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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Judges 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

EXPOSITION

3:1

Now these are the nations, etc. We are now told in detail what was stated in general in 2:22, 2:23, after the common method of Hebrew narrative. To prove Israel. This word to prove is used here in a somewhat different sense from that which it bears in 2:4 and in 2:22. In those passages it is used of their moral probation, of proving or testing their faith and obedience; but here it is rather in the sense of "to exercise" or "to accustom them," to train them to war. A considerable period of rest had followed Joshua's conquest, during which the younger Israelites had no experience of war; but if they were to keep their hold of Canaan, it was needful that the warlike spirit should be kept up in their breasts.

3:3

The five lords, etc. The title seren, here rendered "lord," is one exclusively applied to the lords of the five Philistine cities enumerated in Joshua 13:3; 1 Samuel 6:17, 1 Samuel 6:18, viz; Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. It occurs repeatedly in 1 Samuel 16:1-23.; 1 Samuel 5:1-12; 1 Samuel 6:1-21; 1 Samuel 29:1-11; etc. The word means an axle-tree. The entering in of Hamath. There are two theories in regard to Hamath. Some, as Professor Rawlinson in the 'Dictionary of the Bible,' identify it with Hamah, a large and important city on the Orontes in Upper Syria, and consider that the kingdom of Hamath, which was overthrown by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:34; 2 Kings 19:13), and of which Hamath was the capital, was for the most part an independent Hamitic or Canaanite kingdom (Genesis 10:18), but occasionally, as in the days of Solomon and Jeroboam (1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 14:28; 2 Chronicles 8:4), subject to Israel Others, however, justly considering the great improbability of the Israelite dominion having ever extended so far north as the valley of the Orontes, and observing how it is spoken of as an integral part of Israel (1 Kings 8:65), look for Hamath much further south, in the neighbourhood of Beth-rehob (see 18:28, note). As regards the phrase "the entering in of Hamath," the identical Hebrew words occur seven times, viz; Numbers 13:21; Numbers 34:8; Joshua 13:5; in this passage; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 14:25; 2 Chronicles 7:8, and are variously rendered in the A.V.: "as men come to Hamath;" "unto the entrance of Hamath;" "the entering into Hamath;" "the entering in of Hamath (three times); and the entering of Hamath." The exact meaning of the phrase seems to be "the approach to Hamath," some particular spot in the valley from whence the direct road to Hamath begins; very much like the railway term for certain stations which are the nearest to, though at some little distance from, the place from which they are named, as, e.g; Shapwick Road, Mildenhall Road, etc. The latter words of the verse describe the territory of the Hivites, which reached from Mount Baal-hermon in the Lebanon range as far as the point where the road leads to Hamath.

3:5

The Canaanites, etc. The same enumeration of the tribes of the Canaanites as in Exodus 34:11.

3:6

They took their daughters, etc. Here is a further downward step in the disobedience of the Israelites. Intermarriage with the Canaanite nations had been expressly forbidden (Exodus 34:15, Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3; Joshua 23:12), and the reason of the prohibition clearly stated, and for some time after Joshua's death no such marriages appear to have been contracted. But now the fatal step was taken, and the predicted consequence immediately ensued: "they served their gods;.; they forgat the Lord their God, and served the Baalim and the Asheroth."

HOMILETICS

3:1-6

Ungodly marriages.

The distinctive lesson of this section seems to be the fatal influence of an ungodly marriage. And this lesson is one of such daily importance to Christians in every station in life, that we shall do well to concentrate our attention upon it. On entering upon the history of that troublous and calamitous time for the tribes of Israel which intervened between the triumphant governments of Moses and Joshua and the glorious reigns of David and Solomon,—the time of the Judges,—we find it initiated By the intermarriage of the Israelites with the idolatrous Canaanites. No sooner was that shameful alliance contracted than the national apostasy followed instantly. "They forgat the Lord their God, and served Baalim and Ashtaroth." And the connection between this religious apostasy and the first servitude by which they lost their national independence was no less close. "The children of Israel served Chushan-rishathalm." If then we read Scripture with a view to our own admonition, our attention must be arrested by this striking example of the danger of ungodly unions. And the example does not stand alone. The marriage of Esau with the daughters of Heth, in connection with the loss of his birthright and his blessing; the degradation and death of Samson in spite of his splendid gifts and powers; the tarnished fame of Solomon's old age, and the break-up of his kingdom after his death; the dynastic ruin and destruction of Ahab and all his house from his marriage with Jezebel,—these and many other examples in Holy Scripture convey a solemn warning against the peril of ungodly marriages. And it must be so in the nature of things. The marriage union is so close and intimate, it gives the opportunity for such constant influence, it makes continual resistance to that influence so irksome and tedious, it gives such advantage to the working of influence through the affections, that no man with a due regard for his own soul's salvation would expose himself to such peril. Moreover, the true notion of the partnership of marriage is a fellowship in heart, in thought, in affection, in interest; an identity of aim and purpose in life, each helping the other, each contributing a portion to the common aim; a joint action in all that relates to God and man; united counsels in fulfilling the various duties of the home, of the human society, of the Church of God. How could the Israelite, seeking the glory of Jehovah, wrapped up in the triumphs of his own favoured race and pure creed, and hating the detestable abominations of heathenism, so insulting to God, and so injurious to man, have such fellowship with the daughter of an Amorite or Canaanite? And how can any true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ have such fellowship with one whose heart is wholly given up to the world, and has no concern for the kingdom of heaven. "Marriage is not to betaken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly by any Christian man or woman, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God." And it is the object of these remarks to induce young men and young women, in deciding upon marriage, to take into consideration the probable influence of their partner upon their moral and religious life, and the aid or the hindrance they are likely to have in the fulfilment of their Christian duties. The life-long loss of domestic happiness, the blighting of affections, and a heavy crop of trouble and vexation, the sure fruit of an ill-assorted union, is a heavy price to pay for the momentary gratification of a mere fancy; but the permanent loss of moral tone, and forfeiture of one's place in the kingdom of God, is an unspeakably heavier one.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

3:1-4

The proving of Israel.

The general lesson of the Book of Judges is here repeated. There is shown to have been a Divine providence prevailing through and above the defections of Israel. God uses the consequences of their neglect as a means of grace. The nations that had not been rooted out became in turn their tempters and their tyrants; and thus they outlive their minority, and are prepared for the great place they have to take in the history of the kingdom of God.

I. IT WAS A RESULT OF PARENTAL NEGLECT. The fathers had left much of their task undone. A determined attitude on their part, and vigorous measures, would have rid the land of the nuisance. One generation may do much good or evil to its successors. We never reap all the results of our own misdoing; a great portion is left for the children of after generations. The neglect of the laws of health, of the canons of a moral life, of educational institutions, social and political progress, may entail grievous disadvantage upon those who come after us; as much that comes in this way, comes in this way alone, and cannot be produced suddenly. And so it is with the growth of theological truth, and the habits and usages of the spiritual life.

II. BUT THE CHILDREN TOO WERE TO BLAME. The oracle of God at Shiloh could have been consulted still. God's will could easily have been ascertained. Thorough and absolute trust in Jehovah, and devotion to his service, would have rid them of their enemies. They were therefore the children of their fathers in this also, viz; that they were not wholly given to God's service and the desire after righteousness. How much of human guilt consists in mere letting alone, or in supinely submitting to evils as if they were inevitable or incurable!

III. IT WAS AN INSTANCE OF EVIL DIVINELY UTILISED. A probation. To call forth the courage and faith of the new generation. To prevent them accepting the situation as a final one, or calmly submitting to and acquiescing in the wicked customs and idolatries of their neighbours. Some natures find the way of transgression harder than others. They are finer, more susceptible, have more deeply-set longings after goodness. They feel the inherent contradictions of evil more acutely; its penalties press more heavily upon them. This is not an injustice on the part of their Maker; it is a mark of his goodness and mercy. He would have them fenced in by the sanctions of righteousness; driven back into his fold. He has meant them for a better life. So it was with his elect people then. They and their heathen neighbours were upon a different footing. It was the destiny of Israel not to be let alone. A later experience in order to the comprehension of an earlier experience. One of the most valuable uses of experience—to throw light backward. It reveals the true value of an inheritance, and renders precious things more precious. Otherwise the younger Israelites who entered into the conquests of the first warriors would not have known the severity of their toils, or the mighty hand of God which wrought their deliverance. There are some lessons every man must learn for himself. A true appreciation of God's saving grace is a personal and, for the most part, an incommunicable thing. "To teach them war, i.e. to inure them to it as a necessary discipline, and as the preliminary work that had to be done ere the kingdom of God could be brought in; and, as above, to show them how much spiritual privileges cost, and how difficult and yet how honourable it was to defend and secure them. Still it was—

IV. AN INSTANCE OF A PROVISIONAL ALLOWANCE OF COMPARATIVE IMMORALITY. The world was not ripe for the morality of Jesus. The self-contradiction of a continual state of warfare was to be their schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. The state of peace is not of itself more moral than that of war. It is "the things that make for peace," the spirit of brotherhood and Christian charity, that are the aim of the righteous mind. The world must first be righteous ere it can be peaceful.—M.

3:5-7

The forbidden covenant.

When Israel entered the land it was on the express condition that no terms of marriage or intercommunion should be entered into with the aboriginal tribes of Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). This seems either to have been forgotten or deliberately ignored. The consequences predicted came to pass, and the hearts of the people were led away from the worship of the true God.

I. THE LIMITS OF COMMUNION BETWEEN THE CHILDREN OF GOD AND THE WORLD, The law of extermination prescribed to Israel made the path of duty very clear. It was God's purpose to disentangle the national and individual life of his people from the perversions, corruptions, and self-contradictions of idolatrous worship. He desired to separate them entirely to himself. Severe and uncharitable as this rule might at first appear, it was true mercy to the world as yet unborn, and to the future that was to be redeemed to God. Some comforts and conveniences, a few really valuable fruits of pseudo-civilisation and the contact with the currents of thought and life in the great world of men, had to be sacrificed, but the advantage was more than worth them all. The same problem presents itself to-day to the Christian. How far is it allowable for the life of a child of God and a child of this world to intermingle? What relations of this life are to be kept apart from the world, and to subsist only between Christians, and what relations may be shared with the world? The letter of the ancient prescript is of course obsolete, but the spirit must still be binding. Evidently, however, the relations of what are strictly religious communions can only be sustained between true Christians. And many of the higher relations of our natural life, as, for instance, marriage, can only be worthily sustained by Christians. The spirit of the old law was, immediately, severe, but, ultimately and more largely, merciful. So ought the disposition of the Christian to be. Of course the extent and direction in which we observe this law of heavenly prudence must be left to every man's conscience in the sight of God. It ought to be remembered that often when it seems to act against others it is really for their good.

II. HOW INTIMATE ASSOCIATION WITH THE WORLD AFFECTS THE TONE AND QUALITY OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE.

1. Habit blunts the conscience to unlawful customs.

2. Personal attachments and friendships lend attraction to social and religious observances which are really unrighteous.

3. The relations of civil life create entanglement and perplexity.

4. The peculiar, intimate, and profound relations of marriage add to the force of all influences that affect the religious nature and the spiritual life.—M.


Verses 7-11

EXPOSITION

This section introduces us into the actual narrative of the Book of Judges, the prefatory matter being now concluded. The whole book proceeds on the same model as this section does. The apostasy of Israel; their servitude under the oppressor sent to chastise them; their cry of distress and penitence; their deliverance by the judge raised up to save them; the rest which follows their deliverance. There is infinite variety in the details of the successive narratives, but they are all formed on the same plan.

3:7

The groves. The Asheroth, here and elsewhere ( 6:25, 6:26; Deuteronomy 16:21, etc.)wrongly rendered groves, were large wooden images or pillars in honour of Ashtoreth, and so are properly coupled with Baalim. This verse is in fact identical in meaning with 2:13, of which it is a repetition (see note to 2:13, and 8:23).

3:8

Chushan-rishathaim, i.e; as usually explained, Chushan the victorious, or the wicked. His name, Chushan, or Cushan, points to Cush, the father of Nimrod (Genesis 10:6-8), and the seat of his kingdom in Aram-naharaim, or Mesopotamia, agrees with Nimrod's kingdom in "Babel … in the land of Shinar" (Genesis 10:10). An earlier invasion of Palestine by conquerors from Mesopotamia is mentioned Genesis 14:2, where Amraphel, king of Shinar, is one of the five kings who invaded Sodom. Bela, son of Beer, king of Edom, seems by his name to have been clearly from Mesopotamia, as Balaam the son of Beer was (Numbers 22:5; Numbers 23:7); and in the time of Job we read of bands of Chaldeans looting in the land of Uz (Job 1:17). Chushan, as the name of a people, is coupled with Midian in Habakkuk 3:7; but we have no accounts of the state of Mesopotamia at the time of Chushan-rishathaim.

3:9

A deliverer. Hebrew, Saviour, as 3:15 (see Nehemiah 9:27). Othniel, etc. Mentioned 1:13; Joshua 15:17, and 1 Chronicles 4:13, where he is placed under "the sons of Kenaz," and seems to be the father of Hathath and Meonothai. According to Judith 6:15, he had a descendant, Chabris, living in the time of Holofernes. The Hebrew, though grammatically it favours the view that Othniel was the brother of Caleb, does not absolutely exclude the rendering that Kenaz was his brother, and so Othniel his nephew. Compare Jeremiah 32:7, where the words "thine uncle" apply to Shallum, not to Hanameel, as is clear from Jeremiah 32:8. And as the chronology seems to make it impossible that Othniel should be Caleb's brother, since Caleb was eighty-five years old at the time of Othniel's marriage, and Othniel therefore could not be less than fifty-five, an improbable age for his marriage; and since, again, Othniel could not well have been less than eighty at Joshua's death, which, allowing only ten years for the elders, and reckoning the eight years for Chushan's dominion, would make him ninety-eight when he was raised up to deliver Israel, it is a lesser difficulty to take Othniel as the nephew of Caleb, by understanding the words, Caleb's younger brother, to apply to Kenaz. But perhaps the least objectionable escape from the difficulty is to take the phrase in its most natural grammatical sense, but to understand the word brother in its wider and very common sense of kinsman or fellow-tribesman. They were both sons of Kenaz, or Kenizzites. Caleb was the head of the tribe, and Othniel was next to him in tribal dignity, and his junior in age, but probably succeeded to the chieftainship on Caleb's death. This would leave the exact relationship between Caleb and Othniel uncertain.

3:10

And the Spirit, etc. This marks Othniel as one of the extraordinary Shophetim, or judges, Divinely commissioned to save Israel (see 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 14:19).

3:11

And Othniel, etc. The arrangement of this verse suggests that Othniel lived through the whole forty years of rest, but this is highly improbable. The first part of the verse only belongs to the preceding section, which it closes quite naturally. The result of Othniel's victories was a rest of forty years (cf. 3:30; 5:31; 8:28, etc.). The latter half of the verse—And Othniel the son of Kenaz died—begins a new section, and is introductory to the first apostasy, which followed after his death.

HOMILETICS

3:7-11

God's scourge.

In a remarkable passage (Deuteronomy 32:8) Moses tells us that when the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. In like manner the sacred history teaches us how the movements of the nations and the restless invasions and conquests of heathen kings and warriors had a special relation to the chosen race. They indeed did not mean so. They were actuated merely by ambition, by the lust of conquest, by the appetite for plunder and dominion. But in the wonderful providence of God they were made instruments for chastening and correcting, or for saving and delivering, his people, as the case might be. Here we find the unsettled state of the Mesopotamian tribes, which led them beyond the borders of their own land, bringing them to Palestine at the very time when the Israelites in the wantonness of their fickle hearts had fallen away from the service of the living and true God to that of the idols of Canaan. There they were living at ease, having partly extirpated the Canaanites, and partly entered into league and amity with them. Seduced by their vices, captivated by their sensuous religion, they had forgotten all the works of God, and no longer trembled at his word, and did not feel their need of his favour. Yet a little while and their apostasy would have been complete, and the very end of their election would have failed. But this was not to be. So Chushan-rishathaim, who had perhaps never heard of their names, and knew nothing of their religion or of their apostasy, mustered his hosts, marched his army, and at the critical moment fell like a rod upon the peccant people. We are left to imagine the misery of those eight years of servitude under a heathen tyrant: the injuries and indignities, the terror and unrest, the grinding servitude, the hard bondage, the bitterness of soul, the wasting and oppression of spirit. The crops for which they toiled eaten by another; their goodly houses tenanted by their foes, and themselves turned into the street; their wives and daughters bondwomen, and their sons made slaves; their national glory turned to shame, their cherished hopes withered into despair. And we are ]eft to imagine how that misery bent the iron sinew of their neck, and brought them back to God. No doubt their self-confidence was broken down. Their illusive dreams of pleasure had ended in an awakening to their self-inflicted pain; sin appeared in its true colours as an enemy and betrayer; the false gods were found to be no helpers. Why not turn to God? He had been very good to them. Why had they ever forsaken him? He and he alone could save them, as he had saved their, fathers from the hands of Pharaoh. But would he? They would try. They would turn to him in penitence and prayer; they would confess their sins; they would humble themselves in his sight; they would call upon his blessed name; they would plead his covenant, his promises, the glory of his own great name. And they did so. Nor did they call in vain. Their cry of distress entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts. His wrath turned to pity; he who chastened when they sinned, now comforted when they prayed. He had sent a scourge; he now sends a deliverer. Chushan was invincible when his mission was to strike; but when his mission was ended his arm fell broken at his side. Othniel the deliverer went forth in the might of God's Spirit, and Chushan's power was gone. The waters of the Euphrates which had overflowed their banks were dried up again, and the land of Israel had rest for forty years. And so has it ever been. The obscurer movements of Philistines, and Ammonites, and Midianites, as well as the grand historic drama of Assyria, and Egypt, and Babylon, and Persia, and Greece, and Rome, have always had one special design in the correction or deliverance of God's people. And though we have no inspired interpreter to expound to us the later movements of the peoples, yet may we be sure that the great events of modern history have been appointed to work out the purposes of God with reference to his Church, either for correction or deliverance, and that the rise and fall of empires, the ambition of kings and statesmen, the conquests of warriors, and the revolutions of peoples, will in the end be found to have been overruled for the glory of God, and for the extension of the kingdom of Jesus our Lord. And in this confidence the Church may rest and be at ease in her integrity, while she is careful not to provoke God's anger by turning aside from his truth, or growing weary of his blessed service.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

3:8

Idolatry and its Nemesis.

The effects of this communion with idolatrous peoples speedily appear. It was no accident that Israel became the subject of a heathen power, nor are we to suppose it an arbitrary exercise of the right of Divine providence.

I. AS FAITH STRENGTHENS, SUPERSTITION DESTROYS, MORAL POWER. In all these punishments the external and physical disadvantage appears to be the first perceived. But the real loss was sustained beforehand, when faith in the one God was lost. The whole moral life which this dogma encouraged and sustained was thereby undermined. Monotheism was the foundation of the moral life, correcting and purifying it; idolatry pandered to the worst passions, and chained the spirit of man to the outward and sensuous.

II. MORAL ENTHUSIASM IS THE ESSENCE AND INSPIRATION OF HEROISM AND THE RULING QUALITIES. The reverence of Israel in the worship of Jehovah was called forth towards qualities that were truly noble and admirable. The sustaining force of an Israelite's piety was absolutely righteous and super-sensuous; and it had appeared superior to all that the arm of flesh could bring against it. The Israelite was taught, therefore, to despise the material, the outward, and the merely human. His faith, therefore, became heroic. And as the influence of the Divine Being repressed the passions and developed the spiritual power, it enabled him to restrain himself, to pursue after distant and vast aims; and, in making him heedless of the attractions of sense and penalties which only affected the outward man, it made him influential over others. Hence the religion of Israel marked it out for political superiority and power.

III. THE "SERVICE" THAT IS WASTED ON WORTHLESS OBJECTS IS AVENGED BY A "SERVICE" THAT IS SEVERE AND INVOLUNTARY. This was the result of a special appointment, and also of a Divine law. The people that had become effeminate by idolatrous indulgence were an easy prey to any military and ambitious power; and so that which had been a weak yielding, or a choice, became binding and imperative. National liberty was lost; the purest and noblest traits of national character were repressed. What a special political power did in this instance evil habit itself may do; and there are other influences whose yoke waits upon the loss of moral power.—M.

3:9, 3:10

True deliverance must ever come from God.

It is a curious fact in the history of Israel that it is never until they have acknowledged God as the source of salvation that they achieve any permanent success. It is as if this people were to learn that only by supernatural means is it ever to fulfil its destiny.

I. HE INSPIRES TRUE HEROISM. Of Othniel we have already heard; he stands as a representative of early Israelitish chivalry. But on the occasion on which he distinguished himself formerly, the inspiration was hardly so lofty as to mark him out as especially the servant of God. He is, however, on the threshold of the great life of self-denial and generous self-sacrifice which characterised the judge of Israel. He is a vessel chosen of God for better service. Of the particular influences which marked him out for the high office to which he was called we are not informed. All that we know is, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. That he was well qualified otherwise for warlike exploits we know; but the merely human traits of character which he has displayed are nothing without this distinctive inspiration. God finds the man for the hour.

II. THE MORAL AUTHORITY IS DIVINELY CREATED. Israel gravitates towards Othniel as its moral centre. By a kind of moral necessity he becomes its judge, and there is no one to dispute his ascendancy. The prestige which he gains in his magistracy is not injured by military failures. We are to look upon all this as proof that God was with him. preserving and increasing his reputation, and developing the powers which he possessed. When it is said ( 2:18), "And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge," we are invited to behold no series of merely human successes, but that which is directly due to his presence and help. And so with all Whom he inspires for special service; he will make their moral influence his care, sustain their strength, and secure uninterrupted success if they put their trust in him.—M.

Natural advantages and endowments perfected and crowned by consecration.

I. THE BEST CHANNEL FOR OTHNIEL'S ABILITIES WAS THAT INDICATED BY THE DIVINE CALL.

II. IN OBEDIENCE OF GOD'S SPIRIT HE SECURED THE MOST COMMANDING INFLUENCE.

III. As SERVANT OF JEHOVAH HE ATTAINED ENDURING RENOWN.—M.

3:10, 3:11

The secret of individual and national greatness.

It was as a judge of Israel that Othniel first attained influence. This necessitated a righteous life and a consistent character. In this way he obtained command over his people, and was able to transfer their attachment and respect to the battle-field. So it was, as Israel learned to obey the servant of Jehovah in civil affairs, and learned to respect the law of righteousness, that it was able to face its enemies with an irresistible front. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation and a man.

I. TO MAINTAIN AND ADVANCE A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE WE MUST BEGIN AT HOME.

II. THE VICTORY OVER OUR ENEMIES CONSISTS MORE THAN HALF IN THE VICTORY OVER OURSELVES.

III. HABITUAL RECTITUDE AND A GOOD CONSCIENCE PREPARE FOR SUDDEN AND ABIDING SUCCESS.—M.

3:11

And the land had rest-the true peace.

I. IT IS A REWARD OF CONSECRATED EFFORT AND SELF-DENIAL.

II. A PREPARATION FOR HIGHER CONCEPTIONS AND REALISATIONS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. III. A SABBATH OF CONSECRATED TIME AND SERVICE TO THE HIGHEST.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

3:9, 3:10

Great men.

The Book of Judges brings before us the heroic age of Israel. The multitude of the people are in a condition of moral and political degradation, but great men appear from time to time whose individual heroism secures the salvation of their nation. Othniel, the first of the judges, may serve as a type of the rest. The characters and mission of these men may throw some light upon the function of great men in the economy of Providence.

I. GREAT MEN OWE THEIR GREATNESS TO GOD. Many of the judges sprang from obscure families; they were not hereditary rulers, but men sent of God with individual vocations. Othniel belonged to the honourable family of Caleb, and shared in the fame of that family, perhaps, partly in virtue of hereditary qualities. But even he is described as owing his greatness to God.

1. Great men are sent by God. When the people "cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer." There are men who are born heroes—men whose great qualities are owing to their nature, not to their culture or their conduct. He who believes in providence will recognise that such men are "raised up" by God.

2. Great men derive their highest powers directly from God. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel. The military and political ability of Othniel as warrior and judge are ascribed to a Divine inspiration. All truly great men are inspired by God. Not only ore they originally formed and sent by God, but they owe their powers to the constant influence of God within them. Bad men of genius receive their genius from God, and are therefore guilty of prostituting the noblest Divine gift to evil purposes. Such men attain to no more than an earthly greatness. In the sight of God their low aims destroy the character of heroism which their abilities rendered possible. On the other hand, all Christians may attain to a measure of greatness in proportion as they receive the Spirit of God; yet we must distinguish between the graces of the Spirit, which are for all Christians, and the gifts of the Spirit, which are special, and bestowed on individual men.

II. GREAT MEN HAVE A MISSION TO THEIR FELLOW-MEN.

1. Great men are intrusted with great talents for the benefit of others. To devote these to selfish ends of ambition or pleasure is a mark of gross unfaithfulness. We are members one of another; and that member which has the highest capacities will produce the largest amount of harm if it refuses to perform its functions in promoting the welfare of the whole body.

2. Great men are needed by the world. The heroic age has passed, and there is now more power in the general thought and life of men than in primitive times. The work of individual men has often been overrated when compared with the deep, silent strength of public opinion, and the slow, steady movement of national progress. Yet it is real and large. Christianity would have lived if Paul had never been converted; the Reformation would have come without Luther. But these movements would have taken a different form, and probably would have made much slower progress without the help of their leading spirits. Great inventors, legislators, reformers have left a distinct individual stamp on the history of our race. Christianity is not a product of the spirit of its age; it owes its origin to the life of the greatest of men.

III. THE MISSION OF GREAT MEN VARIES ACCORDING TO THE NEEDS Off THEIR AGE. In the heroic age of Israel the great men are warriors who deliver the people from the yoke of invaders; later they appear as kings who lay the foundations of constitutional government, e.g. David and Solomon; later as prophets, etc. Perhaps the gifts for all varieties of excellence exist in every age, but a natural selection brings to light only those which are suitable for each particular age. But possibly there is a providential economy which shapes the great man according to the needs of his age. In either case it is clear that there is a breadth and variety of Divine inspiration, so that we cannot limit it to any one form of manifestation, nor deny that it may be found in some novel and startling shape as the requirements of the world assume new features.—A.


Verses 13-31

EXPOSITION

3:13

The children of Ammon. The technical name of the Ammonite people (see Genesis 19:38; Deuteronomy 2:19, Deuteronomy 2:37; 10:6, 10:11, 10:17, etc.). Sometimes, however, they are called Ammon, or Ammonites (see Deuteronomy 23:3; 1 Samuel 11:11, etc.). Amalek, or the Amalekites, were the hereditary enemies of Israel (see Exodus 17:8-16; 5:14; 6:3, 6:33; 7:12; 1 Samuel 15:2, etc.). The Amalekites appear, from Genesis 36:12, to have been a branch of the Edomites, and the latest mention of them in the Bible finds a remnant of them in the neighbourhood of Mount Seir in the days of Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:41-43). The city of palm trees, i.e. Jericho, as Deuteronomy 34:3; 1:16. Jericho was the first city in Canaan which any one crossing the fords of the Jordan would come to (see Joshua 2:1; Joshua 6:1, etc.). Though no longer a fenced city, it was important from the fertility of the plain, and from its commanding the fords.

3:15

Left-handed. It was a peculiarity of the warriors of the tribe of Benjamin to be left-handed (see 20:16; 1 Chronicles 12:2). A left-handed man wearing no sword or dagger on his left side, and using his right hand for other purposes, would naturally throw a man off his guard. Thus Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him, and then smote him with the sword in his left hand (2 Samuel 20:10). A deliverer. Hebrew, a saviour ( 3:9). A present, i.e. their tribute.

3:19

The quarries. It is uncertain whether this is the meaning of the Hebrew word. Its common meaning is images, as Deuteronomy 7:25, and elsewhere.

3:20

For himself alone. It seems to have been Eglon's habit to sit quite alone in this summer parlour for coolness sake, his attendants waiting in the adjoining antechamber. On this occasion he appears to have dismissed them from the antechamber, for greater privacy, while Ehud spake to him.

3:22

The haft, etc. Ehud, feeling the necessity of killing Eglon at one blow, plunged the dagger into his body with such force that the handle went in with the blade, and he was unable to draw it out. Leaving it, therefore, buried in his fat, he went out at once into the parshedon, or antechamber, for so it is best to render the last words of the verse, and thence into the misederon, the outer porch, having first locked the door of the summer chamber. The words parshedon and misederon occur only here, and the former is very variously rendered.

3:24

Covereth his feet, i.e. is asleep (see 1 Samuel 24:3). The servants, finding the door locked, and all quiet within, coneluded that he was taking his siesta in the heat of the day.

3:26

The quarries. See above, 3:19. Seirath, or rather has-seirah, is not known as the name of a place. It seems to mean the rough or woody district, the forest in the hill country of Ephraim, where there was good shelter to hide in.

3:27

He blew a trumpet. Like Alfred in the marshes of Somerset, he gathered a host around him in the shelter of the forest; and then, full of faith in his Divine mission, "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might," dashed down boldly into the plain, and, seizing the fords, cut off all communication between the Moabites at Jericho and their countrymen east of the Jordan. They could neither escape into Moab nor get help from Moab. Thrown into confusion by the death of their king and the suddenness of the attack, the Moabites fell to the number of 10,000 men; and so ended the second servitude, to be followed by a rest (if the numeral in the text is sound) of eighty years.

3:31

Of the Philistines. This is an isolated movement of the Philistines, alluded to in 10:11, but of which we have no further details. In 10:6 we read of Israel worshipping the gods of the Phllistines, and of an alliance between the Ammonites and Philistines to vex Israel; but the precise connection between the events of the two chapters, or the exact time when either occurred, cannot be determined with certainty. Nothing more is known of Shamgar, except the mention of him in Deborah's song ( 5:6).

HOMILETICS

3:12-31

Miscellaneous Thoughts.

Sin and punishment, repentance and ready mercy, prayer and answer to prayer, and the providential government of God, ordering all things after the counsel of his own will, are the general subjects which the course of the narrative still sets before us. But other questions of considerable difficulty arise from the history of Ehud to which we shall do well to direct our attention. To avoid repetition the analogous case of Jael recorded in 4:1-24. may be considered at the same time.

I. MORAL PROBLEMS. Ehud and Jael are both represented to us as signal deliverers raised up by God to save Israel from his oppressors. Ehud holds a conspicuous place among the judges, and Jael is declared in the song of Deborah to be "blessed among women." But if we try this hero and this heroine by the standard of morality set up by Christianity and by modern Christian civilisation, we find that they were both guilty of acts of assassination coupled with deceit and treachery. Ehud deceived Eglon into his confidence by pretending to have a message to deliver to him from God, and then stabbed him; and Jael enticed Sisera into her tent with the offer Of hospitality that she might murder him in his sleep. Some commentators on this history have justified both these actions on the dangerous ground that they were done by God's special command, and that what would in themselves have been crimes became virtues under the dispensing power of God's sovereign will. But such an explanation is neither warranted by Scripture nor satisfactory in itself. The true explanation is to be found in deeper views of God's providential government of the world, by which man's free will is reconciled with the sovereignty of God. It is manifest that, given the existence of evil in the world, and given the truth that the Most High doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, it must be that bad actions as well as good ones subserve and bring about the purposes of God. That Jacob's deceit obtained his father's blessing, or that the malice of the Jews brought about the great sacrifice of the death of Christ, are no proofs that God approves either deceit or malice, but are merely instances how man's free-will, whether choosing good or evil, brings about the will of God—a truth which however unfathomable to our reason, we can see to be necessary to the existence of the government of the world. This view, too, while it does not disturb our trust in the perfect righteousness of God, confirms our trust in the absolute sovereignty of his power. It leaves to the righteous a sense of perfect security amidst the perplexing spectacles of wrong and wickedness triumphing for a time.

II. GOOD AND EVIL IN THE SAME HUMAN WILL. But are we then to set down Ehud and Jael among the wicked of the earth? By no means. But we must turn to another difficult problem, the co-existence of good and evil in the same human will. It is a simple fact, borne witness to by profane as well as sacred history, that in individuals the main bent of whose character is towards good, a great amount of evil may remain, when such evil is countenanced by the public opinion of their day, and by the practice of their contemporaries. Just as even wise men retain many gross popular errors in science till they are refuted and exploded by the light of new discoveries, so even good men remain unconsciously under the dominion of special evils till some new light has shined upon them and exposed their real nature. The cruelty of our penal laws down to the present century, the existence of the slave-trade and of slavery within our own memory, persecution unto cruel deaths for religious opinions, the severities of arbitrary governments till exploded in the light of freedom, are familiar examples how things evil in themselves may be approved by good and humane men when they are sanctioned by prevalent custom and by public opinion. And the observation of these and numerous analogous facts teaches us the folly as well as the injustice of judging men of one age by the standard of another. Turning then to Ehud and Jael, we know that in their days human life was not more valued than it is in Afghanistan to the present hour. We know that the life of an enemy was looked upon as a lawful and desirable prey to be seized whenever possible. We know that, in times when the weak have no protection from the strong by the action of law, the only weapon of defence that remains to them, that of cunning and deceit, becomes sharpened by constant use, and is habitually worn at their side. Guile in communities where there is no justice is not the exception but the rule, and feigned blandishments have a tendency to increase the fierceness which they were intended to conceal, when the time for concealment is past. When, therefore, Ehud and Jael in their respective times saw the people of God whom they loved trampled underfoot by cruel tyrants and oppressors; when they saw the glory of God in whom they believed profaned by the triumphs of idolatry; when they heard the cries and groans of those who Were reduced to bondage and were plundered of their lands; when indignation burnt in their hearts, and the blush of shame rose to their cheek, for the indignities which the people suffered at heathen hands—can we wonder that their generous hearts planned vengeance and deliverance, and that they accomplished their purpose by such weapons as came to hand. Violence was no crime, deceit was no sin in their eyes. They had not, it is true, the grace to wait in patient faith, and They had the noble spirit of self-sacrifice, seeking nothing for themselves, ready to give all they had on the altar of religion and patriotism. They had the faith in God which marks the saint, and the disdain of danger which marks the hero. And so he who in his compassionate estimate of human conduct accepts a man according to what he hath and not according to what he hath not, accepted their virtues and covered their sin, even as we hope he will accept us when we act up to the light given to us, even though our best deeds are mixed up with sin, and our holiest works fall immeasurably short of the purity and holiness of God.

III. THE CONCLUSION WHICH WE THUS ARRIVE AT IS, THAT GOD'S PURPOSE OF DELIVERANCE TO HIS CHURCH MAY BE ACCOMPLISHED BY BAD MEN AS WELL AS BY GOOD, and by bad as well as good actions; that the degree in which good men fall short of the glory of God varies widely according to their opportunities; and that God graciously accepts the thoughts and intents of loving and faithful hearts in spite of sin committed in ignorance of his will, dealing with men's souls through the infinite merits of the death of his dear Son, and with respect to the full satisfaction of his atoning blood—to whom he glory and praise for ever and ever! We learn also to take a juster view of the great figures which are set before us in Holy Scripture. They are not ideal figures or perfect characters. They are faithful delineations of the real lives of men and women who lived two or three thousand years ago; who stood up head and shoulders above their contemporaries in certain great gifts and qualities, but who necessarily partook of the character of the age they lived in. While we try to emulate their faith, we must judge of their actions by the light of the perfect law of God.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

3:12-14

Continued and repeated offence entails more signal punishment.

Jehovah is spoken of here as if he had become the God of heathen nations. He takes the side of the enemies of Israel, and strengthens them for the subjugation of his own people.

I. THE INSTRUMENT OF CHASTISEMENT IS SPECIALLY PREPARED BY GOD.

II. A VISIBLE SIGN OF DISGRACE EXISTED IN THE CONQUEST OF JERICHO.

III. THE PERIOD OF OPPRESSION WAS MORE THAN DOUBLED.—M.

3:15-26

Ehud.

There is no grandeur of character about Ehud, nor can he boast of an illustrious descent; yet he is sufficient for the purpose of delivering Israel. The defectiveness of the instrument makes the Divine agent the more conspicuous. We see here:—

I. GOD'S USE OF OBSCURE AGENTS AND INSTRUMENTALITIES. He was of the less important tribe; personally obscure; physically defective. So God uses the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, etc; that the praise may be given to the true source of power and wisdom. On the present occasion the choice was singularly felicitous, as it emphasised both subjection and deliverance as Divine. The left-handedness of Ehud also becomes curiously and instructively prominent. His very defect proved his fitness for the special task he had to accomplish. Is his power but a one-sided one, and hardly available for regular service? If he be in earnest an opportunity will be given for its effective use. It is exacted by God's servants that they do what they can; the rest is to be left with himself.

II. DEFECTIVE POWERS AND CHARACTER RESTRICTED TO THEIR PROPER SPHERE. We can see from the history that the moral character of Ehud is not high. His success, humanly speaking, depended on duplicity, boldness, sleight of hand. He has decision enough to improve upon the advantage which he has thus obtained, and to weaken the enemy by a terrible blow. But there is no sign of the judicial faculty, nor even of great military skill. He rendered a signal service, and then apparently retired into obscurity. He held no high office, or great public responsibility.—M.

3:31

Shamgar.

A long interval has elapsed. The moral effect of Ehucl's feat is beginning to lessen. Another warning is required. It is given from the opposite side of Israel in the incursion of six hundred Philistines. These are not many, but they may be spies, pickets, the vanguard of great armies. If any effect is to be produced upon those who are behind them it must be by a sudden and. decisive blow. The example of Ehud is a precedent. Another hero rises to deliver Israel at a stroke. And by a rude and apparently ill-adapted weapon. Shamgar illustrates:—

I. THE INFLUENCE OF EXAMPLE. "After him"—an Ehud inspires a Shamgar.

II. OF THE GREAT EFFECTS WHICH MAY BE PRODUCED BY IMPERFECT MEANS WHEN ZEALOUSLY AND SEASONABLY USED. The slaying of the six hundred deterred perhaps a whole series of invasions. It lent itself easily to poetic treatment, and appealed to popular imagination. The inspiration of the deed was unmistakable. A common man, a rude implement used by Jehovah at a set time for the deliverance of his people.

III. OF THE SIGNIFICANCE AND VALUE OF A SINGLE GREAT DEED, We hear nothing of Shamgar before or after.

1. Its greatness lay in the agent rather than the means. Previous preparation of character was required.

2. The moral effect was sudden, wide-spread, and decisive. God used it for a greater purpose than was immediately contemplated.

3. But it did not qualify for permanent official usefulness. It was followed up by no spiritual witness, or succession of services. It might be that Shamgar outlived his fame, or obscured it by unworthy life, etc. The constant service ought to supplement the individual exploit.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

3:15

A man left-handed.

The left-handed man may be regarded as a type of the abnormal, the eccentric. The existence and position of such people deserves notice.

I. THE PROVIDENTIAL GOODNESS OF GOD PERMITS PECULIAR VARIATIONS FROM THE NORMAL TYPE OF HUMANITY. God does not form all men according to one exact pattern. There is great variety in the nature, capacity, position, and vocation of men. While most are more or less near to the central type, some are far removed from it.

1. Such people should be treated with delicacy and consideration. In the present instance the variation is too slight to be an affliction, but in more severe cases the sufferers are likely to be painfully conscious of their peculiarity. Christian courtesy will devise means of making this as little apparent as possible.

2. The common human likeness which belongs to all men should be recognised beneath the few discrepancies which strike us forcibly just because they contrast with the multitudinous points of agreement. The peculiarities are superficial. The deeper nature is true to the normal type of the great human family. The left-handed man has the same heart as the right-handed man. If we had more breadth of sympathy, more care for real and deep human qualities, and less regard for superficial and trivial points, we should recognise more genuine humanity in the most eccentric people.

3. Peculiarities of constitution should be borne with calm faith in the wisdom and goodness of God. They may be severe enough to constitute a heavy cross. Yet they come from the hand of our Father who will not willingly afflict. It is well therefore to proceed to see how they may be turned to good accounts or how the evil of them may be ameliorated.

II. DIRECT ADVANTAGES MAY BE DERIVED FROM THE PECULIARITIES OF ABNORMAL CONSTITUTIONS. Ehud is able to effect his terrible purpose the more securely through the surprise occasioned by his unexpected action ( 3:21). It is foolish to aim at eccentricity, because such an aim would result in abnormal habits without abnormal capacities. But where the peculiarity is natural it must be regarded as providential, and we should then cast about to see if it may not be turned to some advantage, so that the thing which appears at first as nothing but a hindrance may be found a source of some special aptitude. If the peculiarity be a positive affiiction, it may enable those who suffer from it to sympathise with and help their companions in similar affliction. Thus the blind may have a mission to the blind. If the peculiarity compel an unusual manner of acting it may be the means of accomplishing some special but much-needed work.

III. PECULIAR DISADVANTAGES IN ONE DIRECTION ARE OFTEN COMPENSATED FOR BY PECULIAR ADVANTAGES IN ANOTHER. The man who is weak in the right band, is left-handed, i.e. he has special strength and skill with his left hand. The blind often have a rare skill in music. Muscular weakness is often accompanied by intellectual. strength, deficient health by fine spiritual powers. Therefore instead of complaining of the peculiarity with which he is tried it would be well if the person who suffered under it were to be thankful for the special advantages with which he may be favoured. No peculiarity which may seem to exclude from the advantages of human society will sever from the love of God or from the sympathy of Christ the Good Physician.—A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 3:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/judges-3.html. 1897.

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