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Reference: Judges, The Book Of


The time comprised extends from Joshua to Eli. Divisions:

(1) Introduction (Judges 1 - 3:6). Judges 1, Israel's relations to Canaan, geographical and political, what the several tribes and houses achieved, or otherwise, in conquering the land; Judges 2 - 3:6, Israel's relations religiously to the Lord, this second portion tells us the reason of Israel's failure to drive out the Canaanite remnant and of their falling under oppressors, namely, apostasy; Jehovah leaving those nations in order to prove Israel whether they would obey Him. Hengstenberg suggests that Judges 1 presents the events before Joshua's death, Judges 2 the death itself and the events following it. The general lessons of the book are summed up in Jg 2:11 ff, namely, Israel's high calling and yet apostasy, Jehovah's chastening, and then raising up of judges because of His own pity for their groanings; then Israel's relapse into idolatry upon each judge's death.

(2) Jg 3:7-16. The opening formula (Jg 3:7) is resumed from Jg 2:11, "the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord," etc. Political events are subordinated to spiritual. Of the 13 judges, the account of six (Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson) is full, that of the remaining seven very brief. In Gideon's case alone his sons' history is detailed, because it illustrates the great lesson of the book. His sin in making the ephod issued in his family's slaughter by Abimelech with the men of Shechem's aid, these in turn mutually punishing one another. Abimelech's was the first effort to substitute an earthly king for the Lord of the theocracy, Samson's history illustrates Israel's, whom he represents, strength and weakness, strength in separation to Jehovah, utter weakness when the consecration became severed, as Samson's locks, by lust. Othniel is the only representative of Judah; the greater number of judges belonged to northern and eastern Israel.

(3) Judges 17-21. The appendix. It records:

(1) Micah's idolatry in Mount Ephraim, and the Danite adoption of it in Laish, the conquest of which is narrated. A time "when there was no king in Israel" (Jg 19:1), before Samson's days (compare Jg 13:25 margin with Jg 18:12); also before Jabin, 150 years after Joshua, had established a strong Canaanite kingdom in the N., when Dan could not have taken Laish; perhaps shortly after Joshua's death (Jg 18:30). A comparison of Jg 18:1 with Jg 1:34; Jos 19:47, implies that this history occurred at the earliest part of the judges' period. The Danites set up Micah's graven image, and Jonathan's sons were its "priests until the day of the captivity of the land," i.e. the removal of the ark by the Philistines (compare Ps 78:59-64; Jer 7:12-14; 1Ch 16:34-35). Jehovah's giving up His glory (the ark) into captivity was a virtual giving over of Israel to captivity, i.e. to their enemy's power; for the sanctuary was the land's "kernel and essence" (Hengstenberg), and the completeness of Israel's prostration under the Philistines appears in 1Sa 13:19-23. No mention of the judges occurs in this appendix. The appendix records

(2) Gibeah's awful wickedness and Benjamin's countenancing it, and Israel's unitedly punishing almost to extermination the sinning tribe. The unanimity of the tribes implies an early date; also the mention of Aaron's grandson Phinehas (compare Jg 20:28 with Jos 22:13; 24:33). These two histories appended depict the spirit of the age morally and religiously.

HISTORIC TRUTH. The comparison with the heroic age of Greece is unwarrantable. Though the judges were heroes, it was an age preceded by the Mosaic legislation and the due settlement of the people by Joshua in their inheritance; not an age of lawless semi barbarism. Jahn (Hebrew Commonwealth) truly says the Book of Judges is a record of the exceptional diseases of the body politic, while the years of health are passed over in silence. The ability to write a description of the Succoth elders, 77 men, on the part of a young man taken at random implies it was no age of ignorance; contrast the Homeric age, in which only dubious traces of the existence of writing occur (Jg 8:14, margin). Israel's servitudes occupy 111 years, the time of peaceful independence 319 years (i.e. taking the whole period as 430). Hence, the oft recurring phrase, "the land had rest ... years" (Jg 3:11,30; 5:31; 8:28). Hence too in the millennial future restoration of Israel Isaiah (Isa 1:26) announces from God, "I will restore thy judges as at the first," as in Israel's most peaceable days: Joshua, the judges, and Samuel (compare Isa 32:1; Mt 19:28).

The chequered history of Israel at this period is too modest to be the work of a forger to glorify Israel. The mention of the Canaanite chariots accords with the Egyptian accounts which make the Cheta chariots their main strength. A hieroglyphic inscription of Rameses II mentions Astert as the Cheta or Hittite divinity, so Jg 2:11-13. The Shasous in Egyptian monuments resemble in habits the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6-8). Philistine power increases in Judges and 1 Samuel parallel with Egypt's decline in the monuments. The usages, mutilation (Jg 1:6-7), blood feuds (Jg 8:19), the intermixture of ruling people and subject tribes (Jg 1:19-36), the hiding of the oppressed in caves (Jg 6:2), earrings worn by men (Jg 8:24-26), women peeping through the lattice (Jg 5:28), fables (Jg 9:7), riddles (Jg 14:12) to be solved at a forfeit, all accord with oriental usage, and occur so naturally and incidentally as to exclude suspicion of design.

DESIGN. The aim is not to give a continuous history of the period between Joshua and Samuel, but to illustrate in striking particular deliverances the divine principle of dealing with Israel laid down in Jg 2:16-19. The judges imperfectly realize the ideal. Each only delivered one part of Israel: Shamgar the region toward Philistia; Deborah and Barak northern Israel (Jg 4:10); so Gideon (Jg 6:35), Jephthah, eastern Israel; Samson, Judah, Dan and the region adjoining Philistia. Gideon corrupted the worship of God, Samson yielded to lust, Jephthah made a rash vow and took revenge upon Ephraim. The possession of inspired gifts did not always ensure the right use of them, just as the miraculous gifts at Corinth were abused (1 Corinthians 14). This is analogous to God's mode of dealing as to natural gifts; we are not judges of what God does, but learners from what He has done when He was pleased to create free agents. The time was one of transition before the kingly era.

As yet Israel developed itself freely under the Mosaic law and theocracy, which are taken for granted; each did what was "right in his own eyes" (Jg 17:6), thus giving scope, as a common central government could less do, to the operation of that particular providence which gave prosperity or adversity according to the obedience or disobedience, not only of the nation but of each tribe and family (Jg 1:1-19,21-33). The judges were God's vice-gerents in carrying out part of that particular providence which distinguished Israel's God from the idols of the pagan around. Historical facts not subserving the Spirit's design are passed by, as Ephraim's victory over Oreb and Zeeb (Jg 8:3; Isa 10:26). Eli and Samuel are not included, because Eli was high priest, and as such was officially judge, not, as the rest, especially called to be judges. Samuel was the Lord's prophet, delivering Israel, not by the sword, but by the word and by prayer (1Sa 7:3-10). Samson was the last extraordinary judge.

Samson was born during Eli's high priesthood, for before his birth the Philistines ruled Israel (Jg 13:5); "he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines." Samuel completed Israel's deliverance from them which Samson began. Throughout the inspired writer views Israel's history in the light of God's law. Israel's unfaithfulness punished by the foe's oppression, and Jehovah's faithfulness in raising up judges to deliver them at their cry, are the two hinges upon which the history turns (Keil). Only the tribes oppressed at a particular time are noticed; the rest walking according to the law, and therefore at peace, do not come under considera

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