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Judges 10-12 Listen
1 And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in mount Ephraim.
2 And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir.
Verse 1 says, "there arose to defend Israel Tola." He did so for 23 years. Nothing much to see here. It appears that these minor judges in this book simply were men who made judicial decisions in Israel without any particular noteworthy accomplishment. Tola was centrally located in Israel in the territory of Ephraim. It is not known if he was influential throughout all of Israel, or just in his immediate region.
Judge #7, Jair - 22 years - ho, hum (Judges 10:3-5)
3 And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years.
4 And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havothjair unto this day, which are in the land of Gilead.
5 And Jair died, and was buried in Camon.
Again, there's nothing particularly notable about Judge Jair either...except this: He was apparently quite wealthy and had a big influential family who rode around on luxury transportation - the donkey (verse 4). The donkey was the vehicle of royalty. Go figure! We are told that he and his sons lived east of the Jordan River in Gilead. Some scholars feel that his tenure may have overlapped that of Tola (see above).
6 And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him.
7 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon.
8 And that year they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.
9 Moreover the children of Ammon passed over Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was sore distressed.
10 And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim.
11 And the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines?
12 The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand.
13 Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more.
14 Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.
15 And the children of Israel said unto the LORD, We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day.
16 And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.
17 Then the children of Ammon were gathered together, and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled themselves together, and encamped in Mizpeh.
18 And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
By this time, Israel has rejected God and is experiencing a miserable existence. They are serving Baal and Ashtaroth, the gods of their neighbors. This is not the same goddess as the "Asherah" we've seen before - often translated in the KJV as "groves." According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "Asherah and Ashtoreth came to be distinguished from one another, Asherah being exclusively the goddess of fertility, whereas Ashtoreth passed into a moon-goddess." According to verse 6, Israel had become a big-time polytheistic culture, borrowing gods from virtually all of their neighbors. So, how did God react to that rejection by his people? There's your answer in verse 7, "And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon."
At first, this oppression of the Ammonites affected only the three Tribes of Israel east of the Jordan, but eventually the Ammonites began crossing the river to attack the other tribes as well. When the oppression from their neighbors becomes unbearable, they finally confess and beg God to deliver them. God initially says NO! Look at God's suggestion to them in verse 14, "Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation." Israel promises God to be faithful (yeah! right!) and they give up their false gods and serve the Jehovah of their fathers. The stage is set for war; the Ammonites prepare to attack. Now Israel needs a leader to head up the battle.
1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
2 And Gilead’s wife bare him sons; and his wife’s sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
3 Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.
4 And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.
5 And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:
6 And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
7 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?
8 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
9 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?
10 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.
12 And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?
13 And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.
14 And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:
15 And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:
16 But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;
17 Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh.
18 Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab.
19 And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.
20 But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.
21 And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.
22 And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.
23 So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?
24 Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.
25 And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them,
26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time?
27 Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.
28 Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
Jephthah (the Gileadite i.e. from Gilead east of the Jordan River) had questionable ancestry...well, nothing questionable about it - he was the son of a prostitute. His legitimate brothers made him leave home. Only thing - he was a mighty warrior, and now they all want him back. So, Jephthah, illegitimate and all, becomes the leader (judge) of Israel. His first official act - write a letter to the King of the Ammonites who was disputing Israel's property rights. Jephthah makes some seemingly persuasive arguments as to why the Ammonites should forget about fighting Israel. To understand the reasoning of Jephthah's argument, let's make a distinction between the Amorites and Ammonites. The Lord specifically commanded Israel not to fight against Edom, Moab, and Ammon because these folks were all related to Israel; and God had given them their own territory (Deuteronomy 2:5, 9, 19, see notes). These Ammonites inhabited land east of the Jordan.
However, when Israel was headed north on the east side of the Jordan back in Numbers 21 (see notes), King Sihon, an Amorite (not Ammonite) refused passage to Israel by attacking them. Subsequently, King Sihon and his people lost their lives and land. It would appear that these Amorites may have been living on land they had previously captured from the Ammonites. Hey! For 300 years (verse 26) Israel has lived there, and now the Ammonites are staking their claim to this prime real estate? Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on something like this? I particularly like Jephthah's my-God's-bigger-than-your-god statement in verse 24. In verse 25 he notes that Balak (the Moabite king) refrained from attacking Israel back in Numbers 24 (see notes) because he thought it futile to come up against Israel's God. Not really looking for a pen pal, the king of the Ammonites wasn't into letters - just fighting. So, the stage is set for a showdown with the Ammonites.
Incidentally, the Book of Judges is not altogether sequential in its record of Israel's struggle. Whether the events leading up to chapter 11 are sequential or not is anyone's guess. However, Jephthah does give us a time stamp in verse 26 when he refers to the length of time Israel has lived in the Ammonite region east of the Jordan River - 300 years. Moreover, the number of years given thus far for the alternating periods of oppression and peace comes to 301, not counting these 18 years of Ammonite oppression. However, these regional oppressions may overlap to some extent. Two calculations seem relatively certain regarding this period - the length of the period from the conquest until the beginning of King Saul's tenure as the first King of Israel (346 years - see calculations), and the length of time since the conquest began and Jephthah's letter here (300 years, probably an approximation by Jephthah). That would put Jephthah's tenure as judge toward the end of the period of the Judges of Israel.
Jephthah does a DUMB, DUMB thing! (Judges 11:29-40)
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.
30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
Jephthah did clobber the Ammonites, but before going, he does a really dumb thing: Jephthah pledges the sacrifice of whatever comes forth first from his house to greet him after his victory. It wasn't just dumb; it was contrary to God's law! Human sacrifice was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic law (Leviticus 18:21, see notes; Deuteronomy 12:31, see notes); so Jephthah should have known that Gods favor could not be gained in this terrible way. Yet Israels neighbors (ironically, especially the Ammonites) sacrificed their children; and this custom might have influenced Jephthah. There is no defense for Jephthah here. I'm guessing he probably expected a servant to emerge first of all, but no...it was his daughter. Those Israelites took their vows to God seriously...well, except those to continue serving Jehovah! Instead of Jephthah's Biblical legacy being the judge who delivered Israel from the attack of the Ammonites, he is most commonly known to us as the man who sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. His daughter was pretty understanding though - became a folk heroine with her own annual holiday (verse 40). I would have been looking for a new daddy if I had been her. It should be noted, however, that Jephthah is mentioned as a hero of the faith in Hebrews 11:32 (see notes).
Clarification: God did not commission Jephthah to sacrifice his own daughter. That was his own doing.
If you can't say "Shibboleth," you die! (Judges 12:1-7)
1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.
2 And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands.
3 And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the LORD delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?
4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.
5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.
So, what's up with the Ephraimites. They always get miffed after a battle because they weren't included, but they never seem to pick up and go to battle on their own. Remember, the same thing happened in Judges 8 (see notes) with Gideon. This time Jephthah doesn't stroke them like Gideon did; he just says, "Where were you guys when I needed you!" A civil war between Ephraim and Gilead (the east-of-the-Jordan tribes) erupts. After Jephthah's skilled fighting force trounces the soldiers from Ephraim, the surviving Ephraimites try to sneak back over the Jordan into their homeland. Okay, you can go; but first you must pass a test so we can make certain you aren't one of those pesky Ephraimite soldiers.
Here's the test: say "Shibboleth." Yep, they used an accent to weed out the bad guys. Following is an explanation from The Expositor's Bible Commentary which I find interesting:
The clever test faced by the disgraced soldiers was to pronounce the word 'Shibboleth,' which means either 'an ear of grain' or 'a flowing stream.' The Ephraimites were identified when they managed to say only 'Sibboleth.' Their pronunciation, like Peters accent in Matthew 26:73 (see notes), gave them away. This dialectal difference provides interesting material for linguists. The sibbilants are notoriously difficult in Semitic languages. During World War II, the Nazis identified Russian Jews by the way they pronounced the word for corn: 'kookoorooza.'
Judges #9, #10 and #11 (Judges 12:8-15)
8 And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
9 And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters, whom he sent abroad, and took in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years.
10 Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.
11 And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years.
12 And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.
13 And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel.
14 And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.
15 And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount of the Amalekites.
Not much is said about these three judges in Israel - Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. However, lots of children was traditionally an indicator of wealth in society of that day. It meant you could afford lots of wives. Couple that with a fleet of donkeys, and you have a very wealthy man.