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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan;
Even as many of Israel ... - These words show that the writer has especially in view the generation which came to man's estate immediately after the close of the wars with the Canaanites Joshua 23:1. Compare Judges 2:10.
2Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof;
3Namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath.
Lords - Seranim, a title used exclusively of the princes of the five Philistine cities. The title is probably of Phoenician origin.
Joshua appears to have smitten and subdued the Hivites as far north as Baal-Gad, in the valley of Lebanon under Mount Hermon Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7, but no further Joshua 13:5. There was an unsubdued Hivite population to the north of Baal-hermon (probably Baal-Gad under Hermon, since it is not synonymous with Hermon; see 1 Chronicles 5:23), to the entering in of Hamath: i. e. in the fertile valley of Coele-Syria. Hamath is always spoken of as the extreme northern boundary of the land of Canaan. It was the gate of approach to Canaan from Babylon, and all the north Zechariah 9:2; Jeremiah 39:5. It formed part of the dominions of Solomon 2 Chronicles 8:4, and of the future inheritance of Israel, as described in vision by Ezekiel EZechariah 47:16.
4And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
5And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites:
6And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
See Judges 2:2 note.
7And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.
And the groves - literally, Asheroth, images of Asherah (the goddess companion of Baal): see Deuteronomy 16:21 note.
8Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.
Here we hold again the thread of the proper narrative, which seems as if it ought to have run thus Judges 1:1 : Now, etc. Judges 3:8, therefore (or "and") etc.
Served Chushan-Rishathaim - This is the same phrase as in Judges 3:14. From it is derived the expression, "the times of servitude," as distinguished from "the times of rest," in speaking of the times of the Judges. Mesopotamia, or Aram-naharaim, was the seat of Nimrod's kingdom, and Nimrod was the son of Cush Genesis 10:8-12. Rishathaim is perhaps the name of a city, or a foreign word altered to a Hebrew form. Nothing is known from history, or the cuneiform inscriptions, of the political condition of Mesopotamia at this time, though Thotmes I and III in the 18th Egyptian dynasty are known to have invaded Mesopotamia. It is, however, in accordance with such an aggressive Aramean movement toward Palestine, that as early as the time of Abraham we find the kings of Shinar and of Elam invading the south of Palestine. There is also distinct evidence in the names of the Edomite kings Genesis 36:32, Genesis 36:35, Genesis 36:37 of an Aramean dynasty in Edom about the time of the early Judges. Compare, too, Job 1:17.
9And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.
Othniel was already distinguished in Joshua's lifetime as a brave and successful leader. See Joshua 15:16-17.
10And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.
And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him - The phrase occurs frequently in this book and in the books of Samuel and Kings. It marks the special office of the Judges. They were saviors (Judges 3:9 margin; Nehemiah 9:27) called and directed by the Holy Spirit, who endued them with extraordinary wisdom, courage, and strength for the work which lay before them (compare Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6, Judges 14:19), and were in this respect types of Christ the "Judge of Israel" Micah 5:1, in whom "the Spirit of the Lord God" was "without measure" Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 12:18-21; Job 1:32; Acts 13:2.
11And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.
The land - means here, as in Judges 1:2, not the whole land of Canaan, but the part concerned, probably the land of the tribe of Judah. Forty years, here and elsewhere, is (like fourscore years, Judges 3:30) a round number, perhaps equivalent to a generation.
12And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD.
The "strengthening" Eglon was the special work of God, and because Israel "had done evil," etc. Samuel's comment on the event is to the same effect 1 Samuel 12:9.
13And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees.
The children of Ammon (Bent-Ammon), almost always so spoken of from their ancestor Ben-ammi Genesis 19:38, seem to be under the leadership of the king of Moab, as do also the Amlekites: this is perhaps the strengthening spoken of in Judges 3:12. In Judges 6 the combination is Midianites, Amalekites, and children of the East, or Arab tribes. In the narrative of Jephthah's judgeship, the Ammonites alone are mentioned; but with a reference to the Moabites, and as if they were one people Judges 11:24. The Amalekites appear as the constant and bitter foes of the Israelites (Exodus 17:8 notes and references); and the naming a mountain in Ephraim, "the mount of the Amalekites" Judges 12:15 is probably a memorial of this joint invasion of Moabites and Amalekites, and marks the scene either of their occupation, or of some signal victory over them.
The city of palm trees: i. e. Jericho Judges 1:16, having been utterly destroyed by Joshua, and not rebuilt until the time of Ahab Joshua 6:24-26; 1 Kings 16:34, can only have existed at this time as an unwalled village, - like Jerusalem after its destruction by Nebuzaradan, until Nehemiah rebuilt its waits - and like its modern representative er-Riha, a village with a fortress for the Turkish garrison. This occupation of Jericho should be compared with the invasion in Judges 10:9, where two out of the three tribes named, Benjamin and Ephraim, are the same as those here concerned, and where Judges 10:7 the Philistines are coupled with the Ammonites, just as here Judges 3:31 the Philistines are mentioned in near connection with the Moabites. See Introduction.
14So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
15But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.
But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer - The very same words as are used at Judges 3:9. See, too, Judges 2:16, Judges 2:18, and Nehemiah 9:27.
Ehud "the Benjamite" was of the family or house of Gera 2 Samuel 16:5, the son of Bela, Benjamin's first-born, born before Jacob's descent into Egypt Genesis 46:21, and then included among "the sons of Benjamin." The genealogy in 1 Chronicles 8:6 intimates that Ehud (apparently written Abihud in Judges 3:3) became the head of a separate house.
Left-handed - See the margin. The phrase is thought to describe not so much a defect as the power to use left and right hands equally well (compare Judges 20:16; 1 Chronicles 12:2).
A present - i. e. tribute 2 Samuel 8:2, 2 Samuel 8:6; 1 Kings 4:21; Psalm 72:10. The employment of Ehud for this purpose points him out as a chief of some distinction. He would be attended by a numerous suite Judges 3:18. We may conclude that the destruction of the Benjamites Judges 20 had not taken place at this time.
16But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.
Upon his right thigh - The proper side for a left-handed man. It would give him the appearance of being unarmed. The narrative shows clearly that his action was premeditated Judges 3:21.
17And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.
18And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present.
19But he himself turned again from the quarries that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him.
Gilgal was in the immediate neighborhood of Jericho Judges 2:1, where doubtless Eglon held his court at this time Judges 3:13.
Quarries - Some take the original of this word in its common meaning of carved images or idols (see the margin).
20And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.
Probably Ehud's first message Judges 3:19 had been delivered to the attendants, and by them carried to the king. Now Ehud is admitted to the king's presence, into the cool upper chamber.
I have a message from God unto thee - Ehud believed himself to be accomplishing the divine mandate, and so his words were true in a certain sense. But it was also a stratagem to cause the king to rise, that the thrust might be sure. (The king rose at once, in true Oriental respect for a divine message, or from fear, compare Joshua 9:24.)
21And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:
22And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.
The King James Version and margin give different explanations of the last words of this verse. Others explain it of a vestibule or chamber, through which Ehud passed into the porch where the entrance doors were. He locked the doors, took the key with him; and then retired through the midst of the attendants below (or: more probably, through the door which communicated directly with the outside).
23Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.
24When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour were locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.
He covereth his feet - Compare the marginal references. The explanation of the phrase as "taking sleep" suits both passages best.
25And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.
A key - literally, "an opener." Probably a wooden instrument with which they either lifted up the latch within, or drew back the wooden bar or bolt. The chief officer of Eglon's household probably had a second key (compare Isaiah 22:15, Isaiah 22:20-22; Isaiah 37:2).
26And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirath.
Seirath - "The forest" or "weald," which evidently bordered on the cultivated plain near Gilgal, and extended into "the mountain or hill country of Ephraim." Once there, he was safe from pursuit (compare 1 Samuel 13:6), and quickly collected a strong force of Ephraimires and probably the bordering Benjamites.
27And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them.
28And he said unto them, Follow after me: for the LORD hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over.
Ehud "went down" from the mountain of Ephraim into the Jordan valley beneath it, straight to the Jordan fords Joshua 2:7, so as to intercept all communication between the Moabites on the west side and their countrymen on the east.
29And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man.
30So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.
The land - i. e. that portion of it which had suffered from the oppression of Moab, probably Benjamin and Ephraim chiefly (see Judges 3:11).
In judging of the nature of Ehud's act there are many considerations which must greatly modify our judgment. Acts of violence or cunning, done in an age when human society applauded such acts, when the best men of the age thought them right, and when men were obliged to take the law into their own hands in self-defense, are very different from the same acts done in an age when the enlightened consciences of men generally condemn them, and when the law of the land and the law of nations give individuals adequate security. We can allow faith and courage and patriotism to Ehud, without being blind to those defective views of moral right which made him and his countrymen glory in an act which in the light of Christianity is a crime. It is remarkable that neither Ehud nor Jael are included in Paul's list in Hebrews 11:32.
31And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.
From this verse and Judges 5:6 we may gather that Shamgar was contemporary with Jael, and that he only procured a temporary and partial deliverance for Israel by his exploit. He may have been of the tribe of Judah.
An ox goad - 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. The fact of their deliverer having no better weapon enhances his faith, and the power of his divine helper. At the same time it shows how low the men of Judah were brought at this time, being disarmed by their oppressors Judges 5:8, as was also the case later 1 Samuel 13:19.