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An account of the nations which were left to prove Israel; by communion with whom they commit idolatry, and are punished. Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar, are raised up to deliver them.
Before Christ 1394.
Judges 3:2. Only that the generations of the children of Israel— The sacred writer having declared in the former verse the reason why certain of the Canaanites were left, namely, to prove the Israelites; and also who of the Israelites were thus to be proved, namely, that generation which was born after the taking of Palestine; proceeds in the present verse to give another reason why the Canaanites were spared. The verse would be better rendered thus, after Houbigant: and by this means it came to pass that that generation of the children of Israel might learn war, because they had before known nothing thereof. Had no enemies remained, the children of Israel would have given themselves up wholly to the arts of peace, and would have totally forgotten the art of war: but thus they were taught to neglect nothing necessary for their defence; happy had they not neglected what was of the greatest consequence, their allegiance to the Lord of Hosts.
Judges 3:5-7. And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, &c.— We learn from these verses, that the children of Israel offended in three particulars: First, In suffering to remain among them that people whom they ought to have destroyed. Secondly, In contracting alliances with them, contrary to the express prohibition of the Lord, Deuteronomy 7:3; Deuteronomy 7:26. And thirdly, In worshipping their idols. The words Baalim, and the groves, undoubtedly mean the same, as Baal and Astaroth, in the 13th verse of the former chapter. We have frequently had occasion to remark, that the ancient idolaters worshipped their Baalim in groves: but it seems very probable, that the word rendered groves should be differently rendered; for the groves were not worshipped, but the gods to whom the groves were consecrated. By the addition of a single letter, the Hebrew word will be Ashtaroth, as Houbigant very ingeniously remarks; and accordingly the greatest part of the versions render it so.
REFLECTIONS.—We have here the sad account of Israel's apostasy from God, by means of the Canaanites, who were left to prove them, whether they would continue faithful, and to keep the rising generation from that effeminacy which ease and affluence might produce. The five lords of the Philistines stood firm, and again recovered those three cities which had been taken. The northern Canaanites, Zidonians, and Hivites, in mount Lebanon, kept their possessions; whilst, in every part of the country, there continued multitudes of the devoted nations, whom Israel, through sloth and covetousness, had spared, and suffered still to dwell among them. With these they soon mixed, joined in marriages, and, as the consequence thereof, followed after their idols, worshipped Baalim, and the groves, i.e. the idols which were placed there, and forgat God. Note; (1.) A wife of the daughters of Canaan is the most dangerous snare that the devil can put in the way of God's Israel. (2.) Forgetfulness of God is a besetting sin; and when he is forgotten, the reins are let loose upon the neck of every lust.
Judges 3:8. Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia— King of Mesopotamia, appears to be the interpretation of Chushan-rishathaim. Mesopotamia was situated between the Tigris and Euphrates, and thence had its name [between the rivers]: the Assyrians or Syrians were the inhabitants; and, instigated either by hatred or ambition, they passed the Euphrates, and fell upon the Israelites. We have very little light from prophane history concerning this king. He made the children of Israel tributary for eight years, which is the meaning of the word served in this place. Their subjection, says Calmet, consisted in paying a tribute; or, to speak in the style of Scripture, in making presents and rendering services to the king of Mesopotamia.
Judges 3:10. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him— He was moved by an extraordinary impulse from God to take upon him the government of the people; which none dared to do, unless appointed by God himself, who was the King of the nation. Josephus says, that God appeared to Othniel, so that he could not doubt of the divinity of his mission. The Chaldee Paraphrast seems to favour this opinion; for he says, that the spirit of prophesy was upon Othniel. Doubtless he, as well as the other judges, had not only an inward incitement to undertake the deliverance of God's people, but was likewise endowed with an extraordinary degree of courage and conduct. Respecting the chronological difficulties arising from the words in the 11th verse, we refer to Bishop Usher.
REFLECTIONS.—The children of Israel are scarcely settled before they forget God, and turn aside after idols; but their sufferings follow quick on their sins. We have here.
1. Their distress. Because they sold themselves to work wickedness, God sold them into the hand of the king of Mesopotamia. Note; If our troubles be even long or heavy, they are yet less than our iniquities deserve.
2. They who forget God in prosperity cry to him in their distress. It is by affliction that God usually brings home to him his back-sliding Israel. No doubt, they cried long and often before the mercy came, God exercising their faith and patience by keeping them for eight years waiting for the mercy. Note; We must always pray, and not faint. Though we do not always succeed at first; yet, if we persevere, we are sure not to be disappointed at last.
3. God heard and answered their prayer. Othniel, Caleb's son-in-law, whose valour was before recorded, is raised up for their deliverer. The Spirit of God moving him to undertake their work, and assisting him in the accomplishment of the undertaking, he judged Israel, reproved them for their iniquities, and brought them back to the worship of the true God; and under his hand the power of their oppressors was broken, and they had rest forty years. Note; (1.) There is a Saviour at hand for those who groan under the burden of sin. (2.) If we would have Christ to deliver us from outward troubles, be it our care to put away inward iniquity. (3.) They, who have Christ for their Saviour, shall find a longer rest than forty years, even to the years of eternity.
Judges 3:12. Strengthened Eglon— It is the opinion of many commentators, that Eglon was the successor of Balak. As the Israelites were so prone to worship the gods of the people round about them, God, in just punishment of their offences, armed those very people against them. The sacred writer says, that God strengthened the king of Moab, to shew that he gave success to his enterprize against the Israelites.
Judges 3:15. Ehud—a man left-handed— Mr. Saurin has taken great pains to shew that this expression signifies a man who was ambidexter, i.e. one who could use his left hand as well as his right; and what would lead one very much to prefer this interpretation is, that the same quality is ascribed to seven hundred chosen men of the tribe of Benjamin, chap. Jdg 20:16 all of whom one can hardly believe to have had no use of their right hand, as some interpreters suppose was the case with Ehud. But indeed, from 1 Chronicles 12:2., Mr. Saurin's interpretation seems perfectly justified; for it is there said of the Benjamites, that they were armed with bows, and could use both the right hand and the left. The Vulgate renders it here, who used both his hands for a right hand; and the LXX, who could use both his hands alike. This qualification is often spoken of by the heathen poets as possessed by their heroes. See Iliad, book 7: ver. 3:237.
Judges 3:17. Eglon was a very fat man— The LXX render it, a very polite man; with a view probably to account for the civility wherewith this prince admitted Ehud to an audience: but our translation is more agreeable to the Hebrew, as well as to the context. See Judges 3:22.
Judges 3:18. When he had made an end to offer the present— There is often in the Eastern countries, says the author of the Observations, a great deal of pomp and parade in presenting their gifts; and that not only when they are presented to princes or governors of provinces, but where they are of a more private nature. Thus Dr. Russell tells us, that the money which the bridegrooms of Aleppo pay for their brides is laid out in furniture for a chamber, in clothes, jewels, or ornaments of gold for the bride, whose father makes some addition, according to his circumstances; which things are sent with great pomp to the bridegroom's house three days before the wedding. The like arrangement obtains in Egypt, where these gifts are carried with great pomp to the bridegroom's house on the marriage-day itself, and immediately before the bride: carpets, cushions, mattrasses, coverlets, pignates, dishes, jewels, trinkets, plate, every thing down to the wooden sandals wrought with mother of pearl, which they call cobeal; and, through orientation, they never fail to load upon four or five horses what might easily be carried by one. In like manner, as to the jewels and other things of value, they place in fifteen dishes what a single plate would very well hold. See Maillet, Leviticus 10:0: p. 86. Something of this pomp seems to be referred to in this place, where we read of making an end of offering a present, and of a number of people who bare it; all which apparently points out the introducing, with great distinction as well as ceremony, every part of the present sent to Eglon, and the making use of as many hands in it as might be, conformably to the modern ritual of the Eastern courts. See 2 Kings 8:9.
Judges 3:19. The quarries that were by Gilgal— Both here, and in the 26th verse, says Houbigant, we take the word פסילים pesilim, rendered quarries, for the name of a place. The Vulgate and LXX render it graven images, which some suppose were erected here by the Moabites. The phrase keep silence means, that Ehud should awhile refrain from speaking, until the princes of the court were retired. It is in the Syriac, the king said, Do ye withdraw; and they that were present withdrew.
Judges 3:20. In a summer parlour— Beside the platforms which were upon the ancient houses of the East, and which are found there to this day, it is probable that heretofore, as well as at present, most of the great houses had a smaller one annexed, which seldom consisted of more than one or two rooms and a terrace; others, built as they frequently are over the porch or gateway, have, if we except the ground-floor, all the conveniences belonging to the house properly so called. There is a door of communication from them into the gallery of the house, kept open or shut at the discretion of the master of the family; besides another door, which opens immediately from a privy flight of stairs, down into the porch or street, without giving the least disturbance to the house. In these back houses strangers are usually lodged and entertained: hither the men are wont to retire from the hurry and noise of their families, to be more at leisure for meditation or diversions; and they are often used for wardrobes and magazines. The Arabs call these houses oleah, which exactly answers to the Hebrew word עליה alyiah, found in this place; and, without doubt, such was the apartment wherein Eglon received Ehud; by the privy-stairs belonging to which he escaped, after he had avenged Israel upon the king of Moab. See Shaw's Travels, p. 214.
The doctor further tells us, that the doors of the Eastern buildings are large, and their chambers spacious; conveniences, as he observes, very well adapted to these hotter climates: but in the present passage, something more seems to be meant; at least there are now other contrivances in the East to give coolness to particular rooms, which are very common; and though Eglon's time is acknowledged to be of very remote antiquity, we are to remember, that he was a prince; and in the palaces of such as these, contrivances, no doubt, began. In Egypt, the cooling of their rooms is effected by openings at the top, which let in the fresh air. Maillet tells us, that their halls are made extremely large and lofty, with a dome at the top, which towards the north has several open windows, so constructed as to throw the north-wind down into the rooms; and by this means, though the country is excessively hot, they can make the coolness of these apartments such, as often not to be borne without being wrapped in furs. Egmont and Hayman speak of chambers cooled after this manner, as well as halls. Eglon's was a chamber; and to contrive to mitigate the heat of it was the more necessary, as he appears to have kept his court at Jericho, (Judges 3:13, Judges 3:28.) where the heat is so excessive as sometimes to have proved fatal. See Observations, p. 88.
Judges 3:22. So that he could not draw the dagger—and the dirt came out— The Hebrew word rendered dirt is found only here. It is after the Chaldee that we render it dirt or excrement. This account is so short, that it is no wonder various conjectures have been formed upon it, with which it would be as useless as tedious to acquaint the reader.
Judges 3:24. He covereth his feet— Some have supposed, that this is a modest expression for one of the necessities of nature; but it more probably, I should imagine, means in this place, lying down to rest, which is usual in the Eastern countries during the heat of the day. The Arabic and Syriac versions render this expression, by going to sleep, 1 Samuel 24:3. Josephus too gives it the same sense in this place. See Observations, p. 90.
Judges 3:26. Ehud escaped while they tarried— It has been asked, how this action of Ehud can be at all justified. It is certainly among the number of those which are not to be imitated without that which gave it all its sanction; namely, a divine commission. The text expressly says, the Lord raised up Ehud; and it is well known, that all the deliverances which the Jews had under the judges were directed and conducted by the immediate hand of God, according as the people by their repentance became fit to receive them. A divine warrant, in such a case, is a clear foundation to go upon: it can, however, be no precedent for others to go upon, who have no divine warrant at all, but quite the contrary. What is reason and understanding given us for, but to discriminate cases and circumstances? See Grotius de jure Belli ac Pacis, lib. 1 cap. 24 and Barbeyrac's note on Puffendorff's Law of Nature and Nations, lib. 7: cap. 8.
Judges 3:29. All lusty— The word שׁמן shamen, rendered lusty, signifies, properly, one that abounds in strength, robust, strong: so the Vulgate, robustos. The word in the next verse rendered subdued, is, in the French version, humilie; humbled, which is more agreeable to the Hebrew.
Judges 3:31. After him was Shamgar, &c.— It is uncertain of what tribe Shamgar was, and when he commenced judge of Israel; nothing being mentioned concerning him, but this exploit against the Philistines, in which he slew six hundred men with an ox-goad; i.e. the instrument by which oxen are broken to the plough and managed. An observation of Mr. Maundrel will justify our version. He says, that in Palestine he observed them to use goads of an extraordinary size. "Upon measuring of several, I found them about eight feet long, and at the bigger end six inches in circumference. They were armed at the lesser end with a sharp prickle for driving the oxen, and at the other end with a small spade, or paddle of iron, strong and massy, for cleansing the plough from the clay that encumbers it in working. May we not from hence conjecture, that it was with such a goad as one of these that Shamgar made that prodigious slaughter related of him, Judges 3:31.? I am confident, that whoever should see one of these instruments would judge it to be a weapon, not less fit, perhaps fitter, than a sword for such an execution. Goads of this sort I saw always used hereabouts, and also in Syria; and the reason is, because the same single person both drives the oxen, and holds and manages the plough; which makes it necessary to use such a goad as is above described, to avoid the incumbrance of two instruments." See Journey from Aleppo, p. 110. One cannot help remarking, upon a view of this and the preceding chapters, how soon the Israelites forgot the wonders which God had done for them, revolted from his law, and fell into idolatry.
REFLECTIONS.—Far from being suitably affected by their late deliverance, after Othniel's death the long enjoyment of ease and affluence plunged them again into their old sins, and provoked God to give them up to new oppressors.
1. The king of Moab, who in vain, in former years, attempted to stand against them, now that God is no longer their defence, arises to war, strengthens himself by the forces of Ammon and Amalek, and prevails against them. The Israelites, unable to resist, are every where beaten, their strong-holds taken, and the city of palm-trees, a fort near Jericho, is garrisoned to keep them under the yoke. Eighteen years they endured this servitude, and paid tribute to their oppressors. Note; (1.) When we return to sin, we may expect that God will return to judgment. (2.) If lighter corrections are ineffectual, God will make them longer and heavier. (3.) No instrument so despicable, but God, whenever he pleases, can make it the rod of his anger.
2. Israel had again recourse to prayer; and, though their suffering was prolonged, at last God pities and delivers them by the hand of Ehud. Note; (1.) The greatest dangers do not intimidate, nor the greatest difficulties entangle, those whom God arms with holy courage, and supplies with the spirit of wisdom. (2.) It is a great mercy to have rest from our spiritual enemies; let us improve it by diligence to grow in grace, that we may be better prepared for their reception when they than renew their attacks.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Judges 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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