Judges 13

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.

Chapter thirteen begins the famous story of Samson, who served for twenty years. Samson is the only judge whose story is recorded from birth to death. After forty years of Philistine oppression, God visited an infertile woman from the tribe of Dan and promised her a son to deliver Israel (Judges 13:1-7). The boy was to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God, even from his conception, meaning that even his mother had to remain ceremonially clean during her pregnancy (Numbers 6:1-8). When the woman told her husband, Manoah, about the news, he prayed that he would be able to hear it as well and get further information (Judges 13:8-14). God allowed the messenger to return, but no new information was necessary. They were to follow what he had told the woman originally.

Not knowing he was the angel of the Lord, Manoah asked if the man would stay for a meal (Judges 13:15-23). The messenger refused but encouraged the couple to present an offering to God. Wishing to honor this “prophet” when the baby was born, Manoah asked him his name. However, the name of God is incomprehensible, so he declined to give it. 1 As the offering burned, the messenger ascended to heaven in the flame. Realizing who they had been talking with, Manoah became afraid for his life, until his wife encouraged him, noting that they could easily have been killed and that the baby was promised to be born, which he was.

Notes:

  1. This story offers several reasons to understand the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament to be the pre-incarnate Son of God.

Judges 11

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.

Chapter eleven tells the story of Jephthah and his battle against the Ammonites (beginning in Judges 10:17). Like Abimelech, Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute, so he did not have a good relationship with his brothers from his father’s wife (Judges 11:1-3). They kicked him out of the house, and he formed a gang of “lawless men.”

“Some time after this” the Ammonites and Israel were at war, and the leaders of Gilead (Jephthah’s clan) requested his help (Judges 11:4-11). When he refused, citing their past disdain for him, they begged him, promising to make him their leader, if God granted them success in battle; he agreed to those terms. His first act as commander was to engage the Ammonites diplomatically (Judges 11:12-28). Asking why they were attacking Israel, he received the response that Ammon believed Israel had taken their land, and they wanted it back. Jephthah returned a message, detailing the true historical record – how Israel had defeated the Amorite king, Sihon, but they never attacked Moab or Ammon. This was true even though these nations tried to use Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24). If God had protected Israel so far, how did Ammon think they could defeat Israel now? 1 However, “the Ammonite king disregarded the message sent by Jephthah.”

With Ammon’s response, God led Jephthah to take action against them (Judges 11:29-33). However, before going into battle, Jephthah vowed to God that, if God granted them success, whoever was the first to greet him at home would become a burnt offering to God. God did grant them success, but Jephthah was crushed when, returning home, his only child – a daughter – ran out to greet him first (Judges 11:34-40).

Much has been written about whether Jephthah fulfilled his vow or if his daughter simply remained a virgin in God’s service for the rest of her life (and even why he made that vow at all!). Those who reject that he followed through with his vow literally insist 1) that human sacrifice was always an abomination to God; 2) that the girl’s friends (and future generations) bemoaned her virginity, not her death; and 3) that God had established in the law a way to redeem a person who had been dedicated to him (Leviticus 27).

On the other hand, the natural reading of the passage seems to indicate that he did follow through with the sacrifice: 1) He said that he could not break his oath to God; 2) the special time to mourn her virginity with her friends was meaningless if they could mourn it the rest of her life; 3) the annual memorial feast is more appropriate for her death. Most importantly, the text states that, when she returned, “he did to her the vow which he vowed” (literal translation).

Notes:

  1. Judges 11:26 contains a rare time reference in Judges. According to Jephthah, Israel had been living in those areas “for three hundred years.” If this refers to when they entered that area approximately 1405 B.C., before the conquest of Canaan, Jephthah lived around 1100 B.C.

Numbers 35

Chapter thirty-five addresses the Levites, who did not receive any of the land of Canaan as an inheritance for their tribe. Instead, God allotted the Levites forty-eight towns spread throughout the other tribes that they could live in (Numbers 35:1-8). The tribes with more land could afford to give more cities than those with less land, and the Levites were to have exclusive grazing rights around their cities for their herds (they did not own enough land for farming). This allowed all the citizens of Israel to have Levites near them to help arbitrate the Law when they could not get to the tabernacle and the priests.

Six of the forty-eight towns were designated as “towns of refuge.” The purpose of these towns was to provide a haven for someone who killed someone else unintentionally. In these cases, the killer could take refuge in one of these towns “until he has stood trial before the community” so that he could not be killed in revenge. Three of them had to be on each side of the Jordan River to cover the entire nation. If the killer was found to have committed murder, he would be executed under God’s Law, as stipulated in the detailed examples that follow (Numbers 35:16-21). Personal vengeance against a murderer was both allowed and encouraged, in order to quickly purge the sin from the land and nation. However, it was to be done quickly and openly, not in secret or by ambush, because this was no better than the original murder.

In case of accidental or even negligent manslaughter, the killer could go to a town of refuge to escape the avenger (Numbers 35:22-29). However, because a life was taken – even unintentionally – the killer had to remain in the town of refuge until the death of the current high priest. This was the consequence of taking someone’s life without malice as a reminder that all people are created in God’s image (Genesis 9:5-6). If he left the jurisdiction of that town, the avenger could kill him without consequence. There were no other available options – a murderer must be executed and an innocent killer must stay in the town of refuge (Numbers 35:30-34).