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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Judges 3

Verses 1-6

Nations which the Lord left in Canaan: with a repetition of the reason why this was done.

Judges 3:1-2

The reason, which has already been stated in Judges 2:22, viz., “to prove Israel by them,” is still further elucidated here. In the first place (Judges 3:1), את־ישׂראל is more precisely defined as signifying “ all those who had not known all the wars of Canaan,” sc., from their own observation and experience, that is to say, the generation of the Israelites which rose up after the death of Joshua. For “ the wars of Canaan ” were the wars which were carried on by Joshua with the almighty help of the Lord for the conquest of Canaan. The whole thought is then still further expanded in Judges 3:2 as follows: “ only (for no other purpose than) that the succeeding generations (the generations which followed Joshua and his contemporaries) of the children of Israel, that He (Jehovah) might teach them war, only those who had not known them (the wars of Canaan).” The suffix attached to ידעוּם refers to “the wars of Canaan,” although this is a feminine noun, the suffix in the masculine plural being frequently used in connection with a feminine noun. At first sight it would appear as though the reason given here for the non-extermination of the Canaanites was not in harmony with the reason assigned in Judges 2:22, which is repeated in Judges 3:4 of the present chapter. But the differences are perfectly reconcilable, if we only give a correct explanation of the two expression, “learning war,” and the “wars of Canaan.” Learning war in the context before us is equivalent to learning to make war upon the nations of Canaan. Joshua and the Israelites of his time had not overcome these nations by their own human power or by earthly weapons, but by the miraculous help of their God, who had smitten and destroyed the Canaanites before the Israelites. The omnipotent help of the Lord, however, was only granted to Joshua and the whole nation, on condition that they adhered firmly to the law of God (Joshua 1:7), and faithfully observed the covenant of the Lord; whilst the transgression of that covenant, even by Achan, caused the defeat of Israel before the Canaanites (Josh 7). In the wars of Canaan under Joshua, therefore, Israel had experienced and learned, that the power to conquer its foes did not consist in the multitude and bravery of its own fighting men, but solely in the might of its God, which it could only possess so long as it continued faithful to the Lord. This lesson the generations that followed Joshua had forgotten, and consequently they did not understand how to make war. To impress this truth upon them-the great truth, upon which the very existence as well as the prosperity of Israel, and its attainment of the object of its divine calling, depended; in other words, to teach it by experience, that the people of Jehovah could only fight and conquer in the power of its God-the Lord had left the Canaanites in the land. Necessity teaches a man to pray. The distress into which the Israelites were brought by the remaining Canaanites was a chastisement from God, through which the Lord desired to lead back the rebellious to himself, to keep them obedient to His commandments, and to train them to the fulfilment of their covenant duties. In this respect, learning war, i.e., learning how the congregation of the Lord was to fight against the enemies of God and of His kingdom, was one of the means appointed by God to tempt Israel, or prove whether it would listen to the commandments of God (Judges 3:4), or would walk in the ways of the Lord. If Israel should so learn to war, it would learn at the same time to keep the commandments of God. But both of these were necessary for the people of God. For just as the realization of the blessings promised to the nation in the covenant depended upon its hearkening to the voice of the Lord, so the conflicts appointed for it were also necessary, just as much for the purification of the sinful nation, as for the perpetuation and growth of the kingdom of God upon the earth.

Judges 3:3-4

The enumeration of the different nations rests upon Joshua 13:2-6, and, with its conciseness and brevity, is only fully intelligible through the light thrown upon it by that passage. The five princes of the Philistines are mentioned singly there. According to Joshua 13:4., “ all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites,” are the Canaanitish tribes dwelling in northern Canaan, by the Phoenician coast and upon Mount Lebanon. “ The Canaanites: ” viz., those who dwelt along the sea-coast to the south of Sidon. The Hivites: those who were settled more in the heart of the country, “from the mountains of Baal-hermon up to the territory of Hamath.” Baal-hermon is only another name for Baal-gad, the present Banjas, under the Hermon (cf. Joshua 13:5). When it is stated still further in Judges 3:4, that “they were left in existence (i.e., were not exterminated by Joshua) to prove Israel by them,” we are struck with the fact, that besides the Philistines, only these northern Canaanites are mentioned; whereas, according to Judg 1, many towns in the centre of the land were also left in the hands of the Canaanites, and therefore here also the Canaanites were not yet exterminated, and became likewise a snare to the Israelites, not only according to the word of the angel of the Lord (Judges 2:3), but also because the Israelites who dwelt among these Canaanitish tribes contracted marriages with them, and served their gods. This striking circumstance cannot be set aside, as Bertheau supposes, by the simple remark, that “the two lists (that of the countries which the tribes of Israel did not conquer after Joshua's death in Judg 1, and the one given here of the nations which Joshua had not subjugated) must correspond on the whole,” since the correspondence referred to really does not exist. It can only be explained on the ground that the Canaanites who were left in the different towns in the midst of the land, acquired all their power to maintain their stand against Israel from the simple fact that the Philistines on the south-west, and several whole tribes of Canaanites in the north, had been left by Joshua neither exterminated nor even conquered, inasmuch as they so crippled the power of the Israelites by wars and invasions of the Israelitish territory, that they were unable to exterminate those who remained in the different fortresses of their own possessions. Because, therefore, the power to resist the Israelites and oppress them for a time resided not so much in the Canaanites who were dwelling in the midst of Israel, as in the Philistines and the Canaanites upon the mountains of Lebanon who had been left unconquered by Joshua, these are the only tribes mentioned in this brief survey as the nations through which the Lord would prove His people.

Judges 3:5-6

But the Israelites did not stand the test. Dwelling in the midst of the Canaanites, of whom six tribes are enumerated, as in Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17, etc. (see at Deuteronomy 7:1), they contracted marriages with them, and served their gods, contrary to the express prohibition of the Lord in Exodus 34:16; Exodus 23:24, and Deuteronomy 7:3-4.

Verses 7-11

II. History of the People of Israel under the Judges - Judges 3:7-16:31

In order that we may be able to take a distinct survey of the development of the Israelites in the three different stages of the their history duringthe times of the judges, the first thing of importance to be done is to determine the chronology of the period of the judges, inasmuch as not only have greatly divergent opinions prevailed upon this point, but hypotheses have been set up, which endanger and to some extent directly overthrow the historical character of the accounts which the book of Judges contains.

Judges 3:7-8

The first chastisement which the Israelites suffered for their apostasy from the Lord, is introduced with the same formula which had been used before to describe the times of the judges generally (Judges 2:11-12), except that instead of את־יי ויּעזבוּ (“they forsook the Lord”) we have here את־יי ויּשׁכּחוּ (“ they forgot the Lord their God ”) from Deuteronomy 32:18 (cf. 1 Samuel 12:9), and Asheroth (rendered “groves”) instead of Ashtaroth (see at Judges 2:13). As a punishment for this apostasy, the Lord sold them (Judges 2:14) into the hand of Chushan-rishathaim, the king of Mesopotamia, whom they were obliged to serve for eight years. All that we know about this king of Mesopotamia is what is recorded here. His name, Chushan-rishathaim, is probably only a title which was given to him by the Israelites themselves. Rishathaim signifies “ double wickedness,” and the word was rendered as an appellative with this signification in the Targums and the Syriac and Arabic versions. Chushan is also formed as an adjective from Cush, and may denote the Cushites. According to M. v. Niebuhr (Gesch. Assurs u. Babels, p. 272), the rulers of Babylon at that time (1518-1273) were Arabs. “Arabs, however, may have included not only Shemites of the tribe of Joktan or Ishmael, but Cushites also.” The invasion of Canaan by this Mesopotamian or Babylonian king has a historical analogy in the campaign of the five allied kings of Shinar in the time of Abraham (Gen 14).

Judges 3:9-11

In this oppression the Israelites cried to the Lord for help, and He raised them up מושׁיע , a deliverer, helper, namely the Kenizzite Othniel, the younger brother and son-in-law of Caleb (see at Joshua 15:17). “ The Spirit of Jehovah came upon him.” The Spirit of God is the spiritual principle of life in the world of nature and man; and in man it is the principle both of the natural life which we received through birth, and also of the spiritual life which we received through regeneration (vid., Auberlen, Geist des Menschen, in Herzog's Cycl. iv. p. 731). In this sense the expressions “Spirit of God” ( Elohim) and “Spirit of the Lord” (Jehovah) are interchanged even in Genesis 1:2, compared with Genesis 6:3, and so throughout all the books of the Old Testament; the former denoting the Divine Spirit generally in its supernatural causality and power, the latter the same Spirit in its operations upon human life and history in the working out of the plan of salvation. In its peculiar operations the Spirit of Jehovah manifests itself as a spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). The communication of this Spirit under the Old Testament was generally made in the form of extraordinary and supernatural influence upon the human spirit. The expression employed to denote this is usually יי רוּח עליו ותּהי (“the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him:” thus here, Judges 11:29; 1 Samuel 19:20, 1 Samuel 19:23; 2 Chronicles 20:14; Numbers 24:2). This is varied, however, with the expressions יי רוּח עליו צלחה ותּצלח (Judges 14:6, Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 11:6; 1 Samuel 16:13) and את־פ לבשׁה יי רוּח , “the Spirit of Jehovah clothed the man” (Judges 6:34; 1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 24:20). Of these the former denotes the operations of the Divine Spirit in overcoming the resistance of the natural will of man, whilst the latter represents the Spirit of God as a power which envelopes or covers a man. The recipients and bearers of this Spirit were thereby endowed with the power to perform miraculous deeds, in which the Spirit of God that came upon them manifested itself generally in the ability to prophesy (vid., 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20, 1 Samuel 19:23; 1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 20:14; 2 Chronicles 24:20), but also in the power to work miracles or to accomplish deeds which surpassed the courage and strength of the natural man. The latter was more especially the case with the judges; hence the Chaldee paraphrases “the Spirit of Jehovah” in Judges 6:34 as the spirit of might from the Lord;” though in the passage before us it gives the erroneous interpretation נבוּאה רוּח , “the spirit of prophecy.” Kimchi also understands it as signifying “the spirit of bravery, under the instigation of which he was able fearlessly to enter upon the war with Chushan.” But we are hardly at liberty to split up the different powers of the Spirit of God in this manner, and to restrict its operations upon the judges to the spirit of strength and bravery alone. The judges not only attacked the enemy courageously and with success, but they also judged the nation, for which the spirit of wisdom and understanding was indispensably necessary, and put down idolatry (Judges 2:18-19), which they could not have done without the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. “ And he judged Israel and went out to war.” The position of ויּשׁפּט before למּלחמה ויּצא does not warrant us in explaining ויּשׁפּט as signifying “he began to discharge the functions of a judge,” as Rosenmüller has done: for שׁפט must not be limited to a settlement of the civil disputes of the people, but means to restore right in Israel, whether towards its heathen oppressors, or with regard to the attitude of the nation towards the Lord. “ And the Lord gave Chushan-rishathaim into his hand (cf. Judges 1:2; Judges 3:28, etc.), and his hand became strong over him; ” i.e., he overcame him (cf. Judges 6:2), or smote him, so that he was obliged to vacate the land. In consequence of this victory, and the land had rest from war (cf. Joshua 11:23) forty years. “ And then Othniel died: ” the expression ויּמת with ו consec. does not necessarily imply that Othniel did not die for forty years, but simply that he died after rest had been restored to the land.

Verses 12-14

In vv. 12-30 the subjugation of the Israelites by Eglon, the king of the Moabites, and their deliverance from this bondage, are circumstantially described. First of all, in Judges 3:12-14, the subjugation. When the Israelites forsook the Lord again (in the place of וגו את־הרע ... ויּעשׂוּ , Judges 3:7, we have here the appropriate expression ... הרע הרע לעשׂות , they added to do, i.e., did again, evil, etc., as in Judges 4:1; Judges 10:6; Judges 13:1), the Lord made Eglon the king of the Moabites strong over Israel. על חזּק , to give a person strength to overcome or oppress another. כּי על , as in Deuteronomy 31:17, instead of the more usual אשׁר על (cf. Jeremiah 4:28; Malachi 2:14; Psalms 139:14). Eglon allied himself with the Ammonites and Amalekites, those arch-foes of Israel, invaded the land, took the palm-city, i.e., Jericho (see at Judges 1:16), and made the Israelites tributary for eighteen years. Sixty years had passed since Jericho had been burnt by Joshua. During that time the Israelites had rebuilt the ruined city, but they had not fortified it, on account of the curse pronounced by Joshua upon any one who should restore it as a fortress; so that the Moabites could easily conquer it, and using it as a base, reduce the Israelites to servitude.

Verse 15

But when the Israelites cried to the Lord for help, He set them free through the Benjaminite Ehud, whom He raised up as their deliverer. Ehud was “the son of Gera.” This probably means that he was a descendant of Gera, since Gera himself, according to 1 Chronicles 8:3, was a son of Bela the son of Benjamin, and therefore was a grandson of Benjamin; and Shimei the contemporary of David, a man belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, is also called a son of Gera in 2 Samuel 16:5; 2 Samuel 19:17. At the same time, it is possible that the name Gera does not refer to the same person in these different passages, but that the name was repeated again and again in the same family. “ A man shut with regard to his right hand, ” i.e., hindered in the use of his right hand, not necessarily crippled, but in all probability disabled through want of use from his youth upwards. That the expression does not mean crippled, is confirmed by the fact that it is used again in connection with the 700 brave slingers in the army of the Benjaminites in Judges 20:16, and it certainly cannot be supposed that they were all actual cripples. So much is certain, however, that it does not mean ἀμφοτεροδέξιος , qui utraque manu pro dextera utebatur (lxx, Vulg.), since אטר signifies clausit (shut) in Psalms 69:16. It is merely with reference to what follows that this peculiarity is so distinctly mentioned. - The Israelites sent a present by him to king Eglon. בידו does not mean in, but through, his hand, i.e., through his intervention, for others were actually employed to carry the present (Judges 3:18), so that Ehud merely superintended the matter. Minchah, a gift or present, is no doubt a euphemism for tribute, as in 2 Samuel 8:2, 2 Samuel 8:6; 1 Kings 5:1.

Verse 16

Ehud availed himself of the opportunity to approach the king of the Moabites and put him to death, and thus to shake off the yoke of the Moabites from his nation. To this end he provided himself with a sword, which had two edges ( פּיות from פּה , like שׂיו , Deuteronomy 22:1, from שׂה ), a cubit long ( גּמר , ἁπ. λεγ. , signified primarily a staff, here a cubit, according to the Syriac and Arabic; not “a span,” σπιθαμή , lxx), and “ did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.”

Verse 17

Provided with this weapon, he brought the present to king Eglon, who - as is also mentioned as a preparation for what follows - was a very fat man.

Verses 18-20

After presenting the gift, Ehud dismissed the people who had carried the present to their own homes; namely, as we learn from Judges 3:19, after they had gone some distance from Jericho. But he himself returned from the stone-quarries at Gilgal, sc., to Jericho to king Eglon. הפּסילים מן refers to some place by Gilgal. In Deuteronomy 7:25; Isaiah 21:9; Jeremiah 8:19, pesilim signifies idols. And if we would retain this meaning here, as the lxx, Vulg., and others have done, we must assume that in the neighbourhood of Gilgal there were stone idols set up in the open air-a thing which is very improbable. The rendering “stone quarries,” from פּסל , to hew out stones (Exodus 34:1, etc.), which is the one adopted in the Chaldee, and by Rashi and others, is more likely to be the correct one. Gilgal cannot be the Gilgal between Jericho and the Jordan, which was the first encampment of the Israelites in Canaan, as is commonly supposed, since Ehud passed the Pesilim on his flight from the king's dwelling-place to the mountains of Ephraim (Judges 3:26, Judges 3:27); and we can neither assume, as Bertheau does, that Eglon did not reside in the conquered palm-city (Jericho), but in some uncultivated place in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, nor suppose that after the murder of Eglon Ehud could possibly have gone from Jericho to the Gilgal which was half an hour's journey towards the east, for the purpose of escaping by a circuitous route of this kind to Seirah in the mountains of Ephraim, which was on the north-west of Jericho. Gilgal is more likely to be Geliloth, which was on the west of Jericho opposite to the ascent of Adummim ( Kaalat ed Dom), on the border of Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 18:17), and which was also called Gilgal (Joshua 15:7). Having returned to the king's palace, Ehud sent in a message to him: “ I have a secret word to thee, O king.” The context requires that we should understand “ he said ” in the sense of “he had him told” (or bade say to him), since Ehud himself did not go in to the king, who was sitting in his room, till afterwards (Judges 3:20). In consequence of this message the king said: הס , lit. be silent (the imperative of הסה fo ); here it is a proclamation, Let there be quiet. Thereupon all who were standing round (viz., his attendants) left the room, and Ehud went in (Judges 3:20). The king was sitting “in his upper room of cooling alone.” The “room of cooling” ( Luther, Sommerlaube , summer-arbour) was a room placed upon the flat roof of a house, which was open to the currents of air, and so afforded a cool retreat, such as are still met with in the East (vid., Shaw, pp. 188-9). Then Ehud said, “ A word of God I have to thee; ” whereupon the king rose from his seat, from reverence towards the word of God which Ehud pretended that he had to deliver to him, not to defend himself, as Bertheau supposes, of which there is not the slightest intimation in the text.

Verses 21-22

But when the king stood up, Ehud drew his sword from under his garment, and plunged it so deeply into his abdomen that even the hilt followed the blade, and the fat closed upon the blade (so that there was nothing to be seen of it in front, because he did not draw the sword again out of his body), and the blade came out between the legs. The last words have been rendered in various ways. Luther follows the Chaldee and Vulgate, and renders it “so that the dirt passed from him,” taking the ἁπ. λεγ. פּרשׁדנה as a composite noun from פּרשׁ , stercus, and שׁדה , jecit. But this is hardly correct, as the form of the word פּרשׁדנה , and its connection with יצא , rather points to a noun, פּרשׁדן , with ה local. The explanation given by Gesenius in his Thes. and Heb. lex. has much more in its favour, viz., interstitium pedum , the place between the legs, from an Arabic word signifying pedes dissitos habuit , used as a euphemism for anus, podex. The subject to the verb is the blade.

(Note: At any rate the rendering suggested by Ewald, “Ehud went into the open air, or into the enclosure, the space in front of the Alija,” is untenable, for the simple reason that it is perfectly irreconcilable with the next clause, “Ehud went forth,” etc. (consequently Fr. Böttcher proposes to erase this clause from the text, without any critical authority whatever). For if Ehud were the subject to the verb, the subject would necessarily have been mentioned, as it really is in the next clause, Judges 3:23.)

Verse 23

As soon as the deed was accomplished, Ehud went out into the porch or front hall, shut the door of the room behind him ( בּעדו , not behind himself, but literally round him, i.e., Eglon; cf. Genesis 7:16; 2 Kings 4:4) and bolted it (this is only added as a more precise explanation of the previous verb).

Verses 24-25

When the servants of Eglon came (to enter in to their lord) after Ehud's departure and saw the door of the upper room bolted, they thought “surely ( אך , lit. only, nothing but) he covers his feet” (a euphemism for performing the necessities of nature; cf. 1 Samuel 24:3), and waited to shaming (cf. 2 King Judges 2:17; Judges 8:11), i.e., till they were ashamed of their long waiting (see at Judges 5:28). At length they opened the door with the key, and found their lord lying dead upon the floor.

Ehud's conduct must be judged according to the spirit of those times, when it was thought allowable to adopt any means of destroying the enemy of one's nation. The treacherous assassination of a hostile king is not to be regarded as an act of the Spirit of God, and therefore is not set before us as an example to be imitated. Although Jehovah raised up Ehud as a deliverer to His people when oppressed by Eglon, it is not stated (and this ought particularly to be observed) that the Spirit of Jehovah came upon Ehud, and still less that Ehud assassinated the hostile king under the impulse of that Spirit. Ehud proved himself to have been raised up by the Lord as the deliverer of Israel, simply by the fact that he actually delivered his people from the bondage of the Moabites, and it by no means follows that the means which he selected were either commanded or approved by Jehovah.

Verses 26-28

Ehud had escaped whilst the servants of Eglon were waiting, and had passed the stone quarries and reached Seirah. Seirah is a place that is never mentioned again; and, judging from the etymology (the hairy), it was a wooded region, respecting the situation of which all that can be decided is, that it is not to be sought for in the neighbourhood of Jericho, but “upon the mountains of Ephraim” (Judges 3:27). For when Ehud had come to Seirah, he blew the trumpet “ upon the mountains of Ephraim,” to announce to the people the victory that was placed within their reach by the death of Eglon, and to summon them to war with the Moabites, and then went down from the mountain into the plain near Jericho; “ and he was before them,” i.e., went in front as their leader, saying to the people, “ Follow me; for Jehovah has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand. ” Then they went down and took (i.e., took possession of) the fords near Jericho (see at Joshua 2:7), למואב , either “ from the Moabites ” or “ towards Moab,” and let no one (of the Moabites) cross over, i.e., escape to their own land.

Verse 29

Thus they smote at that time about 10,000 Moabites, all fat and powerful men, i.e., the whole army of the enemy in Jericho and on this side of the Jordan, not letting a man escape. The expression “at that time” seems to imply that they did not destroy this number in one single engagement, but during the whole course of the war.

Verse 30

Thus Moab was subdued under the hand of Israel, and the land had rest for eighty years.

Verse 31

After him (Ehud) was, i.e., there rose up, Shamgar the son of Anath. He smote the Philistines, who had probably invaded the land of the Israelites, six hundred men, with an ox-goad, so that he also (like Othniel and Ehud, Judges 3:9 and Judges 3:15) delivered Israel. הבּקר מלמד , ἁπ. λεγ. , signifies, according to the Rabbins and the ancient versions, an instrument with which they trained and drove oxen; and with this the etymology agrees, as למד is used in Hosea 10:11 and Jeremiah 31:18 to denote the training of the young ox. According to Rashi, בּקר מלמד is the same as דּרבן , βούκεντρον , in 1 Samuel 13:21. According to Maundrell in Paulus' Samml. der merkw. Reisen nach d. Or. i. p. 139, the country people in Palestine and Syria use when ploughing goads about eight feet long and six inches in circumference at the thick end. At the thin end they have a sharp point to drive the oxen, and at the other end a small hoe, to scrape off any dirt that may stick to the plough. Shamgar may have smitten the Philistines with some such instrument as this, just as the Edonian prince Lycurgus is described by Homer (Il. vi. 135) as putting Dionysius and the Bacchantines to flight with a βουπλήξ . Nothing is recorded about the descent of Shamgar, either here or in the Song of Deborah, in Judges 5:6. The heroic deed recorded of him must be regarded, as O. v. Gerlach affirms, as “merely the result of a holy inspiration that suddenly burst forth within him, in which he seized upon the first weapon that came to his hand, and put to flight the enemy when scared by a terror for God, just as Samson did on a later occasion.” For he does not seem to have secured for the Israelites any permanent victory over the Philistines. Moreover, he is not called judge, nor is the period of his labours taken into account, but in Judges 4:1 the renewed apostasy of Israel from the Lord is dated from the death of Ehud.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Judges 3". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.