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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to Judges
The Book of Judges, like the other historical books of the Old Testament, takes its name from the subject to which it chiefly relates, namely, the exploits of those JUDGES who ruled Israel in the times between the death of Joshua and the rise of Samuel. The rule of the Judges Rut 1:1 in this limited sense was a distinct dispensation, distinct from the leadership of Moses and Joshua, distinct from the more regular supremacy of Eli, the High Priest, and from the prophetic dispensation inaugurated by Samuel 1 Samuel 3:19-21; Acts 3:24.
The book consists of three divisions: (1) The PREFACE, which extends to Judges 3:6 (inclusive). (2) the MAIN NARRATIVE, Judges 3:7-16:31. (3) THE APPENDIX, containing two detached narratives, (a) Judges 17:1-13; (b) Judges 18-21. To these may be added the Book of Ruth, containing another detached narrative, which anciently was included under the title of JUDGES, to which book the first verse shows that it properly belongs.
(1) the general purpose of the PREFACE is to prepare the ground for the subsequent narrative; to explain how it was that the pagan nations of Canaan were still so powerful, and the Israelites so destitute of Divine aid and protection against their enemies; and to draw out the striking lessons of God's righteous judgment, which were afforded by the alternate servitudes and deliverances of the Israelites, according as they either forsook God to worship idols, or returned to Him in penitence, faith, and prayer. Throughout there is a reference to the threatenings and promises of the Books of Moses (Judges 2:15, Judges 2:20, etc.), in order both to vindicate the power and faithfulness of Jehovah the God of Israel, and to hold out a warning to the future generations for whose instruction the book was written. In the view which the writer was inspired to present to the Church, never was God's agency more busy in relation to the affairs of His people, than when, to a superficial observer, that agency had altogether ceased. On the other hand, the writer calls attention to the fact that those heroes, who wrought such wonderful deliverances for Israel, did it not by their own power, but were divinely commissioned, and divinely endowed with courage, strength, and victory. The writer of the preface also directs the minds of the readers of his history to that vital doctrine, which it was one main object of the Old Testament dispensation to keep alive in the world until the coming of Christ, namely,, the unity of God. All the calamities which he was about to narrate, were the fruit and consequence of idolatry. "Keep yourselves from idols," was the chief lesson which the history of the Judges was intended to inculcate.
The preface consists of two very different portions; the recapitulation of events before, and up to, Joshua's death Judges 1-2:9, and the reflections on the history about to be related Judges 2:10-3:6.
(2) the MAIN NARRATIVE contains, not consecutive annals of Israel as a united people, but a series of brilliant, striking, pictures, now of one portion of the tribes, now of another. Of some epochs minute details are given; other periods of eight or ten years, nay, even of twenty, forty, or eighty years, are disposed of in four or five words. Obviously in those histories in which we find graphic touches and accurate details, we have preserved to us narratives contemporary with the events narrated - the narratives, probably, of eye-witnesses and actors in the events themselves. The histories of Ehud, of Barak and Deborah, of Gideon, of Jephthah, and of Samson, are the product of times when the invasions of Moab, of Jabin, of Midian, of Ammon, and of the Philistines, were living realities in the minds of those who penned those histories. The compiler of the book seems to have inserted bodily in his history the ancient narratives which were extant in his day. As the mind of the reader is led on by successive steps to the various exploits of the twelve Judges, and from them to Samuel, and from Samuel to David, and from David to David's son, it cannot fail to recognize the working of one divine plan for man's redemption, and to understand how judges, and prophets, and kings were endowed with some portion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, preparatory to the coming into the world of Him in whom all the fulLness of the Godhead should dwell bodily, and who should save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him.
Some curious analogies have been noted between this, the heroic age of the Israelites, and the heroic ages of Greece and other Gentile countries. Here, as there, it is in the early settlement and taking possession of their new country, and in conflicts with the old races, that the virtues and prowess of the heroes are developed. Here, as there, there is oftentimes a strange mixture of virtue and vice, a blending of great and noble qualities, of most splendid deeds with cruelty and ignorance, licentiousness and barbarism. And yet, in comparing the sacred with the pagan heroes, we find in the former a faith in God and a religious purpose, of which pagandom affords no trace. The exploits of the sacred heroes advanced the highest interests of mankind, and were made subservient to the overthrow of abominable and impure superstitions, and to the preserving a light of true religion in the world until the coming of Christ.
(3) the APPENDIX contains a record of certain events which happened "in the days when the judges ruled," but are not connected with any exploits of the judges. Though placed at the end of the book, the two histories both manifestly belong chronologically to the beginning of it: the reason for the place selected is perhaps that suggested in the Judges 17:1 note.
Exact chronology forms no part of the plan of the book. The only guide to the chronology is to be found in the genealogies which span the period: and the evidence of these genealogies concurs in assigning an average of between seven and eight generations to the time from the entrance into Canaan to the commencement of David's reign, which would make up from 240 to 260 years. Deducting 30 years for Joshua, 30 for Samuel, and 40 for the reign of Saul Acts 13:21, in all 100 years, we have from 140 to 160 years left for the events related in the Book of Judges. This is a short time, no doubt, but quite sufficient, when it is remembered that many of the "rests" and "servitudes" (Judges 3:8 note) therein related are not successive, but synchronize; and that no great dependence can be placed on the recurring 80, 40, and 20 years, whenever they are not in harmony with historical probability.
The narratives which have the strongest appearance of synchronizing are those of the Moabite, Ammonite, and Amalekite servitude Judges 3:12-30 which lasted eighteen years, and was closely connected with a Philistine invasion Judges 3:31; of the Ammonite servitude which lasted eighteen years, and was also closely connected with a Philistine invasion Judges 10:7-8; and of the Midianite and Amalekite servitude which lasted seven years Judges 6:1, all three of which terminated in a complete expulsion and destruction of their enemies by the three leaders Ehud, Jephthah, and Gideon, heading respectively the Benjamites, the Manassites and the northern tribes, and the tribes beyond Jordan: the conduct of the Ephraimites as related in Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1, being an additional very strong feature of resemblance in the two histories of Gideon and Jephthah. The 40 years of Philistine servitude mentioned in Judges 13:1, seems to have embraced the last 20 years of Eli's judgeship, and the first 20 of Samuel's, and terminated with Samuel's victory at Eben-ezer: and, if so, Samson's judgeship of 20 years also coincided in part with Samuel's. The long rests of 40 and 80 years spoken of as following the victories of Othniel, Barak, and Ehud, may very probably have synchronized in whole or in part. It cannot however be denied that the chronology of this book is still a matter of uncertainty.
The time of the compilation of this book, and the final arrangement of its component parts in their present form and in their present connection in the series of the historical books of Scripture, may with most probability be assigned to the latter times of the Jewish monarchy, included in the same plan. (The Book of Ezra, it may be observed, by the way, is a continuation, not of Kings, but of Chronicles.) There is not the slightest allusion in the Book of Judges, to the Babylonian captivity. Only Judges 3:5-6, as regards the Canaanite races mentioned, and the context, may be compared with Ezra 9:1-2. The language of the Book of Judges points to the same conclusion. It is pure and good Hebrew, untainted with Chaldaisms or Persian forms, as are the later books.
The inference to which these and other such resemblances tends, is that the compilation of the Book of Judges is of about the same age as that of the books of Samuel and Kings, if not actually the work of the same hand. But no absolute certainty can be arrived at.
The chief allusions to it in the New Testament are those in Hebrews 11:32 following, and Acts 13:20. But there are frequent references to the histories contained in it in the Psalms and in the prophets. See Psalm 78:56, etc.; Psalm 83:9-11; Psalm 106:34-45, etc.; Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26; Nehemiah 9:27, etc. See also 1 Samuel 12:9-11; 2 Samuel 11:21. Other books to which it refers are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. See the marginal references to Judges 1; Judges 2:1-3, Judges 2:6-10, Judges 2:15, Judges 2:20-23; Judges 4:11; Judges 6:8, Judges 6:13; Judges 10:11; Judges 11:13-26; Judges 13:5; Judges 16:17; Judges 18:30; Judges 19:23-24; Judges 20:26-27, etc.
1Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?
After the death of Joshua - But from Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:9 is a consecutive narrative, ending with the death of Joshua. Hence, the events in this chapter and in Judges 2:1-6 are to be taken as belonging to the lifetime of Joshua. See Judges 2:11 note.
Asked the Lord - The phrase is only found in Judges and Samuel. It was the privilege of the civil ruler, to apply to the high priest to consult for him the Urim and Thummim (marginal reference). (Compare Joshua 14:1; Joshua 18:1, Joshua 18:10; Joshua 19:51). Here it was not Phinehas, as Josephus concludes from placing these events after the death of Joshua, but Eleazar, through whom the children of Israel inquired "who" (or, rather), "which tribe of us shall go up!"
2And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.
And the Lord said - i. e. answered by Urim and Thummim. The land was the portion which fell to Judah by lot, not the whole land of Canaan (see Judges 3:11). The priority given to Judah is a plain indication of divine direction. It points to the birth of our Lord of the tribe of Judah. Judah associated Simeon with him Judges 1:3 because their lots were intermingled Joshua 19:1.
3And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.
4And Judah went up; and the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men.
The Canaanites and the Perizzites - See Genesis 12:6, note; Genesis 13:7, note. Bezek may be the name of a district. It has not yet been identified.
5And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
6But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.
7And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.
Threescore and ten kings - We may infer from this number of conquered kings, that the intestine wars of the Canaanites were among the causes which, under God's Providence, weakened their resistance to the Israelites. Adoni-Bezek's cruelty to the subject kings was the cause of his receiving (compare the marginal references) this chastisement. The loss of the thumb would make a man unfit to handle a sword or a bow; the loss of his big toe would impede his speed.
8Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.
Render "and the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem, and took it, and smote it," etc. With regard to the capture of Jerusalem there is some obscurity. It is here said to have been taken, smitten with the edge of the sword, and burned, by the children of Judah. In Joshua 12:8, Joshua 12:10 the Jebusite and the king of Jerusalem are enumerated among Joshua's conquests, but without any distinct mention of the capture of the city; and in the marginal reference we read that the Jebusites were not expelled from Jerusalem, but dwelt with the children of Judah (compare Judges 1:21). Further, we learn from Judges 19:10-12 that Jerusalem was wholly a Jebusite city in the lifetime of Phinehas Judges 20:28, and so it continued until the reign of David 2 Samuel 5:6-9. The conclusion is that Jerusalem was only taken once, namely, at the time here described, and that this was in the lifetime of Joshua; but that the children of Judah did not occupy it in sufficient force to prevent the return of the Jebusites, who gradually recovered complete possession.
Set the city on fire - A phrase found only at Judges 20:48; 2 Kings 8:12, and Psalm 74:7.
9And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites, that dwelt in the mountain, and in the south, and in the valley.
10And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron: (now the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba:) and they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai.
11And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjathsepher:
12And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife.
13And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.
14And it came to pass, when she came to him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she lighted from off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wilt thou?
15And she said unto him, Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs.
16And the children of the Kenite, Moses' father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.
The children of the Kenite - See Numbers 24:21 note.
The city of palm trees - Jericho (see the marginal reference). The rabbinical story is that Jericho, with 500 cubits square of land, was given to Hobab. The use of the phrase "city of palm trees" for "Jericho," is perhaps an indication of the influence of Joshua's curse Joshua 6:26. Tbe very name of Jericho was blotted out. There are no palm trees at Jericho now, but Josephus mentions them repeatedly, as well as the balsam trees.
17And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. And the name of the city was called Hormah.
Hormah - See Numbers 21:1 note. The destruction then vowed was now accomplished. This is another decisive indication that the events here related belong to Joshua's lifetime. This would be about six years after the vow.
18Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof.
It is remarkable that Ashdod is not here mentioned, as it is in Joshua 15:46-47, in conjunction with Gaza and Ekron; but that Askelon, which is not in the list of the cities of Judah at all, is named in its stead. (See Joshua 13:3 note.) It is a curious fact that when Rameses III took Askelon it was occupied, not by Philistines, but apparently by Hebrews. Rameses began to reign in 1269 B.C., and reigned 25 years. At any time between 1269 and 1244 B.C. such occupation of Askelon by Hebrews agrees with the Book of Judges.
19And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.
20And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses said: and he expelled thence the three sons of Anak.
21And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day.
This verse is nearly identical with Joshua 15:63, except in the substitution of Benjamin for Judah. Probably the original reading Judah was altered in later times to Benjamin, because Jebus was within the border of Benjamin, and neither had the Benjamites expelled the Jebusites.
22And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel: and the LORD was with them.
Bethel was within the borders of Benjamin, but was captured, as we here learn, by the house of Joseph, who probably retained it.
23And the house of Joseph sent to descry Bethel. (Now the name of the city before was Luz.)
24And the spies saw a man come forth out of the city, and they said unto him, Shew us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city, and we will shew thee mercy.
25And when he shewed them the entrance into the city, they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let go the man and all his family.
26And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and called the name thereof Luz: which is the name thereof unto this day.
The site of this new Luz is not known, but "the land of the Hittites" was apparently in the north of Palestine, on the borders of Syria (Genesis 10:15 note).
27Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns: but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.
28And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.
29Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.
30Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries.
31Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob:
Compare the marginal reference. Accho, afterward called Ptolemais, now Akka or St. Jean d'Acre, is named here for the first time.
32But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: for they did not drive them out.
It is an evidence of the power of the Canaanite in this portion of the land that it is not said (compare Judges 1:30) that the Canaanites dwelt among the Asherites, but that the Asherites (and Judges 1:33, Naphtali) "dwelt among the Canaanites;" nor are the Canaanites in Accho, Zidon, and the other Asherite cities, said to have become tributaries.
33Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, nor the inhabitants of Bethanath; but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: nevertheless the inhabitants of Bethshemesh and of Bethanath became tributaries unto them.
34And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley:
The Amorites are usually found in the mountain Numbers 13:29; Joshua 10:6. Here they dwell in the valley, of which the monuments of Rameses III show them to have been in possession when that monarch invaded Syria. It was their great strength in this district, and their forcible detention of the territory of Dan, which led to the expedition of the Danites Judges 18. The house of Joseph lent their powerful aid in subduing them, probably in the times of the Judges.
35But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributaries.
36And the coast of the Amorites was from the going up to Akrabbim, from the rock, and upward.
The going up to Akrabbim - See the margin and references; properly "the ascent of scorpions," with which the whole region abounds.
The rock - Petra, the capital of Idumea, so called from the mass of precipitous rock which encloses the town, and out of which many of its buildings are excavated. The original word "Selah" is always used of the rock at Kadesh-Barnea Numbers 20:8-11, near Petra (compare Obadiah 1:3). This leads us to look for "the ascent of scorpions," here coupled with סלע הס has-sela‛, in the same neighborhood.