Five Judges

Photo by Robert Hrovat:

As we studied last week, Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, and a man who would not be defeated. Jephthah, though thrown out of his home by jealous brothers, would follow faith in God and become a “mighty man of valor”. Jephthah would be approached by the elders of Gilead – the same ones who cast him out of his family home – and by faith become the eighth legitimate Judge of Israel.

Jephthah would lead the armies of Israel to fight against and defeat the Ammonites. Jephthah would allow faithlessness and doubt to cause him to approach God with a foolish vow. This is what unbelievers do with God. “God, if you’ll give me this, or do that, I’ll do this or that”.

God does not expect us to bargain with Him, but to walk with Him. We are to fear our God, not the world!

Jephthah promised to offer up a “burnt sacrifice” of the first thing that greeted him if God gave him success in defeating the Ammonites. God never responded to the vow – but Jephthah decided he would keep his word. When he returned from battle, his only daughter greeted him. Following a two month sabbatical Jephthah offered up his only daughter to God as a spiritual burnt offering. She died childless, and Jephthah would die, closing out his line. Such are the rewards of stepping outside of God’s will. The Bible says:

2 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV) {God’s} divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

We do not need to bargain with God for blessings. We need to live our lives so as to give God the glory, and trust that He will defeat the enemy. Jephthah forgot to give God the glory for a moment – and lived to regret it.

From A Foolish Vow To An Arrogant People

Judges 12:1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.

Following his defeat of Ammon, the men of Ephraim gathered warriors together to threaten Jephthah. They felt that they had been left out of the battle on purpose, and their pride was hurt. Their focus was not on the glory of God, but on their own glory.

The men of Gilead were of the Tribe of Manasseh, and as I’ve mentioned before, Manasseh along with Ephraim comprised what was called “The House of Joseph”. Since Manasseh was the “little brother” and Ephraim the “big brother”, they felt that they deserved the lion’s share of the glory from the battle. This is NOT the first time Ephraim showed “out”. When Judge Gideon led God’s people in defeating the Midianites, following the battle Ephraim came to him:

Judges 8:1 (ESV) … the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused {Gideon} fiercely.

Had Gideon corrected Ephraim at this time, and told them that the glory belongs to God, not to us, then it’s possible that Ephraim would have straightened up. But instead, Gideon placated them, and humbled himself before them. He told them, Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer?. Placating them when they accused {Gideon} fiercely, they went away feeling themselves justified and superior. Now they come to Jephthah even more arrogant. They tell Jephthah, we will burn thine house upon thee with fire. They threaten to wipe out Jephthah’s house, to make it like a burnt offering. Jephthah’s house is already destined to end – and Jephthah is a different sort of person that Gideon was. Jephthah tells them:

Judges 12:2-3 And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands. 3 And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the Lord delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?

When the Ammonites were at their greatest power and the Gileadites were being hurt, Jephthah called on Ephraim for help. However they refused to respond, being fearful of the Ammonites. Jephthah told them “when you wouldn’t help me and mine, we stood together and trusted God. We’ve won the battle through God. So who are YOU to complain?” This was not a politically correct response, but it was the truth. But once the battle was won, then Ephraim comes, demanding glory that should only belong to God.

God will not share His glory with another! God told us through the Prophet:

Isaiah 42:8, 11 (NASB) I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images … 11 For My own sake, for My own sake, I do this. How can I let Myself be defamed? I will not yield My glory to another …

God will be glorified by His people. God’s man King David decided – at Satan’s prompting – to “number Israel”. We read:

1 Chronicles 21:1-2 (NLV) Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the leaders of the people, “Go and number Israel from Beersheba to Dan. Then let me know how many people there are.”

David’s General Joab begged the King not to do this. He warned David that to do so would “bring guilt upon Israel” (vs 3). David ordered the census be taken anyway. The Bible tells us that:

1 Chronicles 21:7-8 (NLV) God was not pleased that Israel was numbered so He punished Israel. 8 David said to God, “I have sinned very much by doing this thing. But now I beg You, take away the sin of Your servant for I have done a very foolish thing.”

Though David repented, God killed 70,000 fighting men (vs 14) because of David’s foolishness. God will not give His glory away. David won because God caused David to win.

God’s man Moses lost his sister Miriam while Israel was at Kadesh. There was no water at Kadesh, so Israel assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron” (Numbers 20:2). Moses went to God in prayer. We read:

Numbers 20:7-8 (ESV) … the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

Moses stood in front of the Rock. Angry with Israel, Moses said:

Numbers 20:10-11 … “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly..

God told Moses, Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (vs 12). God allowed water to come out of the rock. This is His Grace. But God told Moses that he had forfeited the Promised Land. Moses – after 40 long years – would not be able to enter God’s Promise. Why? Because he failed to glorify God.

Jephthah told the Ephraimites that they had their chance to fight, but did not do so. But Ephraim was not satisfied. They pushed for a fight. They slandered the men of Gilead.

Judges 12:4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.

Word Study: The men of Ephraim said that Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim. The word translated fugitives is the Hebrew pālîṭ (pronounced paw-leet’), which means “fugitives or escapees”. The people of Ephraim are saying that those of Gilead are not true Israelites because they left Ephraim to build homes in Gilead.

Pride Divides And Destroys

The men of Ephraim had a chance to step out and do battle with the rest of God’s people, but refused to do so. Yet when the work was over, rather than glorify God for the mighty victory, they complained. Pride enslaved Ephraim. The Bible says:

Proverbs 8:13 (ESV) The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.

Proverbs 11:2 (ESV) When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:5, 18 (ESV) Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. … 18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

God hates pride, because pride caused Lucifer to become Satan. Pride caused Adam to leave Eden. Pride caused the first murder in human history, and will be the cause of the last. The Bible tells us:

James 4:6 … God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

1 Peter 5:5 … All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

and our Lord Jesus said,

Luke 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Pride is a very insidious thing. God is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light. . . . To him be honor and might forever. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15–16).

Ephraim would not back down, so Jephthah takes the men of Gilead against a superior force. Guess what? Jephthah and his men won the day.

Judges 12:5-6 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; 6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

As the men of Ephraim began to be defeated, they started running and hiding. It is as the Bible says:

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

The Ephraimites tried to hide themselves from the men of Gilead and Jephthah. So the men of Gilead would ask them to say Shibboleth. This is the Hebrew šibōleṯ (pronounced shib-bole), a word that means “a flowing stream”. When the men of Ephraim wanted to pass over the Jordan at its crossing (the flowing stream) the men of Gilead would say, “you want to pass Shiboleth?” The people of Ephraim were unable to say Shibboleth because of their regional dialect. So they would say, “we want to pass Sibboleth, unable to pronounce the “sh” sound. The men of Gideon would then kill them as enemies. 42,000 men of Ephraim died that day because of their tongues and PRIDE.

God does not walk with nor bless prideful people. The Lord says:

Isaiah 57:15 … I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

God is HIGH and HOLY, but He walks with those who are HUMBLE and HONORING to Him. We should always remember to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6).

Judges 12:7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.

Jephthah’s reign in Israel ended with his destruction of the arrogant men of Ephraim. He put down the insurrection, and Israel returned to peace. There is a lesson in this, one that the Enduring Word Commentary highlights:

Today when someone talks about Jesus, you can listen to what they say and learn something about them. You can listen as they speak about the Bible, and you know something about them. It is also true that as much as our dialect gives us away, so does our everyday speech. Others should be able to tell that we are Christians by the way we talk.”

Three Minor Judges Follow Jephthah

Very little is said of the next three judges of Israel. The ninth Judge of Israel is Ibzan (Hebrew iḇṣān, meaning father of coldness”):

Judges 12:8-10 And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters, whom he sent abroad, and took in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. 10 Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.

Ibzan was from the Tribe of Asher, and he did little of note, according to the Scripture. He had 30 sons and 30 daughters, which tells us that he must have been polygamous. Ibzan did what many of his (and our) day did – he blended with the culture that was around him. Ibzan lived, had many wives, many children, and died. His life did little to impact history, according to the Scripture. The Jewish Historian Josephus (Antiquities 5:7:13) notes,

He did nothing in the seven years of his administration that was worth recording, or deserved a memorial.”

The tenth Judge of Israel is Elon (meaning “little ram”).

Judges 12:11-12 And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. 12 And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.

Elon is from the Tribe of Zebulon, and we are told absolutely nothing about him but that he lived and died. Ibzan had 30 sons and daughters, and took in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. That is, Ibzan bound Israel with other kingdoms through marriage. But Elon did nothing at all, insofar as Scripture is concerned.

The eleventh Judge of Israel is Abdon, son of Hillel:

Judges 12:13-15 And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel. 14 And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years. 15 And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount of the Amalekites.

Abdon is called a Pirathonite. One of King David’s “mighty men of valor” Benaiah was from Pirathon (2 Samuel 23:30; 1 Chronicles 11:31; 27:14), though this in itself doesn’t make Abdon a “mighty man of valor”. Abdon had forty sons and thirty nephews who rode on 70 donkeys, a sign of a prosperous man. Further, his family rode on donkeys, not on horses. Perhaps this tells us that when Abdon ruled, there was peace and prosperity in the land. The Jewish Historian Josephus notes:

[Abdon] is only recorded to have been happy in his children; for the public affairs were then so peaceable, and in such security, that neither did he perform any glorious action.”

The Bible tells us little about these last three Judges because they perhaps received the Grace of God in vain. These Judges were given the privilege of serving the Lord, a privilege they neither earned nor deserved. When God in Grace calls us to a life with Him, we are to serve Him to the best of our ability, glorifying His Name. We are to be like the Apostle Paul, who wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

We are not saved BY our works, but once saved, our faith is proved genuine BY our works. Called to serve the Lord, we are immortal while doing God’s will. Each Judge – from Jephthah (6 years), Ibzan (7 years), Elon (10 years), and Abdon (8 years) – served God a total of 31 years where there was relative peace in the land. As we come to chapter 13 we read:

Judges 13:1 And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.

Israel went into forty years of Philistine enslavement. They received the Grace of God in vain. But from the broken, God will bring a miracle.

From The Broken, God Brings A Miracle:
Introducing The Nazarite Judge Samson

Judges 13:2-5 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not. 3 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. 4 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: 5 For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.

Every tribe of Israel has had a Judge that God raised up from them, and we have seen 11 judges so far. But one tribe still needs to be represented – the Tribe of Dan. A man of the Tribe of Dan called Manoah (Hebrew mānôaḥ, meaning “to rest”) had a wife that was unable to have a child. The Bible tells us that the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman. Who is the angel of the Lord”? The Angel of the Lord represents God, and sometimes is God. Some believe that, at times, the “Angel of the Lord” was an Old Testament Manifestation of Christ our Lord. In this chapter we see the “Angel of the Lord” is both representative of God, but also IS God:

Judges 13:19-22 So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the Lord: and the angel did wonderously; and Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground. 21 But the angel of the Lord did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the Lord. 22 And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.

The Angel of the Lord – a direct Representation of God – tells Manoah’s wife that she will conceive, and bear a son. This son will be special. The Angel tells her that her diet is to be very careful. She is told drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing. Her child was going to be a Nazarite Priest from birth.

The word “Nazarite” comes from the term “to be separate or consecrated”. The laws governing Nazarite Priests are found in Numbers 6:1-21. Those who were Nazarite Priests could not cut their hair, drank no wine nor grape products, avoided contact with dead things, and could eat nothing considered “unclean” (Leviticus 11). In the Bible anyone could take a Nazarite vow.The Apostle Paul at one time was a Nazarite (Acts 18:18; 21:21-26)– but in the Bible there were but three men who were Nazarites from birth for life. These were:

John the Baptist (Luke 1:15)
The Prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11)
Samson (Judges 13:4-5)

When the Angel of the Lord announces Samson’s birth to his mother, he tells her:

Judges 13:5 … the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines

Israel will be under the heel of the Philistines for 40 years – and Samson shall begin to deliver Israel. The Nazarite Prophet Samuel – also a Judge (1 Samuel 7:6) will finish defeating Philistia at Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7, 1084 BC). The Philistines will rise up again later in history, and King David will subjugate them in his reign (see 2 Samuel 5:17-25, 1004 BC). The Philistines would come back again and oppose Israel until the Babylonian Captivity removes both Philistines and Israel from the land (Isaiah 14:29-32; Jeremiah 47; Ezekiel 25:15-17; Amos 1:6-8).

Once Manoah’s wife hears from the Angel of the Lord, she runs to tell her husband:

Judges 13:6-7 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name: 7 But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.

We’ll return to this point next week as we explore the life of Samson. May God bless you all! Amen and Amen.

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A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
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