The Leap of Dan
As the crow flies it would only be about thirty miles from Bethlehem to Mount Ephraim
on the south side of which lay Shiloh the center of worship during these days, a bit more, of course, by road. The point is that the places mentioned in these stories, for the most part, are relatively close to each other and are the focal point of events being treated by Samuel. I love maps and I urge you to take the time to look and see for yourself where these places are in relation to each other. Most Bibles have maps at the back.
It is amazing to think how quickly Israel degenerated into idolatry, especially in the light of the warnings of Moses and Joshua yet here we are only about sixty years after the crossing of Jordan and everyone in doing their own thing. Micah has stolen from his mother and she rewards him by having the foundry make a graven image for him which he promptly adds to the others in his god-house. He temporarily makes his son a priest until Jonathan (18:30) a Levite from Bethlehem comes along.
Now Micah thinks he is all set with Jehovah because he has a Levite for a priest until the events of our present chapter when a search party sent out by the tribe of Dan came by his house on their way to find some additional territory to call their own. Later they repay Micah’s kindness for putting them up by stealing his graven image and his “priest”, offering this spiritual quack a better job if he throws in with them and threatening to kill Micah if he resists them. All of this taking place just down the road from Shiloh (v.3).
These Danites were snakes in the grass, true to Jacob’s prophecy (Gen.49;17) and poor Micah felt their stinging bite. As for their handling of the matter of the remote city of Laish on the border of Syria these Philistines were destroyed in an operation that may have pleased Jehovah (Deut.7:2). If only they hadn’t brought along Micah’s graven image or if only their Levitical resident priest Jonathan had known better.
Looking far ahead to the New Testament times when the Lord Jesus went to Caesarea Philippi up on the Syrian border (Matt.16:13), probably the farthest away from Bethlehem that He ever got, He perhaps fulfilled another part of Jacob’s prophecy as well as Isaiah’s for this was the far reaches of Naphtali that waited for the salvation of the Lord (Gen.49:18) to which the light had come (Matt.5:15&16). And little did these Danites surmise that as lion’s whelps they would “leap from Bashan” (Deut.33:22) their settlement in this northernmost city evoked the expression, “from Dan to Beer- Sheba.” Just like from Kittery to Fort Kent here in Maine.
Judges 19:30 “Consider of it, Take Advice and Speak Your Minds”
When time for family devotions comes around, this chapter is the very last one on the list. I think that most of us would just as soon it had been left out of the Bible, but it is included and I guess it behooves us to see if we can determine why. If, as previously suggested, Samuel’s choice of these stories was for the purpose of showing just how desperately wicked things were during the days when the judges ruled, he certainly picked some lulus! Also, if he was seeking to show the contrast between these “no king in Israel”days and what it was like where God was honored, as in the story of Ruth, he chose wisely.
Note that the characters and conditions are the same as in the previous two chapters which seems to say that a point is being made. Note also that it involved an area with which Samuel would have been familiar since he was from Mount Ephraim (1 Sam.1:1) and he too was a Levite so, though it was many years earlier, the tales were probably preserved in traditions. This poor Levite may even have been a relative of his for all we know.
Samuel may have had a three point sermon entitled “what happens to people who leave the house of bread.” Point #1, Jonathan, the Levite; #2 the unfaithful concubine and #3 (you guessed it) Elimelech the Ephrathite. He would, no doubt, have made a point of the fact that Elimelech’s name meant, my God is King so, there really was a King is Israel and there were some people who knew Him.
The father-in-law in our text, perhaps sensing a bad end to the Levite’s conjugal match, did everything he could to keep his son-in-law in the house of bread and he should have stayed! The road home took him by Jerusalem but it was still under Canaanite control and was until David’s time (2 Sam.5:6) so he chose to go to Gibeah and as night fell, he met a neighbor who invited them to come home with him.
While there, certain sons of Belial assaulted the door reminding us of Lot’s situation in Gen.19:9 and, with no angels to intervene, resulted in gang rape of the concubine leaving her dead at the doorstep.
What these murderers really wanted was the man (v.22) for perverted purposes and their desire was considered more wicked than what they finally did. What does this say about homosexuality in our society today?
Judges 20:28 Go Up
Most people who read the book of Judges pay little attention to the dates, especially since many copies of the Bible do not show them anyway. I have checked two different dating systems, however, and have found that while the dates in each of them do not completely agree, there is unanimity regarding the placing of both these last five chapters plus the book of Ruth nearer the beginning of Judges rather than at the end. One major internal proof is found in this chapter and has to do with a reference to Phinehas the high priest who was a grandson of Aaron. Verse twenty-eight speaks of him as being active at the time the events in this chapter take place. Verses in Joshua (22:13 and 24:33) indicate that he was serving in Joshua’s day. The period between Joshua and Samson cover about 300 years. Usher’s dates allow only about 20 years between these references.
Coming now to events where we left them in our last chapter, the Levite who remains nameless divided the dead concubine and sent the parts to the 12 tribes to shock them into action. It did! Most of them agreed to discipline the offenders. They gave the children of Benjamin an opportunity to turn over the criminals which they not only refused to do but defended their actions by going to war against their brethren (v.13). The result was that three major battles took place with Benjamin winning the first two and destroying 40,000 men but losing in the end with 25,000 of their men being slain (v.45) as well as the inhabitants of all their cities. Six hundred men escaped and the last chapter concerns what happened to them.
Some sixty-five thousand men of war, including an elite corp of 700 marksmen who left-handedly could sling a stone at an hair-breadth and not miss, were sacrificed to the absolutely most ridiculous reason for going to war probably ever known in the annals of warfare.
What terrible things come of pride and where else but in the pages of Judges would such a story be found?
The one bright spot is found in verse 26-28 where Jehovah was enquired of and gave an answer showing us that in the most distressing of circumstances and in darkest of times He still is concerned for His children. The 3rd day (v.30) is usually the day of victory. It was so on the day of resurrection.
Judges 21:21 How to Catch a Wife
It is no wonder that there was such a good turnout when the tribes were called to Mizpeh to deal with the Benjamites, the penalty for not coming, we find out in this chapter, was death (v.5). So that when the congregate tribes realized that through their action of search and destroy no woman could be found to provide wives for the 600 warriors of Benjamin that had escaped and they had sworn an oath not to give any of their daughters to them, it looked like they had effectively eliminated a whole tribe.
Checking around, it was realized that the sub-tribe of Jabesh-gilead had not responded to the original call up, so it was agreed that they must be executed only all the virgins would be spared for the 600 since there had been no agreement by the J-g’s regarding their daughters and beside there was no one left to dispute the matter.
One may imagine that these young women went kicking and screaming as they were forced to marry the Benjamites and to compound the problem there were not enough to go around anyway – so what do we do now?
The elders agreed that it would be a terrible thing if some of these Benjamites had to go without wives so they brilliantly concocted a plan. The remaining bachelors would hide in a vineyard near Shiloh where, yearly, at a feast of Jehovah, maidens would come out to dance. There was probably more kicking and screaming as the quota was filled by each man catching himself a bride.
The relatives of these girls were pacified by the elders who took the blame and said, “you didn’t give them to Benjamin so you are off the hook.”
What a wild story! And what a contrast to what is coming up in the book of Ruth.
Conclusion– “Right in His Own Eyes”
We pride ourselves in what we do and once in a while we get taken down a peg or two,
as they say. I ordered some insulation for a room I am developing on the unfinished second floor of our new modular cape-style home. The delivery truck had hardly pulled away before I realized to my great embarrassment, that I ordered the wrong width for a part of the project and that five huge bails must be replaced. How could I have done something so dumb? The fact is that I often do such things, like hook up the battery cable wrong when jump- starting the car almost frying the radio, etc. etc.
All to say this, we had better realize how prone we are to be “right in our own eyes” before we are too judgmental on Judges. This is another way of saying how frail our flesh really is. The fact is, we can be so right in so many ways that it is all the more serious when we are wrong in one important area. For example, I know someone who is spectacularly right most of the time and it is somewhat intimidating to be in his presence, however, when it comes to eternal matters the man is blind and the very brilliance of his mind will enhance the judgement on his lost soul forever and ever unless through the “foolishness of preaching” he receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Now, supposing a popular Christian leader never does get his eyes opened to the compromise with which he is involved until he sees the Lord, what a shock to find out that he was doing it all wrong.
We will probably all face a certain amount of correcting when we see Jesus, but the key to keeping it at a minimum is making certain that we stay yielded to Him all the time. In other words, the more we make Him King of our lives the less tendency we will have to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25).