Life Without Law
An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on the Book of Judges
The translated Bible text has been through Advanced Checking.
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
The book called Judges was in the *Hebrew *Scriptures. It was in the section called Former (earlier) *Prophets. In Deuteronomy chapters 27 and 28, we can read what would happen in *Israel’s future. If *Israel’s people were loyal to God, God would bless them. If they were not loyal to him, he would *curse them. (Look at Deuteronomy 28:15-26.) And nobody can make God believe anything that is not true. In Judges, we can see examples of how those things happened. Sometimes people obeyed God and sometimes they did not obey him. In this book, we see what happened as a result. We learn more about the *blessings and *curses. We learn how God trains his people.
The *Lord is the chief Judge. He allowed cruel things to happen to *Israel’s people. He punished them. Sometimes you may not like the punishment that God allows! He also sent people to make *Israel’s people free. There were periods when they had peace. However, the writer does not say very much about these periods.
God had promised to give them that country where they were. They had already fought to get it. But the real battle to get the country did not begin until after Joshua’s death. Joshua had often said that they had not *captured it completely. Sometimes they succeeded. However, the people did not always live in the area that they had *conquered. The *tribes (family groups) did not control the whole country. They controlled only a small part. In between the *tribes, there were two powerful groups of towns. All these towns had the same ruler. The *tribes could not always defeat the people in *Canaan. Some *tribes made an agreement with the local people. Then they could live together.
The judges were very wise. They were able to prepare for the future. Many judges had strong beliefs. They very much wanted the *blessings that God promised. They wanted their nation to obey God’s *commandments. So they had authority. But also, many people knew them. People did not choose them for their jobs. God chose them. The jobs did not usually pass from father to son.
The kings of *Canaan had many *weapons that were not just simple ones. With those weapons, they could destroy things more easily and they could kill people more easily. So the *Israelites succeeded only when they all fought together. Usually, *Israel’s *tribes only had an interest in their own affairs. The one thing that brought them together was their belief in God. They also believed that they were a nation. So they could act together to meet a common enemy. But when they stopped trusting God, selfish interests became the most important things. So they could not defeat their enemies.
Maybe a group of *tribes lived round a *religious place. Maybe they came together because they all wanted to praise God. Some Bible students think that those things were true. Here are some things that were perhaps true about these groups:
1 6 or 12 *tribes worked together as a group. Perhaps one *tribe took care of the central place where people praised God.
2 They had a central place where they praised God every year. This was not always in the same place. First, it was in Shechem and then it was in Bethel and Shiloh. Perhaps they learned from this that they could not keep God in one place. They carried the *ark from place to place. When the people saw the *ark, they remembered the agreement between them and God. Perhaps that central place was a place where they organised things. They also had a Book of the *Covenant (Agreement). This contained God’s law, which they should obey.
3 Perhaps they had an annual ceremony. There is not very much evidence for this in *Israel. However, once a year, Samuel’s parents went to Shiloh, where they praised God. (See 1 Samuel 1:3.)
4 They all had the same purpose. They wanted to defend the central place where they praised God. They obeyed common laws. Deborah led 6 *tribes when they fought together against the people in *Canaan. Benjamin’s relatives did not obey a law and 11 *tribes attacked them because of that.
These are only ideas about why *tribes came together as a group. However, all the *tribes believed in God. And this was the main thing that made their friendly relations strong.
Judges emphasises the local activity of groups of people. Other groups did not control them. Sometimes these groups were smaller and sometimes they were larger than a *tribe. *Israel’s people did not usually come together all at the same time. Instead, the judges acted for all the people of *Israel. We learn from this book that the work of local leaders was very important. Its stories include some stories about how people and places got their names. There are people’s names like Jerubbaal and place names like *Jawbone Hill. There are also customs, and here is one example. Women were sad about people that had died. And so every year they did something special to show this. This custom began when Jephthah was the judge.
The writer tells us about how the people gave up their beliefs. They easily agreed with the way that the people in *Canaan lived. And they easily changed to it. He shows us that God’s grace and patience helped *Israel’s people to improve. (Grace is a free gift from God. We cannot do anything to earn it.)
Judges is about a time when change happened. *Israel’s people had a central place where they praised God. The *tribes lived in some different places that were separate from each other. So the *tribes could not all work together. *Israel’s people had not *conquered the country completely. So they divided the *tribes into 3 groups. When some *tribes fought for their lives, they did not get any help from other *tribes. There was one time when 6 *tribes came together. That was to help Deborah and Barak against the army from *Canaan. Four (4) *tribes did not come and the writer does not tell us anything about the other two *tribes. Finally, the country had a king. The *tribes could not work together without a leader.
Their *religion had two kinds of laws. Some laws were about particular events. (This is an example. ‘You may find your enemy’s animal which he has lost…’) Other laws were useful in all situations. (They were like this, for example. ‘You shall…’ or ‘You shall not...’) God controlled what happened to people. And he controlled what happened at different times. He did not just control the powers of nature. But not all *Israelites believed this. *Israel’s people had big problems. God had told them to kill all the other people who lived in that country. He did not want the *Israelites to imitate these people’s *religions and their evil ways. But the *Israelites did not obey him. The result was that they practised syncretism. (Syncretism is when people mix different *religions together.) They praised the other people’s gods as well as *Yahweh. The leaders were not very good. There was nobody like Moses or Joshua. The structure of the *tribes remained. However, the gap between the northern and the southern *tribes began while the judges were ruling.
We can see these problems when we read the story about Samson. Samson did not have much interest in *religion. When God’s Spirit came on him, he was very strong. So he did powerful acts. However, not everything that he did was right or good. Even when God’s Spirit was with a person, his or her character was not always good. But we must remember these things:
1 At the time when Samson lived, moral standards were not generally good. And he often lived by those standards.
2 The book’s editor writes about a lack of goodness. And the stories about Samson clearly show that lack.
3 God was in complete control. He changed the results of Samson’s actions so that they would suit God’s own plans.
4 God chose certain people to do what he wanted. These were often people that we would least expect him to choose. One example was Cyrus in the book of Isaiah. In the *Old Testament, God gave people powerful skills. But those people did not always live good lives.
5 The behaviour of *Israel’s people became worse during this time. But, by the things that happened, God showed his own character and power. In these stories, we can see how he did it. We must remember this when we look at the stories.
1 God is good. God punished people because of the wrong things that they did.
2 God has complete control. He freed the people from all their enemies. He used storm and rain to help them. God, who has power over all, is the most important person. The judge is not the most important.
3 God is kind and he is very patient. Sometimes the people cried for help. And he was always willing to listen to them then.
4 Belief is very important. There is a list of the judges in Hebrews 11. This shows that they trusted God. And it shows that they worked with him. This made it possible for him to show his power.
There were 12 judges (leaders). Six (6) judges had power that God gave to them. They had a part in important political events. They helped *Israel’s people to make their home in that country. After each judge had ruled, “the country had rest”. Some other judges were less important. They helped to make sure that people obeyed the law.
The book of Judges is like a bridge. The bridge is between the Exodus and the government by a king. The basic structure has 11 sections. We can see these in the story about Othniel (Judges 3:7-11).
1 *Israel’s people do what is wrong.
2 *Israel’s people make the *Lord angry.
3 *Israel’s people suffer great cruelty.
4 *Israel’s people cry to the *Lord.
5 A judge comes to free them.
6 There is a description of the judge.
7 The judge gets power.
8 He or she makes judgements about the disagreements of *Israel’s people.
9 The judge rescues *Israel’s people.
10 The judge gives peace to *Israel’s people.
11 The judge dies.
The writer often repeats this structure in this book. God never makes *Israel’s people completely free from other nations. God gives judgement to his people. He rescues them from their enemies and he rescues them from themselves. Although that is the structure, God does not always work in that same way. We do not think that some things will happen. But God does those things. God is the judge. He is the one who frees his people. He decides what judgement to give to them. And he decides how to free them. During the age that the writers describe in the *Old Testament, God’s people failed a lot. But during that same period, God’s Spirit was working. When the judges were ruling, the people often failed. But God helped people to fight successfully against things that were wrong. With his help, they defeated the powerful people that intended to do bad things to his *kingdom.
We do not know who wrote the book. And we do not know the date when he wrote it. Many people think that he wrote it while the kings were ruling. He repeats words like these. ‘At that time, *Israel’s people had no king. If a person himself thought that something was right, he did it. Each person did things for that reason’ (Judges 17:6). Judges 1:21 seems to show that the author wrote the book before 1003 B.C. (B.C. means the number of years Before Christ was born.) 1003 B.C. was the date when David *captured Jerusalem city from the *Jebusites.
1:1-21 Enemies *conquered southern *Canaan
1:22-26 Enemies *captured Bethel
1:27-36 *Israel’s people failed to remove their enemies
2:1-5 What happened when *Israel’s people did not obey the agreement
2:6-3:6 What God did when *Israel’s people refused to serve him
4:1-5:31 Deborah and Barak
9:1-57 Abimelech, the bad judge
17:1-18:31 Micah and Dan’s *tribe; Dan’s *tribe went to live in another place
19:1-21:25 The wrong things that the people in Gibeah did and how God punished Benjamin’s *tribe
‘After Joshua died’ is probably a title for the whole book. The events in this section probably happened during his life. They are the same as those in Joshua chapters 15 and 17. (His death is in Judges 2:8.) Here we read about Judah’s *tribe and Simeon’s *tribe. We learn how they *conquered the southern area in *Canaan. In order to ask the *Lord, they probably used the *urim and *thummim. These were two stones with different marks on them. They showed different answers to questions that people asked God. People believed that God controlled these stones. ‘Men throw the stone, but the *Lord controls its decisions’ (Proverbs 16:33).
The *Lord promised to give success. But the people had to fight against the people in *Canaan. They put the local king Adoni-Bezek in prison. They cut off his big toes and *thumbs. This took away his respect for himself. It stopped him from killing anyone. He did not complain about what they did to him. He had done the same thing to many other people. ‘70’ here probably just means a large number. His friends took him to Jerusalem for safety. And he died there.
Judah’s *tribe attacked Jerusalem and they burnt it. They did not live in it. Later, the *Jebusites *captured that city again. We can see this from verse 21. *Israel’s people did not *capture it completely until David was the king. Jerusalem was between the areas where Benjamin’s *tribe and Judah’s *tribe lived. It was on the border between them. So both those *tribes agreed that it should be the capital (the chief city).
The southern area in *Canaan had three parts. Verse 9 refers to these. They are:
1 the hills between Jerusalem and Hebron;
2 the *Negev, an area that was almost a desert, between Jerusalem and Kadesh Barnea;
3 the lower hills in the west; these were between the plain (near the sea) and the central mountain range.
In verse 10, the name ‘Hebron’ means ‘confederation’. (This is a group of towns that joined together to help each other.) The original name, ‘Kiriath Arba’, may mean ‘a group of 4 towns’. Abraham had once stayed there. During the first 7 years when king David ruled, it was the chief town in Judah.
Caleb got the district called Hebron (verse 20). This was probably the district in which he had travelled before. He had gone there to find out its secrets. Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, *captured Debir. As a reward, he married Caleb’s daughter. Then, after that, she herself asked her father for something. She asked him for land that had *springs of water. These were very important in this dry area.
Verses 16-18 refer to the people that lived after Jethro (Moses’ wife’s father) lived. He belonged to a *tribe called the *Kenites. They were smiths (people that made things from metal). They travelled all the time from place to place. They went from the ‘City with *Palm Trees’. Although that name usually refers to Jericho, here it refers to Tamar city. This city is south from the Dead Sea and it is 85 miles south from Arad. The *Kenites decided to live near Arad. Judah’s *tribe helped Simeon’s *tribe to *capture Zephath. Later, people called it Hormah. This means ‘a place that people have completely destroyed as an *offering’. Judah’s *tribe also *captured Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron. The *Philistines later *captured these cities. (Look at the story about Samson.)
The people in *Canaan had iron *chariots. Judah’s *tribe had to move back to the hills because of this. Benjamin’s *tribe could not defeat the *Jebusites. They had to share Jerusalem with the *Jebusites until David removed these people.
‘Joseph’s *tribes’ means the *tribes that grew from the families of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Bethel means ‘the house of God’. (El is the name that people used for a god. This could be the true God. Or it could be a false god or an image.) Bethel was a very old place where people praised God. Abraham and Jacob went there. The stories about them refer to that place. When the people divided the *kingdom after Solomon’s death, the people in the northern *kingdom *worshipped there. The *spies saved the life of the man who gave them information. Something similar happened when *Israel’s people *conquered Jericho. Bethel and Ai were close to each other. In the book called Joshua, we do not read that *Israel’s people *captured Bethel. But we do read there how they *conquered Ai. We do not know where the new Luz city was. The man that gave the information to them was probably a *Hittite. The *Hittites ruled many countries in Asia Minor and Syria between 1800-1200 *B.C.
In the area where Manasseh’s *tribe lived, the towns were important. They were important because these towns were on the trade routes. And their people controlled these routes. The *Canaanites with their *chariots controlled this area. The *Israelites had to stay in the hills. The *Canaanites lived between Joseph’s *tribes and the northern *tribes. (‘Joseph’s *tribes’ means the *tribes of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh.) The writer shows how things became worse. In verses 27-30 the *Canaanites lived among the *Israelites and they worked as the *Israelites’ slaves. However, where Asher’s *tribe and Naphtali’s *tribe lived, *Canaan’s people controlled those areas. But the *Israelites still stayed there. Dan’s *tribe did not remove the *Canaanites, nor did they control the *Canaanites. Later, as a result, the northern *kingdom’s people copied the way in which *Canaan’s people praised their own gods. Dan’s *tribe could not even live in their area with the *Canaanites. In chapter 18, the writer tells us that many people from Dan’s *tribe went to live somewhere else. They went to live in the north. The cities where the *Amorites lived (in verses 35‑36) were between Joseph’s sons’ *tribes and Judah’s *tribe. Judah’s *tribe was in the south.
The phrase ‘the *angel of the Lord’ refers to God. It means that he appeared and he spoke to them there. Before that time, the central place where they praised God had been in Gilgal. (This was where *Israel’s people first lived in that country.) But now it was in Bokim (which means ‘weepers’).
Many Bible students think that Bokim was at Bethel. Here people buried Rachel’s nurse at the *oak where people wept (Genesis 35:8). That is why Bible students think that.
God had made an agreement with his people. And he had done what he agreed to do. But they had not done what they agreed to do. Now God said that he would allow their enemies to *capture them. They would praise other gods. The people wept and they offered sacrifices. (Sacrifices were gifts for God. They were asking him to forgive the things that they had done wrong.) They were probably not really sorry. Later, they did wrong things again.
This was the time when the Judges began to rule. There are some similar verses at the end of the book called Joshua. There, the writer tells us more about the great things that God had done for *Israel’s people. Joshua and some other leaders died, and a new *generation of *Israel’s people grew up. These people did not know what God had done. They did not obey God. They praised the *Baals and the Ashtoreth. *Baal was the false god of rain and good crops. ‘Ashtoreth’ is the plural of Astarte, who was the female god of war and good crops. She was the wife of the god *Baal. This was how people praised those gods. People had sex with the male and female priests in the *temple. They hoped that this would encourage the gods and female gods to do the same. This would make the land produce food. Sometimes the people even sacrificed their children. (They killed their children. In this way, they were making a gift to a god.)
The writer then tells us what the book is about. The people left God. They did evil things and they praised the *Baals. Then God allowed their enemies to defeat them. And he allowed the enemies to divide them. The people cried out to the *Lord. He sent judges to rescue them. Even then, they only changed their behaviour for a short time. After the judge had died, they were worse than ever!
As a result, God did not force that country’s people to leave.
He left them there
1) to punish *Israel’s people,
2) to test whether they were loyal to God, and
3) to give them experience in battle, as we learn in chapter 3.
Chapter 3 has a list of the nations that remained in the land. We read that the *Israelites married some people from these nations. They served their gods. The 5 towns where the *Philistines lived were Gaza, Ekron, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Gath. The *Canaanites lived in the valleys and they also lived near the sea. They had lived there before anyone else. The people from Sidon lived near the port called Sidon. Later, people called them the Phoenicians. The *Hivites were probably the same people as the Horites, who had been in Upper Mesopotamia. They went to live in the south-west. They lived there in the mountains of Hermon and Lebanon.
Othniel was the only judge that was from the north. The other judges were from the south. This story shows the order of events in each judge’s life.
• The people did evil things.
• Their enemies caused pain and trouble to them.
• The people cried to the *Lord to help them.
• He sent a judge to make them free. He had given his Spirit to the judge.
• Then there was peace, which continued for many years.
The judges were very skilful because they had the special power of God’s Spirit. Othniel defeated the king that was the people’s enemy. Cushan-Rishathaim is not the king’s real name. It means the ‘twice wicked Cushan.’ This is probably how the writer of the story described him. Perhaps Cushan was the king of Teman in Edom. (Edom belonged to Jacob’s brother Esau. It was south from the country that God had promised to his people.) If so, it would not surprise anyone that Othniel from Judah’s *tribe defeated him. This is because Judah’s *tribe was in the south. The people in Edom had big holes in the ground. They got brown metal from these.
The *Israelites did not expect the attack by the army from Moab. The people who lived in Moab were *descendants of Lot. They did not live in the country that God had promised to *Israel’s people. They had *captured the ‘City with *Palm Trees’ (Jericho). The *Israelites had *captured this city when Joshua was alive. Moab’s people controlled the *Israelites for 18 years. Then God sent Ehud to free them. In the story, we read that Ehud was left-handed. The *Hebrew word might mean that he was unable to use his right hand. Perhaps it was deformed (badly shaped). However, in chapter 20 we learn that many people in Benjamin’s *tribe were left-handed. The name Benjamin actually means the ‘son of my right hand’. Ehud carried the tax money in his right hand. The people let him go where the king was. They did not think that he was dangerous. He told the king that he had a message. The message was for the king only. This ‘message’ was actually his sword, which he was carrying on his right side. Nobody thought that it would be there. ‘The *statues near Gilgal’ could be stone *statues. These marked the boundary of Eglon’s land. From here, Ehud could easily escape. The king went into his summer room. This was on the roof of the house. It was cool there. Ehud killed him when he stood up. He stood up to hear God’s message. Then Ehud locked the door. The writer tells us everything about how he killed him! The king’s servants were slow to find him. They thought that he had gone to the toilet. Then they discovered what had happened. By then, Ehud had escaped.
God does things that we do not think will happen. We can see the idea of the left hand in I Corinthians 1:26-29. There the writer says that God uses those that are nothing. They will bring to nothing those that are something. Nobody should be proud in the place where God is. After Ehud’s success, people followed him and they defeated the people from Moab. He *captured the places where people went over the river. This stopped other people that would have helped Moab’s people. He also stopped Moab’s army so that it did not escape.
Ehud used his left hand. Contrast this with God’s use of his own right hand. God promises that he will bless his people. And he promises that he will destroy their enemies. And he will do these things with his right hand. At his right hand, there is complete satisfaction, which will last always. His Messiah sits at his right hand. (The Messiah is a very special person that God sent. God chose the Messiah to save his people.) That is the place where power, *blessing and praise are. We always know the results of the wrong things that *Israel’s people did. We know them before they happen. We also know what the result of God’s plans will be. But we do not know how people will attack *Israel’s people. We do not know what God will use to rescue them. We can ask God to do what he has promised. But we cannot tell him how to do it.
Shamgar may not have been from *Israel. Perhaps he was a mercenary (a hired soldier) that was a leader of the *Canaanites’ army. He helped in the *opposition to the *Philistines. The sharp stick was an ox-goad. An ox-goad was 8-10 feet (about 3 metres) long, with a sharp metal top. It was like a *spear. People used it to make animals move. This may have been an event that happened only once. That is, Shamgar may have killed all the 600 *Philistines at one time. In this story, the writer does not follow the usual plan of the other stories.
These stories are about the northern *tribes. The people in *Canaan may have attacked 6 northern *tribes. The enemy is Jabin the king of Hazor. He does not do anything in the story, but he is still important. Jabin may be the name of a royal rank rather than a personal name. In Joshua 11, we read that people had destroyed Hazor. However, they had probably built it again. About 40 000 people lived in it. People thought that they had destroyed Hazor. But now they knew its power once more. This was another attack by an old enemy. There is something similar in the book called Revelation. There we read about an evil animal. People had hurt its body so that it would die. Then it recovered. We can say that we have succeeded against enemies and bad things. However, they can come to life again. In this world today, no success against what is wrong will ever be final.
Sisera had 900 iron *chariots. These were the newest military *weapons. The *Iron Age was replacing the Bronze Age. (The Bronze Age was when people made *weapons from bronze. Bronze is a mixture of a red metal and tin.) God’s people wanted that country called *Canaan. However, they opposed the way in which its people lived. God would give *Canaan to *Israel’s people. But *Israel’s people had to force the people in *Canaan to leave. *Israel’s people also had to oppose the evil customs of the people in *Canaan. *Canaan was a pleasant country, but the moral values of its people were not good. *Israel’s people did not learn this until the people in *Canaan ruled over them.
The name Deborah means ‘bee’ (an insect that makes honey). She was a leader who could do a lot. She was not an important judge, because not all the *tribes followed her. Barak means ‘lightning’.
In this story, the enemy is one that we expect. But *Israel’s leader is one that we do not expect. Someone uses a method that we expect. But that person is someone that we do not expect. God does what he has promised to do. But he does not tell us how he will do it. Deborah was not the only ruler. Barak ruled as well. In Hebrews 11, we read that the person with *faith was Barak more than Deborah. Deborah came from the south. The northern *tribes asked her for help. She told Barak to get his army together at Mount Tabor. This is a well-known place about 1300 feet high. There, God would give Sisera and his army to Barak. The writer only writes about 2 *tribes here. In the next chapter, there is a poem about the battle. There he writes about 4 more *tribes. The reason for this may be that the battle was in two parts. The first part was at Tabor. And the second part was at the Kishon river. The writer does not say that Barak was wrong. Barak did what Deborah told him to do. He said that he would go. But he would only go if Deborah went with him. Compare that with what Moses said in Exodus 33:12-17. Barak refused to do anything without Deborah the female *prophet. This was because of what he believed. He believed that he was not good enough. But he trusted in the grace of God. This grace came by Deborah. Barak is the example of a person who trusted God. Other people get the praise.
10 000 men was a small army compared with Sisera’s very large one. But the *Lord completely defeated Sisera’s army. They controlled the valleys. There they could move their *chariots with care and skill. However, the heavy rain caused the Kishon river to flood. (See Judges 5:4, 21.) This surprised them. Their *chariots could not move in the mud. The *Israelites easily defeated them.
Sisera ran away. And he accepted Jael’s invitation to hide in her tent. He thought that he was safe. However, after he had drunk some milk, he fell asleep. Then Jael murdered him. She used a hammer and a *tent peg. When Barak arrived, his enemy was dead. Deborah was an honest person, but Jael was not *faithful. She was a very cruel person. She did things by herself and she did not ask other people about those things first. Like Ehud, Jael killed somebody in private. And she did it with great force. Sisera did not think that she would act like this.
The story in chapter 4 showed us which people were in the battle. It showed us where it happened and it showed us when it happened. Now this song in chapter 5 shows us how God was working in the battle. In this poetry, the writer tells us a lot about the battle itself. This is a very old poem. Few poems in the Bible are older than this. Some words that the writer uses are difficult to understand. And they are difficult to translate. We read that the important people led the other people. And the other people were willing to follow them completely. The singers are singing a song to praise God. And they call the rulers in the area to hear it. They link the storm with the thunder (a loud noise in the sky) and lightning. They also mention the movement of the earth at Sinai. Even during the lives of Shamgar and Jael, the roads were too dangerous. People stopped using camels to carry things. They went on minor roads instead. They left villages to live safely in towns. These towns had walls. This continued until Deborah became ‘like a mother in *Israel’. The people had chosen new gods. The result was war and weakness. Their enemies would not allow them to have anything to fight with. So they did not dare to show their *weapons. Deborah’s feelings were with the leaders. And they were with the people who were willing to follow. These included the rich people that rode on white *mules. And they also included the poor people, who walked. The singers at the wells encouraged them. They reminded them about what God and his people had done in the past. The people gathered at the city’s gates to give thanks.
The song contains a call to Deborah and Barak. But this does not mean that Deborah did not write the song. She probably did write it. Ancient texts from the Near East often include the name of their authors. Both Deborah and Barak decided to act. They were not content with the situation any more. They read aloud a list of some *tribes’ names. First were the *tribes who came. Makir in verse 14 means Manasseh’s *tribe. Not all the *tribes came. They did not all obey. Some did not come. The singers refer to these in a bad way. They do not mention Judah’s *tribe and Simeon’s *tribe. These *tribes lived a long way away and they probably fought the *Philistines.
Nature’s powers, which fought for *Israel’s people, defeated the army from *Canaan. There was a very strong storm. And there was a sudden flood of water from the sky. This was what led to the success. It was not because of *Israel’s 10 000 soldiers. The kings of *Canaan did not get any possessions that people would normally take from the battle. Instead, they used their horses to escape. These were the horses that they would otherwise have used in the battle. In Bible times, people often fought battles on the plain called Megiddo. The book called Revelation refers to this as Armageddon. This is the place where people will fight the last great battle. In the poem, we read ‘March on, my spirit! Be strong!’ This is the cry of success. The song refers in a bad way to Meroz. This was a town that belonged to the *Israelites. It was in the area where Naphtali’s *tribe lived. It was probably in the area where the battle happened. But its people did not help the *Israelites. So the song refers to it in a bad way.
Now the writer of the song blesses Jael. She destroyed someone that was evil. That is why the writer blesses her. The writer enjoys every detail of her action. Perhaps Sisera tried to find safety in Jael’s own tent. She probably killed him in order to free her character from any blame. When she offered him *yoghurt rather than milk, she seemed generous. This made him feel safe. In fact, he was not safe. Jael did not entertain this visitor in a way that anyone would expect. It was like what Judas did. He gave Jesus to his enemies after the last supper. The *tent peg was probably metal, as the *Kenites were smiths. (Smiths are people that make things from metal.) People used *tent pegs to hold up the *ropes of a tent. Women usually erected the tents.
In the final section, the writer imagines Sisera’s mother. She is waiting for his return. She suggests reasons for his delay. Perhaps, he is organising how they share the property. Perhaps, he is sharing out the unhappy slave girls that the soldiers stole after the fight. Sisera will certainly return with clothes that his mother can wear. They will have beautiful colours and patterns. So Sisera’s mother is the mother in *Canaan and Deborah is the mother in *Israel. Notice the contrast between these. The last verse shows that the confidence of *Canaan’s people has no real reason. ‘*Lord, I pray that all your enemies will die like this.’ But those who love God will succeed.
What Jael did does not seem good. Deborah’s song shows happiness about her enemies’ death. To be happy for such a reason is not good either. But Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. If we know this, perhaps we should not make too strict a judgement. In his book ‘The Goodness of God’, John Wenham says this:
‘They do not bless Jael for murder and lies. These remain evil things even when you cannot do anything in a different way. They bless her for her courage. And they bless her for the fact that she obeyed the true God.’
The stories about Gideon and his son, Abimelech are the most important ones in the book. John J. Davies says, ‘Gideon is the ideal judge like Moses. His son is the very opposite.’
The *Israelites soon forgot about Deborah’s success and they behaved in their old ways again. The new enemies were people from Midian and Amalek’s people. They were ‘too many’ in number, so that *Israel’s people could not defeat them. Their plan was what we today call a ‘scorched (burnt) earth plan’. This means that they destroyed everything on the land so that *Israel’s people could not grow food there. God told the people what he had done for them. Then he told them what they had done to him. God had heard their voice, but they had not listened to him. He had done very many kind things for them, but they still did wrong things. So God had to notice those wrong things and he had to punish *Israel’s people. And this was the result. He sent to them too many people from Midian.
Gideon is like *Israel’s people. He says that he is not important. God can use people when they know their weakness and their difficulties. The *angel described Gideon as a brave soldier. But this was a *prophetic description rather than what Gideon actually was at that time. However, his courage grew. This was not because he was brave. It was because God was making him brave. Notice the parallel between Gideon and Moses. Compare Judges 6:6, 11, 14, 15, 22 with Exodus 2:23 and Exodus 3:10-12 and Exodus chapter 6. Several things are the same about how God called each person and that person’s answer.
The *angel of the Lord is God, who is appearing as a person. Usually, God gave messages under an *oak tree that was a holy tree. Gideon’s father came from the family of Abiezer, Manasseh’s son. The hole in the ground was called a *winepress. (The ground there was rock.) In there, people used their feet to *crush *grapes. The juice ran down to a place where something held it. Gideon was able to separate corn from stems in the *winepress. This shows how small the harvest was. Gideon was like other people who lived at that time. He thought that God had left him alone. God had done things for his people in the past. But he thought that God had not done such things in the present. However, God made him feel sure that God was giving him the task. Gideon thought that he was not the most suitable person for it. But God encouraged him. He promised to be with Gideon.
*Israel’s people had to learn how great their enemy was. In verses 17-18, Gideon asked for a sign. And he offered a present. The word for ‘present’ means something that people offered to a king. Or they offered it to an important person. The present was expensive, as they had very little food. The flour weighed between 34 and 45 pounds (15-20 kilograms). The fire burnt up the meal. Then Gideon knew who his visitor was. And he was afraid. People believed that no person could continue to live after he or she had seen God. That is why Gideon was afraid. The *Lord told him that he would not die. So he built an *altar (a stone table with a flat top on which to burn dead animals and gifts). From this story, we learn how the place got its name. The name means ‘The *Lord sent peace’. In this part, the story is very similar to chapter 13. That chapter contains the story about Samson’s birth.
Before Gideon could change the nation, he had to change things in his home. Perhaps his father served both God and *Baal. The male cow was a special animal. Perhaps Joash wanted to *sacrifice it to *Baal. God told Gideon to build another *altar on top of a rock. People probably went to that rock whenever the people from Midian attacked. They would go there for safety. (Look at verse 2.) God told Gideon to do this after he had first destroyed his father’s *altar and wooden *pole. The *altar was where people offered gifts to *Baal. And the *pole was where people praised *Asherah. These were evil things from the world round them. These things had come into their lives before anyone had noticed it.
So Gideon obeyed God and he destroyed his father’s *idol. (An *idol is an object to praise instead of God.) He had to oppose the enemy. It was better to do it at night if he was too afraid during the day. He had to do what God told him. He did not have to be a hero who would take risks.
The people called him Jerubbaal. This name means ‘Let *Baal fight him’. It was Gideon’s nickname. (A nickname means a name that people give someone. They give it to them because of what they are like.) In this story, we learn why they gave him this nickname. The neighbours of Gideon’s father protested against Gideon’s action. Then Gideon’s father replied to them in this way: If *Baal were a real god, he would not need their help in this matter. If they did help him, it would be an insult to him. And they would deserve death because of it. They would deserve death because *Baal should be able to protect his own character! By this reply, Gideon’s father showed good wisdom that he had learned from experience.
The people from Midian attacked again. And the Spirit of God came upon Gideon. In the original *Hebrew language, this means that God’s Spirit ‘put himself onto Gideon, like clothes’. God’s Spirit completely controlled him. Gideon asked Abiezer’s relatives (Gideon’s own people) to help him. And he asked Manasseh’s *tribe (to which Abiezer’s relatives belonged). He also asked Asher’s *tribe, Zebulun’s *tribe and Naphtali’s *tribe. He did not call Ephraim’s *tribe to help him. Perhaps he was afraid to lead such a powerful *tribe. They complained about this later, in chapter 8.
Gideon needed to be sure what God wanted. So he used the wool as a test to make sure. People often needed to discover what God wanted. But that was not usually a good way to do it. In Psalm 95:5-11, the writer speaks badly about the *Israelites. This was because they tested God. In Isaiah 7:10-17, the writer speaks badly about the king. But there it was because he did not ask for a sign. We follow God by trust. We do not follow him by what we can see. The important thing about God’s advice is not how God gives it to us. The important thing is the fact that he does give it. Gideon here was different. He was humble, unwilling and shy. He was slow to act. But this does not mean that he did not trust God. He had *faith, but he was careful. He knew that the second sign was the greater *miracle. In the first sign, the wool would easily hold water. But in the second sign, the floor was rock. This would not hold water easily.
*Israel’s army was at Harod *spring. This is at the bottom of the mountain called Gilboa. The army from Midian had camped across the valley called Jezreel. It was less than 5 miles from the *Israelites. There were ‘too many people from Midian’. God told Gideon that there were ‘too many people’ in his army. He reduced 32 000 men to 10 000 men. In Deuteronomy 20:8, the writer said this: ‘Soldiers who are afraid must go home.’ Gideon’s army would have good morale (confidence) if his soldiers were not afraid. In verse 3, the mountain’s name is ‘Gilead’. ‘Gilboa’ is probably another name for this mountain. Gideon tested how the other men in the army drank. He chose those who drank water with their tongues. This seems a strange choice. Perhaps they used their hands as a dog uses its tongue. In this way, they got water, but they still stayed on their feet. They would be ready if something happened. The rest went down on their knees and they could not get up quickly. However, the important thing may be the number of people. What they did may not be so important.
Before this, God had showed Gideon something to give him confidence in God’s promise. Now God repeated this method. He sent Gideon to get a message. He gave him that message by the men from Midian. With his servant, Gideon went into their camp. He went at night. He went to a place where the best soldiers were guarding the camp. The writer repeats that the soldiers were very many in number. That shows us how difficult the task was. Gideon heard a soldier who was describing a dream. In that dream, a loaf of bread knocked over a tent. The bread was like *Israel’s poor farmers. The tent was like the army from Midian. The soldier said that God had given Midian’s army and the whole camp to Gideon. The men from Midian were afraid. God would certainly act. This message greatly encouraged Gideon.
God chooses what is weak. This will bring shame to what is strong. Gideon’s army had no military skill. They could only blow a *trumpet and they could only break a jar. Then they shouted. Their attack came about two hours before midnight. Most of the soldiers from Midian were sleeping then. Those that had just come on duty had just woken up. The men from Midian heard the sound of the *trumpets. There were shouts. And there were the sounds when the people were breaking the jars. Because of their fear, Midian’s soldiers fought against each other. They ran away to the east. They went down the valley and then they went over the Jordan river. All the towns in the list were on the other side of the river. Zererah was 10 miles south from the place where they went. Abel Meholah was 6 miles east and Tabbath was about 7 miles south-east.
Gideon called for more help. Probably many that came had been in the original group. (This was the group that consisted of 32 000 men.) The groups of *Israel’s soldiers who had *weapons, got ready. They *captured the places where people crossed the river. They killed some leaders of the enemy’s army. Then Gideon felt confident enough to call Ephraim’s *tribe for help. He asked them to control the places where people crossed the river. This would prevent the escape of Midian’s army. They killed two princes of Midian. Oreb means ‘raven’ (a large black bird with a noisy cry). Zeeb means ‘wolf’. (A wolf is a wild animal like a dog. It lives in groups and it hunts in groups.)
In chapter 8, we learn that we should be careful. And we should remember the good things that other people have done. Ephraim’s *tribe wanted a quarrel. Perhaps they did not like the fact that Gideon had not called them to fight. Perhaps they wanted a share from the goods that the soldiers had taken after the battle. Gideon gave a gentle answer. He told Ephraim’s *tribe that their efforts had been much greater than his efforts. Contrast the way that Jephthah gave an answer to that same *tribe (Judges 12:1-3).
In these verses, the writer continues the story from Judges 7:25. Gideon and his men did not have much strength. But they continued to chase the army that had come from Midian. Gideon’s 300 men had increased to 1500 men. So they were now a force that could fight against Midian’s army. The people in Succoth refused to help him, because Midian’s kings Zebah and Zalmunna were still free. The people in Succoth were afraid of Midian’s people. If the people in Succoth helped Gideon, then Midian’s people might attack them. That is why they were afraid. So Gideon became more cruel. He made this promise. He would make Succoth’s people suffer pain because they had refused to help. Gideon would do this when he returned. The men in Peniel also refused to help. Peniel was the place where Jacob fought the *angel (Genesis 32:24-30). There was a *tower there. People could escape to the *tower in an emergency. Gideon said that he would destroy the *tower.
The army from Midian reached Karkor. This was east from the Dead Sea. They thought that they were safe there. But Gideon made a surprise attack. He *captured the kings and the army ran away.
He *captured the two kings. He punished the people that refused to help him. A young man wrote down the names of the leaders that refused to help. This is a very early reference to words that people wrote. They used letters like a, b and c. Gideon used this list so that all the leaders of Succoth would suffer pain. The result was probably death for them.
Verse 18 shows that this matter had now become a personal argument between Gideon and the kings. He had managed the national crisis. Now he had to manage his private problems. They had killed his brothers. Gideon told his son to kill them. His son would have got great honour if he had done this. He did not do it, because he was afraid. So Gideon killed them himself. They said with courage, ‘You do it.’ And he did what they said. The shape of the camels’ *ornaments was like a new moon.
The *Israelites wanted Gideon to be their king. His reply may have meant ‘no’. Or it may have meant ‘yes, but I will not be the king in every way.’ Some Bible students say that he accepted the power but he did not accept the name. Other Bible students say that he had God’s Spirit and God’s authority. God did not want a king to rule over *Israel’s people at this time. If a king ruled, the authority could pass from father to son, without God’s Spirit. And God did not want that to happen.
Gideon’s reply may mean that God was really the people’s king. The country was a theocracy. (This means that God ruled over it.) It was not a monarchy (a country that a king rules over). Perhaps he said ‘no’, but maybe he really meant ‘yes’. He aimed to show strong belief in his *religion. He wanted to become popular with those whom he would rule in the future. But in verse 29, the writer says that Gideon went back home to live. Probably, he stopped working and he lived with his family. He had a lot of wealth. Everyone had a good opinion about him.
Gideon did not become a king, but instead he wanted to be a priest. He made his own ephod (priest’s coat). He did not use the one at Shiloh. He covered the coat with a very large amount of gold. This gold came from the ear-rings that Ishmael’s people wore. Ishmael’s people here were people from Midian. They were a group of traders, who bought and sold things. They also went from place to place and they lived in different places. This ephod became something that people praised. In this way, they were not obeying the law that forbade *carved images. Gideon did not intend to go away from the *Lord. Aaron did not intend to go away when he made the male cow from gold. *Israel’s people became ‘*unfaithful to God’. This means that they praised a god in the same way as the *Canaanites did. They had sex with priests and priestesses (female priests). But they completely defeated the people from Midian and peace lasted for about 40 years.
Gideon’s life ended in an impressive way. He was very successful. And he had many wives. He also had a woman that lived with her own family in Shechem. A king often had such women.
The name of his son ‘Abimelech’ means ‘my father is a king’. Perhaps Gideon would have liked to be a king. However, he did not say so. People considered that Gideon’s other 70 sons belonged to his family. But they considered that Abimelech belonged to his mother’s family. Shechem city was in a valley, between the mountains called Ebal and Gerizim. The land round the city produced good crops. The city was on a cross-roads. These roads were routes on which traders travelled.
At Shechem, God first told Abraham who God was. Jacob’s sons *captured that city. It was a city where people would be safe. Those whom people had accused of murder could go there. People buried Joseph there. Joshua met with all *Israel’s people there before his death. Most people there were *Canaanites and they served Baalberith (the ‘god of the agreement’). The city belonged to the *Canaanites. People may have included it in *Israel by an agreement. This would be an agreement of friendship. Perhaps Abimelech’s mother was a *Canaanite.
After Gideon’s death, the nation again served the gods called *Baals. They served the god of the agreement. This god was at Shechem. Perhaps this agreement was between the *Israelites and the people in certain cities. Or maybe it was between the cities and their god. *Israel’s people had forgotten God’s great acts. They would only turn to him when there was a crisis. To serve other gods was attractive to the senses.
In chapter 6, Gideon was weak, because he had a lack of experience. He did not have confidence in himself. In chapter 8, he changed. He did what he wanted. He was not able to make judgements very well. He produced peace, but this depended on himself. It did not depend on God’s law. The people were not grateful. Perhaps they thought that Gideon had had enough rewards.
Abimelech spoke to the people in Shechem. He said that he would be a better ruler than Gideon’s other sons. He may have done this because his father had not married his mother. Perhaps he was jealous of his brothers. They may have thought that he had no value as a person. (Jephthah in chapter 11 had the same experience.) The people in Shechem were quite willing to have a king that was a son of Gideon. Abimelech was also their own relative. Abimelech spoke to his uncles first, and they told the people in Shechem. They agreed that Abimelech would be their king. They gave money to him. Then he could hire soldiers to help him. These soldiers could go and they could kill his brothers. They murdered the brothers on a stone, as if these were animals for a *sacrifice. People killed animals as a *sacrifice when a king got his crown. When they were making the *sacrifice, they also followed a ceremony. The people would follow the ceremony now and this would make the soldiers’ action look right. The ceremony happened at a holy *oak tree. There was also a stone here. People had put it up to remember something. Abimelech had a very small *kingdom. It was not much bigger than the western area where Manasseh’s *tribe lived. The *kingdom lasted only three years. It did not continue after Abimelech’s death.
Jotham, one son of Gideon, escaped from Abimelech. He stood on a high place on the mountain. There people could hear him and he could easily escape from there. This mountain was where 6 *tribes of *Israel met. They said ‘yes’ to the good things in the law (Deuteronomy 27:12). Some people also stood there in Joshua’s great *religious ceremony (Joshua 8:30-35). Now Jotham told a story about nature. The story had a moral meaning. It was about trees that were choosing a king. The *olive, *fig and *vine refused to be the king. The meaning of the story was this. Good men would not stop their work to become kings. The bush with sharp points accepted the invitation. The bush invited them to come into its shade (that is, its protection). But the bush was not able to protect anything. In the heat of summer, it could easily burn. It could destroy even the valuable tall trees that are always green. These trees were like the chief men of Shechem. Abimelech could not give the people any protection. Instead, he would cause their *destruction.
Jotham reminded the men in Shechem how badly they had behaved towards Gideon’s family. Gideon had risked his life for them. They had killed the other 70 sons and they had appointed Abimelech as king. Abimelech would be no use as a king. Jotham did not intend to show respect. He thought that Abimelech had no value. If they followed Abimelech, they would all die as a result.
The men in Shechem did not obey their agreement with Abimelech. They hid. And then they attacked travellers that were going through his country. This meant that he would not get any tax money from them. God changed things to suit his own plans.
At the time when the people harvested *grapes, they were excited. During that time, Ebed’s son Gaal opposed Abimelech’s authority. Gaal said that he himself still followed the old customs. And he invited the people to serve the ‘men of Hamor’. These people had lived in that area before *Israel’s people came. So to ‘serve the men of Hamor’ meant to follow the old customs again. Hamor was the name of the ruler who had started the city. He had a son called Shechem, and so the city too was called Shechem.
Gaal said also that Abimelech was the son of Jerubbaal and this was the most important thing. Because Jerubbaal was not from Shechem, then Abimelech was not really from Shechem. So Abimelech was not a ‘man of Hamor’ in that meaning. Although his mother was from Shechem, that was not so important. So, in Gaal’s opinion, the people should not serve Abimelech. Gaal said that if he himself could be the leader, then he would remove Abimelech!
Abimelech had made Zebul the leader of Shechem. Zebul told Abimelech what had happened. He told Abimelech to hide his army in 4 groups. Then nobody would find him. At sunrise, the groups came out. At first, Zebul cleverly stopped Gaal from attacking them. He said that Gaal was imagining things. Finally, Zebul could not hide the fact that Abimelech’s groups were attacking. So he invited Gaal to fight them. He repeated Gaal’s own words back to him. But Gaal and his army were not ready. So Abimelech’s men chased and defeated them. Those that were still alive went back to the city. Abimelech went to Arumah. Zebul then removed Gaal and his brothers from Shechem.
Abimelech destroyed Shechem. This was a punishment for those that opposed his leadership. Zebul controlled the town. But Abimelech wanted to make its people suffer pain. (In this way, he would warn people that lived in other places.) The people went out into the fields to work. Abimelech came with three groups of men. Abimelech and one group stopped them from returning to the town. The other two groups killed them. Then all three groups killed everyone in the town. They threw salt as a sign of *destruction.
Abimelech burned the tall building in Shechem. The people were hiding there inside a special place where they praised the god El Berith. The people were trying to oppose him. But his action killed the people inside the tall building.
Thebez was 10 miles north-east from Shechem. It was another city whose people fought against Abimelech. Again he *captured the city. He tried to destroy the *tower as he had done at Shechem. A woman dropped a *millstone on him and it hurt him badly. The stone was probably about 2-3 inches (6 centimetres) thick and 18 inches (45 centimetres) across. A young man was carrying Abimelech’s *weapons and Abimelech asked the young man to kill him. This would avoid the shame that a woman killed him. We learn from this story how God’s judgement became true for Abimelech. God finally controls what happens at different times. These events show us that.
Tola was not an important judge. He did not do any great work. He probably only decided the results of legal arguments.
Jair was probably from Manasseh’s *tribe. His sons and *mules and towns show that the family were rich and important. Havvoth Jair means Jair’s villages that consisted of tents.
This story is very difficult to understand. During the time when the Judges ruled, *Israel’s people sometimes believed in God a lot. But their belief in him did not always increase. Sometimes it decreased. *Israel’s people were now much worse than they had been. They had turned away from God to serve the *Baals (male gods) and the Ashtaroth (female gods). *Israel’s people also served the gods of the people who lived in Syria (Aram), Sidon, Moab, Ammon and Philistia. Deep in the people’s minds, things were wrong. This had affected very important things in the relationship between God and his people. The *Canaanites’ *religion was more powerful than their armies were. *Israel’s people often had a *temptation to follow that *religion. When they did follow it, very bad events happened.
People today have discovered some things in the ground at Ugarit. These things show us something about the *religion that the people in *Canaan followed. El was the chief of the gods and he had a female companion called *Asherah. Next came *Baal, the god of rain and good crops. Then came Anath, the female god of love and war. Mot was the god of a certain time in summer. This was the time when there was no rain. He attacked *Baal and he killed *Baal. Then he took *Baal to the place where the dead gods were. Anath searched for him. She found his body and she killed Mot. *Baal became alive again and he had sex with Anath. This meant that the crops would be good in the next season.
People believed that they could get good crops by magic. They tried to do this when they acted out that story about *Baal and Anath. They acted it with women that offered themselves for sex. This happened in the place where they praised their god. Some people say that there was a special *celebration in the autumn in *Canaan. On this occasion, the king and one such woman would act the story about *Baal and Anath. The people believed that their crops would grow for another year as a result.
The *Israelites knew that their God was powerful in the desert. And he was powerful in war. But they had forgotten that he could control the weather. He could also control what grew in the fields. And he could control animals. But they forgot these things and, as a result, some people stopped serving God. Other people practised syncretism. (Syncretism is when people try to mix different *religions.) The people praised God. But they used the same places and methods that the *Canaanites used. However, they could not really mix the two *religions. God is not merely a god of nature. He also works by what happens at different times.
The *Canaanites believed that *religion had no connection with people’s behaviour in daily life. It only affected the places where they praised their god. But we learn from the *Scriptures that God is not like that. He is completely the opposite. In the *Scriptures, he demanded that people should serve him only. But the *Canaanites believed in other gods. The *Israelites praised these other gods. In this story, they suffered pain because the people from Ammon attacked them. Later, when Samson was the judge, they also suffered pain. They suffered then because the *Philistines attacked them. The people from Ammon attacked Gilead on the other side of the river Jordan. And they also attacked Judah’s *tribe, Benjamin’s *tribe and Ephraim’s *tribe.
The people came to God. They confessed that they had done wrong things. (We see this in verse 10.) But they had not changed their minds. And they had not changed their ways. They still had other gods at first. (Compare verses 13 and 16.) They did not remove the other gods until verse 16. God reminded them how he had helped them to escape from the *Egyptians. This was in the Exodus (when they went out of Egypt). He had helped them to defeat the *Amorites. (Look at the story about Sihon and Og. This is in Numbers chapter 21.) He had also helped them to defeat the people from Ammon and the *Philistines. (Ehud led them against the people from Ammon. Shamgar led them against the *Philistines.) And he had helped them to defeat the people from Sidon. (These had helped the people from Midian to attack *Israel’s people.) Finally, he had helped them to defeat Amalek’s people. (These were friends of the people from Midian and Moab.) *Israel’s people had also defeated the Maonites, who were probably those same people from Midian. God told them to go. And he told them to cry to the gods that they had chosen. He did this to test whether they were honest. In reply, they removed their foreign gods. Although they only changed their ways a little, God was ready to forgive them.
In verse 8, the writer mentions a period that lasted 18 years. This attack happened at the end of those 18 years. The people from the *tribes met together. They had returned to the *Lord. After that, they wanted to attack the people who had come from Ammon. However, they did not have a suitable leader. And so, we start to read about Jephthah in the story.
Jephthah was Gilead’s son. His mother was probably not an *Israelite. His parents were not married to each other. His family made him leave. He became the leader of a group of terrorists. (Terrorists are people that use cruel force. They use it to get political power.) He did do wrong things to some other people. However, more people did wrong things to him. Hebrews 11 has a list of people that had *faith. Jephthah is in that list. He does not seem to be a suitable person for such a list. But he had *faith when other people did wrong things to him.
The area where Gilead’s relatives lived was called Gilead too. The leaders of Gilead asked Jephthah to come so that he could help them. He said that he would help them if they let him be their ruler. He said that the *Lord would be the person who really freed them. God heard what he said. He also saw what he did. This event was almost a ceremony to make him king. Compare Judges 10:11-14. Like God, Jephthah was not sorry for them. He had a good reason to be very angry. God did not call him, nor did God give his Spirit to Jephthah at first. People appointed him because he was the answer to a practical problem. Perhaps he was already a local ruler.
Jephthah began with a discussion that did not offend anyone. ‘Why are you fighting?’ ‘Because you have taken my country’, said the king. ‘Now give it back. Before that time, that country belonged to Ammon’s people.’ Then Jephthah replied. He first explained what had actually happened in the past. Look at verses 15-22. He explained why the country did not belong to Ammon’s people. The people that lived there before had actually been *Amorites. The *Amorites had taken the country from Moab’s people at first.
Jephthah then explained how *religious beliefs affected the matter. God had given that country to *Israel’s people. Chemosh was the god of Ammon’s people. He said that they could have whatever Chemosh gave to them. So that should satisfy them. (Chemosh was actually the god of the people in Moab. The people in Ammon may have had links with Moab’s people. Maybe Jephthah did not know the difference between their gods. He did not know what his own God wanted. So he probably would not know about another god!) Finally, as another reason, he explained a similar event that had happened earlier. Balak had made peace with *Israel’s people and he had not demanded to have the country. *Israelites had been there for 300 years. The people in Ammon had not decided to say anything during all that time. Then Jephthah said that the *Lord was the real judge. He would settle this case.
God’s Spirit came upon Jephthah and he got an army to follow him. He made a promise to God. If he was successful, he would make a *sacrifice. He would give whatever came to meet him on his return. It was a very bad promise. It showed that there was something very wrong with his nation. Something was slowly destroying basic ideas of what was right and wrong. The Spirit of God helped him to free his people. However, he did not understand God’s plans. He did not trust God’s power. He wanted to please God by what he did. But God did not want people to praise him in this way. Jephthah did not know that. The writer does not tell us very much about how Jephthah defeated the people from Ammon. He says that God caused the success.
Jephthah returned. He had won the battle. He probably thought that he would only have to *sacrifice an animal. Unfortunately, his daughter came out to meet him. This was a very bad experience for Jephthah, for two reasons. First, she was his only child. Second, she did not marry. People in that society did not clearly understand life after death. But they thought that people would remember them by their *descendants. When Jephthah’s daughter died, there would be no more members in their family. There would be none after her or Jephthah. Her life was not complete. With her, the family name died out. She was a very noble person, who was willing to pay the price of success. She persuaded Jephthah to do what he had promised after all. In this way, she showed her courage. She and her father were loyal to what they believed. They did not know very much about God. Jephthah still did what he had foolishly promised. He killed his daughter as an *offering. First, he allowed her to spend two months to say goodbye to her friends. Then he killed her. This story shows us the origin of a yearly ceremony. In the ceremony, women were sorry because people had died. This ceremony probably happened only in Gilead. (Some people think that Jephthah did not kill his daughter. They say that he did not allow her to marry. That would be like death for a woman. That is because, in that society at that time, women usually married.)
The story is about reactions to God’s message. Jephthah had failed to hear God’s message. God had said that people should not *sacrifice other people. Jephthah’s promise did not mean that he should not obey that rule. ‘You may obey one law. But that does not give you an excuse not to obey another law.’ That is what Jesus was telling the *Pharisees in Mark 7:9-13. One could not refuse to help one’s parents because one gave money to God. But Jephthah did hear God’s message about promises and he obeyed it. God had said that we must do what we have promised to do. And Jephthah did do what he had promised. But he did not know everything. From the Bible we learn this. What he did was a wrong thing. The reason why he did it was right.
Here in chapter 12, the men from Ephraim’s *tribe complained. They complained because Jephthah had not asked them to fight. They were the most important *tribe in the area. But Jephthah had not asked them to help. So they thought that he had insulted them. Earlier, in Judges 8:1, they had also complained similarly to Gideon. Gideon had tried to make them less angry then. But now, Jephthah’s attitude was firm. The people in Gilead had probably asked for help before. Jephthah thought that he should not invite Ephraim’s *tribe to a battle about Gilead. In any case, God had won the *victory. Ephraim’s *tribe actually wanted to control the whole area. The argument got worse. The people from Ephraim’s *tribe said that the people in Gilead had left them. Jephthah defeated the men from Ephraim’s *tribe. He stopped their escape at the places where they would cross the river. He tested them to hear whether they pronounced a certain word ‘Shibboleth’ or ‘Sibboleth’. This showed whether the person was from Gilead or Ephraim’s *tribe. The word means a ‘stream that is in flood’.
Jephthah ruled for 6 years. He had killed very many people from Ephraim’s *tribe. As a result, that *tribe was now much smaller. It was never the biggest *tribe again. The *Hebrew word ‘thousand’ can also mean a family group rather than an actual number. So maybe Jephthah and his men killed 42 families rather than 42 000 people. Nobody is quite sure about this. *Israel’s people were becoming foolish. And as a result, the 12 *tribes were not helping each other so much any more. Jephthah did what he had said. He was like the man in Psalm 15:4. He ‘did what he had promised, even when it hurt’. Jephthah still needed to learn a lot about God. But he was loyal to what he knew.
Ibzan had 60 children. This fact showed his wealth. And it showed the rank that he had in the nation. This town called Bethlehem was probably in the area where Zebulun’s *tribe lived. It was probably not the one in the area where Judah’s *tribe was.
Elon was also from Zebulun’s *tribe. The writer tells us how long he ruled. He also tells us where they buried him.
Abdon had 40 sons and 30 grandsons. Each one had a *mule. Amalek’s people usually lived in the *Negev, where the country was flat. Here it seems that they had gained some land in the hilly country.
In total, there were 12 judges in the book called Judges. Samson was the last one. The story about him shows that matters had got much worse. People turned away from God. They suffered pain for what they had done wrong. They did not change their ways. The *Israelites made friends with the *Philistines. They married people from other nations now. The men from Judah’s *tribe chose to remove Samson, because otherwise they would spoil their good relations with the *Philistines. They let *Philistines rule. In the story about Samson, they never called God *Yahweh. They did not consider him as the *covenant God. *Israel’s people went away from God and they stopped fighting against the *Philistines. They could not see the difference between God and the world that was evil. However, God continued with his plans. He even used Samson’s selfish actions for his own purposes. Samson was not a leader with great skills, who worked together with God. He was an example of how God can use people’s lack of skill. By this, he can do what he has planned. Some people link the story about Samson with another story. That is a story from Egypt. It is about the god that was the sun. (Samson’s death was like the sun when it sets.) Other people link it with the story about Hercules’ tasks. (This is a story from Rome about a man called Hercules. He had to do 12 difficult tasks. Then he would live for ever.) Both these ideas are unlikely. People probably started to think about them because the name Samson means ‘sun’. Samson was born at Zorah. This was opposite the town called Bethshemesh, which means ‘house of the sun’.
The *Philistines made their home in the plain near the sea. This happened about 40 years after the *Israelites entered the country. The *Philistines lived in Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. Before that time, Dan’s *tribe had lived near them. But because of the *Philistines’ power, very many people from Dan’s *tribe went away. They went to live in the north. (Look at chapter 18.) They may actually have gone there before the time when Samson was the judge. He began the fight against the *Philistines. And Samuel continued it. There is a parallel in the stories about Samson and Samuel. They were both born to a mother that could not have children. Look at 1 Samuel chapter 1. (And look also in Luke 1.)
An *angel appeared to Samson’s mother. Neither she nor her husband understood who he really was until verse 20. Until then, they thought that he was ‘a man of God’ (a *prophet). Or otherwise he was an *angel of God. Samson was a *Nazirite. (Look at Numbers 6:1-21.) This means that he made a special promise. There were many things that he could not do. He could not drink wine (from *grapes) or strong drink (from fruit or grain). He could not touch a dead body and nobody could cut his hair. He must definitely refuse some natural things. In other words, he had to say ‘no’ to them. This showed how definite was his ‘yes’ to God. Samson’s mother had to obey some things in the promise. She could not eat or drink anything that God did not allow. Samson obeyed only the rule that nobody should cut his hair. He did not obey the other rules. He only began to remove the *Philistines. (Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David continued to do it.)
In the Bible, when God promised to give a son, he promised this to the most unlikely people. It seemed impossible that they could have a child. And therefore to have one was a *miracle. Manoah believed what the person with the message had said. He asked what they should do. He believed in a very simple way. Manoah’s wife had not mentioned that Samson would kill *Philistines. The person with the message was an *angel from God. Neither Manoah nor his wife knew that. They welcomed an *angel, although they did not know it. (Look at Hebrews 13:2.)
Manoah invited the visitor to a meal. The visitor suggested that they should offer a *sacrifice to the *Lord. So Manoah brought meat and a grain offering. He asked what the visitor’s name was. The visitor told him that it was ‘wonderful’. In other words, it was something that they would not be able to understand. The visitor called ‘Wonderful’ acted in a wonderful way. He went up to heaven in a flame. This was the flame that came up from the *altar (stone table). Manoah was afraid. But his wife was more understanding about how things were in reality. She had gained this from experience of life. She said that God would not kill them. He would not kill them because he had planned special things for them in the future.
Samson was a man that did unusual things. He wanted a woman that was a *Philistine as his wife. There was a law that *Israel’s people must not marry people from other nations. Usually parents arranged marriages. Samson caused his parents a shock when he wanted to marry a ‘dirty’ person. (They considered the *Philistines as if they were ‘dirty’. This was because the *Philistines were ‘uncircumcised’. This is what the original word means here. ‘Uncircumcised’ means that nobody had removed the skin from the *sexual part in the male body.) Samson did not obey his parents’ wishes. The marriage was a different type from what was usual. In this case, the bride remained with her own family. The husband came as a guest and he brought presents. (Look at Judges 15:1-2.) The children would belong to the mother’s family. The writer does not describe the woman that Samson wanted to marry as a *virgin. Perhaps she was a widow or perhaps she had had a divorce. The writer shows that God even uses people’s failures in order to perform his plans.
Samson went to arrange the marriage. On the way, he killed a lion.
Because he was a *Nazirite, he had promised not to touch a dead body. He probably did not think that the promise was important. He touched the body and he ate the honey. This meant that he did not obey the promise then.
It is not clear why Samson’s father came to see the woman. Some Bible students think that he tried to stop the marriage. People organised the meal at the bride’s house. This was unusual. It was usual to have it at the bridegroom’s house. It lasted 7 days. The bride and bridegroom would not usually have sex until after the meal had ended. In that way, they would make the marriage complete. The *Philistines gave a group of 30 men to Samson. These men would be his companions during the meal. Also, they had to keep people out that the hosts had not invited.
Then Samson made a bet. (A ‘bet’ is an arrangement to risk a certain amount of money or property. The people may gain this amount or they may lose it. They try to guess what the result will be in a particular situation. What will happen is not certain. If a person guesses right, he or she can have the money or property.)
The bet was about the answer to a difficult question. ‘Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.’ The bet was for two things. The first thing was pieces of delicate cloth. People wore these as clothes next to the skin. The second thing was sets of clothes. People used such clothes for special events like weddings. The men did not know the answer. Then they said that they intended to do something bad to Samson’s wife. They would do it, if she did not persuade him to tell them the answer. Finally, after much difficulty and tears, she managed to persuade him. She told the men. Then the men came to Samson and they told him the answer. This was his reply. ‘If you had not ploughed with my cow, you would not know the answer now.’ For ‘cow’, the writer uses the word ‘heifer’ (a female cow). Usually people did not use female cows to plough. Samson was using a special description here. He meant that they had been asking his wife for the answer.
He went to Ashkelon, which was 23 miles away. Then nobody would connect him with what he intended to do. There he killed 30 men and he took their best clothes. This was like the final *destruction that would happen at Gaza (chapter 16). It was too little and it was too late. Samson should have done something like this many years before. He liked action. But he did not understand what things were important. However, God’s Spirit worked in him. There was a reason for this. In Judges 14:4, ‘the *Lord wanted an opportunity to attack the *Philistines’. Samson established friendly relations with the *Philistines, although they were enemies. He showed what *Israel’s people were like. These two groups of people were very close together. Even the *Lord could not separate them. But Samson had an angry disagreement with the *Philistines. In this, we can see something that made Israel’s people different. God used Samson’s sin. (Sin is something that breaks God’s rules.) He used it in order to cause the argument with the *Philistines. God also gave Samson his strength. (People cannot explain this strength by the rules of science.) Then God gave him the first opportunities to use it. The young man discovered his skill when he fought against the lion. He discovered the purpose of the skill when he killed the 30 men at Ashkelon. The father of Samson’s wife did not want her to suffer shame. So he arranged to marry her to Samson’s best man. (The ‘best man’ is the man that helps the bridegroom at a wedding.)
The harvest happened at the end of May. Samson went to have sex with his wife. He brought a goat as a gift. This was probably the present that the husband usually brought in such a marriage. He discovered that they had given his wife to his friend. This was because Samson had left them after the wedding. Instead, they offered her younger sister to him. He was so angry that he got 300 ‘foxes’. (These were probably the animals that people today call jackals. A jackal is a kind of wild dog.) He started a fire on their tails so that they would burn the corn and the *olive trees. This action was very serious, as it was harvest time. Samson’s action with the jackals was one part in God’s firm plan. God wanted the *Israelites and the *Philistines to continue their quarrel. The fight then got bigger, when the *Philistines burned Samson’s wife and her family. They did what they had already promised to do in Judges 14:15. On the day when the wedding happened, the girl’s father had given her to Samson’s friend. If he had not done this, she would have remained alone on that day. And this would have meant great shame for her. So he had tried to keep his daughter from that shame. Instead, he caused a terrible *disaster. The *Philistines could maybe have tried to catch Samson. But they noticed that it was easier to burn the father and daughter. Samson killed many people in Timnah. In this way, he punished the *Philistines because of what they did. Then he hid.
From this story we learn the origin of the name ‘*Jawbone Hill’. The *Philistines only wanted to make Samson suffer pain. They did not want to attack the *Israelites. They were very afraid of Samson. So they sent very many *Philistines to attack him. And these sent an even larger number of *Israelites to arrest him. The *Israelites said to Samson, ‘You know that the *Philistines are our rulers.’ From this we learn something about God’s people. And we learn about the evil things in the world. God’s people and the world’s evil things cannot live together in a friendly way. If God’s people do not fight against those evil things, then the evil things will be stronger than God’s people. The *Israelites from Judah’s *tribe did not quarrel with the *Philistines. They bound Samson. But then he got free and he killed 1000 men. He did this with a *weapon that he had not planned to use. It was a fresh *jawbone from an animal that had just died. The wet *jawbone would be more useful than a dry one would be. In this action, he did what he had promised not to do. Because he was a *Nazirite, he had promised not to touch a dead body. What Samson said about the *jawbone was probably a song. In this song, Samson used *Hebrew words cleverly in a special way. But we cannot translate these easily. People thought that he had God’s power to free them. But God knew that he was like *Israel’s people. They did what was wrong. The result would be *destruction.
Here is another story that shows us the origin of a name. This was the first time when Samson had to ask for God’s help. Usually he just thought that he had it. God answered his prayer. This is an example of when Samson was feeling weak. The *prophet Elijah behaved in a similar weak way after he had defeated a false god’s *prophets at Carmel. (Look at 1 Kings 19:4.) Samson thought that he would die because he did not have any water. Then he thought that the *Philistines would cut up his body. A *spring came from a hollow place in the ground. So he called the place ‘Caller’s *Spring’, or ‘the well of the man who called’.
Samson visited a woman that sold sex. This shows that he was like *Israel’s people. When he was not freeing *Israel’s people, he was like them. His body was very strong. But he could not control his feelings, so in this meaning he was weak. And later this finally caused his defeat. We learn from the Bible how many other people in the *Old Testament failed. God used these people. By them, God did what he wanted to do. But they did not behave in a good way in their lives. Samson’s enemies probably watched all day (not all night). Perhaps they did not watch so carefully at night, when they had shut the gates. Now he escaped from Gaza and he carried the gates with him. Later, he was not able to escape from that town. Hebron was about 40 miles from Gaza. Either he carried the gates to Hebron or he took them to a hill. The hill was opposite Hebron.
Delilah was beautiful, but she was dangerous. Samson was strong, but he was also weak in some matters. He had not learned from his previous experience when a woman got information from him. The 5 rulers of the *Philistines offered money to Delilah. They wanted her to discover how to control him. That is why they offered the money to her. They thought that he intended to attack their nation. They did not dare to go near to him. They did not know why he was so strong. They offered a large amount of money to Delilah. Samson loved Delilah so much that he did not feel doubtful about her. The leaders of the *Philistines may have heard about their friendship. Samson said that they could tie him with *bowstrings or new *ropes. This was not true. Otherwise, it would have meant that he got his strength from magic. Earlier the men from Judah’s *tribe had tied Samson with *ropes. It had not succeeded, but the *Philistines had forgotten that. Then Delilah *wove his hair into some *weaving on a machine. It was a machine with which people made cloth. When Samson woke up, he started to get up. But his hair was in the machine. So, when he got up, he pulled also the machine with him. He pulled with him everything that was on it. So, again Samson got free.
Delilah continued with determination. Samson’s other women had done the same. Some time passed. The *Philistines had lost interest and they went away. Samson continued to want Delilah’s love. She still intended to give him to his enemies. Perhaps she wanted to be rich. She was probably jealous. She could not discover his secret. Finally, after she had persuaded him, Samson stopped opposing her. He told her the truth. A barber shaved off his hair. Then Samson woke up. He went out to escape as he had done in the past. He did not know that the *Lord had left him. This had happened to *Israel’s people too. It caused the final terrible event. It was impossible to avoid shame and defeat.
The *Philistines *captured Samson easily and they removed his eyes. He came back to Gaza to *crush corn. He turned two stones with his hands. The work was dull. He looked foolish, because women usually did this work. But his hair grew and his strength grew.
Finally the *Philistines met together to thank their god Dagon. They brought Samson in to perform some acts. These would show his strength and they would amuse the crowd. The *Philistines did not know anything about the God that is *faithful. He had said that Samson would be a *Nazirite until the day when he died. God left his servant for only a short time. ‘If we have no trust, he remains loyal. He cannot act in a manner that is different to his character (2 Timothy 2:13).’ He called again to the *Lord, as he had done at *Jawbone Hill. This too had happened after a woman had attracted him by her beauty. She too had obtained a secret from him and she had told it to his enemies. He used all three names for God. These were *Adonai, *Yahweh and *Elohim. Tall stones supported the building where the *Philistines praised their god. Samson pushed those stones forward. The whole building fell down. This killed the crowd on the roof and it killed the crowd underneath it. And it killed Samson himself. The *Philistines did not prevent people from giving Samson a good funeral at the end. The *Philistines had said, ‘Our god (Dagon, the god for corn) has delivered our enemy into our hands.’ But as the building fell down, they must have known the truth. Their god had not done this. It was Samson’s God who had done it.
E. M. Blaiklock says,
‘Samson’s real task was to take God to the *Philistines. He could only help them if he was separate from them. (This was the reason for his *Nazirite promise.) Samson is the *Prodigal Son of the *Old Testament, who wasted his life in wild living. But Samson was the *prodigal who came home dead.’
Notice the parallel with Christ. A writer in the Bible calls Christ ‘the sun of goodness’. And before Christ was born, an *angel told his mother about his birth. This happened with Samson too. Like Samson, Christ beat his people’s enemies by his own death. God does warn us by what Samson did. However, God’s plan continued although Samson had done some wrong things. By Samson, the Spirit of God freed his people.
This section is different from the other parts in the book. Here the writer does not mention foreign control or a judge. He does not say clearly that the *Israelites did wrong things. But he says that there was no king. He says that ‘everyone did what seemed right to him’. In these chapters, the writer tells us about bad moral standards and bad *religious ideas. He shows us how *Israel’s national structure did not have any control at that time. The *tribes all worked together. We can see this from what all the other *tribes did to Benjamin’s *tribe.
Before this section, the writer described the time when the Judges ruled. This story probably happened near the beginning of that time. It shows the bad state of *religion at that time. The name Micah means ‘There is no one like the *Lord’. But Micah had taken money from his own mother. She declared a *curse on the thief. People believed that *curses had bad results. So Micah quickly returned the money! His mother then said a *blessing. This meant that the *curse would have no power. She said that she had given the money to God. This was so that someone could make an image. (The image was something that people made from wood or stone. It looked like a person that lived.) Someone would also make an *idol (false god). But Micah’s mother only used 200 pieces of silver for this purpose. There were 1100 pieces in total. Perhaps she gave the rest back to Micah. This may be what the last sentence in verse 3 means. The writer does not say clearly whether there was one image or two images. Perhaps there was another image and perhaps it was like a male cow. (Some people believed that God, whom people could not see, rode on the cow.) Earlier, God had given 10 *commandments to Moses. In the 2nd *commandment, he forbade the people to make an image. So when these people made an image, they were not obeying that *commandment. Micah made a place where he could praise God at his house. There he put this image, an ephod and also some gods that belonged to the family. (An ephod was a special coat that priests wore.) People believed that they could discover from that place what would happen in their lives. The family’s gods may have been heads that people kept in special oil and cloth. Or they may have been models that people had made from clay. (Clay is a special kind of mud.) The models looked like *ancestors of the family. In the *Old Testament, God said that all these things were wrong. Micah had sons and he had chosen one as a priest. Perhaps he did this because there was nobody from Levi’s *tribe. The rule was that all priests must come from Levi’s *tribe. Perhaps he did not give attention to this. All these things happened because there was no king. Everybody did what seemed right to them.
A man from Levi’s *tribe then came along. The people from this *tribe had no land that was their own. They each lived in an area that belonged to another *tribe. So people often considered that these people belonged to that other *tribe. The area where this man from Levi’s *tribe lived belonged to Judah’s *tribe.
In verse 7, the *Hebrew text has the phrase ‘who had been living there’. This contains the same letters as the name ‘Gershom’. Gershom was a son of Moses. A better translation may be ‘He was Jonathan the son (or *descendant) of Gershom’. (Look at Judges 18:30.) We do not know why he had left Bethlehem. He may not have had enough food or money there. Micah gave a job to the man from Levi’s *tribe. It was a job as his ‘father’ and priest. He also gave him food, somewhere to live and some money. He let him live like a son. Micah was certain that God would bless him (Micah). He had a priest who had qualified for the job. That is why Micah thought that God would bless him.
Dan’s *tribe could not live in the land that Joshua had reserved for them. This was because the *Amorites and the *Philistines opposed them. Look at Judges 1:34-35. They sent 5 people to get secret information. They sent them because they wanted to find a better place to live. The 5 people spent the night at Micah’s house. And they recognised the voice of the man from Levi’s *tribe. This may mean that they knew him already. He came from Bethlehem-Judah. This town was near where they lived. He probably had a southern accent. So maybe because of this they knew where he came from. They asked him to tell them whether they would be successful. He gave to them the answer that they wanted. He was careful to do that. His answer included a reference to God.
The 5 men from Dan’s *tribe started from Zorah. Then they travelled 100 miles to Laish. There, streams flowed into the Jordan river. The streams supplied it with plenty of water. Mount Hermon separated this area from Syria. The Lebanon range separated it from Phoenicia. The people were separate from other people and they had not prepared for an attack. Some men went to discover what the country was like. They said that it was very good. As a result, 600 men from Dan’s *tribe took their wives and families. And they started to travel to the north.
On the way, the *spies suggested that people should go to Micah’s house. The 600 men stood at the entrance of the house. They were there to warn people about any trouble. The *spies took all the *religious objects. Then they persuaded the man from Levi’s *tribe to go with them. They said that he would be a *tribe’s priest rather than just a family’s priest. The people sent their children and possessions to go in front of them. In this way, they were protecting them so that nobody could attack them from behind.
Micah went after the people to get his gods. He went together with some men that lived near him. He arrived where the people from Dan’s *tribe were. Then these people said that some men from their group might become unpleasant. If Micah opposed them, they intended to do something bad to him. So Micah went home. The gods that he had made could not help him. The incident shows what state the country was in. Someone with authority could have made sure that people did right actions. But there was no such authority.
The people from Dan’s *tribe soon destroyed Laish. And they soon destroyed its peaceful inhabitants. These were very separate from other people. So they could not get anybody to help them. They had trusted in the fact that they were far away from anyone else. This meant also that they could not get any help. The people from Dan’s *tribe named the town Dan. They made their own place where they could praise God together with Jonathan the priest. Because of this, the town had an important position. Later, for that reason, king Jeroboam the First made it one place where people praised God in the northern *kingdom. People made a male cow for him from gold. It may have been a copy of Micah’s image. In verse 30, Dan’s *tribe used that place ‘until enemies *captured the country’. This may not mean the time when enemies finally *destroyed the northern *kingdom. It may mean the time when the *Philistines controlled many areas in that country. And these included the area where Dan’s *tribe lived. This may have been after the battle at Aphek. We may be able to understand it better if we look at verse 31. The *Israelites praised God in the big tent at Shiloh. But the *Philistines destroyed Shiloh at the time when they fought the battle at Aphek. This was during the time when Eli was the chief priest. (However, the writer may be referring here to a later event after King Saul’s death.)
This event happened before the events in chapters 17 and 18. In verse 28, the writer mentions Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson. He also says that the *tribes acted together. He does not say anything about the *Philistines. These would have made it impossible for the people to act together.
The man from Levi’s *tribe lived where Ephraim’s *tribe was. He lived in an area that was a long distance away from the main places. The man’s *concubine had left him and she had gone back to Bethlehem. We do not know why she left. Perhaps she wanted to be with someone else. Or perhaps she was very angry. It is more likely that she was angry. The man went to Bethlehem. He tried to persuade her to come home to him. He would not refuse to accept her. Also, her father welcomed him. This seems to show that nothing bad had happened. Her father was glad that the man from Levi’s *tribe had come. Otherwise, the father would have suffered shame because his daughter had left her husband. When people in the east entertained their guests, they made things difficult for them. The man could not leave until the afternoon of the 5th day. Some people in that area had travelled round from place to place. They had lived in tents. But now they had come to live in towns there. They had still kept their language. In verse 9 in the original text, the writer used their language. In our text, we read ‘The day is almost over’. That is what the sentence means to us. But in the original text, the writer actually wrote this. ‘It is time to put up a tent.’ In our text, we have the word ‘home’. But in the original text, it is actually the word for ‘tent’.
They left Bethlehem and they came to *Jebus (Jerusalem). They did not stay there, because it still belonged to the *Jebusites. The servant wanted to stay there. But his master said ‘No’. He said that because it would not be very safe to stay among foreigners. It would be safer to stay among *Israelites. So they continued their journey as far as Gibeah. This was in the area where Benjamin’s *tribe lived. (Later it became the political capital of King Saul’s *kingdom.) *Jebus was 6 miles from Bethlehem. And then Gibeah was another 4 miles north from *Jebus. They sat in the square. And they waited there for someone to invite them to his house. The fact that nobody invited them was unusual. It meant that something bad would probably happen. The man had thought that he could trust the people in Gibeah. They were *Israelites. That is why he thought that. So, if they did something bad, it would really be very bad.
At last, an old man invited them into his house. He came from the same place as the man from Levi’s *tribe did. But he was living in Gibeah town at this time. The man from Levi’s *tribe told him what he intended to do. He intended to go to the house of the *Lord. Maybe he wanted to offer thanks that his relationship with his wife was better. Perhaps people would help him if he was travelling for a *religious reason. (However, another text of the story has the words ‘I am going to my house.’) He also said that he had got plenty of food with him. But the old man offered to him all that the group needed. The old man refused to accept what the other man already had. So, the old man seemed to be kind and generous. This increases even more the shock that we will feel because of the next event.
Some wicked men in the city tried to break the door down. They demanded that the old man should bring out his guest for *homosexual practices. The old man refused. He offered his own daughter and his guest’s *concubine instead. For him, it was important to entertain guests. This was more important than to take care of women. The man from Levi’s *tribe cared only about himself. He threw his *concubine out to the crowd. They were cruel to her all night. In the morning, he opened the door to go. He showed little care or no care about what had happened to her. He urged her to get up. Finally, he realised that she was dead. There were bad standards about what was right and wrong in those days. We can see this from what the man from Levi’s *tribe did. And we can see it from what the men in Gibeah did. The world in the 21st century is not much better! Today, many people do what they like. They do not do what God wants.
He cut up the body into 12 pieces. There was one piece for each *tribe. (King Saul did the same thing later with his male cows. In this way he called all the *tribes to obey an agreement. They had all made that agreement with him.) Now people with messages took the pieces round to the *Israelites. Those people probably said the words in verse 30. The time when the *Israelites had left Egypt was called the Exodus. That was the beginning of the nation called *Israel. People remembered it for a long time afterwards. (We know this because Hosea mentions it in his book. And he lived much later.) Now a very bad thing had happened to this woman. This was the worst thing that had happened since that Exodus. When the man sent the pieces of her body, this tested the *Israelites’ morals. In this way, he could discover what they thought about the crime. However, the man from Levi’s *tribe did not care very much about the *concubine herself. It is strange that such a test should come from such a man.
People from most *tribes came to the meeting. So this event probably happened early, when the judges began to rule. Later, foreign nations controlled the country and that made long journeys difficult. ‘Dan to Beersheba’ meant the whole country from north to south. It does not mean that Dan’s *tribe had gone to live somewhere else. The *Israelites met at Mizpah. This is probably the Mizpah that is near Bethel. People have talked about what the number 400 000 means. It seems very large. Many people believe that we should translate the word ‘thousand’ as ‘families’ or ‘captains of military groups’.
Benjamin’s *tribe had not come to help the other *tribes. So the military action would last a long time. The other *tribes therefore made careful plans for their supplies. This situation was very different from the usual one. The *tribes did not usually unite so much during the time when the judges ruled.
The other *tribes made an official request to Benjamin’s *tribe. They asked that *tribe to give to them the people that had done this wrong thing. Benjamin’s *tribe refused. They chose to fight and they gathered their army. This included many left-handed men. These men could throw stones very skilfully.
At first Benjamin’s *tribe was successful. There were a lot of hills. This helped people that were defending themselves. It did not help people that were attacking. The men from Benjamin’s *tribe knew this area. God chose Judah’s *tribe to fight against them. This was probably because Judah’s *tribe were very skilful fighters. They lived in an area that was similar to this one. The men from Benjamin’s *tribe won this battle and they killed many soldiers from Judah’s *tribe. Benjamin’s *tribe was fighting for its life as a *tribe. Perhaps its soldiers knew that. The other *tribes may not have wanted to fight against their relatives. The *tribes asked whether God wanted them to fight again. The *Lord said ‘yes’. Then they went into their positions. Again Benjamin’s *tribe defeated them.
The *tribes then went to Bethel to ask for God’s help. The 2nd defeat must have been very difficult for them. This time they not only wept, but they also offered *sacrifices. They did not eat food. Perhaps they had not really trusted God in their previous attacks. They had had a larger army then. This time they changed their minds. They asked for God’s help. The writer refers to Phinehas. Phinehas was the priest when Joshua was alive. This means that these things happened quite early. Phinehas was the priest at the place where they praised God at that time. He was a very great and holy man from among *Israel’s people. The name Phinehas means a child with dark skin. Its origin is from Egypt. This is the only time in the book called Judges when the writer mentions the *ark of the *covenant. (The *ark of the *covenant was a box that people had made from gold. It contained the 10 special laws that God had given to *Israel’s people.)
For the 3rd attack, some *Israelites hid and they waited in that position. They were ready to jump out. (The *Israelites had also done this at Ai, when Joshua was their leader.) The men from Benjamin’s *tribe came out to attack. It seemed as if they had won. The *Israelites’ main army pretended to run away. Benjamin’s men ran after them. Then the *Israelites’ smaller army that was hiding, came in behind Benjamin’s men. That smaller army started a fire in the town. (We will read about this in verse 40.) At this time the *Israelites’ main army, which was running away, turned round. Now the army from Benjamin’s *tribe ran away. The *Israelites killed about 25 000 men from that army.
The writer now concentrates on the people that destroyed Gibeah. They got into the town easily. The *Israelites’ main army had pretended to run away. The men from Benjamin’s *tribe rushed out from the city. They left it so that it had no protection. The smaller army that had been hiding went into the city. Then they started a fire there. This was a signal for the main army. When the main army saw the smoke, it would turn round. And it would fight against Benjamin’s men. The people that had been protecting the town chased after the *Israelites’ main army. Some *Israelites from the smaller army were hiding near Geba. These men attacked Gibeah. Benjamin’s men that ran away went east towards the desert. The *Israelites started a fire in the town. They tried to stop Benjamin’s men so that these would not run away. They killed 18 000 men from Benjamin’s *tribe. Those that were still alive ran to the rock called Rimmon. This was north-east from Geba. The *Israelites killed 7000 more men on the way. 600 men escaped to Rimmon. Then the armies killed many other men from Benjamin’s *tribe. They destroyed their towns and villages too. In Deuteronomy 13:12-18, God had given a command to the *Israelites. In towns whose people had praised other gods, they should burn all the people, animals and possessions. Perhaps the *Israelites now thought that the men from Benjamin’s *tribe had done an even worse crime than that.
The *Israelites thought again about their actions. They had fought a holy war. But they had made some promises that were too strong. They had promised that their daughters would not marry the men from Benjamin’s *tribe. So they had not allowed them to marry them. They were sorry about that. Because it meant that the *tribe would not continue. They built an *altar. This was probably at Mizpah, because there was already one at Bethel. They could not change their promise. Then they remembered something. If a *tribe sent nobody to the meeting, people would declare a *curse on that *tribe. As a result, the *tribe would suffer *destruction. Nobody had come from Jabesh-Gilead. (The people in Jabesh-Gilead were relatives of Manasseh, Rachel’s grandson. And so, they were also relatives of Benjamin. Later there was a close connection between Jabesh-Gilead and Benjamin’s *tribe.)
The people sent very many soldiers to Jabesh-Gilead. These went there to do something that the people had promised. But they also went to avoid the results of another promise. They killed the people that lived there. This was because these had not come to support the other *tribes. We may think that this seems cruel. But the connections between *tribes were *religious and very strong. It was very wrong to break these connections. One *tribe did not come. It did not consider that the event was serious. It did not want to settle the matter fairly. The soldiers brought back 400 girls that had not had sex. They would be wives for 400 men from Benjamin’s *tribe. But in total, 600 men from Benjamin’s *tribe still lived. The *Israelites did not kill them. This showed that the *Israelites wanted to become friends with them again. The *Israelites did not want one *tribe to disappear completely. They went to Shiloh. This shows that this event happened early. It happened before most other events that the writer describes in Judges. The writer explains here where Shiloh was. This shows that Shiloh was not such an important town then. It was not the main place where the people praised God at that time. It did not become the main place until later.
In Benjamin’s *tribe, there were still 200 men that did not have wives. So they made a plan for the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was a *celebration because of the harvest. This one was at Shiloh. It included some local customs. For example, people danced. During the dance, those other 200 men from Benjamin’s *tribe would each seize a girl. So they would each get a wife. They would not take these girls as an act of war. And the men in Shiloh would not actually give their daughters to them. So the men in Shiloh would not do anything that was against their promise. (They had promised not to give their daughters to a man from Benjamin’s *tribe.)
E. M. Blaiklock wrote, ‘These last few chapters tell us what happens to a nation that forgets its God.’
This does not mean that a king would make things fair and good. Many kings led the people in the wrong way. ‘Everyone did what seemed right to him.’ This means that everybody had the responsibility to check their own actions. We may want to know who had the final authority. God showed people things about his purpose. That was the final authority. People could still live as true people of God even then. We can see this from the book called Ruth. God was still there. He had not left his people. He made sure that they would not destroy themselves by their own foolish behaviour. In Judges, we read a story about God’s grace. (God forgives us for the wrong things that we have done. And he does good things to us, although we do not deserve it. That is what grace means.) When people were doing more wrong things, God’s grace increased even more. Even when we have no trust, he remains loyal. He cannot act in a way that is different from his character.
This book is particularly important for people that live today. In many countries, people encourage other people to do what is ‘right for them’. They do not believe in absolute truth and moral standards. They do not believe in life that comes after death. They do not believe in judgement either. They laugh at these ideas. Sometimes people do not obey laws and they forget God. In this book, we read what results this has. The terrible events in the story in chapter 19 seem very modern. Judges contains a message for our world today. The world is becoming more and more evil. Its people allow other people to do whatever they like. God will punish what is evil. But he also loves people and he forgives them. He hates to see his people suffer. He can free those who try to find him. But they must also stop doing wrong things. That freedom comes by the *Lord Jesus Christ. He was born. He lived. He died. He rose again. He did not come to punish people. He came to free them. In the book called Judges, God often sent a special man (a judge) to rescue *Israel’s people. And this was similar to something that God would do later. Later he would send someone even more special, his own son Jesus, to rescue the world’s people from their *sins.
Adonai ~ a name that means ‘my *Lord’; it refers to God.
altar ~ a special table where people put a *sacrifice to God (or to a false god). They usually made it from stone.
Amorites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.
ancestors ~ people that lived before you in your family.
angel ~ a special servant of God. He lives where God lives and he brings messages from God.
angel of the Lord ~ a very special person that God sent from heaven (the place where God lives); or God himself when he came (perhaps as Jesus) to speak to people.
ark of the *covenant ~ a box in which *Israel’s people kept special laws that God had given to them. They carried it from place to place.
Asherah ~ a female god.
Ashtoreth ~ false female gods.
Baal ~ the false god of rain and good crops.
B.C. ~ 1200 B.C. means the year that was 1200 years before Jesus came to earth, and so on.
blessings ~ when God does good things to people and he protects them.
bowstring ~ a string that people fix between the ends of a long wooden stick. They pull the string to bend the stick into a curve. They do this in order to shoot arrows.
briar ~ plant with sharp points that grow on its branches.
burnt offering ~ something that people burned in order to offer it to God. (Or they offered it to a false god.)
Canaan ~ the country that later was called Israel.
Canaanites ~ people that lived in *Canaan. Sometimes the word means one particular group of people that lived there. And sometimes it means all the people that lived in *Canaan. They lived there already, before the *Jews lived there.
capture ~ take someone as a prisoner; take control of a place in war; or take an object in war.
carve ~ cut away material from wood or stone to make something.
cast ~ put soft material into a box with a particular shape. In the box, the material becomes hard and so it becomes an object with that shape.
cedar ~ a tall tree that is always green.
celebration ~ a social event that people arrange because of a happy or important occasion.
chariot ~ something like a box on wheels. Horses pulled it and someone rode in it. In war, soldiers rode in it.
commandment ~ a special law that God gave to Moses. There were 10 special laws like this.
concubine ~ a woman that lives with a man, but she has a lower position than his wife.
conquer ~ take control of something or somebody by force.
conquest ~ when a person takes control of something or somebody by force.
covenant ~ an agreement between two groups of people; or an agreement between God and his people. In God’s agreement, he promised to bless his people if they obeyed him.
crush ~ press something so that it breaks into pieces.
curse ~ something bad that someone says in order to punish or hurt a person.
descendants ~ members of your family that are born and live after you.
destroy ~ kill people; or damage something so badly that it does not exist any more.
destruction ~ when someone has damaged something so badly that it does not exist any more.
dew ~ drops of water that form on cool surfaces outside. They form at night when the air is damp.
disaster ~ a very bad event that causes great problems.
draw lots ~ select one thing (or person) from several things by luck.
Egyptian ~ a word that describes someone from Egypt or anything from Egypt.
Elohim ~ God, the person who is greater than anyone else.
ephod ~ a coat that priests wore.
faith ~ trust, complete confidence.
faithful ~ loyal to someone.
fig ~ a soft sweet fruit that is full of seeds.
generation ~ a period of time between a father’s birth and his child’s birth.
grape ~ juicy green or purple fruit that grows on the branches of a *vine. People use this fruit to make wine.
Hebrew ~ the Hebrew people were Abraham’s *descendants; and they spoke a language called Hebrew.
Hittites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.
Hivites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.
homosexual ~ when a person has sex with someone who is the same sex.
idol ~ a thing that people make out of wood, stone or metal. It looks like a man or a god. People *worship it and pray to it instead of God.
Iron Age ~ a long period when people used iron to make things.
Israel ~ the nation that consisted of Jacob’s *descendants; the country where they lived; another name for Jacob.
Israelites ~ the people that belonged to the nation called *Israel. God had chosen them as his own special people.
jawbone ~ a bone that contains the teeth in the mouth.
Jebus ~ the town that later was called Jerusalem.
Jebusites ~ the people that first lived in the town called Jebus (Jerusalem).
Jew ~ a person who is from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Kenites ~ a group of people that lived near *Canaan.
kingdom ~ country or state that a king rules.
locusts ~ insects that fly as large groups and they destroy plants.
Lord ~ a name for God. It means that he is the master, the ruler over all. Also, people often use this word to translate *Yahweh, a very special *Hebrew name for God.
millstone ~ a flat circular stone that people use to *crush corn. They use two such stones together.
miracle ~ an event that does not follow the laws of nature.
mule ~ a horse with short legs that carries loads.
Nazirite ~ someone who made a special promise to God not to do certain things.
Negev ~ the dry southern area in Israel. (The name means ‘dry country’ in the *Hebrew language.) The area contained wells. And it had routes that people used for trade.
oak ~ a tree with hard wood. People often considered it as a holy thing.
offering ~ something that people give as a gift; a *burnt offering was an animal that people burnt as a gift to God.
Old Testament ~ the first 39 books in the Bible. They deal with God’s old *covenant, which he made at *Sinai.
olive ~ a bitter green or black fruit from which people get oil.
opposition ~ when someone is against somebody or something.
ornament ~ something that people put on a thing to add beauty to it.
palm tree ~ a tree with no branches. It has large leaves at the top.
peace offering ~ a gift to God to make peace with him.
Perizzites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.
Pharisees ~ a group of *Jews who thought that they obeyed all God’s commands. They did not like the things that Jesus taught. They thought that they did not have any wrong ways. So they became very proud.
Philistines ~ a group of people that came from Egypt. They came to live on the coast between Egypt and Gaza. They lived in the plain that was there.
pole ~ a very long piece of wood that usually stands straight up. At that time, it often represented a god.
pregnant ~ when a woman has a baby that is developing inside her.
prodigal ~ someone who wastes his life and resources on pleasure, but he later regrets it. (Look at Luke 15.)
prophet ~ a person who teaches God’s message. A prophet sometimes tells about the results that present actions will have in the future.
prophetic ~ when a statement or event shows what will happen in the future.
religion ~ belief that God exists; and belief that we should obey his rules.
religious ~ when someone or something has a connection with *religion.
rope ~ very thick string.
sacrifice ~ something valuable (usually food or a dead animal) that people offer to God or to a false god.
scriptures ~ the holy texts in the *Old Testament or *New Testament of the Bible.
sexual ~ when something has a connection with a person’s male or female parts.
sin ~ when people do not obey God’s rules.
Sinai ~ the mountain where God gave the 10 *commandments (special laws) to Moses.
skull ~ the bony part in the head.
spear ~ a *weapon that has a metal point and it has a long handle.
spies ~ people that try to get secret information about another person or country.
spring ~ a place where water from under the ground comes up to the surface.
statue ~ a figure that represents a person or animal. People make it from stone or metal.
temple ~ a building where people praise a god.
temptation ~ something that tries to make people do wrong things.
tent peg ~ a piece of metal or wood. People put it into the ground to hold up the *ropes of a tent.
thorns ~ sharp points on a plant.
threshing ~ when people beat corn with a stick to separate the grains from it.
thumb ~ a short thick finger in a position apart from the other 4 fingers.
thummim ~ urim and thummim were two objects that the main priest kept in his *ephod. The priest used those objects to discover God’s decision about a situation.
torch ~ a stick that people burnt to give them light.
tower ~ a tall narrow building.
tribe ~ a large group of people that are all relatives of each other.
trumpet ~ a musical instrument that people blow in order to play it. They make it from metal.
unfaithful ~ not loyal.
urim ~ urim and thummim were two objects that the main priest kept in his *ephod. The priest used those objects to discover God’s decision about a situation.
victory ~ success in war.
vine ~ a plant that climbs. Its fruit is the *grape.
virgin ~ a woman who has not had sex with a man.
weapon ~ a thing that some people use to hurt other people.
weave/wove ~ to weave is to pass long pieces of material over and under other pieces. The material is cotton or wool, for example. People do this to make cloth.
winepress ~ in a winepress people used their feet to *crush *grapes; the juice ran down to a place where something held it.
worship ~ to show honour and respect to God or to a false god. To praise and serve God or a false god.
Yahweh ~ the name of God. It means ‘I am what I am’. Or it can mean ‘the same always’.
yeast ~ a type of plant that people use to make bread become bigger. It has no leaves, no fruit and no green colour.
yoghurt ~ a sour liquid that people make from milk. They add something to the milk to make it sour.
John Gray ~ Joshua, Judges and Ruth ~ The New Century Bible Commentary
Arthur Cundall ~ Judges ~ Tyndale Commentaries
Michael Wilcock ~ The Message of Judges
John Drane ~ Introducing the Old Testament
F. F. Bruce ~ Judges ~ The New Bible Commentary Revised
E. M. Blaiklock ~ Bible Characters and Doctrines, Volume 3
Bibles ~ N.I.V., N.E.B., G.N.B., Living Bible
© 1997-2005, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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