Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Judges 9

Judges 9: Abimelech


This is a pretty action-packed passage, so we’ll just get right to it.

One of Gideon’s seventy sons is a man named Abimelech. He approaches his brothers, and convinces them to convince the people of Shechem that Abimelech should be their ruler. Which they do, and the people go into the temple of one of their gods to get Abimelech some money.

Unfortunately, Abimelech’s first action as the ruler of Shechem is to take that money, and hire some “reckless adventurers” (verse 4), to become his followers. And his next action is to go home and slaughter all of his brothers, I assume to eliminate his competition. It says that he murdered all of his brothers “on one stone” (verse 5), which makes the event even more gruesome, in my mind—they had to capture all of the brothers, and then have them wait their turn, to be killed, one by one. The citizens of Shechem then gather together to crown Abimilech as their king.

However, unbeknownst to Abimilech, his youngest brother, Jotham, escaped the slaughter. When he hears that Abimilech is being crowned king…

When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’

“But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’

“Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’

“But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’

“Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’

“But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?’

“Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’

“The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’

“Now if you have acted honorably and in good faith when you made Abimelech king, and if you have been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family, and if you have treated him as he deserves—and to think that my father fought for you, risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian (but today you have revolted against my father’s family, murdered his seventy sons on a single stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his slave girl, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is your brother)—if then you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today, may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too! But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!”

(verses 7–20)

Jotham then flees, and goes and lives in Beer for fear of Abimilech. (Beer comes up a bit in the Old Testament, but I’m not sure if it’s a country, a town, a region, or something else.)

For three years, Abimilech rules over Israel, until God sends an “evil spirit,” which causes the people of Shechem to act “treacherously” against Abimilech (verse 23). Verse 24 tells us that God does this in order to avenge the blood of Abimilech’s brothers—both on Abimilech, and on the people of Shechem, who helped Abimilech with this crime.

So the men of Shechem decide to send men up into the hilltops, and start ambushing and robbing everyone who passes by. Meanwhile, a man named Gaal moves into Shechem, along with his brothers, and the people of Shechem “put their confidence in him” (verse 26). At a particular festival, while the people are eating and drinking (and cursing Abimilech), Gaal decides to start talking big. Why should the people follow Abimilech? Who is this Abimilech guy, anyway? If the people would follow Gaal, he’d get rid of Abimilech.

But the governor of the city, a man named Zebul, is loyal to Abimilech, and hears about what Gaal has said. So he sends word to Abimilech that there is a troublemaker, who is stirring up the city against him. He advises Abimilech to take his men and hide in the fields outside the city; when Gaal and his people come out, Abimilech can attack them. Abimilech takes Zebul’s advice, and does so.

The next morning, Gaal and Zebul are standing by the city gate, just as Abimilech’s men start to advance.

When Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!”

Zebul replied, “You mistake the shadows of the mountains for men.”

But Gaal spoke up again: “Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and a company is coming from the direction of the soothsayers’ tree.”

Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your big talk now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelech that we should be subject to him?’ Aren’t these the men you ridiculed? Go out and fight them!”

(verses 36–38)

So Gaal leads the people of Shechem against Abimilech’s men, but Abimilech wins. He basically chases the people right back into their city, many of whom fall wounded on the way. Zebul then chases Gaal and his brothers out of the city.

The next day, the people of Shechem go out to their fields, and when Abimilech hears about it, he attacks them again. He and his men kill the people in the fields, and then attack the city, and kill everyone in it. Once he has destroyed the city, he goes through and scatters salt on its ruins.

But not everyone from the city is dead. Some people had gathered in the tower, and now get together to hide in their temple. But when Abimilech hears, he goes and cuts some tree branches, throws them over his shoulders, and commands his men to do the same. They then pile all of the wood alongside the temple, and burn alive the people inside—about a thousand men and women.

After this, for some reason, Abimilech goes after a town called Thebez, and besieges it. (No reason is given for this.) The people in the city flee to their tower, lock themselves in, and climb to the roof. Abimilech is about to storm the tower, but as he approaches it, a woman drops an upper millstone on his head, cracking his skull. Abimilech knows that he’s going to die, but he doesn’t want people to say that he was killed by a woman, so he has his armour bearer kill him.

The chapter ends thus:

Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them. (verses 56–57)


I didn’t mention it above, but any time this passage is talking about any kind of a “temple,” it’s not a temple of the LORD. These are temples to Baals.

I’m confused as to whether Abimilech is the king of Shechem, the king of Israel, or if he initially became the king of Shechem, and then became the king of all of Israel. In any event, although Israel isn’t suppose to have a king, he definitely considered himself to be a “real” king, since he eliminated all of his brothers, preventing them from trying to overthrow him.

I find it interesting that the passage says that the LORD sent “an evil spirit between Abimilech and the citizens of Shechem” (verse 23). It doesn’t just say, for example, that He “caused strife between them,” it says that He sent a spirit. I’m not sure what that entailed.

When the Bible says that God was punishing both Abimilech and Shechem, I wonder if it was just the crime of killing Abimilech’s brothers, or if He is also punishing them for the crime of setting up a king. It doesn’t explicitly say, but we know that He was supposed to be Israel’s king, so it might be the case.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Judges 8:28–35

Judges 8:28–35: Gideon dies


We’ve been reading, in the last few passages, about Gideon, and this passage finishes the story off. Now that Gideon has subdued the Midianites, Israel has forty years of peace, under his rule. He goes back home to his hometown, and has seventy sons. (We are told in verses 30–31 that Gideon has many wives, and at least one concubine.) Eventually, at “a good old age” (verse 32), Gideon dies.

Unfortunately, verse 33 tells us that no sooner has Gideon died than the Israelites are once again prostituting themselves to the Baals. They set up an idol, which they worship, and forget about the LORD. And, just for good measure, as soon as Gideon is gone, they also stop showing kindness to his family, for all that he has done for the nation.


I read it over and over: The Israelites are saved, and then the judge who saved them dies, and they immediately fall back into their sin. It seems especially stark this time. But again, I have to remind myself that I’m no different from them; I have no sooner mastered a sin than I find myself falling into another one—or thinking that I’ve mastered a sin, only to find out that I’m wrong when I fall into the same sin again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Judges 8:22–27

Judges 8:22–27: Gideon’s Ephod


Over the last couple of passages, Gideon has tested the LORD—repeatedly—defeated the Midianites, punished some towns that wouldn’t provide his men with bread, and just generally had a bizarre couple of days. But now the battles with the Midianites are over, and the Israelites have peace. So, because of all that Gideon has done for them, they ask him to be their ruler; him and his descendants. (This may or may not mean that they want him to be their king.)

But Gideon responds well: he will not be their ruler, the LORD will. Well done, Gideon!

But he does have one small favour that he wants from the Israelites: He wants each of them to give him a gold earring from the plunder they’ve taken from the Midianites. The Israelites are more than happy to comply; they spread out some kind of garment, and everyone throws an earring from his share of the plunder onto the garment, to gather them up for Gideon.

So Gideon takes all of this gold and fashions it into an ephod, which he then places in his home town. The Israelites “prostitute” themselves by worshipping it as an idol, and it even becomes “a snare” (verse 27) to Gideon and his family.


This passage is another example that God can use anyone, even someone who doesn’t worship Him properly. Gideon didn’t trust God at the beginning of his story—as evidenced by his series of tests—and this passage shows that he didn’t even come to worship God properly at the end.

But Gideon, like any other man, is not two-dimensional. He has his good moments and his bad moments. For example, when the people ask him to be their ruler, he responds correctly (in my opinion); why do you want me to be your ruler, when you already have God leading you? So I’m kind of curious to know whether we’ll see Gideon in Heaven. Despite his mistakes, did he worship God? Or, despite the fact that God used him, did he not worship Him?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Judges 8:1–21

Judges 8:1–21: Gideon continues the battle


In the last passage, Gideon and his three hundred men joined the Midianites in battle, and he also allowed his fellow Israelites to kill some of the Midianites, who had fled. In this chapter, they continue with the mop-up effort.

But the passage starts with the Ephraimites criticizing Gideon, for not asking for their help, when he went into battle with the Midianites. But Gideon reminds them that they are the ones who killed Oreb and Zeeb, two of the Midianite leaders, so what do they have to complain about? What has Gideon done to compare with that? (I didn’t mention Oreb and Zeeb, when I did the synopsis for the last passage; I guess I should have, since it turns out that they’re showing up again here.) When the Ephraimites here this, they’re placated.

But there’s no rest for the weary, because Gideon and his men are still pursuing the remaining Midianites. (Specifically, there are two kings of Midian named Zebah and Zalmunna that they are pursuing.) But they’re exhausted, after all of this fighting and chasing. So they come to a place called Succoth, and ask the people there to give his men some bread. But, to put it mildly, the people of Succoth don’t have a lot of confidence in Gideon and his men:

But the officials of Succoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?”

Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.”

(verses 6–7)

He then moves on, to a place called Peniel, and asks them for bread. But they give the same response (maybe not in the same words), so Gideon tells them that he’s going to tear down their tower, when he returns “in triumph” (verse 9).

At this point, the passage takes some time to give us some very interesting facts: In the battle so far, a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen of Midian have fallen, and there are only fifteen thousand left with Zebah and Zalmunna. They are in a place called Karkor, and Gideon and his three hundred men come to attack them, but, cleverly, from a direction that the Midianites are not expecting. They route the entire Midianite army, and capture Zebah and Zalmunna.

On his way back, Gideon captures a young man from Succoth, and gets from him the names of the seventy-seven elders of the town. And then he carries out his threats:

Then Gideon came and said to the men of Succoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Succoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town. (verses 15–17)

Gideon then questions his captives, Zebah and Zalmunna. He asks them what kind of men they killed, at Tabor—although I’m not sure what he’s referring to. Is this the battle that they just had? In any event, they tell Gideon that the men they killed were like him, “each one with the bearing of a prince” (verse 18). So Gideon realizes that it was his brothers that they had killed, and decides to kill them, in retaliation. He tells them that if they had spared his brothers’ lives, he would have spared them, but since they didn’t, he won’t spare them.

Gideon then turns to his son, and tells him to kill them, but his son is just a boy, and is too afraid to do it. So Zebah and Zalmunna taunt Gideon, and tell him—in effect—that if he’s a real man, he should just do it himself. So he does.


Interestingly, when the Ephraimites criticize Gideon for not including them in the battle, he placates them by telling them that they did something more glorious than he did anyway. If I had been Gideon, I probably would have talked about the fact that the LORD would only let me have three hundred men, so even if I’d called the Ephraimites, they probably wouldn’t have been allowed to take part in the battle.

There is a particular brand of stubbornness that the Old Testament Israelites often exhibit, whereby they steadfastly refuse to believe that the LORD will do what He says. The situation with Succoth and Peniel is a perfect example; God has already given Gideon and his three hundred men victory over a hundred and twenty thousand men, but for some reason, the people of Succoth and Peniel don’t believe that Gideon can defeat the remaining fifteen thousand. I honestly don’t know, however, if Gideon’s response was justified. It seems a bit drastic, to me.

Overall, the story of Gideon is bizarre. He is so scared that he won’t believe God is going to do what He says He’s going to do, until he has tested God numerous times. Then he has an amazing victory, but even in the middle of his victory, there is this bizarre situation with the people of Succoth and Peniel. And, as we’ll see in upcoming passages, there is some more bizarre activity still to come…

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Judges 7

Judges 7: Gideon Defeats the Midianites


In the last passage we were introduced to Gideon. You could call Gideon a “reluctant judge,” because he was not eager to fight the Midianites.

In this chapter, he and his men camp at the Spring of Harod (which, I assume, is somewhere fairly close to where the Midianites are encamped). However, the LORD feels that Gideon has too many men. After all, He doesn’t want Israel thinking that they defeated Midian with their own strength, when it was really the LORD who did it for them! So he has Gideon send home anyone who “trembles with fear” (verse 3), and twenty-two thousand men leave. In fact, that only leaves ten thousand, which means that slightly more than two thirds of Gideon’s soldiers were too scared to fight the Midieanites!

But it’s not good enough. Gideon still has too many men. So the LORD has Gideon send everyone to take a drink at the spring, and sort them based on who drinks by bringing the water to their mouth with their hand, and who brings their face down to the water to drink. Three hundred drink by bringing the water to their mouth with their hands, and the rest drink by bringing their face down to the water. God tells Gideon that He will use the three hundred men, and Gideon is to send the rest home. Even though the Midianites are “thick as locusts,” and their camels can “no more be counted than the sand on the seashore” (verse 12), God is going to defeat them with three hundred men.

However, before they begin the attack, God tells Gideon to take his servant Purah, and sneak down to the Midianite camp. If Gideon is still afraid to attack them—and, let’s face it, he’s probably petrified, based on what we know of him—then he will be encouraged after he hears what the Midianites are saying. So Gideon does:

Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

(verses 13–14)

It works. When Gideon hears this, he worships God, and goes back to round up his troops.

He divides his three hundred men into three groups, and gives all of his men trumpets, empty jars, and torches. They light the torches, and put them inside the jars. When they get to the edge of the Midianite camp, they all blow their trumpets, break the jars, exposing the torches, and cry out “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” (verse 20).

This totally throws the Midianites into a tizzy. They not only start running around and crying out, but in the confusion, they even turn on each other with their swords. They finally end up fleeing, and Gideon calls out his fellow Israelites—the ones that had previously been excluded from the battle—and they chase after the Midianites.


I didn’t mention it above, but verse 1 refers to Gideon as “Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon).” I was amused by that; I think it shows that the writer of Judges had a bit of a dry sense of humour. (If you don’t understand why, you’ll have to read the previous passage, in which Gideon was given that name.)

It’s not a new thing that the LORD doesn’t want anyone else taking credit for His victories. The Israelites are too prone to forgetting Him any chance they get, so it’s no surprise that He engineers this in such a way that it will be no question as to who won this battle: There is no way three hundred men could defeat an army the size of the one they were fighting; it would have to be the LORD helping them.

I find it interesting, after Gideon hears about the Midianite’s dream, that it says that he “worships God” (verse 15). It doesn’t say that he takes heart, or that he is encouraged, or that his fear leaves him, it says that he worships God. Right on, Gideon. Exactly the right response!

I’m sure millions of people have said this, but I think Gideon serves as an example for people who are too timid or scared to do something for God. Sure, Gideon might have been scared—he was no hero—but he didn’t have to be a hero. He just had to trust that God would do what He said He would do.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Judges 6

Judges 6: Gideon tests the LORD


In this chapter we are introduced to Gideon, who is one of the more famous of the judges. However, in this case, he’s famous more for his timidity and tests than for what he actually did.

Once again, the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the LORD, and He hands them over to the Midianites. The Midianites oppress the Israelites so badly that they begin hiding in mountain caves to get away from the Midianites. Every time the Israelites plant crops, the Midianites swarm over the country like locusts and destroy them.

So the Israelites cry out to the LORD for help, and in response, He sends them a prophet.

When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.” (verses 7–10)

This makes it sound like the LORD isn’t going to help them. However, in the next verse, the Angel of the LORD appears to a man named Gideon, and tells him that the LORD is with him. (Much is made of the fact that the Angel of the LORD finds Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress, so as to hide it from the Midianites. Some say that this proves Gideon’s timidity, although it seems like a pretty smart idea, to me. Not that I’m saying Gideon is not timid; that will be shown later on in the passage.) Gideon, however, finds it hard to believe that God is with the Israelites:

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (verse 13)

But the LORD—and it specifically says “the LORD,” in verse 14, not “the Angel of the LORD”—turns to Gideon and tells him to go in the strength he has, and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Gideon doesn’t think this will be possible, since he is the least in a weak tribe, but the LORD tells Gideon that He will be with him, and they will strike the Midianites down together.

But Gideon is not convinced. In fact, he’s not sure that it’s really even the LORD that he is talking to. So he asks for a sign that it really is God he’s talking to; he’s going to bring an offering, and set it before Him. The LORD agrees to this, and Gideon goes off to prepare a goat and make some bread without yeast. He brings them back out to where the LORD is waiting.

God tells him to prepare the food, and put it on a particular rock. He then touches the food with His staff, and fire blazes up from the rock, and consumes the meat and the bread—and then the Angel of the LORD disappears! This is enough proof for Gideon; he realizes that he has seen the Angel of the LORD face to face, and is now scared of what is going to happen to him. But the LORD tells Gideon to have peace, because he is not going to die. (Note that the Angel of the LORD has disappeared, but the LORD is still speaking with Gideon. Is this a disembodied voice? I don’t know. It’s one of the mysteries (for me) of how the LORD communicated in the Old Testament.) So Gideon builds an alter, and names it The LORD Is Peace.

That night, the LORD commands Gideon to take a bull from his father’s herd, and to tear down his father’s altar to the god Baal, and his Asherah pole. In their place, Gideon is to build an altar to the LORD—and he is to use the wood from the Asherah pole to burn the bull as a burnt offering.

Gideon takes ten of his servants, and does as the LORD commanded, but he does so at night, instead of in the day, because he’s afraid of the people. So the next morning, the people of his town wake up to find their Baal altar demolished, and their Asherah pole gone, along with the newly sacrificed bull on a brand new altar. They quickly realize that it was Gideon who did this, and decide to kill him, for destroying their altars.

Gideon’s father, however, talks them out of it:

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” So that day they called Gideon “Jerub-Baal,” saying, “Let Baal contend with him,” because he broke down Baal’s altar. (verses 31–32)

According to the footnotes, “Jerub-Baal” means “let Baal contend.”

After this, the Midianites and a bunch of other people join forces, and come into Israel, presumably to do battle with the Israelites. But the Spirit of the LORD comes upon Gideon, and he blows a trumpet to summon his fellow Israelites together.

However, even with the Spirit of the LORD, Gideon is still not convinced that the LORD is going to win this battle for him. He devises a test for the LORD: He will take a wool fleece, and place it on the threshing floor. The next morning, if the fleece is wet with dew, but the rest of the ground is dry, then he will trust God to save Israel by Gideon’s hand. He does so, and the next morning, although the ground is dry, the fleece is wet with dew—so wet that he is able to wring out a bowlful of water.

But Gideon still isn’t quite convinced. He devises a second test for God (although he asks God not to be angry with him, for this constant testing): He is going to do the same thing, but this time, he wants God to make the ground wet with dew, but the fleece dry. So he performs the same test, and, just as he’d asked God to do, the fleece is dry the next morning, while the ground is covered in dew.

So this should be enough to convince Gideon that it’s really God he’s talking to, and God will really do as He had said. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the next passage to see what happens…


Gideon’s initial response to the Angel of the LORD sums up the problem that the Israelites have been having, ever since Joshua died: Instead of acknowledging that they’ve been disobeying the LORD—and that their problems are punishment for that disobedience—they have instead decided that He has abandoned them. “Woe is us,” they cry, as they’re standing beside their altar to Baal, “the LORD is no longer with us!” That being said, though, the Angel of the LORD doesn’t correct Gideon, when he says that the LORD has abandoned the Israelites. In a way, He has—it’s just the reason why that the Israelites don’t always understand.

As mentioned above, there is a being in this chapter who is being referred to as both “the Angel of the LORD,” and “the LORD.” So I think that answers the question as to who this is; I think this means that it’s Jesus. (If you disagree, I’m not going to try and argue the point.)

I’m sure this will come up again and again, but an “Asherah pole” is some kind of a symbol of the goddess Asherah. They’re very common in the Old Testament; we’ll be seeing them all over the place. But, since Gideon is using the wood from one to build a burnt offering, they must be pretty big.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Judges 5

Judges 5: The Song of Deborah


Once again we come to a poetic passage, and I’m never quite sure how to blog about poetry. (Especially since I don’t typically “get” poetry; I’m not a poetic kind of guy.) I guess I’ll just do what I always do, and list out what they’re talking about in their poems. If you’re anyone but me, and you’re reading this, you’re very strongly encouraged to read the actual text, before trying to read this blog post. By blogging about this poem, I’ll suck all of the poetry out of it, and kill all of its emotional impact. (Remember that this blog is primarily for my own benefit, rather than the readers’ benefit.) So if you want to see my thoughts on it, read on, but you’ll do yourself a great favour by reading it yourself, first. (That’s true of any passage I blog about, but especially true when it comes to poetry.)

In this passage, Deborah and Barak sing a song, commemorating the events that have taken place in the last passge. Even though the passage indicates that it’s Deborah and Barak who are singing, there are various places in the poem that are in the first person, and it isn’t always specified which of the two is saying “I.” But I’ll just assume, unless otherwise specified, that they both mean it.

  • This song/poem begins—as do so many in the Bible—by praising the LORD. But praising Him for something specific: When the princes in Israel “take the lead,” and the people of Israel “willingly offer themselves” (verse 2). Even though they are indicating that the princes in Israel—or, leaders, since there aren’t yet any “princes?”—should take the lead, it’s ultimately the LORD who should get the praise.
  • They are going to sing and make music to the LORD, and they want the kings and rulers to hear about it. In this case, I assume they’re referring to the kings and rulers of other nations, rather than the Israelite rulers. (Or maybe they want both to hear it.)
  • When the LORD “went out” from Seir, and “marched” from the land of Edom (verse 4), there were earthquakes and rains. I take this as being figurative; I don’t recall actual earthquakes being mentioned, when the Israelites conquered Edom in the LORD’s strength.
  • However, in the recent times, the roads in Israel have been abandoned, and village life has ceased. (In other words, the people have been in hiding, because of the oppression they’ve been under.) Until, that is, Deborah arose, as a “mother in Israel” (verse 7).
  • When the Israelites chose “new gods” (verse 8), war came to their city gates, and not a shield nor a spear could be found among forty thousand of them. (I take this to mean that they were too scared to fight. Or, at least, that most of them were too scared to fight.)
  • But Deborah/Barak’s hearts are with “Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people” (verse 9), and for that they praise the LORD.
    • Based on this, when they talk about the “princes of Israel,” are they just referring to the Israelites who are willing to follow the LORD? Not literal princes, but something more akin to saying “a prince among men?”
  • Those who “ride on white donkeys, sitting on … saddle blankets” (verse 10), and those who walk on the roads, are encouraged to consider the singers who sing about the righteous acts of the LORD, and of His warriors.

    When they’re talking to the people riding on their donkeys, and using the roads, I think they’re talking about the fact that the Israelites are now free to do those things again, since they’re no longer under the oppression of the Canaanites. In other words, “as you’re walking or riding along the road, don’t forget about the LORD (and His warriors), who made it possible.”
  • Then the people went to the city gates, and told Deborah to wake up and break out in song. And told Barak to arise, and take his captives. And the men “who were left” (verse 13—I don’t know what is meant by “who were left,” unless it means all of the people in other areas of Israel, who weren’t part of the fighting) also “came down” (verses 13–15), gathering together and searching their hearts. Why did they stay in their own areas of the country, while the people of Zebulun and Naphtali—the ones who did the fighting—had to fight on their own?
    • This is a common device in poetry in the Bible; the singers are making a point by talking about an event that didn’t actually happen. The people of Israel didn’t actually gather together, and search their hearts. But, in a sense, they did, because they collectively had to search their hearts about it.
  • The Canaanite kings came to fight, but “they carried off no silver, no plunder” (verse 19). Even in the heavens, the stars fought against Sisera, and then the Kishon River swept him away. (Again, of course, I take this as figurative language. But the point is: Sisera never had a chance, since the LORD was against him.)
  • The angel of the LORD then came—his horse’s hoofs thundering—and cursed Meroz, since its people did not come to help the LORD. (I don’t know who the people of Meroz are.)
  • But blessed—most blessed of all women—is Jael. Sisera asked for water, and she brought him curdled milk, “in a bowl fit for nobles” (verse 25). Then she crushed his head with the tent peg and the hammer; he sank at her feet, dead.
  • The last picture we have is of Sisera’s mother, peering through her window, wondering why her son is taking so long to return. The “wisest of her ladies” (verse 29) answer her that he and his men are probably dividing up the spoils.
  • So may all of the LORD’s enemies perish. But those who love Him? May they be “like the sun when it rises in its strength” (verse 31).
After the defeat of Sisera, and the other events we’ve talked about here, the land had peace for forty years.


After all I’ve said above, I don’t really have anything else to add about this passage. It took me a long time to write this all down; I guess it just takes longer to go through poetry than through other passages. We’ll see what it’s like when I get to the book of Psalms…

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Judges 4

Judges 4: Deborah


This is an interesting passage, about Deborah—who is not a judge, but is a prophetess. However, judge or not, the passage is mostly about her.

Actually, in addition to being a prophetess, the NIV says that she was “leading” Israel at the time (verse 4)—however, if I’m reading the footnotes correctly, the Hebrew word can be translated either “leading” or “judging.” Most of the time, in the book of Judges, it is translated as “judging,” but here they chose to translate it “leading.” Maybe Deborah really was a “judge,” in addition to being a prophetess? Verse 5 tells us that Israelites come to her, to have their disputes decided, which sounds like what we would call a judge.

After Ehud’s death, once again the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the LORD. (Try to contain your surprise.) So, as usual, God lets the Israelites fall into the hands of Jabin, one of the kings in Canaan, who cruelly oppresses the Israelites for twenty years. The leader of Jabin’s army is a man named Sisera. (I mention that since his name will come up later.)

Deborah sends for a man named Barak, and tells him that the LORD is commanding him to take ten thousand Israelites with him, and battle Sisera, and that He will deliver the army into Barak’s hands. (Similar to my thoughts above, if Deborah is not Israel’s “judge,” then this would make Barak the judge. If she is, then Barak is just being called to lead the army. I’m just over-simplifying things.) Unfortunately, Barak doesn’t take to the command as heroically as he might:

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

“Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.

(verses 8–10)

So Barak and the Israelite army go into battle with Sisera, and defeat his entire army, leaving not a single man behind. Sisera, however, flees on foot, and ends up at the tent of a woman named Jael (wife of Haber), who is a Kenite. There are friendly relations between the Kenites and Jabin’s kingdom, so Sisera feels safe with Jael.

Jael goes out and tells Sisera not to be afraid, and that he can join her in her tent. She then hides him under some kind of covering. He also asks her for some water, since he’s thirsty, and she brings him some milk. He then instructs her to stand by the doorway of the tent, so that if anyone comes by looking for him, she can tell the person that there’s nobody in the tent.

However, when he falls asleep, she goes and gets a tent peg and a hammer, and drives the peg into Sisera’s temple—actually, right through his temple, to the ground below—to kill him.

Eventually Barak comes by, because he’s pursuing Sisera, and Jael goes out to get him, and brings him in to see Sisera. After this, the Israelites get stronger and stronger in opposition against Jabin, until they eventually destroy him.


I’m not really sure if it matters whether Deborah is Israel’s “judge,” or if Barak is. My inclination is that it’s probably just semantics; it’s obvious that she’s running the show, regardless of her actual title.

When Sisera asks Jael for some water, because he’s thirsty, she brings him some milk, instead. I’m not sure if there is something deep behind this; I’m wondering if she brought him the milk hoping that it would make him sleepy, so that it would be easier to kill him.