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Judges & Ruth- Everyman's Bible Commentary

Judges & Ruth- Everyman's Bible Commentary

by Arthur H. Lewis

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The book of Judges presents a miniature of the human race, its ups and downs, its triumphs and its tragedies. It also presents a history of God's sovereign intervention in the affairs of men. Yet within that same enviroment of human failure and rebellion, there is the book of Ruth, a portrait of the coming Kinsman-Redeemer--showing God's message of redemption


The book of Judges presents a miniature of the human race, its ups and downs, its triumphs and its tragedies. It also presents a history of God's sovereign intervention in the affairs of men. Yet within that same enviroment of human failure and rebellion, there is the book of Ruth, a portrait of the coming Kinsman-Redeemer--showing God's message of redemption and love. This Everyman's Bible Commentary is based upon the scriptural text as found in the New American Standard Bible.

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By Arthur H. Lewis

Moody Press

Copyright © 1979 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
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ISBN: 978-1-57567-896-2



I. The Days Of The Judges (1:1—3:6)

A. Victories and defeats (1:1—2:5)

The story of the Judges begins where the book of Joshua ends, with the death of Joshua, the great leader and man of God. A full record of Joshua's death and burial is repeated in 2:6-9, suggesting that the information in chapter 1 is really a summary of the state of affairs just before his death.

1. Judah and Simeon merge forces (1:1-21)

The tribes of Judah and Simeon merged their forces to carry out a series of attacks on the Canaanites in the hill country south of Jerusalem and as far as the Negev. They captured the town of Bezek and punished the king, Adoni-bezek (in Hebrew, "Lord of Bezek"), by cutting off his thumbs and big toes. This was a common way of eliminating a warrior from further military service; also, a mutilated king would probably never return to his throne. The town of Bezek is usually placed in Ephraim, about seventeen miles north of Shechem. However, a Judean location would fit the situation better. Furthermore, the name Adoni-bezek may be an alternate for Adoni-zedek, the king of Jerusalem mentioned in Joshua 10:1. This would also explain why he was brought to Jerusalem and died there.

The city of the Jebusites was taken by the men of Judah and Simeon but evidently not held for long. Nor were the inhabitants driven out by the Benjamites, for they continued to live as their neighbors (Judg. 1:21). The Jebusites were a mixed people who descended from early colonies of Hittites and Amorites in Canaan. The city dates back to the third millennium and may be the Salem ruled by Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18. On the other hand, the latest discoveries at Ebla in Syria list a Jerusalem as early as 2300 B.C.! Salem may turn out to be another city, perhaps in the Transjordanian area. Jerusalem in its Hebrew form means "foundation of peace." It was occupied by the Jebusites until the daring conquest by David and his men about 1000 B.C., when he made it the capital of the twelve tribes.

The Kenites were related to the Midianites, and many of them joined the tribe of Judah during the wilderness wanderings because of the family tie with Moses' father-in-law, Jethro. Caleb, the most famous of the Kenites, was rewarded for his service to Israel by the gift of two important cities: Hebron and Debir (1:10-20). The former was clearly marked as the shrine of the ancient fathers of the Hebrews, but the location of Debir was a matter of controversy until the excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim, eleven miles southwest of Hebron. Additional evidence came with the identification of the upper and lower springs just to the west of the Tell; these two cold freshwater springs still serve the local farmers and Bedouins. The word in the text is gulloth, meaning a "bubbling fountain," a spring of "living" water so highly praised by the peoples of the land.

2. The exploits of Ephraim and Manasseh (1:22-29)

Next, the account turns to the central area and the exploits of the twin tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. From many conquests, only one is singled out, the capture of Bethel, perhaps because of its memorable connection with the flight of Jacob and with his dream (Gen. 28:19). The local name of Bethel, "House of God," was Luz, which may have been derived from the term for "almond trees."

Manasseh's assigned area certainly contained some of the most imposing and powerful of the Canaanite city-states: Beth-shean, Taanach, Megiddo, Dor, and others. The task of occupation was just too great, but Manasseh did manage to conscript some of the Canaanites to serve as forced laborers (Josh. 16:10). Administrative texts from Ras Shamra reveal similar use of forced labor gangs from subject peoples.

Ephraim had the same problem with the heavily fortified city of Gezer on the edge of the plain overlooking Joppa. Gezer was never captured, not even by David. It was eventually taken by Egypt and presented as a wedding gift to Solomon when he married an Egyptian princess (1 Kings 9:16).

3. Failures in obedience (1:30-36)

Asher's possessions along the coast should have included the cities of Acco, Sidon, and the others mentioned in verse 31, but they were never conquered. Zebulun failed to take two important cities of Galilee. The tribe of Naphtali never eliminated from its territory the pagan inhabitants of northern Beth-shemesh or Beth-anath. So reads the list of the tribes' repeated failures to confiscate all the land and to fully obey the command of the Lord through Moses and Joshua.

The tribe of Dan was especially afflicted by its immediate neighbors, the Amorites and Philistines, on the plains west of Aijalon. (Read Josh. 19:40-48 for the full account of their defeat and expulsion from the land originally assigned to them.) For a time the Danites tried to live along the foothills, but finally they resolved to migrate to the northland, above the Hulah Valley, where they captured the city of Laish and re-named it Dan (Judg. 18:27-29).

4. The angel of the Lord (2:1-5)

Gilgal by the Jordan had been headquarters for many of the tribes from the beginning of the conquest of Canaan. There for a few years the sanctuary rested and the sacrifices by the Aaronic priests continued. We read that "the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal" to a place meaning "the weepers," Bochim in Hebrew (2:1). A priest or prophet may be indicated by the phrase "angel of the LORD," since angel may also be translated as "messenger." The importance of this event and message, however, suggests a heavenly being such as that one called the "captain of the LORD'S host" and before whom Joshua bowed down and worshiped (Josh. 5:13-15), or, the angel of the Lord who wrestled with Jacob at the brook Jabbok (Gen. 32:24-30). This messenger, or angel, from God severely rebuked the Israelites for their disobedience in failing to drive out all their enemies. Perhaps of equal or greater importance, the tribes had failed to "tear down their altars" (Judg. 2:2). In other words, the Israelites already had accommodated their faith to the pagan religion of the Canaanites and were guilty of trespassing the very first commandment (Exod. 20:3). Tears of regret followed the stern words of the angel, but the people's apostasy had already begun to set in, and the damage seemed irreparable. True repentance must go beyond tears of sorrow and achieve a right-about-face, a turning of one's entire life from sin to a walk that pleases the Lord.



B. The death of Joshua (2:6-10)

This account in Judges closely parallels Joshua 24, which records the final words, death, and burial of that great, heroic leader of Israel. Joshua delivered his last plea for faithfulness to the covenant, ending with the affirmation, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" ((24:15b). Finally, he sent each tribe back to its assigned area to complete the work of occupation and to clear out the local inhabitants and their pagan altars.

Joshua's tomb was at Timnath-heres, which could be the ancient name for the present town of Tibneh, only six miles from Shiloh. Compare the place name Timnath-heres here with Timnath-sereh in Joshua 19:50, which was given to Joshua for his personal inheritance. The two names would be identical with a simple exchange of two letters.

"Gathered to their fathers" (Judg. 2:10) is a well-known phrase in the Old Testament for life after death; it fitly described the passing of the living into the next world, where they joined the others of the family that had died before them. Simple as this concept may appear, it nevertheless speaks forcefully against any doctrine of the annihilation of the soul.

C. The pattern of apostasy (2:11-23)

Wickedness and idol worship are linked together in the history of the human race. The relationship of the people in every generation to their Creator has affected their conduct and their relationships to their fellowmen. When any people who knew God forsook Him, the result was a vacuum of religion that was usually filled with base objects of worship. Canaanite deities and idols appealed to the sensual passions of man, attracting the people of God with an almost irresistable force. Thus, apostasy set in almost as soon as a new generation grew up that "did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel" (2:10b).

Judges 2:11-23 establishes a pattern of events that will be repeated throughout the narratives of the main judges.1 Moral failure or transgression of the covenant always brought on years of affliction and oppression. Finally, when the Israelites would cry out to the Lord for help, He would send a heroic leader to rescue His people. The victory that followed always led to a time of peace and faithfulness to the Lord. This typical cycle of events conveniently prepares the reader for the specific narratives of the great judges in the book.

The Baals and the Ashtaroth (2:13 gives the plural for these deities) were especially favored by the Phoenicians, Ashtarte being the patron goddess of the Sidonians. Baal was not the name but the title of the rain-god, Hadad, held responsible for the fertilization of the earth every spring. Ashtarte carried over the years a variety of titles from moon-goddess ("queen of heaven" in Jer. 7:18) to goddess of sex and fertility. Her name must not be confused with the Asheroth, or "pillars," sometimes translated as "groves," where the perverted worship of Ashtarte was carried on. Archaeologists have found such objects in high places and shrines, where the rites usually included orgies of drunkenness, fornication, sadistic practices, and human sacrifices.

D. Enemy nations still in the land (3:1-6)

Having accused the tribes of sinful negligence for not driving out the pagan peoples of Canaan, the prophetic writer now saw a divine purpose in the situation and revealed that these nations would provide a learning experience, a "test" of courage and faithfulness for the new generation that knew nothing of war.

The Philistines, from whose name the name Palestine was derived, were a migrant nation from the Aegean and the delta area of Egypt; most of them came during the early part of the twelfth century B.C. Their five capital cities are listed in Joshua 13:3, and the kings of these cities formed a ruling council over the entire nation. Philistine culture brought in many Greek customs from the Aegean area.

The Canaanites got their name from the seashell, indigenous to the coast of Canaan, from which was extracted a purple dye. As a subgrouping of Canaanites, the Sidonians and Phoenicians distinguished themselves with their merchant marine and extensive trading by sea. Peaceful relationships with the Phoenicians prevailed through most of the history of Israel. Sidon was the first son of Canaan (Gen. 10:15).

Hivites lived up in the mountains of Lebanon and appear to have been a nonSemitic people, possibly related to the Hurrians of northern Mesopotamia. Joshua 11:3 also locates them on the slopes of Mount Hermon.

In summary, the Israelites lived with all these Gentile nations, intermarried with them, and inevitably worshiped their pagan deities.



II. The Heroic Deeds Of The Judges (3:7—16:31)

Counting Deborah, the prophetess, thirteen judges are introduced in the narratives of the book. However, six of them receive so little detail that their lives and work remain obscure. These six are Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Abimelech, Gideon's treacherous son who seized control of Shechem, should not be added to this list since he is not treated as one of the God-sent judges of Israel.

This leaves seven major heroes who were entrusted with the leadership and deliverance of the Israelites. Since Deborah is allied with Barak in the same crisis, we have in fact six major stories and six brief ones to tell in this section, which runs through chapter 16.

A. Othniel and the Arameans (3:7-11)

The first crisis of slavery and oppression was brought on the Israelites by the corruption of their true faith through idol worship. "Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel" (3:8a). Literally, "His nose became hot," a most expressive metaphor for anger and one of the most obvious examples of the anthropomorphisms for God in the Old Testament. Anger expressed righteousness in a situation such as this: when the people of God backslide and do wicked and idolatrous deeds, they can expect such a reaction from a holy God.

Cushan-rishathaim was a king from the region of Upper Mesopotamia. His name may actually have been a term of hatred for the "Cushite of the Double Outrage." Some have seen Edom instead of Aram in the word translated "Mesopotamia." Edom fits the context better, allowing for an enemy closer to Judah and the Negev where Othniel lived with the other Kenites (Judg. 1:13). However, intrusions by kings and armies from Mesopotamia and Aram were frequent, even back as early as the seizure of Lot from Sodom, in Genesis 14. Such a king, bent on plunder, may have marched his troops down the King's Highway through Transjordan, then moved up from the south to enslave and oppress Judah for eight years.

The reader should understand that it is because the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel that he was enabled to win the battle and subsequently to rule Israel during forty years of peace. God's Holy Spirit came upon such great personalities and leaders much in the same way that He filled and empowered the apostles of the early church in the book of Acts. In most cases, we may also assume the personal salvation of these men, but the Spirit's work in convicting and forgiving sinners is not necessarily prerequisite in the Old Testament to His work of guiding or empowering His instruments in history. At times we will come across a man, such as Jephthah, whose life shows almost no evidence of spirituality, yet he, too, was moved by the Spirit to rescue the people of God.

B. Ehud and the Moabites (3:12-30)

What Othniel achieved for Judah, Ehud did for Benjamin and the central tribes. Enemy nations from the desert rallied behind Eglon, king of Moab, to overwhelm the Israelites. Ammon was located to the east of the Jordan and generally north of Moab; the Amorites had been soundly defeated by Joshua and their lands occupied by Reuben and Gad. The Amalekites had followed the tribes all across the wilderness with harrassing and warlike thrusts, going back to the battle at Rephidim, when Moses prayed with his hands extended and God gave the victory to Joshua and his troops (Exod. 17). These Amalekites were nomads and Bedouins, fierce fighters of the desert, constantly on the move. The name given to the king, Eglon, may have been a taunting term of disdain; it means "fat bullock" in Hebrew, and as the story reaches its climax, the obesity of the king becomes apparent.

1. Ehud's plot (3:15-25)

Heroes often are unusual people, and Ehud was distinguished by being left-handed, an ironic state for a Benjamite whose name means "son of the right hand." His small sword, therefore, was over his right hip, whereas normally it would have been worn on his left side. Because it was hidden under his long, flowing garment, it completely escaped notice as he entered the king's palace. A sword of one cubit would probably have measured about eighteen inches, the length of the forearm with the extended fingers included.

The tribute would have been grain and produce, carried in baskets by Israelite attendants. After it had been offered to the Moabite overlords, Ehud dismissed his fellow servants in order to carry out his plan unassisted. First, he beguiled King Eglon with his hint of a secret message for his ears alone. Then he was invited to join the king in his "room of cooling," evidently an upper chamber with the private royal quarters behind double doors. Ehud approached the monarch as if to reveal his message, but quickly drew his sword, buried it with the hilt in the king's belly, and left him dying on the floor. Then he locked the doors behind him, casually walked out of the palace, and made his escape.

The servants waited too long, assuming that their monarch was occupied in his bathroom (literally "sitting on his feet," a common euphemism in Hebrew). When they finally unlocked the chamber doors, they discovered the body of their assassinated king on the floor.

2. Ehud's victory (3:26-30)

Meanwhile, Ehud fled back to his homeland, to Seirah, evidently a small town in Benjamin or Ephraim. Soon he had mustered a small army and engaged the Moabites in a surprise attack. The result was a great victory for Israel that brought freedom to the people and security along the Jordan River and the border with Moab. This time the land would enjoy rest for two generations, eighty years.

Ehud was considered worthy of high honor as a "savior" in Israel, yet no mention is made of the Spirit in his life. Such an act of treachery and violence would normally be condemned, except that the Moabite king had dealt wickedly with the Israelites, and his death was both a recompense for his evil deeds and a means of liberation for the tribes. Through the inspired mind of the prophet who wrote the book of Judges, we can watch the effects of sin. And the New Testament confirms the outcome: "Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Gal. 6:7b).


Excerpted from Judges/Ruth by Arthur H. Lewis. Copyright © 1979 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

ARTHUR H. LEWIS (B.A., Wheaton College; B.D., Gordon Divinity School; M.A., Harvard Graduate School; Ph.D., Brandeis University Graduate School) formerly served as professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Bethel College. He is author of the Everyman¿s Bible Commentary Volumes on Judges and Ruth.

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