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Bible Commentaries
Judges 10

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-5

The Minor Judges — Tola and Jair (10:1-5)

We find little of religious interest in these verses. The two judges mentioned, Tola and Jair, are not linked with any specific enemies of the Israelites. Both names occur in genealogical tables earlier — Tola in Genesis 46:13 and Numbers 26:23; Jair in Numbers 32:41 and Deuteronomy 3:14. These tables associate Tola with Issachar and Jair with Manasseh. Jair in this passage is termed a Gileadite, but Numbers 32:39-41 links Jair the Manassite with the conquest of Gilead, and both Numbers 32:41 and Deuteronomy 3:14 associate him with Hawoth-jair (the tent villages of Jair) , as does our text. This at least indicates the locale of these figures, but it is useless to speculate further. Only names and trifling memories have remained. The editor gives the years of judgeship and other details in conformity with his customary formula, and indicates that Jair was a man of substance by referring to the fact that his thirty sons each rode on an ass.

Verses 6-16

Jephthah the Gileadite (10:6-12:7)

The New Period of Oppression (10:6-16)

Once more a cycle of oppression returned. This time the dramatis personae were the Ammonites instead of the Midianites, and the peoples of Gilead, Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim rather than those farther north. The usual editorial formula in verses 6-9 traces the oppression to the people’s apostasy. Again they forgot the Lord and went after the fertility gods of the Canaanites. Once again God’s wrath descended on them and they were delivered into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites. The latter, who dwelt beyond Gilead to the east of Jordan, began by oppressing the Gileadites, the Hebrew people east of Jordan, but soon extended their depredations into the areas occupied by Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim.

The reference to the Philistines at this point seems out of place, since Jephthah does not appear to have been concerned with them. There is no similar introduction to the Samson story, however, so the editorial summary at this point may include the Philistines in order to cover the Samson epic also in the same general terms.

In verses 10-16 there is a dramatic dialogue between God and Israel. Israel confesses its apostasy, only to be reminded of other divine deliverances from its foes which had not hindered it from its present sin. God dramatically calls on Israel to find its help in the gods whom it has chosen, but the nation acknowledges its guilt and continues to call on the Lord for deliverance. At last its rejection of the Baals brings down the divine compassion; God could not endure the continued oppression of his people. The list of oppressors here cited includes many who do not seem to have operated in Israel’s history before Jephthah’s time. The Ammonites were the current oppressors; as we have seen, the Philistine invasion became an issue later in Samson’s time; the Maonites belong to the time of Jehoshaphat; there does not seem to have been a separate oppression by the Amalekites, although earlier they were associated with the Moabites and the Midianites; the Phoenicians likewise do not appear to have been a problem at this time. This list of nations corresponds with the list of foreign deities in verse 6, and would appear to be an editorial summary reflecting the conditions under the monarchy when it was written, rather than the state of affairs during Jephthah’s judgeship.

Verses 17-28

The Deliverer and His Challenge (10:17-11:28)

The Ammonites assembled to do battle in Gilead. The Israelites gathered at Mizpah, whose site has not been identified. Mysteriously, however, Israel had no battle leader. It was declared that such a one, if he could be found, should become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. Verses 17 and 18, which record this, appear to be a general summary of the situation, since Jephthah is boldly introduced in 11:1, with no reference to the statement contained in the previous verses, and the theme of war with the Ammonites is raised once more in 11:4-5, this time with mention of Jephthah.

In 11:1-3, we are given information about Jephthah himself. He was the son of a harlot and thus genealogically fatherless. His mother was neither a lawful wife nor a concubine. Hence in the place of a father, the name of the land of his birth is substituted. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. As a bastard, Jephthah had no hereditary rights. His half-brothers drove him out, so that he became the leader of a lawless band in the land of Tob, now thought to be in the neighborhood of Ramoth-gilead.

In their plight, the elders of Gilead recalled Jephthah from his outlawry to invite him to be their leader against the Ammonites. He discomfited them by the brutally frank query as to why they should suddenly reverse their attitude toward him. Characteristics which led to outlawry in peacetime had become valuable in wartime. Trouble and crisis often make us see qualities in people that we do not see in times of peace. The elders repeated their conviction that only a victorious leader in battle was qualified to be chief of the land in time of peace, and implied that Jephthah’s skill in the former made him their inevitable choice. He accepted their double offer and they swore to keep their side of the compact. The Lord was witness or hearer of their oath. Jephthah’s acceptance of leadership, provided he was successful in battle, and the corresponding commitment of the elders of Gilead were ratified before the Lord at Mizpah. Here there seems to be indicated some mutual covenantal rite between the erstwhile outlaw and the elders at the local shrine. Jephthah, we read, "spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah."

Jephthah now inquired of the Ammonites their motives in making war, only to be told that Israel took from them the land east of the Jordan, from the border of Moab northward, and that it should be restored to them as its rightful owners.

In reply, the Israelite leader argued for Israel’s right to the land east of the Jordan. He contended that when Israel entered Canaan she took no land from Moab or Ammon but respected their rights; that when Edom and Moab refused permission for Israel to pass through their territory, the Hebrew people detoured around those regions (Numbers 20:14-21; Numbers 21:11-13), even taking care not to trespass in Moab by camping beyond its boundary, the River Arnon; that when they asked permission to pass through the land of the Amorites, Sihon refused such peaceful passage, so that they forcibly took possession of his land (see Numbers 21:21 to Numbers 22:1). The point of the last reference is that this was part of the area now under dispute, southern Gilead north of the Moabite border. Thus Israel held Sihon’s land by right of conquest. Jephthah argued that Israel’s God had fought for it, and hence that God had dispossessed this land for Israel and given it into the possession of his people. After all, the god of the Ammonites had given their land into their possession, so why should they dispute what Israel’s God had given to it? We notice two things here. The first is the mistaken name of the Ammonite deity. "Chemosh" (vs. 24) was the god of Moab rather than of Ammon. This confusion may have been a mistake of later editors. The second feature is the emphasis on the reality of the other deities. In Jephthah’s speech Israel’s God is thought of as existing alongside the gods of the other nations. There is little doubt that monotheism, the faith in one universal deity, was implicit in the revelation to Moses and that Moses himself had the rudiments of such a faith; but contact with other nations had prevented Israel from sharing the vision of the great wilderness leader. Other gods were tied to national territory, and, at this stage, Israel at times conceived of God in the same way, although the deeper vision of God’s might and activity kept breaking through.

The implication of Jephthah’s argument so far was that Amnion’s claim to Gilead was unjustified. He now turned to previous attempts to hinder Israel’s victorious progress. Balak of Moab had not succeeded and Ammon had no better claim to the conquered land than he. Furthermore, why had Ammon waited three hundred years before asserting its rights to the territory? The two places mentioned, Heshbon and Aroer, are situated in Gilead east of Jordan and north of the Moabite border at Arnon. We note that the period of 300 years actually fits into the length of the period of the judges so far covered in the book. Until the beginning of the Ammonite oppression, the figures add up to 301 years. Ammon was in the wrong, argued Jephthah. If the Ammonites wanted to make war over the issue, then God would decide between them and Israel.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Judges 10". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/judges-10.html.
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