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Judges 10-12    Listen Podcast


Judge #6, Tola (Judges 10:1-2)

1 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in the mountains of Ephraim.
2 He judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir.

Verse 1 says, "there arose to save 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 ¶ After him arose Jair, a Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years.
4 Now he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; they also had thirty towns, which are called “Havoth Jair” to 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).

When you're bad, say you're bad! (Judges 10:6-18)

6 ¶ Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him.
7 So 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 people of Ammon.
8 From that year they harassed and oppressed the children of Israel for eighteen years—all the children of Israel who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, in Gilead.
9 Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.
10 ¶ And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!”
11 ¶ So the LORD said to the children of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines?
12 Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand.
13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more.
14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.”
15 ¶ And the children of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.”
16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.
17 ¶ Then the people of Ammon gathered together and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled together and encamped in Mizpah.
18 And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people 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. 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, "So 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 people 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 out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress." 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.

That Judge #8, Jephthah, is a BAAAAD man! (Judges 11:1-28)

1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.
2 Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”
3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.
4 ¶ It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel.
5 And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.
6 Then they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.”
7 ¶ So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?”
8 ¶ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”
9 ¶ So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the LORD delivers them to me, shall I be your head?”
10 ¶ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words.”
11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.
12 ¶ Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, “What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?”
13 ¶ And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably.”
14 ¶ So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon,
15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon;
16 for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh.
17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh.
18 And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.
19 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our place.”
20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped 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 defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country.
22 They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan.
23 ¶ “And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it?
24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess.
25 And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them?
26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?
27 Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.’ ”
28 However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah 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 through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.
30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands,
31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
32 ¶ So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
34 ¶ When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”
36 ¶ So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.”
37 Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.”
38 ¶ So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.
39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. ¶ And it became a custom in Israel
40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

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 God’s favor could not be gained in this terrible way. Yet Israel’s 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 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 Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!”
2 ¶ And Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands.
3 So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?”
4 Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.”
5 The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,”
6 then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.
7 ¶ And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried among 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 Peter’s 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 ¶ After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
9 He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years.
10 Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.
11 ¶ After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years.
12 And Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.
13 ¶ After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel.
14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years.
15 Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mountains 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.