The tragedy involving speech that started with Jephthah doesn’t end with Jephthah’s vow. For the sake of time I’m just going to summarize 12:1-7.
The Ephraimites make an appearance again. Remember when they came and contended with Gideon? Well they do the same to Jephthah. Gideon was very conciliatory to Ephraim’s proud complaining. But Jephthah has none of it. He gathers his men to fight Ephraim. Then Jephthah’s men station themselves at the crossing of the Jordan River. The Ephramites can’t pronounce this Hebrew word Shibboleth. They say Sibboleth. And all who can’t pronounce it right, Jephthah’s men kill. And they end up killing 42,000 Ephraimites.
So, moral of the story? Jephthah knew the Law. He could probably be teaching this Sunday School class if he were here. He knew the stories. He knew about the rules concerning vows. But his tongue gets him in trouble. With his tongue, he seals the death of his own daughter and brings his lineage to an end in Israel. And he’s not the only one with tongue troubles. The Ephraimites seal their own doom by not being able to pronounce the Hebrew Shin.
So, that’s Jephthah’s story. Are you ready for our last major judge? We’ll be talking about Samson next.
We started the “cycle of judges” back in chapter 3 with two major judges – Othniel and Ehud. They were followed by Shamgar the minor judge. Then we saw the two major judges Barak and Gideon. And they were followed by two minor judges – Tola and Jair. Then, last week we saw another major judge – Jephthah.
And he’s followed today by three minor judges. Let’s get acquanited with them in 12:8-15.
KJV Judges 12:8 ¶ And after him [That is, Jephthah] Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters, whom he sent abroad, and took in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. 10 Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.
11 ¶ And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. 12 And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.
13 ¶ And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel. 14 And he had forty sons and thirty nephews [Or that could be “grandsons”], that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years. 15 And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount [Or “hill country”] of the Amalekites.
Now, as always, the details of the minor judges are scant. So, we’ll try to piece some things together.
So we have the first judge from Bethlehem. The King James Version says that Ibzan sent his daughters abroad. Well, hey – it kind of sounds like he was getting his kids involved in Study Aboard opportunities. That sounds enriching. But no, unfortunately it wasn’t that positive. Ibzan sent his daughters abroad in the same sense that he – in verse 9 – took “daughters” or wives for his sons from abroad.
Well, what’s wrong with that? Remember the types of folks that were “abroad” – Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, Jebusites, etc. And what made it a problem for Ibzan to get foreign wives for his sons and to give his daughters to foreign men wasn’t that these foreign people didn’t speak Hebrew or because they ate different foods than the Israelites. No, the problem was that these foreigners worshipped foreign gods. And the God of Israel isn’t alright with that.
And this man is a judge. He should know better. He’s supposed to be delivering Israel from foreigners and their false gods. But here he’s just going along with the idolatry. And the text gives us every indication that every single one of Ibzan’s children is either married or given in marriage to a pagan. That’s troubling.
Now, let me just point out one more thing about Ibzan. We’ve been talking about his children. How many did he have? At least 60. Now how does one woman – the wife of Ibzan – have 60 children? Answer? She doesn’t. What this means then is that Ibzan is polygamous.
So, we have a polygamous judge who has formed alliances with all sort of pagans by marrying sons and daughters off to them. Aren’t you sort of glad that Ibzan is a minor judge? I don’t think I want to hear any more about him.
Alright then. On to the next minor judge. And there is really hardly anything said about him. His name is Elon. He’s from Zebulun. And he dies and is burried in Zebulun. And that’s it. So, really, there’s nothing interesting in this judge’s life. Which is probably a good thing.
So, on to the next and last of our minor judges. Abdon. We’ve seen a minor judge do the kind of thing that he’s doing – having all these descendants riding on donkeys. Jair did it. And just like with Jair, I’m assuming that this is hinting at a desire to rule as king in Israel on the part of this man. So we’ve seen this kind of activity before. But the interesting unique thing that we see with Abdon relates to where he died. He died in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim. That’s where he was born. So, nothing strange on that point. But the interesting thing noted here is the last few words of verse 15. Pirathon apparently belonged to whom? The Israelites? No, actually. It belonged to Amalekites.
So, this judge is buried in a land belonging to Amalekites. Remember the Amalekites? They’re the ones who fought Israel in the wilderness after they came out of Egypt. And that ruthless act earned the Amalekites God’s eternal enmity. In Exodus 17:16 the Lord swears that he himself will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.
So, really, the only reason I’d expect to see an Israelite judge in a land owned by Amalekites would be to battle them. And I guess we could hope that that’s why Abdon was there. But to be buried in a particular place in the Old Testament usually means that that place was home to that individual. He was comfortable there. That was his base of operation. But how could Abdon have been comfortable in a place overrun – indeed OWNED – by God’s enemies.
So, based on these considerations – and the general downward progression that we see in the book of Judges – I think this is what we’re witnessing. Abdon was called by God to deliver God’s people from their enemies. He’s a Judge. And yet this man is more concerned with power – his own as well as his children’s. And rather than attacking the enemy, he’s actually quite comfortable with them. He’s happy to live with them. He’s happy to die with them. And he’s happy to be buried in their territory.
Now, I said he’s happy to die with the enemy. And that’s interesting in light of how the story of our next and last major judge ends. How does Samson’s life end? What were his last words? “Let me die with the Philistines!” Samson’s life was tragic. And so was his death. And in the end he dies like Abdon – amongst God’s enemies. Yet, even Samson is buried elsewhere – not with the Philistines – but in the grave of his father.