Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Judges 13

Judges 13: The Birth of Samson


You’ll have noticed that some of the judges get a lot of space devoted to them, and some get hardly any, or only a verse or two. Samson is one of the ones who gets a lot of space; this whole chapter is devoted to just his birth. (Yes, this is Samson, of Samson and Delilah fame. But we won’t get to Delilah until Judges 16.)

But first, it starts with the Israelites. Say it with me now: Once again, they do evil in the eyes of the LORD, and He lets the Philistines have control over them for forty years.

At this time, Samson’s parents are childless, because the wife is sterile. But the angel of the LORD appears to her, and tells her that even though she’s sterile, the LORD is going to grant her a son. They are to raise that son as a Nazirite, meaning that they are to make sure that he doesn’t drink wine, cut his hair, or eat anything unclean. (You can read more about being a Nazirite in Numbers 6.)

This makes the woman—whose name isn’t given, in this passage—very excited, and she goes and finds her husband, to tell him the good news.

Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.’” (verses 6–7)

When the husband hears this, he prays to the LORD, and asks Him to send the angel back, to teach him and his wife how to raise this son. I guess he didn’t feel comfortable with the rules for a Nazirite vow. So God sends the angel back to talk to them, the husband asks if it’s the same person who had spoken to his wife earlier, and when the angel confirms it, the husband asks the angel how they are to raise the boy; “… what is to be the rule for the boy’s life and work?” (verse 12). And the angel’s reply is interesting: he’s already told them how the boy should be raised.

The angel of the LORD answered, “Your wife must do all that I have told her. She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.” (verses 13–14)

So the husband offers to prepare a young goat for the angel—at this point, the husband hasn’t understood that this is an angel—but the angel tells him that he should offer the goat as a burnt offering to the LORD, instead. He asks for the angel’s name, and the angel replies “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding” (verse 18—which, according to the footnote, can also be translated “Why do you ask my name? It is wonderful.”).

So the husband does so. He burns a goat as an offering to the LORD, and then the LORD amazes them by having the angel ascend to heaven in the flames of the sacrifice. Even still, the husband and wife don’t yet realize that it was an angel they were talking to; they wait for the angel to reappear, and when he doesn’t, then they realize that it was an angel.

“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!”

But his wife answered, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.”

(verses 22–23)

I’m tempted to say something about the wife being the voice of reason, but I’ll hold off.

After all of this, the wife gives birth to Samson. The passage tells us that the LORD blessed him, and also that the Spirit of the LORD “began to stir him” (verse 25).


This passage gives the husband’s name, Manoah, but not the wife’s name. So for this blog entry, I’ve just used “husband” and “wife,” instead of bothering with calling him “Manoah.”

Again, this passage talks about the “angel of the LORD,” which always leads me to ask: Is this Jesus? Or an angel, sent by the LORD? If it’s Jesus, then verse 16 is very interesting; the husband wants to prepare a young goat for the angel, and the angel replies, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD.”

Another thing, which may or may not be related to the point above, is that when the husband realizes that he’s seen the angel of the LORD, he panics because he thinks that he has “seen God.”

When the angel comes back to the husband and wife, the second time, and the husband asks him again how they are to raise the boy, the angel simply replies that he’s already told the wife all that she needs to know. I’m wondering what the tone was, that the angel used, when he said this.

  • Was he annoyed? “I’ve already told you what you need to do, why are you dragging me back down here to tell you again?!?”
    • If so, is this also related to the Israelites not knowing the law the way that they should? “Why do you need me to tell you about Nazirite vows, when Moses already gave you all of the rules?”
  • Or was he simply reassuring them? “Don’t worry, you know all that you need to know. It’s not going to be as difficult as you think.”

Friday, May 23, 2008

Judges 12:8–15

Judges 12:8–15: Ibzan, Elon and Abdon


The NIV includes these three judges under one heading, so I’ll do the same. The next three judges of Israel were:

  • Ibzan:
    • Ibzan had thirty sons and thirty daughters. But they all found spouses outside of his clan; I’m not sure if this is against the LORD’s command or not. (I admit to not paying close attention to laws about land passing to other tribes.)
    • He led Israel for seven years.
  • Elon:
    • He led Israel for ten years.
  • Abdon:
    • I’ll just quote verse 14a, for this: “He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys.”
    • He led Israel for eight years.


I don’t really have much in the way of thoughts on these three judges, except that it’s strange that Abdon had forty sons, but only thirty grandsons. Did the LORD not bless some of Abdon’s sons with children of their own? Or is the passage just not mentioning daughters, even though it did mention Ibzan’s daughters? (And I’m still not sure of the significance that Abdon’s sons and grandsons all rode donkeys.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Judges 12:1–7

Judges 12:1–7: Jephthah and the Ephraimites


In the last passage, Jephthah, his men, and the rest of the Gileadites defeated the Ammonites. However, in this chapter, the men of Ephraim come and challenge Jephthah; they’re angry because he didn’t ask them to come and help, when going into battle with the Ammonites. How angry? Angry enough that they threaten to burn down his house, with him in it.

But Jephthah tells them that he did call for their help—and they ignored him. So he took his life into his hands (verse 2), and went to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave him victory. So, he asks, why are you really here? (That’s a paraphrase.)

The answer might lie in verse 4; the Ephraimites had claimed that the Gileadites are just “renegades” from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh—in other words, this could be a longstanding feud between the people of Ephraim and the people of Gilead. In any event, the people of Gilead are angry enough that they not only defeat the Ephraimites, they also block the way back to Ephraim, so that the survivors can’t return home!

During this time, while they have the way blocked, any time someone from Ephraim tries to cross over, the Gileadites ask them to say the word “Shibboleth,” since the Ephraimites have trouble pronouncing that word. If they pronounce it “Sibboleth,” instead of “Shiboleth,” then the Gileadites know that the person is an Ephraimite, and kill him. (Verse 6 says that forty-two thousand Ephraimites are killed “at that time,” although it’s not clear (to me) if that means forty-two thousand are killed altogether, or killed just trying to get back home, and being caught in the “Shibboleth” trap.)

Altogether, we’re told that Jephthah leads Israel for six years, before passing on.


I find this use of the word “Shibboleth” to determine if a person is from Ephraim very interesting. Obviously the people in Gilead had a different way of speaking than the people of Ephraim, causing them to have trouble pronouncing the word in the “Gileadite” way. This event has brought the word “Shibboleth” into modern usage; a “Shibboleth” is now a general term for any usage of language that would indicate a person’s regional or social origins. (And, according to Wikipedia, it’s also used in a more general way, to refer to “any ‘in-crowd’ word or phrase that can be used to distinguish members of a group from outsiders—even when not used by a hostile other group.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Judges 10:6–11:40

Judges 10:6–11:40: Jephthah


After Jair’s time as a judge is over, the Israelites once again fall away from the LORD, and start serving other gods. So God becomes angry with them, and sells them into the hands of the Philistines and Ammonites, who shatter and crush them (verse 10:8), and oppress them for eighteen years. (Actually, it’s mostly the Israelites on the East side of the Jordan river that are being oppressed, although the Ammonites also cross the Jordan to fight the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim.)

So the Israelites come to their senses, and ask the LORD to save them. They admit that they’ve forsaken Him, and served other gods.

The LORD replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”

But the Israelites said to the LORD, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.

(verses 10:11–16)

So the Israelites assembled, and prepared to do battle with the Ammonites. They decide that they’ll take whoever leads the attack, and make that man their leader of their territory, which is called Gilead, going forward.

At this point, the story pauses to give some back story about Jephthah. Jephthah is the son of Gilead, which means that his father must have settled this area. However, Jephthah is not a legitimate son of Gilead’s, he’s the son of a prostitute. So when all of Gilead’s sons grow up, they drive Jephthah away. He goes off to live in the land of Tob, where “a group of adventurers” (verse 11:3) gathers around him, and he becomes a mighty warrior. So, when the Gileadites (if I may call them that) are oppressed by the Ammonites, they go back to Jephthah, and ask him to be their leader.

Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”

The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.”

Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?”

The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.

(verses 11:7–11)

I’m not sure what it means, when it says that Jephthah “repeated all his words before the LORD”—I assume that it means he went to wherever the Ark was, and “repeated his words” there.

So it’s decided. Jephthah sends a message to the Ammonites, and asks them why they’ve been attacking the Israelites. The response: Because the Israelites took away the Ammonites’ land, when they came out of Egypt.

Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, saying:

“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.

“Next they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.

“Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.

“Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.

“Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess. Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”

(verses 11:14–27)

However, the king of the Ammonites pays Jephthah no heed. So the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah, who takes his men and advances on the Ammonites. And, unfortunately, at this moment Jephthah makes a foolish vow: he tells the LORD that if He gives the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands, he will make a sacrifice of “whatever” comes out of the door of his house to meet him, when he returns home. (See below for my thoughts on this vow.)

Jephthah and his men battle the Ammonites, and the LORD delivers them into his hands. But when Jephthah returns home, his daughter—his only child—comes out the front door, dancing (I assume to celebrate the victory), to meet him. This devastates Jephthah, because he has made a vow to the LORD, that he cannot break. To me, Jephthah’s daughter’s response is the most amazing thing about this story:

“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.” (verses 11:36–37)

So Jephthah lets her go, and she and her friends go into the hills and weep, because she will never be able to marry. But in two months, as promised, she returns, still a virgin, and Jephthah sacrifices her.Verses 11:39–40 tell us that this becomes an Israelite custom: Every year, the young Israelite women go out for four days, to commemorate Jephthah’s daughter.


I found the LORD’s initial response to the Israelites very interesting. Initially, He simply tells them that they’ve made their own bed, now they have to lie in it, but when He “could bear [their] misery no longer” (verse 10:16), He relented and saved them. I have a feeling that the author of Judges is “humanizing” God a bit, to make a point, when it talks about Him not being able to bear the Israelites’ misery any longer. But at the same time, if the Bible is true—as I believe it to be—then this description of the events is accurate. It might be oversimplified, but it’s not incorrect.

I find the exchange between Jephthah and the king of the Ammonites to be very interesting. This is a perfect example of two nations having their own, different memories of the history of a piece of land.

Jephthah’s vow wasn’t foolish just because of the way that it turned out; it’s not just that his daughter happened to come out of the house first—it’s that he should have expected that it would be a member of his family who would come out of the door! Who—or what—else would come out of the door? Was Jephthah incredibly stupid? I often wonder if maybe he was trying to get rid of his wife, and thought this would be the way to do it, and it backfired on him. I should be clear that there’s absolutely no proof of this, it’s just something that I’ve wondered about.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Judges 10:3–5

Judges 10:3–5: Jair


This is another short passage, about a judge named Jair. Again, not much is said about this particular judge, except that:
  • He led Israel for twenty-two years
  • He had thirty sons, who
    • rode thirty donkeys
    • controlled thirty towns, which were collectively called Havvoth Jair, or “the settlements of Jair.”


I don’t know the significance of the fact that Jair’s thirty sons rode thirty donkeys. There’s got to be some kind of cultural thing going on, but I don’t understand it. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Does it mean that they were rich? I really don’t know.

Haven’t written in a while, but I’m still alive

If anyone reads this blog regularly—and I don’t assume anyone does—they’ll have noticed that I haven’t written anything in a while. It’s nothing to worry about, I’ve just been too busy with work, and haven’t had time to post. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back to a normal schedule some time soon, but if not, it might not be until June that I start posting regularly again.

In the meanwhile, the next passage to blog about is another short 3-verse passage, so I’ll cover that today, before I go silent again for a while…

Incidentally, I just noticed that my last post was my 300th, which is kind of a milestone. When I first started this blog, I wasn’t sure if I would persevere—apparently I might. (Again, not that this blog benefits anyone but myself, but it does benefit me.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Judges 10:1–2

Judges 10:1–2: Tola


This is a pretty short passage: After Abimilech, the next judge to lead Israel was a man named Tola. Judges tells us absolutely nothing about Tola, except that he “rose to save Israel” (verse 1), and that he led Israel for twenty-three years. It doesn’t even tell us who or what he saved Israel from.


There’s not much to say about a passage like this. Except that it’s nice that the Bible records each and every judge, even if it doesn’t devote a lot of space to some of them.