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.