Judges 9-10: The King, The Man

Judges 9:  Who is the true King?

Jdg 9:1-57  Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family,  (2)  “Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”  (3)  And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”  (4)  And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him.

Moses, Jotham, Christ

It is unfortunate that Abimelech is named after pagan kings – the king of Gerar (in Genesis 20-21) and another king of Gerar, respectively in the time of Abraham and Isaac.  He had the makings of a king indeed – but not a Christian king.  He did not model after his father who contended with Baal, and it seemed that his works represented his faith in a god which endorsed murder over mercy.  In continuation of the theme of dualism, of meek against the proud; of the small army of Yahweh against the large armies of the Eastern tribes – here, we see Abimelech seeking to be a leader, against Gideon’s initial humility, approached by the Angel rather than approaching the Angel for self-glory.

Secondly, it may be intentional that we see a contest of sorts between the seventy sons of Jerubbaal and the one son of Jerubbaal.  The number seventy (Genesis 46:27 – Jacob’s household in Egypt; Exodus 24 – the seventy chosen elders) is, like the number 12, symbolic of God’s government and God’s household.  Here, Jerubbaal’s 70 children would have represented that peaceful household; instead, Abimelech traded these children for 70 pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith, ironically titled the lord of the covenant, though he is more like fellowshipping with darkness (c.f. 2 Corinthians 6:14) by hiring worthless and reckless fellows (v.4) rather than people who followed him because of being an approved leader in the Spirit.  He is no different from Judas who had sold Christ by attaining silver as well (Matthew 26-27).

However, we must understand that in both cases Christ is not ‘sold’ to Satan strictly speaking, for the judgment of death was executed by the Father on the cross.  Satan had no power of executing that judgment, for he too is subject to eternal death in the prison of hell.  Satan is the one who tempts others into the same judgment of the Father, taking more and more people with him into the lake of fire where he is also punished.  Christ did not satisfy the wrath of Satan as if they were two Angels fighting against one another, akin to the Gnostic doctrine of creation; rather, Christ died to satisfy the wrath of his Father and his own wrath against sin (for Christ himself is also the judge of the book of Revelation).

It is in this sense that we see the false lord of the covenant, he who masquerades as an angel of light, is literally using silver (through Abimelech) as the leaders of Israel had done through Judas.  In both cases, Abimelech and Judas are vessels of evil, and both (as well as Baal-berith, the Satan who mocks by imitating the true Lord of the covenant) are subject to God’s curse of typological retribution as we shall soon see:

(5)  And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.  (6)  And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.  (7)  When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you.

Gerizim and the blood of Christ

And so Jotham, he who proclaims that Jehova is perfect, is the youngest, most meek, and is hidden from the tyranny and madness of Abimelech.  Like Moses and Christ, he escaped the impending wrath on the innocent 70, the innocent children of Israel; and yet he returns to the top of Mount Gerizim, the mount of blessing to ironically proclaim judgment upon Abimelech, who himself was standing ironically by the oak of the pillar at Shechem which represented the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 12.  Here, we see a juxtaposition of the unrighteous king, anointed at the symbolic place of Shechem when the true king, Jotham, stood by the place of blessing (Gerizim) which is simultaneously a place of cursing for Abimelech.

In similar way, the blood of Christ is also a blessing for believers, and a curse for unbelievers.  Jotham’s choice to proclaim these truths at Gerizim after being in hiding is more profound than meets the eye.  Though Deuteronomy 11:29 and Deuteronomy 27 both account for the blessings given on Mount Gerizim, it would seem more appropriate (according to Deuteronomy 11:29) for Jotham to have chosen Mount Ebal to pronounce proper curses on Abimelech.  Yet, in Smith’s Bible Dictionary, it states that:

“According to the traditions of the Samaritans it was here that Abraham sacrificed Isaac, that Melchizedek met the patriarch, that Jacob built an altar, and at its base dug a well, the ruins of which are still seen. Some scholars think there is ground for the first belief; but careful observers of the locality discredit it and believe Moriah to be the spot.  Gerizim was the site of the Samaritan temple, which was built there after the captivity, in rivalry with the temple at Jerusalem. Gerizim is still to the Samaritans what Jerusalem is to the Jews and Mecca to the Mohammedans.”

It is unclear whether this has an impact on Jotham’s choice, though I personally hold to the truth of Genesis 22 that Moriah is the same location of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Issac and the eventual fulfilment of that sacrifice by the true sacrifice of the Lamb.  Whatever the case may be, Jotham’s choice of Gerizim has the double-impact of shaming Abimelech for assuming blessing upon himself when he is more deserved of the judgment of Christ, the blood which cleanses believers but pronounces punishment on non-believers.

(8)  The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’  (9)  But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’  (10)  And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’  (11)  But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’  (12)  And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’  (13)  But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’  (14)  Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’  (15)  And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’  (16)  “Now therefore, if you acted in good faith and integrity when you made Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house and have done to him as his deeds deserved–  (17)  for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian,  (18)  and you have risen up against my father’s house this day and have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the leaders of Shechem, because he is your relative–  (19)  if you then have acted in good faith and integrity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you.  (20)  But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the leaders of Shechem and from Beth-millo and devour Abimelech.”

The Parable of the Tree

In this parable, we see a tree seeking to anoint a king over them: looking at olive tree (v.8-9); the fig tree (v.10-11); the vine (v.12-13); and the bramble (v.14-15) – the decreasing size and appropriateness for a proper shade (v.15), from the most useful olive tree to the most worthless bramble.  Adam Clarke especially focuses on the “word אטד  atad, which we translate bramble, is supposed to mean the rhamnus, which is the largest of thorns, producing dreadful spikes, similar to darts”.  It is quite clear that Jotham is using the trees to illustrate the same truths which Christ illustrated by the fruit of a tree either rooted in Christ or rooted in the vine of Sodom and Gomorrah (c.f. Matthew 12:33).  It appears that the first three, the olive, fig tree, and the vine each have their respective elements which bless the user, be that for medicinal use, for culinary consumption (whether fruit or wine) – but the bramble is the most dangerous and thorny, and Clarke describes it as the “emblem of an impious, cruel, and oppressive king”.

Upon the mentioning of the bramble, v.16-18 then focuses on the illegitimacy of Abimelech as the son of his female servant, looking at the worthiness of kingship to come through Gideon’s good works as he was anointed as judge; but Abimelech carried no such weight and instead denied the works of his father by murdering his other sons.  V.19-20 then ends on the God who answers by fire which, like the blood of Christ, either destroys or refines a person. 

It is here that we learn by the olive, fig and vine each refuse royalty.  The common refrain for each is “Shall I leave…” – as if royalty is a bad thing which deprives them of their original purpose.  Rather, this is the same response of the called and great reluctant saints; from Abraham to Jacob; from Jacob to Moses; from Moses to David – so entirely different from the calling of those, like the bramble, who seek to power and instead infect the public with a lack of refuge.  As if a bramble can provide shade, let alone anything else which is of benefit to those being ruled by it?  So also our Christ need not proclaim his divinity except through his works, his fruit; who desired not to become the temporal physical king of Israel (John 6:15), but the true king of heaven and earth (John 18:36).  Jotham, the type of Christ, was born a king (c.f. Matthew 2:2), being the only other descendant left; he was the true king who should have been celebrated (c.f. Mark 15); and thus he stood on the mount of blessing, cursing those who are unfaithful and blessing those who are and will not be subject to the judgment of fire (v.19), indicative of the last days when the wheat shall be separated from the chaff for good.

Thus, Jotham’s participation ends here as he hides in Beer, the well, fulfilling the prophetic role of Christ’s incarnation as the king denied to his rightful true throne, waiting to return and to be revealed as the true king of Israel whilst Abimelech, Satan, pretended to be the prince of the world though he was at most a guardian cherub.  Although Jotham is not mentioned again here, we will see his name appear again in 2 Kings as a king of Judah.

(21)  And Jotham ran away and fled and went to Beer and lived there, because of Abimelech his brother.  (22)  Abimelech ruled over Israel three years.  (23)  And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,  (24)  that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers.  (25)  And the leaders of Shechem put men in ambush against him on the mountaintops, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way. And it was told to Abimelech.  (26)  And Gaal the son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his relatives, and the leaders of Shechem put confidence in him.  (27)  And they went out into the field and gathered the grapes from their vineyards and trod them and held a festival; and they went into the house of their god and ate and drank and reviled Abimelech.  (28)  And Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him?  (29)  Would that this people were under my hand! Then I would remove Abimelech. I would say to Abimelech, ‘Increase your army, and come out.'”

Immediately after the disappearance of Jotham, during the three years of Abimelech’s reign God had sent an evil spirit, His tool, to repay Abimelech for the blood he spilt.  Indeed, the blood is on his hands (Ezekiel 3:18), just as the blood of innocent Abel (Hebrews 12:24) cried out for justice, and thus the LORD sent a spirit of evil, a spirit of confusion (Deuteronomy 28) similar to the fall of the Tower of Babylon, so that Abimelech will soon realise that he is short of allies and that his office as judge and king would fail miserably.

The introduction of Gaal and his subsequent removal is also indicative (and typological) of the invasion of foreign nations ruling over Israel, prophetic of Assyria and Babylon’s eventual rule over Israel and their eventual displacement when Israel is re-established.  It should not come as a surprise that the inclusion of this event of Abimelech as a ruler rather than a mere judge – the latter office related to warfare upon the approval of Yahweh and guiding Israel to Christ; whereas Abimelech, the wicked bramble, sought warfare and did not guide Israel to Christ.  His rule is like that of the kings in the Old Testament, leading to the eventual displacement of Israel by foreign nations.  Gaal who is named loathing, along with his men seemed to serve Hamor the father of Shechem, the perpetrators of Dinah’s rape in Genesis 34.  Indeed, though the Shechemites had committed a grave sin, Simeon and Levi’s retaliation was also condemned.  Gaal’s invasion of Israel, his reviling of Abimelech, were a result of Abimelech’s own work leading to this curse (Deuteronomy 27-28) upon the land.

(30)  When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled.  (31)  And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem, and they are stirring up the city against you.  (32)  Now therefore, go by night, you and the people who are with you, and set an ambush in the field.  (33)  Then in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, rise early and rush upon the city. And when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may do to them as your hand finds to do.”  (34)  So Abimelech and all the men who were with him rose up by night and set an ambush against Shechem in four companies.  (35)  And Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the gate of the city, and Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from the ambush.  (36)  And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the mountaintops!” And Zebul said to him, “You mistake the shadow of the mountains for men.”  (37)  Gaal spoke again and said, “Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and one company is coming from the direction of the Diviners’ Oak.”  (38)  Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your mouth now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them.”  (39)  And Gaal went out at the head of the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech.  (40)  And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him. And many fell wounded, up to the entrance of the gate.  (41)  And Abimelech lived at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives, so that they could not dwell at Shechem.

What is interesting about Gaal’s reliance on Zebul’s word is that he already knew Zebul was Abimelech’s office in v.28.  His pride and lack of wisdom has brought himself in this web of betrayal, Zebul betraying Gaal, Gaal (as a leader of the Shechemites) betraying the trust the Shechemites had with Abimelech, and Abimelech betraying the trust of his brothers, the sons of Jerubbaal.  This is the infection and curse of sin, that the betrayal shall spawn and the mutual devouring resulting as a direct opposite to the mutual loving of the Trinity.  So dark is Gaal’s eyes that he only sees the shadow of the truth, which brought death to his doorstep.  V.37 seems to furthermore amplify this mystical appearance of Abimelech’s army in the form of ‘sorcery’ (for Diviners’ Oak in v.37 literally means a “practice of conjuring/soothsaying, מעוננים, a practice of witchcraft of sorts).

Yet, the truth behind the shadows is no ‘magic’ – it is in fact what we are called to do, to look beyond the shadows of the true images as reflective of the similar truth of the faithful men of the Old Testament.  Are the OT saints clear about their object of faith, or have their sights been darkened like that of Gaal, that they have mere faith in shadows and promises but they did not take hold of the true reality of the Trinity’s work?  Paul Blackham looks at this in “Bible Overview” (pg. 307, F.A.Q Appendix I):

“There are Christians who see the promises in the Old Testament as physical and earthly, and see those promises of God as speaking of nothing beyond earthly land, kings and signs.  This perspective sees the Old Testament people as trusting in these promises, without knowing of the person of Christ.

However, it seems to us that the best way to understand the Old Testament is around the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In all the promises and signs of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ was presented to his church.  The great creeds and confessions of the historic Christian church tend to take this view of the Old Testament [quoting the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) Question and Answer 19; the 39 Articles of the Church of England (1571) Article 7; the Westminster Confession (1647) Chapter 7; the Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) Article 7.”

The irony compounds itself as Abimelech chose to stay at Arumah, ill-suitably named as “exalted” – as if Abimelech, through this temporary victory, is a sign of exaltation.  Israel, too, descended into this failure when she had exalted righteously through David the typological son of God, and had been humbled temporarily in the invasion of Babylon and Assyria, but once again forgetting the spirit of the law by the time of Christ’s incarnation (John 3; Acts 2).

(42)  On the following day, the people went out into the field, and Abimelech was told.  (43)  He took his people and divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. And he looked and saw the people coming out of the city. So he rose against them and killed them.  (44)  Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city, while the two companies rushed upon all who were in the field and killed them.  (45)  And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.  (46)  When all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the stronghold of the house of El-berith.  (47)  Abimelech was told that all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem were gathered together.  (48)  And Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an axe in his hand and cut down a bundle of brushwood and took it up and laid it on his shoulder. And he said to the men who were with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry and do as I have done.”  (49)  So every one of the people cut down his bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about 1,000 men and women.

We see here the horror of Abimelech’s revenge – he went on to destroy the leaders of the Tower of Shechem, hiding in the house of the God of covenant, as opposed to lord of covenant (Baal-berith), that the LORD would use Abimelech to destroy the very thing which brought Abimelech the seventy pieces of silver.  Whatever revenge Simeon and Levi had enacted on the Shechemites, here Abimelech had similarly done as a ruler of Israel.  Although Israel is not as mildly numbered as in the days of Abraham (Genesis 34), it is still true that the name of Israel will stink in the middle of Canaan.  How can they be a light to the nations when Abimelech’s victories do not give glory to God, but is a result of restoring the name which Gaal has defiled?  It is not for Christ’s name, nor for the restoration of Christ’s reputation; but for the restoration of his own pride, social status and recognition.

(50)  Then Abimelech went to Thebez and encamped against Thebez and captured it.  (51)  But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the men and women and all the leaders of the city fled to it and shut themselves in, and they went up to the roof of the tower.  (52)  And Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire.  (53)  And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull.  (54)  Then he called quickly to the young man his armor-bearer and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him.'” And his young man thrust him through, and he died.  (55)  And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his home.  (56)  Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers.  (57)  And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

Yahweh’s disapproval finally came when he captured Thebez and planned to re-enact the same method of murder by burning all those within a tower – as is shown in v.53.  Like the case with Deborah and Jael, the symbol of the weaker vessel destroying the king of Israel, we see the humiliation of Christ, his death on the cross, the Rock of his work destroying the head of a serpent like Abimelech, cutting off the bramble from the olive tree, the fig tree, the vine.  And as soon as Abimelech the representative head was crushed by the woman (the young man thrusting him through in the end being another act of final deception), so the evil returned on the men of Shechem “on their heads”, similarly replaying that curse of Jotham akin to the curse on the serpent’s head in Genesis 3.

Though Jotham’s proclamation is seen as a curse, we have already investigated what this means in a Christ-focused context, for all evil consider Christ as a ‘curse’ as well (c.f. Mark 5).  Because of the silent narrative up to v.56, it is easy to see Abimelech’s works as similar to that of God given all the warfare; but it is also hard to deny Abimelech’s deception, lies and betrayal even to his very last request to die as if by sword when he is really crushed by the Rock; his vengeful heart as shadowed by Simeon and Levi, both disapproved for their retaliation on the Shechemites; and his own rise to the throne without the true anointing of the olive, fig or vine.  Jotham’s curse was in fact the undercurrent of the entire chapter, finally confirmed in v.57.  His absence is indeed duly noted, but his word remained true.  So also Christ’s ascension to the symbolic Mt. Gerizim, pronouncing the deception of Satan, enables us to preach the true gospel to the four corners of the earth so that all evil is cursed and all faithful are blessed as the Word stays true in contrast to the lies which we make (Romans 3:4).

Judges 10:  Who is the man…?

The Humble Judges

Jdg 10:1-18  After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim.  (2)  And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir.

After the dictatorial reign of Abimelech came the humble worm Tola, the son of Puah (“splendid”), the son of Dodo (“his beloved”), a man of Issachar.  It is important for us to look at the meaning of the names, given Abimelech’s name which indicates royalty (which was achieved via ungodly means), so also Tola was exalted as judge of Israel for twenty three years contrary to his character as implied by his name.  So also in Isaiah 41:14, we learn that the more humble and submissive Israel is, the more God decides to aid the nation which has no self-pride nor self-confidence left:

“After Abimelech had debauched Israel by his wickedness, disquieted and disturbed them by his restless ambition, and, by the mischiefs he brought on them, exposed them to enemies from abroad, God animated this good man to appear for the reforming of abuses, the putting down of idolatry, the appeasing of tumults, and the healing of the wounds given to the state by Abimelech’s usurpation. Thus he saved them from themselves, and guarded them against their enemies. He was of the tribe of Issachar, a tribe disposed to serve, for he bowed his shoulder to bear (Gen. 49:14, 15), yet one of that tribe is here raised up to rule; for those that humble themselves shall be exalted. He bore the name of him that was ancestor to the first family of that tribe; of the sons of Issachar Tola was the first, Gen. 46:13; Num. 26:23. It signifies a worm, yet, being the name of his ancestor, he was not ashamed of it. Though he was of Issachar, yet, when he was raised up to the government, he came and dwelt in Mount Ephraim, which was more in the heart of the country, that the people might the more conveniently resort to him for judgment. He judged Israel twenty-three years (v. 2), kept things in good order, but did not any thing very memorable.” – Matthew Henry

Though Matthew Henry mentions in the very last line that Tola was appointed to keep things ‘in good order, but did not any thing very memorable’, we should try and remember the contrast between chapter 10 and chapter 9.  Chapter 9 we see the egomaniac Abimelech matched by the detail spent on his escapades; here, in chapter 10, we see the worm who had judges Israel over seven times longer than Abimelech’s reign, and had humbly saved Israel by faith in Christ who grants him all victories (c.f. Hebrews 11 – by faith in Christ the judges would achieve this temporary salvation of Israel).  And so it could not be more fitting that such humility is matched by the humble attribution to Tola, escape to describe his work of obedience in a matter of two verses.  Similarly, for Jair:

(3)  After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years.  (4)  And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead.  (5)  And Jair died and was buried in Kamon.

Jair, the enlightened one, had the blessing of much procreation like Jerubbaal.  Fortunately, these sons lived peaceful lives without the fear of their own brother massacring them, and it is possible that these thirty cities, named after Jair himself, were given to each of the thirty sons.  Again, like Tola, his life is humbly accounted for and though the narrative here is silent, the writer of Hebrews would also understand Jair to be blessed through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  Jair died, and was buried in Kamon, elevated and ascended to the Father with his descendants materially blessed and equally enlightened.

Yet, in these forty-five years of peace (both the rule of Jair and Tola added together) Israel had fallen back into idolatry, the common refrain of “again”:

(6)  The people of Israel again [my emphasis] did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him.  (7)  So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites,  (8)  and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.

Trinity and adultery

Leviticus 26 is, among the latter chapters of Deuteronomy, indicative of the fallen nature of Israel.  In fact, the entire Pentateuch is a record of the fall of man, with Leviticus 17 being the pinnacle Day of Atonement recording the necessity of a God-man mediator to cleanse the sins of all mankind once and for all.  Without this faith in the God-man, Israel will only descend into spiritual adultery as is the case with the Baalim, the Ashtaroth, gods of Syria, Sidon, Moab, Ammonites, Philistines.  We are not advocating polytheism, a common trait amongst many religions (especially that of Hinduism); and neither are we advocating modalism, as if God appears in different modes (or within Christian modalism, as if God appeared as Father, Son and Spirit at different times when he is apparently Unitarian).  Rather, the Trinitarian God has revealed Himself to us as one unit, as one family, as one Elohim – the Father and the Son united by the Spirit in love, a fully Trinitarian relationship because the Spirit is also a Person, preventing any Binitarian agenda as is accused of Barth who furthered this inter-Trinitarian thought in his Church Dogmatics (this is proposed in Book III Volume I, but it takes a deeper understanding of Barth’s pneumatology to understand whether or not his agenda leans towards Binitarianism rather than Trinitarianism, which it does not seem to be).

Instead, we find these gods separated; these gods made from the hands of men; these gods worshipped to please the hearts of Israelite.  Indeed, these Israelites perhaps mentioned the same thing as people do today, “If only I worshipped all the gods, pleased all gods, then I would receive blessing from the real ones among the false ones”.  As if this is a supermarket selection!  God is not to be man-handled, but contrarily man is to be God-handled, for God had made man to participate in the intra-Trinitarian love which unites all of them into one family (c.f. John 17).  This adultery can only lead to impending punishment and anger (v.7).

It is also not ironic that one of the oppressors are the Ammonites, the posterity of Lot.  Although in retrospective Lot has been called a saint (2 Peter 2:7), he was not a very evangelistic one nor a very faithful one for being caught up in one distress after another (c.f. Genesis 14; 29).  His wife who looked back upon Sodom and Gomorrah and his daughters who developed an incestuous relationship with him were all the marks of a person of lapsed or back-sliding faith.  Thus, it makes sense for the Ammonites who had introduced these foreign gods to become a snare for Israel, for Lot himself was snared by his surrounding cultures like his posterity.

For the Ammonites to cross the Jordan and fight against the major tribes of Israel is undoubtedly the reason why Israel would turn to the LORD after great distress, knowing that their numbers and personal might can no longer help their survival.  What is of great interest to me is that they had ready access to the LORD (v.10).  It is not as if this was a generation which had lost the law; instead, they knew the LORD’s name and they could have called to Him by looking at the testimony of the tabernacle where His Shekinah would dwell.  They did not forget His Name, but they have forgotten His deeds (v.11-12).  It was only until their repentance was whole (v.16) that the evidence of their faith was shown; and only then did the LORD grieve painfully for Israel (Matthew Henry’s translation: “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel”which follows the KJV, where the original Hebrew for ‘grieve’, קצר, could also mean “mourn”).

(9)  And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.  (10)  And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.”  (11)  And the LORD said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines?  (12)  The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand.  (13)  Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.  (14)  Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”  (15)  And the people of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.”  (16)  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.  (17)  Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead. And the people of Israel came together, and they encamped at Mizpah.  (18)  And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said one to another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

Who is The Man?

Although there is no immediate work which the LORD has done for Israel despite their repentance, it is clear that v.18 is meant to be a cliff-hanger – the great question being “Who is the man?”

The answer to that should be clear:  look to the tabernacle within the camp.  Look to what it means when the High Priest goes from the laver to the altar covered in innocent animal’s blood to the two pieces of furniture of the Spirit and the Son in the Holy of Holies to the burning incense of prayer at the curtain and through to the curtain to the Ark of the Covenant, to the mercy seat also sprinkled with the blood of innocent animals.  Look to the LORD dwelling over that mercy seat, and be reminded of the time when Gideon was commissioned by the Angel (Judges 6); when the Angel fought for Barak (Judges 5:23); when the Angel was asked to protect Israel’s children (Genesis 48:16); when the Angel led Israel out of Egypt and into Canaan (Exodus 14:19); when the Angel led Moses to the Father (Exodus 19 on the third day); when the Angel supped with the elders of Israel on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24).  The Angel Who leads us to the Father (c.f. Matthew 11).  We who were made as typical images (Genesis 1:26-27), as shadow images, as images in likeness to the prototypical Son of God – the image of God to Whom we are to conform to (Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:49).

This question is not limited to the Israelites calling upon this “man” in the Old Testament.  Indeed, the righteous man is mentioned more than once in Psalms, in fact opening the Psalter with chapters 1 and 2 referring to the Righteous and Blessed Man, the Son Who shall be kissed lest He break the nations.  Christ in the New Testament sends similar riddles about this “man” in the form of the parables.  Glen Scrivener in his series on the parables in 2008 had looked at the importance of Christ both in the New and the Old Testament, for often we think of this man as a mere judge.  As a mere man who is particularly filled with the Spirit.  However, the whole thrust of Scripture is to describe how everything relates and should point us to Christ the Man.  Indeed, He is the Man who sought us, the church, the treasure in the field (Matthew 13:44-46) as a result of the radical “othercentredness of the triune life”;  He is the Good Samaritan above and beyond the shadow of the Levite and the Priest for He was the Outsider (Hebrews 13:13) coming to the church left for dead;  He is the Father in the sense that the Father’s fatherhood is seen in the Son:

Jesus is the father.  Plain and simple.  Jesus is the father.  Jesus is the good shepherd ([Luke 15]v4-7), he’s the good woman (v8-10), he’s the good father (v11-32).  It just seems blindingly obvious don’t you think?  And have we been confused on this simply because of the role ‘father’?  Well Jesus casts himself as father even in the Gospels – ‘Son, your sins are forgiven… Daughter, your faith has healed you.’  He has children (Is 8:18; 53:10; Heb 2:13; see also Luke 7:35).  If He can be a woman and even a mother hen, it’s not at all inappropriate for Him to be pictured as father.”

And so, we can only realise that Jesus “is at the very centre of this drama” whether Old or New Testament.  The stories of the judges so far can only highlight the shadow nature of the judges (Abimelech being the first to rule against God’s will), though the Israelites calling for “the man” indeed is an indication that their reliance on the judge is condition to the fact that this judge obeys God’s commandments as a king would.  Yet, these judges have, in the previous few chapters, proven to be weak; to be meek; to be taken from humble origins; to be outcast.  So also, Jesus even in the parable of the ‘prodigal sons’ “goes out… bears the shame… pleads… appears weak and He celebrates sinners.  This is not prompted by the sinner’s repentance, which was calculating at best, but by His own reconciling love… You have (as Barth put it) the father going into the far country to hoist the lost onto his shoulders and bring them home.  Luke 15 is no Christ-less, cross-less forgiveness tale.  Christ and His cross is the heart of it all.” – Glen Scrivener in “Who’s the Daddy” dated 2 October 2008 part of the “Who’s the Man” series.

And so the church gathers at Mizpah, the watchtower – the watchmen at the wall preaching the gospel diligently (Ezekiel 3), and furthermore watching for the day when Christ would fulfil the shadows, prophecies, typologies, Christophanies made in the Old Testament and shame the adulterated world on the cross to display that eternal love between the Father and Him sustained by the Spirit before creation.

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Judges 9-10: The King, The Man

Judges 7-8: The humiliation of Gideon and the incarnation of Christ

Judges 7:  Christ, our humiliated Co-heir

Gideon

1Then(A) Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside(B) the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them,(C) by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.

When Jesus said that He came not in peace but as a sword (Matthew 10:34), He was referring also to the division between family members.  Though they may be related by blood, any contradiction in spiritual allegiance will simply mean that – in God’s eyes – they are not true family members the same way the Trinity is one family.  Of all the eastern tribes and other races mentioned to have persecuted the Israelites during the time of Gideon, Midian is the only one mentioned by name as if the narrator aims to focus on Midian as a type of family nation to Israel.  From Genesis 25:2, we remember how Midian was the strife of Abraham and Keturah, and they are quite clearly a principal Arabian enemy of the Israelites (Numbers 31:22; Judges 8:21, 24-26), marked by the wealth of the plunder which Israel victoriously wins after each battle in the name of the LORD.  And here, it is thus continually symbolic that Jerubbaal, he who Baal contends with, is directly pit against Midian, the ‘uncle’ of Israel – and the dichotomy has historically been quite clearly that of Baal represented by Midian, against Yahweh represented by Israel.

Dogs and princes:  The humiliation of the Redeemer

Before the battle officially began, the Israelites stood by the spring of Harod, which means fear.  It is ironic that this spring should mean fear, but this may indicate their fear of man given the content of this chapter where the LORD wants Gideon to reduce the size of his army by the river to a quantity far more minimal so that the LORD receives all the glory (c.f. v.3 – “whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead”).

Finally, while they stood between Midian and Harod the spring of fear,  they were also near the hill of Moreh which is the first place where Abraham stopped upon entering Canaan after entering the area of Moreh (Genesis 12:6) which was at the place of Shechem.  Once again we see a repetition in the actions of Abraham and the actions of Israel – and the victories of Abraham undoubtedly becoming the victories of Gideon.

2The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand,(D) lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying,(E) ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.'” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

4And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” 5So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” 6And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. 7And the LORD said to Gideon,(F) “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” 8So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him(G) in the valley.

V.2-8 is simply astounding.  God has decided to take the lowest of the low, who are like dogs (v.5) to shame those who are fearful and trembling, those who have enough dignity to at least drink like a man by kneeling down to drink – the choice of Caleb (the name meaning dog) over the other spies who feared the Canaanites upon first sight; the Gentile woman who saw herself as a dog eating the crumbs off the table of the master (Matthew 15:26-27).  This is the humility needed for the three hundred men, akin to the story of the Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae, but the eventual victory of these three hundred quite clearly reliant on the strength of the LORD given the humility and dependence of the remaining men.  What we therefore see here are dogs, feeding on the waters of life, the Holy Spirit, with the meekness necessary to totally display this total reliance on the Living God who will be able to help them succeed in the bloody battles.

9That same(H) night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp,(I) for I have given it into your hand. 10But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. 11(J) And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”(K) Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. 12And the Midianites and the Amalekites and(L) all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number,(M) as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. 13When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” 14And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”

What is interesting here is the nature of the vision:  a cake of barley bread rolling into the camp of Midian and striking the tent so it fell and turned it upside down, laying the tent flat.  It is clear how this prophecy refers to Gideon, entering the camp of Midian and destroying the tent, representing of their dwelling place.  Yet, what of ‘barley bread’ as a prophetic tool to represent Gideon?  In 2 Kings 4:42-43 we see Elisha commanding some barley bread to be given to one hundred men, akin to the story of Jesus sharing the bread miraculously to thousands.  This story of provision is perhaps inferred here – for the three hundred could hardly penetrate the Midianites who are as numerous as the locusts are similar to the piece of bread which, initially does not look sufficient but eventually – by faith in Christ – multiplies into a force to be reckoned with.  Such is the nature of the faith as small as a mustard seed, for it shall grow by the water of the Spirit and the nurture of the gardener Son into a strong unshakeable tree of life.

Furthermore, this mentioning of the usage of dreams to frighten the Midianites is a very good example of the LORD working outside of our ambit of understanding, just as He similarly uses the dreams of the Pharoah in Joseph’s time, or Nebuchadnezzar, to fulfil His plans which can work through non-Christian and Christian alike.  Ultimately this is done to His own glory and the glory of the church, and in this instance represented by Gideon the type of Christ and the men representing the invisible church out of all of Israel, the physical church which has succumbed to Baal and other gods.

So when the LORD directed Gideon, and his servant Purah (meaning foliage or bough) to go to the camp to be encouraged, it is clear that the LORD had already arranged the dream in favour of Gideon and his three hundred men.  Perhaps the irony of this scenario is how Gideon and Purah, a name of such delicate nature (foliage being the leaves of a plant), represent the protection of these two men despite waltzing into the heart of enemy camps.  This scenario is again repeated by David who cuts off a piece of Saul’s cloak in 1 Samuel 24.  The whole battle would have ended as soon as Gideon, the head of these three hundred men, was destroyed by these Midianites; and yet Yahweh boldly uses these two weak men, these two delicate men, in the face of thousands and thousands of Midianites – to simply walk into the camp and receive their interpretation of the dream.  This event in itself is already a great miracle.

The Spirit in Non-believers

In light of Thomas Goodwin’s pneumatology, it is important to see that even non-Christians are given the Spirit not strictly in the sense of the indwelling deposit we are asked to guard as an evidence of our salvation (2 Timothy 1), but the Spirit who sustains our physical lives until the day we die:

A spiritual, holy goodness is denied to be in man’s nature, such as might make us acceptable to God… So as though in themselves these endowments have this natural goodness ‘in abstracto’, or abstractly considered, as they are in their own nature, yet take them ‘in concreto’, as they are seated in a corrupt mind, they are unclean and abominable things in the sight of God.  For why?  All these gifts are poisoned and infected, yea, and make the source of sin greater and to work the more strongly… God therefore looks upon all these as things that make his enemies stronger against him; and therefore you that are scholars, and have good gifts, natural and acquisite, yet you wanting grace, these make you so much more abominable in God’s eyes” – Thomas Goodwin Volume 10, p. 95

Paul Blackham in his unpublished paper on Thomas Goodwin’s pneumatology explains that all good gifts come from God through the general work of the Spirit, so these common grace gifts of civility, justice, understanding, wisdom, creativity… are all good gifts.  But as Thomas Goodwin has noted, humanity’s corruption has turned these common gifts against God.  This may be more in sync with the episode of Balaam for he knowingly uses these gifts against Israel, but the men here are given a vision seemingly beyond their control, yet it is nonetheless important to understand the background behind the gifts of the Spirit working through unbelievers.

From this perspective, we can divulge how these Midianites have the gift of interpretation let alone receive these visions and dreams which would presumably come through those who are sympathetic to Yahweh’s work of redemption.  Similarly, Balaam has been given the gift of prophecy and had planned to curse Israel, only to have his own gift used against him.  This is why Gideon can worship upon hearing the dream and its interpretation, as he himself saw the clarity of the LORD’s protection in both the vision and the very fact that he is standing within enemy ranks – as opposed to question how these non-Christians even bear the gift of visions and interpretations.  It should not be surprising that non-believers have access to the spiritual things, but whether they use it for God’s glory and whether these gifts are borne of the Holy Spirit for Christ’s glory is a different matter.

15As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand.” 16And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with(N) torches inside the jars. 17And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout,(O) ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.'”

Brother against brother – Christ against Satan

19So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow.(P) And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 21Every man stood in his place around the camp,(Q) and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22(R) When they blew the 300 trumpets,(S) the LORD set(T) every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah [house of the acacia (trees)] toward Zererah [oppression],[a] as far as the border of Abel-meholah [meadow of dancing], by Tabbath [celebrated]. 23And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.

As in Jeremiah 19:11, the smashing of the jar is symbolic of Yahweh smashing the Midianites, these vessels which have not lived according to the purpose of men (which is to be predestined unto Christ – Ephesians 1).  The imagery here is also very rich, for we see the left hand of the three hundred bearing torches, representing the Holy Spirit (similar to the parable of the virgins waiting for the Bridegroom’s return), and their right hands bearing the trumpet, representative of the victorious trumpet call of Christ’s second return.  Thus, by the Spirit and the son do these men rush down with vigour, having Yahweh striking fear into the hearts of the Midianites already beforehand – just as we similarly in spiritual warfare penetrate the enemy’s ranks by the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit made successful by the victory on the cross which has shaken Satan and the other rebellious angels into fear to the core.  Though the Midianites may escape all the way to Beth-shittah (house of acacia trees), to Abel-meholah (meadow of dancing) to Tabbath (celebrated), there is nothing to celebrate nor dance for unless you are taking the side of the Israelites.

24(U) Gideon sent messengers throughout(V) all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as(W) Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. 25And they captured(X) the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb(Y) at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon(Z) across the Jordan.

And so this present ordeal is completed by Beth-barah, the house of the ford and at the Jordan – where the rivers would cut them off, that even the LORD’s creation is set against the army of Satan.  The princes captured, Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, respectively strife, raven and wolf – are suitably named.  Thus, the sheep of the Shepherd have, by the Shepherd and His Angelic staff, destroyed the head of His enemies – the symbolic nature of bringing the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan a reflection of the Israelites crossing the river in the beginning of the book of Joshua, representing the Israelites entering new life.  Here, the imagery supplied bears the same message – albeit with the message of judgment as well, for the victory of the church upon reaching new creation means the serpent has been made headless like Oreb and Zeeb, the two princes of Midian.  Their defeat at the rock and winepress adds to the poignancy of the LORD’s preparation – that the blood of Zeeb and the rock of Oreb is nothing compared to the Rock and Blood of Israel which saves and destroys (c.f. Genesis 49:11).

Judges 8:  True King against kings

Gideon in the face of adulterous enemies

1(AA) Then 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 him fiercely. 2And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not(AB) the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3(AC) God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?”(AD) Then their anger[b] against him subsided when he said this.

Although Ephraim is geographically distant from the main areas of war, the key focus of the opening of chapter 8 is similar to that of chapter 7 – familial feud.  Manasseh, the tribe from which Gideon is from, is the brother-tribe of Ephraim – this dichotomy between siblings as written in Isaiah 9:21 and undoubtedly stemming from the blessings of Israel in Genesis 48:14 whereupon Ephraim received the greater blessing as the younger child of the two.  Yet, despite their obvious blessing it would seem that this first-blessed son of Joseph is not living according to the understanding that they are blessed because of Christ; and not because of some military victories which they manipulate to their whim.

In light of this, Gideon’s strong faith shines just as it has been doing so against the familial nation Midian; and he rather be humbled and recognise the contribution of the men of Ephraim (v.2-3), though it would be clear that men like Gideon – the unrecognised and the patient – are set apart as truly holy in comparison to men like Ephraim who try to do things ‘for the LORD’ when they are in reality seeking to propel their name forward.  Gideon’s humble background, gleaning the grapes of Abiezer compared to the royal chosen race of Ephraim; the small number of men against the large army of Midian; the weakness of his courage and his doggish men compared to the men who were truly kings and princes of Midian.  Yet, these Midianite royalties saw Gideon and the three hundred as the true sons of kings (v.18), undoubtedly the aroma of Christ permeating through the actions of Gideon and the men.  Gideon is the very example of that small mustard seed, of the struggling speaker Moses, and of the innocent shepherd-boy David – humble saints to display the very humility of Christ when he became the incarnate Son of Man (Hebrews 1) – yet His royalty still shining through by His very dependence on the Spirit especially during His incarnate life.

4And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and(AE) the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. 5So he said to the men of(AF) Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah [sacrifice/deprived of protection] and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6And the officials of Succoth said,(AG) “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand,(AH) that we should give bread to your army?” 7So Gideon said, “Well then, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand,(AI) I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” 8And from there he went up to(AJ) Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. 9And he said to the men of Penuel,(AK) “When I come again in peace,(AL) I will break down this tower.”

The antithesis of humility and pride; of small and big; of dog and son of king does not stop here.  Gideon goes to the men of Succoth and ask them for loaves of bread as the three hundred were exhausted but still pursued.  Yet, this city of booths would rather protect both Zebah and Zalmunna, both names meaning “deprived of protection”, as opposed to Gideon who needed protection the most.  Similarly, Penuel – the city facing God – treated these dogs as if they were exactly that.

It is at this point that the reader should realise the shape of Gideon’s story and its purpose – to display the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:

1Co 1:18-31  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (19)  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”  (20)  Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  (21)  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  (22)  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  (23)  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  (24)  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  (25)  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  (26)  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  (27)  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  (28)  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  (29)  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  (30)  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  (31)  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Indeed, so much of what Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 is true here – for the men and Gideon were living the cross-centered life, and yet these cities and nations surrounding them, considered the ‘wisest’ and most respectable of the ancient Middle-Eastern Arabian world are depending on their own wisdom.  Instead, Gideon preached Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles – a stumbling block to Penuel and Succoth, and folly to Midian.  Gideon and his men indeed have nothing to boast in, except in the LORD for they are dogs not worthy to be respected – and this is the key to the kingdom of heaven.

10Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of(AM) the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men(AN) who drew the sword. 11And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of(AO) Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt(AP) secure. 12And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them(AQ) and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.

The statistics are incredible: 105,000 dead from 300 – a direct indication of the LORD’s hand over Gideon’s army.  This army that had been pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna persistently, having not been provided rest nor shelter (v.4-9), although the men being pursued had themselves felt secure and rested (v.11 – more literally they felt like they were in a place of refuge, בּטח) complacently.  This is the eventual demise of the enemy – the classic hare and tortoise story founded upon the story of the cross of Christ, the tortoise persisting in the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1), the hare relying on his physical, Spirit-less senses descending into undeserved rest.

13Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. 14And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men. 15And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying,(AR) ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?'” 16And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. 17(AS) And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

And so, the city of Succoth and Penuel – like the fig tree that bore no fruit (Matthew 21:19) – is immediately destroyed for failing to fulfil its purpose (especially given the hypocrisy of their actions in comparison the meaning of the names of these cities).  The final demise of Penuel symbolised by the bringing down of the tower is an intentional recollection of the bringing down of the tower of Babel, alluding to the pride of both Jew and Gentile in the face of the folly of the gospel which attracts the weak and the meek.

18Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at(AT) Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.” 19And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother.(AU) As the LORD lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” 20So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man. 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and(AV) killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took(AW) the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.

It is briefly mentioned here about the youth of Jether, the firstborn son of Gideon.  His youth has prevented him from executing the men – and it would seem that this is inferring to Israel who had also been too youthful in their treatment of the neighbouring nations.  Thus, in the maturation until the fullness of time when Christ came and conquered on the cross (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10), Israel was preparing herself for Christ – and had been drinking from the milk, just as Adam had been, in their spiritual immaturity.  And just as young men grow up, so also the physical Israel is rejected in favour of the spiritual Israel, the milk replaced in favour of real food, the law in testimony to the true Christ.  Jether is the weakness of the Israel in the Old Testament for all their compromises due to spiritual immaturity, like Adam who had failed to obey God in the garden of Eden.  Only Gideon took the responsibility of the man, just as Christ himself did on the cross.

The unfortunately nature of Gideon’s last act (v.21) begs the question of his intention for taking these crescent ornaments which, according to Adam Clarke, could be highly related to the worship of the moon and sun (from the LXX which translates the word ornaments, instead, into crescents or half-moons – very Islamic in inference, unsurprising given these pagan traditions giving rise to Islam’s presently famous crescent-icon).
Gideon’s Ephod

22Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you;(AX) the LORD will rule over you.” 24And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings,(AY) because they were Ishmaelites.) 25And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels[c] of gold, besides(AZ) the crescent ornaments and(BA) the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27And Gideon(BB) made an ephod of it and put it in his city,(BC) in Ophrah. And all Israel(BD) whored after it there, and it became a(BE) snare to Gideon and to his family. 28So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more.(BF) And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.

And so chapter 8 ends with v.23, summarising Gideon’s own view of the LORD’s participation in these victories.  Gideon is not to be praised nor worshipped; only the LORD alone.   Gideon and the dead men of Tabor may have looked like sons of kings, though Gideon’s men physically resemble dogs, but he recognises that he is but a shadow of what the true LORD is to become.  Of the true humiliation His Son is going to experience.  Of the true death, resurrection and ascension and receiving the glory once more as the True Son of the True King.
Having said that, in verses 24-27 they made an ephod of all spoils and put the ephod (made from the spoils) into Ophrah as if it was a second Shiloh; a second ephod to the one made for the High Priest to wear.  Indeed, the LORD had endorsed the kind of icons as tools of worship concerning the tabernacle and its equipment in the latter parts of the book of Exodus; but to make your own [ephod] is not much different from disobeying God by tempering the altar of stone (Exodus 20:25).

All of these works therefore end with the repetitive 40 years of rest – undoubtedly leading on to the next period of heresy, the next period of disobedience, confirming the nature of these stories to be merely types and shadows.

The Death of Gideon

29(BG) Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30Now Gideon had(BH) seventy sons, his own offspring,[d] for he had many wives. 31And his concubine(BI) who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32And Gideon the son of Joash died(BJ) in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father,(BK) at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Perhaps v.29 is already implying what Jerubbaal’s state of faith was like by the end of his life.  It is not expressly shown whether he had lived in a tent a la Abraham (Hebrews 11) in anticipation of new creation, but the contrast is definitely deliberate, between the victory which he won through the tent-dwellers of the east (v.11) and the narrator’s choice to highlight that he is now living in his own house.  This contrast was similarly highlighted in Genesis when Abraham had been a hermit living in a tent, whereas Lot his nephew lived by the gate of the enemy’s lands as a sign of his sympathy to the city’s lack of faith in Christ (indicated also by his failure to evangelise to the families around him).

The second message concerning Gideon’s faith is that, like Solomon, he fell into the temptation of having many wives (v.30).  It has been clear by implication and by expression throughout Scripture that we are to have one wife modelled after the mystery of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5), of which Adam and Eve were themselves formed after.  Yet, though it is not good to be alone – a sign of the Trinitarian communion (Genesis 2:18) – it is also not good to be unfaithful as represented by his multiple wives which, as in Solomon’s story, would lead his faith astray.  It is indeed uncertain whether these wives are Christian or not, but that does not seem to be the crux of the message here, for the final verses seem to show that Gideon had been led astray, be that by his new household, his wives, or even the spoils of victory.

His name, Jerubbaal, has now become a label of irony.  For all the things which he had lived to fight for as a judge, he has allowed Satan to enter into his private life of worship in the form of that cursed ephod, in the form of these multiple wives, in the form of the concubine through whom he bore Abimelech, the antagonist of the coming chapters.  And so often we see how children of concubine, of servants, primarily with Abraham and Hagar, would end up with descendants which eventually become the enemies of God (Ishmael eventually became the head of the Arab nation, although not directly linked but possibly living alongside the Midianite Arabs).

It is thus clear that the message of chapter 7 to 8 is simple, and flavoured with fascinating details of history.  Here, we see a man who is an underdog, who is under-estimated by all as he pressed for wheat in the winepress without the majority’s notice; and he worked by the night until the dawn of light showed to all the shame of the Asherah which they worshipped, as an indication of God’s work up to Christ’s incarnation.  And this humility continues until the end with he lived like a king, a sign of Christ’s humiliation until His ascension, though Gideon’s self-ascension into household goods and multiple wives strayed from Christ’s ultimate model of loyal faithfulness to his one wife, the Bride.

And so, as soon as even a shadow of Christ is gone, there is none to contend with Baal – the missing Jerubbaal leads to immediate worship of the Baalim, of the husbands, their idolatry thriving in the depths of their hearts and has forgotten that by the Spirit they too could have also contended with Baal.

33(BL) As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and(BM) whored after the Baals and made(BN) Baal-berith their god. 34And the people of Israel(BO) did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35(BP) and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.

Judges 7-8: The humiliation of Gideon and the incarnation of Christ

Judges 5-6: The Iconoclastic Controversy

Judges 5:  The Praise Song as Eschaton

The Song of Deborah and Barak

1(BG) Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:
2“That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
that(BH) the people offered themselves willingly,
bless the LORD!

3“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the LORD I will sing;
I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

4“LORD,(BI) when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
(BJ) the earth trembled
and the heavens dropped,
yes, the clouds dropped water.
5The mountains(BK) quaked before the LORD,
(BL) even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.

6“In the days of(BM) Shamgar, son of Anath,
in the days of(BN) Jael,(BO) the highways were abandoned,
and travelers kept to the byways.
7The villagers ceased in Israel;
they ceased to be until I arose;
I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.
8(BP) When new gods were chosen,
then war was in the gates.
(BQ) Was shield or spear to be seen
among forty thousand in Israel?
9My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
who(BR) offered themselves willingly among the people.
Bless the LORD.

The song opens with praise as it should be, and is very similar in theme and construction as Moses’ song in Exodus 15 – both songs beginning with a pattern of praise, followed by a poetic narrative of God’s mighty works, ending with a phrase of praise (compare v.9 “Bless the LORD” in Judges 5 and the end of Moses’ song’s “The LORD will reign forever”, “Sing to the LORD”).  Such is the joy of those who really know Christ, who are in a relationship with Him, who see His majestic hand guiding the Christians through these toils, through times when the highways were abandoned and travellers kept to the byways (v.6), when villagers ceased in Israel (v.7), when new gods were chosen, and war as in the gates (v.8).

Trinitarian analogy of Deborah and Barak

In another apparently confusing phrasing of the Hebrew, we find a mentioning of two Lords between verses 4 and 5 – the LORD who went out from Seir, marching from the region of Edom; and the mountains quaking before the LORD (as if now referring to a third person, when v.4 had been referring to the LORD as a second person).  This is a similar phrasing used in Exodus 19 and even earlier in Genesis 19:24, in relation to the Angel who is the visible LORD of the unseen LORD, the Father in third heaven.  Once again we see some direct support of the Trinitarian presence of God in the Old Testament, and even more importantly it seems to suggest that the LXX addition as Adam Clarke had earlier suggested in Judges 4:8 (and later on in v.23, the Angel of the LORD is once more referred to as participating in this symbolic war when He was seemingly absent in the narrative of chapter 5) – that this Angel, the Sent One, is the One who gives victory to Barak, who would march before him as He had with Israel before arriving at Mount Sinai.

Secondly we see how Deborah in v.7 refers to herself as a ‘mother’ in Israel, indirectly saying that the male judges are seen as ‘fathers’ in Israel, amplifying the acknowledgment that these judges are shadows of the true Parent of Israel, that being the Father God sending His angel to guide them, to guide Barak, by the power of the Spirit as shown through the prior episodes of Ehud and Shamgar.  Deborah and Barak, the wife of one who is called “torches” (indicating her fiery spiritual character as judge and prophetess) and Barak, he who is called “shining lightning” a name indicating the nature of an angelic appearance, both symbolically portray the Spirit and the Son respectively – sending forth the armies against God’s enemies – imitating the Son’s eternal dependence on the Spirit, and the Spirit’s prompting of the Son as His Wisdom and His Power.

10“Tell of it,(BS) you who ride on white donkeys,
you who sit on rich carpets[c]
and you who walk by the way.
11To the sound of musicians[d] at the watering places,
there they repeat the righteous triumphs of the LORD,
the righteous triumphs of his villagers in Israel.

We then turn to V.10 which speaks of ‘nobility and gentry’ as Matthew Henry reads from the expression of those riding on “white asses” and those who sit on “rich carpets”.  Deborah is here effectively speaking of the glory of the Israelites being given more through the victory.  It is no mere restoration of wealth, for the Israelites did not have such great wealth to begin with – they were merely a wandering nation with limited material possessions; and now they are amongst the ranks of those who ride rare white asses and are able to sit on rich carpets, emblematic of the recapitulation which Irenaeus taught, as opposed to mere restorationism.  Restoring ourselves to Eden is not the goal, but our goal is enjoy new creation where we inherit richer blessings, that we may enter New Jerusalem by an ass like Christ, that we may sit and enjoy true rest on beautiful materials as promised to us.  This is indeed a righteous triumph (v.11), worthy to be sung about – and such is the nature of ancient worship, that contemporary practice of praise and worship through songs written as if for one’s significant other is so pitifully empty of the theological weight and heart-warming experience through which Deborah and Barak’s song is intimately sung.

“Then down to the gates marched the people of the LORD.

12(BT) “Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, break out in a song!
Arise, Barak,(BU) lead away your captives,
O son of Abinoam.
13Then down marched the remnant of the noble;
the people of the LORD marched down for me against the mighty.
14From(BV) Ephraim their root(BW) they marched down into the valley,[e]
following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen;
from(BX) Machir marched down the commanders,
and from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s[f] staff;
15the princes of Issachar came with Deborah,
and Issachar faithful to(BY) Barak;
into the valley they rushed at his heels.
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
16Why did you sit still(BZ) among the sheepfolds,
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
17(CA) Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
(CB) and Dan, why did he stay with the ships?
(CC) Asher sat still(CD) at the coast of the sea,
staying by his landings.
18(CE) Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death;
Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.

19“The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at(CF) Taanach, by the waters of(CG) Megiddo;
(CH) they got no spoils of silver.
20(CI) From heaven the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21(CJ) The torrent Kishon swept them away,
the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, with might!

So between verses 12-21 we see a very wholesome treatment of the seven tribes’ involvement in the battles – a mobilisation of the majority of the church of Israel, the body of Christ, to do His will.  While the entire song is a victory fanfare, it is interesting how the song focuses on the waters of Megiddo and the ancient torrent Kishon.  I have already mentioned how the waters would be strategically beneficial for the Israelites because of the enemies’ chariots being disabled by the water.  And so v.19-21 is also an echo back to Moses’ song in the sense of the chariots of Pharoah being equally destroyed by the waters of judgment; yet there is something more nuanced here by the inclusion of Megiddo, which is both the place of “Armageddon” and also where Josiah the king of Judah was pierced (2 Kings 23:29).  All of these point towards our Christ who was pierced and will avenge his piercing at Megiddo and pushes forward the eschatological nature of these victory songs as pointing towards the final inevitable victory of Christ over Satan.  This battle carries such symbolism that even v.20, the fighting of the stars, is seen in such light by Adam Clarke:

The angels of God came to the assistance of Israel: and the stars in their orbits fought against Sisera; probably some thunder storm, or great inundation from the river Kishon, took place at that time, which in poetic language was attributed to the stars. So our poet sung relative to the storms which dispersed the Spanish armada in 1588: –

“Both winds and waves at once conspire

To aid old England – frustrate Spain’s desire.”

Perhaps it means no more than this: the time which was measured and ruled by the heavenly bodies seemed only to exist for the destruction of the Canaanites. There may be also a reference to the sun and moon standing still in the days of Joshua.”

While Clarke looks at the amazing geological manipulations of the LORD in construing the destruction of the Canaanites, I see the prophetic phrase by the prophetess of the stars fighting to mean the angelic forces against the Satan as represented by Sisera (a legitimate reading of the pagan kings representing Satan, c.f. Ezekiel 28), and only in the light of the eschaton, of the Resurrection Day that we see how Deborah and Barak, the Spirit and the Son’s great victory over Satan is imminent for light shines into darkness and darkness shall be entirely eliminated.

That is why, in this light, we see the song constructed for two purposes:  to praise God for His mighty works by the Angel; and secondly to shame those who did not participate in this work – namely Dan, Asher and Reuben (c.f. “great searchings of the heart”).  The church, once again, must work as an entire body, otherwise they are body parts which we should cut off so that the entire body does not go to hell (Matthew 18:8).

22“Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.

23“Curse Meroz, says the angel of the LORD,
curse its inhabitants thoroughly,
(CK) because they did not come to the help of the LORD,
to the help of the LORD against the mighty.

The Angel, Christ, here notably curses Meroz bitterly (according to Adam Clarke’s translation: ארו ארור  oru aror, curse with cursing – use the most awful execrations):

“This curse is pronounced by the angel of the Lord, our Lord Jesus, the captain of the Lord’s host (and those whom he curses are cursed indeed), and further than we have warrant and authority from him we may not curse. He that will richly reward all his good soldiers will certainly and severely punish all cowards and deserters. This city of Meroz seems to have been at this time a considerable place, since something great was expected from it; but probably, after the angel of the Lord had pronounced this curse upon it, it dwindled, and, like the fig-tree which Christ cursed, withered away, so that we never read of it after this in scripture.” – Matthew Henry

Indeed, this Meroz, meaning “refuge”, is anything but refuge.  Like the fig tree which did not bear fruit for Christ, so also Meroz did not bear the true name of refuge by failing to support those who would give true refuge (the Israelites), and instead passively supported Sisera who provided false refuge, in the form of enslavement.  Let us therefore learn from the tent-dweller Jael, just as Abraham himself lived in a tent (Hebrews 11) – and remember the typological symbolism provided in the following verses:

24“Most blessed of women be(CL) Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
25(CM) He asked water and she gave him milk;
she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl.
26(CN) She sent her hand to the tent peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera;
she crushed his head;
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27Between her feet
he sank, he fell, he lay still;
between her feet
he sank, he fell;
where he sank,
there he fell—dead.

V.26-27 are particularly graphic concerning the death of Sisera – and given the typological nature of the song as referencing the Day of Christ’s return when He would destroy the enemy, so the analogy of Sisera as Satan carries forward especially to the ultimate focus of the song.  Jael is the blessed bride, far different from the whore of Babylon, and it is repeated that “between her feet” Satan fell, “between her feet” Satan fell.  This is a picture of how Satan is subjected under the feet of the church, by the tent peg Christ who nailed Satan to the cross as he is subjected to God’s wrath as Christ had experienced prior to His resurrection.  This phrase of “between one’s feet” is used in Genesis 49:10 to mean “offspring” (the ruler’s staff from between Judah’s feet, a reference of the Saviour coming from the offspring of Judah); and in Deuteronomy 28:57 too refers to pregnancy and birth.  From this perspective, we should understand v.27 to mean the creation experiencing birth pains, and since Christ’s incarnation when He, our Head, has ascended and is the firstfruit of New Creation, so the rest of His body, the church, is awaiting physical re-birth just as Paul mentioned in Romans 8:22 – waiting for the revelation of the true sons of God, the co-heirs with Christ, that everything is revealed between the feet of Christ under Whom all of creation was subjected to (Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:8; Revelation 12:1).  Thus, as the sons of God and the true church is revealed, so also the true enemy is thrown into the lake of fire, the tent peg as a sign of his” bruised” head (Genesis 3). 

28(CO) “Out of the window she peered,
the mother of Sisera wailed through(CP) the lattice:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
29Her wisest princesses answer,
indeed, she answers herself,
30‘Have they not found and(CQ) divided the spoil?—
A womb or two for every man;
spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,
spoil of dyed materials embroidered,
two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’

31(CR) “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD!
But your friends be(CS) like the sun(CT) as he rises in his might.”

(CU) And the land had rest for forty years.

And so the song ends with the enemy’s family crying – a picture which would describe very much the nature of today’s Christianity:  a bag of compromises as we over-sympathise and forget the LORD’s wrath at both sin and sinner.  Yes, we are called to be sensitive – but are called to be convicted about the awesome message of sin and salvation.  Sisera subjected himself to this fallen life and his spoil is given to his enemy, the church, a direct parallel between Jael and her husband, and Sisera and his mother.  The picture of two families, and victory, joy and praise founded on the gospel cutting through such family relations (Matthew 10:34) – the cries and wails of the Egyptians against the celebration of the Israelites during the death of the firstborn at the Passover; the cries and wails of Sisera’s mother against the celebration of Jael, the one in her family to stand up as a witness to Christ.  This brings us to v.31, that we are encouraged to have friends like the “sun as he rises in his might” – personifying the sun as a type of the sun of righteousness (Psalm 37:6; Malachi 4:2), Jesus Christ.

Yet, once again, these victories are ‘short-lived’ – for the reign of the judges are still subject to the infection of death.  The rest of 40 years, even in and unto itself a time of testing for the Israelites, for this typological rest cannot be achieved for eternity unless the 40 years are lived out bearing the fruit of the Spirit – something which the Israelites continually failed at doing.  So also we must remember that mere restoration to Adam will only lead us back to the Tree of Good and Evil – we must be deified in the meaning of the Patristic teachings – and thus live out our lives as true saints as new creation is made in us by the Spirit every day.

Judges 6:  The New in the Old

Israel and the Neighbouring Nations

1(CV) The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of(CW) Midian seven years. 2And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and(CX) the caves and the strongholds. 3For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and(CY) the Amalekites and(CZ) the people of the East would come up against them. 4They would encamp against them(DA) and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come(DB) like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel(DC) cried out for help to the LORD.

The unrest for seven years is as expected from the list of curses in Deuteronomy 28:38 – that the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the people of the East would come like locusts in number – laying waste to the land (v.5).  As such, the Israelites are but planting continually the crops which they wish to taste, but their very vineyard is continually taken away from them (Deuteronomy 28:30).  Such is the reality of their sin, and such is the ability of God to enable the neighbouring nations to teach Israel the lesson of spiritual warfare which Israel largely failed at and neglected in the times of temporary rest.  This is the sad nature of us sinful men, that God be the only One who remembers His eternal election and covenant with His Son, but those who stand outside of His Son are infected with the inability to remember, and contrarily positively sin against God by forgetting Him and His mighty work of redemption on the cross as typified by the great exodus:

7When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, 8the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:(DD) I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. 9And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and(DE) drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God;(DF) you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

The Call of Gideon:  The Old Testament in the Old Testament

11Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash(DG) the Abiezrite, while his son(DH) Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.

Once again, the narrative is revealing much about the Angel of the LORD – for we see here that He could have simply appeared to Gideon (as in v.12).  Instead, prior to His appearance, He sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which is south-west of Shechem.  We have been taught the importance of the terebinth tree near Shechem in Genesis 35:4 and Joshua 24:26; by nature, the tree has good shade as well (Hosea 4:13).  However, I believe the importance to lie in the fact that Christ is appealing to the symbolism of the terebinth tree near Shechem reminding the Israelites of the covenant between Christ and God expressed in the Genesis narrative through Jacob.

The irony is that Jacob, in the story, hid all the idols under the terebinth tree.  And here, by the end of the story, we see the rise (and ‘partial’ fall) of Gideon, ironically by the idol he created from the spoils of victory from the LORD.  Are our hands so dirty when we rely not on the Spirit?

If we return to the text and progression of the Angel sitting under the terebinth tree as a sign of covenant-reminder, and moving swiftly to Gideon beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites, we see a prophetic analogy to the progression of the Old Testament: for God’s covenant with Israel expressed and cut by the blood of circumcision, yet it is hidden from the eyes of Satan (Ezekiel 28:3) who had wanted to peer into this mystery of salvation revealed only to Christians from Old Testament to New.  This mystery is symbolised by Gideon beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites, just as God had been working through Israel, the weakest of all nations, when Satan had been conjuring the strongest enemies, from the Canaanites to the Rephaim, from pagan kings to the Nephilim – but God chose the foolish to thoroughly confound the wise, chose the weak but wise David to thoroughly humiliate the strong but Spirit-less Goliath.  And so chapter 6 opens with a clear symbolism of the unnamed prophet, akin to John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Angel who identified Himself as the covenant-making Son of God by sitting under the terebinth tree, and thus appears to Gideon in quietness, in intimacy, not in the presence of the enemy as such intimacy is an affair of Bride and Bridegroom – and commission him to do the works of spiritual warfare embodied in actual warfare.  As Matthew Henry observes,

“We put ourselves in the way of divine visits when we employ ourselves in honest business. Tidings of Christ’s birth were brought to the shepherds when they were keeping their flocks. The work he was about was an emblem of that greater work to which he was now to be called, as the disciples’ fishing was. From threshing corn he is fetched to thresh the Midianites, Isa_41:15. (3.) Distressed; he was threshing his wheat, not in the threshing-floor, the proper place, but by the wine-press, in some private unsuspected corner, for fear of the Midianites. He himself shared in the common calamity, and now the angel came to animate him against Midian when he himself could speak so feelingly of the heaviness of their yoke. The day of the greatest distress is God’s time to appear for his people’s relief.

12And(DI) the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him,(DJ) “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir,[g] if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are(DK) all his wonderful deeds(DL) that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Our Angel Immanuel is preaching immanuel – the LORD is with us, the LORD is with you – the same message preached throughout Scripture (c.f. Deuteronomy 31:6, 31:8; Joshua 1:9; 2 Samuel 14:17; Isaiah 7:14, 8:8), like v.16 later on in this chapter.  Although the actual Hebrew “immanuel” is not present in Judges, the referenced verses bear the foundational meaning of this name of Christ.   Yet, Gideon’s reply in v.13 is that of desperation, similar to that of the Hebrews in Egypt and that of Moses, crying to the LORD for salvation.

Such is the cry of Christ on the cross when He was given all the sin of mankind – that He was so entirely detached from the communion with His Father, but the eternal relation maintained only by the Spirit for fear of the potential implosion of all creation (Colossians 1 – for all of creation is held together in Christ).  Matthew Henry notes in particular the Chaldee reading of v.13, which states: “O my Lord! if the Lord be with us (which the Chaldee reads, Is the Shechinah of the Lord our help? making that the same with the Word of the Lord) why then has all this befallen us?”  The irony, and the humour, of the scenario is that the Word of God is right now standing before Him, and right now commissioning Gideon as the typological Saviour in preparation to the true Saviour yet to be incarnate.  For Christ to congratulate Gideon’s valour, it may come from him threshing the wheat in the winepress in secrecy for the glory and survival of his fellow brothers and sisters of Israel – and it matters not that Gideon is the weakest in Manasseh (v.15), for there is no other recorded instance of the Israelites standing up against the Midianites in secrecy or not, a sign of faith waiting to be nurtured by the Shepherd, just like the faith of Peter when he walked on water but failed upon being ‘inwardly-curved’ in unbelief:

14And the LORD[h] turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian;(DM) do not I send you?” 15And he said to him,(DN) “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold,(DO) my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16And the LORD said to him,(DP) “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

The ESV footnote for v.14 mentions the Angel of the LORD (also in the LXX) turning to Gideon, and thus we see how the term ‘LORD’ and the Angel as interchangeable, just as the Son and Father are interchangeable in terms of their equality as the One True and Living God (c.f. John 5).  And here, the choice of Gideon as the next judge follows on from the theme of choosing the weak to confound the strong – the tribe which has been greatly thinned and reduced to destroy the enemies which are like locusts.  The mighty claim of God in v.16 – Gideon shall strike the Midianites as one man; so also all the enemies of Yahweh shall be destroyed by the One Man Jesus Christ.  Gideon by no means worked alone, and so also Christ’s victory needs to be proclaimed to the four corners of the earth by His co-heirs:

32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of(A) Gideon,(B) Barak,(C) Samson,(D) Jephthah, of(E) David and(F) Samuel and the prophets— 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,(G) stopped the mouths of lions, 34(H) quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness,(I) became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

And thus proclaims the writer of Hebrews in chapter 11:32-34 – that these judges, like Gideon, by faith in Christ completed all these things.  This it the Christ Whom Gideon sacrificed meat as an offering to, this is the Christ Who appeared to him, this is the Christ who commissioned him:

17And he said to him,(DQ) “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then(DR) show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18Please(DS) do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.”

19So Gideon went into his house(DT) and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah[i] of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them(DU) on this rock, and(DV) pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21Then the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes.(DW) And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. 22Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said,(DX) “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” 23But the LORD said to him,(DY) “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it,(DZ) The LORD Is Peace. To this day it still stands at(EA) Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

What is interesting here is the choice of food for the ‘mysterious sir’ – unleavened cakes.  This is symbolic of the hurriedness to leave Egypt in the Passover; and secondly a young goat.  These sacrifices are hardly as ‘grand’ as those offered by the High Priest, and also prepared hurriedly (hence the unleavened cakes) – but the acceptance is most notable as, in v.21, it is noted that “fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes”.  In 1 Kings 18:24, we learn from Elijah that Yahweh is the living God who answers by fire, and this sign taken as a precursor to the Pentecost when tongues of fire occurred to the men of all nations in Acts 2.  Matthew Henry in particular notes the Hebrew word used in v.18, the “present” – as the same word used for meat-offerings, perhaps used in its dual meaning as both a gift and an offering, and it is proven that the “present” was received as a free-will offering of sorts, confirming Gideon’s suspicions when he had cautiously hoped to be in the favour of the eyes of this Angelic figure (v.17).

Additionally, we see the angel holding a staff (v.21) – and the theology of the staff is important given its constant usage in Exodus and Numbers 17 – to identify that He who holds the staff is the one with authority, the High Priest, the Mediator, affirming once more the mysterious nature of this Angel to be that of Christ Himself.  Unlike Moses in Numbers 20:11 who knocked a rock with his staff to produce his desired effect against God’s will, this Angel instead reached out the tip of his staff and touched the meat and unleavened cakes to confirm His own identity as One who is greater than Moses.

Upon the confirmation that He is indeed the Christ to come, the Messiah to be incarnate as man Jesus, He vanishes – a type of His own ascension, whereupon now Gideon is anointed by the Spirit to complete the work required of him.  We must attribute the vanishing of the Angel as carrying some theological depth, for later that evening the LORD chose to speak with Gideon and we assume no longer in the form of the Angel, perhaps through a vision or dream instead (though the text is silent on how the LORD spoke to Gideon that evening):

25That night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down(EB) the Asherah that is beside it 26and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the(EC) stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.

I personally find difficulty reading this verse, and it so happens that Adam Clarke has come to a similar observation:

There is some difficulty in this verse, for, according to the Hebrew text, two bullocks are mentioned here; but there is only one mentioned in Jdg_6:26, Jdg_6:28. But what was this second bullock? Some think that it was a bullock that was fattened in order to be offered in sacrifice to Baal. This is very probable, as the second bullock is so particularly distinguished from another which belonged to Gideon’s father. As the altar was built upon the ground of Joash, yet appears to have been public property, (see Jdg_6:29, Jdg_6:30), so this second ox was probably reared and fattened at the expense of the men of that village, else why should they so particularly resent its being offered to Jehovah?

Indeed, it is likely that the father has been worshipping Baal, or has sympathy towards Baal and that the first bull (the father’s bull) is an unclean sacrifice (Malachi 1:7-13), but that the second bull is the more worthy sacrifice (v.26).  Hence we see a direct displacement of the altar to Baal by the altar to the LORD “on top of the stronghold”, with stones laid in due order.  Such is the manner that we destroy the idols of our mind, the importance of the subject of Christ-focused theology, lest we become victims of idolatry because we have failed to destroy all the pagan icons as God had commanded.  This picture is extremely indicative of the Christian faith, that even the name of the altar is fitting in light of the context: what anxiety the non-Christians would have felt, to find their ‘god’ tarnished and destroyed; but what peace it is for the Israelite who knows that even if the tabernacle is taken, even if there is no temple to sacrifice at, so the true Christian like Daniel will still pray to God when the government forbids him to – because true offering is Christ himself and our circumcised hearts by the baptism of the Spirit.

v.27 is interesting and it can be seen in both ways – one, that is carrying forward the analogy of the mysteriousness and underground methods which Gideon employs as a continual imagery of the hidden plan of salvation from non-Christians though thoroughly revealed and sweetened in the eyes, hearts and ears of the Christian.  The Old Testament progression towards the incarnation of Christ as that of the dark night, towards the dawn of Christ the light entering the world as a new-born firstborn babe.  Though He be the object of faith of the Christians of all generations, it was known only by a few; and his incarnation as the Messiah was expected by some, but surprised many not because it was not revealed, but because many are too hard-hearted and blinded by the night.  So also Gideon’s act reflects this truth, as some join him in the act in the evening as akin to those faithful Old Testament Christians, but many did not recognise this truth of the Asherah destroyed until the time of day when the light reveals the shame of all men for what they really are.

Secondly, though this is a typology of what is to come, Gideon is seen as doing this at night not primarily to display a prophetic gospel truth – for his act in the evening is primarily a result of his fear of men.  This will return to create a consequence of large proportions in chapter 9, as we learn how his fear of men has led him to create one of the largest idolatries through icon worship in the latter part of chapter 6.

The True Icon

28When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32Therefore on that day Gideon[j] was called(ED) Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

It would seem that overnight, the father Joash is released from his spiritual bondage whatever allegiance he might have had with Asherah – because in v.31 we see Joash defending his son by exclaiming, “let Baal yasha, to redeem, to save, himself!”  This is the nature of spiritual bondage, that as soon as the idol is destroyed, the captivated subject is healed.  Thankfully, our God is living and as such we are equally defined as ‘living’ in the image of the Father by being united to Christ by the Spirit.  He is the only ‘icon’, if you will, that we can ever expect to hold onto and live.  Every other icon will be destroyed, and the icon being our head, we would equally die.

It is ironic that Baal needs redemption because that is indeed the very thing which this ‘god’ requires alongside the rest of creation.  But because Baal is a silent, dead god created by the hands of men, he will not be able to defend himself; but only the Son of the Father can complete the work of redemption and in His incarnation humble Himself to us so that we are brought to be with Him.

33Now(EE) all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in(EF) the Valley of Jezreel. 34But(EG) the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon,(EH) and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35(EI) And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

Thus, the anointing of the Spirit in v.34 is suitably located in the commissioning of Gideon to fight the war against the Midianites and Amalekites lest he rely on himself (as God had prophesied that he, one man, shall defeat the enemy) and be completely destroyed.  No – the prophesy concerning the one man can only mean Christ alone of Whom Gideon was a type of, as Gideon is now relying on the very help of the Abiezrites (v.34).  Having said that, the clothing of the Spirit is akin to the expression of the clothing of righteousness in Isaiah 61, teaching us that the sign of victory by the trumpet can only occur by the righteousness of the One Man Christ, who gave the Spirit to all so that even Gideon can conform to this mighty One Man who shall win the war for him.

The Sign of the Fleece

36(EJ) Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39Then Gideon said to God,(EK) “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

It is important to distinguish Gideon’s requests as different from the testing as spoken of in Deuteronomy 6:16 – the testing here is that of confirmation, the testing of Deuteronomy 6 stemming from a rebellious and doubtful heart.  It is furthermore interesting to see how both Adam Clarke, Origen (Op. vol. ii.) and Irenaeus (Against Heresies Book III) amongst other theologians seeing this as a portrayal of the relation between Israel and the Gentiles in the Old and New Testament: the wet fleece and dry ground representing the one nation blessed with the dew, the Spirit of God, as every other nation is deprived of such fountain of grace; and Israel becoming hardened, equal to the dry fleece and the wet land as representing the Gentiles now also having the Spirit but the Israelites being too hard to receive Christ as the Saviour Whom they have been anticipating.  The fleece of sheep (Deuteronomy 18:4) is seen as a covering of warmth (Job 31:20) – and the dew of heaven (Genesis 27:28) is seen as a good thing, coming down and going up with the manna coming down with it (Exodus 16:13-14; Numbers 11:9); and the word of God seen as dew as well (Deuteronomy 32:2).  It is thus important to see this dew as representing of Christ dependent on the Spirit in His incarnation, coming down (the dew descending) to give us the true living bread and ascending, leaving (the dew ascending) the manna for our consumption as a sacrament of the true manna – Christ.  Such is the nature of dew in the morning, when everything glistens and is struck alive by the morning rays of the sun of righteousness and the waters of spiritual life, the creation awaiting the next morning day when the dew once more arrives to give it the replenishing which can only be found eternally in Jesus.

And so it is only fitting that Gideon should ask the LORD to reveal these truths to him, for he is after all Jerubbaal – he who contends with Baal, and it is thus this true LORD who had elected the spiritual Israelites and spiritual non-Israelites, rather than the fleece in itself however warming the land of Canaan appears to be, because it is but a shadow to the true fleece, the true robe of righteousness with which we are clothed, as we await the day for true warmth and gladness in New Canaan, New Creation, New Jerusalem.

Judges 5-6: The Iconoclastic Controversy

Judges 3-4: The Tent Peg in the Head of the Serpent

Judges 3:  God’s Wrath

1(A) Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. 3These are the nations:(B) the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 4They were for(C) the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. 5So the people of Israel lived(D) among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6(E) And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.

When we read the book of Judges, it is easy to read into it many assumptions which we take from being in a world which believes God is not good.  We must never forget that within the Trinity the Son had determined alongside the Father that He would be sent, and that all of man under the banner of Adam would be made in the image of Yeshua (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:29) – in the image of the Saviour who gave salvation.  That is testament enough to form our understanding of the coming chapters of the judges.  Though these are amazing men who relied much on the Spirit, they are nothing in comparison to the Christ who had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).  These men indeed relied on the Spirit, but what was common to them was the universal disease of death which they could not defeat except in Christ alone.  The path between first birth and first death, being born-again in Spirit and finally in our renewed flesh is a rocky path littered with spiritual battles.  The typology of Israel, of the wars fought in these important books of the Old Testament, did not cease with the book of Joshua.  Indeed, the Israelites are to learn war, not because the LORD is a warmongering God of Marcion; rather, He is portraying an eschatological imagery of what would happen to those who are loyal to the true Husband, against the numbers of baalim (v.7), the number of adulterous husbands which we align ourselves to.

It is important that we understand the specific Hebrew word for baalim, for in these chapters we are speaking of men who have identified themselves as nations which worship other gods (v.6) – nations which attach themselves to other husbands (v.7; Judges2 :11; 3 :7, 12).  “Their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods” – a predicament which Melchizedek sought to prevent in Genesis 14 by pre-empting the king of Sodom.  Here also, is the implied meaning behind the intermingling of the nations.  Do we gain our blessings from God alone, as embodied in the High Priest Melchizedek?  Or do we gain our blessings from neighbouring nations, so that they are full of themselves and in turn delude us into believing that they received these blessings from their ‘gods’ or lack thereof?  Why else would these Israelites fall so easily, if they did not want to eat that forbidden fruit this present moment as opposed to look to New Creation as Abraham, Moses and many of the named judges in this book waited hopefully towards?

Furthermore, this is no “Old Testament teaching” when we speak of warfare – if anything, the nature of Paul’s exposition of the Old Testament is a thorough understanding of the true spiritual warfare which underpins many of the chronicles of these battles prior to Christ’s incarnation.  In Ephesians 6 we are made aware of the different body-pieces of armour; that our path of faith is called the “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18); the passions of our flesh seen as warring with our soul (James 4:1; 1 Peter 2:11); and above all Hebrews 11:34 which speaks of the Spirit and faith in Christ empowering them to be mighty in war, so to point towards the ultimate victory which Christ has won on the cross and physically and finally represented as in the prophecies of John in Revelation chapters 2 and 11-19.  We have already seen the failures of the people when they forget God; when they rely not on the Holy Spirit.  This new generation may not have tasted warfare, but every generation of Christians must taste true warfare, for it is not good in itself (1 Kings 5:3), but it is necessary (c.f. day two of creation which was not proclaimed as ‘good’ because it symbolised the death of Christ through the parting of the waters).  It is through these trials that their faith is more precious than the gold tested in the fire (1 Peter 1:7), and without these trials – without the temporary rain of judgment and pain – these spiritual babies would not grow to maturity; these spiritual saplings will not bear the fruit from the one Vine Whom they are attached to; and thus continually and with more greatness both look towards and typify the greatest light to shine when Christ is finally born.

Othniel

7(F) And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and(G) the Asheroth. 8Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel,(H) and he sold them into the hand of(I) Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. 9But when the people of Israel(J) cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a(K) deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them,(L) Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10(M) The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11(N) So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

And so v.7-11 begins the cycle of captivity which Israel will continually experience, which we will all continually experience, until the rescue of the one Anointed Judge who is given the Spirit without measure.  Othniel, the lion of God, the lion of Judah (for he hails from the tribe of Judah) comes as the first judge from the generation who has witnessed God’s miracles as Caleb’s younger brother, and is a rarity amongst the other Israelites who have not witnessed war.  He very much represents our Christ who understood the depravity of heresy, who foreknew the fall of Adam before he was made the steward of the garden in Eden, and who with the Spirit would rush into the world fully equipped to fulfil his given ministry.  As the True Lion of Judah, he would destroy the real father of Cushan-rishathaim, the real ‘double-wickedness’, the real ‘blackness’ who had enslaved Israel for eight years.  This is a number which E.W. Bullinger describes in Christian numerology as representing resurrection and regeneration, the true purpose behind circumcision behind performed on the eighth day (Genesis 17:2) because Christ was resurrected on the eighth day (the first day of the new week).  So here, Othniel the typological lion of Judah upon his resurrection, being filled with the Spirit defeats the true darkness, the true Satan.

Though these 8 years proved to be a time of trial (whereupon in its fullness of time Othniel came to rescue), the next forty years symbolically represents a period of probation (as similar to Israel in the wilderness, c.f. Deuteronomy 8:2-5; Psalm 95:10).  However, like the deaths of the earlier saints (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Abraham, Miriam, Joshua), the people returned to their idolatry.  This intermission whereupon they had no symbolic ‘pope’ to represent them described very clearly their state of faith (or lack thereof) in Christ; and yet, ironically, that is the thrust of these stories in Judges.  The portrayal of idolatry upon the death of the judge is meant to enforce the utterly important significance of a judge, mediator, king, LORD, high priest who is eternally interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34), a Saviour who has not only defeated death which these judges could not defeat (thus bringing the Israelites beyond the forty year probation into the eternal jubilee), but a Saviour who lives on as our true Head.  Their trust in a Spirit-filled man will result in inevitable failures, for these Spirit-filled men are but Christians; but if Othniel experienced the indwelling and baptism of the Spirit prior to Christ’s incarnation, then also everyone else had the privilege to be like them and by the Spirit prevent such widespread heresies and idolatries in Israel.  Like Moses’ call for them to be near to the mountain of God, they were instead too afraid and trembled, standing far off (Exodus 20:18).  Moses was never intended to be the true Redeemer – and neither is Othniel, for they both saw that they had these strengths and performed such miracles for they are only emulating their true Mediator who also depended on the Spirit to perform such amazing feats, without measure.

Ehud

12(O) And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon(P) the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. 13He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the(Q) Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of(R) the city of palms. 14And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

We now turn to an episode concerning Ehud the judge who assassinated Eglon, the king of Moab, after serving him for eighteen years.  The narrative is silent on the justification for such a murder, for such a blatant disregard for the Ten Words, but we will return to this issue of graphic violence by the end of the chapter. Meanwhile, we are to understand that the captivity of eighteen years is a direct result of Israel’s idolatry, hence the LORD mobilised Eglon against the Israelites in order that they may be further strengthened in faith in Christ.  How often do we attribute evils today as a positive influence from Yahweh, rather than a punishment without meaning?  How often do we conceive of God as emptying us of our pride when He can only act out of love for He is the very being of love in communion, in Trinity (c.f. John 17; 1 John 4-5)?

This humiliation of Israel is further enhanced by the understanding of the name of Eglon to be that of a little-calf, and that this little-calf had taken the city of palm (trees – as in the KJV and Hebrew) (v.13), the palm tree representing victory of new creation (1 Kings 6-7; Psalm 92:12; Ezekiel 40-41; John 12:13).  The imagery here should therefore not be lost on the Israelite who meditates on this story, knowing fully that we are to recognise here that Eglon has essentially taken new creation under captivity, though he be an enemy to be ridiculed in the face of a judge who would stand up for Israel.  For a full eighteen years no-one had taken on the calling to be anointed by the Spirit in destroying the enemy, and it begs to wonder where Israel’s true allegiance lies as it proves itself as once again a nation which had forgotten the saving works of Christ.

15Then the people of Israel(S) cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them(T) a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit[a] in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes.

Left Hand

Literally speaking according to the Hebrew, Ehud is a man with an impeded right hand, and thus the translation states that he is left-handed by implication.  Adam Clarke looks at the LXX translations for the same verse (v.15):

“The Septuagint render it ανδρα αμφοτεροδεξιον, an ambidexter, a man who could use both hands alike. The Vulgate, qui utraque manu pro dextera utebatur, a man who could use either hand as a right hand, or to whom right and left were equally ready. This is not the sense of the original, but it is the sense in which most interpreters understand it. It is well known that to be an ambidexter was in high repute among the ancients…

…In Jdg_20:16 of this book we have an account of seven hundred men of Benjamin, each of whom was אטר יד ימינו  itter yad yemino, lame of his right hand, and yet slinging stones to a hair’s breadth without missing: these are generally thought to be ambidexters.”

What is interesting is that in Judges 20:16, the chosen 700 left-handed men were also from the tribe of Benjamin.  Is there any reason to focus more on them having an ‘impeded right hand’ compared to the LXX reading of them being ambidextrous?

In Genesis 48:13 we see that the blessings are symbolized through the right hand (by implication, the son under the left hand is ‘inferior’); in Exodus 15:6, we see the power of Yahweh’s right hand representing Christ at His right hand; and in Leviticus 8:23 we see the blood of the sacrifice being smeared onto the right ear, right hand and right foot of the High Priest. It is thus clear that the right hand implies legitimated power.  Only in Leviticus 14 do we see a lengthened focus on the movements of the right and left hands, the left being the palm covered in oil, and the right being the one which takes the oil from the left hand.

What is interesting is how the High Priest is a representation of many things – the simplest of these representations being Christ the High Priest.  As it is with Christ in Whom meet the Father, the right hand and the left hand can possibly be attributed to (equally) the analogy of the left and right hand of the Father.  From Leviticus 14 and from Exodus 15, it would seem that the right hand smeared with blood and oil is representative of Christ at the right hand of the Father in the typological High Priest; and the left hand covered in oil is representative of the Spirit Who both the Father and the Son depends on for their magnificent work of recapitulation (in Irenaeus’ use of the term) and new creation.

If we were therefore to understand this, then perhaps this could be connected with the focus on the left hand for the tribe of Benjamin – to exemplify their total reliance on the Spirit – these one-handed people from the youngest tribe of the 12 tribes, weakest of the weak both physically and in familial status, yet they are brought to glory by the gifting of the Spirit in these wars.

The Word of God – A double-edged sword/dagger

17And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. 19But he himself turned back(U) at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence. 20And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his(V) cool roof chamber.(W) And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. 22And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. 23Then Ehud went out into the porch[b] and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him(X) and locked them.

What is interesting is that there is an implied exposition of this passage in Hebrews 4:12, where the Word of God is referred to as a ‘two-edged sword’ (c.f. Mike Reeves in his “Word of God” series part 1).  If we were to follow the truth of which this story of Ehud is revealing to the crowd who is engaging with the Word, then we’ll find that the literal understanding is Ehud (the name meaning “united”), with the power of the Spirit Who unites the Church, is directly attacking Eglon the head of all idols in Gilgal by the Word of God like a double-edged sword until Eglon is revealed for what he is full of: dung (v.22).

So also the Word of God in our lives should have similar effect when we are embalmed and indwelled with the Spirit to perform similar ministries in spiritual warfare, and know that by the Spirit the Word of God pierces through our enemies and reveals them for what they are (c.f. Mark 5:6-9): lies, deceit, literally dung in the eyes of our LORD.

24When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought,(Y) “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.” 25And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor.

26Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond(Z) the idols and escaped to Seirah. 27When he arrived,(AA) he sounded the trumpet in(AB) the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. 28And he said to them, “Follow after me,(AC) for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized(AD) the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over. 29And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. 30So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel.(AE) And the land had rest for eighty years.

Given the graphic imagery of the Word of God, inspired by the Spirit, both penetrating the heart of idolatry which is the head of the Moabites, soon thereafter the Moabites were massacred.  Similarly, when Satan was defeated after the victorious work of the cross of Christ, his prophesied condemnation from Genesis 3 has finally come to fruition, and the Christians throughout all the ages need only preach the same thing that Ehud has preached:  “Follow after me, for the LORD has given your enemies… into your hand”.  Indeed, if only we really believe that victory is already ours, waiting to be realised on the Resurrection Day, the Spirit given as a deposit that the full materialisation of this victory if imminent.  Only then will our ministries be as effective as Ehud, as glorious, as violent but as successful that all the enemies of God, the rebellious unbelievers and the rebellious angels shall all fall at our acknowledgment of the victory won by the initial announcement of the trumpet (v.27).  Hence, twofold forty years is the reward (v.11), though again we should be reminded that these rests are temporary, however many decades or hundreds of years they last, for the enemy is still prowling the land waiting to devour the Christian  (1 Peter 5:8).

Shamgar

31After him was(AF) Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines(AG) with an oxgoad, and he also(AH) saved Israel.

The key words in these verses are: “also saved”.  The only judge in the book to not have an introduction or conclusion of sorts, Shamgar’s actions are surrounded with mystery – however, what we do know is that his acts can be attributed to Ehud’s act of salvation – for what Shamgar did was seen also as an act of salvation for Israel.  Perhaps the lesson taught in the last part of chapter 3 is the bloody nature of salvation; the placing of Shamgar the killer of 600 Philistines with an oxgoad, a violent ancient weapon, alongside Ehud the assassin of Eglon and leading to the massacre of the Moabites.

Though most possibly multi-faceted in meaning, we surely must not forget the context of Judges 3.  We must remember that Israel has been idolatrous, whoring herself after the Baalim.  This is a result of the compromises they had made by the end of the book of Joshua for failing to politically, spiritually and geographically displace the foreigners, and instead made truces and made them slaves without also destroying their idols.  As such, the violent imagery of chapter 3 is very suitable in our understanding of hell today – a topic much neglected.

John 3:16-18 is a helpful passage, unfortunately commonly short-quoted for its focus on v.16 rather than v.17-18, whereupon the latter verses describe how man is already condemned through Adam’s disobedience.  Similarly, the neighbours of Israel in Canaan are thriving in the vine of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the seed of Adam rather than living as newborn of God through Christ’s work.  There is thus an immediate urgency for Israel to fulfill their calling as light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), which they have spectacularly failed to do, and furthermore failed to discern truly (Proverbs 14:8; Isaiah 44:18).  What Shamgar and Ehud has effectively done is display the reality of spiritual warfare once again, a type and shadow of the spiritual and physical warfare of the Resurrection Day when the neighbouring unsaved nations will be absolutely destroyed.  As Israel was intended to be a national typological model of New Creation, it is only fitting that Shamgar and Ehud are placed side by side to display the destructive but necessary nature of the just God and the just Christ, both Father and Son by the power of the Spirit disposing all opposition into the lake of fire.  It is from His wrath that we should fear, and yet in chapter 3 we see Israel, Moab and the Philistines all failing to understand the extent of God’s wrath, as displayed through the judges.

It is therefore important that through Ehud and Shamgar, both representing the sword of the Word of God by the inspiration and power of the Spirit (for the name Shamgar in Hebrew means ‘sword’), we need to understand judgment as synonymous to salvation; hell synonymous to new creation – both from the angle that one cannot exist without the other, for if there are saved then there are those who are not saved and remain condemned.  Yet Israel seemed to have forgotten the wrath of God, the depth of their sin, and lived lives of post-modernity, where everyone did as they pleased and worshipped whomever they pleased and had sexual relations with whatever they pleased.  God’s anger at the sin and the sinner should shake us into awesome fear, for his anger is so great as to pour it all upon His beloved firstborn Son Jesus Christ.  To deny His wrath is to deny the work of the cross – and that is the sin which Israel was saved from; that is the type of salvation offered to them, through the medium of understanding why God’s wrath had to be shown in such a violent, bloody and graphic form as in Judges 3, for our Christ was bloodied and died a violent, torturous and gruesome death both spiritually and physically.

Judges 4:  The Spirit anointing the Bride

Deborah and Barak

1(AI) And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died. 2And the LORD(AJ) sold them into the hand of(AK) Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in(AL) Hazor. The commander of his army was(AM) Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3Then the people of Israel(AN) cried out to the LORD for help, for he had(AO) 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.

Matthew Henry describes eloquently the state of Israel after being in peace for eighty years:

“…The common ill effects of a long peace. The land had rest eighty years, which should have confirmed them in their religion; but, on the contrary, it made them secure and wanton, and indulgent of those lusts which the worship of the false gods was calculated for the gratification of. Thus the prosperity of fools destroys them. Jeshurun waxeth fat and kicketh…The great loss which a people sustains by the death of good governors. The did evil, because Ehud was dead. So it may be read. He kept a strict eye upon them, restrained and punished every thing that looked towards idolatry, and kept them close to God’s service. But, when he was gone, they revolted, fearing him more than God.”

Now, peace is not so much the issue than that of the Israelites becoming easily sluggish and complacent.  Though New Creation is a place of complete peace, of everlasting Jubilee and Sabbath, it is where we inherit renewed flesh and live lives of purity surrounding the light of the Lamb.  Yet, Israel is but a shadow; a type; and like Adam who is but a type of Christ the true image in Whom Adam was made, Adam is thus but an innocent infant making his infancy more concretised by disobeying God and eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil (c.f. Irenaeus in his “Against Heresies”).  So we also see Israel restored to ‘innocence’ again and again, typologically replaying that story of the fall whenever they chose to follow other idols again, unsurprising for we are all descendants of Adam by nature and can only escape that nature by having redeemed spirit and flesh in Christ the true image of the Father (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1).

4Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in(AP) the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6She sent and summoned(AQ) Barak the son of Abinoam from(AR) Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount(AS) Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by(AT) the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops,(AU) and I will give him into your hand’?” 8Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will(AV) sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10And Barak called out(AW) Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.

Now, Deborah, the first female judge, was sitting between Ramah (hill) and Bethel (the House of God) in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment (v.5).  Where she sat is of importance, for we understand that only Christ can ascend the holy hill (Deuteronomy 30:12; Psalm 24:3), and thus Deborah fulfils her typology by sitting on the very area between the hill and the House of God, the true tabernacle in heaven, for Christ bridges that path for us as well.  This imagery does not stop here for she also sits under the palm tree of Deborah (presumably named after her), in harmony with the understanding of ‘palm trees’ from our scrutiny of Judges 3 for the city of palms.

It is undoubted that Deborah here also relies on the Spirit of the Father and Christ to give the instructions between v.6-9 – from the choice of Barak (called “lightning/lightning flash”) to the particular locations like Mount Tabor (“broken region”), and river Kishon (“winding”, presumably a winding river).  From the wisdom of Issachar’s geography, it would seem the named terrain is of great difficulty for Sisera’s chariots.  For Israel to pursue such wisdom and advice from a weaker vessel, from a woman, is to focus on the greatness of the Spirit working through Deborah, so much that Barak – supposedly a fierce army leader given a name of such power, voluntarily submits himself not to Deborah as v.8 suggests, but to the Wisdom on Whom she relies on.  Adam Clarke notes this, as well as points out an interesting addition to the LXX of the same verse:

“The Septuagint made a remarkable addition to the speech of Barak: “If thou wilt go with me I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, I will not go; Ὁτι ουκ οιδα την ἡμεραν εν ῃ ευοδοι Κυριος τον αγγελον μετ’ εμου, because I know not the day in which the Lord will send his angel to give me success.” By which he appears to mean, that although he was certain of a Divine call to this work, yet, as he knew not the time in which it would be proper for him to make the attack, he wishes that Deborah, on whom the Divine Spirit constantly rested, would accompany him to let him know when to strike that blow, which he knew would be decisive. This was quite natural, and quite reasonable, and is no impeachment whatever of Barak’s faith. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine have the same reading; but it is found in no MS. nor in any other of the versions.”

If the LXX addition is another Christological focus of Barak’s faith and reliance, then this chapter teaches us firmly that whether the judge be male or female, the true justice comes through the Spirit of God.  Despite the might of Ehud and Shamgar in the previous chapter, their might can be equally shown through Deborah and the woman who is prophesied to destroy Sisera (v.9).  Thus chapter 4 humbles the inner chauvinist, for we must remember that the gospel means equality for all (Galatians 3:28), though certain gender roles must be performed (Ephesians 5 and 6) to display this very gospel which gives inherited glory to all equally.

11Now Heber(AX) the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of(AY) Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in(AZ) Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

This theme of God using women is continued even in v.11.  We see here Heber, the husband of the prophesied woman Jael who is to be glorified by her foreseen act upon Sisera.  Heber is not someone to praise – he severed himself from Reuel, Jethro, Hobab – the father of Moses who introduced Moses to the Christian faith.  It is therefore clear that Heber is anything but a follower of Yahweh (v.17); yet Jael, the submissive wife, still holds true to the original faith of their forefather Hobab.  This will become clear in later verses.

12When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13Sisera called out all his chariots,(BA) 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which(BB) the LORD has given Sisera into your hand.(BC) Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15(BD) And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

So it is also important to see that Deborah does not commit violence herself; she leaves the work to Barak.  In many ways, this is a reflection of the story of Moses and Joshua – Moses spreading his arms into the shape of the cross (as according to Justin Martyr’s exposition of Exodus), and Deborah being the type of Christ on the holy hill sitting under the tree of peace; whereas Barak and Joshua are both doing the work of God by relying on the arm of the judge, the prophet.  Where Moses is weak as an old man, so also Deborah is a woman – and the strength of God comes through the men.  This should reveal much about warfare being led primarily by men, though support can come from weaker vessels, the wiser older men, and women who are similarly reliant on the Spirit.

17But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened(BE) a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.'” 21But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.

So chapter 4 ends on the initiative and support of women – and that rightfully they deserve the glory for relying on the Spirit.  So Jael is seen as the church in Revelation, using the tent peg who is Christ (Zechariah 10:4), nailing it straight into the head of Satan the father of all enemies with the help of the hammer (Jeremiah 51:20), with the help of God in destroying he who does not belong to the tent, the household of God (Hebrews 8:5; Revelation 15:5; Isaiah 54:2) – and so the ejecting of Sisera is violently accomplished as Satan is equally displaced from the world which he deserves not to inherit, but only the meek and humble – the Christians.

23(BF) So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

And so, in Judges 5 we will see a full exposition in poetic form of the events of chapter 4.

Judges 3-4: The Tent Peg in the Head of the Serpent