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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Judges

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

Introduction to the book of Judges ( 1.1–3.6 ) 1.1–2.10 :

The days of the elders. The period between the death of Joshua and the beginning of the age of the judges is called the days of the elders (cf. 2.7 ). This period is created to explain how the people, who during the days of Joshua were noted for their loyalty to the LORD, became transformed into one that repeatedly did evil in His eyes. During this period the tribes needed to fight against the nations who remained in the land after Joshua's death. The tribe of Judah did so, but most of the tribes preferred to subjugate the remaining nations and allowed them to remain in their habitations, thereby laying the groundwork for assimilation and sin.

2.6–3.6 :

Characterization of the age of the judges.

2.6–10 :

The first generation of the age of the judges did not know the deliverance of the LORD.

2.11–19 :

The period of the judges is characterized by repeating cycles comprised of four stages: the sin of doing evil in the eyes of the LORD (vv. 11–13 ); punishment by subjugation to the surrounding nations (vv. 14–15 ), deliverance by judges (v. 16 ), and the days during which the judges ruled, which were periods of calm following the deliverance (vv. 17–19 ). Sometimes the people returned to sin during the judge's lifetime, and at others only after his death; in any event the period of sin always returns. Later in the book, the stage of deliverance (see 3.9 , etc.) is also preceded by a stage of crying out or turning to the LORD. The absence of this stage here emphasizes the nation's apostasy. This description is rich in repetitions and in Deuteronomistic expressions, suggesting a late editing.

11 :

Baalim: Baal, whose name means “master,” was one of the heads of the Canaanite pantheon. The use of the plural may indicate the existence of a multiplicity of cults of which Baal is the center, or various other kinds of idolatry.

13 :

Ashtaroth: The name Ashtoreth also appears here in the plural. This goddess, one of the consorts of Baal, was responsible for love and fertility.

2.20–3.6 :

Three answers as to why the nations remained. This is clearly a composite text, reflecting various answers to the central question: Why was the conquest of the indigenous population not complete?

21 :

The sins of the period of the judges made the LORD decide not to continue to dispossess the nations.

22–23 :

According to a second view, God intended from the outset to leave the nations in order to test Israel and see if they would be loyal to Him.

3.1–2 :

According to a third view, incorporated in the previous one, God planned from the outset to leave the other nations in order to allow the Israelites practice in the art of war.

5–6 :

The lack of complete annihilation of the local population led to assimilation (see Deut. 7.1–6; 20.16–18 ), and thus explains the faithlessness of the Israelites in the rest of the book.

3.7–11 :

Othniel the Kenizzite. The first judge was from Judah, and he waged war against an enemy from the far north, thus lending a national character to the event. The description of the deliverance does not give any details about the war itself, but is rich in terms found elsewhere in the cyclical formulae. This description serves as a transitional stage from the introduction to the specific narratives. Othniel's success is complete, suggesting the preeminence of Judah.

7 :

Asheroth: The plural indicates a multiplicity of cults. In the Ugaritic pantheon Asherah is the consort of El, the old chief god. The word is used in the Bible both as the name of the goddess and as the term for a cultic object made of wood, which was evidently her symbol (see, e.g., Deut. 16.21–22 ).

8 :

Cushan‐rishathaim: The name is strange. The dual ending (ayim) seems intended to suggest a particularly wicked enemy. The name as a whole may be translated as “Dark double‐wickedness,” and is likely symbolic. Aram‐naharaim: The land of the family of the two rivers (Tigris and Euphrates), in northeast Syria. Some think that the name Aram is a corruption of Edom, which borders Judah, but it is more likely that the intention is to attribute to Othniel from Judah a national war against a powerful distant nation.

10 :

The spirit of the Lord: This refers to a temporary endowment of power or charisma that allows him to be a successful warrior and leader.

3.12–30 :

Ehud son of Gera. In this story, the deliverance performed by Ehud the Benjaminite is performed with military tactics, some planned and others improvised. The victory suggests that divine providence stands behind human success.

13 :

The City of Palms: In this case, unlike 1.16 , most commentators, following Josephus, identify this place with Jericho.

16 :

Two‐edged dagger: Ordinary daggers were curved and sharp only on the inner edge. Ehud's dagger, intended for stabbing, was short, perhaps a foot long, and sharpened on both edges, perhaps because he would wield it in his left hand, contrary to the usual practice.

17 :

The king's stoutness is emphasized because it complicated the planned assassination, as Ehud had a short sword. The picture of the dagger buried in the fleshy king's abdomen (vv. 21–22 ) adds to the humorous put‐down of Eglon.

18 :

Had finished… he dismissed the people: These expressions create the impression of an elaborate gift‐offering ceremony. The time consumed by the ceremony enabled Ehud to become familiar with the place and to create the impression of a submissive subject. Ehud alone remained, thereby obviating the need to reenter the well‐guarded palace.

19 :

Ehud arrived at Eglon's residence after previously visiting the Pesilim (“idols”), evidently a cultic site with statues of the gods near Gilgal, next to Jericho.

20 :

From God: Ehud anticipated that, upon hearing God's name, the king would stand up and stretch himself, thereby making it easier to kill him. Eglon expects a divine oracle, but receives a divinely sanctioned stabbing. Some sages emphasized the positive aspect in Eglon's behavior, namely, that he stood up out of respect for the LORD, and they considered Ruth the Moabite to be Eglon's daughter, making David one of his descendants (Ruth Rab. 2.9 ).

23 :

The architectural details are unclear.

24 :

Eglon is indeed relieving himself in that his guts are spilling out.

25 :

Lying dead: The servants did not sense the murder, as the fat covering the dagger prevented bleeding. They therefore did not suspect Ehud, who had enough time to escape.

26 :

Seirah, unidentified site in the hill country of Ephraim.

28 :

The fords of the Jordan, places that served as river‐crossings where the river was shallow.

29 :

Not one of them escaped, a likely allusion to divine providence.

31 :

Shamgar son of Anath: The report about Shamgar may be based on his mention in the Song of Deborah ( 5.6 ). It is reminiscent of other stories of heroism, such as the story about Samson who smote 1,000 people with the jaw bone of an ass (Judg. 15.15–16; cf. 2 Sam. 23.8 ). The inclusion of Shamgar among the judges rounds out their number to twelve.

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