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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 3

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 3. Deliverers.

This chapter gives an account of the nations who remained in Canaan to prove Israel’s faithfulness, and who became a snare to them. It describes the servitude of Israel under a king of Mesopotamia because of their sins, a servitude from which they were delivered by Othniel. It speaks of their subjection to the Moabites, from which they were freed by Ehud, who privately assassinated the king of Moab, and then made his escape. And it briefly describes the destruction of a large number of Philistines by Shamgar, with an ox goad.


Verses 1-6

Chapter 3. Deliverers.

This chapter gives an account of the nations who remained in Canaan to prove Israel’s faithfulness, and who became a snare to them. It describes the servitude of Israel under a king of Mesopotamia because of their sins, a servitude from which they were delivered by Othniel. It speaks of their subjection to the Moabites, from which they were freed by Ehud, who privately assassinated the king of Moab, and then made his escape. And it briefly describes the destruction of a large number of Philistines by Shamgar, with an ox goad.

The Nations Who Remained To Test Israel’s Faithfulness (Judges 3:1-6).

Judges 3:1

Now these are the nations which Yahweh left to prove Israel by them, even as many as had not known all the wars of Canaan.’

The first wars were over and Israel were experiencing a time of relative peace and slow expansion. But because of their disobedience, and because they had allowed Canaanites to remain living among them, God was not planning to aid them in removing the remainder of the unconquered nations. Thus while they were at peace the presence of other nations was an ever constant threat.

Indeed a new and more powerful enemy had come among them. For the Sea Peoples from the Aegean had invaded the coast of Syria and some had spread down into Palestine. These were the fierce Philistines, and they were there to stay. They occupied the fertile coastal plain, their main cities being Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath, and were ruled by five Tyrants, one in each main city, who worked in unison. They also later occupied Bethshean and Gerar and a number of other towns. They are mentioned in the annals of Raamses III (c 1185 BC) as a new threat for they had to be repelled from Egypt.

They wore head-dresses of feathers, and were armed with lances, round shields, long broadswords and triangular daggers. They would gradually incorporate iron into their lifestyles and weaponry, learned from the Hittites. They were a ruling class with native Canaanites , and at certain stages Israelites, under them.

Judges 3:2

Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at least such as beforehand knew nothing of it.’

The idea of the land of promise had been that it would be a land of peace and plenty. But, because of their continual disobedience and fraternising with the people of the land and its religions, Yahweh was now determined that they should learn their lesson by facing constant warfare.

“To teach them war” did not mainly refer to their learning how to fight, but to their learning because they had to fight. To teach them what war meant for men. By having to fight they would learn the bitter lessons they could learn in no other way. This again comes out later in the book.

They had begun to settle at peace but now they were to know bitter wars to teach them their lesson, that Yahweh must be obeyed. It would, of course, also eventually teach them how to fight, but that was secondary to the main lesson of the consequences of disobedience. Indeed their need to learn to fight came about for that precise reason. Yahweh no longer fought for them.

Once they turned back to Yahweh they did not need the art of war for He would deliver them through His power. He Himself directed their warfare. That is the lesson of Gideon and his three hundred. Again and again this lesson comes over. Egypt was defeated because Moses lifted his rod and they marched into the sea (Exodus 14). Israel triumphed because Moses’ hands were held high (Exodus 17:11). The walls of Jericho fell because they marched round them (Joshua 6). Joshua defeated the Southern Alliance because hailstones fell from the heavens (Joshua 10:11). Barak and Deborah triumphed because they attacked when Yahweh commanded and the rains and floods fought for them (Joshua 4 & Joshua 5). Gideon triumphed because Yahweh caused panic in the hearts of the enemy (Joshua 7).

Judges 3:3

Namely, the five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Zidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baal-hermon to the entering in of Hamath.’

For the five lords of the Philistines see what was said above. The word for ‘lord’ is a unique one used only of Philistine lords (seren). We will translate it as Tyrant although they were no more tyrranical than other powerful kings. ‘All the Canaanites’ covers all previous dwellers in the land. ‘The Zidonians’ were the Phoenician occupants of Zidon and its surrounding lands. It was a great seaport and the Phoenicians, were renowned sailors and merchant seamen. The Hivites mainly dwelt in the Lebanon hills and the Carmel range, thus in the northernmost part of Canaan. Compare for this Joshua 13:2-6.

“From mount Baal-hermon to the entering in of Hamath.” Compare ‘from Baal-gad under Mount Hermon to the entering in of Hamath’ (Joshua 13:5) where it is the northern boundary of Canaan. See also Numbers 34:8; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chronicles 7:8.

Judges 3:4

And they were in order to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would listen to the commandments of Yahweh, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.’

Israel were now decidedly on probation. These nations would test them out and prove how faithful they were willing to be to the covenant, the covenant which included the commandments given through Moses to their fathers, which had included the commandments to drive out the Canaanites, which they had disobeyed.

It also included the commandments concerning having only one God, concerning covenant brotherhood and love, concerning the central sanctuary, concerning the offerings and sacrifices unique to Yahweh and concerning the priesthood, and concerning His strict moral requirements.

Judges 3:5

And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites; the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.’

They should have driven them out, but now they lived among them and were indeed in danger of losing their identity to them. They were fast becoming assimilated with the Canaanites. Those they had conquered were conquering them by assimilation, as so often happened in history. Outwardly what was distinctive in their religion was in danger of being lost. Note here that the term Canaanite here included the others. This was only finally prevented because of the troubles that came on them.

Judges 3:6

And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.’

In direct disobedience to God’s covenant they intermarried with the Canaanites (Joshua 23:12; Exodus 34:15-16; Numbers 25:1-2; Deuteronomy 7:3). This was not a question of race but of culture. The Israelites were of widely mixed race, but they shared the covenant of Yahweh, and the high moral standards related to it. The Canaanites were idol worshippers following a debased religion with low moral standards. Now these were being intermingled with devastating effects on the morality and religious attitude of the Israelites. This is brought out by the fact that ‘they served their gods’.

We must not assume this was true of all. Otherwise they would have disappeared without trace. It was describing a tendency. Fortunately enough remained sufficiently loyal to Yahweh to ensure that the future lessons would enable their restoration.


Verse 7

God’s First Lesson. Invasion from the North - The First Judge (Judges 3:7-11).

Judges 3:7

And the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh, forgot Yahweh their God, and served the Baalim, and the Asheroth.’

This is slightly different from ‘Baal and the Ashtaroth’ although the intent is the same. The Baalim were the small representations of Baal, which many took into their houses, and the representations of Baal in ‘high places’, places built on hills for the worship of Baal. The Asheroth were either wooden poles or trees representing fruitful trees (see Deuteronomy 16:21), or wooden images (‘Asherah images’), mounted in sacred sites, with miniatures kept at home, representing the goddess Asherah. She too was involved in the cycle of nature and reproduction.

The widespread and all inclusive nature of Canaanite religion excludes too close definitions. All the paraphernalia of sacrifices and priesthood were involved in the worship which was widespread and multi-cultural. But its main stimulus was the cycle of nature and accompanying fertility rites, with all their sexual debasement.

“Forgot Yahweh their God.” That is they overlooked the demand of the covenant and their responsibility for covenant faithfulness. Their response became formal and was watered down by compromising with other religions and mixing with the people of the land.

“Did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh.” Compare Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7; Judges 3:12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 10:6; Judges 13:1. This is the explanation of why Yahweh delivered them into the hands of their enemies. They disobeyed Him, ceased to worship Him fully, and lived lives contrary to His Law and displeasing to Him.


Verse 8

Therefore the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim, a king of Aram-naharaim. And the children of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.’

This was an opportunist king who had grown strong and was seeking booty and tribute (compare the kings in Genesis 14). He came from East Syria/Northern Mesopotamia. ‘Rishathaim’ means ‘of double wickedness’, but this was probably a play on his real name.

He is not identifiable from history. Various attempts have been made, but none have been fully satisfactory. The nearest comparison is the Kassite name ‘Kassa-risat’. There was also a place in northern Syria called Kushan-rom which is mentioned in the lists of Raamses III. He must have been fairly powerful for his short-lived empire to have reached this far, although he no doubt avoided stronger opponents.

“And the children of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.” That is they became tributary to him. This was very early on because Othniel, the son-in-law, of Caleb was still alive. The fact that he became involved suggests that Cushan-rishathaim’s control was quite extensive for Othniel was connected with Judah in the South. Although it may well be that he and Judah were called in to help under the covenant stipulations.


Verse 9

And when the children of Israel cried to Yahweh, Yahweh raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel who saved them, even Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.’

“The children of Israel” can refer to a group large or small, depending on the facts. The point is that they were a part of the tribal confederacy and had their part in the covenant. Time passed and the required tribute became larger until it became a burden too heavy to bear. Then in their distress their thoughts turned to Yahweh, the Lord of Battle, the Deliverer. Baal was helpless in a situation like this. So they cried to Him and remembered the covenant. They began to take seriously their covenant obligations.

“And Yahweh raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel who saved them, even Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.” This may have been the result of their gathering with the tribal confederacy and seeking help from the tribe of Judah. Possibly they had previously been a little lax in observing the covenant requirements. Or perhaps Judah too were being subjected to tribute until the tribute became too demanding and the Spirit of Yahweh stirred one of their former champions. The champion was the same Othniel who captured Debir, and married Achsah, the daughter of Caleb (Judges 1:13). He was the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother.


Verse 10

And the Spirit of Yahweh came on him, and he judged Israel. And he went out to war, and Yahweh delivered Cushan-rishathaim, king of Aram-naharaim into his hand. And his hand prevailed against Cusham-rishathaim.’

He was seen as the man inspired by Yahweh who could help them and they called on him to become their leader. He would first begin to set to rights things that were wrong, including restoration of covenant obedience and the putting away of strange gods. This was all part of his being a Yahweh inspired man. Then he gathered together and prepared an army ready for the next tribute demand.

“And he went out to war, and Yahweh delivered Cushan-rishathaim, king of Aram-naharaim into his hand. And his hand prevailed against Cusham-rishathaim.” He would first withhold the tribute when the time for it came to be collected. Then Cushan-rishathaim would raise a punitive expedition to demand it, and Othniel met the expedition and totally defeated it. It is not necessary to assume that Cushan-rishathaim was captured, but he was sufficiently dealt with to prevent him from returning.

“The Spirit of Yahweh came on him.” This phrase appears again and again in Judges (Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29 - where it depicts Yahweh assisting a war leader and Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14 where it refers to Samson) . It results from Israel ‘crying to Yahweh’ (Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15; Judges 4:3; Judges 6:6-7; Judges 10:10) and is seen as a direct answer to their cry. The point is not that he had some vivid experience of Yahweh, but that Yahweh had clearly taken hold of him to restore Israel and bring about the defeat of the enemy. From now on it was to Yahweh that they looked (for a time), not Baal.


Verse 11

And the land had rest forty years, and Othniel the son of Kenaz died.’

This really means that the land had rest ‘for a generation’. Forty years is a round number signifying a generation. It is also a significant number for forty is a period that signifies a time of testing and a time of waiting and a time of preparation (Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:12; Genesis 7:17; Genesis 8:6; Genesis 25:20; Genesis 26:34; Exodus 16:35; Exodus 34:28; Numbers 13:25; Numbers 14:33-34; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 9:18; Joshuah Judges 14:7). The idea here is that they were under trial, waiting for the next period of testing. But notice what it meant. For a whole generation that part of Israel enjoyed rest and more or less faithfully served Yahweh.


Verse 12

God’s Second Lesson. The King of Moab and Ehud the Benjaminite (Judges 3:12-30).

Judges 3:12

And the children of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh. And Yahweh strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh ’

The story is repeated. Once again, as soon as the trouble appeared to be past, they began to turn back to their old ways, and to dabble in the religions of the land with all their accompanying evil.

“And Yahweh strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh.” Previously He had ‘sold them into the hand of --’ (Judges 3:8), as though they were slaves. Now, however, He is depicted as deliberately raising an enemy to bring about His will. He gives encouragement to Eglon, king of Moab, strengthening his resolve so that he will not back down, but will come to teach Israel a lesson because they had again done evil in His sight. They had turned to idolatry and Baal worship and had neglected the covenant with, and true worship of, Yahweh.


Verse 13

‘And he gathered to him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and he went and smote Israel and possessed the city of the palm trees.’

This city of the palm trees must have been Jericho, for the champion raised up was a Benjaminite. Thus the territory of Reuben and Gad was affected, and a part of Benjamin. Whether it was Yahweh Who arranged the confederacy, or the king of Moab, or both, the result was the same. Ammon and Moab were situated side by side in Transjordan and regularly acted together, for they were brother tribes, so much so that they had jointly come under Yahweh’s judgment (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Amalek were at least partly Bedouin and fairly widespread.

“And went and smote Israel and possessed the city of the palm trees.” Presumably first the Reubenites and part of Gad, and then part of Benjamin. It probably did not affect the other tribes. Jericho had not been rebuilt, but there may have been a temporary settlement on it, or a guardpost. But the surrounding area was very attractive. It guarded the Jordan crossing. This was presumably the outer limit of their depredations.

Why then did the tribal confederation not come to their aid? They may themselves have been involved with their own protection against marauding enemies and unable to leave their own area. Or it may simply indicate a weak period in the tribal confederacy when they were not prepared to do so because of the weakness of their dedication to Yahweh. Possibly the threat was not seen as too great compared with other threats. The Philistines themselves probably presented a constant greater threat as they sought to expand their newly won territories.


Verse 14

And the children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years.’

They paid tribute and were possibly put to taskwork. It appears that their apostasy was so great that they did not even consider calling on Yahweh. They suffered in silence. But at last it became too much and they remembered the days of old, the delivering power of Yahweh, and once again they turned back to seek Him. They put aside their Baals and their Ashtaroth and Asheroth and they renewed the old covenant. Perhaps He would yet hear them and spare them.


Verse 15

But when the children of Israel cried to Yahweh, Yahweh raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man, and the children of Israel sent a present by him to Eglon the king of Moab.’

Yahweh heard their cry. It may not have seemed like it for a time, for nothing seemed to happen. Until at length the time came for further tribute to be paid. It was then that the deliverer carried his plan into operation.

“Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man .” This was the name of the deliverer. Lefthandedness appears to have been prevalent among Benjaminites (compare Judges 20:16; 1 Chronicles 12:2). Ehud was clearly an important man for he led the contingent that delivered the tribute and was able to gain private access into the king’s presence. He had probably been delivering the tribute for a number of years. Few thought of this man as a likely champion.


Verse 16

And Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, of a cubit length, and he slung it under his clothing on his right thigh.’

The short sword he made for himself was between one foot (thirty centimetres) and one foot six (forty five centimetres) in length, depending whether it means the short cubit or the long cubit. It was double-edged. He hid it under his clothing and because he was left-handed it was slung at his right side. It was made so that it could be more easily concealed than a normal sword, but be long enough to pierce the over-fat king to the heart. It was all carefully planned.


Verse 17

And he offered the present to Eglon, king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man.’

The present, or tribute, would be carried by servants who would bring it in so that it could be checked. The tribute would be in the form of goods and produce. The fatness of Eglon is mainly described to explain the size of the sword, but also possibly in mockery, or even to point out how well he had been living off Israel.


Verse 18

And when he had made an end of offering the present, he sent away the people who bore the present.’

Having offered the tribute, and having made the usual flowery speech, he went out of the king’s presence with his servants, and left with them to see them on their way. But when they reached the ‘graven images’ (probably ancient sculptured standing stones) at Gilgal, he sent them on their way, for he had a duty to perform and he did not want them involved. Some suggest that the graven images had been erected by the king of Moab as a kind of guard protecting the way to his land. This would add poignancy to their mention.


Verse 19

But he himself turned back from the graven images which were by Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret errand to you, Oh king.” And he said, “keep silence.” And all who stood by him went out from him.’

He returned to where the king’s party were. If anything went wrong he wanted it to be seen as an individual act, not bringing retribution on his people. Then he indicated that he had a message to convey that required utmost secrecy. In their eyes he was clearly unarmed.

“And he said, ‘keep silence.” And all who stood by him went out from him.’ The king’s words clearly indicated that they leave him alone with Ehud, and were probably a standard signal. Total silence was only possible in an emptied room. Then they all left the room. Alternately it may be that his words were to Ehud, telling him to say nothing until they were alone. Then by a signal he would dismiss his servants.


Verse 20

And Ehud came to him, and he was sitting by himself alone in his upper cooling parlour. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God to you.” And he arose from his seat.’

Ehud now approached him. He was sitting alone seeking to cool himself in his upper cooling parlour, which was presumably on the rooftop and designed to catch the wind. It would have had small windows in order to restrain the heat.

“And Ehud said, “I have a message from God to you.” And he arose from his seat.” Ehud was confident that he was acting in accordance with God’s will as a judge of Israel. Note that his message was from God not Yahweh. He was speaking to someone who believed in other gods, and he spoke accordingly. Eglon stood up. This was not quite what he had expected. He was probably alarmed, not because he feared attack but because he anticipated some awful divine warning.


Verse 21

And Ehud put out his left hand, and took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.’

The king was clearly totally unsuspicious up to this point. Ehud appeared to have no weapon and his movement was not with the sword arm. He probably thought Ehud was being super-cautious and wanting to whisper what he had to say. But he soon learned otherwise, for suddenly a sword appeared and it was thrust into ‘his belly’, probably with an upward movement so that it avoided the ribs and pierced the heart. A quick and quiet death was essential.


Verse 22

And the haft also went in, after the blade, and the fat closed on the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly, and it came out behind.’

The powerful thrust went straight through the fat king, with his fat gripping the blade and swallowing the haft, and it clearly killed the king immediately for he made no cry for help. The last word in the Hebrew text is used only here and its meaning is not certain. It is possible that it refers to the fact that the terrified king could not control his functions (compare 2 Samuel 20:10). This would be seen as a lack of dignity fitting for such a tyrant.


Verse 23

Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the parlour on him, and locked them.’

The word for vestibule is otherwise unknown and its meaning not certain. But the import is clear, he was able to leave and lock the door behind him.

Wooden keys for crude locking devices are well known. The key would be a flat piece of wood furnished with pins which corresponded to holes in a hollow bolt. The bolt was on the inside and would be shot into a socket in the doorpost, and would be fastened by pins which fell into the holes in the bolt from an upright piece of wood attached to the inside of the door. To unlock the door you would put your hand through a special hole provided (Song of Solomon 5:4), and raise the locking pins by using the pins in the ‘key’.


Verse 24

When he had left, his servants came, and they saw, and behold the doors of the parlour were locked. And they said, “surely he covers his feet in the cooling room”.’

When the servants saw Ehud leave they returned to their duties with the king, but on discovering the door locked, assumed that he was resting and cooling himself, and had locked himself in, wanting to be alone.

“Covering the feet” with long garments was a means of ensuring that nothing was exposed. It was also a phrase used of relieving oneself naturally and carrying out the private functions (1 Samuel 24:3).


Verse 25

And they waited until they were embarrassed, and behold he did not open the doors of the parlour. So they took the key and opened them, and behold their lord had fallen down dead on the floor.’

They waited and waited, not daring to disturb him, until so much time had passed that they were abashed. Then they no doubt sought to attract his attention. But in the end they took their courage in both hands and unlocked the door, and found the king lying dead, prostrate on the floor.


Verse 26

And Ehud escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the graven images, and escaped to Seirah.’

The delay gave Ehud time to escape and he again came to the graven images, and then escaped into Seirah, a place of which the details are unknown to us, but it was presumably in the hill country of Ephraim.

And it is now that we discover the full detail of Ehud’s plan. For he had already made arrangements with the tribal confederacy, who had gathered and were awaiting his signal.


Verse 27-28

Judges 3:27-28 a

‘And it happened that, when he was come, he blew a ram’s horn in the hill country of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he in front of them. And he said to them, “Follow me. For Yahweh has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand”.’

On arrival in the hill country of Ephraim Ehud blew a trumpet of ram’s horn (Joshua 6:13), and the waiting army came to him and he led them back towards where he had come from, telling them that all was well. The plan had worked successfully, and the Moabites were there for the taking.

When Israel had cried to Yahweh (verse 15) that included the fact that the covenant had again become an important factor in their thinking. But not all had deserted the covenant. There were still those who met at the central sanctuary and were faithful to it. It was probably to them that Ehud had gone for help, sending out the covenant call. And this was their response to aid one of their number in need. But the plan had probably been his.

Judges 3:28 b

‘And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan against the Moabites. And would not allow any man to pass over.’

From this it is clear that an army of occupation was settled in the region round the city of palms, possibly there to receive tribute and to remind Israel of their strength. They did not realise that Reuben/Gad/Benjamin had renewed their covenant with the tribal confederation and had thus become much stronger, gaining support from the other tribes.

And this army now found itself leaderless and trapped, for the death of the king would throw everything into confusion. For in those days when a king died there would be a number of contenders for the throne, and the internal battles would begin. Thus when they made for the fords to enter into the leadership contest they found the fords closed against them, although undoubtedly messengers had previously been despatched and passed over to declare the death of the king. Nor could assistance come from beyond Jordan because of the presence of these Israelite soldiers.


Verse 29

And they slew of Moab at that time about ten eleph men, every lusty man and every man of valour. And there escaped not a man.’

Ten military units of men (five hundred upwards) who were there as guards to the king, and to put pressure on the subject people, were slain. All were trained soldiers and true warriors, but every one died to the last man. And Moab would now be too busy in determining the succession, in selecting and crowning their new king, which would take some time and possibly no little violence, to do anything about it.

“Every lusty man.” The word for lusty usually means fat. It may be that the writer is saying that the fat courtiers were slain along with the true warriors.

What are we to say about Ehud’s method of using assassination? The king was an enemy of Israel and illegally demanding tribute from them. He was thus at continual war with them. So it was an act of war and as such legitimate. It was no more deceitful than laying an ambush for someone and enticing them into it.

It would have been a totally different thing had he paid assassins to kill kings who were merely ruling peacefully over their own countries. But he had not come as a faithful servant, professing loyalty from the heart, he had come as the representative of an oppressed people, and as one of them. And he certainly followed it up by showing that Yahweh was with him. ‘Yahweh has delivered’ (Judges 3:28), and these are as much the words of the writer as of Ehud, for he unquestionably approved of them.


Verse 30

So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.’

The Moabites no longer came to cause trouble to Israel, for they were busy with the succession and had lost a good number of their finest troops. They also recognised that something had happened to restore the strength of Israel, so that they were no longer a sitting target.

The eighty year rest is twice the previous forty year rest, just as the subjugation had been for eighteen years rather than eight. It represents forty intensified. God was showing double favour to His people. There was a double waiting and a double period of testing, and two generations of rest from the Moabites. In reading Judges we can tend to overlook these long periods of wellbeing. But they occurred non-the-less.

The subjugation by Moab may well have partly taken place while the subjugation of the other tribes under Cushan-rishathaim was going on and through part of their period of rest, for this was in another part of Israel and had probably been limited to the three tribes.

Perhaps Moab had stopped at Jericho because they did not want to face the army of Cushan-rishathaim, for tribute rendered those who paid it the right to protection, and thus Israel would have had a right of protection.

We note also that the next major crisis took place when Ehud was dead (Judges 4:1). And meanwhile Shamgar was active against the Philistines in the west (Judges 3:31). This suggests a shorter period than ‘eighty years’. But that was surely because those events took place in another part of Israel, mainly in the plains in the west where chariots were effective. Jericho and Transjordan in the east were unaffected. Their rest from war continued for two generations.


Verse 31

Shamgar Delivers From The Philistines (Judges 3:31).

Judges 3:31

And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who smote six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad. And he also delivered Israel.’ Inevitably pressure was beginning to arise from the Philistines in the west. There Shamgar, the son of Anath, was a judge of Israel, and he kept them to some extent at bay. But ‘the highways were unoccupied and the people walked in by-ways’ (Judges 5:6), so times were difficult.

The incident described was a memorable one connected with his name, and he was clearly famous for fighting with an ox goad, a long-handled, sturdy wooden instrument with a metal pin in it, perhaps six to eight foot (two metres plus) in length, which could be wielded with deadly effect. Possibly the details of his other exploits were lost, but this was sufficient to demonstrate that Yahweh was with him and helping ‘Israel’, in his case probably Judah and Simeon.

Anath, the name of his father, was the name of a Canaanite goddess, Baal’s sister who in the Canaanite myths searches for the dead Baal and on finding him smites Death (Moth). She is regularly called ‘the Virgin’ at Ugarit, but not in our understanding of virgin. It rather denotes her availability for and propensity for sexual relations. This name adds to the genuine background of the story. But it need have no significance as regards Anath’s allegiance, although it may tell us something about his mother and her allegiance. Perhaps they lived near Beth-anath, ‘the house of Anath’ (Joshua 15:59).

But ‘son of Anath’ may instead mean that that was a name given to him by the Canaanites around, signifying his warlikeness as being ‘like Anath’. He may have been popularly called ‘the son of Anath’ (as we might call someone a Hercules).

The ‘hundreds’ would be smaller units than the ‘elephs’ (thousands). (Compare the ‘legions’ and the ‘centuries’ of the later Roman army where the actual numbers were far less than the number words suggested). But six of these units (say ninety men upwards) Shamgar destroyed with an ox goad, although probably assisted by his men. It would give the Philistines pause before they attacked again.

The name Shamgar possibly connects with the Hurrian ‘simiqari’ and is testified to at Nuzi. It was not a native Hebrew name but that does not mean that he had not come within the covenant. All who would worship Yahweh truly and submit to His will could come within the covenant, and his family may well have done that generations before in Egypt, while retaining family names.

“And he also delivered Israel.” This demonstrates that he was a ‘judge’ and that Yahweh was with him, keeping the Philistines at bay. (Such men are often called ‘minor judges’ by modern commentators, but that is simply because little is known about them).

The whole description is tacked on to the Ehud story because it was only a snippet, to indicate that other activity was also taking place. But the event occurred early as is testified to by the song of Deborah (c 1125 BC).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/judges-3.html. 2013.

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