Judges–Heading Toward Monarchy

Although the book of Joshua ends with the death of Israel’s Godly and fearless warrior, it still finishes on a high note–a spiritual high note, at the very least. The nation of Israel has been successful under Joshua, but there is still work to be completed in their pursuit of the Promised Land of Canaan. There are still natives of Canaan that are have to be removed from the land, per God’s instructions.

The first chapter of Judges begins with the Israelites trying to decide which of the twelve tribes will be the first to go up and attack Canaan. I can only imagine the confusion at this point, going from having a leader to APPARENTLY having none. I say apparently because by now, the Israelites should have realized that God was their leader, and that it was God who counseled Joshua and empowered the nation. So yes, they did not have a leader in the flesh, but they were being guided, protected and led by the very Creator of the universe.

The Lord answers them and tells them that Judah should go, for he has given them victory. Judah requests that Simeon go with them. Now, this may be nit-picking just a tad, but the Lord did not say that Judah needed anyone else to go. He specifically said that he had given JUDAH the victory, so that signifies to me that God intended for Judah to go alone. Was Judah being scary or disobedient already by asking that Simeon go with them? In the grand scheme of things, it may not make a huge difference, but I wonder if Joshua had been there and told Judah to go, would they have asked him for Simeon to accompany them, or would they have trusted him? My point is, it doesn’t seem that Israel has yet learned to trust God and take him at his word, but I could be wrong. Maybe God didn’t care that Judah asked Simeon for support.

The Lord indeed gives Judah victory over the Canaanites and Perizzites, killing 10,000 warriors and eventually capturing and killing King Adoni-bezek in Jerusalem. More battle ensues. At one point, Caleb offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to the warrior who is able to attack and capture Kiriath-sepher. The lucky man ends up being his very own nephew, Othniel, and Caleb keeps his promise and gives his daughter Acsah to Othniel as his wife.

Let me get a couple things off my chest here. First things first, super eewww at the idea of marrying one’s cousin, right? I always try to remind myself that I am looking at things from a 20th and 21st century standpoint. The marriage between Othniel and Acsah would now be considered incest and highly looked down upon. But as far as I could remember, God had not prohibited marrying a relative at this point in the Scriptures. These marriages may also have occurred to keep property within the family or to keep individuals from marrying pagan wives. The fastest example I can think of right now is Samson, who we will discuss later on–his parents attempted to discourage him from marrying a Philistine woman, if I am not mistaken. Also, the reason why incest is discouraged today is because of the potential for human defect which was not present in those days. Still–I cringe at the thought of marrying one of my cousins.  Love them to death, but not in THAT way.

My second random rant–gosh, some of these names of people and places are doozies. Plain and simple, when I first really got into reading the Word one of the things that annoyed me the most about it was the language and all of these foreign names (and when I say foreign, I mean foreign to ME as an American, different from what I am accustomed to). I thought of two of the dumber Facebook memes I saw recently. One involved a very passionate young male poster who offered this as his reasoning as to why Jesus never existed: Because the Hebrew language did not have the “J” sound.

That one was rather simple to refute. He was correct that the Hebrew language didn’t have the “J”, but what this young man didn’t know was that “Jesus” is actually “YESHUA”. Yeshua is translated into “Joshua”, and the Greek version of that name, being that ancient Greek also didn’t have the “J”, was “Iesous”, which is translated into Jesus. From what I understand, this happened over time. Some people don’t think we should even use the name Jesus, just Yeshua, but I think it is more important that we know who He is and accept Him than quibble over a name.

Apparently this poster appreciated the knowledge; I can only hope he took it upon himself to do more research. A second meme also discussed Biblical names. This poster’s evidence to debunk Christianity was that the names of the disciples were American, and that didn’t make sense.

Well, they were half right. It doesn’t make sense, because it’s not true. Again, the names of the disciples have been Westernized, if you will. The real names of the disciples would have been:

Simon (Peter): Shimon

James: Yakov

John:  Yochanon

Bartholomew: Bar-Talmai

Matthew: Mattityahu

Thomas: Tau’Ma

Thaddeus: Theudas

Andrew and Philip were Greek names: Andreas and Filippos

Judas: Yehuda

I find this stuff from reading articles and books written by Jewish authors on Jewish traditions and history, for what it’s worth.

But I digress. Now, those names aren’t TOO much, but I have to admit I appreciate reading the names in their Western format. I know it’s awful, but I have to be honest.

Back to Judges before I get too far off task…

So Acsah and Othniel are married, and she urges Othniel to ask Caleb for a field and then she asks for springs of water to go along with the field. Obviously Caleb is a loving father, and he obliges his daughter. Judah and Simeon continue to fight the native inhabitants of the land, but as we move forward, we find out that Israel fails to completely move the people out of the land. And now we have a problem.

Judah failed to drive the people living on the plains who had iron chariots. As was promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who completed his mission to drive out the remaining descendants of Anak. Benjamin failed to drive the Jebusites out from Jerusalem, and although Joseph is successful after the tribe recruits a local man to give them insight as to a way into the town of Bethel, the tribe of Manasseh is wildly unsuccessful clearing their land. Instead they enslaved the people. Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher and Naphtali also fail in their efforts. Dan not only fails but is pushed back by the Amorites. This leads us into chapter two.

My humble assumption is that some time has passed. I assume that the Israelites have given up trying to clear the land and have decided that enslaving the remaining people in certain situations is acceptable, although it is in stark contrast to what they have been commanded to do. I assume that they have given up and fallen into some sort of semblance of normal life with the remaining Canaanites living among them. An angel of the Lord visits them and reminds them of their failure:

I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.” (vv. 1-3)

This passage serves as a very clear reminder of WHY God insisted that the Israelites clear the land. Think of when you first came to Christ, when you first started learning about the Lord, or when you first dedicated or even re-dedicated your life to Christ. As a spiritual babe you were highly susceptible to temptation. Think about the habits you had, or maybe even still struggle with. It is easier to work toward removing them if you are in a certain environment. If you are a person who has struggled with alcoholism, certainly you don’t want to work in a bar, right? You don’t want to live in a house where everyone drinks, do you?

The Israelites were still spiritual babes, and admittedly, even those who are strong in the Lord may struggle when sin is all around them.

Another point here that I love to reiterate–when a promise is made between you and God, it’s up to you to keep your end. God will always keep his. The only one who is capable of breaking a covenant with God is man. God’s promises are secure.

The people weep loudly about their sin and offer sacrifices, but apparently this remorse is temporary.

In verses 6-8 the death of Joshua is discussed again, including his place of rest–at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim.

Israel gets complacent and raises up a generation of children without teaching them about God: “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (v.10).

Let’s break this down…

The onus was on the parents to teach the kids, and apparently they did not do so. Why does this happen?

That verse reminds me of a conversation I overheard and kinda sorta interjected myself into when I was working one day. It was the Christmas season, and my Jewish coworker and a patient were having a discussion about religion. The patient told my coworker that she had been raised Catholic but her husband was not into religion, and she too felt that Catholicism was too rigid. She bemoaned the rituals and mass and all of those things and said that she and her husband were not holding their children to any specific religion. They could pick whichever faith suited them. In the meantime, their household incorporated aspects from multiple faiths and celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, among other things. This mother was pleased with her efforts. I was confused. She said, “I just want my kids to be good people. They don’t have to be Catholic to be good people.”

I cleared my throat. That was my way of getting my coworker’s attention. Knowing I am a devout Christian, she asked me what I thought of that.

“No disrespect,” I said, “but as long as my kids are in my house they will be serving God. For me Christianity isn’t just about what happens here on earth as much as it is what happens after you die. I don’t want to go to heaven and have my kids end up in hell.”

Mic drop.

Needless to say the conversation ended there. I hoped I hadn’t offended the woman, because I definitely wasn’t trying to. But it bothered me to think that if this woman had ever accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and was heaven bound, why WOULDN’T you want the same for your kids?

Either way it goes, Israel failed to train up their children in the ways of the Lord, and disobedience in the form of idol worship ensued. Angry, God allowed the Israelites to be oppressed, since oppression is and always has been an effective form of turning people back to the Lord (you know when we get content with life we are less likely to rely on God. Sometimes he has to remind us that we are not in control). The people are greatly defeated and distressed. Each battle they went into, they lost. I wonder if they asked themselves why Baal and Ashtoreth weren’t helping them??

In response to their distress, our loving God raised up a judge for his people. This begins the pattern. God raises up a judge, the people obey God under that judge, that judge dies, the people disobey and are oppressed, they cry out, God raises up another judge to deliver them from oppression, the people obey as long as that judge lives, wash, rinse, repeat.

God washes his hands of the situation in a sense, allowing the peoples to live among the Israelites, using them to test the resolve of the Israelites to remain close to God despite their pagan influences. In chapter three we get a rundown of the nations God left behind to not only test the Israelites but also give this new generation of Israelites experience in battle. As was to be expected, the Israelites intermarry with the people and worship their gods. They do evil in the sight of the Lord, worshiping Baal and Asherah poles, and are turned over to King Cushan-rishathaim (whew) for eight years. When the Israelites cry out to their merciful God, he raises up Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, the one who married his daughter Acsah, as the nation’s judge. Othniel goes to war against King C-R (I’m not interested in writing that name out again) and is victorious. He goes on to judge Israel for forty peaceful years before he dies.

Israel goes back to her idol-worshiping ways and is handed over to King Eglon of Moab for 18 years before Ehud is raised up to defeat them. This is a very interesting story right here. Ehud was of the tribe of Benjamin. For whatever reason, a lot of Benjaminites were lefties. This gave them an edge in hand to hand combat because being a left-handed warrior was not to be expected.

Ehud is sent to take Israel’s tribute money to King Eglon. My assumption here, which requires further research, is that one of the means of oppression King Eglon placed upon Israel was of a financial type. In all of these situations, I wonder how exactly Israel was being oppressed–were they being enslaved? Unfairly taxed? Probably a combination of both. Either way, Ehud made a double-edged dagger that was approximately a foot in length, strapped it to his right thigh, and hid it under his clothing. This is an important detail to keep in mind.

Ehud delivers the money and starts home with the individuals who have accompanied him on the trip. When he reaches the stone idols at Gilgal, he turns back, apparently alone. I have assumptions about why he headed back. I think maybe he was attempting to get rid of the company that was with him. It would be easier for one person to get away than several.

Under the guise that he had a secret message to deliver to King Eglon, Ehud gets King Eglon to have his servants leave the room. Ehud tells King Eglon “I have a message from God for you!” (v.20). King Eglon, a very fat man, rises from his seat, and as he does so, Ehud removes the dagger from his right thigh and plunges it into the fat man’s belly.

Remember how Ehud had the dagger strapped to his right thigh, and how I said being a lefty gave him and the other Benjaminites an advantage? Say Ehud had been searched before going into the room with King Eglon. King Eglon’s security detail would have focused their search efforts on the left leg, expecting a right-handed warrior. When God works, he really works.

The dagger goes into the King’s fat belly and disappears. He is disemboweled. Ehud closes and locks the door and escapes down a latrine.

The king’s company thinks he is in there relieving himself because the doors are closed and locked and do not go in to investigate for a short period. When they do, they find the king dead, but by now, Ehud is long gone. Ehud gets back to Ephraim and sounds a call of arms, rallying the Israelites to go and attack Moab. With the deaths of 10,000 warriors, Moab is captured, resulting in 80 years of peace.

After Ehud’s death, we are given a short blurb about Shamgar. Shamgar son of Anath becomes the next to rescue Israel. Not much is said about him other than the fact that he once killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad. That lets me know he must have been terribly strong and skilled, because an ox goad is not the most ideal weapon.

ox-goad

Chapter four returns us to our familiar formula. Ehud is dead and the nation is back on schedule, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. As a result they are turned over to King Jabin of Hazor, a ruthless oppressor of the Israelites for 20 years. The Bible informs us of the military might of this king by letting us know that his army, commandeered by Sisera, has 900 iron chariots.  This made King Jabin a formidable foe.

The people cry out, and merciful God gives them Deborah. What do we know about Deborah? She was a married woman. Her husband’s name was Lappidoth. She had already been called by God to be a prophet. The Bible gives what appears to be an unnecessary detail–that Deborah judged the Israelites from beneath a palm which became known as the Palm of Deborah. Well, apparently palms were rare in Palestine, so this was not an unnecessary detail 🙂

Deborah sends for Barak son of Abinoam, a member of the tribe of Naphtali, and tells him he has been called by God to command an army of 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun in an attack against King Jabin’s army, led by Sisera. Barak says he will go, but only if Deborah goes with him.

This interests me. Now, Deborah is already in a unique position, being a woman who is over all of Israel. I think that is wonderful. But I was kind of caught off guard by Barak’s reluctance to go without her. I know some things are considered male chauvinistic, but particularly in those times, men didn’t want women to be victorious over them. Deborah even brings that up in verse 9:

Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman”.

Obviously it worked out for them, so I suppose it is a moot point, just something I thought was interesting.

Deborah and the army of 10,000 go head out, and when Sisera hears that Barak and his army have made their way to Mount Tabor, he readies his 900 iron chariots for battle. His 900 chariots were no match for the Lord, who threw them into a panic, allowing Sisera and Co. to rout the enemy army. Sisera manages to escape on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Apparently Sisera thought he was safe since Heber was acquaintances with King Jabin. He thought wrong.

Jael comes out to meet Sisera and invites him into her tent, where she covers him with a blanket. He asks her for water; she gives him milk from a leather bag and covers him up again. Sisera asks Jael to keep lookout and falls asleep from exhaustion. When he does, Jael takes a tent peg and hammer and drives the tent peg into Sisera’s head, killing him in his sleep. SAVAGE, right????

Look back up to what Deborah said earlier, about Sisera being killed by a woman. I  assumed she meant her, but no. Sisera WAS indeed killed by a woman, though. You know how I am–I wonder what made Jael do it? Was she sympathetic to the Israelites? I dunno. Either way it goes, King Jabin’s army has been destroyed. When Barak shows up, Jael shows him what she has done. Israel grows stronger and stronger and is able to defeat King Jabin completely.

Chapter Five illustrates Deborah’s poetic nature with a song describing the battle, sang by her and Barak. According to the song, when the people marched out in battle the earth trembled and the cloudy skies poured down rain (v. 4); and the mountains quaked (v. 5). Shamgar is mentioned, but only briefly, as is Jael. Deborah is described as a “mother for Israel” (v. 7), and the sin that got the Israelites in trouble in the first place is also spoken of (“When Israel chose new gods, war erupted at the city gates”, v. 8). Beginning at verse 14, the song gives the tribes that participated a special “shout out”, if you will.  However, we find out that the tribe of Reuben did not participate in the battle, nor did Dan or Asher. The story of Jael’s victory over Sisera is recounted again in detail. The song then describes the reaction of Sisera’s mother, picturing her looking out a window as she waited for her son to return from battle. When she ponders what is taking him so long, her handlers suggest that maybe he is dividing his plunder. The song ends with “lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” (v.31), and the nation of Israel enjoys peace for 40 years.

One thing I have noticed about these Biblical songs is something that again arises from my 20th and 21st century standpoint. They don’t rhyme. I often try to sing them myself to try and figure out what kind of tune they can be sang to, and I usually fail. Well, these songs weren’t made to entertain. They weren’t supposed to be catchy. They were intended to praise the Lord and serve as a means of passing down history verbally. And mind you, some of the rhyme or meter may have been lost in translation.

It has gotten late and I should attempt to sleep while I can. If I can. All three kids are sound asleep (PRAISE.THE.LORD), and I am happy to report that my baby typically sleeps the majority of the night now. On my birth board I have read the posts of many a frustrated mother who is still waking up every two or three hours with their baby. Some of them have a job to drag themselves to even after a night of broken sleep. I pray for them, and all parents, because parenting even with a “good” sleeper is a challenge. I feel for these kids, because they are not getting the best society has to offer. Each day I read something that burns me up–school violence, such as the elementary school shooting today, or instances where adults who are supposed to be considering the best interest of all children, not just children of rich parents or children who look like them, are making decisions that would have a negative impact on a vulnerable group of innocent babies. I am sick of both of them. People are content to see schools falling apart as long as their kids don’t go to them, right? I really hope those same people turning a blind eye to the plight of ANY kids do not consider themselves to be a Christian. If so, they should know that Jesus has a special place in His heart for children, and we should all joyfully serve those who are considered “the least”, as Jesus, a poor carpenter, was.

I should stop before I get onto a long-winded rant, because I can go on for days about the ills of this society. I pray for my son each morning, not only him, but all children. It’s my most effective weapon, since I cannot go to school and be with him every minute of the day. I wish I could… it is hard letting go. He will be ten next month, but I am sometimes still nervous when he goes outside to play. It is difficult balancing between the urge to be a helicopter mom and not wanting to stifle him with protection and cripple his growing independence. I’m sure I’ll have that struggle with my girls too. I just really don’t want anyone to harm them, particularly in the manner I was harmed, because I know I would want to kill whoever does so, real talk. But my kids are no more special than any others, and I pray for a society where NO kids are harmed. NONE. They don’t deserve it. And if they’re unruly, unprincipled, or unmannerly it is not their fault. It is the fault of whatever adult(s) are supposed to be raising them.

See, I went on a tangent!  Let me go before I continue!

 

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