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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Judges 3

 

 

Verse 1

3:1. Now these are the nations, &c. — The sacred historian having declared, in general, that God did not judge it proper to drive out all the Canaanites, because he intended to try the fidelity and zeal of his people in his service, proceeds now to enumerate the particular nations which remained unsubdued. As many as had not known all the wars of Canaan — That is, such as were born since the conclusion of the wars, or were but infants during their continuance, and therefore had no experience of them, nor of God’s extraordinary power and providence manifested therein.


Verse 2

3:2. Only that the generations, &c. — Le Clerc and some other versions, instead of only put and, this seeming to be a new and additional reason alleged why God left some of the Canaanitish nations in the land, namely, that the Israelites might be inured to war and hardship, and thereby be preserved from sinking into sloth and luxury; and that by the neighbourhood of such warlike enemies, and a knowledge of the danger they were in from them, they might never be carnally secure, but stand continually on their guard, and keep close to that God of whose protection and aid they had such great and constant need.


Verse 3

3:3. Five lords of the Philistines — See Joshua 13:2-3, and 1:18, where it appears that three of them had been, in some measure, subdued, but had now recovered their country again, in consequence of the slothful conduct of the Israelites. All the Canaanites — Properly so called, who were very numerous, and dispersed through several parts of the land, whence they gave denomination to all the rest of the people. Sidonians — The people living near Zidon, and subject to its jurisdiction. Baal-hermon — Which was the eastern part about Lebanon.


Verse 4

3:4. To prove Israel — That their piety and faithfulness to the one living and true God might appear, if they did not imitate these nations, and relapse into idolatry, and their baseness and degeneracy if they did. To know whether they would hearken — That is, that they themselves and others might know by experience.


Verse 6-7

3:6-7. They took their daughters, and served their gods — Were drawn to idolatry by the persuasions and examples of their yoke-fellows. And served Baalim and the groves — Or, Baalim in groves; that is, false gods, or rather their images, set up under shady trees, contrary to the command given Exodus 34:13. Some expositors, however, think the meaning is, Baalim and Ashtaroth; for by the addition of a single letter, the Hebrew word rendered groves, will be Ashtaroth, and the greater part of the versions so render it, understanding thereby goddesses, as distinguished from Baalim or lords. It must be acknowledged, however, that the trees themselves, which composed those shady retreats in which they placed their idols, and which were consecrated to their honour, were accounted sacred by the ancient pagans, and held in great veneration. They decorated them with ribands and lights, made vows to them, and hung the spoils of their enemies upon them: insomuch that it was customary for travellers to stop, when they were to pass by them, and approach them with veneration and religious awe, as if they had been the habitation of some god.


Verse 8

3:8. He sold them into the hand of Chushan-rishathaim — So that the first enemies that oppressed the Israelites were the Syrians; who, either out of hatred, or a desire to enlarge their dominions, came over the Euphrates, and invaded them, and kept them in subjection eight years. King of Mesopotamia — Which was that part of Syria which lay between the two great rivers Tigris and Euphrates. This lay at such a distance, that one would not have thought Israel’s trouble should have come from such a far country; but this shows so much the more that the hand of God was in it.


Verse 9-10

3:9-10. When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord — When they returned to him in repentance, acknowledged him to be their only Protector and Saviour, and prayed fervently for pardon and deliverance; the Lord raised up a deliverer — Qualified a person for, and called him to, the great work of delivering them. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him — With extraordinary influence, endowing him with singular wisdom and courage, and stirring him up to this great undertaking. Judged Israel — That is, pleaded and avenged the cause of Israel against their oppressors. And went out to war — The sacred historian gives us no further account of this war than that Othniel obtained a victory over the king of Mesopotamia, and a peace which lasted forty years. This victory and deliverance of Israel, it seems, happened about thirty-eight years after the death of Joshua.


Verse 12

3:12. And the children of Israel did evil again — This was the case of the Israelites during all the time of their judges: the same person who freed them from servitude, purified them also from idolatry; but he was no sooner dead than their religion was at an end, though their peace and happiness were sure to expire with it. Thus every epocha of their history, during the administration of the judges, is only an alternate succession of sinning and contrition, of servitude and deliverance. This may evince what a mighty influence even one good man in authority may have over a whole people. The Lord strengthened Eglon — By giving him courage, and power, and success against them. As God raised up deliverers to Israel, when they became penitent, so he spirited up enemies against them, and gave them power to oppress them, whenever they revolted from his service.


Verse 13-14

3:13-14. City of palm-trees — That is, Jericho. Not the city which was demolished, but the territory belonging to it. Here he fixed his camp, for the fertility of that soil, and because of its nearness to the passage over Jordan, which was most commodious both for the conjunction of his own forces, which lay on both sides of Jordan, to prevent the conjunction of the Israelites in Canaan with their brethren beyond Jordan, and to secure his retreat into his own country. Eighteen years — The former servitude lasted but eight years; this eighteen; for if smaller troubles do not the work, God will send greater.


Verse 15

3:15. A Benjamite — This tribe was next to Eglon, and doubtless most afflicted by him; and hence God raised a deliverer. Left-handed — Which is here noted as a considerable circumstance in the following story. The Seventy render the word αμφοτεροδεξιον, who could use both his hands alike, which is probably the true meaning, as the same quality is ascribed to seven hundred chosen men of the tribe of Benjamin, chap. 20:16, all of whom one can hardly believe to have had no use of their right hands. The children of Israel sent a present — Some interpreters understand by this the tribute which had been imposed upon them; but it rather signifies a voluntary present above their usual payments, whereby they hoped to mollify his mind and render him favourable to them. For the Hebrew word mincha is used for such offerings as were presented to God in order to obtain his gracious regards.


Verse 16

3:16. Ehud, made him a dagger — It is probable that none of the Israelites were suffered to wear arms, and therefore this particular is mentioned of Ehud; and that he wore it under his upper garment to conceal it: for it does not appear that he made it purposely for the occasion, in which we are told in the following verses, he employed it. A cubit length — Long enough for his design, and not too long for concealment. His right thigh — Which was most convenient both for the use of his left hand, and for avoiding suspicion.


Verse 18-19

3:18-19. He sent away the people — He accompanied them part of the way, and then dismissed them, and returned to Eglon alone, that so he might have more easy access to him. He himself turned again from the quarries, as if he had forgotten some important business. Houbigant takes the word פשׂילים, pesilim, here rendered quarries, for the name of a place. But the Septuagint and Vulgate take it for graven images, as indeed it commonly signifies in the Scriptures, and as it is rendered in the margin of our Bibles. Some suppose that these images had been placed there by the Moabites, in contempt of the God of Israel, who had so long honoured Gilgal with his presence; and that they might ascribe the subjection of the land to their idols, as the Israelites gave the glory of their conquest to the true God. And they further suppose that when Ehud beheld these idolatrous images, he was inflamed with zeal and indignation, so that instead of proceeding any further in his return home, he went back with a full resolution to revenge the indignity offered to the Divine Majesty, as well as the oppression of his people. Who said, Keep silence — That is, forbear to speak till my servants are withdrawn. For he would not have them to be made acquainted with a business which he supposed to be of great importance.


Verse 20

3:20. He was sitting in a summer parlour — Into which, it is probable, he used to retire from company; which is mentioned as the reason why his servants waited so long ere they went in to him, 3:25. I have a message from God unto thee — To be delivered, not in words, but by actions. This was true if Ehud was stirred up to this, as it appears he was, by a divine influence. Ehud, however, expressed himself in this manner to remove from the king any apprehensions of danger; and likewise to oblige him to rise from his seat, which Ehud knew he would do, since such was the common practice of the heathen, when receiving, or expecting to receive, messages from the gods they worshipped. He designedly made use of the word Elohim, which was common both to the true God and the pagan deities; and not the Word Jehovah, which was peculiar to the true God; because thus Eglon, not knowing whether the message came not from his own false god, would have the greater inclination to rise, whereby Ehud would have an opportunity of directing his blow in the most advantageous manner: whereas he would possibly have shown his contempt of the God of Israel, by sitting still to hear his message. And he arose out of his seat — In token of reverence to God. This is a remarkable instance of the ancient veneration men paid to whatsoever carried the name and authority of God in it, and it reproaches those who can now presume to behave themselves irreverently, even in the time and place of divine worship.


Verse 21

3:21. Ehud put forth his hand and took the dagger — It is justly observed by Dr. Dodd, that this action of Ehud “is certainly among the number of those which are not to be imitated without that which gave it all its sanction; namely, a divine commission. The text expressly says, The Lord raised up Ehud; and it is well known that all the deliverances which the Jews had under the judges, were directed and conducted by the immediate hand of God, according as the people, by their repentance, became fit to receive them. A divine warrant, in such a case, is a clear ground to go upon, but it can be no precedent for others to go upon, who have no divine warrant at all, but quite the contrary. What are reason and understanding given us for, but to distinguish upon cases and circumstances?” As reasons why God excited Ehud to this action, it may be observed, that Eglon had been the aggressor, and that he was the oppressor of God’s people, and held them under a cruel subjection and bondage; that he was undoubtedly guilty of great injustice and violence toward them, and, in all probability, continued to make many thousands of them miserable daily, by means of their servitude, which he had no right to do. Therefore God, who had called Ehud to the office of delivering and governing Israel, stirred him up on this occasion, to take this method of cutting off their enemy and oppressor.


Verse 22

3:22. And the dirt came out — The Hebrew word פרשׁדנה, parschedona, here translated dirt, is found only in this place. It is from the Chaldee that it is thus rendered, and all agree that it signifies the excrements.


Verse 23

3:23. Ehud went forth — With a composed countenance and motion, being well assured that God, who by his extraordinary call had excited him to this enterprise, would, by his special providence, carry him through it. And shut the doors upon him — Upon, or after, himself; and locked them Either pulling them closely after him, as we do, when doors have spring- locks; or taking the key with him.


Verse 24

3:24. He covereth his feet — This phrase is used only here, and 1 Samuel 24:3. A late judicious interpreter expounds it, of composing himself to take a little sleep, as it was very usual to do in the day-time in those hot countries. And when they did so in cool places, such as this summer parlour unquestionably was, they used to cover their feet. And this may seem to be the more probable, both because the summer parlour was proper for this use, and because this was a more likely reason for their long waiting at his door, lest they should disturb his repose. And this sense best agrees with Saul’s case in the cave, when, being asleep, David could more securely cut off the lap of his garment.


Verse 25

3:25. They tarried till they were ashamed — Till they were in great confusion, not conceiving what could cause him to sleep so much longer than usual; and not knowing what to say or think, afraid that they should either disturb him, or be guilty of neglect toward him. They took a key and opened them — Another key, it being usual in the courts of kings for more persons than one to be intrusted with keys to the same room.


Verse 27-28

3:27-28. He blew a trumpet — In order to summon those who were disposed to recover their liberty to take arms and follow him. And the children of Israel went down with him — Whom doubtless he had prepared by his emissaries, and gathered together in considerable numbers. With these he attacked the Moabites who were in garrisons on the west of Jordan, and slew ten thousand of their best men; which utterly broke the power of Moab, and freed the Israelites from the yoke of that nation. They took the fords of Jordan — Where that river was usually passed, that neither the Moabites that were in Canaan might escape, nor any more Moabites come over Jordan to their succour.


Verse 30

3:30. The land had rest fourscore years — Not the whole land of Israel, but the eastern part of it, which had thus shaken off the yoke of Moab. For in the mean time the Philistines invaded the western parts, as it here follows, and were repulsed by Shamgar; and Jabin afflicted the northern, as it follows in the next chapter.


Verse 31

3:31. After him was Shamgar — He was the third judge of the Israelites, and delivered them from some small oppressions which they suffered from the Philistines. The sacred text gives us no further particulars concerning him than that he slew six hundred of them with an ox-goad; or, as the Latin and Greek versions render it, with a plough-share. Indeed the Hebrew מלמד הבקר, malmad habakar, signifies any instrument by which oxen are broken to labour. The Philistines, it seems, were more careful than any other nation to strip the Israelites of all their military weapons whenever they had them in subjection; and if this was the case at present, it is likely that the expression means only such rustic instruments as he could lay his hand on. It is probable he was following the plough when the Philistines made an inroad into the country, and having neither sword nor spear, when God put it into his heart to oppose them, he took up the instrument which was next at hand. “It is no matter,” says Henry, “how weak the weapon is, if God direct and strengthen the arm. An ox- goad, when God pleaseth, shall do more than Goliah’s sword. And sometimes he chooseth to work by such unlikely means, that the excellence of the power may appear to be of God,” and that he may have all the glory. If we may believe Mr. Maundrell, however, he saw goads used in Palestine which were of an extraordinary size, several of them being about eight feet long, and at the thicker end six inches in circumference. They were armed, he tells us, at the smaller end, with a sharp prickle for driving the oxen, and at the other end with a small spade or paddle of iron, strong and massy, for cleansing the plough from the clay that is wont to encumber it in working. And he conjectures it was with such a goad as one of these that Shamgar made this prodigious slaughter, and judges that such an instrument “was not less fit, perhaps fitter, than a sword for such an execution.” See Journey from Aleppo, p. 110. It is evident, however, that the sacred writer here does not attribute the slaughter made, and victory obtained by Shamgar, to the excellence of the weapon which he used, but to the power of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 3:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/judges-3.html. 1857.

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