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Commentary On The Book of Judges 1.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Book of Judges.


The Book of Judges was contained in the prophetic section of the Hebrew Scriptures, which indicates its purpose, which was to draw lessons from history and to proclaim the truth about Yahweh through them. It was not intended to be a full history, but a revelation of salvation history, the working of God on behalf of His people, and covers the period from the death of Joshua to the rise of the judges Eli and Samuel.

The book commences with an accumulation of records which continue the account of the conquest of Canaan in Joshua, with an occasional flashback, and depicts the various struggles taking place in order to capture and retain the land for Israel. It then goes on to depict the failure of Israel in this, due to its disobedience to God, and its resulting misfortunes, and it demonstrates how God raised up ‘judges’ to deliver them from these misfortunes.

By ‘judges’ we must recognise not legal decision makers (although they did perform that function as well) but rulers, people in authority, recognised by the tribes, who ruled and administered sections of the people (Ruth 1.1). The term included charismatic war leaders who rose in time of trouble from among the landed aristocracy. These latter are the most prominent in the book due to its emphasis. There were thus a number of judges at any one time and those dealt with in the narrative may well have overlapped.

Twelve judges are mentioned in the book of Judges (thirteen if we include Abimelech).

Judge Oppression Peace Area Enemy
Othniel 8 years 40 years Judah Mesopotamia
Ehud18 years 80 years Benjamin Moab, Ammon, Amalek
Shamgar not stated not stated Judah? Philistines
Deborah after Ehud’s death 20 years 40 years Zebulun and Naphtali Hazor
Gideon 7 years 40 years half tribe of Manasseh Arabs
Abimelech after Gideon 3 years Shechem
Tola after Abimelech 23 years Issachar (Ephraim hill country)
Jair After Tola 22 years Gileadite
Jephthah18 years 6 years Gileadite Moab, Ammon
Ibzan 7 years Bethlehem
Elon 10 years Zebulun
Abdon 8 years Ephraim
Samson 40 years 20 years Dan and Judah Philistines

In looking at this list we should remember that:

  • 1). No judge appears to have ruled the whole of Israel. While they could call on other tribes for help in accordance with the requirements of the amphictyony (the treaty combining the twelve tribes), their actual jurisdiction appears to have been limited to their own particular area.
  • 2). Where judges are appointed in different areas ‘after --’ need only mean ‘after the appointment previously mentioned’ except in the cases where ‘after his death’ is stated.
  • 3). The number 40 occurs so regularly that it must probably be seen as a round number, possibly signifying a generation (which would be closer to 25 years).
  • 4). If we see Zebulun and Naphtali as indicating the north (affected by the northern Canaanites), Manasseh and Ephraim as indicating the centre (affected by enemies coming across the Jordan through the Jericho pass), Judah/Dan as indicating the South (affected by the Philistines), and Gilead as indicating Transjordan (affected by Moab, Ammon), it will be clear that the judgeships occur in different areas and that some could occur during the same period, in each case dealing with different enemies.

All this being so it would be quite arbitrary to add up all the periods mentioned in order to obtain an indication of how long the period of the judges was. Discernment needs rather to be used taking into account the above factors.

The truth is that in ancient times historians did not seek to synchronise lists as we would today. We can compare how the Egyptians simply listed each series of rulers and reigns separately one after the other, regardless of the fact that some were contemporary with each other (see the Turin Papyrus for an example). The same phenomenon occurs in Sumerian and Old Babylonian lists.

The name ‘judges’ (shophetim) is paralleled elsewhere in the shapitum of Mari, who were local provincial governors, and the shuphetim, the regents of Phoenicia. On the whole these judges ruled well and were responsible not only for deliverance but for subsequent periods of blessing and faithfulness. Samson may have been a loveable rogue but he was not on the whole a good judge, although effective in the end.

The judges, like Israel’s leaders before them, were men who were seen as chosen by God and supported by the elders and the voice of the people. Their position was not hereditary, it was dependent both on God, and on the people who had to recognise their calling. Moses was chosen by God (Exodus 3) and was recognised by, and acted through, the elders of Israel (Exodus 4.29-30), Joshua was appointed by God (Numbers 27.16-18) with total support and recognition from priests, elders and people (Numbers 27.18-23), Deborah was a prophetess and accepted as such by the people (Judges 4.4-5), Samuel was chosen by God from birth and called the people together to determine the way ahead and from then on judged Israel (1 Samuel 7.15). Once appointed they had authority of life and death, and to disobey them was treason and meant death (Deuteronomy 17.12; Joshua 1.18). But that authority came from God Whose will they had to seek and obey (Numbers 27.21). He was their Overlord.

The main message of the book is that it depicts how easily Israel allowed themselves to slip into idolatry, sin and godlessness, how Yahweh then allowed them to suffer for it, and finally how good Yahweh was to them when they turned back to Him. That is its emphasis. But we should note that the periods of faithfulness and subsequent blessing, which are depicted as ‘the land had rest’ so many years, are quickly passed over, but were considerable. It was not all doom and gloom. The background to the book is unquestionably the going forward of God’s purpose by His Spirit in spite of man’s failure.

God’s purpose for Israel was depicted as that of a theocracy, where Yahweh was their King and the ‘twelve tribes’ were on the whole independent but were united by God’s covenant around a central sanctuary. Three times a year they were to go to that central sanctuary to renew the covenant, and to rehearse the significance of the feast, and to hear the Law of God. And every seven years they were to hear the reading of the full Law (Deuteronomy 31.10-13 see Joshua 8.34-35). And each was to be available if the call to arms came because one of the tribes was in distress. To refuse the call was looked on as a very serious matter and a breach of the covenant. This general organisation was known elsewhere and is called an amphictyony.

The conquest of Canaan was never going to be easy. Towns were occupied, but then repossessed by the enemy. Sometimes tribes were strong and stretched their borders, at other times they were weak and retracted. The same enemies had to be fought again and again. And sadly it was not long before the tribes of Israel settled down, began to intermingle with the Canaanites in direct disobedience to God’s instruction, and absorbed much of their idolatrous and sexually distorted religion.

Two things were in their favour. The hill country was relatively sparsely populated because until the discovery of lime plaster, which enabled reliable cisterns for the preservation of water, water was in short supply. And secondly because parts of the plains were covered in large forests which provided cover and shelter in times of weakness, and virgin sites for establishing themselves. And most of all, God was with them. In spite of their disobedience He did not totally forget them. This in the end is what the book is all about. God’s deliverance of an undeserving people.

But all this was only possible, humanly speaking, because in the providence of God all the great nations, Egypt, Assyria, the Hittites, and Babylon were at the time mainly weak or occupied elsewhere and thus left Canaan, especially the hill country, alone.

Note on the Writer’s Use of ‘Israel’ and ‘Children of Israel’.

The use of these terms in Judges is striking. Before an active verb the writer almost always uses ‘the children of Israel’ or equivalents (men of, tribes of, all of, daughters of), in all sixty times. The exceptions are 6.3; 7.2; 20.29 and when in conversation with a foreigner (11.13-26 - ‘Israel’ all through because that is what the foreigner called them (11.13). See on those verses).

The exceptions are mainly explicable. In 6.3 the verb is preceded by ’im and the statement is general and the activity is that of the enemy (Israel’s activity is in the past. We would use the pluperfect). In 7.2 ‘children of Israel’ would be unsuitable, for the action is theoretical, and Yahweh would not expect His covenant ‘children’ to actually ‘vaunt’ themselves against Him. Thus only 20.29 cannot directly be seen as being exceptional, although it may be intended to indicate that the writer viewed with disapproval the need for the liers in wait as an unnecessary tactic when Yahweh was with them. Alternately he may have seen setting liers in wait as a rather ‘passive’ activity preparatory to the main action, or he may have intended it to be taken as a pluperfect equivalent, action in the past.

Before a passive verb or equivalent he always uses ‘Israel’ (three times). When in the predicate he almost always uses ‘Israel’ (seventy times) except in specific circumstances. These are:

  • 1). When the personal covenant relationship is specifically in mind (2.4; 4.3; 4.23; 6.8; 10.11; 19.12; 20.7).
  • 2). When it is in close proximity to ‘the children of Israel’ or equivalent as a subject (3.9; 4.3; 4.23; 6.8; 10.8, 11; 20.24-25). These all also appear under the other headings as well.
  • 3). When the enemy were subdued by Yahweh, in accordance with the covenant, on their behalf, or the children of Israel were delivered by Yahweh (3.9 (see also 2).; 4.23 (see also 2). ; 8.28 - this last is the equivalent of a subject before an active verb and is also in contrast with ‘Midian’ (see 4).).
  • 4). When it is in contrast with others who are called or thought of as ‘the children of --’ (8.28 - in contrast with ‘Midian’ (see also 3).); 10.8, 11; 11.27; 11.33; 20.3, 13, 14; - in contrast with ‘the children of’ either Ammon or Benjamin’; 20.25 (and possibly 20.13) - in contrast with ‘Benjamin’). 11.27 especially illustrates this as previously Jephthah has spoken of ‘Israel’ in reply to the king of Ammon. It is noteworthy however that it is not so in contrast with ‘the hand of Midian’ (6.2, 14) or with ‘Midian’ when ‘Israel’ precedes a passive verb (6.6).

Thus while ‘children of Israel’ is used in the predicate sixteen times in all, it is only on these special occasions. From this it is clear how specific the writer is in his use of the terms.

So the term ‘the children of Israel’ very much has the covenant in mind, and is used to indicate their activity, whether good or bad. These constant and consistent usages demonstrate the unity of the book.

When we contrast this with the use in Joshua the difference is quite remarkable. No such pattern occurs in Joshua. End of note.

Chapter 1. Success and Failure.

The Success and Obedience of Judah and Simeon (1.1-20).

After the death of Joshua the children of Israel enquired of Yahweh which tribes should first go up against the remaining Canaanites. As a consequence Judah was ordered to go up, and with Simeon had success against the Canaanites under Adonibezek, whom they brought captive to Jerusalem, and against the Canaanites in Hebron, Debir, Zephath, Hormah, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron. But they could not drive out the inhabitants of ‘the valley’, the coastal plain.

The Benjaminites did not have as good success as Judah against the Jebusites in Jerusalem. Judges tells us little of their other activities apart from the subjection of a part of Banjamite territory around Jericho under the Moabites (chapter 3) and their disastrous disagreement with the tribal confederacy in chapter 20. Their lot was between Ephraim and Judah (Joshua 18.11) and reached to the Jordan (Joshua 18.20).

The house of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) captured Bethel and made the Amorites tributary.

The tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali were relatively successful but, in disobedience to God, did not drive out the Canaanites from several places which belonged to them, though many of them eventually became their tributaries. We must recognise that Canaanite life was attractive in its own way. They were far more sophisticated than the Israelites, with many of the finer things in life, and their religion was seen as directly helping in the fruitfulness of the fields as by ‘sympathetic magic’ it ensured rain, and the new birth and growth of plants. This was partly accomplished by overt sexual activity which was seen to stimulate nature into activity. Small images of Baal and Ashtaroth (Astarte) were commonplace in Israelite homes of the period.

The Amorites were too powerful for the tribe of Dan, who had therefore to live in the hill country.

1.1 ‘Now after the death of Joshua it happened that the children of Israel asked Yahweh saying, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them ’

‘Now after the death of Joshua.’ Judges is seen as the continuation of the prophetic history in Joshua. Joshua had died and now the children of Israel must continue to go forward. For a time they were faithful to Yahweh (Joshua 24.31) but gradually as they gained more territory they began to compromise with the inhabitants of the land and disobeyed Him by not driving them out.

‘It happened that the children of Israel asked Yahweh.’ At first all seemed well. The people came to Yahweh for His advice. This would mean that they gathered at the central sanctuary where the Tabernacle was, (now at Shiloh), and enquired through Urim and Thummim what they should do next. Now that they had no Joshua to look to they turned directly to Yahweh.

‘Saying, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” ’ Much land had already been conquered, but now further strategy was required. They could not fight on all quarters at once. This is an indication that at this stage the tribes were still working together. They were taking the tribal confederacy seriously. They looked to Yahweh as their Great King. There had already been a beginning before the death of Joshua. Sections of the hill country had been occupied, and movement had taken place into other territories.

But although the land had been divided between them, much remained to be taken. Some would hold their present positions while others would go forward. The first strike after the death of Joshua was important. Its success could enthuse the people and strike terror into their enemies, its failure could dishearten the tribes. As always when a great leader died people were beginning to wonder what would happen next.

The lesson for us here is how important it is to seek God’s face before we make important decisions.

1.2 ‘And Yahweh said, “Judah shall go up. Behold, I have delivered the land into his hand ” ’

‘And Yahweh said.’ This would be through the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28.30; Numbers 27.21). Questions would be phrased and then the Urim and Thummim used to obtain the answer ‘yes’ or ‘no reply’. There is no example of a ‘no’ answer from the Urim and Thummim anywhere, although it is possible that that also was obtainable. One suggestion is that each had one side with ‘yes on it and the other with ‘no’ on it. When they were thrown down in the Tabernacle ‘before Yahweh’, if two yesses came up the answer was ‘yes’. If two noes came up the answer was ‘no’. If one of each the answer was ‘no reply’.

“Judah shall go up.” This was not Judah in person, for he was long ago dead, but this meant the tribe of Judah. This way of speaking of the tribe as though it were a person is commonly found in the narrative (compare ‘Israel’). Judah was one of the most numerous and powerful tribes and destined to leadership in Israel (see Genesis 49.8-12).

“Behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.” That is, the part which had been assigned to them, part of which still remained to be conquered. They were assured that Yahweh had already determined on their success. God was with them. Although always, of course, conditionally on obedience.

1.3 ‘And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And in the same way I will go with you into your lot.” So Simeon went with him.’

‘And Judah said to Simeon his brother.’ The leaders of Judah sought an alliance with Simeon for their task. Their possessions and inheritances lay near each other, and indeed those of Simeon were within the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, so that, as they lived in close familiarity with each other, their interests were closely connected.

‘ “Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And in the same way I will go with you into your lot.” So Simeon went with him.’ The suggestion was that they should join forces, first in securing Judah’s allotted territory and then in securing Simeon’s allotted territory. And Simeon agreed. The negotiation would take place through the elders of each tribe, the ruling body comprising clan (sub-tribe) leaders and men of experience.

To some extent in the future Simeon would be assimilated into Judah, but they always maintained an independent existence in that union. They provided more men for David than Judah did (1 Chronicles 12.24-25) and under Hezekiah they won a significant victory against the Amalekites (1 Chronicles 4.41-43). When Israel split into two kingdoms they appear to have had divided loyalties, some joining the ‘ten tribes’ (this may simply mean ‘a number of tribes’ in accordance with number usage, compare Genesis 31.7), others remaining with, or later returning to, the house of David (2 Chronicles 15.9).

1.4 ‘And Judah went up. And Yahweh delivered the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hand. And they smote of those in Bezek ten eleph men.’

‘And Judah went up.’ Judah was obedient to Yahweh’s command ‘go up’ (verse 2). God had said ‘go up’ and they ‘went up’. Simeon went along with them. When God speaks it is always necessary to obey.

‘And Yahweh delivered the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hand. And they smote of those in Bezek ten eleph men.’ Eleph could mean a clan, a family, a military unit, a captain or a thousand. The number ‘ten’ was also used to mean ‘a number of’ (Genesis 31.7; Job 19.3; Daniel 1.20). Here ‘a number of military units’ is probably what is meant. Numbers tended not to be used exactly, for most people were not numerate. This principle is important to understand. When it came to numbers they thought in approximations, just like we do when we say ‘there were hundreds of them’ when we mean ‘quite a lot’.

Numbers in early times had for them that kind of significance. ‘Two’ often meant ‘a few’ (1 Kings 17.12). ‘Three’ often meant ‘quite a few’. ‘Ten’ meant ‘a number of’ (Genesis 31.7). ‘A hundred’ meant ‘a goodly number’ (consider the hundred sheep of the parable), an ‘eleph’ or ‘thousand’ meant a greater number still, and so on. With our mathematically trained minds we find this difficult to appreciate. The aborigines in Australia would understand exactly, as would primitive tribes in many lands. Most of the Israelites would have looked on counting beyond ten as an arduous task. They had little need of numbering. So here ‘ten eleph’ might mean anything from say five hundred upwards.

The fulfilment of God’s promise had begun. The Canaanites and Perizzites in that part of the land were smitten, including a large number in Bezek.

‘The Canaanites.’ This was a term often used to designate all the inhabitants of ‘Canaan’ and could be used almost interchangeably with ‘the Amorites’, a name used in the same way. But at other times they were also distinguished from ‘the Amorites’, who when so distinguished were hill dwellers, occupying the hill country. It can, however, as here, denote a special group in the land, distinguished from a number of others (see references below), in this case in contrast with the Perizzites.

‘Perizzites.’ The name probably means ‘villagers’ and they seem to have been hill dwellers, thus living in small communities. They were one of the tribes by which the land was identified and were to be driven out of it (Genesis 15.20; Exodus 3.8; Deuteronomy 7.1; 20.17; Joshua 3.10; 9.1; Judges 3.5; 1 Kings 9.20; 2 Chronicles 8.7; Ezra 9.1; Nehemiah 9.8).

‘Bezek.’ The site is not as yet identified. A number of Bezeks have been mooted. It was not an uncommon name, possibly because connected with a god of that name.

1.5 ‘And they found Adonibezek in Bezek, and they fought against him, and they smote the Canaanites and the Perizzites.’

Adonibezek (‘my lord is Bezek’) was a powerful local king, mentioned because he was seen as a dangerous foe. But like the others he could not stand up to the onslaught of Judah and Simeon. ‘They smote the Canaanites and the Perizzites.’ Their campaign was in general successful.

1.6 ‘But Adonibezek fled, and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.’

Adonibezek fled but was captured, and then they cut off his thumbs and his great toes. This was to disable him to prevent him from causing further trouble, for he was a formidable foe. But it was also because he himself had so treated chiefs whom he captured, which possibly included captured men of Judah. If so they were following the legal dictate, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.

The men of Judah were clearly horrified at this treatment meted out by him to his prisoners. Entering Bezek they had found these once important men, including possibly a few of their own who had been captured, disabled and were scrabbling around the floor. So horrified were they that they exacted particular revenge for them. We do not read of this treatment accorded to prisoners elsewhere.

1.7 ‘And Adonibezek said, “Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table. As I have done, so God has requited me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem and there he died .’

He received what was his due for he had done this to his enemies and had further humiliated them by making them fight for scraps of food tossed to them from his table. The kings would be petty kings, ruling cities and small towns, although he was probably speaking broadly of leading men in general, and, as was common with war leaders, exaggerating.

‘Seventy’ is a round number indicating divine perfection (perfection in the eyes of the gods), seven intensified. Seven was seen as such a number throughout the ancient world. Thus he saw the number of kings he had so mistreated as a goodly number.

“As I have done, so God has requited me.” He recognised the justice of the situation, and the writer wishes us to recognise it too. Those who misuse others bring judgment on their own heads.

‘And they brought him to Jerusalem and there he died.’ He may have been badly wounded, or his wounds may have gone gangrenous for he probably died shortly after (although it might simply indicate that he eventually died there in his captivity). ‘Brought him to Jerusalem’ signifies ‘to the district round it’, for their next task was the subjugation of that city.

1.8 ‘And the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.’

This may have been the lower city, or a temporary occupation of the whole. Contrast Joshua 15.63, although that was a statement of the general position with regard to the fortress of Jerusalem. Here they captured part of it and slew those within it, but their occupation was clearly only temporary. They did not have the means to fortify it, or sufficient men to leave behind to defend it, as they moved on to other victories. Thus they set it on fire.

It may be that the city was at this time only lightly defended due to the Jebusite fighting men being involved elsewhere fulfilling treaty obligations in the face of other Israelite activity. Thus when those men returned they would be able to retake it from the token force left behind to defend it. This is by no means a rare occurrence in warfare.

From now until verse 36 we should note the difference between ‘smote’ and ‘drove out’ and ‘did not drive out’. ‘Smote’ or ‘took’ indicates victory but not necessarily possession, ‘drove out’ indicates permanent sole possession and obedience, ‘did not drive out’ indicates possession, cohabitation and disobedience. Thus Jerusalem was taken and smitten but not possessed (verse 8), and later cohabited (verse 21). Hebron was smitten (verse 10) and possessed (verse 20). Zephath was smitten and ‘devoted’ (verse 17). Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron were taken but not possessed (verse 18). The hill country was possessed but the coastal plain was not (verse 19).

The fact that part of Jerusalem later held men from Judah and Benjamin probably refers to a situation where a part of the city was retaken at some stage but not the whole (the city was divided by a ravine), and that eventually they made their peace with the Jebusites and associated with them and lived among them, contrary to God’s commands. The main fortress was formidable and was not finally permanently taken until the time of David.

Jerusalem was an ancient city under that name and is mentioned in the Egyptian Execration texts (c 19th century BC), in the Amarna letters (c 14th century BC) and in later Assyrian documents. Its name probably originally meant ‘the foundation of Shalem’, a Canaanite god. But the Israelites associated it with their word ‘Shalom’ which meant peace (Hebrews 7.2).

1.9 ‘And afterwards the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who dwelt in the hill country, and in the south, and in the lowland.’

The invasion under Joshua had defeated the forces that had come against it, had weakened the Canaanites, and had subdued parts of the land, especially in the hill country, and they were able to settle down and be at peace. But they saw the whole land as being given to them by God and it was their aim to subdue the whole, and their remit was to drive out the inhabitants. Thus their aim was to attack the hill country, the lower hill country (the Shephelah - the lowlands) and the lands to the south (the Negeb), followed by the coastal plain.

Referral Back to Previous Conquests by Judah in the Time of Joshua (1.10-20).

1.10 ‘And Judah went against the Canaanites who dwelt in Hebron. Now the name of Hebron was previously Kiriath-arba. And they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai ’

The first attack was on the hill country. Hebron was first taken by Joshua, and the inhabitants put to the sword (Joshua 10.36-39) , but while Joshua was employed in making other conquests, the Canaanites who had fled into the mountains clearly took possession of it again. Thus it had to be re-subdued. This kind of situation occurred regularly. Joshua’s onslaught was in order to gain a firm foothold in the land, but the occupation of all cities permanently would take more time. It was an art that had to be learned.

In this case the re-conquest took place through Caleb while Joshua was still alive. It was referred to as being carried out by Joshua as the overall commander-in-chief in Joshua 11.21-23, but this does not prevent it having been done by Caleb, for he was acting under Joshua’s leadership. The reason it is described here is that it is seen as being part of Judah’s total conquest of his portion. The writer was not so much concerned with chronology as giving a total picture (the lack of interest in chronology of Israel comes out in that their verbal system was only able to express it imperfectly. For example, they had no pluperfect. Their tenses indicated either completed or incompleted action. What mattered to them was that things were done, not when they were done).

Hebron had been granted to Caleb, the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite (Numbers 32.12; Joshua 14.13) who was associated with Judah (Joshua 15.13), and he then proceeded to take it as described here and in Joshua 15.13-19. Some would see this as indicating a Kenizzite invasion from the south not directly connected with the Israelite invasion, but there is nothing in the text to suggest it. When ‘Israel’ came out of Egypt they were made up of many nations (Exodus 12.38), which would include Kenizzites, natives of Canaan (Genesis 15.19), who had sought refuge at some time in Egypt. It is far more likely that such people, participating in the exodus, would become worshippers of Yahweh, than that a Canaanite tribe invading on their own would.

‘Now the name of Hebron was previously Kiriath-arba.’ (‘The city of four’ or ‘the city of Arba’) - see Genesis 23.2. According to Joshua 14.15 LXX it was the ‘mother-city of the Anakim’. There is no reason to doubt that Arba was a name as suggested there, and it was certainly related to the Anakim in some way in the Hebrew text which may suggest it was named after a famous ancestor of the Anakim, possibly named Arba because he had the strength or usefulness of four men.

‘And they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai.’ These were children of the Anakim (Numbers 13.22), outsized men and leaders who were renowned fighters (Deuteronomy 9.2).

1.11 ‘And from there he went against the inhabitants of Debir. Now the name of Debir before was Kiriath-sepher.’

After Hebron Caleb’s next object was Debir, a city at the southern end of the Judean hills. It is called Kiriath-sannah (city of palm leaf) in Joshua 15.49. Here it is called Kiriath-sepher (city of writing) as in Joshua 15.16. Both names connect with scribal activity (palm leaves were writing materials) which suggests it was well known as a scribal city. Thus its local names

1.12 ‘And Caleb said, “He who smites Kiriath-sepher, and takes it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife”.’

This was a kind of test of suitability. Chief’s daughters were given to mighty champions to ensure continual strong leadership. Compare Saul’s offer in 1 Samuel 17.25. It is understandable why Saul did not fulfil his promise. When he made it he was expecting a champion not an inexperienced young man.

1.13 ‘And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it, and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.’

It was probably Kenaz who was Caleb’s younger brother. The son and daughter were thus cousins. Othniel was probably Caleb’s hope in the first place. ‘Son of Kenaz’ might simply indicate that he too was a Kenizzite, but it is unlikely that Caleb would give his daughter to his younger brother in this way (Leviticus 18.9), and there is no reason why a Kenizzite should not be called Kenaz.

1.14-15 ‘And it happened that when she came to him, she moved him to ask of her father a field, and she lighted from her ass, and Caleb said to her, “What is it you want?” And she said to him, “Give me a blessing, for you have set me in the land of the South. Give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs.’

The dowry Othniel requested, at her suggestion, was land, and when his wife discovered where this was, in the South, she approached her father to ensure good waters supplies, necessary in that region, by asking for permanent springs, which he gave her as a wedding gift.

This account is paralleled in Joshua 15.16-19. It may have been copied from there, but more probably both were taken from a record made of the wars in Canaan similar to ‘the book of the wars of Yahweh’ (Numbers 21.14). For such were looked on as religious events confirming the covenant, not just as history.

1.16 ‘And the children of the Kenite, Moses' brother-in-law (or ‘father-in-law’), went up from the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which is in the south of Arad, and they went and dwelt with the people.’

‘The children of the Kenite, Moses’ brother-in-law’ (the word can indicate brother-in-law or father-in-law depending on how it is pointed. Ancient Hebrew had few vowels. The vowels were added later by a system known as ‘pointing’). We may reasonably see these as the family of Hobab (Numbers 10.29-32), as 4.11 confirms. They went up from the city of palm trees (see on 3.13). On the basis of 3.13 this would be Jericho. The Targum also calls it the city of palm trees because of the many palm trees that grew near it. An alternative would be Zoar at the southern end of the Dead Sea which was called the city of palm trees in the Talmud.

In the latter case it would be possible that Hobab’s family had remained around Zoar once he had fulfilled his function of acting as Israel’s eyes in the wilderness, especially if he had married a Kenite wife. Then he would here be reconnected with Israel. But in view of 3.13 it is much more likely that they were living in the area around Jericho and went with Judah from the area of Jericho where they had been living. After all, if they were in Zoar, why should they leave a place they had been in for thirty eight years, an area where the Kenites were until much later (1 Samuel 15.6; 27.10), to live with Judah? Whereas it would be wise to leave the area around Jericho, for it may have been seen as vulnerable to outside attack (3.13).

Excursus. The Kenites.

We should note that Reuel and Jethro (Exodus 2.18; 3.1; 18.1), are actually never said to be Kenites. They were priests of Midian. It is Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, who is said to be a Kenite here (compare 4.11) but not previously. His connection with the Kenites may thus have been through his wife. Moses had in fact pressed Hobab his brother-in-law to leave the Midianites and join them in their venture to Canaan (Numbers 10.29-32). The impression is that Hobab did so as an experienced wilderness dweller in order to act as their eyes. Once he had fulfilled his responsibility and they had arrived in Kenite territory in the land of the south, he may well have married a Kenite wife and linked up with the Kenites who were tent dwellers like himself.

But having been converted to the worship of Yahweh during his time with Israel, he was ready when the time came to throw in his lot, along with his family, with Judah. Some, of course, consider the Kenites to have been original Yahweh worshippers on the basis of Exodus 18, but this raises more difficulties than it solves. It is noteworthy that Jethro offered sacrifices to ‘God’ not to Yahweh, and was never called a Kenite.

Even if such people were right, and it must be considered very doubtful, the name is not really relevant. What is relevant are the teachings and customs connected with the name. The Kenites would have had to turn their own ideas (which would not have been based on the Exodus experience) upside down in order to submit to the tribal covenant and have subjected their own time honoured customs to the new ideas of the confederacy. For a proud tribe this would be unlikely. And yet here they seem to happily combine with Judah in the covenant by choice. Thus it is more likely that this only refers to the family connections of Hobab.

The name of the Kenites probably connects them with ‘smiths’ and thus metalworkers. They were resident in Canaan in the time of Abraham (Genesis 15.19), and Saul, who connects them indirectly with the Amalekites but as separate from them, saw them as having been favourable to Israel when they came out of Egypt (1 Samuel 15.6). He also clearly saw them as a separate tribe not connected with Judah at that time, and that is acknowledged by David who associates them with the Jerahmeelites. These Kenites thus resided on the southern borders of Canaan (1 Samuel 27.10; 30.29), and had not as a group combined with Judah. That was reserved for the household of Hobab. That at least some more of them eventually merged with Judah is probable from 1 Chronicles 2.9, 26, 55, something which probably occurred in the time of David’s reign. There is no reason, apart from their possible connection with Jethro, through Hobab, to connect them with the Midianites.

End of Excursus.

1.17 ‘And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they smote the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it, and the name of the city was called Hormah.’

The alliance continued their work by capturing Zephath. The impression given is that it was in Simeonite territory as ‘Judah went with Simeon’. It was ‘devoted’ to be offered wholly to Yahweh and therefore totally destroyed, possibly as the first city to be captured for Simeon. Hormah means ‘devoted’ (i.e. to God). But it may also have been because of the vow made in Numbers 21.1-3, it being seen as a permanently ‘devoted’ place. It may have been connected with ‘the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah’ (2 Chronicles 14.10). Otherwise it is unknown. Mareshah was part of Judah’s inheritance, in the midst of which was Simeon’s.

1.18 ‘Also Judah took Gaza, with its border, and Ashkelon with its border, and Ekron with its border.’

These were city states in the coastal plain, from Gaza in the south to Ekron in the north, a distance of thirty to forty miles. No mention is made of Gath or Ashdod, which along with Gaza was where Anakim still survived (Joshua 11.22). These were possibly the cities they did not conquer because they had iron chariots (verse 19). It may even be that the reason that they took these three cities so easily was because the fighting men of the cities had joined those of Ashdod and Gath with a view to defence from an attack by Israel from the highlands, not anticipating an attack from the south. All five cities had been captured by the invading Sea Peoples, the Philistines, and formed the foundation of their state, ruled over by five Tyrants who worked in unison. Note that Judah ‘took’ but did not ‘possess’.

Joshua 13.1-3 suggests that the Philistines had already arrived, and extensive excavations at the large mound that is thought to be the site of Ekron have indicated no city after the early bronze age before that built in the early iron age, probably by the Philistines.

But one thing to be considered is that LXX here reads ‘did not take’. This may simply be because it saw it as a contradiction to verse 19, but it may be because it read it in its Hebrew texts. This would in fact find support in the pattern of the narrative. ‘Smote Zephath --- did not take Gaza --- drove out the inhabitants of the hill country --- could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley --- drove out the three sons of Anak --- did not drive out the Jebusites.’ In each case a positive followed by a negative. This seems fairly strong support for the negative reading.

1.19 ‘And Yahweh was with Judah, and he drove out inhabitants of the hill country, for he could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron.’

The hill country was permanently and solely possessed, but not the coastal plain. The idea is not that Yahweh could not, no such thought was in the writer’s mind, but that Judah failed. God would only help them so far. This may have been because they were dilatory, or because of fear and lack of faith in Yahweh (compare Joshua 17.16 and note the promise for the future in 17.18; see also Judges 4.3). We should note that Joshua was not defeated by the chariots (11.9).

If verse 18 is not read with a negative as LXX, it may be that this indicates that they succeeded at first in initially capturing three of the cities, taking them by surprise by coming from the south, but that their success was only temporary, and that they were then overcome by combined forces with their chariots, and after a time driven out of all. In this respect the non-mention of Ashdod is significant, and if the newly arrived and settled Philistines were expecting an attack from the East they may well have gathered their forces near Gath.

1.20 ‘And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had said, and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak.’

This repeats what has already been described in 1.10 with the addition that Hebron and its surrounding area was specifically allotted to Caleb and his family in accordance with the word of Moses. Later Hebron was actually made a Levitical city (partially, but not wholly, occupied by Levites). The three sons of Anak were as in 1.10. The stress here is that Moses’ words came true. The divine history is seen as one ongoing history, being fulfilled within the plan of God.

God’s Activities Through the Other Tribes and Their Disobedience (1.21-36).

The constant theme in what follows is that Israel allowed the Canaanites to dwell among them, even when they could have driven them out. And the message of Judges is that this resulted in great loss at the hands of their enemies. It is a constant warning to us that if we do not drive out of our lives the things that mar our relationship with God, it can only in the end result in severe chastening and great loss.

1.21 ‘And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. But the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.’

This seems to mean that they could have driven them out of the part of Jerusalem and its surrounds that they occupied, but that they did not. They were disobedient.

In Joshua 15.63 we read that Judah could not drive the Jebusites out of their part, which probably included the fortress. Thus the successful attack in verse 8 may simply be referring to the capture of the lower city, or it may be that, due to the absence of the Jebusites on a military expedition, they were then able to take the upper city and sack it, but not to retain it because at the time they had to move on. After which the Jebusite soldiers returned. It is noticeable that there is no mention of driving anyone out there. The purpose was not possession. Then when the fighting men of the Jebusites returned they retook the city and from then on were invulnerable in the upper citadel.

But the main purpose of this verse is to point out the disobedience of Benjamin in contrast with the obedience of Judah and Simeon. This is then to be followed by the disobedience of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher and Naphtali, and the failure of Dan. Reuben and Gad were of course across the river beyond the Jordan.

Issachar is not mentioned and may possibly be seen as united with Zebulun, like Simeon with Judah. Note that they were also praised in the song of Deborah (5.15), yet omitted in 5.18 where those who were faithful to the call are mentioned, (even though they were one of them), and are not mentioned in the prose account in chapter 4. Again presumably they were seen as one with Zebulun (see also Deuteronomy 33.18 where they are included in the blessing of Zebulun).

1.22 ‘And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel, and Yahweh was with them.’

It appears that Bethel, having possibly (but not necessarily) been taken along with Ai in the days of Joshua 8, had again been occupied by Canaanites after the Israelites moved on. It lay on the borders of the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Therefore they combined together to take it.

‘And Yahweh was with them.’ Thus they would be victorious.

1.23 ‘And the house of Joseph sent to spy out Bethel. Now the name of the city was previously Luz ’

Scouts were sent out to weigh up the situation and bring back information that would aid in the attack. The fact that Yahweh was with them did not excuse them from sensible behaviour.

‘Now the name of the city was previously Luz.’ ‘Bethel’ was the name given to the area by Jacob and later applied to the city by Israel. But the Canaanites called it Luz (Genesis 28.19; 35.6; 48.3).

1.24 ‘And the spies saw a man come out of the city, and they said to him, “Show us, we pray you, the way in to the city, and we will deal with you with kindness”.’

The spies managed to capture a man who had left the city, innocent of the fact that an enemy was so close. Then he was taken for questioning. He was no doubt given two options, torture or a reward for his help. We do not know how soon he gave in but in the end he did.

1.25 ‘And he showed them the way in to the city, and they smote the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man go and all his family.’

‘And he showed them the way in to the city.’ He betrayed his fellow Canaanites and showed them a means by which they could enter the city.

‘And they smote the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man go and all his family.’ The men of Joseph broke into the city and slaughtered its inhabitants. However, like Rahab before him, the man, by his action, saved his family. His departure was presumably a condition of the deal, or possibly his conscience was such that he could no longer stay near the place where he had betrayed his comrades. Either way it meant that the men of Joseph had fully obeyed Yahweh. They had either slain or driven out all the inhabitants.

1.26 ‘And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city and called its name Luz, which is its name to this day.’

The man left Canaan with his family and reaching the land of the Hittites built a new city, calling it Luz, possibly as a kind of guilt offering for what he had done. The Hittites, as a once powerful nation, dwelt in Syria, and their empire would shortly collapse.

In all this the tribes of Joseph, (Ephraim and Manasseh), were obedient to God’s command to drive out the Canaanites. But this would soon change. Does the change from Joseph to Ephraim and Manasseh indicate the idea of covenant unfaithfulness resulting in division? Or simply that they divided up in order to go after their selected territories, or in order to make up ‘the twelve’ once Levi had received Yahweh as their inheritance (Joshua 13.33).

1.27 ‘And Manasseh, did not drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns. But the Canaanites would dwell in the land.’

The tribe of Manasseh was divided into two sections, one section being Beyond Jordan, and the other in the section of Canaan north of Ephraim and south of Zebulun and Issachar. Their territory included the powerful Canaanite fortresses mentioned and much lowland territory. This territory had a strong Canaanite presence, unlike the hill country.

But there were large forests which would make infiltration possible until Manasseh was strong enough to take over the territory, apart from the large cities, and then finally to take over the large cities themselves. These were too powerful to be overcome immediately, but there would come a time when it was possible, and yet when that time came Manasseh compromised with the Canaanites. That is the main point here, that they allowed the Canaanites to remain even when they could have done something about it, and that meant fraternising with them and assimilating their ways and their debased religion.

‘Megiddo.’ In terms of the times Megiddo was a huge city. Situated at one side of the Valley of Jezreel it guarded the main trading route between Mesopotamia and Egypt. It had previously been under Egyptian control, but at this time Egypt was too concerned with its own internal affairs to be bothered about Megiddo. It must have seemed invincible, but it was totally destroyed c.1150 BC and replaced temporarily by a small village. We can note how it is not mentioned in the song of Deborah, which rather mentions another powerful city, ‘Taanach by the waters of Meggido’ (5.19), demonstrating the accuracy of the song. Its king was earlier slain by Joshua (Joshua 12.21) but the city itself resisted invasion (Joshua 17.11-12) and survived until Israel became too strong for it to do so any longer. Its final destruction was probably by Israel who then occupied the mound. It was later rebuilt and became a powerful Israelite city.

The same applied to Taanach. Taanach was on the other side of the Valley of Jezreel. It is mentioned in both Egyptian and Assyrian records. It too held out for many years but it too was finally destroyed by the Israelites. Ibleam, which was south of Megiddo and Taanach, was also a powerful fortress city. Dor was on the coast, and on the arrival of the Philistines, ‘the Sea People’, was, along with Bethshean (1 Samuel 31.10), which also protected the Valley of Jezreel, occupied by them. Both continually resisted Israelite attack and once occupied by the Philistines and their allies were invulnerable to it, but were eventually defeated, although possibly not until the time of David.

1.28 ‘And it happened that when Israel had grown strong, they put the Canaanites to taskwork and did not utterly drive them out.’

At one stage or another Israel obtained control of these cities and their surrounding villages, but when they did so they did not drive the Canaanites out, but allowed them to remain, and subjected them to slavery in direct disobedience to God’s commands. Their desire for ease and mastery overcame their willingness to obey God. Thus they began to fraternise with them, and to learn their ways, for the Canaanites were more sophisticated than the Israelites and would have seemed to have much to offer. The criticism here of the tribes includes criticism of David for he too failed to carry out God’s command concerning the Canaanites. Both Manasseh and Israel were at fault in all this, and it led to religious syncretism, and infection with the teachings and practises of Canaanite religion, along with their depraved activities.

1.29 ‘And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer, but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.’

Gezer was in the hill country and easier to subdue. It was on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa, on the most northern ridge of the Shephelah, overlooking the Ayyalon valley. But when they captured it Ephraim allowed the Canaanites to remain among them and set them to taskwork (Joshua 16.10). Pharaoh Merenptah later boasts of capturing it, (he also claimed to have destroyed Israel!), and archaeological evidence suggests it was later taken by the Philistines. But the Ephraimites and the Canaanites would have lived side by side under the Philistines, with the inevitable results to the purity of their religion and their lives.

1.30 ‘Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol, but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributary.’

These cities are probably the Kattath and Nahalal of Joshua 19.15 and were probably sited at the northern end of the plain of Jezreel. But they have not been identified. Again the same complaint is made, the people of Zebulun did not obey Yahweh and failed to drive out the Canaanites, instead putting them to tribute and receiving tribute from them. And fraternisation resulted in degradation. They did not realise what spiritual poison they had among them.

1.31 ‘Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob.’

These cities were mainly in the plain of Acco. Rehob means ‘open place, market place’ and is mentioned in a list of Raamses II placing it in the southern part of the plain. Aphik (Aphek - Joshua 19.30) means ‘fortress’. A number of cities went by the name. Achzib was a harbour town. It is probable that Zidon refers to the inhabitants in the area below the city of Zidon, for Zidon itself was not a part of their inheritance (Joshua 18.28-29). Their borders reached to Tyre and Zidon but did not include them.

1.32 ‘But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.’

Note the significance of the words. They ‘dwelt among the Canaanites’. It may be that they simply went and dwelt amongst them and made no attempt to drive them out.

1.33 ‘Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, nor the inhabitants of Bethanath, but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, nevertheless the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, and of Bethanath became tributary to them.’

Like Asher, Naphtali lived among the Canaanites, but eventually became strong and subjected them to tribute. Their concern was wealth, not obedience to Yahweh. They did not obey Yahweh and drive them out. Once again fraternisation led to degradation.

So the sad tale of all the tribes is of disobedience to the covenant. Having obtained their foothold they spread and gradually gained control, but ignored the commands of Yahweh and allowed Canaanite influence to degrade them. It is one long story of disobedience. It is one thing to start off determined to be obedient, it is more difficult to maintain it as time goes by. Indolence, greed, and worldliness all combined to seek to prevent it. The way of living of the sophisticated Canaanites must have been a great temptation to these newcomers from the wilderness, and their easy moral ways (Baalism had no ethical teaching that we know of) would appear to many to be preferable to the stern demands of Yahweh.

The lesson for Christians in all this is the danger of compromise. If we do not rid ourselves of temptations when we can, the time will come when they take us over.

1.34 ‘And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill country, for they would not allow them to come down to the valley.’

These Amorites were a strong group occupying, (but not solely), extensive land. Unfortunately for Dan they were in Dan’s territory around Aijalon and resisted all attempts by Dan to drive them out. Dan was able to occupy the hill country but not the fruitful plains. Seemingly there were few Canaanites or Amorites in those hills, which suggests living conditions there were difficult. The lands assigned to Dan were fruitful, but for that very reason they were well populated. As we know from elsewhere their faith in Yahweh was so weak that they were disobedient and many of them deserted the territory and made a new home for themselves with their own syncretistic religion (Judges 18). From there we learn of their bent towards idolatry.

1.35 ‘But the Amorites would dwell in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributary.’

These Amorites occupied extensive lands (but not as sole occupants) going from Aijalon in the north to Akkrabim, below the Dead Sea, in the south, so they could call on extensive help. Mount Heres is unknown, although many relate it to Bethshemesh (house of the sun). It means ‘the mountain of the sun’ (heres was an ancient word for sun) and was probably thus associated with idol worship. Aijalon was a town built on a hill, commanding from the south the entrance to the valley of Aijalon. It was thus on the main trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt and was of great importance. Shaalbim was a town near Aijalon (see 1 Kings 4.9; Joshua 19.42 (Shaalabbin); 2 Samuel 23.32 (Shaalbon)). It is therefore understandable that the Amorites should fight desperately to keep them.

‘Yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed (‘was heavy’), so that they became tributary.’ This may have been after Dan had migrated north. Thus what Dan could not do, Ephraim accomplished. The Amorites were not invincible. But again Ephraim were disobedient, for instead of driving them out they made them tributary. Their desire for tribute was greater than their love for Yahweh.

1.36 ‘And the border of the Amorites was from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upwards.’

Akkrabim was a mountain pass at the southern end of the Dead Sea (Numbers 34.4; Joshua 15.3), between the Arabah (the rift valley of Jordan) and the hill country of Judah. Sela means ‘the rock’ and could be used of any rocky place.

Chapter Two. The Sin of the Nation.

This chapter supplies an account of the sudden appearance of the angel of Yahweh and the rebuking of the children of Israel for their present misconduc. This was followed by an account of their previous good behaviour under Joshua, and of the elders who outlived him, and of their subsequent idolatries, which latter greatly provoked the Lord to anger. It goes on to describe the goodness that God continued to show to them nevertheless, in that he raised up judges to deliver them out of the hands of their enemies, (of which there are many instances in the following chapters), and tells how, on the demise of such persons, they relapsed back into idolatry, something which caused the anger of God to burn against them once more, so that He determined not to utterly drive out the Canaanites from them, but to leave them among them to try them.

The Angel of Yahweh Questions Why They Have Been Disobedient And The People Make a Show of Repentance (2.1-5).

2.1-2a And the Angel of Yahweh came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I made you to go up out of Egypt, and I have brought you to the land which I swore to your fathers, and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land. You will break down their altars”.’

The Angel of Yahweh is previously spoken of in Genesis 16.7-14 and 22.11-18, both cases of crisis important in preserving children of Abraham. He then appeared in Exodus 3.2 as a flame of fire in a burning bush, with a view to delivery of Israel from Egypt and to Balaam the seer in Numbers 22.22-35, again with a view to the delivery of Israel, this time from Moab. Thus His appearance always had deliverance in mind. In all cases it is clear that He spoke with the voice of God.

The reference to Gilgal may well specifically have in mind the appearance to Joshua there of the captain of Yahweh’s host (Joshua 5.10-15). There too the coming deliverance was in mind and He spoke as Yahweh. Thus ‘came up from Gilgal to Bochim’ indicates simply that He ‘came up’ from the last place on earth that He was seen. Where He was in between no one knew. We are not told what appearance He took on here. Again it was possiblytaht of captain of Yahweh’s host.

Alternately ‘from Gilgal to Bochim’ may refer to the movement of the Tabernacle along with the Ark of the Covenant, the throne of God (see verse 5 where it is mentioned that they sacrificed there to Yahweh).

Gilgal (‘rolling’) was the place where the reproach of Egypt was removed from their shoulders (Joshua 5.9). The coming to ‘Bochim’ (‘weepers’), so named because of what was to happen, was intended to do the same for the reproach of Canaan.

The visit in Joshua 5 was at the time of the Passover feast which they there celebrated for the first time in the land. This visit also must have been at one of the great feasts for all Israel is seen as gathered together.

So now in God’s mercy the angel of Yahweh appeared once more when deliverance was needed, again speaking as Yahweh. Thus this situation is connected with the covenants first made with Abraham through both his sons, and with the deliverance from Egypt and from the seer at Moab. It was all part of the furtherance of His plan.

‘And he said, “I made you to go up out of Egypt, and I have brought you to the land which I swore to your fathers, and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land. You will break down their altars”.’

Note again the connection with the covenant and the deliverance from Egypt. The angel of Yahweh was intimately connected with both. He is God and yet distinguished from God, as the Son from the Father. (Note how in Zechariah 1.12, the angel of Yahweh communicates with God demonstrating intercommunion within the Godhead). And He was their Deliverer and will continue to be their Deliverer in accordance with the covenant.

He reminded them that it was He Who made them go up from Egypt, defeating Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt and humiliating the Egyptian forces before them. And it was He Who had brought them safely to the land in the face of such enemies as the seer at Moab (Balaam), indeed in the face of all powers or gods whether in heaven or on earth.

He confirmed that He would never break the covenant that had been made with Israel, that sacred covenant that He swore by ‘Himself’ because there was no greater to swear by (Genesis 22.16).

But then He reminded them that their part in that covenant was not to make any covenants or treaties with the inhabitants of Canaan, and to break down the altars of Baal and Asherah (Asheroth - the plural ending ‘-oth’ representing the many images of Asherah, or Ashtaroth representing images of Astarte), and of all gods in Canaan. And they had failed in their part.

2.2b “But you have not obeyed my voice. Why have you done this?”

They had made their covenants and their treaties, with the Canaanites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites. They had received tribute from them, made them slave labourers, allowed them to continue in their religion, flirted with it themselves, and even worse, in some cases participated in it. Now God reminded them that they had deliberately disobeyed Him and asked them, ‘why have you done this?’ Compare Genesis 3.13.

2.3 “For this reason I also have said I will not drive them out from before you, but they will be as thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a snare to you.”

He informs them that because they had not fulfilled their part in the covenant, He would not in the short term fulfil His. While He would not totally desert them He would withhold His assistance and not drive out those whom His people had been unwilling to drive out. It is a reminder that if we do not obey God we cannot expect Him to do for us what we fail to do.

And indeed the Canaanites did become thorns in their sides, always ready to retaliate when they grew strong, and always ready to side with others against them. ‘And their gods will be a snare to you’. They were dragged down morally and spiritually to the depths by their connections with Canaanite religion.

2.4 ‘And it happened that, when the Angel of Yahweh spoke these words to all the children of Israel, the people lifted up their voice and wept.’

Perhaps at this feast they had been enquiring of Yahweh why they were suffering failure against the enemy, and why things were going so hard for them. So here was God’s reply through His Angel, it was because they had sinned. It was because they had broken their covenant with Yahweh.

‘The people lifted up their voice, and wept.’ Why did they weep? Was it because they were brokenhearted over their own sinfulness, or was it because they felt that God might not be as much with them as before? There was probably a mixture of both, but with the emphasis on the latter. At such times as this, that was what they feared most, that the great God of deliverance would no longer deliver, that He Who had smitten the great Pharaoh of Egypt would no longer act against the people of the land and their gods. At least it awakened them to the importance of the covenant and their need to ensure their faithfulness to it. It was occasions like this that renewed their commitment to the central sanctuary, where they could hear the law of God, and make atonement before Him for their sin, and that for a time began to make them reconsider their duty to Him rather than to the gods of the land.

2.5 ‘And they called the name of that place Bochim, and they sacrificed there to Yahweh.’

‘Bochim’ means ‘weepers’. It was the place of weeping for sin. So there was a great renewal of the covenant at this feast of Yahweh, and the appropriate sacrifices were offered, and further sacrifices to denote their sense of guilt and gratitude.

It is probable that this was at Shiloh were the Tabernacle was, with Bochim being applied to the particular spot of their gathering. As it is never again mentioned it was probably a temporary name, as temporary as their repentance. But it may be that it is connected with Allon Bacuth (‘the oak of weeping’) in Genesis 35.8, which was at Bethel, where the Ark was in Judges 20.27, and where there was also great weeping then (verse 26), see also 21.2.

The importance of this incident lies in the fact that when in the future Israel looked back and asked themselves, ‘why has our God allowed this to happen?’ they would remember His words at Bochim and know that it was through their own fault that it was so, but that His revealed presence there demonstrated that He had not totally forsaken them.

A Flashback To The Days of Joshua And the Days of Faithfulness (2.6-9).

2.6 ‘Now when Joshua had sent the people away, the children of Israel went every man to his inheritance to possess the land.’

The writer now looks back to when Joshua had sent the people off to take possession of their inheritance. What a time of triumph and hope that had been. Joshua had sent them to their inheritances strong in faith. They had been confident that this was their inheritance from God through the covenant, and that nothing could finally stand against them. They knew that they must empty it of Canaanites and set up a new manner of life, the way of life of Yahweh. But that had been then. How different it was now. Now there was doubt, and fear, and trouble which lasted through the years, with more troubles to come, as the book will demonstrate. And why? Because their ‘knowing of Yahweh’ had grown dim (verse 10).

Faith to remain firm has to be constantly renewed. That was the purpose of their gatherings at the central sanctuary. But it had to be accompanied by the obedience which would cause them to remain afire. And that had been what was lacking. Their faith had become half-hearted. Has ours?

2.7 ‘And the people served Yahweh all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of Yahweh that he had wrought for Israel.’

For forty or so years the people had remained faithful to Yahweh and His covenant, during which period Joshua had died, and then the elders who had served with him, who had outlived him, also died. Some few had, as children, seen the great works that God had wrought in Egypt and at Sinai and in the wilderness, others the great works since leaving Kadesh, including the continued provision of manna to keep them alive (Joshua 5.12). They had experienced the crossing of Jordan and the first unbelievable act of God at Jericho. And reminders of these things at the regular covenant feasts (see Joshua 24) had kept their faith alive.

2.8 ‘And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Yahweh, had died, being a hundred and ten years old.’

Compare Genesis 50.26. Here had been another Joseph. One hundred and ten years was seen by the Egyptians as the perfect life span, a tradition seemingly carried on in Israel at this stage. As with all numbers in these early narratives, they are not to be taken too literally. It is a round number indicating the perfect fulfilment of his life and only secondarily indicating a good old age.

‘The servant of Yahweh.’ Here was one man who had been true to Yahweh, no longer the servant of Moses but ‘the servant of Yahweh’, a type of the great Servant yet to come (Isaiah 52.13-53.12). It had been the title of honour given to Moses at his death (Deuteronomy 34.5; Joshua 1.13; 8.31, 33; and regularly) and later to Joshua at his death (Joshua 24.29). It was the final accolade. It was given to no one else by man.

2.9 ‘And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of the mountain of Gaash.’

Timnath-heres is called Timnath-serah in Joshua 19.50; 24.30, the letters of "serah" being there inverted from "heres," which means the sun. This may have been in order to avoid connection with idolatrous religion of sun worshippers. There may have been a number of mountains called Heres for this reason (1.35; 8.13; Isaiah 19.18 Hebrew).

The Continued Failure of The People Summarised With Respect To The Days That Were Coming - God’s Attempts To Woo Them By Deliverance - And Their Continual Backsliding (2.10-23).

2.10 ‘And also all that generation were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them, who did not know Yahweh, nor yet the work which he had wrought for Israel.’

Thus ‘the elders that outlived Joshua’ were the elders of his generation. There were not two faithful generations. And they all died and were buried in their family tombs.

‘And there arose another generation after them, who did not know Yahweh, nor yet the work which he had wrought for Israel.’ They did not know Him in the sense that they had not experienced His powerful saving works and activity on behalf of His people. They did not know of Him as the One Who would be what He would be, the One ‘Who was there’ (the meaning of ‘Yahweh’). They knew of Him, they believed in His covenant, they looked to Him for help, but they had not had personal experience of His miraculous, powerful, saving acts, just as Moses had said of the patriarchs that the name of Yahweh was not ‘known’ to them (Exodus 6.3), for they too had not experienced His powerful, saving acts, only looking forward to them as a future expectation when He would fulfil His promises to them. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed’ (John 20.29).

The message for Christians is that we cannot depend on the blessings of past days as a barometer of our situation. The only test of our experience is our living response to God today. Without that the glories of the past are irrelevant.

2.11 ‘And the children of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and served the Baalim.’

They did what was the ‘natural’ thing to do. The Baalim were the main god of the land represented in the form of statuettes of bulls, so easily satisfied and demanding nothing in return. They were like good luck charms to many Israelites, but they took Israel away from faithfulness to the covenant. Israel took their eyes off God. Still others entered more boldly into Baalism, enjoying ‘worship’ with the sacred prostitutes, for Baalism was all about manipulating Baal through sympathetic magic in wild sexual orgies. And both equally did evil in the sight of Yahweh. For all that distracts man from his full obedience to God is evil. They failed to love Him with all their heart and soul and might (Deuteronomy 6.5).

So openly, publicly and boldly, in the very face of God, and amidst all the good things that they had received from Him, they trusted to good luck charms, to mascots and to manipulation of the gods and idols, and indulged in sexual orgies, and made men think that these things were the cause of their blessings, and not the God with Whom they had entered into covenant. And this was the very thing that God had known would happen and the reason why He had told them to drive the Canaanites out of the land. Now God was being pushed into the background, was being upstaged, and that by clay models, wooden images and man’s evil heart.

2.12 ‘And they forsook Yahweh, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people who were round about them, and bowed themselves down to them. And they provoked Yahweh to anger.’

They ignored two things, God’s covenant with Abraham which alone gave them the right to inherit the land, and His great deliverance whereby He had delivered them from Egypt by His mighty power.

Firstly they were ignoring the covenant, and the fact that their presence in the land was due to God Who had made unbreakable promises to their fathers. For they looked to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their fathers even though they were largely not related to them by blood. Many were descended from servants and followers of Abraham, even more were of the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt with Moses (Exodus 12.38), but all had taken ‘the fathers’ as their own, and now looked to them as their forefathers. And that was why they could inherit the land.

But now they were forsaking the One Who had made it all possible, the One Who in order to bring them to this land had delivered them with great power from the power and gods of Egypt, even from Pharaoh himself, the One Who had made His great covenant with them at Sinai. What ingratitude, and how foolish. And that was why they would need to learn their lesson. That there was only One Who was able to deliver.

‘And followed other gods, of the gods of the people who were round about them, and bowed themselves down to them. And they provoked Yahweh to anger.’ There were many such gods. Thus there were the gods of the Canaanites, and the Amorites, of the Phoenicians and the Hittites, of the Jebusites and the Hivites, who were round about them because they had not driven the peoples out from the places where it was possible.

God’s purpose was that they remain totally separate from the Canaanites. But they had ignored Him. And thus the purity of their relationship with Yahweh was being destroyed, and they were bowing down to idols, even while they sought to manipulate them. How great was the contrast between Yahweh the invisible, the omnipotent, the omniscient, and these toys of men. The One powerful to act, the other so-called gods trapped in the cycle of nature, as much doomed to sin and the vagaries of nature, as men were themselves.

‘And they provoked Yahweh to anger.’ Yahweh was angry because of their ingratitude, because of their folly and blindness, because of their disobedience, and because of what they were losing by their foolishness. And because they had taken their eyes off Him and had forgotten the covenant. They were trading the living God, ‘the One Who could act’, for those who were powerless to achieve anything, for idols made of clay, wood and stone. And the sad thing was that they did not realise it. For they maintained the cult at the central sanctuary and thought that that must be sufficient. They had begun to think of God as just another to be kept happy by ritual. In the same way many of us today trade the living God for prosperity, and success, and fame, and luxuries, making men our gods because of their influence or power or music, or even having a transcendental relationship with our pets, or with nature, because we must worship something. And we treat God as peripheral to our lives and worship Him on the sidelines.

But note the other side. God was ‘provoked to anger’. The One Who could act, would act. And He would bring on them the circumstances that would result in suffering and humiliation, and would make them rethink and turn back to Him. That is the danger of serving the living God, He takes notice of what we do and how we behave. ‘Anger’ is an anthropomorphism reflecting human reaction. But for God, anger was a reaction to what was harmful, evil and debasing for those Who were His by covenant. It spoke of His antipathy to, and hatred of, sin. And He was concerned for what they were losing, and causing others to lose, not for what He was losing. But it included judgment, for by their behaviour they were preventing others, especially their children, from enjoying their full covenant relationship with God.

2.13 ‘And they forsook Yahweh, and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.’

The repetitiveness is deliberate so that the words will be burned into the hearer’s hearts. We must not understand by ‘forsook’ that they ceased to look to Yahweh in some way as their God. They still accepted their part in the tribal covenant, at some times more firmly than others. They still recognised Him in feasts and sacrifices. But He had become One among others. To be called on but not to be followed fully. And the part required of them in covenant obedience was overlooked. Just as among many Christians today.

‘Baal and the Ashtaroth.’ Baal means ‘lord, master’. He was widely worshipped and was the god of rain, storm and lightning. In the Baal myths it was through his death and being brought back to life again in a perpetual cycle, as nature died and lived again each year, that life went on and the fields were fruitful. They saw earth as caught up with the patterns of the gods, nature was but an aftermath of those patterns (This was in no sense a resurrection in the sense in which we understand the idea, it was a continual death and revival to life, a yearly cycle, as happens in nature).

Thus, by stimulating the gods, nature could be stimulated, and this could be done by ‘sympathetic magic’, orgies of sex which stimulated Baal into action. So sacred prostitutes and perverted sex were at the centre of Canaanite religion. They worshipped Baal, they sacrificed to him, they did anything that would move him, but most of all they tried to manipulate him through sexual activity.

But the noun ‘baal’ was applicable too to Yahweh, for He was Lord and Master (see Hosea 2.16, compare Jeremiah 31.32). Thus the dangerous practise arose of thinking of Yahweh as ‘Baali’ (‘my lord’) (Hosea 2.16) which could lead to all kinds of complications.

This is confirmed by the fact that godly men could call their sons ‘Ishbaal’ (1 Chronicles 9.39) and ‘Meribaal’ (1 Chronicles 9.40), a practise later altered when ‘Yah’ replaced ‘Baal’ in names. David called one of his daughters Beeliada (1 Chronicles 14.7), possibly originally meaning ‘one who knows the lord (baal)’. Later writers, appalled at this, changed the name ‘baal’ to ‘bosheth’ meaning ‘shame’, thus we have Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth (Eshbaal and Mephibaal, sons of Saul).

‘Ashtaroth.’ The Ashtaroth represented the goddess of fertility, love and war (compare Ishtar, Astarte). Numerous plaques containing the figure of a naked goddess have been discovered at different sites in Palestine, many of which would represent Ashtaroth. Her worship too consisted largely in depraved sex. She was the goddess of reproduction.

When the bad years came to the Israelite farmers it was inevitable that they began to wonder whether it was because they had not paid due regard to these gods, and the temptation was thus to compromise and see what would happen if they paid due observance to Baal and Ashtaroth, and if things improved the following year, as could well happen, they then knew who was responsible. Thus did they inevitably begin to compromise their faithfulness to Yahweh. They served Baal and the Ashtaroth while keeping up a nominal obedience to Yahweh and the covenant at the central sanctuary which was, for some, far away. This was the result of not keeping separate from the Canaanites.

It reminds us that if we too are to remain faithful to God we must keep ourselves separate from anything that can lead us astray. If we find something that cools our fervour for the Lord we should do away with it, ‘drive it out’. Otherwise we may find that His anger comes on us. This is especially true of things that cause evil desire. From those we are told to ‘flee’ (2 Timothy 2.22).

2.14 ‘And the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers who spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.’

So Yahweh’s anger was kindled against them, and what follows in 2.14-3.6 is a summary of what will follow in detail in the remainder of the book. First the summary and then the detail revealing how the summary was worked out.

The first result of God’s anger and His withholding of His mercy was that they would become prey to their enemies round about. These were troubled times. In different nations weak kings would be succeeded by strong kings, and then neighbours, including the tribes of Israel, had to beware. For the strong kings trained armies and looked for booty and tribute. Thus came ‘the spoilers’. They sought their spoil and made other peoples tributary, as Israel had done to Canaanites. As they had done so was done to them. We will be looking at some of these spoilers in coming chapters. And because God was not with them and their covenant links had become weakened, they were not strong enough to stand before the enemy.

2.15 ‘Wherever they went out, the hand of Yahweh was against them for evil, as Yahweh had said, and as Yahweh had sworn to them.’

Because they had failed to drive out the Canaanites God would give them no more victories. When they now sought to expand they would face defeat after defeat, just as Yahweh had said (2.3). Indeed as He had sworn to them. The situation was similar to that when they had failed to listen to God’s warning previously, after they had previously failed to obey God. There too they had tried too late to remedy things and go forward, and had been repulsed and humiliated (Numbers 14.40-45). Yahweh was not only the God Who gave victory, He was also the God Who inflicted defeat.

2.15b-16 ‘And they were sore distressed. And Yahweh raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of those who despoiled them.’

God did not totally desert them. He remembered His covenant with Abraham. So when things were at their worst He raised up ‘judges’, charismatic leaders, who delivered them out of the hands of the despoilers, as described in the following chapters. They would be men ‘filled with the Spirit of Yahweh’, and that is why they would be successful. Thus pride would be restored in the covenant and the people would once again become free and begin to prosper, and would recognise that after all Yahweh was the only God they could rely on.

2.17 ‘And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they went a whoring after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned quickly out of the way in which their fathers walked in obeying the commandments of Yahweh. They did not do so.’

From now on there was an up-down situation. Having been delivered from their enemies and having begun again to walk in the commandments of Yahweh, they repaired the breaches in the covenant, and began to obey God.

But ‘they did not listen to their judges’, that is, they did not listen in the long run. For the next generation again turned to other gods, the gods of the land. Again they ‘went a-whoring’ after them. The description is vivid and later taken up by the prophets. They sought and trusted in these gods and indulged in all the sexual uncleanness which was involved in their worship. They committed both spiritual and physical adultery. This was the result of not having driven them out.

2.18 ‘And when Yahweh raised up judges, then Yahweh was with the judge, and saved them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For Yahweh relented because of their groaning as a result of those who oppressed them and vexed them.’

The repetition compared with verse 16 is deliberate. The process was repeated over and over and over again. Yahweh would continually raise up judges over the different tribes. He would be with the judges and save the tribes out of the hands of their enemies. Sometimes it would be one tribe, sometimes another, sometimes a group of tribes. Sometimes the judges would overlap. But He would do it because He was sorry for the people and the predicament they found themselves in. He heard ‘their groaning’ (compare Exodus 2.7, 24; 6.5 where we are also told He remembered His covenant with Abraham) and He relented from His hard stance and had mercy on them.

‘Yahweh relented.’ His covenant was firm, therefore He had to relent. It was in the nature of His promises. He did not really change His mind, it only looked like it from a human point of view. This is human language. Yahweh had always intended to finally relax His anger when the time was right.

2.19 ‘And it happened that, when the judge was dead, they turned back and dealt more corruptly than their fathers in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down to them. They did not cease from their doings, nor from their stubborn ways.’

The only result of God’s goodness and mercy was that they became worse. The more He helped them the worse they became. For a time they treated the covenant and the tribal confederacy seriously, until the delivering judge was dead, and then they turned back to idolatry with its sinful ramifications. This was the pattern of their existence. Sin and idolatry, trouble, judges raised up by Yahweh, deliverance, temporary gratitude and faithfulness, then further sin and idolatry. They would not cease from their stubborn ways. It was a wonder that He did not rid Himself of them. But then the same can be said of us. Why does He put up with our disobedience?

2.20 ‘And the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not listened to my voice”.’

Again we read of God’s anger kindled against them, compare verse 14. Everything is repeated to bring out either its heinousness or its severity. God had delivered their fathers and had made a covenant with them at Sinai. And they had renewed that covenant with Him time and time again, especially at the times when they had experienced His deliverance, meeting again at the central sanctuary and renewing their oaths. But they had not really listened for they soon broke that covenant, and neglected it, time and time again. They had sworn to have no other gods but Him, but as soon as the memory of their deliverances died down they were back to their old ways and forgot the covenant that they had renewed, flirting with Baal and Ashtaroth and the other gods of the land.

This continued repetition may seem a little tedious, but its purpose was to get over to the hearer the continual danger of relapsing into sin, and to remind him how easily and how often it could happen. If we are not aware that this describes many of our lives, we too are in danger.

2.21 “I also will not henceforth drive out from before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died.”

His patience had now come to an end. He might deliver them from outside nations, but the nations in the land were now to be their snares, and traps, and thorns and headaches. He would no longer help them to drive them out. Rather He would leave them there to test them out. There had been a limit to what Joshua could do, an understandable limit of time and manpower. But by now the work should have been near completion, were it not for the continued and deliberate disobedience of His people. So they must suffer for their disobedience.

2.22 “That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of Yahweh to walk in it, as their fathers kept it, or not.”

These nations would act as a continual proving ground, testing how faithful to the covenant Israel would be. Testing whether, like their fathers, they would be willing to walk in His ways. Or whether they would not.

2.23 ‘So Yahweh left those nations, without driving them out quickly, neither did he deliver them into the hand of Joshua.’

Here the writer makes plain the truth. Yahweh had known all along that His people would be unfaithful, for even in the days of Joshua when the people were relatively faithful to Him, He had not acted fully to drive out the nations with all speed. This was so that they would be a test to His people of their faithfulness, a test that they had miserably failed. He had been sovereign over affairs right from the beginning.

And yet, on the other hand, part of the reason for their not being driven out, as He has made clear, was because of the refusal of His people to drive them out. They had done so at first, but then they had slackened off. And as time past they had even made deals with them, becoming their taskmasters, receiving tribute from them, socialising with them, learning their sophisticated ways, when all the time they should have been concentrating on driving them out. Thus they had contributed to their own testing. This recognition of the fact that man’s failure was within Yahweh’s sovereignty is a feature of the historical prophets from Joshua to Kings, for everything was seen as within His sovereignty.

It is also a picture of the Christian life in which Christians again and again compromise with sin and worldliness instead of driving them out and then wonder why they are till entrapped by them.

Chapter 3. Deliverers.

This chapter gives an account of the nations who remained in Canaan to prove Israel’s faithfulness, who gradually became a snare to them. It then describes the servitude of Israel under a king of Mesopotamia because of their sins, a servitude from which they were delivered by Othniel. It speaks of their subjection to the Moabites, from which they were freed by Ehud, who privately assassinated the king of Moab, and then made his escape. And it briefly describes the destruction of a large number of Philistines by Shamgar, with an ox goad.

The Nations Who Remained To Test Israel’s Faithfulness (3.1-6).

3.1 ‘Now these are the nations which Yahweh left to prove Israel by them, even as many as had not known all the wars of Canaan.’

The first wars were over and Israel were experiencing a time of relative peace and slow expansion. But because of their disobedience, and because they had allowed Canaanites to remain living among them, God was not planning to aid them in removing the remainder of the unconquered nations. Thus while they were at peace the presence of other nations was an ever constant threat.

Indeed a new and more powerful enemy had come among them. For the Sea Peoples from the Aegean had invaded the coast of Syria and some had spread down into Palestine. These were the fierce Philistines, and they were there to stay. They occupied the fertile coastal plain, their main cities being Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath, and were ruled by five Tyrants, one in each main city, who worked in unison. They also later occupied Bethshean and Gerar and a number of other towns. They are mentioned in the annals of Raamses III (c 1185 BC) as a new threat for they had had to be repelled from Egypt.

They wore head-dresses of feathers, and were armed with lances, round shields, long broadswords and triangular daggers. They would gradually incorporate iron into their lifestyles and weaponry, learned from the Hittites. They were a ruling class with native Canaanites, and at certain stages Israelites, under them.

3.2 ‘Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at least such as beforehand knew nothing of it.’

The idea of the land of promise had been that it would be a land of peace and plenty. But, because of their continual disobedience and fraternising with the people of the land and its religions, Yahweh was now determined that they should learn their lesson by facing constant warfare.

‘To teach them war’ did not mainly refer to their learning how to fight, but to their learning because they had to fight. To teach them what war meant for men. By having to fight they would learn the bitter lessons they could learn in no other way. This again comes out later in the book.

They had begun to settle at peace but now they were to know bitter wars to teach them their lesson, that Yahweh must be obeyed. It would, of course, also eventually teach them how to fight, but that was secondary to the main lesson of the consequences of disobedience. Indeed their need to learn to fight came about for that precise reason. Yahweh no longer fought for them.

Once they turned back to Yahweh they did not need the art of war for He would deliver them through His power. He Himself directed their warfare. That is the lesson of Gideon and his three hundred. Again and again this lesson comes over. Egypt was defeated because Moses lifted his rod and they marched into the sea (Exodus 14). Israel triumphed because Moses’ hands were held high (Exodus 17.11). The walls of Jericho fell because they marched round them (Joshua 6). Joshua defeated the Southern Alliance because hailstones fell from the heavens (Joshua 10.11). Barak and Deborah triumphed because they attacked when Yahweh commanded and the rains and floods fought for them (4 & 5). Gideon triumphed because Yahweh caused panic in the hearts of the enemy (7).

3.3 ‘Namely, the five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Zidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baal-hermon to the entering in of Hamath.’

For the five lords of the Philistines see what was said above. The word for ‘lord’ is a unique one used only of Philistine lords (seren). We will translate it as Tyrant although they were no more tyrranical than other powerful kings. ‘All the Canaanites’ covers all previous dwellers in the land. ‘The Zidonians’ were the Phoenician occupants of Zidon and its surrounding lands. It was a great seaport and the Phoenicians, were renowned sailors and merchant seamen. The Hivites mainly dwelt in the Lebanon hills and the Carmel range, thus in the northernmost part of Canaan. Compare for this Joshua 13.2-6.

‘From mount Baal-hermon to the entering in of Hamath.’ Compare ‘from Baal-gad under Mount Hermon to the entering in of Hamath’ (Joshua 13.5) where it is the northern boundary of Canaan. See also Numbers 34.8; 1 Kings 8.65; 2 Chronicles 7.8.

3.4 ‘And they were in order to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would listen to the commandments of Yahweh, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.’

Israel were now decidedly on probation. These nations would test them out and prove how faithful they were willing to be to the covenant, the covenant which included the commandments given through Moses to their fathers, which had included the commandments to drive out the Canaanites, which they had disobeyed.

It also included the commandments concerning having only one God, concerning covenant brotherhood and love, concerning the central sanctuary, concerning the offerings and sacrifices unique to Yahweh and concerning the priesthood, and concerning His strict moral requirements.

3.5 ‘And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites; the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.’

They should have driven them out, but now they lived among them and were indeed in danger of losing their identity to them. They were fast becoming assimilated with the Canaanites. Those they had conquered were conquering them by assimilation, as so often happened in history. Outwardly what was distinctive in their religion was in danger of being lost. Note that the term Canaanite here included the others. This was only finally prevented because of the troubles that came on them.

3.6 ‘And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.’

In direct disobedience to God’s covenant they intermarried with the Canaanites (Joshua 23.12; Exodus 34.15-16; Numbers 25.1-2; Deuteronomy 7.3). This was not a question of race but of culture. The Israelites were of widely mixed race, but they shared the covenant of Yahweh, and the high moral standards related to it. The Canaanites were idol worshippers following a debased religion with low moral standards. Now these were being intermingled with devastating effects on the morality and religious attitude of the Israelites. This is brought out by the fact that ‘they served their gods’.

We must not assume this was true of all. Otherwise they would have disappeared without trace. It was describing a tendency. Fortunately enough remained sufficiently loyal to Yahweh to ensure that the future lessons would enable their restoration.

God’s First Lesson. Invasion from the North - The First Judge (3.7-11).

3.7 ‘And the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh, forgot Yahweh their God, and served the Baalim, and the Asheroth.’

This is slightly different from ‘Baal and the Ashtaroth’ although the intent is the same. The Baalim were the small representations of Baal, which many took into their houses, and the representations of Baal in ‘high places’, places built on hills for the worship of Baal. The Asheroth were either wooden poles or trees representing fruitful trees (see Deuteronomy 16.21), or wooden images (‘Asherah images’), mounted in sacred sites, with miniatures kept at home, representing the goddess Asherah. She too was involved in the cycle of nature and reproduction.

The widespread and all inclusive nature of Canaanite religion excludes too close definitions. All the paraphernalia of sacrifices and priesthood were involved in the worship which was widespread and multi-cultural. But its main stimulus was the cycle of nature and accompanying fertility rites, with all their sexual debasement.

‘Forgot Yahweh their God.’ That is they overlooked the demand of the covenant and their responsibility for covenant faithfulness. Their response became formal and was watered down by compromising with other religions and mixing with the people of the land.

‘Did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh.’ Compare 2.11; 3.7, 12; 4.1; 6.1; 10.6; 13.1. This is the explanation of why Yahweh delivered them into the hands of their enemies. They disobeyed Him, ceased to worship Him fully, and lived lives contrary to His Law and displeasing to Him.

3.8 ‘Therefore the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim, a king of Aram-naharaim. And the children of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.’

This was an opportunist king who had grown strong and was seeking booty and tribute (compare the kings in Genesis 14). He came from East Syria/Southern Mesopotamia. ‘Rishathaim’ means ‘of double wickedness’, but this was probably a play on his real name.

He is not identifiable from history. Various attempts have been made, but none have been fully satisfactory. The nearest comparison is the Kassite name ‘Kassa-risat’. There was also a place in northern Syria called Kushan-rom which is mentioned in the lists of Raamses III. But neither are convincing. He must have been fairly powerful for his short-lived empire to have reached this far, although he no doubt avoided stronger opponents.

‘And the children of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.’ That is they became tributary to him. This was very early on because Othniel, the son-in-law, of Caleb was still alive. The fact that he became involved suggests that Cushan-rishathaim’s control was quite extensive for Othniel was connected with Judah in the South. Although it may well be that he and Judah were called in to help under the covenant stipulations.

3.9 ‘And when the children of Israel cried to Yahweh, Yahweh raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel who saved them, even Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.’

‘The children of Israel’ can refer to a group large or small, depending on the facts. The point is that they were a part of the tribal confederacy and had their part in the covenant. Time passed and the required tribute became larger until it became a burden too heavy to bear. Then in their distress their thoughts turned to Yahweh, the Lord of Battle, the Deliverer. Baal was helpless in a situation like this. So they cried to Him and remembered the covenant. They began to take seriously their covenant obligations.

‘And Yahweh raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel who saved them, even Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.’ This may have been the result of their gathering with the tribal confederacy and seeking help from the tribe of Judah. Possibly they had previously been a little lax in observing the covenant requirements. Or perhaps Judah too were being subjected to tribute until the tribute became too demanding and the Spirit of Yahweh stirred one of their former champions. The champion was the same Othniel who captured Debir, and married Achsah, the daughter of Caleb (1.13). He was the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother.

3.10 ‘And the Spirit of Yahweh came on him, and he judged Israel. And he went out to war, and Yahweh delivered Cushan-rishathaim, king of Aram-naharaim into his hand. And his hand prevailed against Cusham-rishathaim.’

He was seen as the man inspired by Yahweh who could help them and they called on him to become their leader. He would first begin to set to rights things that were wrong, including restoration of covenant obedience and the putting away of strange gods. This was all part of his being a Yahweh inspired man. Then he gathered together and prepared an army ready for the next tribute demand.

‘And he went out to war, and Yahweh delivered Cushan-rishathaim, king of Aram-naharaim into his hand. And his hand prevailed against Cusham-rishathaim.’ He would first withhold the tribute when the time for it came to be collected. Then Cushan-rishathaim would raise a punitive expedition to demand it, and Othniel met the expedition and totally defeated it. It is not necessary to assume that Cushan-rishathaim was captured, but he was sufficiently dealt with to prevent him from returning.

‘The Spirit of Yahweh came on him.’ This phrase appears again and again in Judges (6.34; 11.29 - where it depicts Yahweh assisting a war leader and 13.25; 14.6, 19; 15.14 where it refers to Samson) . It results from Israel ‘crying to Yahweh’ (3.9, 15; 4.3; 6.6, 7; 10.10) and is seen as a direct answer to their cry. The point is not that he had some vivid experience of Yahweh, but that Yahweh had clearly taken hold of him to restore Israel and bring about the defeat of the enemy. From now on it was to Yahweh that they looked (for a time), not Baal.

3.11 ‘And the land had rest forty years, and Othniel the son of Kenaz died.’

This really means that the land had rest ‘for a generation’. Forty years is a round number signifying a generation. It is also a significant number for forty is a period that signifies a time of testing and a time of waiting and a time of preparation (Genesis 7.4, 12, 17; 8.6; 25.20; 26.34; Exodus 16.35; 34.28; Numbers 13.25; 14.33, 34; Deuteronomy 8.2; 9.18; Joshuah 14.7). The idea here is that they were under trial, waiting for the next period of testing. But notice what it meant. For a whole generation that part of Israel enjoyed rest and more or less faithfully served Yahweh.

God’s Second Lesson. The King of Moab and Ehud the Benjaminite (3.12-30).

3.12 ‘And the children of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh. And Yahweh strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh ’

The story is repeated. Once again, as soon as the trouble appeared to be past, they began to turn back to their old ways, and to dabble in the religions of the land with all their accompanying evil.

‘And Yahweh strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh.’ Previously He had ‘sold them into the hand of --’ (verse 8), as though they were slaves. Now, however, He is depicted as deliberately raising an enemy to bring about His will. He gives encouragement to Eglon, king of Moab, strengthening his resolve so that he will not back down, but will come to teach Israel a lesson because they had again done evil in His sight. They had turned to idolatry and Baal worship and had neglected the covenant with, and true worship of, Yahweh.

3.13. ‘And he gathered to him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and he went and smote Israel and possessed the city of the palm trees.’

This city of the palm trees must have been Jericho, for the champion raised up was a Benjaminite. Thus the territory of Reuben and Gad was affected, and a part of Benjamin. Whether it was Yahweh Who arranged the confederacy, or the king of Moab, or both, the result was the same. Ammon and Moab were situated side by side in Transjordan and regularly acted together, for they were brother tribes, so much so that they had jointly come under Yahweh’s judgment (Deuteronomy 23.3-6). Amalek were at least partly Bedouin equivalent and fairly widespread.

‘And went and smote Israel and possessed the city of the palm trees.’ Presumably they first possessed the Reubenites and part of Gad (who lay between their borders and Jericho), and then part of Benjamin. It probably did not affect the other tribes. Jericho had not been rebuilt, but there may have been a temporary settlement on it, or a guardpost. However, the surrounding area was very attractive. It guarded the Jordan crossing. This was presumably the outer limit of their depredations.

Why then did the tribal confederation not come to their aid? They may themselves have been involved with their own protection against marauding enemies and unable to leave their own area. Or it may simply indicate a weak period in the tribal confederacy when they were not prepared to do so because of the weakness of their dedication to Yahweh. Possibly the threat was not seen as too great compared with other threats. The Philistines themselves probably presented a constant greater threat as they sought to expand their newly won territories.

3.14 ‘And the children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years.’

They paid tribute and were possibly put to taskwork. It appears that their apostasy was so great that they did not even consider calling on Yahweh. They suffered in silence. But at last it became too much and they remembered the days of old, the delivering power of Yahweh, and once again they turned back to seek Him. They put aside their Baals and their Ashtaroth and Asheroth and they renewed the old covenant. Perhaps He would yet hear them and spare them.

3.15 ‘But when the children of Israel cried to Yahweh, Yahweh raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man, and the children of Israel sent a present by him to Eglon the king of Moab.’

Yahweh heard their cry. It may not have seemed like it for a time, for nothing seemed to happen. Until at length the time came for further tribute to be paid. It was then that the deliverer carried his plan into operation.

‘Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man .’ This was the name of the deliverer. Lefthandedness appears to have been prevalent among Benjaminites (compare 20.16; 1 Chronicles 12.2). Ehud was clearly an important man for he led the contingent that delivered the tribute and was able to gain private access into the king’s presence. He had probably been delivering the tribute for a number of years. Few thought of this man as a likely champion.

3.16 ‘And Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, of a cubit length, and he slung it under his clothing on his right thigh.’

The short sword he made for himself was between one foot (thirty centimetres) and one foot six (forty five centimetres) in length, depending whether it means the short cubit or the long cubit. It was double-edged. He hid it under his clothing and because he was left-handed it was slung at his right side. It was made so that it could be more easily concealed than a normal sword, but be long enough to pierce the over-fat king to the heart. It was all carefully planned.

3.17 ‘And he offered the present to Eglon, king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man.’

The present, or tribute, would be carried by servants who would bring it in so that it could be checked. The tribute would be in the form of goods and produce. The fatness of Eglon is mainly described in order to explain the size of the sword, but also possibly in mockery, or even to point out how well he had been living off Israel.

3.18 ‘And when he had made an end of offering the present, he sent away the people who bore the present.’

Having offered the tribute, and having made the usual flowery speech, he went out of the king’s presence with his servants, and left with them to see them on their way. But when they reached the ‘graven images’ (probably ancient sculptured standing stones) at Gilgal, he sent them on their way, for he had a duty to perform and he did not want them involved. Some suggest that the graven images had been erected by the king of Moab as a kind of guard protecting the way to his land. This would add poignancy to their mention.

3.19 ‘But he himself turned back from the graven images which were by Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret errand to you, Oh king.” And he said, “keep silence.” And all who stood by him went out from him.’

He returned to where the king’s party were. If anything went wrong he wanted it to be seen as an individual act, not bringing retribution on his people. Then he indicated that he had a message to convey that required utmost secrecy. In their eyes he was clearly unarmed.

‘And he said, ‘keep silence.’ And all who stood by him went out from him.’ The king’s words clearly indicated that they leave him alone with Ehud, and were probably a standard signal. Total silence was only possible in an emptied room. Then they all left the room. Alternately it may be that his words were to Ehud, telling him to say nothing until they were alone. Then by a signal he would dismiss his servants.

3.20 ‘And Ehud came to him, and he was sitting by himself alone in his upper cooling parlour. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God to you.” And he arose from his seat.’

Ehud now approached him. He was sitting alone seeking to cool himself in his upper cooling parlour, which was presumably on the rooftop and designed to catch the wind. It would have had small windows in order to restrain the heat.

‘And Ehud said, “I have a message from God to you.” And he arose from his seat.’ Ehud was confident that he was acting in accordance with God’s will as a judge of Israel. Note that his message was from God not Yahweh. He was speaking to someone who believed in other gods, and he spoke accordingly. Eglon stood up. This was not quite what he had expected. He was probably alarmed, not because he feared attack but because he anticipated some awful divine warning.

3.21 ‘And Ehud put out his left hand, and took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.’

The king was clearly totally unsuspicious up to this point. Ehud appeared to have no weapon and his movement was not with the sword arm. He probably thought Ehud was being super-cautious and wanting to whisper what he had to say. But he soon learned otherwise, for suddenly a sword appeared and it was thrust into ‘his belly’, probably with an upward movement so that it avoided the ribs and pierced the heart. A quick and quiet death was essential.

3.22 ‘And the haft also went in, after the blade, and the fat closed on the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly, and it came out behind.’

The powerful thrust went straight through the fat king, with his fat gripping the blade and swallowing the haft, and it clearly killed the king immediately for he made no cry for help. The last word in the Hebrew text is used only here and its meaning is not certain. It is possible that it refers to the fact that the terrified king could not control his functions (compare 2 Samuel 20.10). This would be seen as a lack of dignity fitting for such a tyrant.

3.23 ‘Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the parlour on him, and locked them.’

The word for vestibule is otherwise unknown and its meaning not certain. But the import is clear, he was able to leave and lock the door behind him.

Wooden keys for crude locking devices are well known. The key would be a flat piece of wood furnished with pins which corresponded to holes in a hollow bolt. The bolt was on the inside and would be shot into a socket in the doorpost, and would be fastened by pins which fell into the holes in the bolt from an upright piece of wood attached to the inside of the door. To unlock the door you would put your hand through a special hole provided (see Song of Solomon 5.4), and raise the locking pins by using the pins in the ‘key’.

3.24 ‘When he had left, his servants came, and they saw, and behold the doors of the parlour were locked. And they said, “surely he covers his feet in the cooling room”.’

When the servants saw Ehud leave they returned to their duties with the king, but on discovering the door locked, assumed that he was resting and cooling himself, and had locked himself in, wanting to be alone.

‘Covering the feet’ with long garments was a means of ensuring that nothing was exposed. It was also a phrase used of relieving oneself naturally and carrying out the private functions (1 Samuel 24.3).

3.25 ‘And they waited until they were embarrassed, and behold he did not open the doors of the parlour. So they took the key and opened them, and behold their lord had fallen down dead on the floor.’

They waited and waited, not daring to disturb him, until so much time had passed that they were abashed. Then they no doubt sought to attract his attention. But in the end they took their courage in both hands and unlocked the door, and found the king lying dead, prostrate on the floor.

3.26 ‘And Ehud escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the graven images, and escaped to Seirah.’

The delay gave Ehud time to escape and he again came to the graven images, and then escaped into Seirah, a place of which the details are unknown to us, but it was presumably in the hill country of Ephraim.

And it is now that we discover the full detail of Ehud’s plan. For he had already made arrangements with the tribal confederacy, who had gathered and were awaiting his signal.

3.27-28a. ‘And it happened that, when he was come, he blew a ram’s horn in the hill country of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he in front of them. And he said to them, “Follow me. For Yahweh has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand”.’

On arrival in the hill country of Ephraim Ehud blew a trumpet of ram’s horn (Joshua 6.13), and the waiting army came to him and he led them back towards where he had come from, telling them that all was well. The plan had worked successfully, and the Moabites were there for the taking.

When Israel had cried to Yahweh (verse 15) that included the fact that the covenant had again become an important factor in their thinking. But not all had deserted the covenant. There were still those who met at the central sanctuary and were faithful to it. It was probably to them that Ehud had gone for help, sending out the covenant call. And this was their response to aid one of their number in need. But the plan had probably been his.

3.28b. ‘And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan against the Moabites. And would not allow any man to pass over.’

From this it is clear that an army of occupation was settled in the region round the city of palms, possibly there to receive tribute and to remind Israel of their strength. They did not realise that Reuben/Gad/Benjamin had renewed their covenant with the tribal confederation and had thus become much stronger, gaining support from the other tribes.

And this army now found itself leaderless and trapped, for the death of the king would throw everything into confusion. In those days when a king died there would be a number of contenders for the throne, and the internal battles would begin. Thus when they made for the fords to enter into the leadership contest they found the fords closed against them, although undoubtedly messengers had previously been despatched and passed over to declare the death of the king. Nor could assistance come from beyond Jordan because of the presence of these Israelite soldiers.

3.29 ‘And they slew of Moab at that time about ten eleph men, every lusty man and every man of valour. And there escaped not a man.’

Ten military units of men (five hundred upwards) who were there as guards to the king, and to put pressure on the subject people, were slain. All were trained soldiers and true warriors, but every one died to the last man. And Moab would now be too busy in determining the succession, and in selecting and crowning their new king. This would take some time and possibly reslt in no little violence. Thus they would be unable to do anything about the situation.

‘Every lusty man.’ The word for lusty usually means fat. It may be that the writer is saying that the fat courtiers were slain along with the true warriors.

What are we to say about Ehud’s method of using assassination? We must remember that the king was an enemy of Israel and illegally demanding tribute from them. He was thus at continual war with them. So it was an act of war and as such legitimate. It was no more deceitful than laying an ambush for someone and enticing them into it.

It would have been a totally different thing had he paid assassins to kill kings who were merely ruling peacefully over their own countries. But he had not come as a faithful servant, professing loyalty from the heart, he had come as the representative of an oppressed people, and as one of them. And he certainly followed it up by showing that Yahweh was with him. ‘Yahweh has delivered’ (verse 28), and these are as much the words of the writer as of Ehud, for he unquestionably approved of them.

3.30 ‘So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.’

The Moabites no longer came to cause trouble to Israel, for they were busy with the succession and had lost a good number of their finest troops. They also recognised that something had happened to restore the strength of Israel, so that they were no longer a sitting target.

The eighty year rest is twice the previous forty year rest, just as the subjugation had been for eighteen years rather than eight. It represents ‘forty intensified’. God was showing double favour to His people. There was a double waiting and a double period of testing, and two generations of rest from the Moabites. In reading Judges we can tend to overlook these long periods of wellbeing. But they occurred none-the-less.

The subjugation by Moab may well have partly taken place while the subjugation of the other tribes under Cushan-rishathaim was going on and through part of their period of rest, for this was in another part of Israel and had probably been limited to the three tribes.

Perhaps Moab had stopped at Jericho because they did not want to face the army of Cushan-rishathaim, for tribute paid to a king rendered those who paid it the right to protection, and thus Israel would have had a right of protection.

We note also that the next major crisis took place when Ehud was dead (4.1). And meanwhile Shamgar was active against the Philistines in the west (3.31). This suggests a shorter period than ‘eighty years’. But that was surely because those events took place in another part of Israel, mainly in the plains in the west where chariots were effective. Jericho and Transjordan in the east were unaffected. Their rest from war continued for two generations.

Shamgar Delivers From The Philistines (3.31).

3.31 ‘And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who smote six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad. And he also delivered Israel.’

Inevitably pressure was beginning to arise from the Philistines in the west. There Shamgar, the son of Anath, was a judge of Israel, and he kept them to some extent at bay. But ‘the highways were unoccupied and the people walked in by-ways’ (Judges 5.6), so times were difficult.

The incident described was a memorable one connected with his name, and he was clearly famous for fighting with an ox goad, a long-handled, sturdy wooden instrument with a metal pin in it, perhaps six to eight foot (two metres plus) in length, which could be wielded with deadly effect. Possibly the details of his other exploits were lost, but this was sufficient to demonstrate that Yahweh was with him and helping ‘Israel’, in his case probably Judah and Simeon.

Anath, the name of his father, was the name of a Canaanite goddess, Baal’s sister who in the Canaanite myths searches for the dead Baal and on finding him smites Death (Moth). She is regularly called ‘the Virgin’ at Ugarit, but not in our understanding of virgin. It rather denotes her availability for and propensity for sexual relations. This name adds to the genuine background of the story. But it need have no significance as regards Anath’s allegiance, although it may tell us something about his mother and her allegiance. Perhaps they lived near Beth-anath, ‘the house of Anath’ (Joshua 15.59).

But ‘son of Anath’ may instead mean that that was a name given to him by the Canaanites around, signifying his warlikeness as being ‘like Anath’. He may have been popularly called ‘the son of Anath’ (as we might call someone a Hercules).

The ‘hundreds’ would be smaller units than the ‘elephs’ (thousands). (Compare the ‘legions’ and the ‘centuries’ of the later Roman army where the actual numbers were far less than the number words suggested). But six of these units (say ninety men upwards) Shamgar destroyed with an ox goad, although probably assisted by his men. It would give the Philistines pause before they attacked again.

The name Shamgar possibly connects with the Hurrian ‘simiqari’ and is testified to at Nuzi. It was not a native Hebrew name but that does not mean that he had not come within the covenant. All who would worship Yahweh truly and submit to His will could come within the covenant, and his family may well have done that generations before in Egypt, while retaining family names.

‘And he also delivered Israel.’ This demonstrates that he was a ‘judge’ and that Yahweh was with him, keeping the Philistines at bay. (Such men are often called ‘minor judges’ by modern commentators, but that is simply because little is known about them).

The whole description is tacked on to the Ehud story because it was only a snippet, to indicate that other activity was also taking place. But the event occurred early as is testified to by the song of Deborah (c 1125 BC).

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The Book of Judges: Contents



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