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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 3

 

 

Verse 1

LIST OF THE NATIONS LEFT, Judges 3:1-6.

1. Which the Lord left — In Hebrew usage, God is often said to do what men alone are responsible for; as in the case of Pharaoh hardening his heart, which God is said to have done, though the hardening really resulted from his own perversity. God works through appointed agencies; but when his agencies fail to co-operate in the attainment of any end, he is said to fail. In this sense he left the Canaanites. Another peculiarity of the Hebrew idiom is the representation of results as if they were purposes. The grand purpose of Jehovah was the complete extermination of these pagan tribes, that there might be free scope for the development of the Hebrew commonwealth. Since this purpose was defeated by the defection of his human allies, Jehovah controls the consequences of their disobedience so that as little evil and as much good as possible shall result. In this case the intended good results were: 1st. The trial and proof of Israel. 2d. The beasts of prey are kept from overrunning the land. Deuteronomy 7:22.

3d. The cultivation of the art of war by habituating the people to the constant use of arms for their protection against foes near at hand, so that they might be prepared to defend themselves against a foreign foe.

Even as many… as had not known all the wars of Canaan — The generation which arose after the death of Joshua had little or no experience in the wars for the conquest of Canaan. “This younger generation,” says Cassel, “enjoyed the fruits of the conquest, but did not estimate aright the greatness of the dangers endured by the fathers, and therefore did not sufficiently value the help of God. It was no light thing to triumph over the warlike nations. They did not know what a war with Canaan signified.”


Verse 2

2. Only that — This verse defines more fully the purpose of God in leaving the heathen nations to prove Israel. The mind of the writer reverts to the word left, in the previous verse, and the grammatical connexion is, left, only that the generations… might know. That is, they were left for the further discipline of Israel, that Israel might experience and realize what could be learned in no other way.

To teach them war — This clause also depends on left in the previous verse. The nations were left to teach Israel the art of war by obliging them to fight for their possessions, and thus acquire a knowledge of military tactics and skill which would be greatly needed in the times approaching. Thus, too, this younger generation might learn what it had cost to get possession of Canaan, and thereby appreciate the heroism of the fathers.

At the least such as — Rather, only because, giving the reason for teaching them war. Render: Only because they did not before know them. That is, previously they did not properly understand and appreciate the wars of Canaan. The sacrifices and mighty deeds of the fathers could only be learned by passing through similar conflicts with the same old foes.


Verse 3

3. Five lords of the Philistines — Namely, the kings or chiefs of the five great cities, Gaza, Ashdod, Eshkalon, Gath, and Ekron. See notes on Joshua 13:2-6, with which passage this is substantially identical. The Canaanites, as distinguished here from the Sidonians, are probably to be understood of the tribes or natives south of Phenicia, and near the plain of Esdraelon. Hazor was probably the seat of their principal kingdom. Chap.

Judges 4:2.

The Hivites that dwelt in Mount Lebanon — The range of Lebanon in the north seems to have been the chief seat of the Hivites after the time of Joshua, and they had many cities there in the time of David. 2 Samuel 24:7. Baal-hermon is supposed by some to be another name for Baal-gad, mentioned Joshua 11:17; Joshua 13:5; but it seems most natural to understand Mount Baal-hermon to be the well known Mount Hermon, the modern Jebelesh-Sheikh. Here, probably, was a notable sanctuary of Baal, which gave its name to the whole mountain.

Hamath — See note on Joshua 13:5.


Verse 4

4. To prove Israel — This is the topic and key-note of the following history, and is accordingly emphasized by a fuller repetition from Judges 3:1-2.


Verse 5

5. Canaanites, Hittites — For notes on this list of nations, see at Joshua 3:10.


Verse 6

6. And they took their daughters — So that marriages and mixing of blood threatened to render Israel homogeneous in blood and paganism with the doomed nations.


Verse 7

CHUSHAN’S OPPRESSION, AND THE DELIVERANCE BY OTHNIEL, Judges 3:7-11.

7. The children of Israel did evil — Matrimony strongly influences character. A pagan wife will paganize her husband, especially if that husband be so for backslidden as to trample down so plain a prohibition of such a marriage as is recorded in the book of the law. Deuteronomy 7:3. It did not require a supernatural prescience, but only a knowledge of the human heart, to make the prediction contained in Deuteronomy 7:4 : “For they will turn away thy sons from following me, that they may serve other gods.” “In such unequal matches,” says Henry, “there is more reason to fear that the bad will corrupt the good, than to hope that the good will reform the bad.” Hence to all Christians there is an apostolic prohibition, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” 2 Corinthians 6:14.

And forgat… God — By long neglect of his service, and absence from his sanctuary and the appointed means of knowledge.

The groves — Hebrew, the Asheroth. Our translators have followed the Septuagint in rendering this word, groves. The Vulgate — Ashtaroth — comes nearer to the Hebrew, which signifies the image-pillars of Asherah, the Sidonian Astarte, the oriental Venus. From the fact that these images were the stumps of trees, several versions have translated the word Asheroth, trees or groves. Bertheau identifies Asheroth with Ashtareth, but supposes that the latter is rather the name of the goddess, while the former refers more specially to the idols erected to her honour. See on Judges 2:13, and 1 Kings 14:15.


Verse 8

8. Anger… sold — See on Judges 2:14.

Chushan-rishathaim — The last word is a Hebrew dual signifying of double wickedness — Chushan, the moral monster. Of this Eastern king we have no other Scripture notice. “It is quite a gratuitous supposition of Bunsen’s that he was ‘a Mesopotamian satrap’ — ’the Assyrian satrap of Mesopotamia.’ Scripture calls him king, and besides, the cuneiform monuments make it perfectly clear that Assyria did not extend her dominion to Mesopotamia till the middle of the twelfth century B.C. If the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms of the early period be rightly apprehended, there is no more difficulty in supposing a powerful Aramaean state in western Mesopotamia, than in imagining the country divided up, as we must otherwise regard it, among a number of petty principalities. Chushan-rishathaim reigned, probably, before the Assyrian independence was established.” — Rawlinson’s Hist. Evidences, p. 300. Mesopotamia, signifying between the rivers, was that part of Syria which lies between the Euphrates and the Tigris. It is for the most part a vast plain seven hundred miles long and from twenty to two hundred and fifty broad. It is first mentioned in the Bible as the land where Nahor and his family settled after quitting Ur of the Chaldees. Genesis 24:10.

Served — Not as slaves: the servitude was not personal, but political, and consisted in the loss of national independence, and the payment of onerous tributes to this tyrant. This remark applies to the state of servitude to which the Hebrews often were reduced in the days of the Judges.


Verse 9

9. When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord — Here is a sudden revival of memory. Adversity banishes that forgetfulness of God which prosperity has produced.

The Lord raised up a deliverer — There is an adage among the Jews that “when the tale of bricks is increased, Moses comes forth.” Every nation has had its national saviour, who has stepped to the front of its decimated armies, and lifted up its drooping banner, and inspired it with his own indomitable courage and sublime faith. Not only true piety but true philosophy must regard such men at such times as the gift of the God of nations.

Othniel — See on Joshua 15:17. The fact that Othniel, whether he were brother or nephew of Caleb, was the first judge of Israel, shows that Chushan’s oppression came not long after the death of Joshua.


Verse 10

10. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him — This expression occurs six times in this book, and is by no means equivalent to the New Testament “gift of the Holy Ghost;” nor can it be used as certain proof of great spiritual purity or eminent piety in him to whom it is referred. It designates the sudden divine impulse that quickened the heroes of this age to marvellous feats of valour, and was chiefly of a physical and psychical character. It denotes the supernatural influence that thrilled all the heroic passions of the soul, and always led to deeds of bravery and power. Thus it is used of the supernatural impulse that led Gideon to blow the trumpet and assemble the people for war, (Judges 6:34;) that inspired Jephthah to lead his army against Ammon, (Judges 11:29;) that moved Samson to his early feats of strength, (Judges 13:25,) and to rend the young lion of Timnath, (Judges 14:6,) and to slay the thirty men of Ashkelon, (Judges 14:19.) In Othniel’s case it seems to denote the divine guidance by which he both judged and fought. His high natural qualities, love of justice, love of country, courage, and military skill, were crowned with an unwavering faith in God, breathed into his soul by the Holy Spirit. There can be no great warrior and national saviour without a large infusion of the religious element into his nature.

He judged Israel — He was born to command. His generation of Hebrews yielded him instinctive and unquestioning obedience. The spirit which he infused into them, and the trust which he reposed in God, together with the unanimity of the nation in rallying to his standard, were sufficient credenda of his divine vocation to the leadership of Israel. He judged not in the narrow, technical sense, but he administered the military and civil government of the theocracy.


Verse 11

11. Forty years — This long period of peace and independence was necessary to the development of the nation.

Othniel… died — How remarkable the fact that a nation may be held back for nearly a half century from rebellion against God by the influence of a faithful ruler. It is not necessary to suppose that Othniel lived during all the forty years of rest. His influence may have held the people in check long after he was dead, and ever after those years of rest were associated with his name. Few individuals or nations, however, can endure undisturbed prosperity without damage to their moral character.


Verse 12

MOABITISH OPPRESSION, AND THE DELIVERANCE BY EHUD, Judges 3:12-30.

12. The Lord strengthened Eglon — Or, as some explain, encouraged Eglon. He inspired him with zeal and consciousness of ability to vanquish Israel. Jehovah did this, not because Eglon was the righteous king of a righteous nation, but because he wished to use him as an instrument for the punishment of Israel. All that is known of Eglon and his rule over Israel is recorded in this passage of Holy Scripture. The archives of Moab have been destroyed for thousands of years; the word of the Lord endureth for ever.

Moab — This nation occupied the territory east of the Dead Sea and south of the Arnon river.


Verse 13

13. And he gathered — Not the Lord, but Eglon gathered unto himself, (see Sept.,) and went and smote, and possessed. Ammon was an incestuous child of Lot by his younger, as Moab was by his elder, daughter. These two nations were intimately related through their entire biblical history. The Ammonites cannot be very exactly located. They seem to have been migratory and predatory, like the modern Bedouins, and hence ready to join the Moabites in a war with Israel. See on Joshua 12:2.

Amalek — A nomadic tribe occupying the peninsula of Sinai and the wilderness stretching away to the hill country of Southern Palestine. They dwindled into a band of robbers, and were destroyed by David at Ziklag. 1 Samuel 30:16-19. See more on Judges 6:3; Genesis 14:7; Exodus 17:8.

The city of palm trees — Jericho was so called because of the groves of palms in its vicinity. See on Joshua 2:1. According to Josephus, the course of Eglon’s conquest was first to gain dominion over the eastern tribes, a portion of whose land had been wrested from his ancestors, then to make a sudden incursion into Western Palestine, establishing his headquarters at Jericho, the key of the whole country. Here, according to Josephus, he built a royal palace, and at this place he was assassinated by Ehud.


Verse 14

14. Served Eglon — That is, were tributary. Judges 3:8, note.

Eighteen years — We cannot estimate the length of the period of Israel’s idolatry from the duration of their punishment. Men are often imprisoned for life for crimes committed in a minute.


Verse 15

15. Cried unto the Lord — History repeats itself, because like causes produce like effects. A second oppression calls forth a second cry.

Left-handed — Heb, lamed (margin, shut) in the right hand. The Septuagint reads, αμφοτεροδεξιον, which is well translated in the Vulgate by, who used either hand for a right hand. “The phrase,” says Hervey, “must originally have described an accidental defect; but when we read of seven hundred chosen men of Benjamin all left-handed, (Judges 20:16; 1 Chronicles 12:2,) and skilful slingers, it is obvious that this was no accidental defect, but an acquired art.” The name Benjamin, son of my right hand, seems to have been a misnomer in the case of his numerous left-handed progeny.

A present unto Eglon — Either the annual tribute, brought with formality and parade, or a gratuity, to soften the severity of Eglon.


Verse 16

16. Of a cubit length — The Hebrew gomed, here rendered cubit, means a span, (Septuagint,) or a hand’s length, (Vulgate.) It occurs nowhere else in Scripture. Luther translates it an elle — twenty-three inches, a dagger too long to be hidden on the thigh.

Upon his right thigh — Where it would not be looked for by the king, and yet where it could be most easily unsheathed with the left hand.


Verse 18

18. The people that bare the present — Eastern style required quite a pompous retinue to bring a gift to a distinguished person. See 2 Kings 5:15.


Verse 19

19. He himself turned again — At the ceremony of offering the present to Eglon “Ehud had no opportunity to attempt anything, for he neither came near the king nor saw him alone; nor yet was he willing, among so many bystanders, to involve his companions in the consequences of a possible failure. On the contrary, he accompanied them back to the border, in order to be sure that he was alone when making the dangerous attempt.” — Cassel.

The quarries — Our version follows the Chaldee in this rendering of the Hebrew word פסילים, pesilim, and Keil adopts this interpretation. But the word elsewhere always means graven images, or idols, and so the Septuagint and Vulgate here translate it. These pesilim were graven images set up by Gilgal, probably by the Moabites, to commemorate their conquests in that part of Palestine. It would especially vex and trouble the better part of Israel to have the site of their ancient camp profaned by idolatrous images. Some suggest that the sight of these images nerved Ehud for his daring work.

A secret errand — Ehud affects to be Eglon’s friend, and seems to the king to have gone to such pains to favour him with a secret that his deadly purpose is not suspected.

Keep silence הס, hist! hush! To the king’s attendants it implied that they should leave the room.


Verse 20

20. Summer parlour — Literally, a loft for cooling; an alijah, or upper chamber, which served both for retirement and coolness. “The alijah,” says Thomson, “is the most desirable part of the establishment, and is best fitted up, and is still given to guests who are to be treated with honour.” See note on 2 Kings 4:10; 1 Kings 17:19.

For himself alone — For his own private comfort and refreshment. Eglon’s private room opened into a hall, and the hall had a porch. See on Judges 3:22.

A message from God — Literally, a word of God; a bitter irony to designate the deadly dagger. Every act and word of Ehud seems to have disarmed the king of all suspicion of danger.

He arose — Out of reverence for God, whose ambassador he supposed stood before him. The upright posture of his victim was more favourable to the purpose of Ehud.


Verse 22

22. The dirt came out — The meaning of the word translated dirt is quite uncertain. The English version errs in making פרשׁדנה, parshedonah, rendered the dirt, the subject of the verb came out; for, as Gesenius says, “the He paragogic implies rather the place to which a thing comes out.” It seems, therefore, better to understand this obscure word as denoting either the place on Eglon’s body where the blade of Ehud’s dagger came out, or else an apartment of Eglon’s palace into which Ehud came out. This latter is, perhaps, preferable. Three apartments seem to be mentioned: the private parlour, (Judges 3:20,) the hall, and the porch, (Judges 3:23 .) Having buried his dagger in Eglon’s body, Ehud went out through the hall and porch, and so escaped. Bachmann thinks the parshe-donah was a flat roof, upon which Ehud came out from the chamber where he assassinated Eglon, and that it is further defined by the word porch, in the next verse, which, in his view, means not an ordinary porch, but the platform of the roof, enclosed by lattice work.


Verse 23

23. Locked them — The lock was, probably, a simple slide of wood or iron, which might have been fastened by one going out, by pulling a string, so as to throw it into a catch or socket; but which could be unfastened from the outside only by a key. Judges 3:25.


Verse 24

24. He covereth his feet — A euphemism for attention to a call of nature. See note on 1 Samuel 24:3.

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Verse 25

25. Took a key — See on Judges 3:23.

Dead on the earth — That is, on the floor of his chamber. Perhaps the fatal thrust of Ehud’s dagger had not produced instant death, but had so far disabled the king that he could not raise an alarm. He was found dead.


Verse 26

26. Seirath is unknown. Its name indicates that it was a wooded district of Mount Ephraim.


Verse 27

27. Blew a trumpet — The alarm-signal to call a people rapidly together. Compare Judges 6:34; 1 Samuel 13:3; 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 1:34. Thus Joel, (Joel 2:1,) “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain.”

Mountain of Ephraim — See on Judges 17:1, and Joshua 17:15. Ehud does not first rally his own tribe to his standard, because Benjamin had at this time been almost annihilated by the other tribes. Chapters 19-21.


Verse 28

28. Took the fords of Jordan toward Moab — That is, the fords by which the Moabites stationed at Jericho must pass to escape to their own land, on the east of the Jordan. Eglon occupied Jericho, and had built a palace there, (see note on Judges 3:13.) and had ten thousand men (Judges 3:29) with him. It was of the first importance for the Israelites to get possession of these fords, and thus cut off the retreat of the Moabite army to the eastern side of the Jordan.


Verse 29

29. About ten thousand men — The slaughter of these picked troops did not, probably, occur in one day, but in the course of this short, sharp, and decisive campaign. It was not customary to take prisoners in the battles of those days.

All lusty — Fat, stout, robust men. The Moabite warriors seem to have been, like their king, (Judges 3:17,) large, corpulent men.

As this is the last mention of Ehud, it is proper here to inquire into the moral character of that act which made him prominent in the delivery of Israel. It is both superfluous and unwarrantable to say, as some do, that Ehud’s deed was done under a special impulse or inspiration from the Almighty. There is nothing in the narrative to justify such an opinion. It is not even said that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Ehud; nor does it follow that because God raised him up to deliver Israel, Divine Wisdom directed and approved all the measures he used in order to effect that object. Least of all is it supposable that Ehud’s acts in this case, whether in themselves censurable or not, are a precedent and worthy example for all times and all circumstances.

But let it once be noted that Eglon and the Moabites were now accursed of God, and ripe for judgment, and that Ehud both knew this fact and also that he himself was the divinely chosen minister of vengeance, and there is no need of criticising the morality of his deed, or of justifying it by a supposed special impulse of the Spirit. Judges 3:15; Judges 3:28 contain sufficient evidence to show that Ehud understood his divine commission as deliverer of Israel, and that the Moabitish oppression was about to be broken. Beyond this we do not suppose God gave him any special revelations or commands, but left him to the choice of such measures and plans of conquest as his own judgment and skill might devise. Viewed in this light, the murder of Eglon was as justifiable as the slaughter of the ten thousand Moabites. Judges 3:29. Ehud’s deed was but the first stroke of Divine judgment that fell on the idolatrous kingdom, and may be compared to the slaughter of Agag by the hand of Samuel. 1 Samuel 15:33. Samuel’s act was an after stroke of judgment, done to complete the curse of Amalek: Ehud’s was the first stroke, and so had more of the character of a stratagem of war. The acts of violence, barbarity, treachery, and deception common in war can never be justified on subjective grounds. So far as they are a part of war itself, they are not to be judged singly and apart from the moral issues involved in the war. Their apology or justification, if any is asked for, is to be found in that which justified the war itself. Compare the note on Jael’s deed at the close of chap. 4.


Verse 31

EXPLOITS OF SHAMGAR, Judges 3:31.

31. Shamgar — His tribe is not known, but it is probable that he belonged to a tribe bordering on the Philistines — Judah, Simeon, or Dan. The particulars of this Philistine oppression are unknown, but the fact here recorded shows that these enemies of the sea-coast had troubled Israel before the days of Samson.

Which slew — We are not to suppose that he slew, or smote, all these six hundred on one occasion, or one day; nor is it necessary to maintain that he performed the feat without any assistance.

Oxgoad מלמד — The Septuagint and Vulgate render this word ploughshare. The oxgoad was about eight feet long and six inches in circumference, at one end pointed with iron, and at the other having an iron paddle for removing dirt from the plough. Why Shamgar had no better weapon we do not know, unless it be because the Philistines had conquered a part of Israel and disarmed them. Compare Judges 5:8, and 1 Samuel 13:19. Perhaps he was attacked in the field while ploughing, and made a brave defence with the utensil in his hand.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/judges-3.html. 1874-1909.

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