To get our bearing in expatiating on the history of Israel—on that part of it in which the person of Jephthah figured so prominently—we must reach back a few years to the times that immediately followed the death of Gideon. So soon as Gideon died, the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Balaam, and made Baal-covenant their god. The amazing foolishness of the people! It had been demonstrated to them, through the achievements of Gideon’s faith, that, national freedom, security, and prosperity lay only in the way of obedience and wholehearted consecration to Jehovah in opposition to Baal. And now they again ran after Baal! Previously they had gone a whoring after Gideon and his ephod—after Gideon, in whom they conceived their victory to be personified so that their turning to Baal was merely a shifting of affections and allegiance from one idol to another. Yet the shift that now was made the sacred narrator regards as a new, open, and complete break with Jehovah, for he continues (Chap. 8:34), “And the children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side. . . .” They were willingly ignorant of the salvation that had been wrought in their behalf by Jehovah. Israel thought not on the God who had delivered it from its enemies, and it therefore thought not on the human agent after he had passed away. “Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.” ‘If the people repudiated Jehovah in favor of Baal, it could not be expected that they continue to do well by the house of Jerubbaal the antagonist of Baal. As the tool of Abimelech, they turned against Gideon and exterminated his house. Thus they destroyed everything that reminded them of Jehovah and admonished to repentance. And the godless Abimelech was made king. These atrocities were perpetrated only by the Shechemites directly. Yet the whole nation should have decried these crimes and asked Jehovah what action should be taken against those wicked men. But this was not done. Abimelech’s usurpation and the murder of the seventy were deeds that were overlooked in condonation. Nothing was done about it. There may have been and undoubtedly were protests from individuals; but as the people on a whole had chosen, to be unmindful of what went on there in Shechem, the guilt of those crimes, rested squarely upon the whole nation. Could these terrible deeds have been committed with impunity? Would the covenant between Abimelech and the Shechemites endure?Would the compact prove beneficial through the years? It could not. Over it hovered the curse of God as pronounced by Jotham, the brother that had escaped. “Let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Milo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Milo, and devour Abimelech.” So he had spoken. The godless would insist that the man had not spoken for God but that his words had originated in his own heart. It was but natural that he should curse the murderers of his father’s house. God had not sent the man. That doubtless was held to be evident from the very tenor of his speech. Abimelech was to devour the Shechemites and at once be devoured by them, a thing impossible. And thus the Shechemites were to devour Abimelech after he had devoured them, likewise a thing impossible. So they must have reasoned—reasoned that the speech of the man was contradictory and thus self-destructive. Nothing could come of it. Let them then rejoice in this king and he in them, as the compact was bound to be productive of the greatest good for the parties concerned. But Jotham indeed spoke for God. His discourse, however impossible on the surface, was fulfilled, marvelous to say, to the letter. To the end it had seemed that Abimelech was to emerge from his conflict with the Shechemites, alive and well and completely victorious and that thus the second part of Jotham’s prediction was not to take effect and that therefore the whole discourse was after all a human invention. Consider the following. Gaal and his men had been routed. Shechem had been taken, its inhabitants slain, the city razed to the ground, and sown with salt. The neighboring city of Thebez had likewise fallen. Thus the rebellion nearly had been put down. Abimelech was fighting his last battle with some remnants of his foe trapped in a tower within the city. Thus the war was so good as over with him as the victor. Fire indeed had gone out from Abimelech and devoured the Shechemites! But Abimelech still lived! And the foe was in his hand, at his mercy. Assuredly, Jotham’s words were vain. So doubtless spake Abimelech with himself when, in a careless moment, he went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire, only to have his skull broken by a piece of a millstone cast upon him from above by a certain woman, so that he died. That was the fire coming out from the man of Shechem and from the house of Milo devouring Abimelech. That was plainly God’s doing. For the matter had been foretold with amazing accuracy. And it is only God who knows the end from the beginning. This whole terrible history was so plainly the successions of the revenges of God! Gideon’s ephod was punished with the blood of his sons; the blood of his sons was punished with the blood of the Shechemites, as shed by Abimelech, and with the blood of Abimelech as shed by the woman. The retaliations of God my certain and just.
There are grounds in the narrative for concluding that the terrible end of Abimelech and Shechem made a deep impression upon the conscience of the nation as a whole, so that, fearing that worse things might befall them, should they any longer postpone forsaking their abomination, the people sought after Jehovah. For we read, “And after Abimelech there arose to deliver Israel, Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamm in mount Ephraim. And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and he died, and was buried in Shamir” (). That this deliverer arose after Abimelech, would seem to lend support to the above view, and thus to justify our imagining the succession of events to have been as follows. After the death of Gideon, the people again, apostatized and in punishment of their deflection were again harassed by the enemy from without. Then came the catastrophe within Shechem that, in combination with the terrors from without, brought about the return of the people to God.
The record of Tola’s life is exceedingly brief. It contains no action like that of most of the other judges. It makes no mention of the enemy from which he delivered the people. But it does contain the names of his father and grandfather. As the mention of both father and grandfather is unusual, and occurs in the case of no other judge, the name dodo was taken to mean cousin or uncle and the expression “son of dodo” rendered “son of his uncle or cousin” and the “his” made to Abimelech. In this view, Tola would have to be taken as a son of a brother or a sister of Gideon. But if such were the relation, itis more likely that the writer would have said, “Son of the sister of Jerubbaal.” The names can also be taken as indicating a certain industry that must have been carried on in Issachar. Tola dwelt in Shamir, on Mount Ephraim. Here was permanently fixed the center of his judicial activity, where he also died and was buried after a judgeship of twenty three years.
“And after him rose Jair, the Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years. And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities, those are called circles of Jair unto this day, which are in the land of Gilead.” These cities were arranged in the form of a circle and therefore called Havoth or circles of Jair. It was not Jair, the judge, who gave to these cities his name, but an ancestor of his, Jair the son of Manasseh. From Num. 32:39-41 we learn that Michar took Gilead and “Jair, the son of Manasseh,” the, “circles:” The position of Jair the judge was one of distinction. By his strength and virtue he had defused his thirty sons over the entire district in which these thirty cities lay and with which his ancient progenitor had long ago associated his own name. For the thirty sons rode on thirty asses and had thirty cities. Their appearance on this animal indicated their calling. They judged their thirty cities. Unlike the sons of Samuel, they were worthy sons, who gave happiness to their father. They performed their task well. They were an influence for good in their district. For after the death of Jair and doubtless of most of his sons, idolatry again spreads far and wide., “And the children of Israel did evil or continue i to do evil in the sight of Jehovah and served the Balaam and Ashtaroth,” whose service Gideon overthrew, “and the gods of Syria,” whose king was defeated by the hero Othniel, “and the gods of Zidon, the mention of whom reminds us of the victory of Deborah and Barak over Jabin, king of Canaan, “and the gods of Moab,” whom Ehud had smitten. Israel served these gods and besides these it now also served the gods of the Ammonites and the Philistines. And the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the power of the Philistines, and into the power of the children of Ammon. “And in that year they broke and crushed the children of Israel eighteen years.” It is not certain how this statement is to be construed. The use of the word “that” is not plain. It may mean the first year of the oppression or the last year both of the oppression and of Jair’s life. The former is the more likely as hitherto apostasy and servitude have always followed the death of the judge. But the latter meaning has in its favor the very ambiguity of the statement and the brevity of the record of Jair’s life. Though it is said that he judged Israel, it may be doubted whether his influence was strong enough to hold the people to the worship of Jehovah. The new tide of idolatry that engulfed the land may have begun to rise even in the first years of Jair’s judgeship. Be this as it may, the sufferings and conflicts with the western nations, particularly with the philistines, are related under Samson and Samuel. The chastisement by means of Ammon was experienced by the people east of the Jordan, the neighbors of Ammon. The children of Ammon spoiled their harvests and plundered their cities, and imposed tribute year after year. The weakness of Israel emboldened the oppressor. Ammon passed over the Jordan and attacked Israel in the heart of the most powerful tribes—Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim—without meeting resistance. After eighteen years when the peril was greatest and P seemed that the death of the nation as a free people was probable, the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah, saying, “We have sinned against thee, namely, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Balaam.” It was one great agonizing cry that res:, from the bosom of the sorely distressed nation. Consider Jehovah’s reply to it. “And Jehovah said unto the children of Israel, Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians (from Mizraim, i.e. Egypt), and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? The Zidionians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites did oppress you, and ye cried to me and (then) I delivered you out of their hand. Yet ye have forsaken me and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.” Just how this divine message was communicated to the people—whether directly by the Lord Himself, i.e. by the Angel of the Lord—or by an unnamed prophet, or by the high priest at the sanctuary, in the name of God, through the Urim and the Thummim, is not stated. It makes no essential difference. But what is all-important is that we deal here with the very word of God, a reply that originated in the mind and heart of God and not in the heart of man. It is a terrible answer to their cry for deliverance. It is well that we pay closest attention to it. The voice of God speaks in the tone of passionate discourse. According to His customary manner of dealing with the apostate nation, the Lord first held before the people their history in which lay embedded these great facts and truths, to wit, that Israel had his origin in God’s election and was brought into being by the wonder-working power of God’s grace, that thus the Lord was Israel’s Maker and they the sheep of His pasture, His very own heritage, in duty bound to be wholly consecrated unto Him their redeemer-God. For He had delivered them from the Egyptians and, through the centuries, from all their other adversaries, when they cried unto Him. Yet, as willingly ignorant of their history, of the great principles of truth it so marvelously demonstrated, they over and over and now again forsook Him and went to prostrating themselves before the shrine of the devil-gods of their adversaries, made after the likeness of the creature and of corruptible man, gods in whose temple they could play and dance and serve the lusts of the flesh. That was the real reason they repudiated over and over the Lord their God and crowded Baal’s temples. Jehovah is holy God. They could not serve Him. But Baal made no demands on them except that they worship him. For the rest, they could do as they liked. With Baal therefore they had no quarrel. But they were in dire distress now. For they again had denied Him whom no man can deny with impunity, He being the living God. Consistency demanded that they now turn to the gods which they have chosen, But these gods were vanity, they well knew. None but the living God would do, now that they were in trouble and once again reaped the bitter fruits of their sins. So they directed their cry to Him. True, it took them eighteen years to come to this. But their distress was great. It was therefore the part of wisdom that they lay aside their sinful bias and once more take some notice of God. So finally they did cry. And of all men these apostates cried the loudest. And they crowded God’s sanctuary in the hope of inducing Him to send deliverance. And they bewailed before God their sins. “We have sinned against thee, because we have forsaken our God and served Balaam.” Is it to be wondered at that God replied as He did? “Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in time of your tribulation.” But the people were insistent. They would not leave off besieging God for help against the oppressor. They said, “We have sinned, do thou unto us whatever seemeth good unto thee, only deliver us, we pray thee, this day.” They even went further. In fact they went as far as they could go in their frantic effort to secure relief from their present miseries. They put away the strange gods among them and served the Lord.
There is a question here. To whom are these confessions of sin and this repudiation of strange gods in favor of Jehovah to be ascribed, to the carnal seed in the nation or to the true people of God or to both. To both certainly. But then there is this question. Would unprincipled men, lacking in the life of regeneration, say to God, we have sinned,” turn against their idols and serve God? When outward physical distress reaches such a stage that it has become a threat to his very existence, the natural man will even go through all the motions of a true repentance, if only he may gain some respite. But no sooner is the respite granted, than he returns to his abominations. We have examples of this in the Scriptures. There is the amazing case of the Pharaoh of the Exodus. As seized by the terror of God, when he saw his land being devastated by God’s plagues, he wailed in the ears of Moses and Aaron,” I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat the Lord (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer” (). “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants” ( ). So it went with the carnal Israel. Now again, since there was no way out of their present troubles, other than the way of repentance, they bent their stiff necks and repented. It was the only thing to do in the present emergency. But their sorrow was the sorrow of the world that worketh death. Soon did they return again to their idols wherefore the Lord delivered into the hands of the Philistines, Judges 13:1.
But there was also the true Israel according to the election. The present plight of the nation was also theirs, for, with their brethren according to the flesh the formed the one people of Israel, whom the Lord now again smote. The cry that rose from the bosom of the nation included also their groaning; and what they cried was substantially identical to what the others cried. Yet it must not be supposed that they had literally been crowding Baal’s temple as had the others. Their sin, in times of general apostasy lay in a different direction, as has already been explained in former articles. Because of this formal agreement between the confessions of the true Israel and the confessions of the others, the sacred narrator included them all in the one statement, “And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord and said, We have sinned against thee, because we have forsaken our God and served Balaam.” But in the language of an old adage, two can do the same thing and still not do the same thing. Confessions of sin are like the fruit of fruit-bearing trees. Their character is determined by the character of the man, of his heart. If the heart is bad, the confession of sin that proceeds from that heart is an abominable thing, however well it agrees, as to the form of its words, with a true confession. When the natural man confesses his sin, he seeks not God but himself only. Thus the notice, “And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord. . . .” has reference to the cry of two kinds of penitents in Israel, the true and the false, and to two kinds of cries. Jointly, they formed the one cry of the people of Israel in great distress. Only in the light of these observations can it be understood how God could react to this cry as He did, that He could say on the one hand, “I will deliver you no more, go and cry unto the gods that ye have chosen,” and on the other hand be “grieved on account of the misery of Israel.” Rightly considered, God extended His help only to the true Israel. The others would share in the deliverances, but never were they truly helped; but they were hardened through the very manifestations of divine mercy over His people and thus prepared, through the ages, for the final day of reckoning. The reply of God, however severe, was also meant for the ears of God’s believing people, to be sure. With respect to them its purpose was to incite them to lay hold of God with greatest spiritual vigor. Thus upon them this reply, however severe and discouraging, humanly speaking, had a most wholesome effect, the reason being the presence of God’s redeeming grace in their hearts. With new born courage and determination, the god-fearing fathers and mothers in Israel, and the god-fearing heads of the clans, demanded, as did Jacob of old after his bitter experience in Shechem, that the idols be put away and be destroyed and that there be a return to the Lord. If they heretofore had been silent, when they should have spoken, they now came out boldly for the Lord. To them the severe reply of the Lord was a blessing.
The statement was just made that the true people of God were not among those who had been bending the knee before Baal. But the implication is not that none of those who had been serving Baal and who now, in the present distress, repented of their vile doing, were not truly converted and thus soon again turned to their idols. There is no ground in the Scriptures for the view that without exception all idolaters were reprobated and that a truly penitent Baal- worshipper was a nonentity in Israel. To be considered is this. After every great deliverance another generation would rise and grow up in ignorance of the glorious history of its people, thus grow up in ignorance of God’s great works and of His worship. Though this ignorance was what Holy Writ calls wiping, yet the fault lay, to a large extent, with the religious teachers in Israel. They would fail to indoctrinate the rising generation. The result was a general falling away . Then, at the high tide of renewed apostasy, God would again come with His judgments and the result was that the nation once more would seek after Jehovah. Many, perhaps the great majority, eventually would return to their idols; but there was always present in the nation the seven thousand, the remnant according to the election, comprised for the most part of those who had not once been seen in Baal’s temple, and of those, their number may have been small, we were permanently cured of their idolatry by the grace of God. Doubtless in times of stress, the public confessions of sin rose largely from the bosom of this element, who thus would again assert themselves. So it was now. And the result was that a new spirit was manifest in the nation. And with the putting away of the strange gods and the return of the nation to the Lord, discord and weakness, despondency and self-seeking, gave way to concord and confidence in God, that lead to victory. Thus, when the children of Ammon made a new incursion into Gilead, “were gathered together and encamped in Gilead, “the children of Israel likewise assembled themselves together, and encamped in Mizpah. The phrase “children of Israel” does not include all the tribes but only Gad and Manasseh east of the Jordan. But the host of the Lord was without a human leader to lead it into battle. The princes of the people agree among themselves that the man that would begin to fight against the Ammonites would be head over them. And their thoughts turned to Jephthah.