K:JNWTS 32/1 (May 2017): 3-22
What is the next (seventh) book of the OT?
Why is it called "Judges"? Are the main characters legal figures like modern day courtroom figures?
No, the title "Judges" is derived from the Hebrew name for the book (shopetîm) meaning "leaders" responsible for making decisions ("judging," cf. Dt 16:18). In the book of Judges, these leaders are charismatic (i.e., filled with God's Spirit) leaders who are instruments of divine deliverance (magnalia Dei). NB: they are "Spirit-filled" in order to "deliver" or "save" (Heb., yasha, e.g., 2:16, 18; 3:31; 6:14; 10:1; 13:5 ) God's people. Hence, they are labeled môshia (cf. 3:9, 15; 6:36; 12:3) or "saviors" ("deliverers").
What is the nature of the era of the Judges?
Chronologically, it extends from the death of Joshua (ca. 1390 B.C.) to the anointing of Saul as the first King of Israel (ca. 1050 B.C.)
So the whole period is more than 300 years in length?
Yes, just as one of the Judges (Jephthah) confirms in chapter 11:26
What else characterizes the period of the Judges?
It is an age of transition—an intermediate age between the theocracy (Moses to Joshua) and the monarchy (Saul/David to Zedekiah)
Outline the unfolding organic continuum of the history of redemption.
Patriarchal Age (2200-1800 B.C.)
Age of Egyptian Bondage (1800-1447 B.C.)
Age of the Theocracy under Moses and Joshua (1447-1390 B.C.)
Age of the Judges (1390-1050 B.C.)
Age of the Monarchy (1050-586 B.C.)
How does the era of the Judges interface retrospectively and prospectively?
It looks back to Joshua (1:1) and looks forward to the age of a king/monarchy (21:25)
What does this transition suggest?
The theocracy was not intended by God to be permanent—it too was transient as it opened up on a "more excellent way" in (especially) the Davidic Monarchy (a "king after God's own heart")
When did these transient eras come to an end?
At the revelation of the "kingdom of heaven" through the incarnation of heaven's eternal Son and everlasting King of Kings, our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, all the OT eras are anticipating (even demonstrating in their own way, i.e., via the eschatological interface) the coming advent of the King and his Kingdom.
So the book of Judges (as the books of Genesis through Joshua) is Christ-centered?
By revealing in the "days of the Judges" a deliverance for the sinful and rebellious people of God from their enemy oppressors through Spirit-filled "saviors".
These "saviors" are projecting/anticipating the once-for-all (eschatological) Savior, Jesus Christ?
Yes, as the list of some of them in Hebrews 11:32 makes clear. In fact, "by faith" (in its eschatological aspect), these OT deliverers mirror the redemption from fear, oppression and death which the people of God need, long for and possess once-and-for-all in Jesus Christ.
What is the narrative/dramatic pattern of the book of Judges?
It is the programmatic cycle (which you also find summarized in Neh 9:26-28 and Ps 106:39-46).
- Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord (2:11, etc.)
What evil? Generally, idolatry of fertility worship, i.e., Baal and Ashtaroth (2:11, 13, etc.).
- God was angry with them (2:14, etc.)
- God delivered them to their enemy oppressors (2:14, etc.)
- The sons of Israel cry to the Lord (2:18; cf. 3:9, etc.)
- God raised up "judges" (2:16, etc.) who deliver them through the Spirit (3:10)
- The land has rest (3:11, etc.)
Note the pattern of redemptive-historical reversal in this paradigm (punitive reversal):
- Israel's evil, specifically, idolatry, is a reversal of turning from the Lord God.
- God's anger burning against Israel is a reversal of his grace and mercy to his people.
- God's giving Israel over to an enemy oppressor is a reversal of their peace and freedom from the persecution of hostile unbelievers (pagans).
And now note the reversal of the reversal:
- Israel cries to the Lord in a reversal of devotion to idol gods.
- God sends a deliverer to save and redeem his people in a reversal of the oppressors he had sent.
- God grants the land peace and freedom for a time in a reversal of his canceling shalom and liberty via the hostile forces of darkness.
The redemptive pattern of reversal is ultimately an eschatological end to the protological beginning of the Judges paradigm. It requires a protological intervention of an eschatological moshia (deliverer, savior) who comes (and will come) to yasha (deliver, save) once and for all.
Are most of the elements of this paradigm present in the narratives of the ‘major' Judges?
Yes, as reported in the careers of Othniel, Ehud, Deborah/Barak, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson
Are these elements of this paradigm present in the narratives of the ‘minor' Judges?
No, as found in the careers of Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon
How many ‘major' Judges are there?
How many ‘minor' Judges are there?
How is the symmetry of six and six different?
The narrative of each ‘major' Judge is introduced by the phrase "Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord"; the narrative of the ‘minor' Judges does not contain this formula. Also the ‘major' figures have extensive or full-bodied narratives (so-called ‘round' characters). The ‘minor' figures have very brief narratives with little more than the duration of the time they were "judging Israel" (so-called ‘flat' characters). NB: interestingly, Jephthah's story is bracketed by most of these ‘minor' figures—two beforehand (Tola and Jair, 10:1-5) and three afterward (Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, 12:8-15)
What does the general narrative pattern of the book indicate?
That there is a narrative downward spiral of the story of Israel in the transition between theocracy and monarchy
If the book is arranged chronologically (i.e., Othniel to Jephthah, perhaps 1380- ca. 1080 B.C.), how do chapters 17-21 fit into the paradigm?
They represent the lowest point of the downward spiral with the concomitant horror of the dismembered concubine introducing the final litany rehearsal "no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25). NB: it may be the case, however, that chapters 17-21 are epexegetical of the entire era of the Judges, i.e., this is an illustration of the "evil" which was being done by Israel "in the eyes of the Lord" in the days of transition from Joshua to Saul.
So where is the end in this horrible beginning?
Even as the earthly Canaan appears to be more a ‘Hell' than a ‘Heaven' (and thus puts an end to all earthly utopian myths and programs because endemic human sin—brutal sin—turns them into hellish nightmares), the stunning grace of God invades the souls of some so as to cause heaven's ‘saviors' to bring peace and rest temporarily. This augurs the eschatological reality of the truly heavenly Canaan where no sin abides, nor oppressive enemy intrudes and where the Lord God of that eschaton is present in his perfect, holy, righteous, redemptive glory and all inhabitants do what is right in his eyes.
Who is the first major Judge?
But he has been introduced before in the history of redemption?
Yes, though not mentioned by name, he is undoubtedly present in Joshua 14:5-15, when faithful Caleb leads the sons of Judah in the conquest of Hebron and environs. Joshua 15:13-19 describes the bravery of Othniel in seizing Kiriath-sepher as the dowry of Caleb's daughter, Achsah. These narratives connect Caleb, Othniel and Joshua to the tribe of Judah—the tribe which inaugurates the book of Judges (1:2ff). The leadership of Judah in the conquest and settlement of the land is proleptic of the "lion of the tribe of Judah" who is Lord of the heavenly Canaan.
Is there narrative historical linkage between the book of Joshua and the book of Judges?
Yes, a reciprocal hook links the death of Joshua at the close of the one (Josh 24:29) and the aperture of the other (Jdg 1:1). But more than this, the recursive literary narrative symmetry emphasizing the preeminence of God's faithful servants (Joshua and Caleb) as well as the prominence of the tribe of Judah (Israel's ‘royal' tribe) unfolds in continuum with the ‘conqueror'/‘savior' role of Othniel with respect to Kiriath-sepher and Cushan-rishathaim.
Is Othniel a retrospective as well as a prospective figure?
Yes, in Judges 1:11-15, we rehearse his role retrospectively at the conquest (Josh 15:13-19), even as the same duplicate narrative anticipates his future role in Judges 3:8-11.
What is the difference?
In Othniel's conquest of Debir (Kiriath-sepher), he captures a local Canaanite fortress. In his defeat of Cushan-rishathaim, he prevails over an international Mesopotamian foe (Jdg 3:10). All this is by the Lord's "hand" in his life in which Othniel saves God's people from regional as well as ecumenical foes. He overcomes national and trans-national Gentiles.
Does Othniel's role in the book of Judges match the full or complete paradigm of reversal noted above?
Yes, as the Judge who inaugurates the book of Judges, his career contains all of the narrative dramatic elements of the reversal paradigm explicitly, i.e., setting the pattern for all the Judges (major and minor) even where elements of the reversal paradigm are not explicit.
- Israel's evil of worshipping Baals and Asheroth (3:7)
- God's "anger" burns against Israel (v. 8)
- God brings an oppressor (v. 8)
- Israel cries to the Lord (v. 9)
- God raises up a deliverer (moshia) (v. 9), who is anointed by God's Spirit (v. 10)
- God grants peace and rest to the land (v. 11)
Isn't the Othniel narrative full of doublets?
Yes: the protagonist (Othniel) is named twice (vv. 9, 11); he is twice identified as the "son of Kenaz" (vv. 9, 11). The antagonist (Cushan-rishathaim) is named four times (twice two, vv. 8, 10). His name literally means "Cushan of Double Wickedness". His native region is Mesopotamia or literally Aram-naharim (which means "Aram of the Two Rivers", i.e., the Tigris and the Euphrates).
The doublets of proper names and geography feed the double narrative pattern of the drama
What do you mean?
The initial narrative drama features the antagonists and the downward spiral of Israel's suffering under his oppression (vv. 8-9). The successive narrative drama features the protagonist and the upward spiral of Israel's deliverance under his Spirit-empowered leadership. The double plot narrative (downward and upward vectors) reinforces the double sequence of fall into sin and suffering with the rise into deliverance and salvation via a redeemer figure.
Please reflect upon the protological/eschatological motif/theme for me here.
Othniel is the protological judge-deliverer, but he can never be the eschatological judge-deliverer. He may participate in the mystery of the eschatological Judge and Savior, but he is not that One himself. A greater than Othniel must conform himself to the downward (sin bearer) and upward (sin deliverer) spiral if the Israel of God of the end of the age is to have permanent rest and peace forever and ever. The Lord Jesus Christ is that Spirit-filled deliverer!
Who is the next Judge?
Ehud, the Benjamite (3:15), the left-handed messenger of God's eschatological message to the tyrannical King of Moab, Eglon (3:12).
What is Ehud's "eschatological message"?
Judgment and Death by the Lord God of Israel
Are all six elements of the Judges narrative paradigm which characterizes chapter 2 and Othniel (3:7-11) present in the Ehud narrative?
Five of the six are explicit. God's burning "anger" is implicit in the language "the Lord strengthened Eglon" (3:12).
What is unique about the literary pattern of the Ehud narrative?
It is an elaborate chiasm carefully dramatizing the literary reflection and reversal of the narrative.
Please outline the chiasm (I am indebted to Wayne Brouwer, The Literary Development of John 13-17: A Chiastic Reading , p. 74 for suggesting this pattern. I have modified his proposed structure to make it conform, in my opinion, more precisely to the pattern of the Hebrew text).
A. Israel subdued by Moab (12)
B. Moab "smites" Israel (13)
C. Ehud goes to Moab (15, 17)
D. Ehud turns from "idols" at Gilgal (19a)
E. Eglon's "attendants" leave him (19d)
F. Eglon alive alone in his roof chamber (20)
G. Ehud draws his sword (21a)
H. Ehud thrusts his sword (21c)
G'. Ehud leaves his sword (22)
F'. Eglon dead alone in his roof chamber (24)
E'. Eglon's "servants" discover him (25)
D'. Ehud passes by "idols" at Seirah (26)
C'. Ehud returns from Moab (27)
B' Israel "smites" Moab (29)
A'. Moab subdued by Israel (30)
The chiasm is a literary reflexive device which reverses the narrative plot at the hinge or turning point (letter H) of the drama. The Ehud narrative spirals downward to Eglon's death at the hand of God's servant which then turns the narrative upward to the deliverance of God's people from Moabite despotism to undisturbed liberty and peace in the Promised Land.
Is there a bracket chiasm around the whole narrative (3:12-30)?
Yes, the order of the Hebrew text is Israel (subdued) by Moab (v. 12); Moab (subdued by Israel (v. 30)
NB: a framing device in precise order of reversal (vv. 12 and 30), bracketing the larger narrative drama of reversal—also in precise chiastic style (vv. 13-29).
Again, what is the end in the beginning or protological-eschatological tandem here?
Ehud delivers his people by executing final judgment on the enemy scion. Jesus delivers his people by assuming the final judgment due them, thus destroying the power of their enemies.
Who is the next Judge?
What is his significance?
He is the first of the minor Judges named in the book (see above)
What is unique about Shamgar?
His narrative is the shortest description of the six minor Judges
It is only one verse in the Hebrew text; other minor Judges receive two or more verses. But Shamgar receives special mention in the Song of Deborah and Barak (5:6)—a retrospective glance that no other minor Judge receives in the book.
"And the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord" (4:1). This verse (of the repetitive paradigm, noted above from chapter 2) brings us to Deborah and Barak.
What is their story?
They are the deliverers from the tyranny of Jabin, King in Hazor (4:2)
How do they deliver Israel?
By the military defeat of Jabin's army under its commander, Sisera; and by destruction of Hazor under the commander of the army of the Lord, Barak.
What other element of this narrative is present in the text?
A poetic song of victory composed by Deborah and Barak (5)
How did Barak defeat Sisera?
By the word of the Lord through Deborah (4:6-7, 9, 14)
Where did the clash occur?
At Mt. Tabor near the Kishon River (use a good Bible atlas for the geography of this battle)
How does the Kishon River figure in this victory?
Cf. 4:7, 13 and 5:21. It seems that the Kishon "fought" against Jabin and Sisera by flooding the battle plain below Mt. Tabor and miring the iron chariots (4:3, 13; cf. 1:19) of the Canaanites in the mud. The enemy soldiers were stuck in the mud and thus easy victims of Barak's 10,000 swords (cf. 5:22 which also suggests the chariot horses broke free by "dashing" away, leaving the charioteers vulnerable to the enemy Israelite infantry. For this explanation, cf. Ps. 83:9, 10).
In addition to the destruction of the Canaanite army, Israel also destroyed Jabin and Hazor (4:23-24).
Yes, recent archaeological excavations at Hazor have uncovered a destruction layer some date to the 13th century B.C. (full discussion here: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2011/01/06/The-Dating-of-Hazors-Destruction-in-Joshua-11-Via-Biblical-Archaeological-and-Epigraphical-Evidence.aspx). This could be the result of Deborah and Barak's campaign to liberate Israel from Canaanite oppression.
Deborah with Barak are the instruments of Jabin's destruction, even as Jael, wife of Heber, is the instrument of Sisera's destruction (4:17-22).
What is the significance of the song of Deborah and Barak (5)?
It is a poetic rehearsal of redemptive history, past and present, even as it is a poetic narrative of the double victories (over Jabin's army and Jabin's army commander).
How is the poem constructed?
It begins with a title (v. 1) and ends with a doxology (v. 31). In between are three major subunits, each featuring narrative characterization: vv. 2-18 characterize the "people" of Israel (vv. 2, 18); vv. 19-23 characterize the drama of the battle with the Canaanites featuring those who "came" (v. 19) and those who did "not come" (v. 23); vv. 24-30 characterize Jael and Sisera's mother, featuring the double "blessed" mother of Israel and the dolorous mother of Sisera—twice doubly deprived of the "spoil" of the people of God (v. 30). The doxology (31) contains double vectors—the downward vector of God's enemies perishing and the upward spiral of the lovers of the Lord rising in his might. Doubling or duplicate patterns are central to this poem.
Expand on vv. 2-18.
The emphasis upon God's theophanic majesty marching in powerful display at Sinai through the sojourn to Edom is a retrospective rehearsal of the magnalia Dei (vv. 3-5). Then the poetic narrative fast forwards to the redemptive-historical present—the days of Shamgar and Jael, also the days of Deborah and Barak (v. 12) in which the reversal of Israel's misery and desolation (vv. 6, 8) was echoed by the marshalling cry of the gathering troops from the tribes of Israel (vv. 9-18), especially Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, Dan and Naphtali. Reversal reversed—from misery to victory.
Expand on vv. 19-23
Framed by those enemies who "came" and those allies who did not "come", the poetic unit characterizes the participants in the victory of "the help of the Lord" (v. 23) in reverse contrast to those who did not participate—doubly "cursed". These "no shows" are like the Canaanites—allies of the oppressor. This unit also reveals an appearance by the "angel of the Lord" (v. 23) who speaks an eschatological word of final judgment upon those who refused to "march on with strength" from heaven and heaven's allies. Theophanic malediction even as theophanic benediction (the "torrent" of Kishon) enables the victory of heaven in and through its faithful servants.
Expand on vv. 24-30
This is a double characterization poem featuring the contrasting personalities of Jael, wife of Heber, and the unnamed Canaanite, mother of Sisera. The one is a "blessed" wife (?and perhaps mother); the other is a dolorous, bereft wife (and mother). The one is praised for her identification with the people of God, their victory and her own participation in vanquishing the foe. The other stares glassy-eyed at the horizon lamenting the vanquished general, son, leader of the enemies of God and his people. The only "spoils" which Sisera receives are defeat and death at the hands of two women—Jael and Deborah.
Summary: the patterns of reversal (as the reverse vectors of the concluding verse [5:31] of the narrative-poetic unit [chapters 4-5]) are replete. The reverse role of Deborah, a woman sovereignly and exceptionally exalted to leadership as prophetess of the Lord and judgess of Israel; Barak exalted from obscurity in Naphtali to leadership of the armed hosts of the Lord in victory over the oppressor of the people of God. The reversal of Jabin's Canaanite tyranny in the stunning victory of the Lord God through Barak's Israeli army of defeat. The reversal of Jael and Sisera's mothers in the joyful triumph of the one in solidarity with the Lord God and his people and the sorrowful lament of the other in solidarity with forces of the lovers of oppression, tyranny and death, who are at the same time haters of peace, liberty and life for God and his people. There are eschatological vectors here, as the reader has learned from the unfolding organic pattern of the history of redemption. Barak is a possessor of eschatological faith (Heb 11:1, 30). That means, by faith in things "not seen", he is joined to the not seen Lord God and his triumphant heavenly arena. The appearance of the "angel of the Lord" here in this narrative (5:23) is an anticipation of the appearance of the Son of God in time and space as victor over the enemies of God's people (sin and death), while openly displaying his triumph over the allies of darkness and oppression via his glorious resurrection. The protology of this narrative—summed up in 5:31—is a semi-realization of the eschatology of this narrative in the person, work and kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Barak's (and Deborah's) eschatological faith laid hold of this, embraced this, possessed this and acted courageously out of this. The Christic Angel of the Lord is explicitly active in the lives of his redeemed people in the OT—he is a vertical eschatological intrusion on the plane of horizontal redemptive-historical manifestation (cf. also Jdg 2:1, 4).
Where does the Angel of the Lord next appear?
In the narrative drama of the next Judge, Gideon (6:11ff.)
What oppressor has the paradigm of Israelite sin once again brought upon a disobedient and idolatrous people?
The Midianites attended by scarcity of food via plunder of flocks and herds with destruction of fields and granaries.
Who commissions Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianite oppression?
The Angel of the Lord
Who is the Angel of the Lord?
He is "the Lord" (6:15, 22-24)
How does he assure Gideon of the commission he lays upon him?
With the Immanuel promise—"I will be with you" (6:16). This "God with you" pledge is the gracious assurance of the presence-union of the pre-incarnate Son of God.
But Gideon is an unlikely recipient of such grace, is he not?
Yes, he is a hesitant doubter (like may Christians) who needs constant reassurance and tokens of God's promises.
And what of the Lord's patience with Gideon?
He is longsuffering in his encouragement to weak Gideon in order that his omnipotent strength will be evident in so weak and fearful a vessel.
What is Gideon's other name?
Because he tore down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah (consort of Baal) (6:25-32).
How did he "deliver" (moshia) Israel?
With three hundred men, trumpets and pitchers (7:16)
Why only three hundred men?
In order that God's mighty power would receive all the glory for the stunning victory (7:2)
How were the three hundred chosen?
By the way they drank water—lapping water from their hand rather than kneeling to place their face in the water, thus indicating the vigilance and wariness of the three hundred as opposed to the carelessness of the others (7:3-6).
Where is the irony here?
It was "into the hand" of those who drank from their "hands" that the Lord delivered the Midianites (7:9).
How did Gideon deliver via trumpets?
By sounding the noisy/blaring alarm in the dead of night so as to terrify and panic the enemy army.
How did he deliver by pitchers?
By smashing the clay vessels on the ground so as to emulate the din of a mighty marching army, thus causing the Midianite soldiers to kill one another in the confusion of noise and stampede of their camels and livestock.
How is the eschatological end present in this new beginning?
The people of God are delivered by the power of the Angel of the Lord and his in-dwelling Spirit, as the supernatural arena intersects with the historical. And it is that transcendent arena with its personalities and powers which possesses Gideon, drawing him in to its invisible and hoped for victory, grace and glory. The sword of the Lord and Gideon (7:20) anticipates the sword of the Lord and God's Son (Rev 19:15). The incarnate Son of God is the fullness of this redemptive-historical drama at the "end of the age".
After the disastrous career of Gideon's son, Abimelech (chapter 9), we have two minor Judges, Tola (10:1-2) and Jair (10:3-5) who prepare the way for Jephthah.
**NB: with the reader's indulgence, I depart here from the catechetical format I have used to this point in order to provide a more complete descriptive narrative account of the next two Judges—Jephthah and Samson. My hope is that in these expanded versions, the reader will detect the encapsulation of the "end in the beginning and the beginning in the end".
Let us consider Jephthah, whose "faith possessed the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1).The narrative of Jephthah's life spans Judges 11 and 12, but it is the account in chapter 11 which stirs the controversy. The narrative parameters are established by the inclusio which frames Judges 11: Jephthah, the Gileadite (v. 1) and Jephthah, the Gileadite (v. 40). Included between these story-board bookends is a narrative of rejection and separation, a narrative of reconsideration and desperation, a narrative of proclamation and Spirit possession, a narrative of obligation and dedication. Jephthah's story begins with his father; Jephthah's story ends with him as father; Jephthah's story in between beginning and end is the narrative of his union with the Lord and his Holy Spirit. With this endowment, he delivers the people of God from the oppression of the sons of Ammon.
Jephthah is the son of a harlot—product of a union between Gilead his father and a prostitute. He is marked from birth with the stigma of illegitimacy. And with that stigma hanging over his head, Jephthah is driven from his home by his brothers—separated from his family and removed to a place outside the boundary of Israel. And in that place—the place set apart—Jephthah is set apart by God the Spirit—set apart with the companions of his removal—set apart to prepare himself for the service of the Lord. Jephthah, the servant of the Lord, removed into a far country and separated to the work of God, the plan of God, the salvation of the Lord. His nameless brothers are forgotten—unknown, unnamed; but Jephthah's name lives—lives among the roll call of the faithful—lives to be named again at the end of this story. The name of Jephthah unfolds the man in his story.
And the center of that story—the center of Jephthah's story—flows from his lips—flows from the testimony of his mouth: the Lord; the Lord, the God of Israel; the Lord our God; the Lord, the Judge. Jephthah testifies to the centrality of the Lord in his life. Over and over, the name that is most frequently on his lips is the Lord, the Lord, the Lord.
Jephthah's confession of the Lord's name includes his possession of the Lord's story. Jephthah understands, Jephthah rehearses, Jephthah lives out of the drama of the history of redemption. Jephthah knows the redemptive-historical story of his Lord—the Lord, his God. He knows the story of the exodus from Egypt—God's mighty hand of deliverance—deliverance from bondage; deliverance at the Reed Sea, deliverance in the wilderness, deliverance from the King of Moab, the King of Edom, the King of the Amorites. Jephthah knows the redemptive-historical story of the Lord's mighty conquest of Sihon and Balak, Transjordanian kings. And as Jephthah knows the story of the Lord his God, so he knows the brutal story of the god of the Ammonites (jointly worshipped with Moloch by Ammon and neighboring Moab, cf. 2 Kgs 3:27). Jephthah knows the brutal story of Chemosh (v. 24), blood-thirsty god of the Ammonites. Chemosh, who demanded the blood of little boys and girls; Chemosh, thirsting for the blood of little boys and little girls; Chemosh, who demands the blood of sons and daughters to be poured out on his altars—their bodies fully consumed in flames—their bloodied corpses engulfed in a holocaust of fire to appease the mute idol lusting for human burnt offerings. Yes, Jephthah knows the story of the god(s) of the nation he will defeat by the Spirit of the God of Israel. He knows that story and in his defeat of that human-sacrifice nation by the hand of the Lord, he declares his disgust, his contempt, his horror of their god and the burnt offerings of sons and daughters offered up to him—to Chemosh, god of human blood sacrifice.
And thus Jephthah vows a vow unto the Lord—unto the Lord who judges right and wrong, judges between sin and obedience. Jephthah vows to the Judge (v. 27) of all righteousness that he will devote to the Lord whatever first comes to him from his house if the Lord will bring him to his home—his family—to his child—to his daughter—to his legitimate offspring—to his seed marked with no stigma, no reproach, no slur of bastard outcast. Jephthah vows to the Lord—by the in-dwelling Holy Spirit of God, Jephthah vows to the Lord that what first greets him in peace from his home "shall be the Lord's". It shall be devoted to the Lord, separated to the Lord, set apart to the Lord. If I come to my house in peace, what first greets me will belong to the Lord. I will part with it; I will dedicate it; I will devote it to the service of the Lord.
Jephthah, this pilgrim from a far country, this exile come again to the Promised Land, vows before the face of heaven, in the Holy Spirit—vows a heaven-oriented vow—vows to devote to heaven what greets him in peace. Whatever it is, he will commend it to heaven, devote it entirely and wholly to the Lord God of heaven, the Lord God of Moses and Israel, the Lord God of the law of offerings and sacrifice, the Lord God of the pilgrims of the former age who says, "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire . . . a thing I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter my mind" (Dt 18:10; Jer 7:31; 19:5). Jephthah knows the antitheses between the sacrificial law of the Lord his God and the sacrificial law of Chemosh, a god of the Ammonites. Jephthah knows, and when he comes to his home in peace, before the face of heaven, he cannot, no he cannot become the pagan Ammonite and kill his daughter and burn her up on an altar of the very Lord God whom he has served—the God who has declared that such an offering would be an abomination in his sight and make Jephthah possess the spirit of Satan, not the Spirit of the Lord his God.
It is the heaven-oriented nature of Jephthah's faith—of Jephthah's life—which possesses his vow as heaven possesses his faith as heaven possesses his heart. And heaven moves him to devotion, not immolation. The substance of things hoped for—heavenly riches and possession moves Jephthah to devote his daughter to heaven. As his life by the Spirit of the living Lord God is devoted to heaven, so he devotes the life of his only child—his one and only child—his beloved daughter—her life is devoted to heaven as his is. Jephthah mirrors the life of his daughter in his own life. This father and child are not the stigmatized paradigm of the beginning of the story; this father and child are marked with the Spirit of devotion to heaven and to heaven's Lord. If Jephthah is filled with the Holy Spirit, he vows to mirror himself in his daughter—to devote her to a life in the Spirit—a celibate life in the Spirit—a life in which as an unmarried woman, a virgin, she "will be concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit" (1 Cor 7:34). And the daughter of Jephthah replies, "My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said" (Jdg 11:36). Jephthah's daughter accepts the vow of her father, mirroring/reflecting herself in him; in his Lord; in the Holy Spirit that in-dwells him; in the heaven-oriented focus of his life; in his devotion to heaven and heaven's Lord. Now, she will devote herself to heaven and heaven's Lord. She will devote herself singularly, celibately, solely to the Lord. No children for her; no husband for her; no legitimate seed from her to perpetuate the line of Jephthah and family. Though she bewails her virgin status, she embraces its perpetuity, not its bloody execution. She will join the women who serve the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of Israel—women mentioned in Exodus 38:8 and 1 Samuel 2:22. Jephthah's daughter is wholly dedicated to the service of God—a perpetual virgin serving at the door of the tabernacle of the Lord—the tabernacle of the Lord, the gateway to heaven and the most holy of holies presence of the God of salvation.
"She knew not a man" (Jdg 11:39)—an irrelevant remark if she was killed and burned on an altar. "She knew not a man"—a very relevant remark if she remained unmarried, a virgin for life who served God until her death. For if Jephthah did in fact murder his daughter (as all romantics and liberals assert), the daughters of Israel would not go about for four days in the year to "recount" or "praise" the fact (11:40). No, if he murdered her, you would want to forget it, not memorialize it. But if she lived a perpetual virgin, you would commemorate her self-sacrifice, even her devotion, and praise God for the life of service she rendered to heaven and heaven's Lord. She thus becomes a testimony to the substance of the life of heaven—there, they are neither married nor given in marriage (Mt 22:30). Jephthah's vow projects the substantial and evidential hope of a heavenly devotion, a heavenly service at the door of a heavenly tabernacle where all pilgrims by faith will rest and bask in full and complete devotion to heaven's Lord through heaven's Son by heaven's Holy Spirit. Jephthah and his daughter possessed that by faith for Jephthah rejoiced to see Christ's day; and he saw it and was glad.
Out of the eater came
something to eat;
And out of the strong came something sweet.
With this clever riddle, Samson inaugurates his wedding feast with the unnamed Philistine woman of Timnah (Jdg 14:4). How suggestive is this riddle! For in a real sense, this rhyme is an interpretation of the man. Samson himself is a riddle.
Raised a Nazarite—set apart as God's own from his mother's womb—Samson is in fact a weakling—a notorious, tragic weakling. He tears a lion with his bare hands; smites the Philistines hip and thigh with no more than a donkey's jawbone; picks up the front gates of the city of Gaza and deposits them opposite Mt. Hebron—Hebron, mind you was 36 miles away and an ascent from sea level to 3200 feet above the Mediterranean. By conservative estimates, the gates of Gaza weighed 2 ½ tons. 5000 pounds carried 36 miles climbing 3200 feet!
Yet this reservoir of physical strength is the 90 pound weakling as he sleeps on Delilah's knees. Samson, charismatic delivered appointed to emancipate Israel from Philistine tyranny and oppression—Samson dallies with the gift of God as he dallies with Delilah. Samson—more likely a candidate for arrest and censure by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals than a champion of Israel. You will recall the story in Judges 15; how he tied the tails of 300 foxes together in pairs, put a troch between the tails, lit the torch and sent the foxes running through the Philistine grain fields. Samson, designated to live as a temple of the Holy Spirit—Samson dies at his own hand. Samson—some of whose exploits are downright embarrassing to the church—Samson finds a niche in the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11. "Samson . . . who by faith . . . shut the mouths of lions . . . from weakness was made strong . . . put foreign armies to flight . . . experienced mockings and scourgings, yes also chains and imprisonment . . . having gained approval through [his] faith."
The riddle of Samson is the enigma of a glorious birth and destiny, matched by a dubious and often ignominious career. Oh! What he could have been! Alas! What he became!!
Samson has been a riddle to interpreters and commentators of the OT since the days of the early church fathers. They have increased the riddle of this mighty man of the tribe of Dan by allegorizing him, moralizing him, typologizing him. Since the 18th century, Samson has been dismissed as a mythological hero—a Jewish Titan—a Kosher Hercules.
Perhaps the most gifted literary mind in the history of the church to wrestle with Samson was the English poet, John Milton. In his epic drama entitled "Samson Agonistes", Milton recreates the life of Samson by means of dialogue. This dialogue is a psychological and spiritual drama—hence Milton's title "Samson Agonistes"—Samson the Wrestler—whose chief opponent is himself. Milton takes us inside the mind and heart of the blind Samson where "restless thoughts . . . like a deadly swarm of hornets . . . present times past, what once I was, and what am now." The Milton who brilliantly crafts the Samson Agonistes is the same Milton who penned the magnificent description of Satan plummeting from heaven to hell in "Paradise Lost". "Him the Almighty Power Hurl'd headlong from the Ethereal Sky with hideous ruin and combustion down to bottomless perdition, there to dwell in Adamantine Chains and Penal fire. Who durst defy the Omnipotent to Arms."
And what of Milton's own agony, his own blindness, out of which he dictated his most famous sonnet: "When I consider how my light is spent . . . And doth God exact day-labor, light denied? . . . They also serve who only stand and wait." Lovely, poignant lines from a blind poet. So in Samson, Milton found a kindred soul.
Students of English literature have not missed the autobiographical similarities in Milton's Samson. Samson was blind; so was Milton. Samson was the object of humiliating defeat (Jdg 16); so was Milton humiliated in the collapse of the English Puritan Revolution in 1660. Samson is a witness to Philistine revelry; the "Philistines" in England after the Restoration of Charles II were the divine-right monarchists and the episcopalian bishops. The similarities between the biblical Samson and the Puritan Milton are intriguing—but the riddle of John Milton is not my concern. It is the dramatic contrast in Samson which Milton so brilliantly draws out so as to shed light on the biblical text which is my concern.
Milton's drama is set in the prison house of Gaza (Jdg 16:21ff.). It is the day before Samson's death. Samson's story is drawn out through dialogue with his visitors. His father, Manoah; Delilah, whom Milton gratuitously makes Samson's wife; and Harapha, a Philistine Goliath before his time, whom Milton adds to the story as a foil of brute strength. Samson's opening speech is a summary of his own contradictory state: "Why was my breeding order'd and prescrib's as of a person separate to God, design'd for great exploits: if I must die betray'd, captive and both my eyes put out, made of my enemies the scorn and gaze, to grind in brazen fetters. Ask for this great deliverer now and find him eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves, himself in bonds under Philistine yoke."
However, the depth of Samson's humiliation is not yet. A feast to Dagon is proclaimed. The Philistines gather to praise their blind, deaf and dumb god, Dagon—to celebrate the deliverance of Samson into their hands. Mighty Dagon, they shout, has delivered this weakling—this blind weakling into our hands. And so they drag Samson out to make sport of him. Sightless Samson is the spectacle. The once mighty champion of Israel must be led by the hand to rest himself on the supporting pillars. But every covenant child knows what blind Samson did once he got his hands on those pillars. Samson turned those sightless eyes to heaven—away from himself—away from his weakened condition—away from his humiliation. Samson turned his countenance to the all-seeing God and prayed with sighs and groans—prayed with all his heart—prayed for God to vindicate him. And having cried out to the Lord with a loud voice, he laid his hands upon those pillars—he stretched out his arms upon those pillars and bowed himself with strength he had never before sensed; and Samson pushed and pressed with all his might so that those two pillars heaved and buckled—and down came the pillars, down came the temple of Dagon, down came the lords and ladies of the Philistines, down they all came to death and destruction.
Here is the solution to the riddle of Samson. The end of the Samson saga is the beginning. Milton puts it perfectly: "Samson hath quit himself like Samson." At the end, Samson is Samson—finally like the Samson he was meant to be—finally a Samson whose strength is in the Lord—finally a Samson who out of humiliation is made strong in almighty grace. The rubble of the pagan temple testifies that Samson is a riddle no more. From this broken carcass flows a sweetness richer than the honeycomb. For in the end, Samson finds union with God. The Lord God whom he had been dedicated to serve does not leave him nor forsake him. By faith, Samson in the end from weakness was made strong.
It is the end of the Samson saga which reveals the riches of God's grace. For in the dying Samson, God reveals himself as the vindicator of the man of faith. "The just by faith shall live." Samson believed God at last and Samson lives—lives coram Deo—before the face of God. In the end is the beginning; in the dying Samson, God shows himself the destroyer of his enemies. Would Dagon be praised with Samson in chains; Samson unchained delivers the capital blow to Dagon and his seed. Would a temple of Dagon, be raised up; in the destruction of the temple of Dagon, a greater temple is revealed—the temple of the Lord in the heart of his servant. In the end, God dwells within the heart of Samson and God graciously makes that heart his very own dwelling place. Samson finds God his Immanuel at last—God with him. Would the Philistines vaunt their power over God's servant in mock humiliation and scorn; Samson through the in-dwelling power of God pulls down the dwelling of the principalities and powers of that present evil age. The drama of the saga of Samson is that the end of his life is the reversal of his whole ignominious career. The end of the life of Samson is nothing less than a resurrection—a resurrection of faith, vindication and victory.
This is no suicide. The great Christian commentators down through the ages are right. Samson's death is a holy war—like the Conquest of Canaan under Joshua, Samson is the Lord's instrument of herem—devoting the Philistines to destruction. His own life is forfeit in the battle just as every soldier renders his life potentially forfeit in battle. Milton expresses it thus: "Come, come, no time for lamentation now. Samson hath quit himself like Samson and heroically hath finish'd a life heroic on his enemies fully revenged. Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt, dispraise or blame, nothing but well and fair, and what may quiet us in a death so noble."
And yet the noble end of Samson directs our eyes to yet another end. The new beginning which is made in Samson's resurrection points the eye of faith to a greater resurrection in the end of the
age. Samson's birth was announced by an angelic messenger; so was the birth of Samson's Lord. Samson's growth and development was blessed by God; so was the growth of Samson's Lord. Samson was moved by the power of the Holy Spirit; so was Samson's Lord. Samson entered the stronghold of the enemy to become a spectacle of mockery and humiliation; so did Samson's Lord. Still, Samson is not just a protological Christ-figure. He is a testimony to the reality that the end is more glorious than the beginning—the end eschatologically and the end chronologically. The verdict of Scripture with respect to Samson is not a preachy indictment of his depravity—those weaknesses are obvious enough without exposition. The verdict of Scripture with respect to Samson is the testimony that he possessed the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). The substance of things hoped for in Samson's case is vindication and victory. The evidence of things not seen in Samson's case is life for God's servant out of his death in the arena of his enemies.
The summary verdict of Hebrews 11 with respect to Samson is that he possessed faith: "By faith, Samson . . ." Now the faith Samson possessed was faith in a particular aspect of trust—not faith forensically conceived (as in justifying faith); not faith mystically conceived (as in sanctifying faith); but faith in its eschatological aspect. Faith as the vehicle of the world not seen unleashed in the human heart. By faith, Samson saw! Yes, blind Samson saw!! By faith, Samson saw the end from the beginning; Samson by faith saw the fulfillment of the promise of the covenant of grace. By faith, Samson saw his life united with the life of One who would deliver without being a sinner—One who would redeem without being a failure—One who lead captivity captive. In the end, by faith, Samson saw his life hidden with God—and that is why his prayer of faith was the vehicle for unleashing supernatural power upon the principalities and powers of his evil age.
So in Samson, we—upon whom the end of the ages has come—we behold the end from the beginning and the beginning in the end. A greater than Samson has pulled down the synagogue of Satan, despoiling principalities and powers and the rulers of darkness. A greater than Samson has been crucified in weakness, raised again in power. A greater than Samson has built the true temple dwelling of God on the rubble of idol shrines—for he is the temple, he is Immanuel—he is God with us.
Here is where your faith and my faith must find their end. With Samson at last, in all of our foolishness, all of our sinfulness, all of our arrogance, cleverness and pride—not the blind eye, but the inner eye of Samson's faith—the faith that looks steadfastly unto Jesus.
Who was delivered up
Who was raised up unto life
Who redeems life in the pit
(even the prison pit at Gaza!)
Your faith sees this glorious end in Christ Jesus. Your faith sees what he did on the cross—what he did on the third day—your faith sees his death and resurrection—and in that end is your beginning, the beginning in you, as it was in Samson, of an endless life.
By faith, Samson saw Christ's day and he rejoiced and was glad.
Resuming once again the catechetical format as we leave behind the sermonic format.
How does the book of Judges end?
With the story of the idolatrous Micah and the lecherous Levite
How is this narrative framed?
At its inception (17:6) and conclusion (21:25) with the duplicate statement: "in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes."
How is this larger five-chapter unit divided?
Into two subunits: the tale of Micah (17-18) and the tale of the Levite and his concubine (19-21)
But a Levite appears in the Micah narrative?
Yes, in 17:7ff as evidence of narrative interface between the two distinct characters
What is the character of Micah and the Levite?
They are indicative of the base depravity and apostasy which is the recurring theme of the "evil Israel did in the sight of the Lord' throughout the 300 years of the Judges.
What is found in chapter 18?
An expansion on Micah's narrative in which his "graven image" is the focus
What is found in chapter 19?
An expansion on a Levite's narrative in which his "concubine" is the focus
What is found in chapters 20-21?
The horrific tale of the Levite's concubine, her gang rape, death and dismemberment, all of which precipitates a civil war between Benjamites and Danites, the two prominent tribes in the hospitality of Micah (Danites) and the hospitality of the Benjamites (the Levite).
What was the result of this ominous hospitality?
The near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin by the tribe of Dan and their allies in the north ("sons of Israel")
How was a remnant of Benjamin preserved?
By the sorrow of the "sons of Israel" in nearly wiping out the whole tribe of Benjamin (21:3). The remnant of Benjamin was given wives from the remnant of Jabesh-gilead (21:12, 21) in order to preserve the Benjamite tribe and inheritance.
Where is the end in the beginning and the beginning in the end of this ugly story?
Sin is ugly and it results in death and the curse—even the sin of idolatry and the sin of harlotry. The horizontal beginnings and ends are clear.
But what of the vertical vector in this depraved tragedy?
The eschatological aspect is the divine withdrawal or "giving them up" to their respective lusts, etc. in order that the normal product of sin may be evident and rampant. The curse of sin and depravity brings the eschatological finality of death and destruction (eschatological judgment intrudes into historical time and space).
Where is Christ in all this ugliness?
He is desperately needed as the faithful High Priest who serves no pagan idol cult, but is devoted to the Lord God alone. He is desperately needed as the sovereign preserver of a gracious remnant, even when they appear to be perched on the brim of annihilation. He is the gracious Savior of all those who "cry to the Lord" in distress, out of oppression because of cursed sin's ugly/wretched depravity. He hears their cry from heaven and incarnates himself to save them from all their sins and depravity.
How do we view the era of the Judges in the organic continuum of the unfolding history of redemption?
It is an era in God's unfolding organic plan of redemption which is impermanent, not lasting, not eternal—an era which would disappear with the better era to follow, i.e., the era of the monarchy (especially the Davidic-Solomonic monarchy). The broader shift from the age of the Patriarchs to the age of Moses to the age of the Judges to the age of the Monarchs is a testimony to the succession of better eras in the history of redemption—better successive revelations of the covenant of grace in history—grace of God to the patriarchs, more richly declared in God's grace to enslaved sons and daughters of the patriarchs; age of Mosaic exodus richer by far than the age of the Patriarchs (grace upon grace). And the age of the Judges was an age richer by far than the age of Moses for it is universally regarded by the Judges themselves as the fruition of the Mosaic exodus and sojourn (settlement in the Promised Land was far better than wandering in the wilderness for forty years). And the age of the Monarchy was even richer than the age of the Judges with a king after God's own heart uniting all Israel as the shepherd of God's flock, championing God's people against her enemies, extending the scepter of his kingdom over the Gentile nations round about him.
The Patriarchal age was not eternal, not permanent—it was to be surpassed. It was a transition in the history of redemption between the scattering of the nations at Babel and gathering of one from the nations as the friend of God (2 Chr 20:7; Is 41:8; Jam 2:23). And the Mosaic age was not eternal, not permanent—it was to be surpassed. It was a transition in the history of redemption between patriarchal descent into Egypt and Mosaic theocracy. And the Mosaic theocracy was not eternal, not permanent—it was to be surpassed. It was a transition in the history of redemption between exodus salvation and promised land settlement. And the days of the Judges were not eternal, not permanent—they were to be surpassed. They were a transition between Mosaic theocracy and Davidic monarchy. None of these eras was intended by God in the history of redemption to be the absolute, the final, the abiding era in redemptive history. Each of these eras in redemptive history was provisional, transitional, impermanent, displaced and replaced by a better era coming after them. And the goal—the ultimate, permanent, abiding goal of each of these eras in the history of redemptive—the patriarchal era, the Mosaic era, the era of the Judges, the monarchical era—the goal, the end, the permanent and abiding transition of each of these eras is the kingdom of heaven which dawns with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, son of David, son of the ‘savior' judges, son of the Mosaic exodus, son of the patriarchs.
No eternal age in the age of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; no eternal age in the age of Moses; no eternal age in the age of Joshua and Judges; no eternal age in the age of David. The only eternal age arrives with the Son of God who arrives from eternity bringing with him the eternal kingdom of heaven in word and deed and power.