In Chapter 9, we saw how the lust for power of Abimelech and Gaal came to a violent ending. Things have not changed much today, as people grab for power, but unfortunately it isn’t limited to the world. Paul and Jesus both warned of such things coming from within the midst of the church. Why is the Church divided? All you have to do is look at the attitudes of those who will twist Scripture to make it seem as though they should be in charge, when the reality is that we are all responsible for following Christ.
The Book of Judges continues on with people doing what they consider to be right instead of what God considers to be right. He is God. He is Judge. He is King. Will we follow Him or men?
We open first with one of the shorter annotations which are scattered throughout the book. Scholars disagree upon whether or not this means Tola and other like him were more regional judges or whether it is just that the exploits weren’t as significant. Maybe it doesn’t mean much, but I find the latter more likely. The fact that he was mentioned at all would indicate to me he would have been a judge over at least an entire tribe.
After him was Jair. He had thirty sons that rode on thirty donkeys. His sons “had thirty cities” called literally “cities of Jair”. There is no indication that Jair was anything but a hard working and deserving individual. However, the overall tendency seems to be that when humans are in power, they begin to gain possessions beyond what most would consider reasonable. Kings and royalty gather a harem and territory.
On the plus side, like other judges, it is evident that his rule contained the evil inherent in people. For afterwards, we once again read that, “And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD” (v 6). We see seven false gods mentioned that they worshipped. Again, seven is a number of completeness. As Anony Jon pointed out, I misspoke about it representing finality (that’s the number three). However, seven sometimes is the end of a cycle, such as seven days in a week. In this case, Israel had completely given themselves over to the gods of the land, and this phase of the cycle was about to be brought to a close by God.
We see again that God’s anger “burned” against Israel. God “sold” them into the hands of their enemies. This time, he handed them over for 18 years.
Israel eventually comes to their senses and cries out to God. God sends a message to them, but we aren’t told the means in this case. Basically, He tells them to cry out to the false gods they had been worshipping.
A mention is made of the Maonites. Bullinger makes a note that these people are the result of Moab and Ammon intermarrying.
Israel cries out again and puts away the false gods they’ve been worshipping. They tell God, “We have sinned. Punish us as you see fit, only rescue us today from our enemies” (v 15 NLT). We see that God is “grieved” over the misery of Israel. The NIV says, “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”
The Ammonite army gathers and encamps in Gilead. Gilead once again becomes the focal point of a war.
The people and leaders in Gilead came together and asked, “What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon?”, and they follow it up with, “he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”
Again, we see a problem with how many view government. Where is the top-down appointment? Why would the “people” even be there and not just the leadership? Where is a prophet to anoint, where is a king to appoint, and where is the angel to point? God gave them a very clear message about why they were being left in oppression, so where is the message for the appointed leader?
In chapter 11, we are introduced to Jephthah, “a mighty man of valour”. However, he was also the son of a prostitute. After growing up, his brothers ran him off to prevent him from sharing in their inheritance. So, he dwelt in Tob and became the leader of a gang of thugs. This is a precursor to David’s story, which is similar after he’s on the run from King Saul. David also becomes more or less a gang leader.
Yet, we look at Heb 11, and we see that Jephthah in the end makes the “Hall of Faith”. There are so many that came from circumstances that were less than ideal, yet God was able to use them to do mighty things.
Can God do that today? Well, he certainly did take a man in the 20th century who kept failing at business and raised him up to cause people to read their Bibles and turn them to God. Abraham and Sarah were unable to have children, but God gave them a child anyhow. Jacob was the younger, but he received the birthright. Paul tells us that not many noble, wise or mighty are called. Paul himself was a persecutor of the brethren. So, what can He do in my life? In yours?
Apparently, Jephthah’s skill as a warrior was great enough that his relatives came to ask him to lead them into battle against Ammon. He more or less answered them, “You run me out of my own house and land, and now that you’re in trouble, you come to me?”
The (paraphrased) answer is that, “We are turning to you now. Lead us into battle.”
Notice that Jephthah isn’t exactly trusting of them. He repeats their promise that he will be made leader, and his relatives swear an oath before God. They go to Mizpah and repeat the oath.
Perhaps Jephthah wanted to make sure they were sincere. Just as likely, Jephthah, as his previous words seem to indicate, knew that he could not succeed without God’s blessing. Mizpah is where Laban and Jacob made a covenant and setup a “heap” of stones as a witness between them.
However, we should note that Jephthah was no ordinary thug. We might be tempted to think of him as being unlearned, hanging out in the hood, etc. However, what does he do the very first thing? He sends an embassy to the king of Ammon and winds up giving him a history lesson! He relates to the king how Israel came up from Egypt and did not pass through Moab or Edom. However, Sihon of the Amorites came out to fight Israel, and Israel took their land. God gave their land over to Israel.
It was God Who gave Israel their land. So, Jephthah asks (vv 23 – 24a), “So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it? Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?” It wasn’t that he was acknowledging Chemosh as a real god, but rather he was trying to make the point that Ammon inhabited the land they believed was given to them, so they need to respect the land that Israel’s God gave them. Then, Jephthah follows it up with a threat saying, “So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess”, and then he proceeds to ask if his is better than the other kings that were defeated by Israel. He then ends with, “The LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.”
Of course, the king of Ammon does not listen. It is interesting how rare it is that people intent upon evil will. Repentance is a gift from God, and it requires a brokenness that willingness to do whatever God commands, just as Israel became broken under oppression and cried out to God and put away their idols.
Chapter 10 was short, so I went into Chapter 11 a little to keep the context of the story flowing, but Chapter 11 is a very long chapter with much to comment on.