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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6. The Deuteronomist's Introduction to the Book of Judges proper (Judges 3:5 to Judges 16:31).—In the view of this interpreter of sacred history, the whole era of the Judges falls into longer or shorter times of national prosperity, in which Yahweh protects and blesses His faithful people, alternating with times of national calamity, in which He withdraws His favour and blessing from apostates. On the beneficent strength of the Judge the pillars of state rest secure for a whole generation, and his decease is like the removal of the key-stone of an arch. The writer's general principle—his philosophy of history—is based on sound prophetic teaching, but his application of it to the period of the Judges involves a tour de force, for the traditions deal for the most part not with national but with local heroes whose exploits affect, in the first instance, only their own tribe or group of tribes.

Judges 3:1-6. Yahweh's Purpose in Sparing the Nations round about Israel.—The most ancient source (J) simply states that the individual tribes could not overcome some of their enemies (Judges 1:19, etc.). But this raised the question, Why did not Yahweh give them power, as He might have done, to subdue even those who fought in iron chariots? He must have had reasons for His determination to spare the nations. They are stated here: He wished to prove His people (Judges 3:1, Judges 3:4); and He thought it necessary or expedient, to teach them the art of war.

Judges 3:2. This sentence is scarcely grammatical: after "might know" we expect an object, but a new clause, "to teach them war," is introduced. Perhaps we should read, with the LXX, "solely for the sake of the successive generations of the Israelites, to teach them war."

Judges 3:3. The "five lords" of the Philistines were the chiefs of their five principal cities (1 Samuel 6:17). The word for "lord" (seren) is almost the only native Philistine word which has come down to us. "Zidonians" is a general term for Phœnicians. For "Hivites" we should probably read "Hittites" (cf. Judges 1:26), to whom the Lebanon region belonged in those days. Instead of "Hermon" the Heb. has "the mount of (the town of) Baal-Hermon"—a very unlikely phrase. Probably "mount" should be omitted. The town is commonly identified with Banias, at the source of the Jordan. Hamath (2 Kings 14:25*, Isaiah 10:9*, Amos 6:2*) is Hama on the Orontes. Its "entering in," or Gateway—which was afterwards known as Cœle-Syria, and is now called el-Bika—was often mentioned as the ideal northern boundary of Israel (Amos 6:14, etc.).

Judges 3:6. Intermarriage with alien races led to a tolerance of their religion (cf. 1 Kings 11:1 f.). The practice was, therefore, condemned all through the history of Israel, and became the subject of legislation (see Ezra 9 f.), though such marriages as that of Boaz and Ruth proved that the law might be more honoured in the breach than the observance.


Verses 7-11

Judges 3:7-11. Othniel the Kenite.—The brief account of the oppression of Israel by the Aramæans, and of their deliverance by Othniel, is the work of D, whose familiar categories—apostasy, Divine anger, oppression, repentance, deliverance, peace—practically make up the whole narrative. Not a single detail of the conflict is supplied. The statement that the invaders from the far north of Syria were turned back by Othniel, whose seat was at Debir, in the extreme south, is not historically probable. The basis of the narrative may be the tradition of a struggle between Othniel (i.e. the Kenizzites) and the Bedouin of the southeast, for "Cushan" means Lydian. Graetz proposes to read Edom instead of Aram.

Judges 3:9. On Othniel, see Judges 1:13.

Judges 3:10. The spirit of Yahweh came upon him, as later upon other Judges (Judges 6:34, Judges 11:29, Judges 13:25, Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19). Any extraordinary display of power—physical force, heroic valour, artistic skill, poetic genius, prophetic insight—is ascribed in the OT to the spirit (ruah) of God. For the gigantic tasks of the Judges, in a rude, semi-savage time, there was need of physical prowess, patriotic fervour, religious enthusiasm; and it was not by mere human might or power, but by Yahweh's spirit, that their victories were achieved.—Cushan-Rishathaim means "Nubian of double-dyed wickedness," evidently the nickname of some ruthless invader. Mesopotamia is in Heb. Aram-naharaim, Syria of the two rivers, i.e. the whole region between the Tigris and the Euphrates (Genesis 24:10*).


Verses 12-30

Judges 3:12-30. Ehud, the Benjamite.—D's setting of the story of Ehud is apparent in Judges 3:12-15 a and Judges 3:30. The story itself is a genuine folk-tale, handed down from century to century before being committed to writing. One can readily imagine with what zest it was told in the tribe of Benjamin, where the left-handed Ehud was a popular hero. On the moral question raised by his conduct, the facts at our disposal do not enable us to pronounce with confidence. To our minds Ehud is not very attractive either as a man or as a patriot

Judges 3:12. The Edomites were in possession of the country to the E. of the Dead Sea, with the Arnon (pp. 32f.) as their northern border (Judges 11:18). They had kings before the Israelites (Genesis 36:31-39), a people with whom their feud was chronic. The name of the king who figures in this story—Eglon, meaning "calf"—speaks of primitive bucolic simplicity.

Judges 3:13. Here, as elsewhere (2 Chronicles 20:1, Psalms 83:6 f.), Ammon is the ally of Moab. His territory was to the NE. of the country of Moab. The Amalekites were nomads in the N. and NE. of the Sinaitic Peninsula. At Jericho, the city of palm-trees, which the Edomites contrived to seize, there still wave a few isolated palms. Recent excavations have laid bare its famous walls (Joshua 6:5; Joshua 6:20).

Judges 3:15. Ehud is called the son of Gera, but Gera is probably the clan to which he belonged; cf. Shimei ben Gera (2 Samuel 16:5). He was a man left-handed, lit. "restricted as to his right hand," like many others of his tribe (Judges 20:16). This peculiarity has a bearing on what is to follow, as it was turned to advantage in his daring plot for the overthrow of the oppressor. The "present" of which he was the bearer was only euphemistically so called, being really the tribute which subjects had to pay to their overlord.

Judges 3:16. The right thigh was the natural place for the sword of a left-handed man, while the guards, if their suspicions were aroused, would feel for a concealed weapon in the usual place—at the left side. Ehud's dirk was 13 in. long. The word translated cubit is found only here, and, according to the Rabbis, means the length from the elbow to the knuckles of the clenched fist (Gr. πυγμή). This detail also has its connexion with the narrative which follows.

Judges 3:18 f. The "people that bare the present" were the Israelite carriers of the tribute. For "quarries" we should read "graven images," rudely sculptured stones. These were connected with the sanctuary of Gilgal, a proper name which itself probably means "circle of sacred stones," such as is called in the West a cromlech.

Judges 3:19. Ehud persuades the king's servants to take in to their master the message, "I have a secret communication to thee, O king." The punctual payment of the tribute had disarmed suspicion; the "secret communication" suggested something revealed in a dream or by an oracle; and the king, favourably impressed, gives his servants the order "Keep silence," meaning "Leave me in privacy."

Judges 3:20. The king was sitting in his "summer-parlour," his cool roof-chamber. The Arabs still give this room its old name (‘alîyah). While Ehud, left alone with the king, repeats that he has a message—he now dares to call it a message from God—his mind is bent upon other things, and his hand is feeling for his hidden dagger. The king's rising, out of respect for the messenger of God, gives Ehud his chance. With one fierce thrust he plunges his dagger, haft and all, into the king's body.

Judges 3:22. The ugly words at the end may be deleted as a dittograph, being similar to Judges 3:23 a.

Judges 3:23. The word for "porch" is found only here, and the translation is a guess; "staircase" and "vestibule" have also been suggested. The "doors" were the two leaves or wings of the door. A grammatical error suggests that "and locked them" is a later addition.

Judges 3:24. Finding the door locked, the servants thought their master was "covering his feet"—a Heb. euphemism—and waited till they began to be "ashamed," surprised and confused.

Judges 3:25. The Eastern door-key, which is probably the same to-day as in the time of Ehud, is described by Lane, Modern Egyptians5 Judges 3:19 f.

Judges 3:28. We might read "and crossed (the Jordan) near the sculptured stones." The site of Seirah is unknown, but it was evidently in the highlands of Ephraim.

Judges 3:27. After "come" we have to understand "thither." The "hill country," was the whole backbone of Palestine from the Great Plain to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

Judges 3:28. Ehud and his followers seized the fords of Jordan—those nearest the Dead Sea, beside Gilgal—and cut off the retreat of the Moabites who were on the western side. The numbers slain are not to be taken as rigidly accurate.


Verse 31

Judges 3:31. The Exploit of Shamgar.—The absence of D's formulæ, and of a chronological scheme, suggests that this verse was introduced by an editor who wished to bring the number of the Judges up to ten, not counting Abimelech worthy to rank as one. The verse interrupts the flow of the narrative—observe "when Ehud was dead" in Judges 4:2. Shamgar ben Anath is a foreign and heathenish name, Anath being a goddess whose name is found on an Egyptian stele now in the British Museum; and a reference to Shamgar in the Song of Deborah suggests that he had been an oppressor rather than a deliverer of Israel (cf. Moore, 143). The ox-goad, with which Shamgar performed his exploit, is a pole from 6 to 8 ft. long, tipped with an iron spike.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Judges 3:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/judges-3.html. 1919.

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