March 22 Reading: Judges 10-12 Commentary
“And the children of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” (Judges 10:15-1)
Judges 10 – Minor Judges
The book of Judges includes some dramatic stories from some of the major judges that we know so well (i.e. Deborah, Gideon, Samson). But a few judges are mentioned that we don’t know much about. For example, we have only one verse devoted to Shamgar in Judges 3:31. And in today’s reading, we have only two verses devoted to Tola (vv. 1-2) and three verses devoted to Jair (vv. 3-5).
Their biographies are short and we can only guess what they did as judge of Israel. The fact that little is recorded may mean their judgeship was characterized by wise choices and stability in the nation. The lack of detail also doesn’t mean they were less important. We call them “minor judges” only because their stories are not as long in the text.
Despite the lack of information, they are noted nonetheless. God must have wanted us to know about them, perhaps to show us that you don’t have to do something dramatic to be an effective leader. Sometimes it’s the least recognized leaders that end up doing the best jobs.
Tola judged Israel for 23 years and lived in the mountains of Ephraim. Jair judged Israel 22 years. He lived in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan.
After Jair was buried in Camon (Judges 10:5), Israel again “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals and Ashtoreths” (v. 6). However, the sin went much deeper than that. They also worshipped the “…the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines.” So not only did they worship the Canaanite gods, they practiced the religions of five other groups. It shows how steep the spiritual decline had become.
At this, “…the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the people of Ammon” (v. 7). These two people groups were the main adversaries of Israel. The oppression lasted 18 years (v. 8) and caused “severe distress” for Israel (v. 9).
This time when the people cried out to God, He did not provide relief. Instead, he confronted them. Despite all I’ve done for you, He says “…you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.” (vv. 13-14).
Even though the people were not delivered right away, they persisted in asking for God’s help. They even took action by putting away their foreign gods and serving the Lord (v. 15). That is a great lesson for us, to stay persistent in our requests of God.
The people’s change in behavior moved God. Verse 16 says, “His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” Aren’t you thankful we serve a God who is moved in this way, to take compassion on us, even though we may not deserve it?
Judges 11 – Jephthah
Like Jair (Judges 10:3), the next judge to lead Israel was from Gilead. Jephthah was a “mighty man of valor” but with a complicated background. He “…was the son of a harlot” (v. 1).
Because of his illegitimacy, his brothers cast Jephthah away from their home, saying that he had no inheritance with them (v. 2). So Jephthah lived as an outcast. In time, “…worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him” (v. 3). So again, this does not seem like the type of person that God could use.
However, help is needed when the Ammonites rise up in war against Israel. The elders of Gilead go to Jephthah and ask him to be their commander. His exploits and reputation as a man of valor and their desperation for leadership caused them to overlook his questionable parentage.
None of this sits well with Jephthah. You can almost hear his sarcastic tone in verse 7 when he says, “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?”
The leaders can’t deny they felt that way. However, they tell Jephthah he can rule over them (“be our head”) once the task is completed (vv. 8-11). Jephthah agrees and sent messengers to the people of Ammon inquiring as to why they are making war in the land (v. 12).
Despite Jephthah’s deliberations with the Ammonites as to why their aggression is unwarranted, they do not listen (vv. 14-28). So preparations are made for battle against Ammon.
A Rash Vow
“…The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” (v. 29) in the conflict with Ammon. However, for Jephthah, that was not enough. He seems to think that making a promise will gain more of God’s favor in the upcoming battle.
So he made a really rash vow to God. He says, “If You [God] will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (vv. 30-31).
This vow doesn’t really make sense, especially since earlier Jephthah had indicated he believed God would allow him to prevail (vv. 9, 27). What would drive him to say this? We don’t know for certain, but it’s possible his faith was wavering on the eve of battle, or that he was trying to manipulate God or that he was making a grandiose statement so those around him who could hear.
The battle was “a very great slaughter” (v. 33). In all, Jephthah captured 22 cities and subdued Ammon.
But when he returned home, the first thing to come out of his house to great him was his daughter – his one and only child (v. 34).
Human Sacrifice or Not?
This section of Scripture is difficult. Two specific questions stand out. First, “Did Jephthah’s vow clearly relate to human sacrifice?” If so, then “Did he follow through and sacrifice his daughter?”
In regard to the first question, the answer may fall on the interpretation of a conjunction. The word “and” in the verse 31 phrase, “shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” could be interpreted “or.” If so, that changes the dynamics completely. Jephthah would either dedicate the first person who came out to meet him to the Lord or he would offer the first animal that came out as a sacrifice.
The text never says he sacrificed her. It simply states that Jephthah “…carried out his vow with her” (v. 39). Given the other gruesome details in Judges, one would think the writer would not shy away from expressing that detail. Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac is share in clear detail (Gen. 22).
Other clues point away from human sacrifice:
1. The text says she “knew no man” and was allowed to “bewail her virginity” for two months with friends (vv. 38-39).
2. The phrase “knew no man” implies celibacy going forward.
3. Human sacrifice was against the law of Moses. No record of it is found in Israel until much later during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh (II Kings 16; II Kings 21). It wasn’t even practiced by those who followed Baal.
It is one of those unsolvable Biblical mysteries. A more important life lesson is clear tough: Think before you speak.
Judges 12 – Tribal Conflict
Ephraim is mad again. Just like with Gideon (Judges 8), they are upset that they weren’t called to help with the fighting. They threaten to burn Jephthah’s house down on top of him (v. 1).
Gideon talked Ephraim down off their anger and soothed their feelings. Jephthah is having none of it. A tribal conflict fueled by insults by Ephraim toward Gilead (v. 4) ensues. Jephthah, being the might man of valor he is, obliterates Ephraim. He was partially able to do this based on a linguistic test they used to determine if a captured individual was from Ephraim or Gilead (vv. 5-6).
All toll, 42,000 Ephraimites die in battle (v. 6).
After this, Jephthah judged Israel for six years (v. 7) until he died.
More Minor Judges
Three more minor judges are listed at the end of Chap. 12. They are:
1. Izban – Judged Israel for 7 years. He had 30 sons and 30 daughters who he gave to foreigners (v. 9).
2. Elon – Judged Israel for 10 years. He was from the tribe of Zebulun.
3. Abdon – Judged Israel for 8 years. He “had 40 sons and 30 grandsons who rode on 70 donkeys” (v. 14).
Questions to Consider:
Not everyone has a public bio of accomplishments. Some of the Biblical judges didn’t, as we only know their names (like Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, see Judges 10, 12). But they were important figures even though we don’t know much about them. Do you base your value on recognition or rewards received from others?
Do you know someone who doesn’t seem to get much praise but just goes about their business every day and provides consistent and dedicated leadership? What do you respect about that person?
Have you ever made a rash promise that you wished you didn’t make?
What other points would you want to know about in our Judges 10-12 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.