Chapter 3

JUDGES CHAPTER 3

The Nations Left in Canaan

        • These are the nations that Yahweh left in the land to test those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan. This was for the purpose of teaching warfare to the generations of Israelites who had no experience in battle. The nations were as follows: the five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon from Mount Baal-hermon to Lebo-hamath.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The ongoing presence of the Philistines and the Canaanites in the land had an instructional purpose. Skills in warfare were necessary for survival in the ancient world. God allowed a continuing presence of enemies, but they would become his provision for Israel’s training and well-being.”

        • Guzik adds, “God left these Canaanite nations behind because Israel was not faithful in driving them out. One might rightly say that it was a combination of both their choice and God’s will.”

        • Some interesting excerpts on the Philistines, from a couple different sources. Note the slight differences in dating:

            • ESV Archaeology Study Bible:

              • All five cities of the Philistines have been excavated…The Philistines were part of the mercenary Sea Peoples mentioned in Egyptian texts as early as the fourteenth century BC. Archaeological evidence has shown that they appeared in the southern Levant at the end of the late Bronze Age (c. 1300 BC)…”

            • The Philistine migration is known from several Egyptian sources (Ramesses III’s inscription at the Medinet Habu temple, the Rhetorical Stela of Ramesses III, Papyrus Harris I, and the Onomasticon of Amenemope). The Philistines occupied the coastal plain and build major urban centers over small late Bronze Age towns.”

Medinet Habu northeast outside wall, showing wide view and a close up sketch of the right hand side relief. Behind the king (out of scene) is a chariot, above which the text describes a battle in Year 8…” via wikipedia

            • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible:

            • The Hebrew pelishtim identifies one of several groups of Sea Peoples who swept into Palestine from Anatolia and the Mediterranean in the twelve and eleventh centuries BC, leaving in their wake a trail of ruins. Biblical tradition, which traces their origin to Crete, accords with the archaeological record, which suggests they came from the Aegean…It seems their original goal was to settle in Egypt, but Rameses III was able to defeat them in about 1190 BC. He settled the vanquished forces in the coastal town of southern Canaan, but in the mid-twelfth century BC, the Philistines succeeded in driving out their Egyptian overlords and forming the Philistine Pentapolis, a federation of five major city-states: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza.”

        • These people were left to test the Israelites, to know whether they would keep Yahweh’s commands, which He had commanded their ancestors through Moses. The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and they intermarried with them. Israelite sons married their daughters; Israelite daughters were given in marriage to their sons; and the Israelites served their gods.

          • ESV Archaeological Study Bible notes, “It is difficult in the archaeological record to determine the differences between these groups and the Israelites…”

        • Historically, many churches have ripped this passage out of context and used it to support the false teaching that interracial marriage is a sin. HCSB includes this extremely important clarification on the issue:

          • The issue here was not interracial marriage but interfaith marriage. God did not want His people to marry unbelievers (Dt 7:1-5). Nowhere in Scripture does God issue an outright condemnation of, or even express reservation about, either interracial or international marriages. He said nothing against Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman and, in fact, defended it against the protest of religious leaders in Israel (Nm 12:1-9). In Jesus’ lineage there were several international and perhaps interracial marriages, e.g., Salmon’s marriage to Rahab (a Canaanite), Boaz’s marriage to Ruth (a Moabitess), and David’s marriage to Bathsheba (quite possibly a Hittite; cp Mt 1:4-6).”

CYCLES OF THE JUDGES (3:7-16:31)

The Period of Stability (3:7-8:35)

Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

        • The Israelites did evil in Yahweh’s sight. They forgot Yahweh their God and they served the Baals and the Asheroth.

        • We have some translation confusion here with regard to the goddess mentioned after Baal, as evidenced by the variety among various Bible translations and the difference in the goddess listed in verses that are considered to be repetitions of 3:7 (2:13 and 10:6), leading some to believe a scribal error could be involved in 3:7. Compare:

            • KJV: …”and served Baalim and the groves.”

          • ESV: “…and served the Baals and the Asheroth.”

          • NIV: “…and served the Baals and the Asherahs.”

        • There are really two separate issues here.

          • The first is obvious: What is the difference between Asherahs and the Asheroth and why does the KJV render what appears to be a deity name as “the groves? According to this entry in Abarim-Publications:

          • Asherah or grove? This Old Testament Studies article clarifies the question: “Whether Asherah is the name of a goddess, a symbol thereof, or a sacred place such as a grove of trees?” The answer follows:

            • The Old Testament shows all of these uses, though distinguishing between the second and third cases is not always possible. In a majority of cases, the symbol or place appears to be in view, but a significant number of examples are most easily explained by taking the word to be a deity name.”

            • So, which is appropriate within the context of Judges 3:7? Most translations opt for the goddess name, which seems correct since the context of the passage is that the Israelites served other gods. KJV is outnumbered and the context doesn’t seem to fit their rendering.

          • The second issue is not nearly so obvious. It is very possible that “the Asheroth/the Asherahs” is a scribal error and should actually read “the Ashtaroth.” They seem practically the same. What is the difference? Well, according to Pulpit Commentary, 3:7 is supposed to be a repetition of 2:13; and according to Old Testament Studies 10:6 is a similar repetition; both of these read “Ashtaroth,” not Asheroth or Asherah. The difference is that Asheroth/Asherah and Ashteroth are not the same goddess.

          • As the Old Testament Studies article explains, “The two names Asherah and Ashtoreth appear very similar in English translations, but differ rather more in the Hebrew.”

          • Semitic scholar Dr. Michael Heiser notes the difference between the two. Asherah is “The name of…El’s goddess consort…” (El is not Baal). Whereas, Ashtoreth… a different goddess… was one of Baal’s consorts.” In describing the relationship between El and Baal, Heiser explains that Baal is “El’s ‘right hand man’ in Ugaritic religion.”

          • Many may not care which god is which, but some very interesting parallels between what our Bible says about Yahweh and what pagans believed about El can be mind blowing! For example, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible gives the following information about Canaanite mythology surrounding Asherah:

            • …”Asherah (also identified as Athirat) is now known to have been a prominent goddess in Canaanite mythology, the wife of the high god El and the mother of 70 gods. Her titles in the Ugaritic myths include ‘Lady Athirat of the Sea’ and ‘Creatress of the Gods,’ which reflects her role as mother of the gods who are referred to elsewhere as ‘the seventy sons of Athirat.’”

            • If you aren’t reeling from this entry, then you skipped the notes for Deuteronomy 32. I highly recommend you check it out.

          • Now that you know the identity of El and Baal, you’ll understand why the NIV Cultural Backgrounds makes the following note regarding the pairing of the goddess Asherah with Baal in verse 3:7 and why many believe it to be a scribal error:

            • Whereas in 2:13 the female counterpart to Baals is identified as the Ashtoreths, here the text speaks of Asherahs…the mention of Asherah alongside Baal in our text is surprising…Either the author confuses the two deities, or he recognizes both as consorts of Baal in this fertility religion.”

        • Therefore, Yahweh’s anger burned against Israel and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim, the king of Aram-naharaim, and they served him for eight years.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Cushan-rishathaim means ‘Cushan of Double Wickedness.’ Aram-naharaim means ‘Aram of the Two Rivers’; it is thought either to refer to the region between the Euphrates and Balih Rivers in Mesopotamia (a word that means ‘Midst of the Two Rivers,’ the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates).”

        • The Israelites cried out to Yahweh, so Yahweh raised up a deliverer to save them. His name was Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz. The Spirit of Yahweh came upon him and he judged Israel. He went to war and Yahweh handed King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram over to him and gave him victory over him. So, the land had rest for 40 years. Then Othniel, Kenaz’s son, died.

Ehud Becomes Israel’s Judge

        • Once again, the Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight, so He gave King Eglon of Moab strength against them. King Eglon enlisted the Ammonites and Amalekites as allies. Together they attacked and defeated Israel, and took possession of the city of palms. The Israelites served King Eglon of Moab for 18 years.

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible reminds us who these people groups were, “The people of Moab and the Ammonites were descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). Despite their kinship with Israel, both nations were Israel’s enemies. The Amalekites were nomads who had attacked Israel in the desert , and toward whom unbroken hostility had been commanded (Numbers 24:20; Deuteronomy 25:17-19)…” As for location, the ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The Ammonites were a polity north of Moab, and the Amalekites were semi-nomads that roamed from Edom to the Jezreel Valley.”

        • Then the Israelites cried out to Yahweh and He raised up a deliverer for them. His name was Ehud (Gera’s son), a left-handed man of the tribe of Benjamin.

          • Interestingly, the LXX says that Ehud was ambidextrous rather than left-handed, “And the children of Israel cried to the Lord; and he raised up to them a saviour, Aod the son of Gera a son of Jemeni, a man who used both hands alike: and the children of Israel sent gifts by his hand to Eglon king of Moab.” (emphasis mine)

        • If “left-handed” is the correct rendering, then according to Judges 20:16, it is a common characteristic of Benjaminites, “Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.”

          • This is actually pretty ironic since, as the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The term used here is associated with the tribe of Benjamin (‘son of my right hand’ Genesis 35:18; see Judges 20:16) and was connected with heroic military skills (cp 1 Chronicles 12:1-2).”

        • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers includes this interesting information, “…Ehud, like other Benjamites, might have been trained to use the sling with the left hand…Ehud in that case was a Hebrew Scœvola. Stobæus mentions some African tribes which, like the Benjamites, were ‘left-hand fighters’ (aristeromachoi), and for the same cause an Egyptian tribe was known as the Euonymitae. The Greek Laius has the same meaning.”

        • This leads the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible to offer this possible conclusion, “…it is preferable to interpret the phrase as describing warriors who have been trained to use either their left or right hand with equal effectiveness…”

        • The Israelites sent Ehud to deliver their tribute money to King Eglon. Ehud made himself a double edged dagger, around a foot long, and strapped it to his right thigh under his clothes. Then, he brought King Eglon, who was an extremely fat man, the tribute money.

        • Some translations say the blade was an 18 inch sword. However, ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “There is only one term in Hebrew for a military blade (khereb). This term was used for daggers and swords. In the context of the Ehud account, it is clear that the term is more accurately translated here as dagger… Archaeologists have found two main types of blades (swords and daggers) with many variations. During the Late Bronze Age, daggers were 12-16 inches in length, while swords averaged between 20 and 26 inches…The original Hebrew word is gomed, appearing only here in the OT. The Septuagint uses ‘span,’ while rabbinic interpreters suggest ‘[short] cubit.’ The only cognate is Arabic jamada, which includes the meaning of rigidity or stiffness. The emphasis is on the rigidity of the dagger, not its length.”

        • When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he dismissed those who had carried it. But he, himself, turned around when he reached the carved stone images at Gilgal, went back to King Eglon and said, “I have a secret message for you.”

        • On the tribute, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Here it applies to the tribute required of a vassal by a superior. This was an ancient and widespread practice in the ancient Near East. The text does not describe the nature of the tribute. The most valued items would have been precious metals, silver and gold, but other items were often included.” The NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The tribute money was either pieces of metal or, more likely, agricultural goods requiring a team of bearers.”

        • The King said, “Silence” and all of his servants left. Ehud approached him while he was sitting alone in his cool, upper chamber and said, “I have a message from God for you.” King Eglon rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s belly so deeply that even the handle went into him and his fat closed over it. Ehud didn’t pull the dagger back out and it came out behind.

        • The final detail of this gruesome account causes translators difficulty as evidenced by the various ways in which it is rendered. Guzik explains that, “One of the words used occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament.” The interested reader may compare the various options here at the Bible Study Tools translation comparison.

        • Then Ehud closed and locked the doors of the room and escaped by the porch.

        • Ehud’s route of escape is also obscure in the Hebrew leading to various renderings. The interested reader may compare the options here.

        • After Ehud had gone, the King’s servants returned and found that the doors to the upper chamber were locked. They thought, “Surely he is relieving himself in the cool inner room.” They waited until they became anxious, seeing that he still hadn’t opened the doors of the upper chamber. So, they took the key, opened the door, and found their lord lying dead on the floor.

        • While the servants waited, Ehud escaped. He passed by the carved images and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down from the hill country with Ehud leading them. He said to them, “Follow me, because Yahweh has handed your enemies, the Moabites, over to you.” So, they followed him and captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Moab and didn’t allow anyone to cross.

        • They killed about 10,000 strong, able-bodied Moabite men- not one of them escaped. Israel conquered Moab that day and the land was peaceful for 80 years.

Shamgar

        • After him, Shamgar son of Anath, delivered Israel. He killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad.

        • If you think this passage stands out as odd and a little out of place, you’re not alone. A little research reveals some information that some might find quite unsettling. As it turns out, Shamgar may not have been a “judge” at all- or even an Israelite! Before you feel scandalized, let’s look at the facts.

          • The Jewish Encyclopedia entry for Shamgar notes that other manuscripts place this verse after Samson, “in a group of Greek manuscripts, and likewise in the Hexaplar Syriac, Armenian, and Slavonic versions, this verse is inserted after the account of the exploits of Samson, immediately following Judges xvi. 31, in a form which proves that it was once a part of the Hebrew text. It was observed long ago that this exploit resembled the exploits of David’s heroes (II Sam. xxi. 15-22, xxiii. 8 et seq.), especially those of Shammah, son of Agee (ib. xxiii. 11 et seq.).”

          • Corroborating the idea that this verse is out of place, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges points out this clue from within the Masoretic Text, “[Shamgar] was unknown to the author of Jdg 4:1, who passes at once from Ehud to Deborah.”

          • Additionally, the ESV Archaeology Study Bible draws attention to these facts, “Shamgar is not called a judge in the biblical text, nor is he introduced by the book’s typical literary device. Some biblical scholars therefore do not list him as a judge.”

          • If you’re reading the HCSB you may be thinking, “Yes, it does call him a judge!” I thought the same. But, if you’ll look closer, you will see that the HCSB phrase “became judge” in verse 31 is bracketed. This means it is an addition by the HCSB translators and not in the manuscript text.

            • The “literary device” they are referring to as absent is the repeated pattern of, “the Israelites did evil in Yahweh’s sight…Yahweh turned them over to _____…the Israelites served ____ for _____years…then they cried out to Yahweh for help.” It is true that this isn’t the case for every single judge, but it is for most. In the cases where it is missing, at the very least, the subject is identified certainly as an Israelite. Not only is this not the case with Shamgar, there is very good evidence to believe he wasn’t Israelite. See the next point…

          • This sparse verse about Shamgar, though listing him as “the son of Anath” makes no indication that he is associated with an Israelite tribe. This is in contradiction with the account of every other judge. Writing for Zondervan Academic, Daniel Block provides the following information:

          • The name of this deliverer is a riddle. Since the Hebrew vocabulary (like that of most Semitic languages) is based on triliteral roots, the presence of four strong consonants š-m-g-r suggests he was not an Israelite. The presence of analogous forms of the name in Nuzi texts suggests he may have been a Hurrian mercenary. Equally puzzling is his characterization as ben Anat (‘son of Anath’). In the past interpreters have assumed this meant Shamgar was a resident of Beth-Anath in Galilee. Now it seems more likely this is a dedicatory expression: Shamgar was devoted to the service of Anath. What this means can be learned from extrabiblical sources. In Canaanite mythology Anath was at the same time the consort of Baal and Canaanite goddess of war…”

          • So, why would the Masoretic text insert Shamgar here? The ESV Archaeology Study Bible offers this suggestion, “…the Masoretic Text places it before Deborah because she mentions Shamgar in her song (5:6).” Specifically, in this mention, Shamgar appears to be correlated with the same time period as Jael.

          • Incidentally, in light of the context of 5:6, the Jewish Encyclopedia entry considers this supportive of the idea that Shamgar was not a judge, “In the song of Deborah (Judges v. 6) Shamgar is connected with the hour of Israel’s deepest humiliation. He was, therefore, probably not a judge, but a foreign oppressor of Israel.”

        • Is this really as earth shattering as it initially seems? Upon reflection, I don’t think that it is for two reasons:

          • As Block points out, even if Shamgar “was not intentionally serving Israelite interests…This would not be the only occasion in the Bible when God used leaders who gave no allegiance to Yahweh to bring about deliverance of his people (see 2 Kings 13:4-5, where the ‘deliverer’ was likely the Assyrians who for their own purposes harried the Arameans).”

          • The only objection that would preclude the scenario above, would be having to view someone who was not a follower of Yahweh, as a “judge” who was responsible for getting Israel spiritually “back on track,” rather than just an instrument of deliverance. If Shamgar wasn’t a judge (and we’ve already noted that the text doesn’t actually ever say that he was, and there are certainly many reasons to consider that he may not have been one) there is no difficulty here.

          • As anti-climactic as it is, we should probably go ahead and talk about the skeptic objection that Shamgar would be able to kill 600 Philistines at once with an “oxgoad”:

          • First of all, nowhere does the text say that he did this “at once” as in “with one swing.” So, that’s a non-starter.

          • Second, Barnes Notes on the Bible describes an oxgoad as, “An instrument of wood about eight feet long, armed with an iron spike or point at one end, with which to spur the ox at plow, and with an iron scraper at the other end with which to detach the earth from the plowshare when it became encumbered with it.” Sounds like it could be pretty deadly to me…