THE BIBLE STORY
Table of Contents
Chapter 56 PROMISED LAND OCCUPIED
Chapter 57 THE SIN OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
Chapter 58 WHY MANY SUFFER
Chapter 59 INTEGRATION IN ISRAEL
Chapter 60 WORSHIPPING GOD IN VAIN
Chapter 61 THE WAY TO PEACE
Chapter 62 GOD'S FANTASTIC ARMY!
Chapter 63 GOD FIGHTS ISRAEL'S BATTLES
Chapter 64 GIDEON'S TROUBLED PEACE
Chapter 65 THE FIRE THAT FAILED!
Chapter 66 COURAGE WITHOUT WISDOM
Chapter 67 THOSE INFAMOUS PHILISTINES
Chapter 68 SAMSON AND THE PHILISTINES
Chapter 69 SAMSON VEXES THE PHILISTINES
Chapter 70 THE POWER OF A WOMAN
Chapter 71 FROM REBELLION TO IDOLATRY
Chapter 72 A MINISTER FOR HIRE
Chapter 73 THE "NEW MORALITY"
Chapter 74 "YOUR PEOPLE ARE MY PEOPLE"
Chapter 75 "YOU ARE A VIRTUOUS WOMAN"
Chapter 76 VIRTUE IS REWARDED
Chapter 77 GOD RULES HIS MINISTRY
Chapter 78 "THE ARK OF GOD IS TAKEN!"
Chapter 79 "REVERENCE MY SANCTUARY"
by Herbert W. Armstrong
In response to overwhelming demand this third and revised
volume of "The Bible Story" is published. We are thrilled, and
overjoyed, because of the enthusiastic acceptance of Volume I and
Those who have read the previous volumes know that there has
never been a Bible story book like this. There have, of course,
been many Bible story books -- too many, of a kind. But candidly
they seemed, to me, to have no mission, except to entertain
children. They seemed to try to compete with the exciting fiction
of violence of which youngsters see entirely too much on
television -- or read in cheap novels or comic books.
These children's Bible story books were a series of
disconnected blood-and-thunder stories drawn from certain
Biblical incidents. There was no connection between one and
another, or with the Gospel. They were shorn of their real
meaning. They seemed to me to degrade the Bible in children's
minds. The real connection of these Biblically recorded incidents
with the MEANING and PURPOSE of life -- of God's message to
mankind -- was ignored. Yet all these incidents are recorded in
the Bible BECAUSE they have real and deep MEANING. They teach
vital lessons that ought to be made plain to children -- and to
adults as well!
Years ago this realization plagued me. God had called me to
an important ministry which He was blessing with rapid and
constant growth. But the children were being neglected in this
ministry. How could I supply this lack? For years it was a
HOW could I get to growing children a real knowledge of God
-- of the Creator and His vast creation -- of His power,
authority, and rulership earth -- of the vital CONNECTION between
these Biblical incidents and the meaning of life?
In due time God supplied the man for this important
undertaking. Basil Wolverton was a nationally known artist in the
United States. His work appeared in more than fifty nationally
circulated magazines. He was both an artist and a trained writer.
He was converted through "The World Tomorrow" broadcast many years ago.
He was a student and teacher of the Bible.
In November, 1958, "The Bible Story" started serially in "The PLAIN TRUTH".
But it is not written only for children! We like to say it
is written for children from 5 to 105! Mr. Wolverton wrote in
simple, understandable language, easily read by children at the
nine- to twelve-year-old level, yet interesting to adults as
With professional expertness, Mr. Wolverton makes this
story-flow gripping and thrilling in plain and simple words.
Parents can read this book to four- and five-year-olds, and, with
a little explaining, make it understandable and also absorbing
"The Bible Story" is definitely NOT a series of disconnected
stories of excitement and violence with no special meaning. Our
purpose is to tell simply, in language children can read and
understand, plainly, yet interestingly the story of the Bible
itself, beginning at the beginning. A continuous story thread
runs through the entire Bible. Not many have ever grasped this
amazing yet important fact. Most people read a verse here or a
chapter there, failing to properly connect them, or understand
the true continuity of the Bible story.
Mr. Wolverton stuck to the literal Biblical account. He has
taken author's license to portray certain incidents in
conversational style, or to fill in, for purposes of clarity and
realism, a few "tomatoes on the window sill." Yet he was
zealously careful to avoid adding to, or detracting from, the
real and intended meaning of the sacred Scriptures.
The present volume is a continuing memorial of Basil
Wolverton, who died in December 1978, and is presented to you as
a ministry of love, without money and without price. It is our
fervent hope that it will bring to you and your children
enlightenment, interesting reading, understanding, and abundant
blessings from its original and TRUE AUTHOR, Jesus Christ.
PROMISED LAND OCCUPIED
THE end came for Jabin, king of Hazor, only minutes after he
ordered the gates closed. The thousands upon thousands of
Israelites swarmed up to the walls with their triple-hook ropes,
hurled the heavy hooks over the walls and surged up and into the
city in such numbers and force that the relatively few would-be
defenders fell back in helpless fright.
No Protection in Walls and Gates
The gates were stripped of their bars by the wall-scalers,
and Israelite soldiers thronged into Hazor to promptly slay every
Canaanite. The king was found hiding in remote quarters. No mercy
was given to this idolatrous man who had plotted the destruction
of the Israelite army.
According to directions from Joshua, the Israelite soldiers
set fire to Hazor. It wasn't God's will that this capital city of
idol-worshippers, long the home of pagan rulers, should continue
to exist as a temptation in the land where God's chosen people
were to dwell. (Joshua 11:1-11.) God knew idolators would soon
corrupt the morals of the Israelites. (Numbers 25:1-3; Numbers
From Hazor, Joshua's forces swept to the west, north and
south to conquer the cities of the kings who had joined Jabin
against Israel. They slew these kings and all their subjects and
took for booty everything they could use except those things used
in the worship of heathen gods. (Joshua 11:12-14.)
Although Canaan wasn't a vast land, it took much time to
conquer enough of it that the twelve tribes of Israel could move
into the respective areas they were to take over. The army moved
slowly because it was on foot. Careful planning often took days
and weeks. Scouts were sent out to bring back information. They
often didn't return for weeks. It was a long, drawn-out task to
take over Canaan. (Verses 15-23.) After six years had passed,
Israel had taken over the small kingdoms and cities of about
thirty-three enemy rulers. (Joshua 12.)
Still there were more places to be conquered, and God made
it known to Joshua just where those areas and cities were
located. (Joshua 13:1-6.) For one example, there was the land of
the Philistines, which was on the coast of the Great Sea, and
southwest of Canaan. When Israel had set out from Egypt, God had
purposely caused His people to give this region a wide berth
because the people were war-like, and the Israelites at that
time, being newly freed from slavery, were not trained or
prepared to resist a large army by physical means. (Exodus
Land Given to the People
By the time most of Canaan had been conquered, God told
Joshua that the time had come to partition the land to the
various tribes, even though there were still many people to drive
out of Canaan. (Joshua 13:7.)
A meeting was held in which Joshua, Eleazar the priest, and
the heads of the tribes of Israel gathered to learn by lot which
areas of Canaan should be occupied by the various tribes. Moses
had already indicated how these matters were to be handled. A
drawing of lots would make plain what God had planned.
The drawing of lots could be done in various ways, but in
this matter of choosing areas for the tribes of Israel, it
probably was a matter of writing the names of the tribes on
pieces of wood or stone and shaking them together in a container.
The names or numbers of the various sections of Canaan would be
written on other pieces. Then, if Joshua were to draw a tribe
name from one container, and if Eleazar were to draw from another
container a number to indicate a section of Canaan, and so on,
the future locations for the tribes could thus be determined.
However it was done, God caused the lots to be drawn
according to the way in which He had already decided matters. Two
and a half tribes had already been given their areas east of the
Jordan, so nine tribes and a half were yet to receive their
inheritance. (Joshua 13:7-33; Joshua 14:15.)
As it turned out, the determining what land would go to
which tribe didn't progress very far. (Joshua 14;15; 16; 17.) For
one thing, there was murmuring and dissatisfaction by the people
of the tribes of Joseph -- Ephraim and the half tribe of
Manasseh. Their elders claimed that because they were two large
and powerful tribes, they should be given two tribal allotments
of land. Joshua then gave them an additional allotment in a
timbered mountainous region. (Joshua 17:14-15.)
"Why have we, two leading tribes, been given a wooded
mountain range in the north right next to a valley where the
enemy Canaanites are armed with terrible iron chariots equipped
with huge, protruding knives?" the elders of these tribes asked
Joshua. "We will still be crowded for space."
"Since you are a great people, then you should be able to
create a wealthy lumber industry in those mountains while you are
clearing land for agricultural use," was Joshua's reply. "Also,
since you are leading tribes, you will have the power to overcome
the Canaanites who have chariots. By the time you clear your
mountain land of much of its timber and drive the Canaanites out
of the valley, your two allotments will be enough land. It is a
fair and just God who has decided where every tribe shall dwell."
At that time lots were drawn only for two and a half tribes
-- Ephraim, Judah and the half tribe of Manasseh. Various
time-consuming matters continued to come up. One of many had to
do with the request of a man who had been one of the twelve
Israelite scouts who had been sent to Canaan over forty-five
years previously. This man was Caleb, who had been Joshua's
right-hand man on that excursion. When ten of the scouts had told
lies about the strength and size of the people of Canaan, it was
Joshua and Caleb who had insisted on the truth and encouraged the
people to boldly go in and conquer Canaan, trusting God for the
outcome. (Numbers 13; Numbers 14:1-10.)
Caleb Rewarded for Faithfulness
Caleb had been promised by God through Moses, because of his
honesty and loyalty, a choice inheritance in Canaan. It wasn't
too forward of him, therefore, to remind Joshua that he and his
family should be given the land God had promised in the
mountainous Hebron area. (Numbers 13:22; Numbers 14:24;
Although Caleb was then eighty-five years old, he was still
vigorous and healthy, and promised that he and his relatives who
would share his inheritance would conquer the giant men who still
remained in the region of Hebron. (Joshua 14:6-12.) Joshua
honored Caleb's request and gave him what he desired in the
territory given to the tribe of Judah. (Verses 13-15.) Later,
when Caleb and his family moved into the area of his inheritance,
he promised one of his daughters to any man who would lead a
successful attack against the enemies remaining there. One of
Caleb's nephews carried out an assault that overcame the local
Canaanites, and he was given Caleb's daughter to become his wife.
(Judges 1:12-15.) However, their marriage was not a loveless
arrangement. They were so much in love that she inspired her
husband to accomplish great things. Many years later he became
the first hero to deliver Israel from foreign oppression. (Judges
Other Israelite tribes later taking up residence in their
respective domains were not all as courageous and enthusiastic as
Caleb's nephew and his soldiers, and shamefully allowed some of
the Canaanites to share their lands. This was not pleasing to
God, who wanted them to gradually drive out all the Canaanites,
and had repeatedly and plainly instructed Israel to completely
rid the land of the heathen idol-worshipping enemy. (Numbers
33:50-56; Deuteronomy 7:1-6.) The only possible exception God
would allow was that of the Gibeonites. They had asked for peace,
and had at least mentioned God as being the Supreme Ruler, and
had shown some willingness to live under His laws. (Joshua
Israelites Move Into Heart of Promised Land
On inspiration from God, Joshua told the people that the
time had come to break camp and move on to a point more centrally
located in Canaan. That place was Shiloh, about twenty miles
north of Jerusalem. (Joshua 18:1.) There were mountains in that
area, but there were also a valley and adjoining flat regions in
which Israel would have plenty of room to set up their vast camps
and flock-feeding areas.
There were mixed emotions among the Israelites when they
learned that they were to travel on. Some had tired of living at
Gilgal, and welcomed the opportunity to move. Others regarded
Gilgal as a comfortable area they disliked leaving.
In six years the main body of Israel had almost forgotten
what it meant to be on the move. It was considerably more
difficult for the millions of people to get going with their
millions of animals than it had been when they were more
accustomed to be constantly on the go. Nevertheless, they managed
to be ready to leave for Shiloh at the time Joshua had already
indicated to them well in advance.
When the people arrived at the Shiloh region, most of them
were content with their surroundings. The tabernacle was pitched
at once in the middle area of the camp. There it remained for
many, many years while the tribes went their respective ways and
fell into all manner of trouble because of their disobedience.
A few days after the people were settled and camp life in
the new site had become easier, Joshua summoned the elders for a
"I'm beginning to wonder just how anxious our people are to
receive their inheritances," Joshua told them. "It's true that
seven tribes haven't yet been shown what lands to take over. But
few seem interested in doing anything except camping together as
we've been doing for so many years. Is it that you are afraid
that if you divide into tribes your enemies will overcome you?"
"We would like to know more about the areas we are to go
to," some of the elders remarked. "The four tribes and two
half-tribes that have already been given their lands have had a
fair idea of where they were going, but little is known about the
land that is yet to be divided among the remaining seven tribes."
Surveyors Map the Land
"I still think that most of us would rather stay together
than separate as God wishes," Joshua replied. "But your point is
one not to be neglected. It would be well to appoint capable men
to survey the land to determine how it can best be divided."
Quick plans were made to look over the little-known areas of
Canaan to find out just what the land was like and how it could
most wisely be apportioned. Three leading men from each tribe
were chosen for their ability in surveying and in simple
geometry. A relatively small military force was sent along with
these men to protect them from any straggling Canaanite soldiers
who might attack them.
Weeks later the surveying Israelites returned to Shiloh with
a book of maps and information about the part of Canaan yet to be
divided among the Israelites. (Joshua 18:4-9.)
Joshua met with the heads of the seven tribes and with
Eleazar the priest to study the information and mark the mapped
territory into seven parts. There was no guesswork. The borders,
cities, streams, valleys, mountains, plains and elevations were
Again, before the tabernacle in God's presence, lots were
cast for the seven portions of land, and the seven tribes at last
learned what their inheritances were and where they would go.
(Joshua 18; Joshua 19.) The tribe of Levi, being supported by the
tithes, offerings and sacrifices of the people, did not receive
any land (Joshua 18:7), though they were later given cities to
live in and adjoining fields for grazing their flocks. (Joshua
The last parcel of land to be given for an inheritance went
to Joshua and his family. This wasn't a result of any demand made
by Joshua, but was according to an unrecorded promise from God
such as had been made to Caleb. Joshua had his choice of an area.
He chose Timnath-serah, a small city in the land of Ephraim only
a short distance west of Shiloh. There Joshua later planned and
superintended the reconstruction of his city. (Joshua 19:49-51.)
Justice for the Helpless
God had already spoken to Moses concerning six cities of
refuge that were to be chosen when Israel had taken over Canaan.
These cities were to be places of safety for anyone who killed
another accidentally or without plan or malice, though it was
possible for a guilty killer to also obtain temporary safety in
In those times it was lawful for relatives to avenge the
willful killing of any of their kin by slaying the one obviously
responsible. Some, of course, would like to take vengeance even
when the killing was accidental. To escape such an avenger, one
could flee to the nearest city of refuge, where he could plead
his case with the elders at the gates and be admitted to stay at
least until there could be a complete hearing by the city's
magistrates. If a man were found guilty, he was to be expelled
from the city or turned over to the avenger. If he were found to
be innocent, he was to have the protection of the city as long as
he remained within it.
Three of the cities of refuge were picked from the east side
of the Jordan. They were Bezer, Ramoth and Golan. The other three
were chosen from the land west of the Jordan. They were Kedesh,
Shechem and Hebron. (Joshua 20.)
According to plans revealed to Moses, the Levites were to
receive various cities in which to live, and closely surrounding
areas in which to keep their livestock. This matter was next
taken up by Joshua, Eleazar and the tribal heads. Lots were drawn
having to do with the areas of all twelve tribes. The drawing
determined which cities and how many should be given from the
various tribes. From all the tribes the cities for the Levites
totaled forty-eight, and included the six cities of refuge. The
Levites received these cities as centers of living, along with
the pasture lands surrounding the cities to the extent of less
than a mile. (Numbers 35:1-5.)
During the six years since Israel had crossed the Jordan,
the soldiers from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of
Manasseh had faithfully fulfilled their duty. (Numbers 32:1-22;
Joshua 4:12-13; Joshua 22:1-3.) There were still about 40,000 of
them because not one of Israel's enemies were able to stand
against them. (Joshua 21:43-45.) Now that the main wars were
over, Joshua had a pleasant surprise for these men.
THE SIN OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
Now THAT Canaan was subdued, Joshua announced a pleasant surprise
for the soldiers of the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and the
half tribe of Manasseh: "You have been faithful in remaining to
work and fight with the rest of the Israelite army these six
years, even though your families have been only a few miles east
"Now that Canaan is ours, you are dismissed from service
with the army of Israel." (Joshua 22:1-7.) "You have obtained
great wealth from the enemy, and now you should return to share
these flocks, gold, silver, brass, iron and clothing with your
brethren who stayed behind to care for your families. May the
blessings of our God go with you and to your families, and may
you serve God diligently by keeping all His commandments." (Verse
War-weary Soldiers Head Homeward
The happy thousands of warriors moved eastward from Shiloh
with the cheers of their fellow Israelites ringing in their ears.
(Verse 9.) They couldn't march as an army, however, because their
share of the flocks, herds and loaded pack-animals taken from
their enemies had to be herded in a very long caravan. In fact,
their soldier friends remaining at Shiloh good-naturedly made fun
of them by loudly addressing them as sheepherders and cattle
At Joshua's suggestion, some Israelite officers accompanied
the soldiers as far as the Jordan River. At that time the river
was not as deep and swollen as it had been when the Israelites
had passed over westward six years before. It was no great
problem, therefore, to ford the river at a shallow point the
pack-animals could wade across. As for the smaller animals. it
was as easy for them to cross the river as it was for the
soldiers, what with animals being natural swimmers and generally
not too afraid of water.
On their second or third night after leaving Shiloh, the
soldiers of Reuben, Manasseh and Gad camped on the east side of
the Jordan. The Israelites who had accompanied them camped on the
west side of the river before starting their return to Shiloh the
At dawn the Israelites on the west side of the river
prepared to leave for Shiloh after a planned last salute to their
brothers. Then someone noticed a peculiar thing. The soldiers
across the river were working hard to haul stones and earth to
form a swiftly growing box-like stack of stones which they were
filling with earth. Instead of setting out for Shiloh, the
Israelites on the west side of the river stayed to see what was
going on. They were increasingly perplexed to note that the heap,
in the course of the day, was developed into a large altar that
was made after the pattern of God's altar in Shiloh. (Joshua
"This is very strange," said one of Joshua's officers to the
others. "It appears to me that our brothers are building a huge
altar." Then these men began to draw hasty conclusions.
"Our God hasn't told us to build such an altar," another
officer spoke out. "Perhaps our brothers are building this altar
with the intention of sacrificing to idols!"
Is This REALLY Idolatry?
"If that's even a possibility, then we should report to
Joshua at once," one of the men said. Rather than immediately
find out what their brother tribes were doing, these men began to
imagine things, and came to conclusions that SEEMED right to
them. (Proverbs 16:25.)
It was only hours later that Joshua was told about these
things. Unfortunately, word of these events, as these men
interpreted them, also leaked out to the whole congregation of
Israel. Reports became so repeated and exaggerated that it
quickly became a common belief that the soldiers from the tribes
east of the Jordan had suddenly fallen away from the true God,
and were starting a new system of pagan worship in their own
territory. A huge, murmuring crowd gathered near the tabernacle
and around Joshua's tent. Some of the people from this crowd
began to loudly criticize the tribes east of the Jordan.
"We should at once send troops across the Jordan to
forcefully remind our idol-worshipping brothers that they must
stop this terrible terrible idolatry immediately!" one man
Great cheers followed his remark. For a people who had been
disobedient in so many ways for so many years, it seemed somewhat
extreme to demonstrate such a spirit of supposedly spiritual
criticism, that seemed to indicate a great love for God.
"We must clear up this matter now, even if it takes all the
soldiers we have here at Shiloh!" another bellowed. "If we don't
do this, our brothers to the east may all become pagans and turn
Joshua Acts Wisely
Joshua was dismayed at the conduct of some of the people
almost as much as he was at the unhappy report. After all, it had
not been proved just what this altar was for, though it was
something that required looking into immediately.
"No troops should go now and risk starting a civil war in
Israel," Joshua told the people. "If the tribes to the east are
doing something contrary to God's will, then someone should be
sent to point out their sins. Instead of soldiers, I am sending
Phinehas, the priest, the son of Eleazar, and the heads of the
ten tribes west of the Jordan. These men can determine what is
happening and how to deal with any who are possibly falling into
idolatry." (Verses 13-14.)
Hours later Phinehas, the heads of the ten tribes and their
aides arrived at the west side of the Jordan at a spot opposite
the altar. The soldiers of Gad, Manasseh and Reuben were
surprised to see such a distinguished group, and hastily helped
them across the river.
"Why are we honored with your presence?" smiling officers
inquired of them.
Phinehas, spokesman for the group, pointed gravely to the
huge altar of rocks filled with earth.
"The people of Israel at Shiloh have heard of this great
altar you have built," Phinehas declared in a loud voice that
could be heard by all the assembled officers of the armies of the
three tribes east of the Jordan. "They feel that you have erected
this thing as a sudden move to depart from God and become
idol-worshippers. If this is true, can you do such a thing and
still recall how close our God came to destroying all of Israel
for such a sin in the Baal-Peor idolatry and in Achan's curse?"
(Joshua 22:15-17, 20; Numbers 25:19; Deuteronomy 4:1-6; Joshua
7:1-5.) "Do you realize that all of Israel suffers tomorrow for
the sins of a few committed today?" (Joshua 22:18.) "If you feel
that this land east of the Jordan is, not right for you or that
the pagan influences here are too great for you, don't rebel
against God by building a pagan altar, but come over west of the
Jordan and we'll make room for you and your people closer to the
tabernacle where God's altar is located." (Verse 19.)
The Simple Truth
The officers of the armies of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh lost
their happy smiles before Phinehas finished speaking. They
appeared troubled, but not guilty. Their spokesman came out at
once with an answer.
"There has been a misunderstanding," he explained. "Our God
knows that rebelling against Him by building an altar to any
other god is something that hasn't even entered our minds. We
know that God wants sacrifices made only on the altar He has
directed to be made in front of His tabernacle, and we didn't
build this altar for offering sacrifice. If this is not true, may
God destroy us today. We didn't build the altar for any religious
functions, but rather as a duplicate of God's altar, to serve as
a monument to the fact that our people east of the Jordan and
your people west of the Jordan are one people bound together by
the sacred laws of God. This altar, being patterned after God's
altar, will be a constant reminder that we serve the same God you
serve. We hope that it will remain a monument for a long time so
that we may point it out for what it means for many generations
to come." (Joshua 22:21-29.)
There were moments of silence before anyone spoke. This
truthful explanation from the soldiers of Gad, Manasseh and
Reuben was as surprising as it was pleasing to Phinehas and the
ten tribal heads.
"You have shown us just now that God is with all of us,"
Phinehas finally spoke out. "We at first feared that you were
falling into idolatry and that God would deal harshly with all of
Israel because of what we thought you had done. Now we know what
you were intending to do, that you are loyal to God and that your
righteous actions have spared us from any punishment God
otherwise would have put on us."
After farewells, Phinehas, the heads of the ten tribes and
their aides set out for Shiloh. When they arrived there with news
of what had happened, those who had been most concerned about
their east-of-Jordan brothers going astray were happy to learn
that matters were not as they had imagined. Many of the people
felt so relieved that they held a celebration in which God was
loudly praised for keeping Israel together. (Verses 30-34.)
Although there were some among the Israelites who were too
hastily inclined to point to their brothers east of the Jordan as
being sinners, the real concern among most of the Israelites was
that a part of them might break away and fall into idolatry.
Joshua was well aware of the kind of people who were always
quick to point to the shortcomings of others so that they might
seem more righteous by comparison -- which is really
SELF-righteousness. Those were the ones he didn't like having any
part in the somewhat feverish proposal that one part of Israel
should take up arms against another part. In trying to make
themselves look more righteous, those people can do great harm.
People who feel that they are next to perfect are often as
evil in God's sight as those who feel just the opposite. Such
people are generally unable to recognize their own shortcomings.
Otherwise they wouldn't have a feeling of self-righteousness and
There is an interesting true story in the Bible about such a
man, at this point it might be well to temporarily leave the
Israelites in Canaan and flash back a few hundred years to the
time just after the famine in Egypt.
The Story of Job
The main character of this story of the ancient past wrote
one of the books of the Old Testament. It was titled "The Book of
Job", because Job was the man's name. (Job 1:1.)
Job is often pictured as an Arabian who ruled a domain --
the land of Uz -- extending to the Euphrates River. Job was the
greatest man of character in that eastern land. (Job 1:3.)
As for being a wizard, Job wasn't exactly that. Probably he
earned that title because he was a very wise man and a skilled
engineer. (Job 3:11-15; Job 29:21-25.)
The outstanding thing about Job was that he followed God's
laws and used his power to protect the helpless. (Job 29:7-17.)
He exerted his influence in favor of the one true God, at the
same time working to destroy belief in the pagan gods. (Job
The part of Job's life related in Scripture had to do with
the maturing years of his life. He had become a more famous and
respected man than he had been before. He was wealthier than
ever, what with owning seven thousand sheep, three thousand
camels, a thousand oxen and five hundred donkeys. Job owned many
buildings, and much land for his animals' grazing. He also had a
very fine home, and buildings and tents in which his servants,
hired hands and shepherds lived. (Job 1:3.)
Job's greatest treasure, however, was his ten grown children
-- seven sons and three daughters. They had comfortable homes of
their own in which they often gathered to hold dinner parties and
birthday banquets Job noted that they indulged so much in this
pastime that he felt they might be sinning. Therefore he often
made sacrifices in their behalf. His constant prayers to God were
that the Creator would be merciful to his family. (Job 1:4-5.)
People have long been erroneously taught that there is a
constant desperate, frenzied battle between the forces of good
and the forces of evil, with God as the champion of good and
Satan as the champion of evil. Thus it would seem to be a long
war between God and Satan, with each one taking turns at reeling
under powerful blows from the other, and this process repeated
century after century until God finally strikes a final,
victorious blow that causes everything to turn out right.
God Limits Satan's Power
That isn't the situation. God is Ruler of the universe and
everything in it. (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32; Job 38:1-19.) Satan is
the god or prince of this world. (Ephesians 2:2.) He is under
God's power and authority. He can do only what God allows him to
do. In other words, God can and does allow evil to occur by
giving Satan permission to tempt people who need to learn
lessons, but God lets Satan go only so far in doing certain
God keeps an eye on all the angels, including the fallen
ones, or demons. If He calls them before Him to report, they must
obey, including Satan.
At this time during Job's life Satan came with other angels
to report to God, and was asked what he had been doing. His
answer was that he had been roaming the Earth. He couldn't
successfully lie to God. Roaming was what he had been doing for a
long time with his demons, looking for opportunities to separate
men from God. (Job 1:6-7.)
"If you have been everywhere on Earth, then you must have
noticed that a man by the name of Job is one of my most obedient
servants," God said to Satan. "What do you think of him?"
"I know the man," Satan replied. "I am aware that you have
given him great ability, power and wealth. At the same time you
have protected him and his family from trouble, disease and
death. He knows that these blessings have come from you, so he
works at being faithful to you. But take this prosperity and
comfort away from him, and he will turn away from you. In fact,
he will curse you!" (Job 1:8-11.) Notice how Satan admitted God
is all-powerful and fully able to protect Job from him.
"You would like to destroy this man's faith," God remarked.
"I'm going to give you the opportunity to test him. Deal with him
as you choose, but don't do him any bodily harm." (Verse 12.)
Notice how God set a limit on Satan's evil, and let him go only
so far in tempting Job. What Satan didn't know was that God was
using him to teach Job a much-needed lesson. But Satan thought he
was getting a chance to destroy one of God's servants. Satan
departed, anxious to bring trouble to one of God's most faithful
followers. It wasn't much later that Job, examining a part of his
orchard, was startled by the noisy approach of one of his
Sudden Destruction Came
"We were plowing your fields on the east border," the man
panted excitedly, "when suddenly a band of mounted Sabeans rushed
at us! They killed all the men except me, took all the oxen and
all the donkeys that were grazing nearby!"
Before the shocked Job could express himself, another of his
men wearily ran up to blurt out that a series of tremendous
lightning bolts had struck where all the sheep and sheepherders
had been gathered, that all the sheep had been killed and that he
was the only man to escape.
This second man hadn't finished giving his discouraging news
when a third man staggered toward Job, waving his arms and
"Three bands of Chaldeans attacked the camel grazing
grounds!" the man panted. "They killed your men, then took all
three thousand camels! I managed to escape to report to you!"
These three reports left Job in stunned silence. He could
scarcely believe that such a great loss could come so suddenly.
Slowly and dazedly he sat down with his back to a tree trunk.
Abruptly he was aware that a fourth man was standing over him,
talking and gesturing wildly.
Job shuddered at the thought that shot into his mind. With
all his livestock gone, any other evil report would have to
concern his family!
WHY MANY SUFFER
I KNOW who you are," Job told the man. "You are one of the
servants from the household of my oldest son. What unhappy news
have you to give me?"
A Grievous Tragedy
"You must not have heard what I just said, sir," the
woeful-faced servant observed. "It grieves me to repeat that all
your sons and daughters have just been crushed to death in the
collapse of your oldest son's home!" (Job 1:18-19.)
This was the supreme blow to Job, though by this time he
wasn't too surprised at the terrible news. Painfully he raised
his gaze to meet the eyes of the trembling servant.
"How did it happen?" Job asked.
"All your sons and daughters were gathered for a dinner
party at your oldest son's home," the servant explained. "All of
them were inside, happily eating and drinking. Suddenly a
whirlwind descended on the house, snatched it up from its
foundation, then dashed it with such force that it was smashed
flat. I was only a short distance from the house, bringing in
some fresh fruit for the diners, and I was knocked to the ground.
I struggled up, rushed to the wrecked home and tore away enough
debris, with the help of neighbors, to find that your seven sons
and three daughters were all dead!"
Job rose shakily to his feet and walked slowly toward his
home. On the way he ripped his coat open. At that moment his wife
looked out of the house to view this act, which in the ancient
East was a sign of great grief.
"What's happened?" Job's wife called out as she ran to meet
When Job told her, she sobbingly accompanied him to the
house. Job tried to comfort her, but he wasn't very successful.
He left her by herself, shaved his head, went outdoors and
prostrated himself on the ground. The headshaving was also an
ancient sign of grief, though no more peculiar, perhaps, than our
dwindling present-day custom of wearing black clothes and black
armbands during and after funerals.
Job Refused to Grumble
"I came into this world naked and without possessions," Job
murmured. "It's only fair that I should go out of it without
possessions. While I have been here, God has allowed me many good
things, and I thank Him and bless Him for all of them!"
Job had a good attitude toward God, even though God had
allowed Satan to snuff out his wealth, his children, and his
happiness. Satan had not been able to make Job commit the sin of
complaining. (Job 1:20-22.)
Some time later, when the angels again came before God to
report their activities, God questioned Satan as He had before.
"I am well aware of what you have done to my servant Job,"
God reminded Satan. "No doubt you have noticed that his grief at
the loss you have caused him has not resulted in his cursing me,
as you said it would."
"He has remained faithful only because you haven't allowed
me to afflict his body," was Satan's reply. "If a man is
suffering great physical pain, insomuch that he thinks that death
might result, he will do anything to save himself. Allow me to
bring sickness on Job and he will quickly give up his obedient
ways and turn to cursing you."
"We shall see if you are wrong again," God said. "You may do
what you choose with Job, except that you may not bring him to
his death." (Job 2:1-6.)
Dismissed, Satan returned to Earth, pleased because he once
more had been given an opportunity to see if he could turn Job
against his Creator. He now had permission to take away Job's
health and his last remaining source of income.
One morning when Job awakened he was alarmed to find that he
was extremely sore all over his body. At first neither he nor his
wife had any idea why he felt so lame, but within a few hours his
skin was lumpy with swelling boils!
Agony Added to Grief
This was how Satan had chosen to strike at Job, though Job
had no knowledge of why or how the terrible agonizingly painful
sores had so suddenly developed from the top of his head to the
soles of his feet.
The mere sight of the skin eruptions was so offensive that
Job was embarrassed even in the company of his wife. And he was
in such pain he could not even think of fulfilling his duties.
And while another man ran the business, Job could not collect the
revenues due him. Thus Job became completely destitute. He didn't
want to sit or lie around his home and see his wife's expressions
of disgust. He decided to leave his home and go to an ash dump
not far away. Sitting in ashes in those days was a sign of
humility, and Job had no intention of lacking for ashes. (Job 2:7
Job and his wife now had a very bitter life, what with no
children and no income -- and with Job's health gone. Whereas Job
had previously been a very prominent man, he now found himself
not only destitute, but also almost completely without friends.
Even his relatives had nothing more to do with him. He had
suddenly become a social outcast because his friends thought God
had put him under a curse, and his acquaintances could no longer
regard him as wealthy. True to his promise, God had allowed Satan
to take EVERYTHING away from Job. (Job 2:6.)
In spite of his wife's arguments that he was being silly,
Job continued to stay at the ash heap. Even on that soft mound he
was miserable, because whether he sat or sprawled, the boils were
intensely painful with the slightest pressure on them.
Late one night Job's wife went out to the ash heap. She was
ashamed to go during daylight because Job had been such a
prominent man and had suffered such great loss that it seemed to
some that he might have lost his mind. Job's wife would have been
distressed to know that neighbors were watching her. Instead of
comforting her husband, she started railing at him.
And Now -- A Nagging Wife!
"Why do you insist on squatting there in the filth of this
dump while I am at my wits' end wondering how to make ends meet?"
she scolded. "Why must you embarrass me this way? If you think
that you are about to die, why do it in a place like this?"
Job continued to sit in silence, which was soon broken
"I should think you would have more consideration for me,
the woman who gave you ten children," Job's wife went on. "What
would you have done without me? Is this any place for a man, even
though a lot of people have forgotten you by now?"
Job said nothing.
"You're hopeless!" cried his wife. "Go on with your prayers!
You're only adding to your misery by being out here. And no
matter how many days you sit here blessing God, you'll die! Why
don't you curse God so He will destroy you and put you out of
your misery?" (Job 2:9.) Job not only had lost his wealth,
children, health, power, influence, honor, dignity and friends,
but had now lost the respect of his wife.
Job's wife sobbingly turned to leave, but Job straightened
up and spoke sharply.
"You talk foolishly," Job told her sternly. "You sound as
shallow as a young woman who has grievously sinned while still in
her father's house. Why should we complain when troubles come?
God has done many wonderful things for us. Should we expect to go
all through our lives without any troubles? Do we believe that
God should shower us with nothing but the pleasant things? Should
we shake our fists at our Creator whenever He temporarily takes
back some of the many good things that belong to Him in the first
place? No! We should be thankful and uncomplaining, no matter
what happens!" (Verse 10.)
Job's wife realized that it would be a waste of effort to
argue with a man with such a good attitude toward God, and she
walked away into the darkness.
A Few Friends Remain
Because of his high office in life, Job had many
acquaintances who were prominent, wealthy and well-educated. When
word went around the land about Job's condition, most of these
acquaintances of Job wondered why a man who was so obedient to
his God should fall into such misfortune and misery. Almost all
of them had felt obligated to desert him.
However, of the many who knew him well, three men from other
lands, who were close friends of Job, planned to meet and visit
him together. (Verse 11.) The names of these men were Eliphaz,
Bildad and Zophar, and they came from territories not far
The combined caravans of the three arrived at Job's rather
neglected home to find that only his wife was there.
"You'll find my husband sitting or lying out in the city ash
heap not far from here," she stiffly instructed the visitors.
The three friends of Job instructed their servants to encamp
not far from the ash dump. Then they set out afoot toward the
lone figure they could see in the distance. They were accompanied
by a younger man named Elihu who was also well-educated and
intelligent, and who, because of his great admiration for Job's
well-known accomplishments, had asked to join the three friends.
Even when the visitors were only a few yards from Job, they
couldn't recognize him because of the boils on his face and the
amount of weight he had lost. His condition was so much worse
than they had imagined that they couldn't help but conclude that
he was very close to death. They wept with grief at the sight of
him. Now they could understand that there was more than one
reason why Job had chosen to spend his time on an ash heap. His
hundreds of very sore running boils made it almost necessary.
According to the customs of the times, the three men ripped
their tunics and tossed dust on their heads. (Job 2:12.)
Elihu respectfully stood close by while Eliphaz, Zophar and
Bildad -- who were older men -- stepped close to Job. Job peered
up through swollen eyelids at his friends. He could not touch
them in welcome, and it was too painful for him to show his
appreciation for their presence by trying to leap up. He was
touched that they had come to comfort him, but all he did was
lift his hands and nod to each. Then he lowered his head and sat
in silence. Job's friends were so stunned to see how horrifyingly
miserable he was that they sat down with him in shocked silence
to share his agony.
That silence lasted a whole week, during which the men sat
with Job both day and night. (Verse 13.) At the end of seven days
and seven nights of no conversation, Job painfully straightened
up and suddenly spoke from swollen lips.
"Let the day perish and be forgotten when I was born!" he
cried out. "Let that day be cursed! Let not God include it in the
days of the month or year!" (Job 3.)
Controversy Over the Cause of Job's
Job's friends were surprised at this sudden outburst, but
they were also relieved to know that Job had at long last chosen
to speak. Job continued to talk for several minutes, eloquently
describing how death would be more pleasant than the bitter grief
of his condition. Some of his remarks caused his friends to
suspect him of some hidden sin, and as soon as Job had finished,
Eliphaz spoke out.
"I must say what I think," he started out. "You have
instructed my people in living and in building character, but now
that trouble has come to you, you faint. If you are being
punished because of some kind of trouble you have run into, turn
to God. If God is correcting you, don't be unhappy about it. He
will see you through adversity, and you shall be full of years
before you die." (Job 4 and 5.)
Eliphaz had much more to say, some of which, in turn, roused
Job to more speech.
"I thought you came here to comfort me," he declared, "but
now you are reproaching me and charging me with being a wicked
man!" (Job 6 and 7.)
Job continued for a time, and when he had temporarily
finished, Bildad had much to say in reproving Job. As soon as Job
had answered him, Zophar spoke out. He, too, reproved Job, who
promptly defended himself. This ended the first of three series
of unusual controversies. During the next two of these
debate-type discussions there was more reproof from Job's friends
and more defense from Job. These three friends insisted God was
punishing Job for being sinful. Job insisted God was punishing
him without a reason.
Job was like many people today who say they are so good they
always do what is right just because they love God. The Bible
says this is not true. (Jeremiah 17:9; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs
12:15; Psalm 39:5; I John 2:4; John 14:15.) Throughout these
controversies between Job and his three friends, which were
written in the Bible in a splendid poetic form, Job steadfastly
contended that he was without sin and had no reason for
repentance. (Job, chapters 8 through 31.)
At last the three older friends all gave up trying to answer
Job because of his self-righteous attitude. (Job 32:1.) This gave
young Elihu an opportunity to say what he thought.
"You have tried to justify yourself instead of God," he
courteously and respectfully but bluntly told Job. "As for you
three friends, you have condemned Job without being able to
answer his self-justification." (Job 32:2-22.)
Elihu went on to disclose much wisdom for one so relatively
young, reminding these older men that the Spirit of God, not
human reason, gives us the true answers to problems. He continued
to reprove all four men for being in error in some of the things
they had said. Yet he did not deal harshly with Job. (Job 33:7.)
His marvelous remarks, as written in chapters 33, 34, 35, 36 and
37 of the Book of Job make up some of the most profound sayings
in the Bible. He showed these men that Job's error was not in
some secret sin he was hiding -- as they supposed -- but in
giving credit to himself, instead of God, for the righteous deeds
God had inspired him to do, and in thinking he could EARN
salvation by good works. Elihu knew that man's righteousness is
no better than filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6.) The three older
friends had spoken of God's right to punish men for sins. Elihu
spoke of God's willingness to be merciful and give salvation to
those who repent. (See also Psalm 103:10-14.) There seemed no
more to say or do, so the four men wearily prepared to leave.
Although it was daytime, the sky had been turning dark for
some time. It was evident that some kind of rough weather was
about to occur. Overhead the clouds began to whirl and boil. Then
they dipped earthward with great speed. The mounting moan of
whirling winds broke suddenly on the ears of the little group on
the ash heap. Job looked up, and he didn't move. Realizing the
futility of running, the other four men stood rooted, though not
without fear. Curious onlookers who had gathered near the ash
heap ran for their lives, however.
God Convicts Job
Somehow the winds seemed to envelop the five men -- not to
harm them, but to gently cut them off from their surroundings.
There was turbulence all around, but not on the ash heap. (Job
Then a great voice clearly came out of the encircling wind.
(Verse 2.) Startled, Job started to get up, but tremblingly fell
with his face down when he realized that he was being addressed.
The other four men also fearfully prostrated themselves.
"Who is it who pretends to speak about the most profound
matters of God, but who lacks knowledge of such things?" the
mighty voice asked. (Job 38; 39; 40:1-2.)
Job cringed under stinging words as the Creator of the
universe went on to compare the puny learning and undertakings of
man with the all-knowing wisdom and tremendous creative power of
God. He reminded Job that only God is a great Creator. When God
at last stopped speaking, Job cried out:
"I admit I am evil and defiled, God, and I don't have the
wisdom to answer you!" (Job 40:3-5.)
God then reminded Job that he could not save himself -- that
only God has salvation to give -- and that all of man's power
comes from God, and man amounts to nothing. (Job 40:6-14.)
God continued to point out how much man has yet to learn,
even about the creatures that exist on this planet, and that no
one except the Creator has any real conception of what is
required to create and control such creatures. (Job 40:15-24; Job
41.) When God ceased speaking, Job finally saw himself as a very
worthless sinner, who needed God's mercy just as much as anyone
else did. Job then took the opportunity to express himself again,
at the same time continuing to prostrate himself on the ash heap.
Job Finally Repents
"I repent that I spoke as I did, God," he said. "I realize
now that you know everything and can do everything and that I
said things I did not understand. I abhor myself for considering
myself too wise, too creative and too righteous, when I am really
nothing more than dust and ashes!" (Job 42:1-6.)
God then spoke to Eliphaz, who was the oldest of Job's three
"I am very displeased with you three," He said. "Job has
made some wrong remarks and he has had a self-righteous attitude,
but he has finally spoken more correctly of Me than you three
did. You used false arguments to try to prove that he had
committed great sins and that his suffering meant he was more
evil than other men. Job accused Me of punishing him without a
cause. Job saw his error and repented. You didn't. Now get seven
bullocks and seven rams and offer up for yourselves a burnt
offering. My servant Job will then pray for you. If you fail to
do this, I shall deal harshly with you!" (Verses 7-8.)
The three men obeyed. The burnt offering was made, Job
prayed for his friends and God accepted all that was done. (Verse
9.) As for Elihu, he had neither falsely accused Job nor
misrepresented God's justice. He had spoken well, and God didn't
require an offering from him.
Job's miserable condition left him as suddenly as it had
come on. Immediately after he prayed for his three friends, the
sore, itching, running boils dwindled away and were healed
without scars. Job once more was comfortable and healthy. From
then on, as though by a miracle, everything came his way. His
brothers, sisters and friends who had left him turned back to him
to visit and comfort him and brought gifts of money and jewelry.
He bought livestock, and they increased so well that in time he
was twice as wealthy as he had ever been before! (Verses 10-12.)
Besides doubling the number of animals he had owned, an even
greater physical blessing came upon him.
It was a new family.
God gave Job and his wife seven more sons and three more
daughters, and his daughters were known as the fairest in the
land. (Verses 13-15.)
Job had grown children when this great trouble happened to
him, but after that he lived many more years to see his
children's children to the fourth generation. (Verses 16-17.)
Down through the centuries Job has become known as the most
patient man who ever lived. It would be more fitting, however, to
recognize him for what the Bible points him out to be -- perhaps
the most self-righteous man who ever lived. Being self-righteous
doesn't always mean being pompously pious and looking down on
others as being miserably low sinners. In Job's case, it meant
that he was so conscious and proud of being obedient that he felt
he was without sin, and that his great suffering came without a
The happy ending to this story was that after much trial he
was able to see in himself this hard-to-recognize sin and be
willing to repent. It was his repentance that brought an end to
his great trial.
This important human experience might have been totally lost
to us today. But God instructed Moses, during the wilderness
wandering, that Job's account of his suffering should become HOLY
Scripture -- a vital part of the Bible's "Old Testament," for our
INTEGRATION IN ISRAEL
WE NOW MOVE FORWARD in time. It is a few years after the
Israelites' conquest of most of Canaan. Joshua has become more
than a hundred years old, and is aware that his life is nearing
an end. (Joshua 23:1.)
Realizing that it would be wise to again remind the
Israelites what their attitude toward God should be, Joshua
requests that the elders, princes, judges and officers of all the
tribes assemble at the main camp of the Israelites.
God Keeps His Promises
"Consider all the wonderful things God has done for you in
the conquest of this land," Joshua addressed them. "God has
proved that He does as He promises. If you will continue to be of
strong courage and obey God, He will surely help you drive out
the inhabitants who yet remain in the regions of Canaan to which
you are yet to move. In fact, God has said that if you are
obedient, only one of you will be required to chase out a
thousand of the enemy! (Joshua 23:2-10.)
"As one who is about to depart from this life, I warn you in
the strongest terms that unless you faithfully keep the covenant
made with God, Israel can look forward only to defeat and death!"
At another time Joshua again summoned the elders, princes,
judges and officers of all the tribes to Shechem, the place where
Joseph's remains were buried. It is a few miles north of Shiloh.
(Joshua 24:1,32; John 4:5.) There Joshua spoke to the
representatives of all Israel, briefly reviewing the history of
the people since before the time of Abraham, and showing how God
had dealt with them.
"There are those in Israel who regard sin lightly -- who
still have regard for some of the false gods our forefathers fell
to worshipping," Joshua told them. "There are others among us who
secretly tend to revere the pagan gods of this land. No one can
serve both the true God and pagan gods. (Matt. 6:24.) My God --
the God of Moses, the God of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob -- is a jealous God who will utterly consume all who fail
or refuse to be faithful to Him. Today every Israelite should
decide whom he will serve As for my family and I, we will serve
the true God." (Joshua 24:2-15.)
"God forbid that we should forsake Him to serve idols or
false gods!" the crowd chorused with enthusiasm. "We shall indeed
serve and obey the one true God! Because His great miracles
brought us out of Egyptian slavery, protected us from more
powerful nations around us, and drove the idol-worshipping
nations out of our land." (Verses 16-18.)
"Then you are indeed witnesses against yourselves that you
have chosen to serve our Creator!" Joshua called out.
Thus Joshua guided the thousands of leading Israelites and
all that generation to renew the national covenant with God. He
was pleased. The lessons of forty years wandering as children and
young men and women had not been learned in vain. They responded
in such a willing and sincere manner, that Joshua felt, as he
dismissed them to return to their various tribes, the meeting had
been well worthwhile, a fitting climax to his life. (Verses
Not long afterward Joshua died at the age of one hundred and
ten years. He was buried at Mt. Ephraim in the property that had
been granted him. The Bible honors Joshua by stating that Israel
served God during Joshua's time of leadership and for a score of
years afterward, until the deaths of all those leaders who had
served under Joshua and were influenced by his good example and
by seeing God's great miracles. (Verses 29-31.)
Eleazar the priest, Aaron's son, died shortly after Joshua's
death. He, too, was buried at Mt. Ephraim. (Verse 33.)
Israel's rest from the labor of the conquest of Canaan
developed into a period of several years. In the growing
prosperity there was also a marked increase in population.
During that time many of the Canaanites who had fled to
neighboring lands were gradually moving back into some of the
cities and sites from which God had removed them. There were also
some cities and areas, especially west of the Jordan, that hadn't
been reached by the Israelites. (Joshua 13:1-6.) All this meant
that Israel's wars of conquest weren't yet over. If Israel had
been fully obedient and faithful, Canaan could have been cleared
of all the enemy in only a short time.
When at last Israel decided to again take up arms to
continue to rout the Canaanites, there was the question of which
tribe should move first. Phinehas, who had become high priest
after Eleazar's death, consulted God at the tabernacle, and God
made it known that the tribe of Judah should go first, and that
He, God, would help the soldiers of Judah overcome their enemies.
Because the allotted land of the tribe of Simeon bordered on
the south of that of Judah, the leaders of Judah suggested that
Simeon accompany them. The idea was welcomed by Simeon. It meant
a stronger and larger armed force to be used in both their
territories. (Judges 1:1-3.)
The soldiers of Judah and Simeon didn't go far before
running into action. Only a few miles southwest of Shiloh was a
city called Bezek. It was bristling with thousands of rearmed
Canaanites. Many of these Canaanites served their new king out of
fear. He was a cruel tyrant who cut off the thumbs and big toes
of any of his people who refused to submit to him. The Israelites
were a little surprised to find enemy troops in such numbers so
close to Shiloh. But they remembered God's promise to them, and
lost no time in attacking.
In that one battle ten thousand of the enemy fell before
Judah and Simeon. During the excitement the king of Bezek,
Adoni-bezek, managed to escape and flee southward with a few
aides. Having heard that he was a cruel warrior who would try to
live to fight another day, the Israelites made a special effort
to capture Adoni-bezek. Mounted Israelites managed to catch up
with him in the mountains. Instead of killing him, they taught
him a lesson he never forgot. They followed his custom of cutting
off his enemies' thumbs and great toes. Deprived of these digits,
he was taken to Jerusalem -- which Judah and Simeon had already
conquered, but later deserted. (Verses 8-9.) Here Adoni-bezek was
displayed as a disgraceful example of what would happen to the
enemies of Israel.
Adoni-bezek took his punishment bravely, however, and
admitted that the God of Israel was dealing with him as he justly
deserved. He claimed that one time or another his prisoners had
included a total of seventy rulers, and that he had cut the
thumbs and great toes off all of them!
Day after day the men of Judah and Simeon moved southward to
mop up all opposing forces. They spread westward to the city of
Gaza on the Great Sea and eastward almost to the southern tip of
the Dead Sea.
God helped them to be almost completely successful in their
campaign. However, some Canaanites managed to escape and
refortify some of the conquered cities, such as Jerusalem. (Verse
21.) These few exceptions were only because the Israelites
weren't all entirely obedient or didn't have sufficient faith in
God. (Judges 1:4-20.)
About that time the tribe of Ephraim, sometimes called the
house of Joseph, set out over its territory, especially to the
southwest, which included Shiloh and the area around it. Ephraim
found that the city of Bethel obviously had been remanned into a
strong fortress, even though Joshua and his troops had slain
Bethel's soldiers during the capture of the nearby city of Ai.
Knowing nothing of what Bethel was like now inside or how
many soldiers were within the walls, the officers of Ephraim sent
out a few scouts to try to discover these things. These men hid
at night at a safe distance away, but close enough to keep a
careful watch to try to determine where the city entrances were
and how they might be used to get inside Bethel.
Opportunity came in an unexpected way one evening. Some
figures emerged from the shadow of Bethel's walls and moved
toward the general area where the spies were concealed. Moving
silently, the men of Ephraim swiftly surrounded and trapped the
oncoming figures. They proved to be a man and his family who
claimed they were Hittites who had sneaked out through a small,
poorly guarded, side entrance and were hoping to escape from
Bethel and their Canaanite overlords.
The spies hustled the Hittites back to where Ephraim was
camped, and officers questioned them further.
"We are Israelites, and you are too late to escape from
Canaan unless you show us where we can get into Bethel and tell
us all you know about the layout of Bethel and how well it is
armed," the officers told the Hittite.
This man they had captured had lived in Bethel for some
time, and he knew its defenses. As he foresaw that Israel would
soon take over Bethel anyway, he disclosed its defenses to the
Ephraimites. For the sake of his family he pointed out a small
side entrance that could easily be forced and gave the Israelites
the information they required. For this he was freed and sent on
his way. (Later, when he reached the ancient land of the Hittites
to the north, he founded a city and called it Luz, which had been
the ancient name of Bethel.) (Judges 1:21-26.)
Perhaps God had purposely sent the Hittite to inform the
Israelites. In any event, the information was used to good
advantage, and the soldiers of Ephraim successfully forced their
way into Bethel to overcome all within its walls.
What the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Ephraim did as their
part of taking over Canaan was a fairly good example to the other
tribes. But even though all the Israelites had God's unfailing
promise to exert His tremendous power in helping them, some of
the tribes failed to dislodge or overcome their enemies in
Instead of routing the Canaanites from some of the regions,
Israel allowed the Canaanites to stay on certain conditions.
Often it was with the understanding that their enemies would
regularly give gifts or make some kind of payments to Israel in
exchange for their being free from attack. (Verses 27-33.)
In other areas some of the Israelites tired of fighting
against their enemies. They decided to integrate with them.
(Verses 34-36.) Over the years this meant that many Israelites
intermarried with the Canaanites. This is always the result of
integration. So Israel fell to worshipping the pagan gods and
idols of Canaan. God had repeatedly warned them not to integrate.
(Exodus 20:3-7; Exodus 23:31-33; Deuteronomy 12:29-32;
Deuteronomy 6;4-7, 14; Deuteronomy 7:1-11; Joshua 23:6-8; Judges
By the time another generation had grown up since Joshua's
death, much of Israel had taken integration lightly and had
fallen into sin! The proposed last stages of the conquest of
Canaan had bogged down to a stop. Prosperity was declining little
by little as the Israelites began to live more and more like the
Canaanites around them. Sex crimes increased. It was becoming
unsafe to go out at night. The tribes lacked the pioneer spirit
to move on and establish homes, farms, towns and cities in land
that already was theirs. Israel had reached that disobedient
state that comes just before God steps in to bring on painful
The greatest number of Israelites in one area was still in
and around the Shiloh-Mt. Ephraim area. Regardless of the
crumbling condition of the tribes as a whole, there were people
who still came to the tabernacle to offer sacrifices and consult
with the high priest and his assistants. Shiloh was still the
nerve center of the nation, and it was there that a peculiar and
awesome thing took place.
A Surprise Visitor
One day a strange man was seen walking toward Shiloh from
the direction of Gilgal. There was nothing unusual about seeing a
lone man approaching the Israelite camp, but there was something
about this man that caused people to stare and wonder who he was.
He appeared as an ordinary-looking man, but the manner in
which he strode along seemed to indicate one of great authority
and confidence. His soldier-type attire was different only in
that it was made of what appeared to be the very best quality of
cloth and leather. The man's only weapon was an especially
well-shaped sword that gleamed and glinted with unusual
brilliance as it swung from his belt.
Before he reached the edge of the camp, armed guards stepped
out to block his way. They were puzzled as to how he had managed
to get past the sentinels stationed farther away.
"You can go no farther until you give your identity and
state why you are here," one of the soldiers barked.
The stranger merely gazed at the soldier, who suddenly lost
his feeling of authority, and stepped back in a gesture of
Undetained, the man strode on. By the time he reached the
center of the camp, Phinehas the high priest, elders and officers
had been told of his coming, and they were on hand. Phinehas
possibly realized who the man was. At least he bowed low in an
attitude of deep respect. Others followed his example as the
stranger paused before the swiftly growing crowd to hold up his
arms and silence the increasing murmur from the throng.
"Listen Israel, and remember my words!" the stranger cried
out in a voice so strong it startled the listeners. "I brought
you up from Egypt and into this land I promised to your fathers.
I made a covenant with you that I would help you conquer the land
if you would do your part by obeying me. (Exodus 23:23-28.) You
were to destroy all the pagan altars. You were forbidden to make
any agreement of any kind with your enemies or to integrate with
them. But you have not obeyed me! Why? Remember, I also said that
if you were to fail in driving out the Canaanites, they would
become as thorns in your sides and their gods would be as deadly
traps! (Judges 2:1-3; Exodus 23:31-33; Deuteronomy 7:16; Psalm
106:34-40; Joshua 23:12-13.) Now, because you have broken my
covenant, and intermarried with them, don't expect any more help
from me in driving out the Canaanites! On the contrary, I shall
allow them to prevail against you!" (Judges 2:1-3.)
When the stranger finished speaking, there was not a sound
from the onlookers. All eyes followed the man as he turned aside
and walked away. He spoke to no one, and no one tried to speak to
him. Then somehow he was lost to the viewers.
Probably very few people realized that they had just seen
and heard the same one whom Joshua had met alone just before the
fall of Jericho.
Whatever they realized, all experienced an awesome feeling
in the presence of this stranger. After he had so abruptly
vanished, they began to murmur and mill about with a growing
sense of foreboding and fear. Some wept and moaned. Others fell
to their knees to pray.
Pressed by an awareness of guilt, many obtained the proper
animals and flocked around the tabernacle, anxious to make
sacrifices to acknowledge their sins. Word of the event quickly
spread to Israelites everywhere in the land, and with a growing
fear of terrible things that might come on Israel at any hour.
The expressions of repentance didn't last long. When days
passed and nothing awesome occurred, many people began returning
to their wrong ways. In fact, they slipped still further into the
idolatrous practices of the Canaanites with whom they continued
to intermarry. Many were the gods they foolishly and futilely
worshipped along with their pagan enemies. (Verses 11-13.)
The woes of the Israelites began in a small way. The
unfriendly Canaanites in various areas started to plague them
with public demonstrations and with little attacks by small bands
of soldiers. Marauders increasingly beset the Israelites at all
hours, and they always succeeded in leaving much damage and
death. Here and there the Israelites began to be pushed back, and
in some instances even had to withdraw from cities they had
captured, often at the cost of many lives. It was more and more
evident that God had forsaken Israel, at least as far as
protection in war was concerned. The tide of conquest had at last
reversed in favor of the enemy. (Judges 2:11-15; 2:20-23; 3:1-7.)
A Foreign Invader!
The gradual, painful push-back by the Canaanites was only
the beginning of troubles for Israel. One day an excited
messenger rode into the camp at Shiloh with the shocking news
that the king of Mesopotamia -- a land to the northeast -- was
pushing southward with thousands of troops, and had already
conquered the half-tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan!
Feverish activity followed, but the Israelites didn't seem
to be able to rightly organize for battle. Many of them were so
excited and fearful that all they could do was moan with fear.
Others fell to their knees and shouted to God to save them from
Chushan-rishathaim, the approaching ruler who was rumored to be
unusually powerful, ruthless and cruel.
WORSHIPPING GOD IN VAIN
IN THE face of danger from their enemies, the Israelites began to
pray. But it was too late. The land was so full of sin that their
prayers were in vain. God had no intention of answering them
until they prayed in the spirit of repentance. Their many idols
made their worship sinful. It was all in vain, because God does
not hear the prayers of idolaters.
Equally useless were the frantically constructed barricades
and other military preparations.
An Invasion of Israel
Three days later wave upon wave of invaders from the north
pushed over and past Shiloh, leaving thousands of dead and
wounded in and about the camp!
Within days the soldiers of Mesopotamia moved over all
Canaan. They bottled up Canaanites and Israelites alike in a
state of destruction and helplessness. It seemed to powerless
Israel that God was helping the invaders more than He had
previously helped Israel, though actually God had simply
withdrawn His helpful power from the Israelites.
Wherever the Mesopotamians conquered large numbers of
people, they left strong garrisons of soldiers to keep the
vanquished people under their power. Valuables were stripped from
the Israelites. A system of semi-slavery was developed by which
Israel was forced to raise animals and crops for the conquerors.
No tribes or areas were overlooked in this matter of constant
contribution. The easy life of Israel was transformed in just a
few weeks into one of misery and servitude. There was no outlook
for anything but this unhappy condition for some years to come.
After a time, when they could see no way out of their
trouble, the Israelites fell into a state of sincere repentance.
For many, life became a round of tears, forced labor and prayers.
Still the years of servitude wore on.
Meanwhile a man by the name of Othniel felt quite strongly
that something should be added to those prayers and tears. He was
of the tribe of Judah, a nephew and son-in-law of Caleb. He had
years before distinguished himself in leading troops to vanquish
many Canaanites. (Judges 1:12-13; Judges 3:9.)
In their disorganized state the Israelites had little
military strength to resist their conquerors. But Othniel
secretly managed to establish an underground movement that grew
with each passing month. When he decided the time was right for
an uprising, secretly armed Israelites made a strong surprise
attack on the Mesopotamian garrison at Shiloh. It was so sudden
-- and successful -- that not one enemy soldier escaped to alert
troops stationed elsewhere.
Repentance Brings Deliverance
Othniel distributed the captured arms to equip more
Israelites for hasty assaults on other enemy barracks in other
parts of Canaan. The result was that within a few days Israel
enjoyed a surprising victory over all the enemy soldiers
stationed in Canaan.
When news of what had happened finally reached the wicked
ruler of Mesopotamia, he gathered thousands of troops together.
They moved swiftly southward from the vicinity of Damascus to
attack the Israelite camp at Shiloh. Meanwhile, the Israelites
were so encouraged by their victory that Israelites of fighting
ability swarmed from all parts of Canaan to swell Othniel's army.
Before the Mesopotamians could reach Shiloh they were
ambushed by thousands upon thousands of Israelite troops
desperately hungry for freedom. The enemy from the north slowly
fell away -- until with God's help the main body of soldiers
perished. The remnants of the occupation forces fled for their
lives. Victory for Israel was complete. (Judges 3:10.)
At last, after eight long years as a captive nation, Israel
abruptly emerged to freedom. God had listened to the prayers of
the repentant. He had chosen the man Othniel to lead the people
to victory and freedom. In fact, God chose Othniel as the first
of a line of righteous men who were inspired to lead and guide
Israel for many years to come.
The attitude of the people had changed so much during their
eight years of servitude that they were quite willing to obey God
now. They cooperated with Othniel in the reform he required to be
carried out for the good of the nation. Intermarriage with the
Canaanites and worship of strange gods were forbidden. Those who
indulged in these things were harshly punished. There was a
return to the ways of living according to God's laws. The result
was an Israel much happier and more prosperous than the nation
had been for a long time.
Under the leadership of Othniel, God's chosen servant,
Israel enjoyed forty years of peace. During those forty years
Othniel was the first of the leaders -- since the time of Joshua
-- known as JUDGES. They weren't the kind of judges who were
instituted only as men who decided on cases of justice. They were
more like rulers, and they headed Israel from Joshua's time until
the time of Samuel. (Judges 3:11.)
Lessons Soon Forgotten
Othniel maintained law and order in Israel. But soon after
his death the people had no strong leader and again began to
lapse back into their sinful ways. God's anger again was roused
against them. Once more they were bound to fall under a curse,
though they had no idea how God planned to punish them.
The nation of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, was then ruled by
a man by the name of Eglon. Much of the territory occupied by
Israel east of the Jordan had at one time been part of Moab, and
Eglon was determined to recover it. He didn't realize that his
strong desire had been planted firmly in his mind by God, who
planned to use him to chasten Israel.
Besides building his own army into a strong fighting force,
Eglon enlisted the aid of thousands of troops from the Ammonites
and Amalekites, two small nations that hated Israel because of
that nation's previous victories over them. (Judges 3:12-13.)
Eglon's forces pushed westward across the Jordan with such
strength that the main body of Israel in the central area of
Canaan fell captive almost immediately to the Moabites and their
allies. Not many Israelites were slain by Eglon, because it was
his purpose to cripple Israel as a fighting force and then exact
heavy tribute from the people.
Eglon established strong garrisons west of the Jordan to
keep Israel powerless. To show that he had extended the ancient
borders of his nation west of the river, he set up north-south
rows of images in the area of Gilgal. Here he also built a palace
for himself so that he might more closely exert control over the
captured Israelites. For eighteen years the Israelites were in
bondage to Eglon. (Verse 14.)
Again, as might be expected, the Israelites went into their
state of repentance. They regretted, as usual, falling into such
a sinful condition. Their tears, sufferings and prayers touched
the ever-merciful heart of the Creator, who this time chose a
sturdy, left-handed Benjamite named Ehud to help change the
course of events.
Outwitting a Heathen King
Ehud's part started when he was chosen to head a group of
messengers to bear a valuable tribute to the king of Moab.
Irksome as it was to the Israelites, wicked Eglon required that
the gifts of gold, silver, jewels and produce be brought to him
with the pomp and ceremony only a king could demand. On this
occasion, Ehud, who had great strength and skill in the use of
his left hand, hid a sharp dagger beneath his clothes on his
right hip. After the tribute had been presented to Eglon, Ehud
and his bearers left and headed back toward Shiloh. Ehud went
only as far as the nearby border that had been marked by the
stone images. There he told the others to return to Shiloh
without him. He quickly returned to the king's palace with the
excuse that he had a secret message for Eglon. When guards told
the king, he asked Ehud into his private quarters and dismissed
his servants. (Judges 3:15-20.)
"Now what is this secret message you claim you have for me?"
the king asked. "Would it surprise you to know that it is from
"What do you mean -- from God?" Eglon demanded, lifting his
weighty body from his chair and moving excitedly toward Ehud.
"I mean THIS!" Ehud exclaimed.
His left hand slipped under his cloak and whipped out his
dagger with such speed that the Moabite ruler didn't have time to
shout for help Ehud quickly thrust the dagger into Eglon's body,
then hastily left the room and noiselessly locked the doors
behind him. Justice had been done. He slipped out the private
entrance leading outside, locked the door, took the key and set
out for the area of Mt. Ephraim.
Later, when servants came to wait on their king and found
the doors locked, they believed that Eglon didn't want to be
disturbed. They left, but when they returned to find the doors
still locked, they became concerned. At the risk of facing the
king's wrath, they obtained a key and cautiously opened the
doors. To their horror they found their ruler dead from a dagger
that had been thrust past the hilt into the obese body. (Judges
God Is Wise and Just
At this point, as at other instances in past episodes of the
Bible Story, a few readers will be inclined to shudder a bit.
They will wonder why God would allow one of His chosen people to
execute someone, and why the story should be included in a
version written especially for younger people.
The Bible should be read by young and old alike. It is a
frank description of the history of Israel, in part, describing
the many woes brought on by human nature. In that telling there
is no allowance for the delicate feelings of individuals.
God specifically chose Israel for a certain purpose, and a
part of that purpose included ridding Canaan of the heathen
peoples who lived there. In a later judgment these once-heathen
people who have not had an opportunity for salvation will be
given that opportunity by God. (Matthew 12:41-42; Revelation
20:11-12; Isaiah 65:19-25.) As far as God was concerned, it was
no different for an Israelite to execute an idolatrous heathen
king than it was for an Israelite soldier to slay an enemy
soldier in battle. Israel, remember, was a fleshly nation, and
unconverted -- except for a very few like the prophets and
judges. Only God has the authority to tell anyone to kill. It is
the responsibility of God, only, to decide when a wicked person
should be executed for his own good and the good of those around
him. Nevertheless, today it is not a Christian's duty to execute
this kind of justice. God leaves that to the unconverted who run
this world. Jesus said His kingdom is NOT of this world (John
18:36.), otherwise his servants would fight. Israel was of this
world. But the Kingdom of God is of the world tomorrow. And
Christ will fight to establish it when He comes again.
Ehud lost no time in reaching Mt. Ephraim, a few miles to
the northwest, where he summoned many Israelite men to tell them
what had happened.
"These Moabite soldiers stationed here to keep us captive
are the choicest warriors of their nation," Ehud told them. "But
when they hear that their leader is dead, they will lose their
desire to keep guarding us, and will want to flee across Jordan
to their country. It is according to God's will that you take up
your hidden arms now and follow me!" (Judges 3:27.)
By the time news of their ruler's death reached the Moabite
soldiers massed near Jericho, Ehud and the Israelite soldiers had
come charging out of the Mt. Ephraim area and were well on their
way toward the Jordan river.
As Ehud predicted, having been inspired by God, leaders of
the Moabite troops in Canaan quickly decided to move their
soldiers back to Moab when they learned that their king had been
They had a feeling that the God of Israel had something to
do with the matter, and they feared it was an omen that Moabite
troops might also meet death if they were to remain in Canaan.
Ten thousand Moabite soldiers of the Jericho region set off
on the shortest route toward the Jordan -- a road that ran almost
directly eastward. Ehud's inspired foreknowledge of how the enemy
would retreat made it possible for the Israelites to know they
should station themselves at the Jordan River to prevent the
escape of the Moabite army.
Long before the Moabites could reach the river, the
Israelites were ready and waiting in ambush. When the Moabites
arrived, the Israelites closed in on them with such surprising
fury that when the fray was over, every Moabite of the ten
thousand was dead.
When the remaining Moabites at Eglon's palace and those
stationed elsewhere in Canaan heard about what happened to the
ten thousand picked troops, all fled eastward inside the true
borders of their nation. Israel was free from the oppression of
Because of his ability in leadership, Ehud became the second
Israelite ruler known as a judge. He remained in power for many
years of peace and prosperity in Israel, which meant that during
that time the people were obedient, for the most part, to God's
laws. (Judges 3:28-30.)
A short verse at the end of the third chapter of the book of
Judges names a man by the name of Shamgar as another man of
leadership who was possibly a lesser judge in western Canaan
during Ehud's time. The Philistines, a nation of city-states on
the shores of the Great Sea, had joined with Moab in attacking
the Israelites in that region and had kept them in servitude for
many years as farmers. The servitude was abruptly ended when the
husky crop producers turned on their conquerors with their
soil-tilling implements. An unusual accomplishment of this
encounter was Shamgar's wielding an ox-goad (a sharpened,
metal-tipped hardwood pole) so swiftly and expertly that he
killed six hundred Philistines, though possibly part of that
number was included in the efforts of Shamgar's fellow farmers.
And Now a Northern Foe
It might seem discouragingly repetitious to report that
after Ehud died, Israel again lapsed into a state of rebellion
against God. But it happened! Once more God used a pagan king to
punish the people. This time it was Jabin, a strong ruler in
north Canaan. He was a descendant of that Jabin who had many
years previously tried to attack the army of Israel with iron
chariots. He had been overcome by Joshua and had lost his city in
flames. This next Jabin had rebuilt the city of Hazor, and had
become so powerful that he overcame the Israelites in the
northern part of Canaan. Ironically, this later Jabin used nine
hundred iron chariots as a means of victory. The general of his
army was the dreaded Sisera.
For twenty drawn-out, unhappy years Israel suffered under
the terrible domination of Jabin. (Judges 4:1-3.) Again, as
usual, Israel cried out to God for mercy. The people showed proof
of their repentance by departing from the evil ways they knew
were forbidden by God.
As a means of rescuing Israel, God used a woman by the name
of Deborah. She lived in Mt. Ephraim, and was one of such good
judgment and fair thinking that many Israelites came to her for
advice. This woman was not a judge in the sense that she was a
ruler with authority, though God chose her to help Israel in
several ways. (Verses 4-5.)
For one thing, God gave Deborah knowledge of what could
happen in Israel's favor, but it was necessary for a man who was
a military leader to carry out the plan. Deborah knew of such a
man. His name was Barak. He came from his home in the north when
she sent for him.
"God has disclosed to me that if a capable man such as you
can succeed in gathering ten thousand armed Israelites on Mt.
Tabor, then He will give them victory over the Canaanites who
seek them out there for battle," Deborah told Barak. "With a
promise such as this from God, is there any good reason why you
should refuse to be the one who can be of such great service by
gathering and leading those men against the Canaanites?" (Judges
"I can manage to organize the army," Barak replied, "but I
would want to know more about what God has revealed to you. I'll
go to Mt. Tabor with the men, but only if you will accompany me
to advise me in the crucial moments."
Deborah agreed, but told Barak that since he was depending
too much on a woman and was not showing enough manly leadership,
God would allow a woman to destroy General Sisera.
Barak secretly organized the necessary troops. Most of them
came from the northern tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, though
many men from other tribes swelled the number. The army succeeded
in getting to the flat area of Mt. Tabor, and there encamped.
When Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, learned about the
Israelites being on Mt. Tabor, he gathered his men to go there.
Included in his mighty fighting force were nine hundred chariots
and thousands of trained warriors so feared by Israel. (Verses
THE WAY TO PEACE
ON MT. TABOR the Israelite soldiers were able to see the
Canaanite forces gathering on a plain several miles away to the
southwest. An excessive amount of dust, such as would be raised
by horses and vehicles, proved to the Israelites that the enemy's
dreaded chariots were being brought up. (Judges 4:10-13.) Only
God's supernatural help could save Israel now!
The Canaanites moved to a part of the valley close to Mt.
Tabor, then set up camp for the night. Sisera, the Canaanite
general, wasn't concerned with the possibility of the Israelites
attacking, even though they had some advantage by being on higher
ground. He knew they had no desire to tangle with his chariots
and his large army. His plan was to capture the lesser-equipped
Israelites in their smaller numbers when they were forced to come
down off the mountain for necessities. Sisera had no doubt that
the small Israelite army would be easy to wipe out under any
Not Enough Manhood in Israel's Men
Meanwhile, in the camp of Israel, Barak worriedly muttered:
"If we go down the mountain we'll be wiped out by that huge
number of men and chariots!"
"The time hasn't come yet to leave the mountain," Deborah
said. "But the soldiers should be ready when that time comes."
The time came early the next morning, a while before dawn.
Inspired by God, Deborah informed Barak that the Israelites
should charge down the slope at once to attack, and that they
would have God's supernatural help. (Verse 14.) Barak was
inspired by Deborah's example and faith. He ordered the men to
follow him down the mountain. Many of them, as they poured down
off Mt. Tabor, were filled with dismay at the prospect of facing
what was obviously a superior enemy. They approached the camp of
the Canaanites quietly, but it wasn't possible to get beyond the
enemy sentries without causing shouts of alarm. When the sentries
sounded the alarm, the Israelites attacked with all the courage
they could muster.
Bedlam reigned among Sisera's troops as their attackers
caught them napping. Shouts, screams, the neighing of startled
horses, the clash of metal against metal and the general
confusion made it impossible for Canaanite officers to get their
men organized. The chariot drivers, stationed at some distance
from the infantry, managed to get their horses hooked to many of
the chariots and to get moving. However, with men tumbling and
scrambling and struggling in all directions, the chariots ran
down many more Canaanites than Israelites. God was beginning to
fight Israel's battle as He had promised. (Verse 15.)
After making a half-hearted initial attempt to fight off the
oncoming Israelites, the whole Canaanite army turned and fled
northwestward down the Kishon River valley toward the hoped-for
refuge of their fort at Harosheth. By now it was dawn, and in
their fright the Canaanites -- especially those in chariots --
might have outrun their Israelite pursuers had it not been that
God had decreed otherwise.
Suddenly heavy rains fell in the region of the Kishon
valley. The river rose rapidly. The closer the Canaanites moved
to the stream, the softer and muddier the ground became. When the
chariots ran into these spots they bogged down and came to a
sudden stop. Chariots racing up from the rear smashed into them,
resulting in a muddy mass of vehicles and struggling horses and
The men and horses that managed to get past the soft spots
in the ground only plunged on to end up in the swollen waters of
the Kishon as it broke over its banks into a flash flood which
swept away many of Sisera's troops. (Judges 5:21.) The Israelites
swept in close behind to cut off any attempted back-tracking and
cut down the enemy with swords, slings, knives and spears.
God had again stepped in to rescue Israel by bringing
Jabin's army to a swift end in a welter of mud, water and blood.
As for Sisera, he was among those who raced away in
chariots. When his chariot became bogged in mud, he managed in
the confusion to leap to safety and run north-eastward across the
plain toward the hills. He had no way of knowing whether or not
he had been observed, but he felt certain that the Israelites
would make every effort to find him.
On the other side of Mt. Tabor, on a branch of the plain,
was the dwelling of a Kenite named Heber, who Sisera believed was
friendly to the northern Canaanites. After running a few hours,
Sisera neared Heber's tent. The Kenite's wife, whose name was
Jael, happened to see the fatigued Canaanite general staggering
toward her tent. She knew who he was, and went out to meet him.
Sisera's Prophesied Doom
"Come rest in my tent," she told him as she helped him
along. (Judges 4:15-18.)
Inside the tent, he wearily lay down, exhausted by his race
for freedom. When Sisera asked for water, Jael gave him clabbered
milk to quench his thirst and make him sleep more soundly, and
then covered him with a blanket. (Judges 5:25.)
"If anyone comes to ask about me, don't mention that you
have seen me," Sisera warned Jael. "You will be well rewarded to
protect me from any of those fanatical, God-fearing Israelites!"
Those were the last words uttered by the pagan Canaanite
general. He was so weary that he fell asleep almost immediately,
though he wouldn't have done so if he could have realized even to
the smallest extent what was about to befall him.
In another compartment of her tent Jael listened intently
until she could be certain, by Sisera's slow, loud breathing,
that he was deep in slumber. Then she noiselessly moved outside,
pulled up a sharp tent stake and reached for a mallet. Very
careful not to make a sound, she entered the room where Sisera
slept on his side. With a quick, strong blow of the tent stake
mallet, she drove the stake through Sisera's temples, then into
the ground, killing the general almost instantly. (Judges
4:19-21; Judges 5:26.)
God allowed Jael to take Sisera's life in this grisly,
cold-blooded manner as a warning to us all. Those Canaanites were
better off dead. They sacrificed many of their babies in the
temples of Baal and filled adjoining graveyards with jars
containing these tiny corpses. When building a new house, a
Canaanite family would sacrifice a baby and put its body in the
foundation to bring good luck to the rest of the family.
Archaeologists who have found the many tiny skeletons of these
sacrificed babies have wondered why God did not destroy the
Canaanites sooner. He would have done so if Israel had obeyed His
command to execute all the idolatrous Canaanites when they first
conquered the land. (Deuteronomy 7:1-6.)
Because Sisera was an idolatrous Canaanite, he was one more
to be purged from the land after he had been used for the purpose
of punishing the Israelites and bringing them to repentance. As
one who sought to destroy the army of Israel, he was denied the
so-called honor of dying in action, as a high-ranking soldier
would ordinarily prefer.
Only a little while after this unsavory incident, Jael
looked out to see the victorious Israelites trotting across the
plain. She ran out toward the men, waving frantically to attract
their attention. When they reached her she told them that she had
an important message for their leader, and Barak approached her
to hear what she had to say.
"If you are seeking Jabin's general, Sisera, I can take you
to him at once," Jael told Barak.
"Show us," Barak commanded.
Jael led Barak and a few of his men to her tent and into her
private compartment, where she drew back a curtain to reveal the
nailed-down Canaanite to the startled Israelites. Then Barak
remembered Deborah's prophecy that a woman would destroy Sisera
because Barak had at first depended too much on Deborah's faith.
In humiliation, Barak realized his lack of faith was a sin
against God. He fully repented and was forgiven by God in whom he
now fully trusted. (Hebrews 11:13, 32, 39.)
Although Israel was victorious that day in becoming free,
the one who had planned to defeat Israel was still safe in his
quarters to the north. That was Jabin, king of the northern
Canaanites. On hearing of the defeat of his army, he quickly
sought refuge, but within a few days he fell into the hands of
his enemies and lost his life. (Judges 4:22-24.)
Deliverance from the Canaanites was considered such a happy
accomplishment that a great celebration was held by Israel. Songs
were composed, and Deborah and Barak led the people in praising
God with loud, hearty enthusiasm. (Judges 5:1-31.) Most of them
realized that their Creator was the source of their strength and
power, though at times they forgot that important fact because
every man insisted on doing what he thought best. (Judges 17:6.)
God had specifically commanded His people not to do what they
thought best (Deuteronomy 12:8) because that way is often wrong
and leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25.) Most of the
Israelites had not yet learned that man's conscience is not a
reliable guide for conduct -- that man needs God's law to tell
him how to live. (Deuteronomy 12:32.)
For forty more years after Jabin's overthrow, Israel was
free from enemies. (Judges 5:31.) But before that many years
passed, another generation came into being, and a large part of
Israel again fell into living in a disorderly and lawless manner,
each man following his own conscience -- doing what HE thought
best -- letting his own opinion, instead of God's law, tell him
how to live.
The Midianites Again
About two hundred years previously, when Moses was the
leader, Israel had almost wiped out the idolatrous nation of
Midian on their border east of the Dead Sea. Since that time the
Midianites had greatly increased in numbers and, though several
generations had passed since the fateful war with Israel, a
fierce hatred of their victors still existed with the Midianites.
At this point God stepped in to cause Midianite leaders to
fan that hatred so that Midian would be used to punish Israel.
The result was that the vengeance-seeking Midianites swarmed up
out of their land to end Israel's forty years of freedom,
pleasure and sin!
The Israelites had become so disorganized and weak that the
fierce Midianites chased them out of their cities and off their
farms. By the thousands the Israelites ran for safety into the
mountains. They hid in caves and even in the narrow, secluded
canyons -- wherever they could hide or fortify themselves.
The Midianites kept on moving back and forth through all
areas to rout the Israelites and rob them of their livestock and
crops. On their return to each conquered area, the Midianites
would attack any Israelites who had tried to return to their
homes. Many Israelites were forced to flee outside Palestine to
the western shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the sparsely
settled coastland of northwestern Europe.
In some regions the attacks by the Midianites were so
frequent that the remaining Israelites moved into the wooded
mountains to establish permanent residence. Their only homes were
many caverns and canyons in the rugged Palestinian hills.
Living Like Animals
Between forays by the enemy a part of the Israelites
secretly went back to their farms and grazing areas to try to
continue raising crops and stock. Sometimes they were successful
for a while. The Midianites couldn't be everywhere at the same
time. When they did come, look-outs generally reported their
arrival in time for the Israelites to move from the valleys to
safety in the mountains hideaways and strongholds.
Despite all this, the Israelites stubbornly continued to
live their own way, though they had to live in caves like
animals, rather than repent and obey God and have His divine
For two or three harvest seasons Israel managed fairly well
on what food could be raised in the more secluded valleys. Then
the Midianite soldiers began bringing their families and their
herds. Furthermore, the Amalekites and other Arabian tribes began
pouring into Canaan, and just at a time of harvest.
Cities were taken over, farms were stripped of their produce
and herds and flocks grazing in the valleys were seized by the
invaders before the Israelites could hide them in the mountains.
The numbers of the enemy were this time so great and so spread
out that the Israelites had little or no opportunity to go after
food. They were forced to remain in their mountain refuges on the
verge of starvation.
Being cooped up without a r regular source of food became an
increasingly more serious problem for Israel. Well-organized
groups sneaked down at night to seize vegetables or fruit or
meat. wherever it could be found, but this pursuit became
increasingly more dangerous as the enemy became more watchful,
and whole bands of Israelites lost their lives trying to get
something to eat.
By the time seven years had passed, Israel was in a
desperate, half-starved condition. Life in caves and hollowed-out
places had reduced a large part of the people to an unkempt state
verging on barbarism.
At this time a man whose name isn't mentioned in the
scriptures was chosen by God to remind the Israelites that they
had brought this one more calamity on themselves by their
disobedience to God. Some of the people had already been begging
God for forgiveness and help, and now thousands joined them.
Repentance Brings Divine Help
The Creator's mercy again was extended to Israel, though as
usual the people were required to act in helping themselves. It
began in the mountain town of Ophrah, about midway between the
site of Jericho and Mt. Ephraim in the territory of the
half-tribe of Manasseh. A relatively young man named Gideon was
one day threshing wheat in an out-of-the-way place near his
father's old winepress, long unused because the Israelites no
longer had grapes with which to make wine.
Although hidden from passers-by, Gideon commanded a clear
view down the mountain so that he could watch for approaching
Midianites. He was certain that he was alone as he hand-threshed
the few small but precious bundles of wheat he and a few servants
had courageously gleaned the night before in a field below.
Abruptly he was aware that a man was sitting in the shade of
an oak tree only a few yards away. Gideon was startled by the
strangely sudden presence of this man, who might well have been a
Midianite spy. He started to quietly gather up his wheat and
scamper for safety, but before he could sack it up and leave, the
man got up and sauntered toward Gideon, who was relieved to note
that he obviously wasn't a Midianite.
"I see that you are very careful not to let your enemies
know what you are doing," the stranger remarked. "Why do you, a
strong, courageous young man, seem to fear the Midianites so
much? Don't you know that your God is ready and willing to help
"I don't know who you are, sir," Gideon replied, "but if God
is willing to help us, why hasn't He rescued us from these
terrible conditions?" (Verses 11-13.)
"Because Israel has ignored My laws and our agreement," the
"YOUR laws?" Gideon queried, staring.
"MY laws," the stranger replied firmly and calmly.
Gideon was a bit shaken by this answer. He met the gaze of
the stranger, and realized that the brilliant eyes were those of
one far greater than a human being! He respectfully waited for
the stranger to continue.
Gideon's Divine Commission
"If you will act with faith in your Creator, you can help
rescue Israel from the Midianites, Gideon," the stranger told
Gideon could scarcely believe what he heard. Although he had
always refused to take part in the idolatrous practice of other
Israelites, he couldn't at the moment realize why he should be
chosen to help liberate Israel. He had never considered himself
an outstanding leader, though he had some reputation among the
Israelites of his area as being quite active in the welfare of
his people, even at the risk of his own life.
"How is it possible for me to help rescue Israel, my Lord?"
asked Gideon. "I am not wealthy and I am the youngest of my
father's sons. I do not command any fighting force. Why should I
be chosen to do something that many other men are more qualified
and better equipped to do?"
"Don't be concerned about such things," the stranger said.
"Your God will be your strength, and you shall strike down the
Midianites as easily as though their army consisted of only one
man!" (Judges 6:14-16.)
Gideon hardly knew what to do. He didn't feel that he could
accept such responsibility without knowing for certain that this
man was really divinity in human form. On the other hand, he
couldn't risk refusing a commission from God.
He asked the stranger to continue resting under the oak
tree, excused himself and hurried to his abode not far away to
quickly prepare a sacrificial offering of food. When he returned
he presented unleavened cakes, broth and a boiled young goat to
the stranger, who looked pleased at the sight of the food.
"Place the meat and cakes on this flat rock and pour the
broth over them," Gideon was told, and he did so.
The stranger then touched the offering with the end of his
staff. Abruptly fire shot up out of the rock, rapidly consuming
the food! When Gideon turned his startled gaze up from the
spectacle, the stranger had vanished! (Verses 17-21.)
GOD'S FANTASTIC ARMY!
WHEN Gideon saw fire spitting up out of the rock on which he had
placed food for his strange guest, the young Israelite was quite
startled. He stared in awe as the food was swiftly burned to
cinders after his guest had merely touched the rock with his
When he looked up he was even more startled to find that the
stranger had miraculously faded from view! (Judges 6:20-21.)
Idolatry Must Go!
Gideon realized then that God, and not some man, had
commanded him to lead Israel to freedom from the Midianites.
(Judges 6:11-16.) He fell face down by the flaming rock, fearful
that he might be struck dead because he had come so close to God.
"Do not be afraid," he heard the voice of God say. "You
shall not die because of this close contact with your Creator. Go
about your business, and tonight I shall speak to you again."
Gideon was so thankful and impressed that he built an altar
there and dedicated it to God. (Verses 22-24.) That night Gideon
slept by that spot to protect his wheat from the Midianites and
to await God. Before dawn God spoke to him.
"Gideon, you know now that it is indeed your Creator who has
chosen you to lead Israel," God said. "Do as I instruct you. The
people must cease their worshipping of idols before I free them.
Go out tomorrow night and tear down the altar near your father's
home dedicated to the sun-god called Baal."
In spite of all precautions by Gideon, someone had seen him
coming from the direction of the altar before dawn. When the
angry crowd heard of this, it moved to surround the home of his
father, Joash. "Bring out your son or tell us where he is!" the
people shouted. "He is guilty of tearing down our altar! We must
kill Gideon to avenge the sun goddess!"
Joash scowled at the crowd. He was irked at what Gideon
presumably had done, but he didn't want to see his son fall into
the hands of these wrathful people.
"Why must you demand anything for avenging Baal?" Joash
asked the crowd. "If Baal is a strong god, surely he will avenge
himself before another day has passed. If my son is the guilty
one, Baal will not let him live!" That is why Gideon was renamed
"Jerubbaal" -- which means "let Baal do his own pleading."
This advice quieted the mob. None of the worshippers of Baal
wanted to say that their pagan god lacked the ability to deal
with his enemies by himself. Gradually the crowd dispersed.
Heathen in Fear
Gideon went into hiding. Meanwhile word had leaked out to
the enemy that a champion was about to lead Israel to battle
against Midian. The Midianites perceived that some strong
underground movement was being organized, and they asked the
Amalekites and other Arab tribes to come and stand with them
Soon thousands upon thousands of soldiers mounted on camels
moved into the valley of Jezreel, the place where King Jabin's
forces had met miserable defeat several years previously.
Gideon blew a trumpet to assemble the people of Abiezer and
sent messengers to the tribes of Manasseh, Asher and Naphtali to
ask for men to come and fight against the Midianites. By night
thousands of men from these tribes quietly moved into the
mountain strongholds close to where Gideon was hiding. (Judges
When Gideon realized how many men were subject to his
command, he began to wonder if he could successfully fulfill the
tremendous task he had been given. Troubled and uncertain, he
went to a private place to pray to God.
"I need assurance from you," Gideon prayed. "Please show me
again that I am the one you have chosen to lead Israel against
Midian. Tonight I shall spread a fleece of wool on the ground at
the threshing floor. Tomorrow morning, if the wool is wet with
dew and the ground and grass all around are dry, then I shall
know for certain that you have picked me to help save Israel."
Early next morning Gideon hurried out to examine the fleece.
It was heavy with dew. In fact, Gideon took it up and squeezed
out enough water to fill a good-sized bowl. At the same time he
could find no sign of moisture on the ground or grass nearby.
He was encouraged by this sign. But the more he thought
about it, the more he reasoned that it was possible that the wool
had naturally attracted more moisture than the grass would, and
he decided to ask God for one more sign. Probably he didn't
realize how much he was testing God's patience by this continuing
doubt. That he was aware that he was carrying matters a bit too
far, however, was evidenced in the manner in which he made his
"I trust you won't be angry if I ask for one more sign,"
Gideon said to God. "Tonight I shall place the fleece on the
ground again. If in the morning only the fleece is dry and the
ground and grass around it are wet with dew, then I shall know
without a doubt that you have chosen me to lead the Israelite
soldiers against our enemies."
Next morning Gideon found that there was an exceptionally
heavy dew on the grass and shrubs all around. Even the ground was
soft with moisture. But when he picked the fleece up off the wet
ground he discovered that it was completely dry! (Judges
Gideon no longer had any room for doubt. His confidence
lifted. Next morning he ordered all the Israelite soldiers to
proceed into the valley of Jezreel. They were poorly armed, and
many of them feared to enter the valley in the daytime, what with
all the Midianites and their allies camped at the north side of
the valley! They went nevertheless, and camped that night on the
south side of the valley at the slopes of Mt. Gilboa. When they
were numbered and organized into military units, it was found
that there were thirty-two thousand of them.
God was ready to teach Gideon a much-needed lesson in faith.
Too Many Israelite Soldiers!
That many men would seem to have constituted a fair fighting
force for those days. But when a report came by spies that the
Midianite soldiers and their allies numbered over a hundred
thousand, a great part of the Israelites feared it would be
suicide to pit themselves against such overwhelming numbers.
God had a quite different opinion. He pointed out to Gideon
that there were TOO MANY Israelite soldiers! He could better show
His deliverance with fewer men in His way!
"If Israel should conquer the enemy with all the men who are
gathered here now," God explained to Gideon, "then the people
will brag of winning by greater strength, though with lesser
numbers. If a much smaller number of Israelites is involved in a
victory, then the people will have to admit, as will their
enemies, that Israel's God alone made victory possible. Therefore
reduce the number of your men by proclaiming to them that any who
fear to battle the Midianites are free to leave this place. Thus
you will also get rid of men who are fearful of failure."
Gideon sent officers to all his men to tell them that they
could leave if they wished. To his great surprise and
disappointment twenty-two thousand of them withdrew from the
army. This left Gideon with only ten thousand men. That meant one
under-trained Israelite soldier for at least thirteen
battle-trained enemy soldiers. (Judges 7:1 -3.)
At the very time Gideon was feeling dismayed because his
army had been so reduced, God told him that it was still too
"You must trim your men down to the very best soldiers," God
said to him. "Take them all to the nearest stream to drink. The
manner in which they drink will determine how many men you shall
take to overcome the Midianites and their confederates. I will
tell you later which to choose."
Gideon led his ten thousand men to the spring and pool at
the foot of Mt. Gilboa. When they reached the stream flowing from
the pool, he gave orders for them to stop and drink. Although the
men believed that they were going to meet the enemy, most of them
dropped their weapons, got down on their hands and knees and put
their lips to the water.
Those who tried to be alert in the event of a surprise
attack by the enemy from a nearby ridge retained their weapons,
quickly stooped down to scoop up the water with their free hands
and to lap it up from their cupped palms. Then God told Gideon to
place those who kneeled down on one side and those who drank from
their hands on the other. The result was surprising!
Most of his ten thousand men had fallen down on their hands
and knees to drink. Only three hundred scooped up water with
their hands! (Judges 7:4-6.)
God's Shocking Promise
After all had returned to camp, God informed Gideon that by
those three hundred men, He would deliver the enemy to Israel!
All the other soldiers -- nearly ten thousand -- should be
dismissed! God knew that it was difficult for Gideon to
understand how a mere three hundred men could overcome such a
great multitude. (Judges 7:7-8; Zechariah 4:6.)
"I want you to know that the Midianites, in spite of their
numbers, are afraid of Me," God told Gideon. "Go over to their
camp after dark and hear for yourself what the average Midianite
soldier thinks. I will protect you, but if you are too big a
coward to go alone, take your right-hand man, Phurah. When you
learn of the state of mind of the enemy, you will be encouraged."
So that night Gideon went with Phurah, his servant, across the
plain of Jezreel to the camp of the Midianites. (Judges 7:9-11.)
It was so late that most of the guards were within their
tents on the borders of the camp, and in the moonless darkness it
wasn't difficult for the two Israelites to silently creep past
the outer tents. Once within the camp, they appeared in the faint
light of the low fires like any other pair of Arabs. No one
In passing one of the tents, their attention was attracted
to a conversation within by two Midianite soldiers.
"I had a strange dream last night," they overheard one of
the men remark. "I dreamed that a huge loaf of barley bread came
tumbling down off that mountain across the valley. It rolled all
the way over the plain and crashed into one of our tents with
such force that it tore the tent to shreds and scattered it in
all directions! Could such a dream have any meaning for us?"
"Your dream was an evil omen!" the other soldier exclaimed
fearfully. "It meant that Gideon, the Israelite who is rumored to
be a magically strong leader through the power of the God of
Israel, will attack us with his men and wipe us out. If you ask
me, we would be wise to get out of here right away, and I know
most of our men feel the same way about it." (Judges 7:12-14.)
Gideon didn't stay to hear more. Now he was thoroughly
convinced that God would keep His promise to destroy the
invaders. He returned with his servant to Mt. Gilboa, very
ashamed of having doubted, and thanked God for the assurance he
had received. Now that Gideon had repented of his weak faith, God
could use him.
The men rested next day. Well after dark the tiny band set
out with Gideon to cross the valley to where the Midianites were
camped. They arrived in the early hours of the morning, long
before dawn. According to God's instructions, Gideon divided the
men into three groups. They silently spread out around the camp,
but instead of carrying weapons in their hands, each man carried
a trumpet and a tall pitcher! (Verses 15-16.)
GOD FIGHTS ISRAEL'S BATTLES!
IN THE deep darkness before dawn Gideon's three hundred men
divided into three groups. Silently they spread themselves around
the sprawling camp of the Midianites. Instead of weapons, the men
had trumpets of rams' horns in their right hands and, in their
left, earthen pitchers. Each man had a torch hidden in his
Who Determines Outcome of Wars?
As soon as his men were in place, Gideon blew lustily on his
trumpet made from a ram's horn. That was the signal for all the
men to do likewise on their horns. Then Gideon broke his pitcher
and held his torch aloft for all to see. Quickly the three
hundred men also broke their earthen pitchers. Light was suddenly
revealed from three hundred blazing torches! (Judges 7:16-20.)
The abrupt light and noise from all directions were
confusingly startling to the Midianites. Even the guards were
caught by surprise. In the darkness it seemed that a vast army
was completely surrounding them. To add to their alarm, a
multitude of shouting voices came from all around.
"THE SWORD OF THE LORD AND OF GIDEON!" were the loud words
that rang over the plain from Gideon's men.
Believing that incredible numbers of armed Israelites were
closing in all about them, the Midianites rushed excitedly out of
their tents. Campfires were out or were very low. It was so dark
that in their frenzy the men collided with each other. Thinking
that the Israelites had rushed in among them, they attacked one
another. Within the next few minutes thousands of Midianites died
by the hands of their own brothers. God has intervened foe
A little later, when it was evident that the Midianites, in
their panic, were racing eastward in the direction of their
homeland, Gideon thought of a way to make matters much worse for
the enemy. Abandoned camels were wandering about. Some of them
were caught. Gideon sent messengers on these mounts to various
parts of the land occupied by the Ephraimites to tell the men of
that tribe what had happened, and that the Midianites could
possibly be cut off from escaping over the Jordan if the
Ephraimites would move up quickly to meet them.
At the same time Gideon sent a messenger to the thousands of
men he had dismissed from battle duty only a few hours before,
informing f them that the enemy was fleeing to the east, and that
the Israelites could be of great service by pursuing them.
The messengers were instructed to rejoin Gideon as soon as
their missions were accomplished.
It was dawn before the routed Midianites could reach the
Jordan River. When finally it was possible for them to clearly
see at a distance, they learned for a fact what they had only
imagined at first -- that thousands of Israelites were pursuing
them. They pressed on at increased speed along the west bank of
the river, hoping for a shallow spot where they could quickly
cross to the other side.
By then Gideon's messengers had reached the Ephraimites, who
responded by hastily assembling many armed men and sending them
off to the east to meet the oncoming enemy.
Later, as the weary Midianites plodded fearfully along the
Jordan, still anxiously seeking a place to ford it, they were
shocked to see a horde of men guarding every possible fording
It was at this point that Gideon and his men, having long
since exchanged their trumpets and torches for swords, knives and
spears, arrived in time to chase the Midianites into the river.
In this fray two high-ranking Midianite generals had already been
slain. Their heads were later -- on the other side of the Jordan
-- brought to Gideon as tokens of victory. (Judges 7:25.)
Temporary Escape for a Few
"We haven't completely won the battle yet!" Gideon shouted
to the Israelites. "A great part of the enemy has eluded us. We
can't let them go free. I'm not asking all of you to go after
them, because we don't have the food to sustain you. But my three
hundred chosen men and I will cross the Jordan to pursue the
fleeing enemy troops."
It wasn't long before Gideon and his picked soldiers were on
the east bank of the river and in pursuit of the Midianites, who
were fleeing down the Jordan valley. The enemy's trail wasn't
difficult to find in the sands and soft soil. But sand made
travel more difficult, and Gideon's men had walked and trotted
many miles, and they were becoming weary from lack of food and
rest. (Judges 8:4.)
They were still in Israelite territory, the region east of
the Jordan that had been given to the tribe of Gad. When, several
miles southward, they sighted the town of Succoth to the right of
their route of travel, Gideon was greatly relieved.
"Don't be discouraged, men!" Gideon called out. "Our
Israelite brothers in the town ahead should be able to give us
enough food to restore our strength!"
When they reached the town, people scurried into their homes
as though afraid of them. Hoping to allay their fears, Gideon
stood on the main street and loudly announced the identity of his
men and himself. He told the townspeople what had happened, why
they were passing through and that they were in desperate need of
food. (Verse 5.)
One by one doors opened and the chief men of the city slowly
sauntered out to confront them.
"About two hours ago thousands of Midianites passed to the
north of us on their way eastward," one of the leaders of Succoth
spoke up. "Obviously you have only two or three hundred men. Do
you expect us to believe you have wiped out most of the Midianite
army as you claim, and that those thousands who passed by are
actually fleeing from you? Do you take us for fools, that we
should believe that your puny little group is actually pursuing
an army of thousands? Do you expect us to risk our lives by
giving food to reckless hot-heads while the Midianites are still
in control of the country?" What contempt for God's sure promise!
(Leviticus 26:3, 8.)
The grim expressions of the onlookers turned to sneers. Some
of the people laughed and made taunting remarks.
"We don't expect you to have faith in us," Gideon answered.
"But you should trust the God who has promised to deliver us from
oppression! We're just asking you, as brother Israelites, to give
us enough food so that we'll be able to gain strength to move
"Indeed you will move on!" another one of the leading
citizens shouted angrily. "For all we know, you are only a band
of beggars trying to wheedle food! Get out!"
After the splendid cooperation he had received from the
other tribes, Gideon was shocked by this lack of brotherly
concern and faith in God.
"You refuse to help the people of your own nation who are
risking their lives struggling for your freedom. This is defiance
of God -- and all because you fear what the Midianites might do
to you instead of fearing God!" Gideon retorted. "Your greater
fear should be of the punishment you'll receive from God at our
hands because of your selfishness, when we return victorious!"
There were smirks and scowls on the faces of onlookers as
Gideon's little army wearily moved on to the northeast up the
Jabbok River valley to pick up the trail of the enemy. A few
miles farther brought them to the town of Penuel, where there was
a somewhat unusual stone tower that had long ago been built by
the Moabites as a place for observation and as a fortress. The
Gadites who lived there were quite proud that theirs was the only
town in the territory with such a tower.
Gideon summoned the leaders of the town, related his
situation to them and made a desperate plea for food for his men.
Another Town Rebels
"Don't ask us to believe that you intend to attack and
defeat thousands of fierce desert soldiers with your miserably
small group," the head man of the town sneered at Gideon. "We
have enough trouble finding food for ourselves without foolishly
passing it out to any heedless band of would-be deliverers who
come this way with wild schemes!"
"You mean you refuse to give us any help -- even any stale
bread or scraps you may have?" Gideon asked.
Their answer was only a cold, emotionless stare.
"We'll be back this way after we have taken care of the
Midianites," Gideon angrily told the Gadites gathered about him.
"Then you will lose that tower you are so proud of. What's more,
you are very likely to lose your lives!" (Judges 8:8-9.)
As at Succoth, Gideon and his men wearily departed amid
hostile expressions and unfriendly murmurs from brother
Israelites who showed nothing but derision as they viewed this
small band in pursuit of an enemy fifty times as great in
Gideon and his men were exceedingly tired when they reached
a refreshing mountain stream flowing southward into the Jabbok
River. There they could have concentrated their efforts and their
remaining strength on hunting birds and animals for desperately
needed food. But precious time would have been consumed in
searching and cooking, and Gideon preferred to keep moving.
It was dusk when the band exhaustedly topped a rise to look
down into a ravine. What the men saw caused all of them to almost
forget their hunger and weariness. Below them, camped for the
night in supposed safety among their own people, were the fifteen
thousand Midianites they were seeking! Was the ninety-mile chase
"Keep out of sight!" Gideon commanded his three hundred
weary, hungry, but determined men. "We'll stay here till dark,
God Fights Another Battle
There was still enough light for the Israelites to spot the
positions of the Midianite sentries. Later, when Gideon and his
men silently moved down into the ravine from all directions, the
sentries fell noiseless prey. God had again intervened on behalf
of the greatly outnumbered Israelites. Most of the rest of the
Midianites were already deep in slumber after their exhausting
day. Suddenly they were caught completely by surprise when the
Israelites fell upon them. Hundreds died as they slept. The
others, unnerved by the fearful events of the past hours, were in
no condition to defend themselves.
Strengthened by God, Gideon and his men rushed in to slay
most of the Midianites while they darted around in a state of
fear and confusion. Some of the enemy escaped for the third time
in recent hours. Among them were two Midianite kings whom Gideon
had especially hoped to capture. Their names were Zebah and
Zalmunna. The reason Gideon wanted them was that for the past
seven years they had led very destructive and murderous forays
Mounted on camels, these two men rode off in the dark to the
east in the direction of their native land. They didn't get too
far, however. The east side of the ravine was steep and sandy.
They were so long getting toward the top that the Israelites
overtook them and seized them alive. Gideon felt elated in being
able to bring them back westward as prisoners, though he was more
thankful that God had miraculously helped his weary men conquer
the fifteen thousand fleeing Midianites. (Judges 8:11-12.)
The destruction of the Midianites having been accomplished,
Gideon and his men were hungrier and wearier than ever. Happily,
small amounts of dried dates, dried figs and dried meat were
found in many Midianite knapsacks and saddlebags. It all added up
to more than enough food to satisfy the Israelites for the time
being and to sustain them on their return journey.
Besides food, Gideon's men found many valuables belonging to
the enemy. Desert men of that time often wore golden earrings,
and thousands of earrings were taken from the corpses. There were
other costly metal trinkets among their possessions, as well as
valuable weapons, leather, blankets and robes. These things were
loaded on camels for the return to the Mt. Ephraim area.
The refreshed Israelites then set out during the early night
toward the west. (Judges 8:13.) The two Midianite kings were
strapped to their own richly bedecked camels.
When they arrived back at the town of Penuel, the people
came out to jeer. Gideon had given them the impression that he
and his men would return after being victorious over the
Midianites, but the fact that they returned so soon, and with
only a few camels and two prisoners, indicated to the Gadites
that Gideon had far from accomplished what he had said he would
do. The Gadites refused to believe that, by a miracle from God,
three hundred men had slain so great a number of the enemy, as
Gideon claimed, though the women and children of Penuel were
later to find out that it was true.
"The enemy must have said something to offend you that you
should return so soon!" one man yelled at them.
"They were pretty hungry when they last went through here!"
another one shouted. "Maybe they ate all those Midianites!"
"They still look hungry!" someone else quipped. "Now we know
how they're going to wreck our tower! They're going to eat it!"
There were many more insults heaped on Gideon and his men.
Gideon was filled with disgust. He might have passed through
Penuel without chastising these rebellious people who had refused
to aid a chosen servant of God in the carrying out of a very
important mission. But not now! Rebellion is as bad as
witchcraft. (I Samuel 15:23.)
Knowing these Gadites had not repented of their rebellion,
Gideon signaled his men to action. By now they were very near the
tower Gideon had said he would destroy. About two hundred of
Gideon's men swarmed toward it. Within minutes, using swords to
hack beams, and beams to pry loose the wall stones, they leveled
the tower the Gadites looked on with such pride.
At first the men of the town could scarcely believe what was
happening. Then they rushed to arm themselves for attack, but by
this time it was too late. These wicked Israelites were no
different from Midianites. Gideon's men fell on them, and the men
of Penuel, according to God's will, lost their lives all because
of their willful rebellion against the government God had
established for their good. (Judges 8:17.)
GIDEON'S TROUBLED PEACE
FROM the town of Penuel, Gideon and his men moved homeward with
the spoils from the Midianites, including the two Midianite kings
as prisoners. On the outskirts of the town of Succoth they
captured a young man from whom they learned the names of
seventy-seven of Succoth's leading men, the ones who had refused
food to Gideon and his men when they were trailing the
Midianites. (Judges 8:11-14.)
"Seek out from the town all the men whose names this fellow
has written down and bring them to the main street," Gideon told
Some Were Repentant
Although the adult males of the town were considerable in
number, they were cowed by the quick and decisive action of
Gideon's men. The leaders were quickly rounded up and brought to
the town center.
"You refused us food because you were faithless. You were
more afraid of what the Midianites might do to you than what God
might do to you for rebelling against Him," Gideon reminded the
sullen Gadites. "You refused to believe that God would make it
possible for a small number of us to overcome a much greater
number of heathens. You will remember that I told you that you
should respect and help us, as God's servants, rather than fear
the enemy. Now look upon the two kings of the Midianites who were
actually fleeing before us with their thousands of troops when we
wearily passed through here. We slew all their men, but spared
these two men to bring back as evidence we had defeated their
army." (Judges 8:15.)
The Gadites stared in amazement at Zebah and Zalmunna. It
was plain that they didn't wish to believe what they could
plainly see to be true.
Gideon continued: "You are going to suffer, according to
God's will, for your miserable attitude toward your Israelite
A few of Gideon's men cut limbs from thorny bushes and
briers nearby. Then the seventy-seven Gadites, struggling and
loudly and angrily protesting, were bound and forced to the
ground, face down. They were then chastised with those thorny
bush limbs and briers as Gideon had promised. (Verses 7,16.)
The rest of the people of Succoth, gathered not far away,
watched in fear and trembling, regretful that their city had so
stubbornly and hatefully refused food to their Israelite
brothers, and thankful to God that only the leaders had to be
punished for their city's shameful misconduct.
When the punishment was finished, it was a repentant,
remorseful and silent group that got up from the ground as soon
as their bonds were cut. They limped away to their homes,
thankful that they had come to their senses and that their
punishment wasn't as severe as that of the men of Penuel.
God's Swift Justice
Gideon and his group moved on to the west, crossed the
Jordan River and entered the central part of their country. There
Zebah and Zalmunna were brought to trial as the two chief leaders
of the Midianite oppression of Israel in recent years.
In the course of the questioning, Zebah and Zalmunna
admitted they had murdered several of Gideon's brothers.
"If you had spared my brothers then, I would spare you now,"
Gideon told them. "Since you unmercifully put to death many
Israelites, including my blood brothers, you can hardly expect to
escape the death penalty for murder." (Verses 18-19.)
There was a rule among the Israelites that the first-born
male of a family should be the one to execute anyone who murdered
any of his kin. Gideon was the youngest son of his parents
(Judges 6:15), and therefore he felt that it wasn't his place to
personally execute the two Midianite kings, although their fate
was more than a family matter.
Gideon's oldest son, Jether, was only a lad in his teens,
but according to Israelite procedure, he was the proper one to
avenge the deaths of his uncles. Jether was present at the trial,
and like all young Israelite men of that time, he was armed to
protect himself from attack by the enemy.
"Come here, my son," Gideon said to Jether. "It is your duty
and honor to draw your sword and do away with these two pagan
Young Jether was startled by his father's decree. He
understood why his father spoke to him as he did, and he had been
taught that God had commanded Israel to use the sword to slay or
drive out all enemies from Canaan. But he had never executed a
man. His boyish sensitivity in such a situation was far greater
than any desire to try to be a national hero.
"I -- I can't kill these men!" Jether finally spoke out.
Gideon wasn't disappointed in his son's reaction. He
understood the feelings of a friendly young man who had no desire
to execute criminals. Gideon knew that it was up to him to do
what his son couldn't do, but even before he could step forward
to perform the wretched task, Zebah and Zalmunna fearfully called
out for him to deal with them and put them to instant death.
"A Soft Answer Turneth Away Wrath"
After the bodies of the two Midianite kings had been hauled
away and their camels stripped of their valuable trappings, the
Israelites felt that the struggle with their ancient eastern
enemy was officially over. Gideon realized, however, that the
struggle to keep the people from idolatry was never over, and he
continued his efforts against pagan worship.
Just when he was feeling thankful that matters were going
especially well, elders of the tribe of Ephraim came to him to
angrily ask why Ephraimite soldiers hadn't been asked to join in
the first encounter with the Midianites.
Gideon could have answered in his defense that all the
people were aware of the situation, and that the soldiers of
Ephraim could have volunteered. He also could have reminded them
that he was carrying out explicit orders from God. Instead, he
chose to soothe their offended feelings with a soft answer as God
commands His servants to do. (Proverbs 15:1.)
"If you feel that your tribe didn't have the opportunity to
do enough in this campaign," he told them, "then I must remind
you that your soldiers were the ones who showed up just in time
to defeat most of the fleeing Midianites at the Jordan River.
Without your men there, what would we have done? It was there
that God delivered into the hands of your soldiers the two mighty
Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb. This alone was a great
accomplishment compared to what my men and I did!"
Before Gideon had finished talking, the attitude of the
elders of Ephraim went through a great change. Obviously they
wanted most of the credit for victory to go to their tribe. When
they heard Gideon praising their soldiers, they were quite
pleased, and departed in a very friendly mood. (Judges 8:1-3.)
A Stumbling block LOOKS Innocent
Not long after that, a great crowd of Israelites gathered
before Gideon's home. When Gideon went out to learn why so many
were there, there were loud cheers.
"Because you have saved us from the Midianites," a spokesman
for the crowd shouted, "we have come to ask you to be our king!
We think you should rule Israel, and that the kingship should
remain in your family down through the generations!"
Loud cheering broke forth again, finally to subside after
Gideon held up his hands for silence.
"I am not the one to rule over you!" Gideon exclaimed to the
crowd. "Neither is my son nor his son. If I am chosen by God to
be your leader, so be it. But your RULER is God!" (Judges
There was another burst of cheers. Gideon continued speaking.
"I have a request. Many golden earrings were recently taken
from slain Midianites. Unless those who possess them prefer to
keep them, I ask that they be contributed for making ornaments by
which we will be reminded of God's delivering us from the
"We will willingly give them!" several Israelite soldiers
Someone spread out a coat on the ground, and hundreds of men
filed by, in the next few hours, to drop their booty on it. By
the time the last trinket had been given, there were thousands of
dollars worth of gold on the coat.
Later, Gideon hired men to melt the gold down and re-shape
it into a costly vestment to be used and displayed by him and
future leaders of Israel as a symbol of their office as judge.
Unfortunately, this thing came to be revered so highly by the
people that it eventually became an object of idolatrous worship.
Only Forty Years ...
For the next forty years, as long as Gideon was their leader
and law-enforcer (referred to in the Scriptures as a judge), most
of the Israelites enjoyed the blessings of peace and prosperity.
(Verses 28-29.) Since most people don't know how to wisely use
peace and prosperity, such a period can be dangerous. During that
time Gideon had several wives. The practice of having more than
one wife was tolerated in those times, especially by men who
could afford to feed many children. But God punished those who
practiced polygamy, though sometimes that punishment befell the
children. The Bible doesn't state how many children Gideon had,
though it speaks of his having at least seventy-two sons. (Judges
As soon as Gideon died, many Israelites began to abuse their
prosperity and turn to idleness and ease. They immediately began
to fall away from worshipping God and turn again toward the
worship of Baal and Easter, the pagans' chief god and goddess.
That false religion had been developed into different names and
forms among various nations since the ancient times of Nimrod and
his motherwife Semiramis. Soon most of the nation had lost
respect for what Gideon had accomplished and what God commanded.
It was evident that Israel was once more heading for a downfall,
this time to plunge into the misery of civil strife. (Judges
An Evil Man Lusts for Political Power
Abimelech, one of Gideon's sons, was very desirous of being
king of Israel. He started his ambitious scheme by going to his
mother's family in Shechem to persuade them that one of Gideon's
sons should reign over the nation.
"Someone has to determine which of my father's sons should
rule," he told his relatives. "Now would you prefer about seventy
of them to reign over you, or would you choose just one? I am of
your flesh and bone, so why should you prefer anyone except me?"
Abimelech's relatives quickly perceived the advantages of
having a king from their family. They launched a campaign in and
around Shechem to promote the idea of how worthwhile it would be
to have a leader of Israel from Shechem, so that their city might
be established as the capital of the nation.
Shechem had lately become one of the cities where the
worship of Baal was most active. Some of the contributions to
Baal were turned over to Abimelech, who used the money to buy the
services of the kind of evil men who would do anything for a
price. (Verses 3-4.)
Appalling Treachery Afoot
Abimelech's next move was shockingly cold-blooded and
barbarous, proving that he would stop at nothing to gain what he
wanted. He led his hired band of cut-throats to his father's home
in Ophrah, about seven miles northwest, where Gideon's other sons
were gathered. The hired hoodlums surprised the sons, and managed
to overcome them and tie them up. At this point Abimelech arrived
on the scene. He carefully examined and counted all the bound
"There should be seventy-one here!" he barked at the leader
of the gang he had hired. "You have bound only seventy!"
"We took every man we found in this house," the leader
explained. "We saw no one else."
"I wanted you to get ALL of them!" Abimelech snapped. "But
go ahead with the job. Use that large stone in the back court."
The stone to which Abimelech referred was a part of the
architecture in the backyard, but within the next few minutes it
became a gruesome chopping block! (See Judges 9.)
THE FIRE THAT FAILED!
AFTER GIDEON was dead and Israel had again started slipping into
idolatry, one of Gideon's many sons schemed to become king of
Israel. He was Abimelech, an overly ambitious young man who went
to violent extremes to push himself into power.
One of his first moves was to pay a band of vicious
characters to capture his seventy-one brothers and line them up
at a chopping block. One of the brothers escaped, but all the
others were beheaded. (Judges 9:1 -5.)
As soon as the dreadful act was finished, the murderers
fled, careful to leave no evidence as to who had committed the
Gideon's youngest son, Jotham, was the one who had escaped
being murdered. He had hidden himself when the assassins had
first appeared, but when he heard later what had happened, he
almost wished he hadn't. He left Ophrah right after that,
realizing that Abimelech's men would be looking for him for a
While the search for Jotham was going on, Abimelech wasn't
too worried about him. He felt that the youngest son would fear
to make any move against him. He went ahead with his plans to
become ruler of Israel by obtaining the backing of influential
men, families and priests of Baal in Shechem, which resulted in a
few days in a celebration and a ceremony in which Abimelech was
declared king of Israel. (Verse 6.)
When Jotham learned of this he was quite angry. Even though
a son of Gideon, who had been Israel's leader, he didn't yearn to
become Israel's king. But he wanted to expose his half-brother
for the murderous, power-seeking politician he was, and to help
promote in Israel the conduct his father had enforced and
practiced against pagan worship.
By night Jotham went up Mt. Gerizim, which towered close
above Shechem. Next morning, when the people were up and about,
he appeared on the top to call down to them. This wasn't such a
tremendous feat as one might imagine, inasmuch as Joshua had
successfully addressed hundreds of thousands of people in that
same area. Mt. Ebal was close by to the north, and between the
two peaks a strong voice could clearly be heard over an unusually
large expanse. (Joshua 8:30-35.)
Jotham couldn't have chosen a better place to talk to so
many people at the same time and say what he had to say before
Abimelech's hired murderers could get to him. It isn't known how
many people lived in and around Shechem at the time, but there
must have been at least a few thousand residents, including
people from the neighboring villages and countryside who were
gathered at Shechem for a festival.
"Listen to me, men of Shechem!" Jotham shouted down to them.
"You are headed for misery and trouble. But if you will hear what
I have to say, and move to correct matters, God will help you!"
Jotham's Amazing Prophecy
"Let me tell you a story!" he called down. (Judges 9:6-7.)
The people listened with tense excitement.
"There was a time when all the trees decided that they
should have some kind of tree rule over them. They agreed that
the olive tree was best fitted as a leader, so they asked the
olive tree to be king. The olive tree refused, saying, 'I honor
God and man by the oil I produce. Why should I forsake my
outstanding service even to be king?'
"Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'Be our king.' But the
fig tree answered, 'Why should I give up producing my special
sweetness and flavor just to be promoted over all other trees?'
"The trees next asked the grape vine to rule over them. The
grape vine replied, 'I cannot be your king. It would mean that I
would have to stop yielding the juice from which comes the wine
to cheer God and man.'
"The trees finally turned to the bramble to ask it to be
their king. The thorny bush answered quite differently. 'If you
really want me to be your king,' it said, 'then leave all matters
entirely up to me. If you fail to put your trust in me or
disagree with what I want to do, I shall spew out fire to burn up
everything, even the cedars on the snow-clad peaks of mount
Lebanon!'" (Judges 9:8-15.)
People below who listened to Jotham realized that when he
spoke of the bramble he was referring to Abimelech, and that when
he mentioned the cedars of Lebanon he was referring to the elders
and chiefs of Israel.
"If you people think you have done the best thing for Israel
in making Abimelech your leader," Jotham continued, "and you
really believe that your murder of my seventy brothers was a
fitting tribute to Gideon my father, who risked his life for you,
then be happy with Abimelech and let Abimelech be happy with you!
"On the other hand, if you have allowed a scoundrel and a
murderer to become your king, Abimelech will soon have his
differences with you people who have helped him into power. You
will eventually destroy him. But he will also destroy you!"
Momentary Sorrow but not Repentance
Many of the people who listened below were greatly impressed
by what Jotham had to say. Some of them were ashamed that they
had not united to protest Abimelech's being made their leader,
but most of them did not repent of their part in Abimelech's
treachery. They waited to hear what more Jotham had to say, but
no more words came down to them. God's warning to them was
finished. They had no more excuse for remaining on Abimelech's
As Jotham finished speaking, he sighted men creeping toward
him around the shoulders of the mountain. He realized that they
had been sent to take his life, so that no son of Gideon could
possibly be left to be set up as leader of Israel in opposition
to Abimelech. Before the assassins had time to reach him, Jotham
Jotham's pursuers were weary and winded from their hurried
ascent of Mt. Gerizim, and when Gideon's son suddenly bolted down
the side of the mountain opposite the one facing Shechem, they
were unable to catch their intended victim.
By the time he reached the base of the mountain, Jotham was
out of sight of his pursuers. He sprinted toward the south,
carefully keeping out of sight in the gullies and defiles until
he was well out of the region of Shechem. After traveling about
twenty miles, he succeeded in reaching safety in the town of
Beer, about eight miles north of Jerusalem. (Verse 21.)
How God's Law Operates
Perhaps Jotham's efforts to remind the local Israelites that
they were headed for trouble weren't entirely wasted. Abimelech
was leader of the northern Israelites around Shechem and Arumah
for three years, but at the end of that time a feeling of dislike
and suspicion developed between him and many Israelites,
especially those in the Shechem area. Former partners in murder
now became enemies. This was the natural result of building a
government on murderous plots, evil schemes and unholy religious
propositions. Even so, God stepped in to cause differences to
develop more quickly in order that Abimelech and his hired
murderers and fellow conspirators might come to faster justice.
Abimelech probably was aware of God's laws, but he wasn't
convinced that the dreadful penalty for breaking them was certain
to fall on him. (Romans 15:4; II Timothy 3:16.)
Some of the same men who had helped Abimelech become a ruler
hired men to watch for him and his friends as they traveled about
in the more wild, mountainous regions around Arumah and Shechem
in upper Canaan. They hoped to assassinate him in some
out-of-the-way spot, but their attempts were unsuccessful because
he had been told of the plan.
All that was accomplished was the injuring and robbing of
many other people who were moving through lonely areas. (Judges
Meanwhile, a Canaanite named Gaal, who wished to see the
Israelite driven out, organized a band of soldiers and went to
Shechem to suggest to Abimelech's enemies that they band together
against their leader. Gaal volunteered to head the movement.
Abimelech wasn't in Shechem at the time, so many of the men
of Shechem felt free to join Gaal. There was a great celebration
in the temple of Baal. There, inflamed by much drinking of wine,
Gaal loudly announced that the Israelites should turn to the
Canaanite leaders if they wished to be free of Abimelech, an
Israelite, and that he, Gaal, would remove Abimelech from power
if only the people would back him up with fighting men.
Political Confusion Worsens
Many men in Shechem rallied to join Gaal. He was so
encouraged that he became certain he could lead a revolution
without any danger of failure. He went so far as to send
messengers to challenge Abimelech to return to Shechem and fight
for the right to be ruler. (Judges 9:26-29.)
This development troubled Zebul, governor of Shechem and one
of Abimelech's right-handmen. He knew where Abimelech was, and
sent a swift messenger to him to warn that Gaal had taken over
the city and was fortifying it. He suggested that Abimelech
quietly bring in an army by night, hide in nearby fields and then
wait to see what Gaal would do.
That night Abimelech quietly moved his army into the
vicinity of Shechem, concealing it in four companies in gullies
and behind hills and rocks.
Next morning Gaal strode out through the city's main gate
with some of his men. Zebul accompanied them.
"The mighty Abimelech must have heard of my challenge long
before this, but I don't see any sign of him," Gaal loudly
remarked in a sneering tone. "Perhaps he decided to lead the
Israelites back into Egypt!"
Gaal's men laughed at this comment. Zebul smiled, too, but
not because of the remark. He was aware that Abimelech's troops
were all around. Suddenly Gaal squinted his eyes as though trying
to make out something in the distance.
"Look!" he barked, pointing. "Do I see people moving down
from the tops of those hills?"
"People?" Zebul echoed. "Aren't you looking at just shadows
Gaal hardly heard what Zebul said, so engrossed was he in
staring in other directions. (Judges 9:30-36.)
"Those are people," he exclaimed. "They're coming toward us
through the valley and across the plain! We're surrounded!"
"How true!" Zebul remarked with a grim smile. "Now let's see
how you'll go about destroying Abimelech as you boasted you would
do! And you'll have to hurry, or the opportunity -- if any --
will soon be gone!
"You seem pleased!" Gaal barked angrily at Zebul. "Probably
you've had something to do with this!"
One of his men saw him move threateningly toward the
governor, and quickly stepped up to ask what the trouble was.
"Look around you!" Gaal snapped. "We're about to be attacked, and
for some reason Zebul seems to be happy about it!"
The man looked about, but he saw no attackers because the
approaching soldiers had moved behind a hill in one direction and
had marched out of sight into a depression in the plain in the
"I see no attackers," he said to Gaal.
Gaal stared quickly about, perplexed that no one was in
sight. He glanced uneasily at Zebul, then went back to scanning
the horizon. "I guess you were right about shadows and rocks," he
"The heat makes them look as though they're moving. But why
did you say what you did about my boasting that I would destroy
"If you have the courage to stand up to Abimelech," Zebul
answered, "then you're entitled to boast."
Gaal didn't know whether he was being complimented or
insulted, but that wasn't his concern at the moment. He continued
blinking at the horizon and hoped that somehow Abimelech would
never show up to give him any trouble. His fleeting belief that
he had been surrounded had worn the sharp edge off his desire to
fight with the man he had challenged to battle. Besides, he had
lost a little confidence in himself because of what he thought he
"If Abimelech comes," Gaal remarked, "I'll meet him in a
fair fight in the open, but there is no point standing here all
day in the hot sun waiting for something that perhaps won't
happen. I'm going back inside the gates."
"If Abimelech should suddenly show up and catch you in the
city, we could be besieged for weeks," Zebul observed.
"If he accepts my challenge, we'll see him long before he
gets here," Gaal answered.
"Then you'd better start looking!" Zebul pointedly
Gaal glanced around. To his sudden surprise and dismay, he
saw men pouring out from behind a nearby hill and more swarming
up from a depression in the plain. There was no doubt that they
were Abimelech's men, and they were closing in fast. Gaal
realized then that he had actually seen them when they were at a
greater distance, and that Zebul had also seen them and was
silently waiting for them to get much closer.
"It appears that you'll soon have to decide to fight or
run," Zebul grinned.
Gaal wasted no time with counter remarks. He yelled to the
men who were with him to sound a call to arms. The closest of
Abimelech's men were only a few hundred yards from the city by
the time Gaal and his men rather hesitantly stomped out to meet
Canaanite Ambition Thwarted
Minutes later the two armies closed in battle, but not for
long. Abimelech's men cut down the foremost of Gaal's soldiers,
and the sight of the slaughter unnerved the rest of Gaal's men.
They turned, including their leader, and fled back toward
Shechem's main gate. Abimelech's men rushed in behind them,
killing and wounding many before they could reach the city. Gaal
was among those who managed to race through the entrance to
Shechem before the gate was slammed shut. (Judges 9:37-40.)
Satisfied that he had put down the revolution, Abimelech led
his army to the town of Arumah, about eight miles southeast of
Shechem. There the men rested and took on provisions.
Meanwhile Zebul, the governor of Shechem, who hated Gaal,
managed to round up a sizable band of Shechemites who shared his
feeling. These men pounced on Gaal and the remnant of his army,
and thrust them out of the city.
Because there had been so many people in Shechem in recent
days, there was a serious shortage of food. Regardless of the
threat of attack by Abimelech, who now regarded Shechem as an
enemy stronghold, hundreds of people went out next morning to the
surrounding fields, orchards and vineyards to obtain vegetables
and fruit. Spies reported this to Abimelech, who immediately led
his army back to Shechem. About one third of the soldiers dashed
to the main gate of the city.
The Shechemites' Penalty for Murder
The remainder of the army was divided into two companies,
and closed in on the Shechemites in the fields and orchards. The
victims tried to race for safety in the city, but were either cut
down as they ran or were killed by Abimelech's men when they
reached the gate.
All of Abimelech's soldiers then converged on the city. They
battered down the gates and poured inside, but it wasn't a matter
of a quick victory. The Shechemites were prepared to fight, and
they put up stiff resistance by showering spears, stones and
arrows down from the walls and the buildings. By late afternoon,
however, it was evident that the defenders were running out of
arms and missiles. From then on the victory swiftly went to
Abimelech, whose men slaughtered or chased out all the people.
There is no record of what happened to Zebul, governor of the
It was a custom at that time that a home, city or village
should be strewn with salt if for any reason it was considered a
disgraceful or abominable place. To show his contempt for
Shechem, Abimelech ordered his men to fling salt all about the
city. (Judges 9:41-45.)
While this was going on, fugitives of the Shechem area were
fearfully gathering not far away at a tower-like structure built
on a mountainside. It was the place of worship of one of the
Canaanite gods, and was considered a strong refuge. More than a
thousand people swarmed into it. They hoped that Abimelech, who
had shown a strong leaning toward pagan gods would spare the
place in the event he found them hiding there.
Their period of concealment was short. Again Abimelech's
spies informed him what was going on. Abimelech took his men into
a nearby region where there was a heavy growth of trees and
brush. There each man cut down as large a branch as he could
comfortably carry, and took his load to where the people were
The branches were piled around the base of the structure,
then ignited. The tremendous fire that followed speedily
destroyed the tower. The hundreds of people inside, unable to
escape, were burned to a charred mass for having helped Abimelech
murder Jerubbaal's sons, just as Jotham had prophesied. (Judges
9:19-20; Judges 9:46-49.)
From Revenge to Conquest!
Night had arrived, and as the flames died down in the
darkness, Abimelech considered it a successful day. He gave
orders for his men to camp for the night where they were.
Abimelech's God-given victory made him so conceited and greedy he
wanted to conquer innocent cities. Next morning he started them
on a march to the city of Thebez about ten miles to the
northeast. He had received reports that most of the people there
were not in favor of his leadership. His vengeful, bloody desire
was simply to wipe them out, just as he had done to others who
had stood in the path of his political aims. Abimelech didn't
realize that God had allowed him to wipe out Shechem only because
of its part in his treacherous murders.
When he reached Thebez late that morning, the people there
were so frightened that they fled to a high, walled stronghold
within the city. This pleased Abimelech.
"We have them bottled up without so much as having to throw
a spear!" he exultantly told his officers. "Spread our men out to
camp around Thebez so that no one will escape during the night.
Tomorrow we shall take their stronghold and everyone inside it!"
Abimelech's army closed in on the city, converging on the high
fortress within. The stone structure was large and strong, but
the gate was made of timbers. Brush and branches were piled
against it so that it could be burned open.
People gathered on the open top floor of the fortress fought
hard to keep the attackers away by hurling all kinds of objects
down on them. Many invaders lost their lives in showers of heavy
missiles from the tower. Abimelech's men countered with arrows,
spears and stones, but they realized that they could make little
headway until the gate was burned. (Judges 9:50-52.)
The Fire That Failed!
In his eagerness to accomplish a break-through, Abimelech
moved closer to the wall. It was a foolish thing to do because he
became the intended object of a number of missiles. A heavy chunk
from a broken millstone struck him on the head. He thudded to the
ground, blood oozing from his scalp. His young armorbearer rushed
to him, noting that he was still conscious.
"It was a woman who threw it, sir!" the young man exclaimed.
"We'll get her as soon as we get inside!"
"I know," Abimelech muttered, "but don't let it be said that
a woman sent me to my death! Thrust your sword through me! Now!"
The armorbearer was hesitant. One of Abimelech's officers
nearby, realizing that his leader was dying, shouted at the
armorbearer, at the same time motioning for him to do what his
God Restores Peace
The young man obeyed. Abimelech died by the sword, but he
would have died only a little later from the head wound. Thus
died Abimelech, who had refused to profit from the sad
experiences of others who had rebelled against God's laws. Only
those who want to obey God can learn from such tragic events.
(Romans 15:4; II Timothy 3:16.)
When his men realized that he had been killed, they ceased
fighting and withdrew from Thebez. Within minutes the army became
disorganized. The men started back to their homes, many of them
ashamed that they had taken part in the slaughter of their own
people. Their neglected fire, like their war, died. (Judges
Jotham's prediction of grief in Israel wasn't an empty one.
God had brought destruction upon the destroyers. (Verses 56-57.)
All the trouble and misery could have been avoided if the people
had shunned pagan gods and had been willing to learn the right
and happy way to live by obeying God's laws. God had promised
that all would go well with those who obey. (Deuteronomy 6:3.)
But Satan has suggested that it would be better to choose any way
of life that seems easiest and most pleasant and wait to see what
develops. (Genesis 3:4-6.) Unfortunately, almost every generation
of Israel preferred to go along with the latter way and learn
life's principles in the most difficult and miserable manner.
Most of mankind continues to believe that delusive old adage that
experience is the best teacher. Experience is really the worst
teacher because of the wretchedness and grief that accompany it.
COURAGE WITHOUT WISDOM
AFTER the death of Abimelech, the next man to become a judge in
northern Canaan was Tola. He was from the tribe of Issachar.
Tola led northern Israel twenty-three years. During that
time there was peace in that part of the land because the worship
of pagan gods and idols was almost completely stopped. (Judges
From Obedience to Idolatry
After Tola died, a man by the name of Jair came into power
in eastern Israel. He had thirty grown sons who helped him
maintain control as the mayors or rulers of thirty towns in
northern Canaan. Jair and his sons chose to rule by God's laws,
and for twenty-two more years matters went well for the
Israelites in that region. (Verses 3-5.)
Meanwhile, other judges ruled over the Israelites in
southern Canaan, but that is another facet of the history of
Jair's death triggered the return of the Israelites of
northern Canaan to idolatry. The pagan nations all about them
considered them curious or odd because they observed laws that
didn't allow religious orgies and wild festivals. Rather than be
thought of as religious oddballs, the Israelites -- who wanted to
be well thought of by their neighbors -- gradually fell into
worshipping foreign gods.
Their desire to conform to the ways of the people about them
wasn't the only reason Israel went over to idolatry. The belief
grew that pagan religions offered more freedom because there were
less laws to observe. Israel forgot the many wonderful blessings
that obeying God brings -- peace, health and prosperity.
This was foolish reasoning, but Israel today reasons the
same way. Those who are of a religious bent generally join the
largest most Popular churches with a careful eye to conformity.
Some of these people are being called out of such worldly
churches to become part of God's Church. Those find that God's
ways are much different from what they thought, and that the
churches from which they came are based on many pagan beliefs.
Because of the disobedience of the Israelites, God became
increasingly angry. He allowed two nearby warlike nations to send
soldiers into the land. They were the Ammonites, whose country
was to the east, and the Philistines, whose nation was on a
portion of the southeast shore of the Great Sea west of Canaan --
At first the Ammonite movements in the east consisted only
of forays by small bands of soldiers who attacked the Israelites'
homes and villages in Gilead, east of the Jordan river, then
hastily retreated with any booty they could seize. Gradually the
attacking bands grew larger and bolder until they were setting up
armed camps well inside Canaan. It wasn't long before the camps
were growing into large garrisons from which enemy soldiers
crossed the Jordan river into southwestern Canaan to kill and
plunder. (Judges 10:6-9.)
Death, disease and poverty moved over Israel in a black
cloud of misery. It appeared that if the wretched conditions
continued, Israel would be entirely wiped out or fall into
It was then that the people began to cry out to God. They
admitted their sin of bowing down to other gods, and begged for
forgiveness and help.
God's reaction was far from hopeful. His reply was probably
given through the high priest or someone chosen as a prophet.
Did I not save you previously from the Egyptians, the
Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Zidonians, the
Amalekites and the Midianites?" God asked them. "You pleaded for
help when you were in danger, and I delivered you from all these
enemies. Then you turned around and forsook me! Why should I save
you again? Cry to your pagan gods to save you!" (Verses 10-14.)
The Israelites knew better than to waste their prayers on
heathen gods in a time of trouble. They were aware that only the
God of Israel could help them, and they continued their pleas for
And Finally -- Repentance!
"Do whatever you will to us!" they pleaded. "But for now, we
beg you to spare us from our enemies!"
If God felt that the Israelites failed to show their
sincerity, He didn't have to wait long for evidence of it. All
over Canaan the people swiftly turned from the heathen gods,
destroyed their idols and temples and eagerly sought to learn
God's ways. To many the knowledge of their Creator's laws was
quite obscure, because it had been almost a generation since the
nation had fallen into idol worship. When God witnessed the
smashing of their little "good luck" objects, tearing down images
of the national gods of foreign nations and earnestly seeking to
find the right way, He felt sorry for Israel.
Again, after eighteen years of oppression, the ever-merciful
Creator moved to deliver His chosen people. (Judges 10:8.) He
made it known to them that as many as possible should gather to
meet the enemy in the land east of the Jordan, and that He would
The Israelites were disorganized, but this wonderful news
spurred them to action. During the next weeks thousands secretly
came at night -- especially from eastern Canaan -- to gather at
Mizpeh, a city in the southern portion of the land allotted to
the tribe of Gad. Assembling wasn't easy. Many who wanted to go
found it impossible to leave home without being seen by enemy
soldiers. Some fought their way free. Others died trying. Most of
them had to leave home at the risk of being discovered and having
their families taken by the enemy. It was all part of the price
they were still paying for breaking the First, Second and Fourth
Commandments, which generally lead to breaking the other seven.
It wasn't long before the news of this great gathering
reached the Ammonites, who were already bringing up heavy forces
along the east side of the Jordan to their main garrison in
Gilead. They were about ready for a last mass attack on the half
tribe of Manasseh and the tribes of Reuben and Gad in eastern
Canaan. Israel's move stepped up the action of the Ammonites, who
hadn't expected any mass resistance. If they had also learned
another startling fact, they would have acted with even more
God Chooses Whom Man Rejects!
That fact was that the quickly-organized army of Israel as
yet had no leader or captain! (Verses 17-18.)
Meanwhile, near the eastern border of the territory of
Manasseh in Gilead, there was a rugged man by the name of
Jephthah, who was the head of a desert band made up of trained
fighters who made a living by somewhat questionable means. They
probably raided and looted poorly protected Ammonite settlements
and hired themselves out as guards and protectors. Jephthah's
father was one of the tribe of Manasseh, but because his mother
was not his father's legal wife, his half brothers (whose mother
WAS the legal wife of their father) wouldn't allow him to share
in their inheritance. Spurned by his own family, Jephthah had
left home when a very young man to seek a living elsewhere.
He had journeyed off to the desert country to the northeast,
where he established himself well in the ways of life in the
wilderness. (Verse 3.) He became well-trained in riding, hunting
and fighting. Eventually he built himself up as a tribal leader,
the builder of a small private army that was the fear of fierce
nomadic tribes and the protector of the weak and the poor.
Jephthah was actually a kind of captain of men little better than
cunning desert pirates, but he became respected and famous in his
part of the country. He had a reputation for seizing booty only
from bands of vicious robbers and killers, especially Ammonites.
In Mizpeh there was growing concern as to who should be
chosen to head the army of Israel. Outside of a few men who had
been officers of minor rank years previously, there was little
choice. It was soon recognized that none of these men were able
enough to lead the army. The elders of Israel realized that the
leader must be one whom the soldiers would respect in knowledge,
resourcefulness, patriotism, courage and experience.
When the name Jephthah was brought up, there were yells of
derision, although it was well known that he was a mighty leader
and had kept his private band free from Ammonite oppression.
(Judges 11:1.) The more the elders discussed him the more
seriously he was considered. They now realized the man they had
self-righteously cast out was their only hope. The discussions
ended with several men riding swiftly out of Mizpeh in the
direction of Jephthah's home far east of the Jordan. They were
now ready to ask Jephthah to lay down his life for those who
formerly would not have given him a piece of bread if he were
Jephthah was surprised to be visited by chieftains of
Israel. He was more surprised to recognize some elders of eastern
Manasseh -- and some of his brothers!
"This is quite a gathering," he remarked coldly. "What
business could you have with me? And why are my brothers here? To
them I am a non-deserving outcast!"
"We realize that this must seem very strange to you," an
elder explained, "but all of us are here to ask your help against
the Ammonites. We have a large army, but no general. Would you
consider leading our newly formed army against them?" (Judges
Jephthah could hardly believe his ears. There were almost
countless able men in Israel, he realized, yet here were
representatives come to ask an outsider to lead their army! He
stared at his brothers, who eyed him uneasily.
"I suppose you know my brothers forced me out of my
inheritance in disgrace years ago," Jephthah addressed the
elders. "They hated me and pushed me out of my home because my
mother was a harlot. They caused others to hate me. The elders
did nothing to protect me. Why should I now be the one to help
you in your time of trouble?"
This time it was the brothers who answered. They stepped
"We did wrong, and we are sorry!" they exclaimed. "Forgive
us! We beg you to go with us now to Mizpeh to help get our army
moving. If you do, we'll see that you shall become leader of all
the people of your home region, the land of Gilead!" (Verses
The brothers were so convincing in their sincerity that even
Jephthah, a hardened soldier, couldn't help but believe them. He
regarded them intently for a few moments, then turned to ask more
questions of the elders. He didn't wish to make up his mind
without trying to find some underlying motive in this astonishing
overture. After the plan had been laid out to him in more detail,
and after he had sat before them for a time in thought, he asked
them this last question:
"If I take your army against the Ammonites, and God makes me
victorious, will the heads of the tribes east of the Jordan
actually give me full direction and power to help change the
lives of the people?"
There was an affirmative chorus of solemn promises. (Verses
Jephthah turned to his brothers with a nod and a slight
smile. The Israelite elders tried to restrain their cheerful
shouts. Jephthah's brothers rushed forward to bow before him, but
he pulled them up to embrace them.
Days later at Mizpeh, after Jephthah had been made leader of
the northeastern tribes, he sent messengers to the king of Ammon,
who was camping with a large army south of the Jabbok River in
the territory of Gad. Although warfare was the thing Jephthah
knew best, he loved peace and had long since learned that
avoiding war was more often the wiser course. He was determined
to at least try to resolve matters by diplomatic means. He
courteously inquired of the king why he had come to fight against
the tribes of northeastern Israel.
The messengers returned promptly with the Ammonite king's
"The Israelites took away my land when they came up from
Egypt. I am here with my army to demand that you return it to me.
It is all the territory east of the Jordan between the Armon and
the Jabbok rivers." (Judges 11:11-13.)
Jephthah sent messengers back to the king, this time with a
clarified piece of information he hoped would give the Ammonite
ruler food for thought and perhaps a change of mind:
"You claim that the Israelites took your land when they came
up from Egypt. We know, as well as you do, that this is not true.
Neither did Israel take away the Moabites' land.
"When Israel came up from Egypt by way of the desert, the
Red Sea and Kadesh, messengers were sent to the king of Edom
asking permission to pass through his land. He refused.
Permission was asked of the king of Moab to pass peacefully
through Moab, and he also refused. After the Israelites had
camped at Kadesh for a time, they set out to the northeast,
careful not to trespass into the lands of Edom and Moab, or
disturb those people as they passed by.
"Israel sent messengers to Sihon in Heshbon, king of the
Amorites, asking permission to pass through his land. His land is
this land now in question. The Amorites had formerly taken it
from the Ammonites, and Ammon was never able to recover it.
Instead of granting the request to let Israel pass through his
land, king Sihon tried to wipe out Israel by the sword. But he
was defeated. The God of Israel then turned possession of the
land of the Amorites over to Israel. It included the territory
from the Arnon river to the Jabbok river, and from the Jordan
River eastward into the desert. These are the boundaries of the
land you claim as yours, but why do you claim it? (Judges
"Our God took that land from the Amorites and gave it to us.
If your god Chemosh were to give you something, wouldn't you feel
that you should be the rightful owner? Whether it is the land you
speak of or any other land, if our God drives out the inhabitants
before us, we shall possess that country!
Ammonites Reject God's Decision
"Do you feel that you are better than Balak, king of Moab,
who knew better than to fight with Israel over the towns and
territory he knew Israel rightfully owned? Did he ever claim we
should give him the land Moab had lost to the Amorites? If you
have felt that these places you lost to the Amorites should be
recovered from Israel, why didn't you do something about it long
"Considering all these things, you honestly must admit that
Israel has done nothing to cause you to threaten the nation or to
wage war. On the other hand, you are doing the wrong thing to
threaten war against Israel!
"Let the God of Israel, who is the Supreme God, judge this
matter between Israel and Ammon!"
Again the king of the Ammonites was quite prompt with an
answer. It consisted of very few words, and left little doubt in
Jephthah's mind as to what would be the next turn of events.
"I say the land I designated belongs to me," the return
message read. "Why leave it to your God to prove anything? Prove
it yourself!" (Judges 11:24-28.)
Jephthah was through sending messages. He and his officers
immediately passed through all of eastern Israel recruiting more
soldiers and even sent messengers across the Jordan to ask the
tribe of Ephraim to help. He told his officers to get the
Israelite army ready to move. While preparations were being made,
Jephthah foolishly uttered a very unusual and improper vow,
thinking that his chance for victory would be greater if he could
promise something to God in return. (Judges 12:1-2; Judges
"If you will give us success in battle and if I am allowed
to return in peace, then I will dedicate to you whatever first
comes out of my door to meet me," he said to God, "and, I will
prepare it as a burnt offering!"
God did not approve of this foolishly spoken vow and would
have helped Jephthah just as surely if he had not made it. But
regardless of what God thought of the vow, He helped Israel
charge into the Ammonites with crushing strength. The battle
raged over a thirty-mile area that involved twenty towns. When it
was over, the Ammonites were completely defeated. (Verses 32-33.)
But the pleasant flavor of victory was soon to turn bitter
for Jephthah. His courage and integrity had brought victory but
his lack of good judgment was bound to bring grief. As he
approached his home on his return from the battlefield east of
the Jordan, his young daughter -- his only child -- came dancing
out of the house.
He stood speechless, remembering that he had vowed to
dedicate to God whatever came to meet him! (Judges 11:34.)
THOSE INFAMOUS PHILISTINES
WHEN Jephthah returned to Mizpeh after his victory over the
Ammonites, he approached his home to see his only child come out
of his house to meet him! (Judges 11:34.)
Doing What Seems Right
He remembered then the vow he had made to God before the
battle. Jephthah was so upset that he tore his coat to shreds. As
his daughter rushed to meet him, he seized her in a fond embrace.
Then he told her of the vow he had made. It was a shock to her,
but she didn't complain.
"If you have made a vow to God," she told her father, "then
you must keep it. God has given you a victory over the Ammonites,
as you asked, so do with me according to your promise in this
A vow to God is something that should be made very seldom --
if ever. Jephthah began to realize that he had been very foolish
in making such a rash vow. But, thinking any vow was binding, he
was determined to carry it out, even though God certainly
disapproved of such an act. The lesson God wants us to learn from
the book of Judges is recorded in the last chapter: "In those
days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was
right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25.) God had for bidden them
to do what was right in their own eyes. (Deuteronomy 12:8.)
"Before I go," Jephthah's daughter told him, "I should like
to take two months to visit my friends who live in various places
in the nearby mountains, as I shall never see them again!"
Jephthah readily agreed. (Judges 11:35-38.) At the end of
two months she dutifully returned home. The Bible doesn't explain
the details of what happened. It merely concludes: "... she
returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow
which he had vowed ..." (Judges 11:39.) Though some commentators
have thought Jephthah kept his daughter a perpetual virgin, the
Jews and most commentators have understood this tragic story as
it is explained in the Authorized Version of the Bible.
Jephthah learned a mighty lesson. He discovered, through
this tragedy, the real lesson of faith -- that one does not have
to vow to God in order to have Him perform what He has promised.
What God expects is that we learn to trust Him in everything.
When Jephthah finally learned that lesson, he became an
outstanding example of faith. Paul even referred to him in
Hebrews 11:32 as one of the outstanding examples of faith in the
It later became a custom in Israel for the young women to
spend four days of every year in expressing sorrow for Jephthah's
daughter. (Judges 11:40.)
When the other tribes of Israel heard that their brothers
east of the Jordan had freed themselves from the Ammonites, they
reacted in various ways. It should have been a cause for happy
celebration, but the people of Ephraim didn't see it that way.
They were offended because they hadn't been given part of the
glory Jephthah's army earned in fighting the Ammonites. In fact,
they were so irked that they formed an army and marched northward
to a spot where they crossed the Jordan river and then headed
eastward to confront Jephthah.
"Why didn't you let us in on your battle with the
Ammonites?" they angrily asked. "Were you trying to take all the
glory of winning for yourself? You have acted in an unbrotherly
and selfish manner, and for that we should set fire to your home
and burn it down on you!"
This was an unfair charge and a ridiculous threat, but
Jephthah didn't lose his temper.
"There was no time to lose in preparation against the
Ammonites," he explained. "If you had wanted to help, you could
have volunteered whatever number of men you might have quickly
gotten together when I asked you for help. But you sent no one.
So now you have no good reason to complain. Thousands of men,
including myself, risked their lives against the enemy, but God
delivered us and the matter is over. What, therefore, is your
reason for bringing an army to fight me?" (Judges 12:1-3.)
Jephthah's words only served to stir the Ephraimites to
greater anger. They began shouting childish insults at the
Where Brotherly Envy Leads
"You men of the Gilead area have no national pride!" they
yelled. "You are trying to establish a country all of your own,
but you won't succeed because you are only the outcasts and the
scum of Israel!"
These groundless affronts stung the Gileadites, and though
Jephthah tried to keep them under control, the continued yells of
contempt soon developed into the action of attack. It wasn't long
before a battle was raging.
The Ephraimites had come as the angry ones, but Jephthah's
men, after all those insulting remarks, had greater anger, and
they fell against their brothers with such power that they
quickly defeated the men of Ephraim, who broke ranks and fled in
fear and confusion in all directions. Jephthah knew that
eventually they would all move to cross the Jordan westward to
get back to their home territory to the south, so he ordered his
men to rush to the places at the river where it was possible to
ford it. He felt that people who had such a miserable attitude
should be punished, and God allowed him to do just that.
At first the Gileadites had difficulty in identifying people
because there were so many crossing the Jordan. To get safely
across, the Ephraimites tried to pose as people from the east of
the Jordan so that they wouldn't be attacked. Then someone
thought of a good way to determine which were Ephraimites. Each
man, as he approached the river, was asked to pronounce the word
"shibboleth." Persons who were east of the Jordan could pronounce
it correctly, but Ephraimites, because of their particular manner
of speaking, couldn't bring themselves to say "shibboleth" but
insisted it was "sibboleth." All those who mispronounced the word
were slain. By the time the matter was finished, forty-two
thousand Ephraimites were dead! (Judges 12:4-6.)
As the elders of Gilead had promised, Jepthah was made judge
of northern Israel. He died after being in power for six years.
During the next twenty-five years three other judges ruled that
part of Israel. None of them did anything particularly eventful,
but in those years there was a degree of peace and prosperity in
that region. (Judges 12:7-15.)
While all this was taking place, the state of affairs in
other parts of Israel varied from fair to miserable. When the
Ammonites, years previously, had moved in from the east, the
Philistines had come into Canaan from the southwest. All during
the time the northern Israelites were troubled by the Ammonites,
and during the time of peace that followed Jephthah's victory,
most of the rest of Israel was suffering from the inroads by the
Philistines. By the time Gideon had died, the people of northern
Israel had begun again to fall toward idolatry. Soon northern
Israel had fallen away from God's ways to a great extent, and
curses were beginning to fall on them. With southern Israel
almost completely in the hands of the Philistines, all of the
Israelites were once again embroiled in calamity of their own
In those days there was a Danite named Manoah who lived in
the town of Zorah, which was in the territory of Dan near the
border between Dan and Judah. It was about twenty miles west of
Jerusalem, and in the land occupied by the Philistines.
Christ Was No Nazarite
Manoah had been married for several years, and though he
hoped to rear a large family, his wife had no children. As time
went on, the couple had to face the discouraging possibility that
Manoah's wife was incapable of bearing children.
One day when Manoah's wife was alone, a strange man came to
speak to her. She was startled at the sight of the stranger
because of his outstanding appearance. He had unusually
expressive and piercing eyes, and gave the impression that he was
a man of exceptional and even terrible power.
"I know that you haven't been able to have children," he
said to Manoah's wife, "but I want you to know that soon you
shall give birth to a son. Listen to my instructions. This son of
yours shall be under the vow of a nazarite from the time he is
born till his death. Therefore you should not drink wine or
strong drink while your son is on the way. And don't eat any food
that is unclean. This son of yours shall grow up to be a very
special person who shall start to deliver Israel out of the power
of the Philistines!" (Judges 13:1-5.)
What Manoah's wife did then will be related a few paragraphs
later. The vow of a nazarite should first be explained. When the
Israelites camped at Mt. Sinai and received from God complete
instructions on how to conduct themselves rightly, those
directions included what should be done if one decided to give
himself or herself over to special service to God for any chosen
period of time, whether it was for a month, a year, or several
years. This promise to go into such special service was known as
the vow of a nazarite.
Anyone who made such a vow was to do three things: Drink no
alcoholic drink nor consume grapes or any product of grapes such
as vinegar or raisins; touch no dead body; refrain from cutting
the hair. (Numbers 6.) Manoah's son was to observe these rules
all his life, and Manoah's wife was to observe them until her son
Because Christ was reared in the town of Nazareth in the
land of Galilee, the word "nazarite" is sometimes erroneously
connected with the place where Jesus lived. For this reason
Christ is sometimes referred to as a nazarite. Inasmuch as the
Son of God led a perfect life while in human form, there was
hardly any necessity for his making a vow to be of special
service. And not having made such a vow, there was no reason for
Him to observe the three rules that a nazarite was obliged to
Nevertheless, some insist that Christ lived the role of a
nazarite. The truth is that Christ didn't have long hair as he is
so often pictured. He wasn't averse to drinking wine or grape
juice. The New Testament several times mentions the fact that
Christ drank wine. (Matthew 11:18-19; Luke 5:29-30.) He also had
no aversion to touching a dead body. He was a Nazarene, reared in
Nazareth, but never a nazarite. Christ did not live by the rules
of the nazarite vow, for these things Jesus did would have broken
the nazarite vow. That would have been sin. If Christ had sinned,
He could not have become our Savior. (II Corinthians 5:20-21.)
The stranger who had appeared to Manoah's wife left as
suddenly and mysteriously as he had arrived. When Manoah
returned, his wife immediately went to him and excitedly told him
what had taken place.
An Amazing Visitor
"I asked him for his name but he neither answered my
question nor told me where he came from!" she exclaimed. "He was
such an unusual man that I felt as though I were in the presence
of someone holy!" (Judges 13:2-7.)
Manoah was at first inclined to believe that his wife's
imagination was a bit overactive, but the more he thought about
what she had told him the more he came to believe that some
person sent by God had spoken to his wife. The matter began to
weigh so heavily on his mind that he prayed that God would again
send the mysterious man to give them further instructions as to
how they should rear the son who would come to them.
A few days later, when Manoah was working in his fields at a
distance from his home, his wife was at the same time working in
an area close to their home. She stopped to rest, and it was then
that the mysterious stranger suddenly appeared again to her. She
was greatly startled, and ran to her husband to tell him that the
person who had predicted she would have a son was again present.
Manoah hurried back with his wife to find a man who exactly
fitted the description she had given him days before.
"Are you the one who spoke to my wife a few days ago?"
Manoah asked a bit hesitantly.
"I am the same," the stranger answered.
"You predicted we would have a son," Manoah went on. "We
would like to learn in more detail how we should rear him."
"I have already given your wife instructions," the stranger
replied. "If you hold to them, you will do well." He then
repeated those instructions to refresh their memories. (Judges
Manoah believed that this man was some kind of a prophet in
whom he could rely, and he was so pleased to know that his wife
would have a son that he asked the man to stay until a young goat
could be broiled for a special feast. The stranger told Manoah
that he wouldn't stay to eat, but that if he wished to cook meat,
it should be offered as a sacrifice to God.
The more Manoah talked with the stranger, the more curious
he became about his identity.
"What is your name?" he finally inquired boldly. "We would
like to know so that we may rightly honor you when your
predictions come true and our son is born."
"By now you should realize that my name should be kept
secret," the stranger replied. "Therefore you shouldn't ask about
Manoah still didn't understand who the man was, but he did
as suggested and placed a dressed young goat on a nearby large
flat-topped rock. As he stepped back to pick up some sticks to
make a fire, the stranger pointed at the rock. Flames shot up out
of it! Then, as Manoah and his wife stared, he stepped onto the
rock and miraculously shot upward with the flames and smoke!
Manoah and his wife were so startled at the sight and by the
sudden realization that this man was a visitor from God that they
fell fearfully on the ground. When finally they looked around,
they saw no sign of the stranger. (Judges 13:15-20.)
"We must have seen God!" Manoah muttered. "No one can look
on God and live! We'll surely be struck dead because of this!"
His wife wasn't so alarmed about the matter. She comforted
him by pointing out that if God intended to strike them dead, He
wouldn't have accepted their sacrifice and He wouldn't have told
them that they would soon have a son. (Judges 13:21-23.)
The couple had not actually seen God the Father. The
stranger was God's Messenger, Jesus Christ, in human form. If it
had been Christ manifesting Himself in His natural spirit state,
Manoah and his wife would not have been able to look and live.
Eventually a son was born to Manoah's wife. He was named
Samson. He grew up to be an exceptionally strong young man who
felt very forcefully that something should be done to free his
people from the control and influence of the pagan Philistines.
One day when he was in the town of Timnath a few miles south
of his birthplace, he met a Philistine woman and, after becoming
better aquainted, they fell in love and decided to marry. He
immediately returned home to tell his father and mother that he
wanted them to visit the Philistine woman's parents and arrange
for his marriage to their daughter.
Manoah and his wife were shocked and disappointed that their
only son should choose to marry a foreign woman instead of one of
his own people. They did not realize God was using this situation
to begin delivering Israel from the Philistines. Samson was so
insistent that they finally went to Timnath.
Samson went with them. At one point he went on ahead for
some distance to see if the trail was safe. Suddenly a large lion
came roaring out from behind a boulder! Unarmed, Samson quickly
turned to face the fierce beast with his bare hands as it lunged
upon him! (Judges 14:1-5.)
SAMSON AND THE PHILISTINES
SAMSON, the young Danite who insisted on marrying a Philistine
woman, was on his way with his parents to where the woman lived.
Suddenly he was attacked by a full-grown lion.
Samson Slays a Lion
When he saw the beast coming for him from among the rocks
that lined the trail (Judges 14:1-5), Samson deftly moved off his
mount. Instead of trying to escape, he deliberately lunged toward
the lion. Just as it leaped for him, he dodged. The mighty cat
landed on the ground instead of on Samson, who swiftly leaped on
the lion the moment it was confused by its failure. Samson
straddled the animal's back, locked his arms around the shaggy
neck and squeezed hard against the lion's throat. The beast
emitted a short roar of rage that trailed off to a gasp as its
wind was cut off. It struggled over on its back, frantically
pawing the air with claw-extended feet, pinning Samson to the
The thumping weight of the lion might have fatally crushed
an ordinary man, but Samson was far from ordinary physically. He
hung on, constantly tightening his grip. His head was buried in
the beast's thick mane, and breathing was difficult. Summoning
all his strength, Samson jerked the massive head backward. He
heard the bones snap, and felt the great body go limp. The lion
rolled off him, and he lay for a few moments renewing his breath.
He staggered to his feet to stare at the dead beast. Samson was a
little surprised that he was able to overcome such a powerful
animal. He didn't fully understand that he had been given special
protection and a great amount of extra strength by a loving God.
Not wishing to startle or concern his parents with what had
happened, Samson dragged the dead lion back from the trail before
they rode into sight. He regained his mount and continued with
them to the town of Timnath, where arrangements were made for his
marriage to the Philistine woman whom God had put in Samson's
life so that he would have a necessary closer association with
the Philistine oppressors. (Verse 7.)
In those days it was a custom for a period of time to pass
after a couple formally decide to marry till the time of the
wedding. It was many months later, therefore, that Samson and his
parents set out for the marriage ceremony at Timnath.
When they arrived at the place where Samson had slain the
lion, the young Danite went aside by himself to the spot where he
had left the carcass. Animals and insects had long since consumed
the flesh of the animal. Only the bleached skeleton remained.
Samson discovered that bees had built their comb inside the rib
cage, and that there was honey inside. Although bees were
swarming about, he surprisingly managed to get some of the honey
to eat without being stung. Neither did the bees attack him while
he filled a leather bag with honey. He brought some of the honey
also to his father and mother, but he told them nothing about the
lion. (Judges 14:8-9.)
Samson's wedding turned out to be quite a social event in
Timnath. It included a seven-day feast to which thirty young men
were invited as friends of the bridegroom.
Young women were also invited as companions of the bride.
Besides these, there were friends and relatives. Most of the
people were Philistines, a fact that caused Samson's parents to
be rather uneasy, what with some of the Philistine overlords
acting unfriendly and suspicious.
At that time riddles were a popular form of conversational
entertainment. In the course of the festivities, Samson posed a
riddle to his thirty companions, basing it on his experience with
the lion and the honey.
A Riddle Spells Trouble
"If you men can give me the answer to a certain riddle
before this feast is over," Samson told them, "I'll give each of
you a fancy shirt and costly robe. Here's the riddle: 'Out of the
eater came something to eat; out of the strong came something
sweet.' Now if you fail to give me the right answer before the
feast is over, then you shall give me thirty expensive shirts and
thirty fine robes. Agreed?"
The thirty men nodded in agreement. They welcomed any
opportunity for something that might develop into an argument or
trouble for Samson. They acted friendly toward him, but inwardly
felt just the opposite. Some of them resented Samson's marriage
to a woman with whom they had been more than friendly from time
to time, and who had no intention of changing her ways. (Judges
The thirty men had no intention of providing shirts and
robes for Samson. They therefore went to his wife to force from
her the answer to the riddle.
"I would tell you if I knew," she told them. "Samson didn't
give me the answer."
"Then find out before this feast is over!" they said to her.
"Otherwise we'll burn you together with your parents' home!"
Fearful of what would happen, Samson's wife tried to get the
answer to the riddle from her new husband. At first he refused to
tell her. She wept bitterly, complaining that it wasn't fair of
him to start out their married life by keeping secrets from her.
Samson finally was so moved by her tears, pleas and feminine
wiles that he told her all about the lion and the honey. Although
she didn't believe the story, Samson's wife disclosed to the men
who had threatened her, at the first opportunity, all that had
been told to her.
"Your husband's story is ridiculous," they told her. "No man
could kill a full-grown lion with his bare hands. Possibly he
told you this tale to avoid giving you the right answer. And if
you're not providing the right answer, we'll carry out that
threat we made!"
That afternoon, only two or three hours before the feast
ended, the men approached Samson to inform him that they at last
had an answer to his riddle. Samson noted that some of them
looked very confident. Inasmuch as only he and his wife
supposedly knew the answer to the riddle, he could think of only
one reason why the men should display such an expression.
"Give me your answer," Samson said to them. "If you have it,
I'll stick to my offer to reward you."
"We gave your riddle much thought," one of the men told
Samson, "and we were really stumped for days. After some time in
conference, we believe that we have the answer. Here it is: 'What
is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?' "
Samson wasn't too surprised by such an accurate answer. He
realized that it was as he had lately suspected -- that his wife
was overly familiar with these men, and that she didn't care for
him much more than she cared for them.
"Your answer is right, and I congratulate you on your
cleverness," Samson informed them. "You mentioned how hard you
worked to find the answer. That was a lie! You found the answer
only because you forced it from my wife, whom you have known too
well!" (Judges 14:15-18.)
These accusations, though true, would ordinarily have
brought men swarming over the accuser. Not one man, however,
moved against Samson. None was inclined to tangle with this
broad-shouldered, powerful man in his time of anger. There was an
awkward silence as Samson surveyed the crowd.
"I'll now go and get those thirty shirts and thirty robes I
promised you!" he muttered as he stalked out.
"All those clothes would cost him too much," one man
remarked with a grin as Samson disappeared. "That's the last
we'll see of him!"
But Samson did return. It was a few days later. He was
carrying a large, bulging bag. He called the thirty men together
and emptied the contents of the bag -- thirty shirts and thirty
"Where did you get these?" the men inquired as they picked
them up and admiringly examined the fine material.
"What does it matter to you?" Samson replied tartly. "I took
them from thirty well-dressed Philistine men I met on the various
streets of Ashkelon. But they don't need the clothes any more
because they're all dead now!"
Jaws dropped in consternation at the same moment the men
dropped the pieces of clothing as though they were sizzling hot
potatoes. Samson walked away, leaving the Philistines wondering if
he were a muscular monster or merely a purveyor of tall tales -- or
Later they learned that the bodies of thirty Philistines had
been found one morning in various parts of their city of
Ashkelon, about twenty-four miles southwest of Timnath. All
thirty of the bodies were found to be without shirts and robes.
On hearing this report, the so-called companions of the
bridegroom were convinced that a monster had indeed been in their
midst. They had no way of knowing that Samson's violent actions
had been inspired by the God of Israel, who was directing the
young Danite in a move for freedom for the southern tribes of
Israel against their Philistine oppressors. After delivering the
shirts and robes, Samson returned in anger to his home at Zorah
without making any effort to visit his bride. (Judges 14:19.)
As the weeks went by, his anger and disgust diminished, and
he decided to return to his wife. Taking a young goat as a gift,
he went to the home of his wife's father, who was surprised and
uneasy when he opened the door and saw Samson.
"I've come to see my wife," Samson said firmly to his
father-in-law. "I trust she is here."
Samson's Wife Stolen
"She -- she is," the father answered hesitantly. "But weeks
ago you gave me the definite impression that you would have no
more to do with her, and consequently I gave her in marriage to
the man who was your chief companion at your wedding!"
Samson was stunned by this news, though he might have known
that anything could have happened among Philistines during his
"I should have expected something like that," he murmured
bitterly. "She seemed to like him and the other twenty-nine more
"Forget her!" the father exclaimed in an attempt to pacify
Samson. "As you know, I have a younger and prettier daughter. If
you would take her for your-bride, I would be greatly pleased --
and so would she!"
But I wouldn't!" Samson retorted. (Judges 15:1-2.)
Burning with anger, he returned at once to Zorah. On the way
he devised a plan to chastise at least some of the Philistine
overlords because of their unjust treatment to him and to most
Within the next few days, with the help of several friends,
he trapped three hundred foxes. These animals were especially
abundant in Canaan and were a specially great nuisance in raiding
the vineyard areas.
Samson and his helpers took the caged animals, by night,
down into Philistine farming territory where various grains were
raised. It was the dry harvest season. Some of the corn, oats,
wheat and barley was still standing. Some of it had been cut and
stacked or stored.
Samson and his men took short cords and tied the foxes
together in couples, with one end of a cord tied to each animal's
tail. Then they fastened a firebrand to each cord midway between
the tails, and freed them in various areas. The result was that
each pair of foxes rolled, raced and struggled all over the
fields, dragging their torches and setting fire to the
tinder-like grain shocks and uncut fields for miles around. Dry
breezes spread the many fires over wide territory, insomuch that
there was a tremendous loss of crops to the Philistines during
the next several hours. (Judges 15:3-5.)
After the fires were finally put out, the leaders in that
area investigated to find out how the fires had started. When
they discovered that Samson was responsible, and that he had done
it because his father-in-law had given Samson's wife to another
man, the Philistines became even more alarmed. Samson had become
an object of their fear and respect in recent weeks because of
his unusual strength and daring. No one, even in groups, wished
to oppose him. The natural thing to do, therefore, was blame
Samson's wife and her father for the loss.
It wasn't long before an angry mob converged on the home of
Samson's father-in-law, loudly demanding the appearance of the
man and his daughter. The two feared the crowd too much to come
out. After a while the house was set on fire. The occupants still
refused to come out, and perished when the house burned to the
ground. (Verse 6.)
When Samson heard what had happened, he boldly appeared
before the Philistine leaders. He told them that he was well
aware that their actions were in vengeance against him. Then he
shouted to them that he wouldn't cease his violent actions toward
them until he considered the score settled. This statement
greatly disturbed the Philistine oppressors. They decided that
they should speak out against Samson so that they wouldn't lose
face in the estimation of the oppressed Israelites.
You've had your way around here too long!" someone shouted.
This was the signal for the Philistines to choose what
should be done. Some, though they disliked Samson, feared him too
much to oppose him. Those tried to quiet others who wanted to
make a stand against him. They quickly found themselves
outnumbered as feeling against the Danite welled up within
One man, certain that he would have plenty of backing, and
wishing to become a hero by opposing Samson, walked up to him and
shook his fist in his face.
We've had enough of you!" he screamed indignantly. "After
all, you're only an Israelite who should realize that we are your
The unfortunate fellow couldn't have made a poorer choice of
words. Samson stared at him while all looked on in expectant
silence. Like a cat leaping for a bird Samson pounced on the
speaker, then snatched him up as though he were a light bundle of
rags. Before anyone could move to interfere, he hurled the fellow
into the knot of men grouped before him. There were grunts and
howls of pain as the Philistines were floored under the impact of
the hurtling body.
Most of those who were able to get up left the vicinity as
quickly as they could. A few joined forces to try to stand up
against Samson, coming at him from all sides. This was a foolish
move. The Danite beat them off with a fury that spelled death for
The sound of the fight quickly attracted other men. Samson
planned to get away before the Philistines could attack him in
greater numbers, but it appeared that the opportunity had slipped
by. From all directions he saw men moving menacingly toward him,
men who were determined that his trouble-making for them was
about to cease. Some of them carried knives and swords. Others
carried clubs. There seemed to be no way of breaking out of the
tightening circle of aggressors. The panting, sweating Danite
realized that this could be the end.
As the crowd closed in tightly, one over-anxious Philistine
leased at Samson. He proved to be the needed weapon for the man
at bay. Samson caught him, flipped him upside down to seize him
by the ankles and swing him around and around with such force and
speed that those closing in on him were mowed down in a senseless
The violence of Samson's action, which left dead and dying
all around, was a quick convincer to the Philistines that they
were dealing with a man of super-human strength, and that further
opposition would result only in more death and injury. They
melted away in retreat, giving Samson the opportunity at last, to
get out of that region.
More Trouble For Samson
Instead of going to the home of his parents, where the
Philistines would be certain to look for him, Samson went
eastward into the, land of the tribe of Judah. The Philistines
were in power there, too, but he found refuge near Jerusalem in a
cave-like fortress named Etam, where some Israelites had gathered
to defend themselves against their oppressors. (Judges 15:7-8.)
The Philistines immediately formed an army which marched
eastward into the territory of Judah, where the soldiers camped
in a rugged area of limestone cliffs in Lehi, near where Samson
was hiding. When the leaders of Judah inquired why an army had
come against them, they were told that it had come to insure that
the men of Judah would find Samson and deliver him, as a bound
captive, to the Philistine army.
The men of Judah had no choice in the matter. They knew that
the Philistines would attack them if they refused. They bowed to
the wishes of their tyrants by promising that they would bring
Samson back as a helpless prisoner.
Later, at the fortress of Etam where Samson was staying, a
messenger excitedly rushed in with the news that an army was
approaching from the north.
"There must be at least three thousand!" he panted. "They've
come down to try to capture Samson, the long-haired nazarite!"
SAMSON VEXES THE PHILISTINES
EVEN before a messenger arrived to warn Samson at the fortress of
Etam that thousands of soldiers were coming to take him, the
young and powerful Danite spotted the army of three thousand from
atop the fortress. He could tell by the dress and insignia of the
soldiers that they were of the tribe of Judah. He could think of
no valid reason why fellow Israelites would be a threat to him or
the men with him.
Samson Is Arrested
When the leaders of the army of Judah met with Samson and
the other men at the fortress, the reason for the presence of so
many men was soon made known.
"We admire your great strength and we have marveled at the
ways you have used it and your sense of humor in making the foxes
set fire to the Philistines' crops," the captain of the army of
Judah told Samson. "However, you seem to have forgotten that the
Philistines are ruling over us, and that no one man can change
that unhappy situation. Your violent actions against them and
your insulting ways and remarks have only made them more hostile
toward us. Why have you caused so much trouble?"
"They are our enemies," Samson replied. "They treated me
badly, and I did the same to them. And I might as well enjoy my
revenge by having a good laugh at their expense." (Judges
"What you did has resulted in more grief than you realize,"
the captain continued. "Now we have had to promise the
Philistines that we will deliver you to them bound and alive!
Otherwise, their soldiers will overrun the land with a terrible
Samson silently surveyed the three thousand soldiers below.
He was beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation.
"Who figured that so many men would be required to capture
me?" he laughed. "I am only one man."
The captain's face turned a little red, but he had a
"We didn't know how many men would be in and around this
Samson knew that he would have to submit then and there to
the men of Judah or fight against his own people in an attempt to
escape. He loved all Israelites and didn't want to hurt any of
"I'll willingly go with you if you'll promise to keep me
alive," Samson finally said.
"We'll have to bind you," the captain told him, "but I
promise you that otherwise you will receive only the best
treatment from us."
Samson was free to do as he wished until the soldiers of
Judah had eaten and rested and were ready to start back
northward. Then the husky Danite's mighty arms were securely
bound behind his back with two lengths of strong, new rope. Knots
were made especially secure and the rope was bound very tightly
over his cloth-wrapped wrists so that there would be no
opportunity for leverage or slack by which the binding might
gradually be worked loose. (Judges 15:12-13.)
When the army of Judah started out, Samson was carried on a
litter between burros. The captain wished to make certain that
nothing happened to the Danite before he could be delivered to
the Philistines, who were still waiting to the north in the
rugged region of Judah where their army had moved on.
It was not many miles from the fortress of Etam to where the
Philistines were encamped. Just before the men of Judah reached
the place, the captain gave orders to his three thousand men to
disband and return to their homes. He was fearful that the army
of the Philistines might have formed a trap ahead for his men. A
handful of men were ordered on to guide the burros carrying
Samson, and these men were advised to escape, if they could, as
soon as Samson was in the hands of the Philistines.
A Surprise for the Philistines
When the Philistines learned from look-outs that Samson was
being brought into their camp, they became very excited. They
grabbed up their arms and rushed southward to seize the man who
had troubled them so much. When they saw him being carried toward
them, they begun shouting in triumph. It was quite satisfying to
them to view him being borne to his apparent doom in their midst.
Instead of seizing him immediately, they stood back and shouted
taunts and insults. At this point the men who were guiding the
burros felt that they had accomplished their mission, and they
turned to flee.
Samson made no effort to do anything. Officers sent men to
approach him to examine his bonds to make certain that they were
real and sufficient. They reported that the ropes were new,
strong and well knotted, and that Samson was truly helpless.
Assured, the Philistine officers boldly gathered around Samson.
"So this is the mighty Israelite called Samson!" a
Philistine officer haughtily addressed the prone Danite. "You
have caused us some trouble in the past, but now you should know
that your future is going to be full of a lot more trouble, even
though it will be a very short future!"
A great cheer rose from the Philistines. This was too much
for Samson, who had been trying to wait for some kind of
opportunity. Anger can result in increased strength, and so it
was with the muscular Danite. At the same time God imbued him
with a special power because he had kept the requirements of a
The laughter and hoots of the Philistines increased as
Samson jerked himself up and strained at his ropes. In his bound
state Samson's bulging muscles, rising veins and expression of
anger and agony were a combination to cause great mirth to his
enemies. All this was changed within seconds when the bonds
snapped and the Danite leaped to his feet. Laughter abruptly
faded. Grinning expressions turned to those of surprise and
disbelief. Those who stood close to Samson swiftly moved away
from him. (Judges 15:14.)
This was a crucial moment for Samson. He knew that he needed
more than his fists to protect himself. There was no club, sword,
spear or knife within his immediate reach. There were stones, but
they could only be thrown, and were awkward to use.
Only the Jawbone of a Donkey
His darting eyes at last focused on the nearby skeleton of a
donkey that had died recently and had been freshly picked clean
by scavengers. Samson leaped to the bones, jerked the head from
the rest of the skeleton and yanked the lower jawbone from the
By this time the bolder of the Philistines were beginning to
close in on him. Grasping the jawbone by its smaller end, Samson
started slamming away all about him, cracking the arms, heads,
chests and backs of those who were courageous enough, however
unwise, to come close to him. Some of the officers who had
taunted Samson were pushed up to him by their surging soldiers,
insomuch that they were included among Samson's victims.
When Philistine soldiers at a distance at last realized what
was happening, they tried to rush in and overcome Samson by their
very numbers. Men were rammed up to the Danite by the hundreds,
but Samson swung the jawbone so swiftly and fiercely that no man
was able to seize him or even touch him without being severely
wounded or slain. Even so, the Philistines continued to pour in
to their deaths.
What with Samson being surrounded with Philistines, soldiers
more at a distance hesitated to use spears and arrows, lest they
kill their own men. The sight of the slaughter of their fellow
soldiers by a man crushing their skulls was too unnerving for the
Philistines. The rest of them disappeared into the hills,
bringing the strange battle to a quick end.
There was silence to take the place of the shouts of
fighting men. And on the arid ground lay a thousand Philistine
corpses brought to that state because of Samson's swift, strong
use of a donkey's jawbone -- and God's help. (Judges 15:15.)
It was a ragged, sweating, weary Danite who looked warily
about for more Philistines to rush in. He was breathing hard
after his long, fatiguing struggle. He listened for the approach
of more attackers, but the only sounds were the groans of the
wounded and dying. As Samson uncertainly stood there amid the
hundreds of corpses, it was difficult for him to realize what had
"I can scarcely believe it," he muttered to himself. "God
must have helped and protected me, or I wouldn't have been able
to overcome all these men with the jawbone of a donkey!"
Finally he realized that the fingers of his right hand were
still wrapped tightly around the jawbone. Then he tossed it away.
He named the place "Ramath-Lehi", which means "Hill of The
Jawbone." (Judges 15:16-17.)
Until that moment he hadn't realized how tired and thirsty
he had become. He looked around for some source of water, but
there appeared to be no brook or spring in the vicinity. None of
the dead Philistines had canteens, having excitedly rushed out of
their camp with only their weapons.
Samson realized he would be risking death if his enemies
should attack him in his tired condition. He fell weakly to his
knees in the dry soil, then forward on his face.
God Sends Water
"You have helped me through many great dangers, God!" he
muttered wearily. "Surely you didn't spare me to this moment just
so I would die of thirst and my body at last fall into the hands
of my pagan enemies! Please give me water!"
He lay motionless on the hot ground. His throat began to
burn as though he had swallowed hot coals. He was too miserable
and worn out to go any farther.
Above his labored breathing he heard a faint sound like the
soft gurgle of bubbling liquid.
Samson then raised his head up to see clear water flowing up
out of the ground only a few feet away! He stared at it
unbelievingly. It took moments for him to realize that God had
granted his request and had by a miracle made a spring in a low
spot, or hollow place, there at Lehi, called "the jaw" in the
King James version. Spurred to action by the sight and sound of
the water, he crawled slowly up to it and dropped his head into
the cool spring to gulp in the life-giving water!
Soon Samson's strength returned. He was so thankful for the
miracle God performed to save his life that he named the place
En-hakkore, which means "Well of the Implorer." (Judges
He had no difficulty in returning to his home town. The
Philistines feared him more than ever. Some believed that he was
possessed with a demon, while others thought that the Israelite
God he worshipped had something to do with his unusual strength.
They decided to leave him alone until some circumstance favorable
to them would result in his death.
It was a long, long time, however, before that circumstance
developed. After his victorious encounter with the Philistine
army, God made Samson judge over southwest Israel. He continued
in that office for the next twenty years. During that time,
however, the Israelites were still under subjection to their
oppressors. (Judges 15:20.)
One day near the end of that twenty-year period, Samson
rashly went to the Philistine capital city of Gaza near the
Mediterranean, or the Great Sea. This city had been captured by
Judah many years previously, but had fallen back into Philistine
hands at one of the times Israel had forsaken the Creator.
Samson's reason for going to Gaza isn't mentioned in the
Bible, but it was unwise for him to move about in the land of his
enemies. To make matters worse, he went into one of Gaza's
leading inns. It was impossible that such a powerfully built man
-- with the uncut hair and beard of one under a nazarite vow --
should go unrecognized. Since Samson's peculiar features were
well known, word spread swiftly that the mighty Danite was in
town. Military officials were quite excited when they heard the
news. They immediately ordered men to close the gates of the city
so that Samson could not leave. Excitement mounted when it was
later reported that Samson had been so attracted by the
proprietress of the inn that he had decided to stay there till
the next day.
Are Gates and Bars Enough?
"This is even more to our advantage!" a Philistine officer
exclaimed. "He'll surely stay all night, and we'll better be able
to cope with him in the daylight. Then, when he tries to get out,
we will have the last laugh. At that time I want every man to
come out of hiding and set upon him with every kind of weapon.
This time that Israelite, Samson, will come to his death by our
hands!" (Judges 16:1-2.)
Some Philistines who were aware of the plot against Samson
quickly went to the inn to inform him. Of course they hoped that
the Israelite judge would reward them handsomely. Samson realized
that this could be a plan to get him out of the place right away
and into the arms of his enemies, but he took a chance and left
the inn about midnight.
Carefully keeping in the deep shadows, he silently went to
the double gates of the city. He thought it strange that no
guards were in sight. He hurried to remove the bar that held the
gates locked and rigid after dark. To his surprise, after he
removed the bar, the gates were still rigid. He pushed and pulled
on them, but they wouldn't open. He realized then that another
bar had also been fixed to the outside of the gates --
undoubtedly to keep him escaping to safety among his own people.
There was no way out except over the wall. It was too high
for him to scale. And in those places where structures were built
high against it, it might have been possible for him to get up on
the wall, but it would have been too much of a drop on the
Samson was as angry at himself for having blundered into
this predicament as he was at the Philistines for trapping him.
His first impulse was to step back and hurl himself at the double
door in an attempt to crack the outside bar. Then a vengeful
notion came to him. He seized the post to which the left gate was
fixed and yanked it loose from the wall. He did the same with the
right post. The gates and posts, held together by the bar that
had been bolted across them from the outside fell to the ground
as a solid mass. Samson was free again! Just for a joke -- to
have a laugh on the Philistine oppressors -- Samson decided to
make them look ridiculous again.
Lifting one edge up, Samson squeezed under the gates and
hoisted them onto his shoulders. After balancing them to the best
position, he walked away with the gates of Gaza -- posts, bar and
But Samson wasn't content just to remove the gates. They
were found a few days later on top of a high hill several miles
to the east. (Judges 16:3.)
With all his strength and his virtues -- his faithfulness to
his nazarite vow, his patriotic love for God and the Israelites
-- Samson seemed to have a weakness for pretty Philistine women.
To him their pagan culture seemed very charming. Not long after
the episode at Gaza, he was attracted to a Philistine woman by
the name of Delilah.
There were five main Philistine rulers, and when they heard
that Samson had chosen a mate, they found out who she was and
sent agents to talk to her.
"We have been instructed by our superiors to ask you to do a
great favor for them," the agents secretly told Delilah. "It is
something that should be easy for you, but we are willing to
reward you well."
"Of course this has to do with Samson," the wily Delilah
"Why -- yes. It does," the spokesman for the agents replied.
"And you would like me to find out what makes him so strong
so that the rulers of Philistia will know how to deal with him,"
Delilah went on.
The agents were a bit taken aback by this statement, but at
the same time they were relieved that they wouldn't have so much
"I expected something like this." Delilah told them. "What
makes you think, gentlemen, that even a great reward would cause
me to betray Samson?" (Judges 16:4-5.)
THE POWER OF A WOMAN
SAMSON fell in love with a beautiful Philistine woman named
Delilah. (Judges 16:4.) The five representatives of the five
rulers of Philistia had come to offer a reward to Delilah if she
would discover for them the secret of Samson's strength. When
Delilah asked them why they presumed that she could be paid to
betray Samson, they felt that she was about to refuse.
Delilah Makes a Deal
"You should do this for the good of our great nation and all
your Philistine friends," they anxiously told her. "You would be
aiding in keeping down trouble and bloodshed!" Delilah eyed them
quizzically for a few moments.
"I suppose you are right," she finally said, casually
running one hand over her hair to push it into place. "If I find
out what you want to know, how much are you willing to give me?"
"We'll give you a total of 5,500 pieces of silver, and no
more," the relieved spokesman for the agents replied. "This money
will be delivered to you just as soon as Samson is in our hands!"
"Be prepared to pay me very soon," Delilah quipped as she
smiled at the five men. Although Samson didn't realize it, the
woman he loved was proving to be a greedy opportunist who would
do anything for enough money.
That same night she began to question Samson about the
source of his strength.
"One reason why I admire and respect you so much," she
fondly whispered to him in a time of intimacy, "is that your
enemies have never been able to overcome you because of your
great physical power. I know that you must have some secret
source of such unusual power. It would please me if you would
tell me that secret."
"I can think of no worthwhile reason why you should know
such a thing," Samson replied. "You are a bit too curious to be
"I suppose so," Delilah tactfully sighed. "I merely hoped
that you would share with me the knowledge of what great thing it
would take to overcome such a strong man as you."
Samson fondly surveyed Delilah. He had such an ardent
affection for her that he didn't wish to refuse her some kind of
answer. Yet, he did not completely trust her with the secret of
his great strength. And Samson did not want to risk unnecessary
danger. So he decided to use his sharp wit again so that, if
Delilah talked too much to the wrong people, he might have
another good laugh on the Philistines.
"If my enemies were to carefully bind me with seven strong,
green strips of bark twisted together," Samson said, "then my
special strength would fail me, and I would be no stronger than
any other man of my physical development." (Judges 16:7.)
"Samson, why do you tell me such a tale?" Delilah gently
scolded him, thereby trying to cause him to think that she didn't
"Why don't you try binding me with such a cord and see what
happens?" Samson asked. "I think I shall do just that, my
darling," Delilah replied.
Hours later, Delilah contacted the representatives of the
rulers of Philistia to tell them what Samson had told her.
"It could be that Samson made up a story to test your
loyalty," one of the men observed.
"I realize that," Delilah answered, "but you'll agree that
we'll have to take a chance. Furnish me with the seven strong,
green strips of bark braided together, and I'll manage somehow to
tie Samson up with them. I'll have men hiding in another part of
my home to leap on him if he cannot break the cord!"
"Excellent!" exclaimed the spokesman for the five agents.
"We'll send you the cord right away! The rest is up to you!"
Another Laugh for Samson
Later, when everything was in readiness, Delilah produced
the cord and playfully wound it about Samson.
"I took you at your word," she told him smilingly, carefully
knotting the cord at his wrists behind his back. "Now, if you are
as helpless as you said you would be. what if I should call for
your enemies to come and take you?"
"This little game of ours wouldn't be very interesting if
you already knew what would happen," Samson teased. "If you have
some way to get in touch with my enemies this very minute, I'll
Samson was quite unaware that a number of picked Philistine
soldiers were hiding only a few yards away, ready to pounce on
him at the expected moment of his helplessness. He was quite
surprised when Delilah began shouting.
"Samson is bound!" she called out excitedly. "Come after
him, you men!
The hidden men, peeking through small slits in a curtain,
failed to move or make any noise. They first wanted to see what
the Danite would do. They had been told that he probably would
struggle quite fiercely with his bonds if they proved to be too
much for him, and the soldiers were taking no chances.
Suddenly Samson broke the cord as though it were made of
cobwebs, causing the Philistines to fall back and quietly flee
through a rear entrance. Delilah was relieved that the soldiers
hadn't rushed into the room. She quickly regained her composure
and concealed her disappointment by smiling and applauding.
A few nights later, when she felt that enough time had
passed so that Samson wouldn't guess how anxious she was to
betray him, she again brought up the subject of his strength.
"Why did you jest with me about the wonderful source of your
great power?" she asked in a hurt tone. "I don't think it was
fair of you to tell me something that wasn't true."
"I didn't think you had a good reason to be serious," Samson
explained, "so I put you off with a light answer."
"But I was serious!" Delilah insisted. "Why shouldn't you
tell me what a wondrous thing it would take to overcome such a
man as you?"
Again, because of his deep feeling for Delilah, Samson felt
that he should give an answer, but he was too wary to tell her
all she wanted to know.
Samson Still Cautious
"All right, Delilah," he sighed. "Here's what could prove my
undoing. If I were bound tightly with strong, new ropes that have
never before been used for any other purpose, then would I be
only as strong as any other man of my size and development."
Delilah realized that this wasn't necessarily so, but there
was nothing to do but obtain the new rope and again hide the
Philistines in her house while she once more went through the
rather childish procedure of playfully binding Samson.
"I can't imagine why tying me up seems so fascinating to
you," Samson commented, "but if it makes you happy, I don't
By this time Delilah had bound Samson very thoroughly with
the heavy, strong, new rope. She believed now that he would have
great difficulty in getting free, what with the manner in which
she had wound the rope around and around his arms, wrists, waist
and neck. After tying a last knot, she abruptly backed away.
"Samson is bound!" she shouted. "Come out and seize him
before he can loose himself."
Again the peeking Philistines held back until they could be
doubly sure that it was safe to expose themselves. When they saw
Samson flex his muscles and break the ropes as though they were
fine threads, they once more fled for their lives. (Judges
Delilah could well be thankful for the second time that the
Philistines left instead of exposing themselves. She repeated her
performance of the time before, to try to cause Samson to believe
that it was all a little game, however silly, to show him how
much she admired his unusual physical power.
For the third time, several nights later, Delilah launched
into another attempt to uncover Samson's secret.
"You have mocked me twice in this matter," she told Samson
in a wounded voice. "Don't you love me enough to share your
greatest secret with me?"
"Of course I do," Samson answered. "Now listen to this. As
you know, I often divide my hair into seven different tresses.
I'll lie here on the floor in front of your loom. If you can
weave my seven locks with the web of your loom, the main source
of my strength will depart from me."
For the third time Delilah halfheartedly arranged for
Philistines to be hidden in the next room while Samson submitted
to having his seven plaits of hair being put through Delilah's
loom. Delilah purposely took so much time that Samson fell
asleep. When she had his hair woven with the web and securely
fastened to the pin of her loom, she cried out to the hiding men
to leap out and seize Samson. Awakened, he sat up suddenly,
jerking the pin and the web loose from the loom by the strength
of his hair and muscles. As before, when the Philistines saw that
he was free, they fled. (Judges 16:13-14.)
"How can you say that you love me after mocking me three
times about your great strength?" Delilah asked in a slightly
"I can love you without having to answer all your
questions," Samson replied with some irritation. "If you really
care for me, you won't bother me any more with this subject!"
The Temptress Finally Wins
Nevertheless, from then on, Delilah kept badgering him with
questions. Every day and every night she would ply him with
questions about the source of his strength. He began to feel that
the risk he would run by exposing his secret wasn't worth what he
suffered by her nagging. In fact, he felt that he would rather
risk death than continue to put up with such nagging.
"All right! ALL RIGHT!" Samson finally exclaimed in
desperation, clamping his fists against the sides of his head.
"I'll tell you anything you want to know! After that I never want
to hear any more from you about why I am as I am!"
Assuming an expression of compassion, though she was really
quite elated, Delilah rushed to Samson and threw her arms about
him. It appeared that this unprincipled temptress whom Samson
unwisely loved was about to succeed where a whole army had
"I'm sorry, my darling!" she murmured. "I guess I didn't
realize that I was being so troublesome. If it will help you to
get anything off your mind, sit down and tell me all about it!"
"You Philistines probably don't know much about such
things," Samson began, "but at the moment I was born I became a
nazarite, which meant that I was dedicated to service for the God
of Israel for my entire life. (Judges 13:1-25.) There are several
special things that a nazarite must do. One of those things is to
let his hair and beard grow without any cutting or trimming.
(Numbers 6:1-21.) If my hair and beard were to be cut off, my
nazarite vow would be broken and God probably would not give me
the special protection He has given me all my life. Neither would
He give me the special strength I have at times when I am to
perform unusual feats!" (Judges 16:15-17.)
Delilah was certain that at last Samson had told her the
truth. Later, she contacted the agents of the rulers of Philistia
to tell them that Samson was about to become their prisoner. She
arranged for the usual men to go into hiding in her house that
When Samson returned from business elsewhere, Delilah met
him with unusual warmth. Because it was quite late, she sat on
the floor and suggested that Samson lie with his head in her lap.
She sang to him softly, gently running her fingers through his
great mass of hair. Soon he was asleep, but she didn't try to
She waited until his heavy breathing indicated that he
wouldn't be easily awakened.
It was then that she silently signaled to one of the men in
concealment, who hesitantly appeared and fearfully moved toward
the sleeping Danite. This man was a barber whom Delilah had hired
to join the Philistine soldiers.
Samson's Nazarite Vow Broken
It took time for this timorous fellow to get up courage to
apply his razor to Samson's flowing locks, but once he got off to
a start, it didn't take him long to deftly crop the sleeping
man's hair and beard off short. When his task was done, he lost
no time in leaving.
During this most unusual haircut, Samson had at times moved
restlessly. Delilah continued singing to him softly, hoping that
he wouldn't spoil everything by awakening.
But as soon as he was shorn, Delilah didn't care how soon he
awoke. She signaled to the Philistines to come out of hiding, but
they didn't dare until they could believe that he was too weak to
"Wake up to face your enemies!" Delilah scoffingly muttered
Samson moved, but didn't awaken. Delilah pushed his head off
her lap and prodded him with her foot. (Judges 16:18-19.)
"Get up, Israelite!" she smirked. "You have company!"
Only half awake, Samson slowly got to his knees, at the same
time sleepily rubbing his head.
When he felt the absence of hair, his eyes popped open and
he lurched to his feet. Because he reeled slightly due to coming
out of deep slumber so suddenly, the hiding Philistines believed
that he had suddenly become very weak. At last, after running
from Samson several times, they had the courage to charge out and
swarm over him.
Samson at first tried to beat them off as they came on, but
suddenly realized he no longer had his great strength. He began
wondering how he had lost his hair and if God had completely
deserted him because of his breaking his nazarite vow. The answer
was plain when it became apparent that he was powerless against
the group of brawny Philistine soldiers. Samson's love for a
pretty pagan had been his undoing, just as God had warned the
Israelites. (Exodus 23:31-33; Joshua 23:12-13.)
The Philistines hauled Samson to the floor, then pinned him
down and bound him. By this time Delilah had disappeared. She had
slipped out to collect the 5,500 pieces of silver from the agents
who were close at hand.
From then on, for the next hour or so, Philistines closed in
from all directions. Samson was dragged outside and confronted by
a growing number of enemy officers who were most jubilant about
the great victory over one man -- a victory it had taken them
more than two decades to accomplish because God had planned it
Amidst the shouts and cheers of the Philistines, Samson
realized that he had been betrayed by a woman he should have
shunned, and that God was punishing him. Bitter indeed was the
distress of this mighty man who had just been outwitted and
overpowered by a woman of very low character.
To add to his misery and apprehension, the bound Samson
suddenly was aware that someone was shoving two red-hot pieces of
metal directly toward his eyes! (Judges 16:20-21.)
FROM REBELLION TO IDOLATRY
HAVING lost his special God-given strength when his hair was cut
off during his sleep, Samson finally fell into the hands of the
Philistines. They didn't choose to kill him, because they wanted
to show him off around the country. To make certain that he
wouldn't continue to give them trouble, they intended to deprive
him of his sight. (Judges 16:15-21.)
Samson's Tragic Penalty
When Samson saw the red-hot irons being pushed toward his
head, he threw every ounce of his vigor into trying to snap the
thick leather cords binding his arms and legs. Although his
natural strength was most unusual, he couldn't even begin to
break his bonds without God's help.
In that awful moment when the hot iron took away his sight,
the Danite realized that it was his punishment because he had
fallen for Philistine women. Too late, he finally realized he had
fallen for their good looks -- their eye-appeal -- and not for
character. God had warned the Israelites that they should not
intermarry with the people of surrounding pagan nations, because
they would lead the Israelites away from following God. The
Israelites were to be a special, holy people. (Deuteronomy
Amid growing crowds of yelling Philistines, the wretched,
degraded, pain-ridden Israelite was paraded out of town and
southward to the city of Gaza, the gates of which Samson had
previously carried away. There he was bound with chains and
imprisoned. Later his chains were loosened just enough so that he
could be put to work at the menial task of pushing a millstone in
the grain-grinding room of the prison. (Judges 16:21.) Ordinarily
several men were required to keep the heavy stone turning, but
the Philistines often forced Samson to move it all by himself
until his strength gave out.
In the months that followed, the Danite was a great object
of interest and ridicule for his enemies. Thousands, a few at a
time, came to the prison to watch him struggle with the
millstone. At various times he was taken to important public
gatherings so that more people would be able to see the pathetic
figure who for so long had been their mighty enemy. Meanwhile,
Samson's hair was again growing to an unusual length.
To show their thanks to their pagan god, called Dagon, for
helping them win out over Samson, the Philistines planned a
special meeting at a large temple in Gaza. The temple contained a
huge image of their idol, to which they intended to make unusual
sacrifices. It was to be a most extraordinary event at which all
the Philistine leaders were to be present. (Judges 16:22-23.)
When the time arrived for the celebration, about three
thousand spectators were gathered, including all the rulers,
military leaders and other dignitaries and their wives or women
friends jammed into the best viewing area. (Verse 27.)
The idol Dagon was a towering monstrosity with a human-like
head and torso. From the waist down it resembled the rear half of
a fish. Before it was a wide stone altar on which sacrifices were
to be made. Pompous Philistine priests stood by to await their
part in the ceremonies, some of which were disgustingly lewd.
Debauch and Degradation
Because the emphasis was on pleasure in this special
celebration, wine flowed freely all day. By noon so many people
were in some stage of drunkenness that there arose a chant for
Samson to be brought before them. As the hours passed, the demand
became louder and louder.
The priests of Dagon were greatly discouraged by this turn
of events. They felt that the high point of the celebration
should be the sacrifices and exciting ceremonial rites, and they
realized that an appearance by Samson would probably upstage
their part of the show. Accordingly, they sent word to the
Philistine rulers present, requesting that the loud demands of
the crowd be squelched.
The priests were the ones who were squelched, however. It
developed that the ones who were most loudly demanding Samson's
presence included the wives and companions of the Philistine
leaders in the balconies, and it wasn't the wish of the leaders
that their ladies should be disappointed. An official order soon
went out to bring Samson to the temple.
When the Danite appeared before the crowd, a mighty surge of
derisive remarks and laughter broke out. Most of the people
expected their prisoner to be dragged out by several strong
guards. Instead, he hesitantly came on stage with a small boy who
led him by the hand!
This piece of showmanship to degrade Samson and please the
audience resulted in such drawn-out clamor that a high official
finally had to appear on the altar to quiet the crowd.
"Let us proceed with the ceremonies to show our thanks to
our great god Dagon for what he has done for us!" he shouted.
"Then we shall bring back the blind Israelite to perform a few
feats of strength for us!" (Judges 16:24-25.)
This pacified the crowd. The speaker motioned for the boy to
lead Samson out of sight, and festivities continued.
Samson had been in the temple once before he had lost his
sight. He remembered that it was built in such a way that the
main structural strength of the building depended on two huge
"Lad, lead me to the two main pillars of the temple," Samson
said to his young guide.
"I can't do that," the boy replied. "I was told to stay
right here with you until the sacrifices are over. Then I am to
take you out in the sight of the people again."
"But I am weary from working at the mill," Samson explained,
"and these dangling chains on my ankles are very tiring. If I
could prop myself between those two close pillars for a few
minutes, I would be a bit refreshed for what I am to do later
before the people." (Judges 16:26.)
Samson's Desperate Plan
Samson was hoping the boy would find that the attention of
all officers and officials nearby was directed to what was
happening out on the altar, so that his young guide would find it
easier to do as he was asked.
"Well -- " the lad faltered, "it's really only a little way
to the pillars, and I don't see anyone watching us. Maybe I could
get you over there if you'll tell anyone who asks that it was
your idea and not mine."
"I promise," Samson said. "And I think I can give you some
very important advice in return for your favor."
The moment Samson was led within touch of the pillars, he
quickly felt the distance between them. It turned out, as he
remembered, only a few feet. This suited the plan Samson was
devising for getting revenge on all the great Philistine leaders.
"Thank you for doing this for me," Samson said to his
youthful guide. "Now I'm going to give you that important advice
I promised you. I want you to leave me at once and run out of the
temple as fast as you can!"
"Why must I do that?" the lad asked unhappily. "It's my duty
to stay with you. If I don't, I'll be beaten!"
"It could be worse for you if you don't leave now!" Samson
whispered harshly to the boy. "Go before it's too late!"
The Israelite realized the value of every second. He spent
no more time talking. He bowed his head and silently and
fervently asked God to once more strengthen him to the extent
that he could perform a feat by which he might be avenged for the
loss of his sight by the Philistines. It was God's plan that
Samson should feel strongly about this personal request, so that
he would make the effort and sacrifice He had in mind. (Judges
After his prayer, Samson groped out quickly for his young
companion, but he felt nothing.
"Where are you, lad?" he called out.
There was no response. The boy, realizing something was
afoot, had quietly scampered out.
Samson waited for a few moments, then stepped back between
the pillars. He spread his hands and feet out and pressed them
against the columns on either side so that he was firmly wedged
between the two columns. From that point he squirmed his way
upward until he was several feet above the floor.
Excited shouts suddenly came to him above the rising babble
of the roused crowd.
"Get Samson!" someone suddenly yelled. "He's trying to
The Danite heard the sound of frantically approaching
footsteps. He knew that he had been discovered. Momentarily he
expected a spear or a knife to thud into his body. He had hoped
to work higher up the pillars to a point where pressure would be
more effective, but there was no more time left for maneuvering.
Time was fast running out for a try at one final great feat of
"God of Israel, help me to bring death to these Philistines,
even though I have to die with them!" Samson prayed.
A Tragic Success
Using all his natural strength, Samson strained desperately
against the two pillars. He was at first unable to move them, and
relaxed himself a moment for a second try. It was then that God
imbued him with superhuman power. Just as some Philistine
soldiers were about to reach him and jerk him down, Samson
managed to move the pillars. They bowed away from each other,
then buckled, the stone blocks slipping out of place to allow all
that was above to come thundering to the floor. Samson and the
men who were about to seize him were crushed and buried.
The two main columns having been connected directly with and
supporting the rest of the structure, the whole temple crumpled
and came crashing down within a matter of seconds. The wild
shouts of drunken celebration abruptly turned to screams of
terror as three thousand people plummeted to their deaths on
hundreds more people below. Pagan priests at the altar lost their
lives at the same time as the idol Dagon crashed face downward in
the dust of destruction.
In those few seconds when so many of the leaders of
Philistia were wiped out along with Samson, the Israelites of
southwest Canaan were freed for a time from their oppressors.
Without their leaders, the Philistines could do little against
the Israelites. In spite of his weakness, Samson's life and his
death were not in vain. God used him in a mighty manner for the
benefit of his people. (Judges 16:29-30.) Word of the great
destruction quickly spread, and the Israelites realized they no
longer need have such great fear of the Philistines.
Inasmuch as the Israelites suddenly lost their fear of the
Philistines, Samson's relatives boldly went down to Gaza to find
and claim his body. They took it back to the territory of the
tribe of Dan, where Samson was buried next to his father in the
family cemetery near his home town. (Judges 16:31.)
Because God spoke in the Bible so plainly about Samson's
weakness for pretty Philistine women, some people have
misunderstood the meaning of Samson's life. Samson's accusers
have forgotten that God Himself said He allowed Samson to fall
prey to this weakness in order to bring Samson into conflict with
the Philistines. Read it in Judges 14:1-4. Samson's accusers have
also forgotten that Samson was a man of extraordinary
faithfulness to God in every way except for this one major
weakness -- and in a time when most of the Israelites were
steeped in idolatry.
Out of his great love for God and for his fellow Israelites,
Samson faithfully kept God's commandments and fulfilled all of
the requirements of his nazarite vow -- except for that one major
weakness which God knew he had. Because of the grief brought upon
him by his love for Philistine women, Samson struggled even
harder to deliver his people from oppression than he would have
if no trouble had befallen him.
Samson cheerfully, without complaining, accepted the life of
trouble and heartache that came upon him in God's service. He
laughed at grief and made a joke of disappointment. Who among us
has so cheerfully borne grief?
Samson wasn't concerned about his sufferings, because he,
like Abraham and God's other faithful servants of old, was
concerned about God's salvation and the heavenly city made by
God, in which they shall have an inheritance after being
resurrected. (Hebrews 11:10, 14-16, 32, 35, 39-40.) These men had
faith that God would establish that great city on earth as the
eternal home of His children. (Revelation 21:1-4.) Samson's great
faith in God enabled him to overcome most of his temptations --
and he very likely overcame his fondness for pagan Philistine
women and repented of that sin while he was in prison.
How Idolatry Starts
Samson was one of the last of the judges. In the period when
these leaders were in and out of power in various parts of
Canaan, Israel was never quite right with God. After Joshua's
death the people went so far into idolatry that God gave them no
leaders or deliverers for many years. Without leadership or
punishment, people degenerated to the point where each person
lived as he thought best (Judges 17:6), a condition which led to
all kinds of trouble. God had commanded the Israelites for their
own good not to do what they thought best, but to obey Him.
(Deuteronomy 12:8.) The Israelites repeatedly disobeyed, doing as
they pleased -- as they thought best -- to their sorrow.
For example, to go back to an era before the first judge
appeared on the scene, there was a man by the name of Micah, in
the tribe of Ephraim, who had stolen a sizable sum of silver from
his elderly mother. Considering herself of a religious nature,
Micah's mother had in her own way decided to dedicate the eleven
hundred shekels to God. She was so upset when she found the money
missing that she pronounced a curse on the thief, whoever he was.
When Micah heard his mother pray that some evil thing should
overcome the thief, he was quite worried. He, too, in a
superstitious way, feared the God of Israel, though he didn't
know too much about how to please God. Because his parents had
not trained him to obey God, Micah was a thief and a scoundrel.
Afraid that some evil thing would befall him, however, he
confessed the theft to his mother, and gave all the money back to
her. She was saddened to learn that her own son would rob her,
but at the same time she was so pleased to realize that her son
was conscience-stricken that, still doing as she thought right,
instead of obeying the scriptures, she offered the money back to
him. (Judges 17:1-3.)
"I dare not take it," Micah said. "You pronounced a curse on
the one who took it, and I don't want that curse to fall on me.
You should use the money as you first intended -- doing something
Micah's mother agreed. Micah and his mother weren't
earnestly looking to God to learn how to live. They didn't obey
Him, but lived as they pleased and convinced themselves their way
was all right with God, as long as they did some little physical
thing religiously. Their religion had degenerated to the level of
superstition -- a man-made idolatry. Micah's mother had spent
hours designing a certain kind of image, or idol, that she
thought would be pleasing to God, and her first act was to use
some of the silver to have such a carved image heavily coated.
The metal worker she hired also melted more of the silver down
into a solid metal idol for her. Eager to help in this misguided
project, Micah carefully created several small idols such as were
found in most pagan homes. He also produced a vestment of the
type he fancied should be worn by an Israelite priest.
Micah then chose one of his sons, who was full grown, to be
a priest. (Judges 17:4-6.) This was another wrong thing to do
because only those of the family of Aaron were to be priests in
Israel. (Exodus 28:1-5; Leviticus 8:35-36; Numbers 3:10;
Deuteronomy 21:5.) No one can appoint himself to God's ministry.
(Numbers 16; Numbers 17; Hebrews 5:4.)
Idolatry Caused by Spiritual Neglect
What Micah and his mother were attempting to do, in their
superstitious zeal, was to set up their own temple of worship,
patterned slightly after what they had heard or supposed it was
like at the tabernacle at Shiloh. The farther they got into
idolatry, the more religious they felt. The religions of the
surrounding pagan nations had been so mixed in with God's laws
over the years that very few Israelites could remember what God
expected of them. It was somewhat as it is today with so many
church denominations that try to decide for themselves how to
worship God. Most of them teach and promote ancient pagan beliefs
gotten by hearsay and tradition, as in Micah's case, mixing them
with a few true Christian principles -- something the Bible
repeatedly states is loathsome in God's sight. (Deuteronomy
12:29-30; II Kings 17:15.)
Micah and his mother had no Bible to instruct them and made
little or no effort to learn God's laws on the Sabbaths and
during the festival assemblies as they should have. (Deuteronomy
6:1-12; Acts 15:21; Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Nehemiah 8:1-3.)
Otherwise, they probably would have done things much differently.
As it was, Micah in his paganized way felt that he was fairly
successful in doing his part to revive respect for God in his
part of Israel just as people in false churches do today. He
wasn't aware of how wrong he was.
One day a young Israelite stranger stopped at Micah's house,
explaining that he was a Levite looking for work. When Micah
heard this, he became very excited.
"I've heard that Levites make the best priests!" he
exclaimed. "How would you like to work for me as my priest?"
A MINISTER FOR HIRE
THE wandering Levite who had come to the home of Micah, an
Ephraimite, was warmly welcomed. Micah immediately learned from
which tribe the stranger had come and that his name was Jonathan.
(Judges 17:5-8.) He had heard that Levites were especially suited
to be priests, though he didn't know exactly why.
Had he known God's laws, he would have realized that God had
chosen them for a special purpose. In the days of Moses, God
chose out of the tribe of Levi the family of Aaron to be His
priests. (Exodus 28:1, 40-43.) The other Levites were to do the
physical work of caring for the tabernacle. (Numbers 1:47-54.)
They were all to be teachers.
A Grandson of Moses
"My son is now my priest here at our humble little shrine,"
Micah enthusiastically told the stranger. "If you, a Levite,
would consent to replace him, I shall provide all your clothes,
priestly vestments and objects, food and lodging! Besides, I
shall give you ten shekels of silver a year!"
The Levite should have been terribly shocked to find such
apostasy in Israel. But he wasn't. In fact, he was wandering
about because he had been thrust from his office for his sins.
The stranger realized that this offer was more profitable
and more to his liking than what he had been doing, even though
ten shekels of silver was only a very small amount. Since most
Israelites were failing to pay God His tithe, many Levites had no
income. They had apparently failed to teach the people tithing.
Being one who was inclined to make the most of a good thing,
Micah's guest acted for a time as though he couldn't make up his
mind. At last, realizing Micah wouldn't raise the offer, the
Levite slowly nodded his head in silent agreement. (Judges
"Good!" Micah exclaimed happily. "Let us lose no time in
consecrating you as my priest. From then on you will be the one
who will conduct ceremonies and talk to God for me. Certainly
your prayers will be honored more because you are a Levite, and
therefore God will surely prosper me!"
This remark made it obvious why Micah was so anxious to be
considered a very religious man. He superstitiously believed that
the combination of images, priest and God would surely bring him
material wealth. Many people today put the same superstitious
confidence in using statues, beads and rituals in church
services, thinking they are serving God.
As for the young stranger, whose name was Jonathan, his
motives weren't any better than Micah's. He was stepping into a
false office. He should have known better. The original inspired
Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament tell us he was the
grandson of Moses! At a much later date the Jews tried to hide
the identity of Jonathan. They thought that by doing so they were
honoring Moses. So they inserted above the line the letter "n,"
changing the original word from Moses to Manasseh! That change
has crept into the Authorized Version. (Judges 18:30.)
At this time many of the families of the tribe of Dan were
discouraged because most of their share of Canaan was still held
by the powerful Amorites. (Judges 1:34-35; 18:1.) The mountainous
area around Zorah and Eshtaol, which was all they had been able
to conquer, did not give them enough land. They were unhappy
because their small area was hemmed in so solidly by their
enemies. In the broad valley below them, to the west, the many
Amorite chariots had been able to hurl back every Danite attack.
The Danites didn't trust God to fight their battles as He
had promised. (Deuteronomy 7:1-2.) Out of fear they decided to go
somewhere else and take some weak people's land.
In an effort to learn more about territory in distant areas,
Danite leaders sent five, strong, well-trained scouts from their
towns of Zorah and Eshtaol. It was an expedition somewhat like
the one sent many years before into Canaan by Moses. They were in
search of land that would be easier to conquer.
On their way northward they came to the Mt. Ephraim region
and by chance arrived at Micah's somewhat secluded home as night
was coming on. When Micah saw they were Israelites, he invited
them to stay until morning. (Judges 18:2.)
One Sin Leads to Another
Suddenly they heard the voice of Jonathan, whom they already
knew. When they went in, they met Jonathan, who by then had
become established as Micah's priest. Jonathan told them how he
had come into such an office. These Danites and their whole tribe
had strayed far from God. They probably didn't realize the
seriousness of Jonathan's sins. When the Danites discovered that
they were at a place where divination was used, they wanted
Jonathan to get in touch with the god of this world.
"Find out for us if our expedition will be successful in the
direction we plan to take," they eagerly asked. This is a sad
example of how far the Israelites had strayed from God's law into
fortune-telling. They should have remembered that God commanded
them to go to only the High Priest to inquire as to whether or
not they should go to battle. (Numbers 27:21.)
The Levite obligingly donned his priestly vestments and went
alone into the room where the idols and other religious objects
were. After a while he returned to announce to the Danites what
he thought would please them. They would be safe in their
journey, and God would lead them to a place such as they sought.
The five scouts were greatly pleased by this report -- which
of course was something Jonathan had made up to gratify Micah's
guests in the same manner that an astrologer or palm reader would
seek to please patrons. Jonathan felt sure his guess was a good
one because the Israelites were successful in most of their
Assured of success, the Danites continued northward for
several days. Eventually they arrived at a very fertile region
near the southwest corner of Syria. It was north of Lake Huleh --
which is also called the "Waters of Merom" -- and southwest of Mt.
Hermon. There they noted that the people were prosperous and
seemingly were not fearful of raids or attacks by neighboring
nations. The inhabitants had little contact with the outside
world. They carelessly enjoyed their prosperity without
maintaining an adequate defense system.
The city in this area was Laish. When the scouts saw how
unprotected it was, they were doubly certain that Micah's priest
was indeed a sound oracle of God. This part of the land, they
reasoned, was surely meant for at least some of the Danites.
They hastily returned southward to their people in the
Danite cities of Zorah and Eshtaol, about fifteen miles west of
"We found a spot far to the north that is a paradise!" the
scouts told their people. "The inhabitants are well off and are
peaceful and at ease. A surprise attack by a well-equipped force
would mean quick victory. We feel sure that God intends us to
take the area. Let us prepare at once to go there!" (Judges
Many Danite families decided quickly to go. Since they had
not yet settled into permanent homes, because of the scarcity of
land, they were able to pack quickly. When they moved out next
morning, six hundred Danite men, armed as soldiers, marched
northward with their families and livestock. At the end of the
first day they camped by Kirjath-jearim, only a few miles to the
northeast, and named the spot "The Camp of Dan." On the second
day they approached the home of Micah near Mt. Ephraim. The five
scouts had deliberately guided them there.
"We are near the place where the priest lives who consulted
God and told us that we would be successful in this venture," the
scouts told the leaders of the journeying Danites. "In that house
you see in the distance are valuable sacred objects that we
should own to help insure our future success and protection. If
our procession will stay by the gate, the five of us will make a
hasty visit to the priest to make him an offer." (Judges
"You Shall Not Steal"
The leaders agreed, and the scouts went at once to Micah's
home and greeted the Levite. They then took him out to the gate
and introduced him to their leaders. While he chatted with the
crowd at the gate, the scouts returned quickly to the chapel. No
one was there. Without waiting for anyone to show up, the scouts
seized all the objects and clothing they considered sacred. The
Danites were very superstitious. They thought pillaging a chapel
of these silly little idols would bring success. As Jonathan
stood at the gate chatting with the leaders, he turned to see the
scouts running toward him with the objects of his chapel in their
"What does all this mean?" the Levite anxiously inquired.
"Why have you returned to steal these things? Micah is away, but
if I should call for help his neighbors will come after you!"
"Don't be foolish!" the scouts warned. "A shout for help
could spoil your chance to better yourself."
"What do you mean by that?" Jonathan demanded.
"We mean that we want you to come with us!" they explained.
"All these people you see are our fellow Danites going to a
better land north of here. Why be a priest to just one man when
you can be a priest to all of us? Go with us this minute, and
we'll make it worthwhile for you!"
Jonathan needed no more urging. With hardly a glance
backward he gladly picked up his belongings and joined the
hundreds of Danites. They placed him in a position of safety in
the middle of their lengthy column. Then the Danites moved on to
the north. (Judges 18:19-20.)
Shortly after they left, Micah returned to his home. He was
informed by a neighbor that during his absence many people had
marched up to his gate, that Jonathan had joined them and that
the people had moved on.
Micah was perplexed by this report. He rushed to Jonathan's
quarters to find that the Levite's belongings were gone, which
seemed to indicate that the priest didn't intend to return. And
when Micah discovered objects missing in the chapel, he was quite
"My sacred things have been stolen!" he excitedly announced
to his family and servants. "Call all our neighboring men
together! Tell them to come armed to help pursue a band of
By this time the Danites were quite a distance away. But
because most of them were moving afoot with their children and
livestock, it didn't require long for the mounted Ephraimites to
catch up to them. Micah shouted at them to halt. The Danite
procession stopped, and some of the soldiers in the rear guard
turned to confront the Ephraimites.
"What reason do you have to pursue us with so many armed
men?" they grimly demanded. (Judges 18:22-23.)
"You have stolen my priest and my images!" Micah shouted as
he rode toward them. "Why do you ask why we have been pursuing
you while you are fully aware that we have come to rescue them
At a motion from their leader, all three hundred soldiers of
the rear guard moved back to surround Micah and confront his men.
"Don't raise your voice against us!" the Danite leader
snapped. "If you shout at us again, some of our men will probably
be irritated to the point of attacking you. And after doing away
with all of you, they might decide to turn back and wipe out all
your homes and families. I trust this will end our conversation
unless you decide to talk about matters that are more pleasant to
With this statement the Danites deliberately turned their
backs on the Ephraimites and continued on their journey. Micah
realized that his lesser number of men couldn't stand against
them. There was nothing to do but return home without the priest
and the images in which he had put so much confidence for a
wealthy future. (Judges 18:24:26.)
The Trail of Dan
When the Danites came within sight of the city of Laish,
they stopped. That night they camped behind a rise so that their
campfires couldn't be seen from the city. A little before dawn
the six hundred soldiers crept up on Laish. While it was yet dark
they made their surprise attack. The inhabitants perished while
they were still in bed. Fire was set to everything that would
burn -- except valuables.
The Danites attributed their success to their priest and the
little images. But their success in battle was not due to either.
Success came to them because a well-trained army caught a
defenseless small town sleeping.
In the months that followed, the Danites rebuilt the city
and named it DAN, after the father of their tribe. (Joshua
19:47.) A chapel was built for Jonathan and his so-called sacred
objects. The religion of the Danite conquerors continued
permanently on this basis to the fall of the House of Israel.
Jonathan, and the sons he had later, carried on as priests until
many centuries afterward when God sent Assyria to take over all
Israel because of idolatry. (Judges 18:27-31.)
One might think today that a half-pagan, half-Christian
religion is better than none at all. God doesn't look at it that
way. A half-pagan religion is really all pagan. The Israelites
very quickly forgot God's Commandments. Each did what he thought
was right -- or did as he pleased (Judges 17:6) -- instead of
obeying God. That is the way of pagans -- the way of sin and
death. God had commanded them for their own good to obey Him
instead of doing what they thought was right. (Deuteronomy 12:8.)
God allows people to go their own way now, but soon He will do
away with all heathen religions and all the competing church
denominations that observe pagan ways. (Daniel 2:44-45;
Revelation 11:15; Zechariah 13:2; 14:9; Ezekiel 22:25-31.)
The "New Morality"
In that era when Israel was without a national leader, with
everyone generally doing as he pleased as long as he could get
away with it, another episode occurred that brought tragedy.
Misery and death came to thousands because the people were living
apart from their Creator. This event started near Mt. Ephraim,
where another Levite lived with his common-law wife. They
believed in the "New Morality" of that day. They, like so many
couples throughout history, lived in sin. They didn't obey God's
laws that would bring family happiness. The woman then began to
live with other men. Later she left to return to the home of her
parents in the town of Bethlehem in the land of the tribe of
Judah. (Judges 19:1-2.)
After she had been gone four months, the man decided he
couldn't get along any longer without her -- and hoped she would
now be ready to come home. He and a servant set out on burros for
Bethlehem, about twenty miles to the southwest. When they neared
the home of the woman's parents, the man was pleasantly surprised
to see his common-law wife coming out of the house and happily
rushing out to meet him.
"I am sorry I left you," she told him, "and I am glad you
came after me. I should be pleased to return with you to Mt.
She led him into the home of her parents, who welcomed him
cordially. In fact, because they were happy to see him and
because they wanted their daughter to stay with them as long as
possible, they kept the couple as guests for three days.
On the fourth day the Levite intended to leave for home, but
the father-in-law prevailed on him to stay a few more hours. Time
slipped by, and then it was too late to set out. (Judges 19:3-7.)
On the fifth day the couple prepared to leave early, but
again the woman's parents treated them so well with food, drink
and pleasant conversation that they were delayed into the late
"Why start out at this hour?" the Levite's father-in-law
asked. "You can't get very far before dark. It would be wiser to
stay here one more night and plan to start out in the morning.
Meanwhile, relax and enjoy yourselves."
"No, we must start out this afternoon," the Levite said,
realizing that if he continued to give in, they would never get
The woman's parents knew that they had kept their daughter
as long as possible.
Tearfully they saw the couple off on their trip northward.
By the time the Levite, his common-law wife (called a
"concubine" in the Bible), a servant and two burros reached
Jerusalem, about four miles away, it was almost sundown. (Judges
"I suggest that we stop here for the night, sir," the
servant remarked. "If we travel after dark, we'll risk being
"I don't prefer to stay here in Jerusalem," the Levite said.
"The people here are Canaanites, and I don't trust them. It is
better to spend the night among our own people. I would rather go
on into Gibeah or Ramah where the people are Israelites."
It was about two and one-half more miles to the Benjamite
city of Gibeah. The sun went down just before they got there.
(Judges 19:11-15.) They sat down in a prominent place to wait for
someone to invite them into his home for the night, since a small
town like Gibeah probably didn't have an inn. Soon an elderly
Ephraimite, returning home late from working in the fields,
walked up to the little group.
"You look like strangers here," the old man said to them.
"Where have you come from and where are you going?"
The Levite explained that he and his concubine and servant
were traveling from Bethlehem to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. He
mentioned that they had plenty of food and wine for themselves
and feed for the animals, but no place to sleep. (Judges
Is Anyone Safe?
"Ah, but you're welcome at my home!" the old man declared
enthusiastically, motioning them to follow him. "And I have
plenty of food for all and provender for your burros, so keep
what you have. Otherwise you might run short. Come! Let's get off
the street. It isn't safe here at night!"
Later, when all of them were comfortably eating and
conversing in the old man's house, there was a loud rapping on
the door. The host opened it, only to be jerked outside by a
group of mean-looking young men.
"We know that you have a stranger in your house!" one of
them growled menacingly "Send him out here at once to us, or
you'll be in for plenty of trouble! And don't tell him anything!
Just get him out here!"
THE "NEW MORALITY"
THE old man, who had invited the three strangers to spend the
night at his home in Gibeah, was pulled outside by hoodlums. They
demanded that he send out the Levite guest. The old fellow shook
his head in fear and disbelief when he realized what these vile
men wanted to do. (Judges 19:16-22.)
Willing to Compromise
"Please go away and leave us alone!" he pleaded. "This
Levite is my guest along with his wife and servant! It would be a
terrible disgrace to let anything happen to him at my home.
Surely you can find your pleasure elsewhere!"
The old man was very concerned about his reputation. But he
was much less concerned about the drift into the decaying
morality of that time.
"Do as we say," the men growled, closing in more tightly
around him, "or you'll never get back into your house!"
The elderly Ephraimite was sure that by now the man they
wanted probably had heard the unfriendly voices, and wouldn't
come out under any circumstance. In a frantic attempt to escape
from this nightmare situation, the old man was moved to make a
miserable suggestion. To save his male guest -- and his own
reputation as a host -- he self-righteously stooped to an
"Look, fellows," he begged, "Don't consider such a terrible
perversion. I have a young daughter inside! We'll send her and my
guest's wife out to you to do with as you please if you'll only
forget about the man!" (Judges 19:23-24.) The miserable old man
thought men were more important and more worthy of protection
than women. He reasoned that what he was suggesting was a lesser
perversion and would be less sinful.
"We don't care about the women!" was the angry reply.
Sick with fear, the old man ambled back into the house.
Hesitantly he whispered the situation to his guest, who turned
pale at what he heard. Like his host, his frenzied mind quickly
sought a wretched way of escape. As a Levite from the tabernacle
at Shiloh, he especially should have trusted God for His promised
deliverance. (Leviticus 26:3, 6; Deuteronomy 4:31; 20:4; 31:6.)
"Don't let them in!" the Levite muttered cravenly, seizing
his common-law wife. To save himself, he was ready to do anything
-- even sacrifice the woman he should have been protecting.
He hauled the surprised woman up to the door, yanked it open
and thrust her outside. (Judges 19:25.) Quickly he closed and
bolted the door, hoping the mob would be more gentle with her
than depraved mobs usually are. It happened so suddenly that the
poor woman hardly knew what was happening until she found herself
being stared at by the depraved men waiting outside. She wheeled
around to get back into the house, pounding feverishly on the
door. The men stared lustfully at her, noting for the first time
that she was unusually attractive.
"Let's take her and forget about the man for now!" one of
The others nodded in agreement. The frightened, struggling
woman was dragged away. Though she repeatedly screamed for help,
there was no one to even try to rescue her. The men who should
have protected her were hiding behind locked doors, completely
lacking in the compassion and courage they should have displayed
under the circumstances. Theirs was the corrupt type of character
that prevailed in a time when Israel was far from God.
Hours later, just before sunrise, the woman came staggering
up to the house and fell down at the door. (Judges 19:26.) In the
meantime, her cowardly common-law husband was preparing to leave
without her. He didn't know where she was, but he was afraid to
look for her lest he run into trouble with the depraved men who
had taken her.
On opening the door to leave, he was surprised to find her
lying there face down. His conscience stung him because of the
cowardly, brutal way he had acted. But instead of helping her up,
he chose to assert himself as her master, even in the face of her
"Get up, woman!" he barked. "I want to get going for home
There was no answer or movement. The man motioned for his
servant to help the woman up. The servant tried to get her to her
feet. It was then that they discovered she was dead.
A Desperate Plan
Without a word the Levite lifted the body onto one of his
burros and started for home. (Judges 19:27-28.) On the way he had
plenty of opportunity to consider how cruel and cowardly he had
been. He regretted his terrible conduct, but at the same time he
hoped that he could place the blame for his common-law wife's
death elsewhere. The more he thought about the depraved
Benjamites, the more he considered their guilt and the less he
considered his. By the time he arrived home, his anger and desire
for revenge had grown to such an extent that he conceived a
The first thing he did was compose twelve copies of this
message, a copy to be sent to each of the twelve tribes of
"My wife was lately seized by wicked Benjamites in their
city of Gibeah. She died because of their brutal advances. I am
sending proof of her death. I ask that something be done to
execute vengeance on the foul men who are responsible."
The Levite immediately sent the letter to all parts of
Israel by swift carriers. Wherever it arrived it was startlingly
effective, but not just because of the words. With each message
the angry Levite included a piece of his wife's body, having cut
her up into twelve parts!
Even though most of Israel was in a state of lawlessness and
idolatry at the time, people were shocked and angered to hear of
the atrocity by the Benjamites. (Judges 19:29-30.) Following a
hasty exchange of communication, the various leaders of all
tribes, except Benjamin, soon met at the city of Mizpeh, not far
from Gibeah, to decide what to do. The head men of the tribe of
Benjamin did not attend because of being offended at the ghastly
accusation that had come to them from Mt. Ephraim.
Representatives at this meeting asked the complaining Levite
to come and give them a more concise report of the miserable
event. The Levite welcomed the chance to do so, explaining in
detail most of what had happened. He made no mention of how he
had thrust his wife into the hands of the men of Gibeah in an
attempt to save his own life.
Crime Must Be Stopped!
"It's true that I performed the awful act of cutting her in
pieces, but she was dead many hours before I did so," the Levite
informed his listeners. "I went to this horrible extreme to try
to awaken Israel to the fact that there are such evil men in the
city of Gibeah. I trust that I have moved you to do something
about this shameful matter!" (Judges 20:17.)
The Israelites remembered God's command that any murderer
should be executed. (Numbers 35:19-21; Deuteronomy 19:11-13.)
Enforcing this law would make others fear to commit murder.
(Numbers 35:33-34; Deuteronomy 19:20.)
The leaders of the eleven tribes were not long in agreeing
that the matter would be investigated as soon as possible. They
went so far as to claim that none of them would return home until
it was cleared up. They decided that a tenth of all the capable
men of each tribe would be drafted into service to supply the
army with food and water in the event that force would be
necessary against the tribe of Benjamin. (Judges 20:8-11.)
Meanwhile, men were sent throughout the Benjamite territory to
make a careful inquiry and to demand the death penalty for the
When the investigators came to the leaders of the tribe of
Benjamin to ask about the matter of the Levite and his common-law
wife, they were received coldly. All the Benjamites refused to
punish the murderers. Instead, they stubbornly defended them.
"This sort of thing you speak of could happen anywhere in
Israel these days," the Benjamites observed. "Why point to us as
the black sheep of the whole nation?"
"We are not to be put off so easily," the investigators
countered. "No matter where such a crime happens, the guilty ones
must be punished. We have orders to demand that you seek out the
offenders in this case and turn them over to us to be put to
death for their crime! We expect you to act right away!"
"Go back to your leaders and tell them that we can take care
of our own affairs!" the head men of Benjamin retorted angrily.
"Tell them also that we shall resist any effort to force us to do
anything about this matter!" (Judges 20:12-13.)
Surrounded by a growing group of hostile men, the
investigators had no choice but to return to Mizpeh empty-handed.
When they reported what had happened, a state of war was declared
by the leaders of the eleven tribes. Men were organized into
units to form an army numbering four hundred thousand.
At the same time the Benjamite soldiers gathered at Gibeah,
numbering about twenty-six thousand besides the seven hundred men
of Gibeah. This was only a small fraction of the size of the army
of the other tribes of Israel, but the Benjamite soldiers were
well trained. Besides, they were angry because of the accusation
that had been made against them, and had more of a desire for
battle. They felt confident also because seven hundred of their
soldiers were left-handed and unusually skillful with slings.
Some of them could sling a stone to hit a man as far away as six
hundred feet. (Judges 20:14-17.)
Partial Obedience NOT Enough!
The army of the eleven other tribes was almost ready to
march on Gibeah. But one more thing needed to be done. God should
be consulted in the matter.
The Israelites went to the city of Shiloh where the
tabernacle was, to ask Phinehas the priest to inquire of God
which soldiers should lead the attack. Phinehas was surprised
that the leaders of the tribes of Israel would ask advice of the
Creator instead of going to some pagan oracle. Seeing their
sincerity, he spoke to God for them, although he could see they
God answered Phinehas' prayer by making it known to the
priest that the soldiers of the tribe of Judah should be foremost
in an attack on the Benjamites. (Judges 20:18.)
Next morning the troops of the eleven tribes marched toward
Gibeah. When they were only a mile or so away, they lined
themselves in fighting formation with the soldiers of Judah
forming the first ranks. The commanders of the four hundred
thousand men planned on surrounding the city and then demanding
that the Benjamites surrender. If they refused, the large army
was to close in and crush the opposition into defeat.
It didn't quite turn out that way.
Suddenly the whole army of Benjamin poured out of the gates
of Gibeah and rushed madly toward the would-be attackers! This
unexpected event caused such confusion in the larger army that
the troops fell into terrible disorder. The foremost ones broke
rank and plunged backward into those following, causing a
uselessly struggling, screaming mass of humanity!
By afternoon there was no more action on the field of
battle. The Benjamites had withdrawn into Gibeah and most of the
army of the eleven tribes had fled to the north. They had left
twenty-two thousand soldiers on the battlefield, but these had no
more desire to fight. They were all dead. (Judges 20:19-21.)
This unexpected victory by the Benjamites was a sobering
blow to the other tribes of Israel, who had assumed that their
cause was so important and just that there was no need of asking
help from God. They had thought the eleven tribes could easily
defeat the Benjamites. Although the people were shocked and
saddened, there was still no appeal for divine aid. Instead, the
Israelites went again to Shiloh to weep and merely ask Phinehas
to inquire if there should be another attack against the
Benjamite army. They still thought they were righteous just
because they were trying to punish the Benjamites.
Through Phinehas, God indicated that another attempt should
be made to overcome the Benjamites at Gibeah. Next day the troops
of the Israelites pushed toward that city just as they had done
in the first attack. This time the commanders felt that their men
were prepared for anything, and that there would be no more
frenzy and disorder.
The Benjamites didn't pour out of the city to meet their
opponents as they had done before. This gave the larger army the
opportunity to start surrounding Gibeah as had been originally
planned. Just as their front ranks were splitting up and going to
the right and left, the Benjamites rushed out through hastily
opened gates to catch their enemies in such a thinned-out
condition that the larger army was again thrown into a sudden
state of confusion!
A Bitter Lesson Brings Results
When the action of battle had ceased and each army had
withdrawn, the ground was again strewn with dead and dying. This
second combat had cost the eleven tribes eighteen thousand more
The loss of a total of forty thousand soldiers was an
awesome price to pay to try to avenge one person and punish the
Benjamites. Leaders of the eleven tribes were so shaken that they
all went to Shiloh, along with many other Israelites, to humbly
make offerings at the Tabernacle and to ask for God's help. Tears
of sorrow and repentance flowed from many eyes as the people
realized that their sad losses had occurred because of their
departing from God's laws.
After making their offerings and fasting for at least most
of the day, they asked God through Phinehas if they should go
into battle once more against the Israelite brothers or drop the
idea of trying to punish them. All this should have been done in
the first place. After Phinehas had made his third request at the
tabernacle, God disclosed to him that one more attack should be
made. Moreover, He promised that, if they sought Him in real
earnest, this next attempt would result in victory for the eleven
tribes. When Phinehas passed on the Creator's pronouncement to
the people, they were thankful and greatly encouraged. For the
time being they resolved to be more obedient so that they might
receive more help from God. (Judges 20:26-28.)
Next day part of the troops of the eleven tribes again
marched toward Gibeah. Those troops who didn't march had been
sent during the night to a hiding place south of the city and to
a palm grove to the east of it.
The Benjamites were expecting another attack. They rushed
out to meet the enemy troops coming from the north when they
reached a point a short distance from Gibeah. At sight of the
oncoming Benjamites the attackers halted. Then they turned and
fled -- just as they had been told to do!
Believing that their enemies were in the same state of fear
they had shown twice before, the Benjamites pursued them
vigorously in the hope of effecting a quick victory. They proved
to be the faster runners. Soon the distance between the two
groups was so lessened that the men with slings started hurling
their missiles. About thirty of the fleeing Israelites were
struck and killed before someone among the pursuing Benjamites
began shouting excitedly and pointing backward.
The pursuers glanced back. They came to a quick halt when
they saw the great cloud of smoke billowing up over their city.
Not until then were they beginning to be aware that enemy troops
had somehow made their way into the city and set it on fire. Whey
they turned and saw the Israelites rushing back toward them
without a sign of fear, they realized that they were the victims
of well-planned strategy. (Judges 20:29-32.)
The Worm Turns
It was the Benjamites' turn to panic. Pursued by the ten
thousand Israelites who had turned on them, they raced for the
hilly area east of Gibeah. As they ran, they could see throngs of
their people hurrying out of the city in a frantic attempt to
escape the men who had rushed in as soon as the Benjamite
soldiers had left. Hundreds were not able to get out.
The escaping inhabitants also headed for the hills to the
east. Just as the first of their numbers topped the first large
rise, they stopped, then rushed back in the opposite direction.
Behind them suddenly appeared the first ranks of the largest
division of the army of the eleven tribes. At the same time the
troops who had raided the city came out of it from the west in
hot pursuit of their inhabitants. (Judges 20:33-34.)
The people of Gibeah and the whole Benjamite army were
rushing into a tremendous three-jawed trap that was closing in on
them just as fast as they were moving into it!
"YOUR PEOPLE ARE MY PEOPLE"
THE ARMY of the eleven tribes of Israel had divided into three
After setting the Benjamite city of Gibeah on fire, they
managed to bottle up the people who had escaped from the city --
plus the whole Benjamite fighting force. (Judges 20:29-41.)
In the furious battle that followed, about eighteen thousand
soldiers of the tribe of Benjamin died. With so many troops
involved in such close action, a few thousand Benjamite men
managed to escape. Most of these took to the roads leading
northeast, hoping to reach a certain mountain hideout.
A part of Israel's massive army hadn't yet been very active
that day. These soldiers set off in pursuit of the weary
Benjamites, easily overtaking them. About five thousand of the
fleeing men were killed in their race for freedom. Another two
thousand or so were overtaken and slain in another engagement a
few miles farther on.
About six hundred succeeded in reaching a place in the
mountains called Rimmon Rock. This was in such a rough, cliff
area that the pursuers gave up the chase. (Judges 20:42-47.)
Very few Benjamites had been killed in the first two
battles. The almost-complete army of the Benjamites, still
numbering almost twenty-six thousand, came to an end in one day.
But the action against the rebel tribe that approved
homosexuality didn't end there. After a night's rest the
Israelite troops moved over all the territory of Benjamin to burn
all the cities and kill all the people. (Judges 20:48.)
This destruction was so thorough that the only men left were
those who had escaped to Rimmon Rock. This near-death of one of
the tribes was a terrible thing, but God allowed it, as well as
the deaths of at least forty thousand other Israelite soldiers,
because of the disobedience of so many people in all of the
tribes. God was letting Israel learn from bitter experience that
carefree ways of living would lead only to grief. If the
Israelites had continued obeying the laws of their Creator, who
constantly warned them against falling away from those laws,
their wretched civil war would never have happened.
Not long after these miserable events, the people of the
eleven tribes began to be sorry that they had dealt so harshly
with the tribe of Benjamin. The leaders of the tribes met to
discuss what could be done to make amends, and to express to God
their hope that the tribe wouldn't be wiped out. This was indeed
a change in attitude.
To show that they regretted their extreme actions, they went
to their meeting place at Shiloh. There, to gain God's favor,
they made burnt offerings and peace offerings. (Judges 21:2-4.)
When they had met at Mizpeh before the battles to decide
what to do, they had sworn that they would never allow any of
their daughters to marry a Benjamite. (Judges 21:1.) This seemed
to make it impossible for the tribe to survive as pure
Israelites. What could they do about the six hundred soldiers who
were safely holed up at Rimmon Rock? They had no wives. And if
they couldn't marry Israelites, they might marry into Canaanite
The leaders carefully looked for a loophole out of this
discouraging circumstance. At their council of war at Mizpeh,
they had decreed that if any part of the eleven tribes failed to
help with the war against Benjamin, those people would later be
punished by the sword. (Judges 21:5-7.)
So many things had been taking place that there had been no
opportunity to check for any family, region or city that might
have failed to supply soldiers. An inquiry was made. It disclosed
that the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, a city east of the Jordan
in the territory of Gad, had not joined in the civil conflict.
Wives Gotten by Violence
This seemed to present an answer to their problem. Twelve
thousand troops were picked to march on Jabesh-gilead and punish
the inhabitants by killing everyone except unmarried women.
Following so soon after the regretful attitude toward the men of
Benjamin, this was an abrupt switch by the Israelites back to
their mania for rash action.
After the new senseless slaughter -- which wouldn't have
occurred if the people had stayed close to God -- all the spared
women and teen-age girls were carefully questioned. The
questioning soon revealed those who weren't married and those who
had not committed fornication. Four hundred such females were
acquired. Others who didn't pass the requirements suffered the
fate of the rest of the people of Jabesh-gilead. (Judges
Even though their lives had been spared, these four hundred
virgins were anything but happy to be dragged away against their
will so quickly. They didn't even get to attend the mass burial
of their relatives and friends. They were brought to Shiloh and
kept there under guard to await the outcome of a trip to Rimmon
Rock by Israelite scouts.
This visit to this rugged area was a dangerous one. Those
who entered it could easily be picked off by men hiding in the
caves and among the rocks. It turned out that the scouts were
allowed to come very close. Then a voice coming from some
uncertain source commanded them to stop and state their business.
The hiding Benjamites expected to be asked to surrender or
expect a mass attack by their Israelite brothers, and so were
quite surprised to hear words on quite a different topic.
"Listen, men of Benjamin," one of the scouts shouted in a
voice that echoed and re-echoed from one cliff to another. "We
are not here to ask you to surrender. You are the only remaining
men of the tribe of Benjamin. All the rest of your people are
dead because they approved of sex vices.
"But because the leaders of Israel want you to continue as
one of the tribes, we have come to make an offer of peace. At
Shiloh we have four hundred virgins from whom you may choose
brides. If you want them and want to rebuild your tribe in peace,
come to Shiloh. First there will have the best choice! Don't be
afraid to come. No harm will come to you as long as you are
At first the Benjamites thought that this was a ruse to get
them out in the open where they could be attacked. They made no
reply. Finally the scouts left. Benjamite lookouts reported that
no enemy troops were in sight on the adjoining plains or behind
nearby ridges. The six hundred survivors then began to believe
that perhaps their Israelite brothers were telling the truth.
They crept in small groups to the Shiloh area. There, by
cautious spying, they found out that there were indeed four
hundred women being held to give them as wives.
Up to this time, it wasn't known by the eleven tribes just
how many Benjamites had escaped to Rimmon Rock. When six hundred
men suddenly put in an appearance to claim wives, the competition
became somewhat heated. The two hundred Benjamites who emerged
empty-handed complained so bitterly that the Israelite leaders
felt obliged to produce two hundred more virgins. (Judges
Violence on Top of Violence!
This wasn't such a simple task, though finally someone came
up with another extreme and violent plan. At this time of year
there was a religious festival about to be observed near Shiloh.
A part of its social life included dancing in a nearby field by a
large group of young women.
It was suggested to the two hundred wifeless Benjamites that
they stay at Shiloh until just before the dance was to be
performed and hide in adjoining vineyards. Then they might be
able to rush forth and seize two hundred of the young women when
they came out to dance. (Judges 21:16-21.)
This scheme was even more fantastic than the one by which
the four hundred wives had been obtained, though certainly not as
bloody. Anxious as they were for wives, the Benjamites questioned
"This idea sounds good up to a point," they told the
Israelite leaders "but won't the families of the girls create
trouble for us if we succeed in taking away their young women?"
"Don't be concerned about that," the leaders advised.
"Probably the fathers and brothers of the girls will be angry at
first, but we'll stop them from any rash action. We will persuade
them to let you keep their daughters and sisters without causing
trouble because we took the lives of all your women. We swore
that none of us should give our women to you men of Benjamin. But
if you take them forcibly from us, that is another matter. The
fathers will not be guilty of breaking their vow and you will
have your wives."
The Benjamites considered this explanation somewhat odd.
Nevertheless, they went to where this dance was about to take
place and successfully concealed themselves in surrounding
When the several hundred young women came to the field to
perform, the hidden men had sufficient opportunity to observe and
choose. At a planned signal, the Benjamites rushed out of the
vineyards and swarmed into the mass of leaping, swaying
Shrieks filled the air as the girls realized that they were
being set upon by strangers. Two hundred struggling dancers were
whisked off the field and away into the vineyards almost before
anyone could comprehend what was going on.
The rest of the screeching girls fled into the stunned crowd
that had come to watch the dance. By the time the men in the
assemblage realized that the kidnapping wasn't a new part of the
dance, it was too late to rescue the young women.
The six hundred surviving Benjamites lost no time in
returning to their territory with their brides. Whether or not
their women were ill-gotten seemed of no great matter. No one
seemed to care. The war with Benjamin was over, and the tribe was
saved from extinction.
Even so, the troops of the eleven tribes didn't disband and
go to their homes until the Benjamites were again safely settled
in their territory and had started to repair their cities.
In this whole episode, which occurred shortly after the
death of Joshua, wisdom and good judgment were rather rare.
Everyone did what he thought best, instead of obeying God.
(Judges 21:25; Deuteronomy 12:8.) This was a prime example of how
death and suffering came to the people when they fell away from
God and into idolatry. (Judges 21:22-24.)
Not All Rebelled
But even at such times there were a few Israelites who were
loyal and obedient to God. Their lives were rich, meaningful and
without violence, though not always without trouble and tragedy.
The story of Ruth depicts that sort of life -- the happy
result of obeying God. Ruth was a Moabite, a descendant of Lot,
the nephew of Abraham. She had been reared a heathen, but was
converted after seeing how God's laws benefited others. She left
her land and pagan training to become an adopted Israelite and
obey the laws of the God of Israel. She became one of the
ancestors of David and of Jesus Christ. Ruth was a type of the
New Testament Church which is to come out of the world and be
joined to Christ.
During the early years of the time of the judges, there was
a drought which made crops especially poor in many parts of
Canaan. Besides, the neighboring nations carried off much of the
produce, thus helping to create a state of famine for many
A man by the name of Elimelech lived in the town of
Bethlehem, where Christ was born over thirteen centuries later.
Elimelech decided to leave Canaan and try to find an area where
he wouldn't be troubled by destitute neighbors. He was fairly
prosperous, and had become weary of so many people coming to him
for food and money.
To move out of Canaan and into a heathen land was not the
best thing for Elimelech, his wife, Naomi, and his two sons,
Mahlon and Chilion. In fact, not long after he was settled in the
pagan-populated land east of the Dead Sea, his life ended,
possibly because he had been selfish. (Ruth 1:1-3.)
Later, Elimelech's two young sons married Moabite women.
About ten years later both men died. Their wives, Orpah and Ruth,
had become greatly attached to Naomi, their righteous
mother-in-law. Although they had been taught to worship pagan
gods, they had great respect for Naomi's beliefs and her desires
to go according to the ways of the God of Israel.
Life in Moab, without their husbands, became increasingly
difficult for the three childless widows. Not only were they very
lonely, but they soon became very poor. It was evident that
something would have to be done to improve their welfare. That
something was sparked when Naomi heard that living conditions had
been greatly improved by good weather and abundant crops in many
parts of Canaan, including the territory of Judah. Immediately
she decided to return to her native land.
Naomi didn't ask her daughters-in-law to return with her,
but they helped pack three burros and willingly set off with her
to the west. After they had gone a few miles, Naomi stopped to
tell them what was on her mind. (Ruth 1:4-7.)
"Much as I want both of you to go with me back to Canaan,"
she explained, "I feel that it is unfair to you to move to a
nation that is strange in your sight. You have been reared to
believe in many things in which I cannot believe. If you go to
Bethlehem with me you will probably find things so different that
you will regret having left your own country.
"For this reason I'm asking you to turn back to your people
and to the homes of your parents. You are yet young, and you
should be married to men of your nation. I can return alone to
Bethlehem. Go back, and I pray that my God will take care of both
of you because you have been good wives and good daughters-in
Ruth and Orpha were distressed at Naomi's words, and
especially when she kissed them good-bye as though to finally
dismiss them forever from her life.
Each Must Decide Whom to Serve!
"We don't intend to leave you," they assured her after
recovering from their tears. "We want to go back with you to your
people!" (Ruth 1:8-10.)
Naomi was moved by their display of loyalty, but she felt
that they really preferred to stay in their own country, though
they were willing to make this sacrifice for her. She tried to
make it easier for them to decide to stay, by pointing out that
she had nothing more to add to their lives.
"Even if I had another husband and were to bear more sons,"
she told them, "you wouldn't want to wait till they were grown to
marry them. You would seek other husbands long before that, so
you can see why it would be wise to go back to your people. I am
very sorry you have lost your husbands."
This last little speech by Naomi convinced Orpah that her
mother-in-law was right. She sadly kissed Naomi and Ruth farewell
and turned back with her burro and possessions toward the place
where her parents lived in Moab.
"Your sister-in-law has wisely decided to return to her
people," Naomi pointed out to Ruth. "You would do well to try to
catch up with her." (Ruth 1:11-15.)
"Why try to talk me into doing something I don't think is
right?" Ruth asked. "I want to stay with you. Wherever you go I
will go. I will stay where you stay. YOUR PEOPLE SHALL BE MY
PEOPLE. YOUR GOD IS MY GOD. I want to die in the place where you
die, and be buried where you will be buried. If I fail in any of
these things, let God deal with me as He chooses."
Naomi was so moved by these remarks that she said nothing
more to Ruth about parting. She was convinced that her
daughter-in-law was converted and meant all that she said, for
which she was very happy. (Ruth 1:16-18.)
The two women arrived at Naomi's run-down house in Bethlehem
a few days later, fortunate not to have been bothered by roving
bandits. Naomi was glad to see the familiar places and faces,
though at first she wasn't recognized because she had changed in
appearance. When a neighboring friend realized who she was,
however, a crowd of acquaintances quickly gathered about her and
"Can it really be Naomi?" some of them asked.
"Yes, it is I, returned from Moab with my daughter-in-law,
Ruth," Naomi said to them. "But perhaps it would be well not to
call me any longer by that name. It means BEAUTIFUL and PLEASANT,
and I am not now beautiful and my life is no longer pleasant. I
have aged, mostly because of losing my husband and two sons. It
would be more fitting if you would call me Mara, which means
"No! No!" some of the bystanders exclaimed. "All of us have
aged, Naomi, but you are still a beautiful woman. We are sorry to
hear that God has allowed your loved ones to be taken, but we are
happy to have you back among us."
Naomi's many friends showed their concern by pitching in on
the house-cleaning so the two women would have a suitable place
to live. They were comfortable for the moment. But their meager
amount of money was practically gone, and Naomi wasn't the sort
to prevail on the goodwill of her friends and neighbors for her
Something had to be done right away, or the two widows would
run out of food.
"YOU ARE A VIRTUOUS WOMAN"
AFTER coming from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth ran very low
on money. (Ruth 1:19-22.) Just when Naomi was becoming very
concerned about matters of food and fuel, Ruth came to her with a
most timely suggestion.
"It's spring harvest time," she reminded Naomi. "Just this
morning I watched women gleaning barley in a field not far from
here. Why shouldn't I go tomorrow to one of such fields and glean
the barley that the reapers drop? Perhaps I could bring back much
grain just for the taking!"
God Provides for the Poor
Gleaning was the gathering of any produce that was left
behind when harvesting took place. It was not stealing. One of
the civil laws given to Israel stated that whatever the
harvesters left of value in fields, vineyards or orchards could
be claimed by the poor, passing strangers, and widows. As poor
widows, Naomi and Ruth had a legal right to share in the
gleaning. (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22.)
Naomi was pleased and encouraged by Ruth's enthusiasm. She
knew this could be the difference between going hungry and having
enough to eat -- at least for the present. At the same time she
didn't like to see a comely young woman like Ruth venture out by
herself among strange harvesters.
"Go if you wish, my daughter," Naomi finally told her with a
smile. "But try to find a field not too distant, and don't follow
closely behind the harvesters unless you get permission from the
owner of the field or his foreman." (Ruth 2:1-2.)
Next morning Ruth took a large cloth bag and set out for a
field where barley was being harvested. When she arrived, she
noted that a great part of it had already been worked over, and
that the harvesters were at quite a distance away. She felt that
they were so far ahead of her that no permission would be
necessary to pick up what she could find. Nevertheless, she
sought out the field foreman to ask if she could glean, and was
told that she could.
By the middle of the day she had filled her bag less than
half full of barley that had been overlooked or dropped when it
had been bundled. In her zeal to accomplish more, she failed to
notice that the workers had stopped for the noon meal at a tent
just ahead. She looked up to see some of them staring at her. One
or two of the women harvesters motioned for her to join them in
the shade of the tent.
At that moment Boaz, the owner of the field, rode up on a
horse and eyed Ruth with even more interest than the harvesters
"God be with you!" he called to the workers with enthusiasm.
"May God bless you!" was the cheerful response from the
people in and around the tent. (Ruth 2:34.)
Such friendly and sincere greetings showed that these men
and women had a high regard for each other and for their Creator,
and knew that it was God who watched over them and provided their
needs. When an honest man like Boaz was a community leader, the
people always had a higher regard for their Creator than when
evil men were looked to as leaders.
"Who is that young woman?" Boaz asked his foreman as he
glanced at Ruth. "Don't recall hiring her."
"She's not working for you," the foreman explained." She
came to me early this morning to ask if she could glean, and I
told her she could. She's the Moabite woman who lately came with
Naomi, the widow of Elimelech. She has been working all day,
except that she spent a few minutes getting acquainted with the
women in the house before starting her work."
Boaz walked over to Ruth, who at first thought that he was
angry with her for some reason.
"If you must glean, young woman." he said to her. "I trust
that you won't go to other fields. Stay behind my women
harvesters, and you won't end the day empty-handed. And don't be
afraid of any of my men. You are welcome to any of the privileges
that the people have who work for me." (Ruth 2:5-9)
Ruth was so overwhelmed by this unexpected treatment that
she fell on her knees before Boaz and bowed her head to the
"Why are you being so considerate?" she asked. "I am a
stranger here, and there is no reason that I know of to show such
favor to me."
"Ah, but there is," Boaz replied gently, helping her to her
feet. "I have heard about how well you have treated your
mother-in-law, and how you chose to come here with her instead of
staying in Moab. She has told all her friends about your goodness
to her. May our God reward you for what you have done, and may He
protect you for looking to Him for your way of life!"
"Thank you," she murmured to Boaz. "You have made me feel as
though I am as welcome here as one of your workers."
"I am happy that you want to be with us," Boaz smiled. "Now
please come into my tent and have lunch with us."
Ruth was a little ill at ease among so many strangers, but
she was pleased when the owner of the field sat among his workers
and passed food to her. He even had one of his helpers prepare a
package of food to take home to Naomi. When the meal was over,
Ruth expressed her thanks and quickly slipped back to a spot well
behind the harvesters. (Ruth 2:10-14.)
As soon as she was gone, Boaz instructed his foreman to tell
the workers that the new gleaner should receive special
"Let her go wherever she wishes, even if she wants to glean
at the heels of the harvesters," the foreman was told. "It might
even be a good idea if they purposely dropped a little grain now
The foreman nodded solemnly, but shook his head and grinned
knowingly as soon as Boaz had turned away.
A Cheering Bounty
That afternoon Ruth surprisingly found that there were many
more stalks of barley left on the ground than there had been in
the morning. Close to evening she had emptied her bag several
times by the threshing shed. Night being not far away, she worked
hastily to beat out the grains on an unused part of the floor. To
her great satisfaction the result was about eight gallons of fine
barley -- enough to make many loaves of bread after the chaff was
sifted out and the grains were ground. (Ruth 2:15-17.)
Ruth easily swung the tied bag of grain over her shoulder
and left for home just as it was growing dusk. It wasn't
difficult for her to carry in such a manner. If she tired of
carrying it that way, she was quite adept at balancing a load on
When she showed Naomi the grain and the package of food, her
mother-in-law was pleasantly surprised.
"What welcome bounty!" Naomi exclaimed. "Where did you go to
receive such special favor? May blessings come to the one who has
treated you so well!"
"I went to a nearby field where barley is being cut," Ruth
explained. "The foreman over the workers told me I could glean,
but during the morning I was discouraged by the small amount of
barley I had gathered. Then the owner of the field arrived on a
handsome horse. He invited me to eat in the harvesters' meal
tent. He even asked me not to glean anywhere except in his
fields. In the afternoon I picked up so much barley that I was
able to thresh out all the grain you see. And this package of
food is especially for you from Boaz. That's the name of the
owner of the field." (Ruth 2:18-19.)
Naomi was happily startled at this last bit of information.
"I know who Boaz is!" she exclaimed. "He is a close relative
of my dead husband, and a wealthy and God-fearing man! God has
been good to direct us to him. You would indeed be wise not to be
seen in any other fields but his. You can be sure that you will
be safe if you stay on his property."
Ruth gladly stayed in the fields of Boaz for the full
harvest time of barley and wheat, which was for a month or so.
(Ruth 2:20-23.) Meanwhile, she was treated with special attention
by Boaz, insomuch that there was an increasing affection between
them, though neither of them expressed it very much in words.
Each could see that the other was a person of very high moral
standards. As for her gleaning, Ruth daily brought home so much
grain that the two widows made a small income by selling part of
From the glowing reports Ruth brought home about Boaz, it
was plain to Naomi what was taking place. She planned to do what
she could to push the situation into full bloom, lest it fail to
fully develop naturally.
Boaz was spending most of his time at the threshing shed,
where his crew was removing chaff from the grain with the help of
strong evening breezes. Naomi knew that the workers didn't go
home until after midnight, and that Boaz then slept in the shed
to save time in going to his home and back again to work just a
few hours later. Besides, he preferred not to leave his large
stock of grain unattended, what with thieves constantly prowling
Naomi Plans Wisely and Justly
"You know that I want what is best for you," Naomi reminded
Ruth, "and continuing to live here with me in this small home
isn't the best for a young woman who should have a more promising
future. Boaz cares deeply for you, but he hasn't mentioned
marriage because you haven't shown him that you're greatly in
favor of it."
"I am very happy here with you," Ruth told Naomi. "As for
Boaz, I don't want him to think that I'm too bold."
"But you should make him aware of how you feel," Naomi
continued, "and the sooner the better. I suggest that you use
your best perfume, you put on your prettiest clothes and go on to
the threshing shed where he'll be staying tonight. Watch from
outside till he has gone to bed. Then slip inside and lie down at
his feet!" (Ruth 3:1-4.)
Ruth was startled at the suggestion. When Naomi saw her
expression of wonder, she hastily reminded her that it was an
Israelite custom and duty that the nearest eligible male kin of a
dead husband should marry the widow in the event she had no
children, so that she might have the opportunity to have
offspring through the family that had chosen her. (Deuteronomy
"Boaz realizes just how he is related to you," Naomi
observed. "I'm sure he will understand your good intentions and
treat you fairly."
At first Ruth didn't want to do what Naomi suggested. To her
it seemed a bit too forward, but the more she thought about the
matter, the more she was convinced that this was something that
should be done in accepting the right ways of Israel.
"I shall do as you say," she finally told Naomi. (Ruth 3:5.)
Before midnight Ruth went to the threshing shed, careful not
to be seen by anyone. The workers had gone, but there was a light
inside the building. She peered inside to see Boaz finishing a
late meal and relaxing with a mug of wine. She watched him
wearily stretch out on the straw-covered floor, lean his head
against a sheaf of barley, pull a blanket over himself and snuff
out the oil lamp. Ruth patiently waited outside until she could
hear the slow, deep breathing that indicated sound sleep. Then
she slipped inside, lifted part of the blanket over Boaz' feet,
and carefully and silently lay down with the blanket partly over
her. (Ruth 3:6-7.)
Even though Boaz had fallen into a deep sleep, Ruth's
presence awakened him. He was alarmed when he felt something warm
and alive pressing against his feet. Could it be some kind of
animal seeking a snug place, or was it some intruder who meant
him harm? There was enough moonlight being reflected from the
roofless part of the threshing floor to make it possible to see
dimly. Boaz slowly pulled his blanket toward his head, gradually
exposing the object at his feet. He blinked in disbelief when he
realized that he was uncovering a woman curled up on the floor.
He was even more startled when he recognized her.
"You!" he blurted. "What are you doing here, Ruth?"
Ruth glanced up in embarrassment, then dropped her gaze to
Boaz -- A Man of Honor
"I'm here to remind you that you are my closest of kin among
men in Israel," she answered in a quiet voice. "I understand that
according to your custom, you may marry me, since my husband was
your close relative. Spread your blanket over me to show if you
are willing to be married!" (Ruth 3:8-9.)
Boaz was so surprised that words failed him for a few
moments. This added to Ruth's discomfort.
"May God bless you for this wonderful compliment to me!"
Boaz exclaimed, reaching over and putting his hand on Ruth's
veiled head. "When I first met you, I thought that you were a
most unusual woman because of your beauty and humility. But now I
have reason to think even more of you. Everyone in our city knows
you are a virtuous woman. You could have chosen younger men even
among the wealthier ones."
Encouraged by these words, Ruth forgot her embarrassment and
raised her eyes happily and expectantly up to Boaz.
"It's true that I am a relative of yours," he continued.
"But I am not your nearest of kin here. There is another man
living in this area who is more closely related to you than I
Ruth's smile faded. There was an awkward silence as the
woman from Moab realized that in a way she was talking to the
"But Naomi, my mother-in-law, thought that you -- " Ruth's
voice trailed away as she stared at the floor.
"Don't worry," Boaz said softly. "Leave this matter to me,
and I'll take care of it tomorrow. Just lie down where you are
and rest until morning." (Ruth 3:10-13.)
Ruth lay at Boaz's feet till nearly daylight. When she was
about to leave, Boaz spread her sheet-like veil out on the floor
and poured a sizable gift of barley on it. Pulling up the
corners, he tied them snugly together, thus making a bag of the
"This is a big load," he said. "but I know you are capable
of handling it. I also know that you are known as a virtuous
woman, so there's no reason to risk spotting your good reputation
by telling anyone except Naomi that you have been here to talk
Ruth arrived home before anyone was stirring that morning
and related everything that had happened. Her mother-in-law
didn't seem too concerned about another man being more closely
akin to them than was Boaz.
"I don't know the intentions of this one of whom Boaz
speaks," she said, "but don't be upset. If Boaz promised you that
he'll straighten matters out, then that's what he'll do."
VIRTUE IS REWARDED
RUTH the young Moabite woman, had real affection for Boaz, the
wealthy, elderly Israelite grain grower. She hoped that Boaz
would marry her. Boaz, who himself was probably a widower, hoped
that it would be that way, too.
But there was another man in Bethlehem who was more closely
related to Ruth's dead husband. He had more claim to Ruth as a
wife than Boaz did. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6.) However, this other man
had given the matter no real thought. (Ruth 3:10-18.)
Boaz Plans Wisely
During the weeks Ruth had gleaned in his fields, Boaz had
come to love the Moabitess, and he was determined not to lose
her. The morning after he found that Ruth cared deeply for him,
he went early to the main gate of Bethlehem, the place where most
business was conducted in that area. There he stayed, hopeful of
finding the unmarried man who was more closely related to Ruth's
dead husband, and whose traditional duty it was to marry the
widow if she were childless. Boaz was confident he would see the
relative before he left town to spend the day working in his
Fortunately, the man soon showed up at the busy place. Boaz
sought him out and invited him to share the bench where he, Boaz,
had been patiently sitting. (Ruth 4:1.)
"I have some important news that could be very good for
you," Boaz told him. "If you will sit here for just a few minutes
till I return, I'll tell you about it."
It was the custom then that several people be present as
witnesses when business decisions and agreements were made. Boaz
wanted to make certain that what he was about to do was duly
witnessed. Being well known in Bethlehem, he succeeded in quickly
summoning ten of the leading men of the region who were present
in the crowd at the gate. They gathered around him and the man he
had detained to see that matters were properly attested to.
"I'm here to inform you that Elimelech's wife, Naomi, who
recently returned from Moab, has a fine field for sale at a
reasonable price," Boaz explained. "Inasmuch as you are
Elimelech's nearest relative, you should have the first
opportunity to purchase the land. If you prefer not to buy it,
then I should like to do so as the next of kin after you."
Ever since Naomi had returned from Moab, Boaz had known that
she had intended to sell the piece of land. She didn't want to
part with it, but her increasing needs made it necessary. Boaz'
colorful description of the field caused his relative to feel
that it was indeed a bargain without his even seeing it, though
he knew the location.
"I'll buy it!" he exclaimed. "Tell Naomi that I'll bring her
the money this very afternoon!"
"Good!" Boaz said. "And now I have a pleasant surprise for
you. The sale of this land also includes something else --
marriage to Elimelech's childless daughter-in-law, Ruth, and
having an heir to Elimelech by her!"
The relative's jaw dropped. He stared unhappily at Boaz, who
had hoped for just that reaction.
"Then I can't afford to buy it!" he declared disappointedly,
when he knew he couldn't get just the field for himself. "From
what I've heard, this Ruth would make a wonderful wife. But I
can't afford to spend my money to provide an heir for Elimelech.
It would be much simpler if you would buy the land, Boaz, and
thereby have Ruth in marriage."
The man thereupon yanked off one shoe and handed it to Boaz,
which was a custom indicating that the nearest of kin declined to
carry out his obligations and left them to the next of kin after
him. All this was just how Boaz had hoped and planned that
matters would turn out. (Ruth 4:5-8.)
A Happy Solution
"You have seen and heard what has happened here," Boaz
announced to the witnesses. "I hereby declare that I will
purchase the land that belongs to Elimelech and his sons and
Naomi. Besides, by this purchase, and with her consent -- I
hereby acquire Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi, as my wife, so
that she shall not be childless even though her first husband is
The ten men Boaz had chosen and even many others who had
been watching and listening nodded in agreement.
"We are witnesses to what has taken place here," they spoke
out. "May God cause your wife to be as fruitful as Rachel and
Leah, from whom Israel came, and may you have great success in
your work. We hope that your house will be like that of Pharez,
from which part of the people of Judah sprang in such great
numbers!" (Ruth 4:9-12.)
The tribute was graciously accepted by Boaz, who then lost
little time in getting to the home of Naomi and his new wife
Ruth. When Ruth saw him approaching, she was filled with anxiety,
realizing that the man who was nearest of kin to Naomi's dead
husband could have acquired her in marriage, even though she had
never met him.
Her fears were swept away the moment Boaz entered the house.
She could tell by his excited grin that he had, with God's help,
somehow made matters work out right. She fell into the arms of
her new husband, silently thanking God that such happiness could
Naomi slipped quietly out of the room, smiling to herself
because of how well matters had turned out, though she didn't yet
know what Boaz had done to make them that way.
Some who read the story of Ruth, which gives an insight into
the lives of a few of the obedient people of Israel in troubled
times, might question the marriage of an Israelite to a Moabitess
from the heathen land of Moab.
The answer is Boaz married a woman who had renounced the
pagan religion and gods of Moab. She had a desire to become an
Israelite by obeying and worshipping the God of Israel. Further,
the Moabites were not of another race. Their ancestor Moab was a
son of Abraham's nephew Lot. (Genesis 12:5 and 19:36-38.)
God's Church has always been made up basically of
Israelites, but Gentiles have been able to come into the Church
and become "spiritual" Israelites by forsaking their wrong
practices and beliefs and repentantly and earnestly seeking the
ways and laws of the Creator, who chose Israel to help carry out
In due time Boaz and Ruth had a son. Friends suggested that
he be named Obed, which means servant.
"Ruth is better than seven sons," they told Naomi, "because
she has stayed with you, and now she has given birth to a
grandson who will give you great happiness in your latter years.
He will also become famous, a man in whom you shall be pleased."
The Ancestry of Jesus
This prediction, whether or not inspired, turned out true.
Naomi became a nurse to Obed, and greatly enjoyed the privilege
of helping rear a boy. Obed not only became an outstanding
Israelite, but he also was an ancestor of Jesus Christ. (Ruth
The lineage of Christ at the time of Judah (see Genesis 38,
especially verses 27-30) had a ! strange twist at the birth of
Judah's twin boys. The midwife present, realizing that two babies
were to be born, noticed that a little arm was first to appear.
She hastily tied a red thread around the protruding wrist to
indicate for certain which baby obviously was to be born first,
inasmuch as the firstborn son would ordinarily be the one to whom
the greater honor and heritage would be due. In this case, the
royal line ending in Christ would be carried on through the one
The baby with the red string on his wrist wasn't the first,
however. The other twin was born before him, to the surprise of
the midwife. He was named Pharez, the one referred to by Boaz'
witnesses when they expressed their hope that all would go well
with him. The other baby was named Zarah. (Genesis 38:27-30; Ruth
This unusual birth situation was mentioned in the Bible
because it had to do with who and where Israel is today --
something that presently isn't understood by most ministers,
religious leaders and Bible scholars.
There were seven generations and about four and a half
centuries from Pharez to Obed. Obed was the grandfather of David
(Ruth 4:19-22), and then there were twenty-eight more generations
of the line of Judah to the time that Jesus was born. (Matthew
There were several long generations among the ancestors of
David after the Israelites arrived in Canaan. Boaz was born after
the arrival in Canaan. Yet his great-grandson David -- the third
generation afterward -- was born about three hundred years later.
The Bible tells us Jesse was very old compared to other men when
his son David was a young boy. (I Samuel 17:12.) Some of these
men must have been over a hundred years old when their last sons
were born, just as Abraham was. (Genesis 21:5; Genesis 24:1, 67;
In those days people were healthier and had a more natural
diet and got plenty of exercise. They were vigorous until they
were very old. (Deuteronomy 34:7.)
God had a hand in what occurred in this matter of His Son's
ancestors. This doesn't mean that people are always caused to
think and act only as the Creator wills. If that were so, we
would be little better than robots. But God does choose to work
through certain people. Those whom He chooses don't always
realize that God is leading them to decide to do certain things
in certain ways insomuch that it all results in some end God had
Take the Problem to God
About a century and a half after the birth of Obed, there
was a man by the name of Elkanah living in a town in the high
elevations of the Mt. Ephraim region. He was a Levite, and he had
two wives. This wasn't right and he, being a Levite, should have
known better. But there were many things not right in Israel in
those times when the people had fallen so far away from God.
However, the fact that this man had two wives for so many years
was part of the means through which he was used to later bring
another of God's servants onto the scene. (I Samuel 1:1-2.)
Elkanah tried to obey God the best he knew how for the most
part, including observing the annual Sabbaths. But still, because
of his bigamy, all was not peace and harmony in his home. One of
his wives, Peninnah, was jealous of the other, Hannah, because
their husband showed Hannah more affection. Hannah, however, was
unhappy because she had no children and Peninnah had several. To
add to the trouble, Peninnah often vexed Hannah, telling her that
she wasn't a good wife, and that it was obvious because she had
no children. Hannah could hardly bear up under such taunts, what
with it being considered a disgrace in ancient times for a woman
to be childless in Israel.
Elkanah would have spared himself and his family much grief
if he had wisely considered how matters were bound to turn out
for a man craving and taking on two wives. On the other hand, God
eventually allowed this tragic situation to serve a purpose.
The tabernacle and ark were still located at Shiloh, a town
in the mountains of Ephraim about twenty miles north of
Jerusalem. During one of the times Elkanah was there with his
family to make peace offerings, Peninnah was especially
troublesome to Hannah.
It was according to the rules of sacrificing that meat for
peace offerings was in most Dart returned to the one who had
brought it, if he were present. Then it was ordinarily consumed
at the family meals that were prepared during the feast days.
This time, as usual, Elkanah saw to it that Hannah was served
twice as much of the choice meat as any other person in his
family was served. (I Samuel 1:3-5.)
"Does our husband feel that you might at last be able to
bear a child if you are fed especially well?" Peninnah smugly
whispered to Hannah.
Hannah winced at this remark. She realized that she had
trouble in being as loving and kind as she should be to
Peninnah's children, but she didn't feel that Peninnah had
sufficient reason for constantly making such snide statements.
She arose from the table and walked away to seat herself at a
distance. When Elkanah noticed what she had done, he went to her
and was grieved to find her sobbing.
"Why are you crying?" he asked her tenderly. "Why did you
leave the table?"
"Don't worry about me," Hannah breathed, struggling to hide
her tears. She said nothing about Peninnah's cruel conduct.
"I wish you wouldn't be unhappy because you are not yet a
mother," Elkanah murmured. "There is a lot of time yet.
Meanwhile, don't you believe that I love you even more than ten
sons could care for you?" (I Samuel 1:6-8.)
"I know," Hannah replied. "But just let me sit here by
myself for a while." Elkanah understood that she wanted to be
alone. He returned to the table to join the others of his family,
unaware of the smirk on Peninnah's face.
Hannah sat by herself for quite a while. Then she went into
the tabernacle enclosure and started to pray, though not aloud.
Because her eyes were closed, she wasn't aware that she was being
closely watched by Eli, the old high priest, who was sitting in
an elevated seat close to one of the corner posts of the
"God of Israel, please make it possible for me to give birth
to a baby boy," she fervently prayed. "If you will just do this
for me, I will gladly give him to you to use in your service all
the days of his life!"
Hannah kept on praying silently. Her lips were moving, and
she was unwittingly bending farther and farther forward in her
state of great emotion. Eli was still watching her. Finally he
got to his feet and strode to where she was crouching. (I Samuel
"Young woman!" he snapped impatiently. "Young woman,
straighten up! You should be ashamed of yourself! How much longer
do you intend to hang around here in your drunken condition? If
you want to stay around this tabernacle any longer, stop drinking
before you pass out completely!"
GOD RULES HIS MINISTRY
HANNAH wife of Elkanah the Levite, was at the tabernacle praying
when she was startled by the harsh voice of Eli, the high priest.
He accused her of being drunk. (I Samuel 1:12-14.) Prayer was so
rare in Israel that Eli did not realize Hannah was praying.
Having become lost to her surroundings because of her
fervent request to God for a son, Hannah opened her eyes and
looked up to see the priest frowning down on her.
"I assure you, sir," Hannah said respectfully, "that I am
not in a drunken condition."
A Change of Attitude
"But you have been acting very strangely," Eli told her.
"There are certain young women who stay around the tabernacle for
wrong purposes. If you are one of them, I prefer that you leave."
"I am not one of them," Hannah explained. "I am sorry to
have given you the wrong impression. If I seemed to have had too
much wine, it was because I have been very unhappy. I am
childless, and I was bringing my problem to God. I told Him that
if He would give me a baby boy, I would give up the baby so that
he could become God's servant for the rest of his life!"
"That is indeed a worthy purpose," observed Eli, who was not
convinced that Hannah was telling the truth. "If it's a son you
want, where is your husband?"
"He is the man Elkanah, sitting over there at that table,"
Hannah answered, pointing to a little group eating by themselves.
"Unfortunately, I must share him with another wife whom you see
there. The children around them are hers."
"I am beginning to understand, my daughter," said Eli. "I am
sorry I spoke to you as I did. I should not have misjudged you,
but there have been so many young women coming here for no good
that I considered you just another one of them. Return in peace
with your husband to your home. I believe that God will grant the
request you have made of Him." (I Samuel 1:15-17.)
This encouragement from the high priest of Israel was a
great help to Hannah. She was so inspired with hope that she
cheerfully returned to her husband's table to join in the meal.
Elkanah was elated to note her change of mood, but Peninnah was
perplexed and troubled. She saw nothing good in Elkanah and
Hannah being in such a happy state.
Next morning, after making a last offering, Elkanah returned
home with his family. Although most of Israel was in an ill
spiritual state, there were many such as this Levite who made a
special effort to observe the annual Holy Days God had
instituted. They were more obedient to God than millions and
millions of English-speaking descendants of the ancient House of
Israel are today, because churchgoers today are told by their
leaders to have nothing to do with God's Holy Days that He set
apart to be observed forever -- and that means the present day as
well as back then. (Compare Leviticus 23:1, 41 with I Corinthians
5:7-8 and Acts 18:21.)
When Elkanah went back to the tabernacle a year later,
Hannah didn't go with him and Peninnah and her children. It
wasn't because she didn't want to go. It was because she had
given birth to a son! She named him Samuel, which meant ASKED OF
GOD. (I Samuel 1:18-20.)
A Good Reason to Stay Home
"I shouldn't go to Shiloh until after our son is weaned and
trained," Hannah told her husband. "When he is of the proper age,
I shall deliver him to the high priest for a life of service at
the tabernacle just as I promised."
"If you think you should stay home, so be it," Elkanah
agreed, "but I shall miss you while we are away."
Hannah was sad to see her husband leave, but at the same
time she was relieved to be out of Peninnah's presence for a few
days. Peninnah could no longer chide her for having no children,
but this envious wife had now developed other types of caustic
and unkind remarks with which to try to keep Hannah
uncomfortable. In spite of these things, Hannah was happy because
of her son.
Hannah didn't go to Shiloh the following year or even the
year after that. In those times a child was often two years old
before it was weaned, a custom that prevails today to some extent
among various peoples in the Middle East.
When Samuel was at last taken to Shiloh, he was probably
nearly three years old. Besides the usual meat to be offered,
Elkanah took three bullocks, over seven gallons of flour and a
leather bag of wine -- often called a "wine skin" in modern
translations of the Bible. These extra things were to be used in
the consecration offering having to do with little Samuel. (I
As soon as they arrived at the tabernacle and made an
offering, Hannah took her son to Eli, who was still high priest.
So much time had passed that Eli didn't at first recognize her.
"I am the woman who was here praying by myself a few years
ago, and to whom you spoke because you thought I was drunk," she
explained. "Perhaps you will remember that I told you that I was
pleading to God for a baby boy, and that if God would give one to
me, I would dedicate him for his whole life to the service of the
tabernacle. God heard and answered my prayers, just as you said
at the time that you believed He would. Here is the boy. I have
come to the tabernacle to turn him over to you!" (I Samuel
Eli remembered Hannah. He knew that it required much courage
for a mother to give up her only child. It occurred to him to
refuse to accept such a young lad, so that he might spend a few
more years with his parents, but he realized that it would be
even more difficult for the mother to bring Samuel back again.
When the time came for the consecration offering, Hannah
voiced an unusual prayer of praise. She was so thankful for what
God had done for her that she was happy even for the opportunity
of giving up her son. (I Samuel 2:1-10.)
After the time of worship was over, Elkanah and his family
returned to their home, leaving little Samuel to be reared and
instructed in the simple duties he would at first be required to
perform at the tabernacle.
The Priesthood Profaned
At this time matters were anything but right at the
tabernacle. Eli's two sons, priests next in rank under their
father, had the same duties and authority as those of Aaron's two
sons when the tabernacle was at Mt. Sinai. Those two, Nadab and
Abihu, met sudden death when they overstepped their authority.
Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's sons, were swiftly heading for a
similar fate. They were committed to serving God with fear and
reverence, but they had become increasingly greedy, careless and
immoral. They were careful to try to hide their evil conduct from
their father, but they didn't seem to care what God thought of
them. They were far from fit to be priests, but God allowed them
to carry on for a time, just as He often allows sinful men to
continue in their ways. If every person were struck dead the
moment he first sinned, there would be nobody living. But there
is always a point at which God deals with those who continue to
break His laws.
According to the Creator's instructions for making peace
offerings at the tabernacle, a carcass was to be divided three
ways: the part for God, including the fat, the part for the
priests, including the right shoulder and breast, and the portion
that was left, which was to go back to the one who offered it.
Only God's part was to be roasted on the altar. The rest of it
was to be boiled for the priests and Levites and for the family
making the offering. (Leviticus 7:11-17; 28-34; II Chronicles
35:13; Ezekiel 46:20, 24.)
Hophni and Phinehas didn't go along with such rules any
more. When a carcass was brought in as a sacrifice, they seized
their share of the meat before the rest of it was taken to be
used elsewhere. Often they would roast their part of it before
God's part was burned on the altar. Furthermore, they would go to
the huge seething pots that had just been filled with raw meat to
boil, and yank out as much as they wanted of it with large,
three-pronged hooks. They would thus take much of the meat
belonging to persons who had brought it for offerings. Everyone
could see they were violating God's ordinances. Those people who
were bold enough to object to this unlawful practice were told
that the priests would do as they pleased, even if they had to
get their way by force.
This situation was so difficult that even the most zealous
Israelites came to abhor the offerings they knew they should
make. (I Samuel 2:11-17.) They feared to complain, having been
warned that no one should accuse a priest of doing wrong. (Exodus
22:28; Acts 23:5.) The conduct of Hophni and Phinehas was
damaging to Israel, just as the disobedience of today's religious
leaders is doing great harm to our people. The priests' sins
within a short time led to the spread of idolatry (Judges 8:33),
after the death of Gideon.
A year after Samuel had been dedicated, his parents came to
Shiloh as usual. There they saw their son busy in his service at
the tabernacle. He was dressed in a special shoulder garment that
caused him to look very official, for a young boy.
It was a happy week for Hannah, who spent many hours
visiting Samuel. She gave him a coat she had made, and for a
number of years afterward she brought him a new coat each time
she and her husband came to the tabernacle, which was during the
fall at the Festival of Tabernacles. The parents of Samuel had no
difficulty attending God's Festival each year as it was still a
time of peace under Gideon, shortly before an Ammonite-Philistine
invasion. (Judges 10:7.)
God Rewards the Generous
During one of the festivals, Eli asked a special blessing on
Elkanah and Hannah because of their giving their only child to
the service of the tabernacle.
"Reward this couple for bequeathing their firstborn son,"
the high priest asked of God. "Make it possible for them to have
God answered Eli's request. In time Hannah gave birth to
three more sons and two daughters. Having a total of six
children, she no longer felt secondary to Peninnah, who by that
time had given up her efforts to appear as the superior wife. (I
As Samuel was growing into a young lad who was of increasing
worth at the tabernacle, Eli was reaching an age at which he
realized that his life could end any day. He had hoped that his
last years would be peaceful, but for a long time he had been
receiving indirect reports of his sons' conduct. At first he gave
little heed to these rumors, but when they began increasing, he
knew he would have to speak to Hophni and Phinehas. Eli's
intention wasn't turned to action, however. He dreaded the
unpleasant task of reproaching his sons. As an excuse, he kept
reminding himself that the rumors possibly weren't true.
That was before he received an anonymous tip that his sons
were carrying on in a shameless, wanton manner with some of the
women who stayed in the tabernacle area. Eli had noted evidence
of this flagrant misconduct by Hophni and Phinehas, but he had
chosen to overlook it. Now that the people were beginning to be
aware of it, he realized that he could no longer delay rebuking
"I have been receiving some alarming reports about things
you have been doing here at the tabernacle," Eli grimly announced
to Hophni and Phinehas next time he saw them alone.
The two priests glanced at each other with expressions of
"Who are those who dare tell lies about the priests of
Israel?" Hophni demanded.
"The people have no right to judge us!" Phinehas muttered.
"Both of you would probably be better off if they did," Eli
told them, frowning. "However, it is God who judges us, and I
know you have much to fear from Him for the outrages you have
been committing. Don't you realize that you are causing the
people to sin because of your bad examples and by your driving
them away from the tabernacle? If your misbehavior were only
against man, it would be bad enough. But you have been defying
the Creator whom you have been chosen to serve! Unless you give
up your evil ways now, God will take your lives!" (I Samuel
"Those who have accused us are the ones who should repent!"
snapped Hophni as he turned to stride away with Phinehas.
It was plain to Eli that his sons only resented his remarks,
and had no intention of changing their ways. He knew that further
words would only be wasted. He was painfully aware that if he had
been properly strict with them years before, this calamitous
situation probably never would have occurred. There was only one
course left now for the good of Israel. That was to put Hophni
and Phinehas out of their capacity at the tabernacle, and replace
them with two priests next in line for such offices. That,
however, was something that Eli didn't quite have the courage or
inclination to do.
Eli Is Warned
Not long afterward an unusual stranger came to the
tabernacle to talk to Eli. When Eli saw the man, he was somehow
uncomfortable in his presence. There was something about him that
made the high priest feel as though the fellow could read his
innermost thoughts, and that he was aware of all that had been
going on at the tabernacle. When the man spoke, Eli was startled
to learn that he DID know what was going on.
"When your forefather Aaron was in Egypt, God chose his
family for the priesthood," the stranger reminded Eli. "At that
time God gave definite instructions concerning the offerings and
the manner in which the tabernacle was to function. I have been
sent to tell you that God is well aware that you and your sons
have failed miserably in running matters rightly. You honor your
sons above God -- which is idolatry. You have allowed them to
steal from those who brought offerings so that all three of you
might gorge yourselves. (I Samuel 2:27-29.)
"Even though God promised that the priesthood should be in
the family of Aaron forever -- and set your family in the
priesthood -- the Creator can't go on using men like you as His
most high-ranking servants. You will die soon, but not before you
see an enemy come on the Israelites to take away their wealth. As
for your sons, they will both die the same day, and not long from
now. Then God will choose from among Aaron's other descendants a
high priest who will be faithful. Others in your family will come
and beg him for food and for work. Furthermore, all your male
descendants shall die before they are of middle age. Consider
these things, and how you have brought them on yourselves!" (I
When the stranger finished speaking, Eli was so upset that
he was speechless. He was shaking as he watched the man stride
away from the tabernacle and disappear.
At this time Samuel was probably about twelve or thirteen
years old. He was of increasing help to Eli, who was a heavy man
in his last years, and who needed someone in attendance because
of the high priest's having difficulty in moving about. For this
reason Samuel's bedroom was close to Eli's in the high priest's
quarters near the tabernacle, so that the lad could quickly wait
on Eli in the event he needed help during the night.
One night Samuel was awakened by a voice speaking his name.
Thinking that Eli had called, the boy ran to the high priest's
"Here I am, sir!" Samuel whispered out of the darkness.
Eli's loud breathing ended with a sudden snort.
"Is that you, Samuel?" the high priest muttered sleepily.
"Why have you awakened me? I didn't call you. Go back to bed!"
Samuel returned to his room, puzzled as to the source of the
voice. Before he could fall asleep, he distinctly heard his name
spoken again. He jumped up and once more announced his presence
to the sleeping priest, who again informed him that he had not
Samuel returned to his bed. He was too perplexed to get back
to sleep. (I Samuel 3:1-7.)
"Samuel! Samuel!" a voice startled him for the third time,
strangely seeming to come to him from all directions.
"THE ARK OF GOD IS TAKEN!"
ONE night young Samuel, who was sleeping in a room adjacent to
Eli's near the tabernacle, heard a voice calling his name.
Thinking that Eli, the high priest, had summoned him, he hurried
to Eli's quarters. The high priest told Samuel he didn't call
him. The same thing happened a little later, and again Eli told
him that he hadn't called. (I Samuel 3:1-6.)
A Call From God
After Samuel returned to his bed he heard the voice speak
his name for the third time. He hesitated to bother the high
priest again, but there was just the chance that this third call
had come from the increasingly helpless old man. So for the third
time he went to Eli's quarters and timidly asked if he could be
Eli slowly sat up and peered through the gloom at the boy,
who was fearful that he would be rebuked.
"If you heard someone speaking your name it wasn't I," Eli
muttered thoughtfully. "What was the voice like?"
"The first time it sounded a long way off," Samuel
explained. "The second time it seemed closer. The last time, just
a couple of minutes ago, it sounded closer yet, as though it came
Eli sat in silence for a few moments. He realized that an
awesome thing was taking place. He was certain because this thing
had happened to him in the past.
For some purpose God was speaking to Samuel! (I Samuel
To Eli this was a snub from God, inasmuch as the high priest
was the one to whom the Creator usually spoke unless there was a
leader in Israel who was unusually close to God. Eli understood
why God had chosen to contact another, even one who was only a
child. It was because of the careless manner in which he, Eli,
had conducted matters at the tabernacle.
"Go back to your bed, my son," the high priest sighed. "If
the voice comes to you again, be sure to answer, 'I hear you,
Lord! Please tell me why you are calling me.' "
This instruction was puzzling to Samuel. He obediently went
back to bed, but he didn't sleep because of being so curious and
excited by what the high priest had told him to do about the
mysterious voice. He was so keyed up that when he distinctly and
closely heard his name pronounced again, he almost forgot what he
had been told to answer.
"Y-yes, Lord!" he stammered, not really knowing whom he was
answering. "I'm listening!" (I Samuel 3:9-10.)
"Do not be fearful," the voice went on. "I am the God of
Israel, here to inform you of some important things."
Samuel was greatly startled to learn that God was speaking
to him. But somehow he became at ease as the seconds passed. He
listened intently as the voice continued to come to him out of
"I am going to cause some very unhappy events in Israel. If
I were to announce to all the people what I shall do, their ears
would tingle with the dread words. First I shall bring judgment
against the family of Eli. Even though you are yet very young,
you should know that your high priest has been offensively
careless in his high office. He has allowed his sons to do some
very vile things. The sins of all three have been so great that
no sacrifice or offering can atone for them. Because of their
disobedience, the lives of these people will violently end at a
time I shall soon choose." (I Samuel 3:11-14.)
A Very Unpleasant Duty
Samuel was stunned by what he had heard. He had never been
aware of Eli or his two sons doing anything wrong. To be informed
that his superiors had displeased the God they served was a shock
to him. There was little sleep for him the rest of the night.
Next morning he got up as usual to open the entrance to the
tabernacle. With the coming of dawn, the event of the night
before became to him as a strong dream he almost wanted to
forget. He had no intention of revealing it to anyone, but when
Eli called him later to talk to him, he was fearful that he was
going to be asked to give an account. It isn't always pleasant to
be a prophet.
"I know and now you surely know that it was God who spoke to
you last night," the high priest told Samuel. "He must have
called you again after the third time I told you to go back to
bed. He must have had some message for you. I want you to tell me
everything that He told you. Don't hold anything back, or God
might deal even more harshly with you than He would deal with me
if I were to disobey."
Frightened by these words, Samuel related all that God had
spoken. When Eli heard what God had to say about him and his
sons, he almost regretted questioning Samuel. He bowed his head
and stared submissively at the ground.
"If it's God's will," he murmured, "then it will surely
happen the way He has planned it." (I Samuel 3:15-18.)
God hadn't revealed just when these things would happen. For
the next several years Eli was in a state of fearful uncertainty
for himself and his sons. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up to become a
well-known young man. All of Israel knew him as one whom God had
chosen as a prophet. Samuel didn't ask to be made a prophet: God
chose him. He increased greatly in wisdom and intelligence, and
foretold events that came true with startling accuracy because
God continued to speak to him from time to time. (I Samuel
The leaders of Philistia, the coastal nation that had for
several years lorded it over Israel, meanwhile had received
increasing reports of the rising young leader at Shiloh. Fearing
that Israel might be organizing a rebellion against them, they
sent out an army to march among the Israelites and remind them
that it would be foolish to rise against the Philistines.
When it was reported that a Philistine army was moving into
an area about twenty-five miles west of Shiloh, the elders of
Israel quickly formed a fighting force that moved swiftly to
within a few miles north of where the enemy stopped to camp.
When the Philistines learned of the presence of the army of
Israel, they decided to attack before the Israelite soldiers
could become greater in number. The Bible doesn't state how many
troops were in each army, though there were probably at least
forty or fifty thousand on either side. Whatever the numbers,
when the encounter was over and each side had withdrawn from the
battlefield, the Israelite army went back to its camp with about
four thousand less soldiers. (I Samuel 4:1-2.)
No Help for the Wicked!
The leaders were stunned by this defeat. They felt that
their forces weren't meant to lose because they were part of
God's chosen people! They seemed to have forgotten that Israel
was chosen for an example of obedience, not for special favors.
What with most of Israel being in a state of disobedience, the
leaders had no sound reason to expect victory.
Nevertheless, some of the elders came to the camp with an
idea they thought would insure the Israelites' winning any other
encounter with the Philistines.
"We should have the ark with us," they suggested. "Our
ancestors took it with them in times of war. They had it with
them when they went against Jericho, and the whole city fell. God
wouldn't let anything happen to the ark, and He would have to
spare us to keep the ark safe!"
This stratagem was vigorously acclaimed by the troops. Men
were sent at once to Shiloh to bring the ark to the camp with all
possible haste so that it would be on hand in the event the
Philistines attacked again.
When the soldiers arrived at the tabernacle to request the
ark, Eli was greatly troubled. He felt that it would be a grave
mistake for a sinful nation to rely on the presence of the ark as
a kind of fetish to insure safety in battle.
"I think the ark should remain in the tabernacle," Eli
resolutely informed the men. "I can hardly agree to your taking
Having been awakened because of this matter, the old priest
shuffled back to his bed, leaving a group of very disappointed
Next morning young Samuel went as usual to open the gates of
the tabernacle. To his surprise they were already open. After
trying in vain to find Phinehas and Hophni, he awakened Eli to
tell him that his sons weren't on duty. The sightless old man
groped into the tabernacle, thinking that they might be there.
They were gone!
When he came back out, he was pale and shaking.
"They have unwisely taken the ark!" he muttered to Samuel.
"God will not deal lightly with those who have done this awful
When the ark arrived at the camp of the Israelite army,
along with Hophni and Phinehas, a thunderous cheer went up from
the waiting soldiers. The shouting was so loud that it was
plainly heard in the Philistine camp a few miles to the south.
Alarmed officers feared that it meant that powerful
reinforcements had arrived for Israel. (I Samuel 4:3-5.)
"We should have attacked again instead of retiring," some of
them bitterly observed. "Now it may be too late for another
A little later they learned from spies just what had caused
the Israelites to cheer so wildly.
"The God of Israel has come into the camp of the enemy!" the
spies excitedly declared. "We learned that He is in a box, and
that this box was brought from Shiloh tonight! The enemy troops
were so pleased to learn that their God had come to help them
that they shouted like madmen with glee!"
"I have heard of that mysterious box," a Philistine officer
said. "It is said to be the dwelling place of a powerful God --
the one who long ago brought some horrible plagues on Egypt so
that the Israelites could escape!"
"I have heard that when the God of Israel is angered, He is
more powerful than any other god," another Philistine added. "If
that is true, we might be wise to return to our country."
Fear Turned to Courage
The superstitious Philistines, filled with growing fear and
futility, were on the verge of agreeing to give up their war on
Israel. Then one of the leading officers demanded to be heard.
"We brought our army here for a purpose!" he shouted
angrily. "Now what is all this cowardly talk about running back
to our homes? Why are we imagining that we are destined to lose
to Israel? We are strong, and we must use that strength to make
certain that the Israelites continue to be servants to us. If we
give in, we will become servants to them! We must fight! We must
prove to all that we are men determined to do what we have set
out to do!" (I Samuel 4:6-9.)
This short speech was so inspiring to the Philistines that
they decided to set out even before dawn for Israel's camp. The
Israelites were depending on the ark to keep them safe, and
weren't as prepared as they should have been. The Philistines
suddenly swarmed in among them with such savage force that within
minutes the ground was strewn with dead and dying Israelites.
Many were trapped in their own tents. Others who were out in the
open foolishly tried to escape by dashing into their shelters.
The shouts, the screams of pain, the clashing of metal against
metal produced more noise than had gone up from the cheering men
only a few hours previously.
On slashing into one of the larger tents, Philistine
soldiers came upon two men crouching close to a large box-shaped
object covered with a fancy cloth. Spears hurtled into the two
men, killing them at once. The Philistine soldiers had no way of
knowing that they had just put to death two priests of Israel --
Phinehas and Hophni. They strode toward the covered object to see
what it was. (I Samuel 4:10-11.)
"Don't touch that!" one of the soldiers barked. "That must
be the box where Israel's God dwells!"
The soldiers froze in their tracks, then backed off a few
"Why should we be afraid of that thing?" another soldier
muttered. "It didn't keep us from killing these two fellows who
must have been here to guard it!"
Anxious to show his courage, the soldier stepped up and
touched one of the poles by which the ark was carried.
"See?" he triumphantly asked. "Let's take this to our
commander. We'll receive some special favors for being the ones
to capture the God of the Israelites!"
By that time the fighting was over. The only Israelites in
the camp were dead or wounded. All others, and that didn't
include very many, were either fleeing or hiding.
Israel had been defeated to the amount of thirty thousand
dead soldiers! If there had been obedience to God instead of
reliance on the ark, matters would have turned out differently.
The Tragic Result of Sin!
Killing thirty thousand Israelites was a great triumph to
the Philistines. But, in a way, the capture of the ark was even a
greater one, inasmuch as many of them really believed they had
captured a god. The ark was taken to their camp, where a noisy
celebration took place. There was great curiosity and speculation
as to what was inside the object, but somehow no one dared to try
to open it. Most of the Philistine soldiers, having heard wild
rumors about the ark, chose to stay away from it. They were
A few hours later a tattered Benjamite soldier who had
escaped from the Philistines staggered wearily into the main
streets of Shiloh."
Our army has been wiped out!" he shouted as he scooped up a
handful of dirt and tossed it on his head. (I Samuel 4:12.)
As the bad news spread through town the people began
groaning and shrieking. The depressed high priest, sitting at his
usual outdoor place where the people could easily contact him,
wondered at the cause of the noise. It was then that the
exhausted Benjamite trudged up to him to announce that he had run
all the way from the Israelite camp to bring news.
Trembling, Eli anxiously asked what had happened.
"The Philistines attacked our camp this morning," the
Benjamite muttered hoarsely. "Only a small part of us escaped.
The rest are dead, including your two sons. They died when the
ark was captured."
This was too much for the old priest. He knew that when God
removed His protection from Israel and let the ark be taken, He
had forsaken His people. Eli reeled backward and toppled off his
The soldier ran to him, but Eli was already dead. He was a
very heavy man, and the fall had broken his neck. (I Samuel
"REVERENCE MY SANCTUARY"
AN ANGEL had told Eli, the high priest of Israel, that he and his
two sons would soon lose their lives. All three of them had
knowingly failed to conduct themselves as proper servants in
God's service. (I Samuel 2:27-36; I Samuel 3:11-14.)
The prediction came true when Eli's two sons were killed by
Philistine soldiers. Eli fell and broke his neck just a few hours
later. (I Samuel 4:10-18.) God had warned Eli and the people,
"reverence my sanctuary" (Leviticus 26:2). He had warned them
that only authorized persons should touch the ark, and that it
should not even be looked upon except when authorized. (Numbers
4:15; Leviticus 16:2.)
Ark in Pagan Hands
To add to the family tragedy, the wife of Phinehas, one of
the two slain sons of Eli, was about to give birth to a baby.
Then she heard of the death of her husband and father-in-law and
about the capture of the ark, which the priests had removed from
God's sanctuary. She was so shocked and troubled that she died
shortly after her son was born. Just before she died, she gave
her son the name of Ichabod, which was meant to refer to the
wretched state into which Israel had fallen. (I Samuel 4:19-22.)
While this was going on at Shiloh, the Philistine army was
triumphantly marching into Ashdod, one of the chief cities near
the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Ashdod was one of the
places where there was a temple containing a statue of one of
their main gods, Dagon. The ark was placed in front of the idol
to defy the ark or whatever might be in it to try to prevent
Dagon from continuing to tower over the ark. (I Samuel 5:1-2.)
Next morning the priests of the temple got up earlier than
usual to gloat over the sight of the sacred treasure of Israel
reclining as a sort of gratitude offering before their god. They
froze in fearful amazement when they entered the main room.
Some time during the night the statue of Dagon had toppled
to the floor in front of the ark! (I Samuel 5:3.)
In the next few hours there was feverish activity within the
temple. The people of Ashdod weren't allowed inside or to learn
what had happened. Workmen who struggled with ropes, pulleys and
pry poles to haul the idol back into place were threatened and
warned -- and sworn to secrecy.
It was an awkward day for the Philistine priests, who tried
to convince themselves that their idol had been erected off
balance, and that a slight earthquake during the night was just
enough to cause it to topple. Late that afternoon the statue was
hoisted back into place in time for the public to come into the
temple to worship that day.
Next morning there was still a greater shock for the
priests. They arrived to discover that the statue of Dagon was
again on the floor. This time it was mysteriously broken off at
the base part, which remained where it was. The arms and head
were sheared off and scattered in pieces across the threshold of
This time the fear and consternation of the priests couldn't
be hidden. Within hours it was known all through Philistia that
the God of Israel had struck down the statue of Dagon in Ashdod.
The disgrace was so great in the minds of the Philistines that
the leaders decreed that no one should put foot on the threshold
of any temple containing a statue of Dagon because of what had
happened. (I Samuel 5:4-5.)
This destruction of an idol was embarrassing and unpleasant
for the Philistines. But God didn't stop there in dealing with
them. He brought misery to the people of Ashdod and those who
lived for miles around. Overnight they became afflicted with
bleeding ulcers, painful to such a degree that they couldn't even
sit down without great distress. The superstitious Philistines
were right in their guess that this trouble had come on them
because of their treatment of the ark. (I Samuel 5:6-7.) Leaders
met to decide what to do to try to escape the plague that had
come to a part of the people.
"If giving that box back to the Israelites will relieve us
of this miserable condition, I'm for sending it to Shiloh right
away!" the ruler of Ashdod declared.
There was a chorus of disagreement.
"The capture of the ark of Israel was a great triumph for
our armies!" the ruler of the Philistine city of Gath exclaimed
heatedly. "Without it, Israel will soon crumble, but you want to
give it back! I say no!"
"You wouldn't say that if you were in my condition!"
Ashdod's ruler retorted, grimacing with discomfort. "If you think
that fancy box should remain in our nation, take it to YOUR city
and see what happens!"
There was a chorus of approval. None of the rulers of the
other cities of Philistia wanted to be responsible for keeping
the ark. The ruler of Gath realized that he had spoken with too
much haste. He had no choice but to agree that the ark should be
transported at once to his city.
This time it wasn't put in the same room with an idol, but
it was only a matter of hours before the people of Gath, several
miles southeast of Ashdod, began to feel the pain of the same
kind of plague that had come to Ashdod. Within a few days it had
spread to every Philistine family in and around the city. Some,
as in Ashdod, were so painfully afflicted that they died. (I
The people of Gath pleaded that the ark be sent elsewhere.
Through various pressures and arguments, the ark was moved to
Ekron, a main Philistine city about fifteen miles northeast of
Gath. Almost as soon as the ark arrived there, the people of
Ekron were struck by the same ulcerous condition that had come to
the people of Ashdod and Gath. (I Samuel 5:10-12.)
At the same time the area was visited with hordes of mice
that seemed to come out of nowhere to overrun fields, barns,
homes, streets and public buildings.
All this was too much for the inhabitants of Ekron, who
begged the rulers of the leading cities to meet in Ekron and
consider moving the ark elsewhere.
"We have had enough!" the ruler of Ekron complained to his
fellow leaders when they met. "Our people are suffering terribly.
Many of them are dying. If the ark isn't taken away soon from
here, we'll all be dead. Your people in Ashdod and Gath are
recovering, and we want the same opportunity."
Philistines Test God
"But there is no real proof that the Israelite box is
causing your trouble," one of the leaders observed who hadn't yet
kept the ark in his city, but wasn't in favor of giving it back
to Israel. "Before we make any rash move, let us send for our
chief priests and seers and ask for their advice on this matter."
Most of those present agreed on this proposal, inasmuch as
most Philistines believed that their priests, magicians, seers
and astrologers had unusual wisdom. After a meeting of those
revered men, a spokesman made their opinions known.
"Probably it would be wise to return the ark to the
Israelites," he declared. "It shouldn't be returned without a
trespass offering, however. If the Israelite God is actually
punishing us because we have this box, we should at least try to
make amends by doing something that might please Him."
"What should this trespass offering be?" the Philistine
"Because Philistia is divided into the leadership of five
main cities," the spokesman explained, "it would be fitting to
send an equal number of costly images of the things that have
plagued us. If we return the ark to the Israelites, we should
send along golden images of five mice. As you know, it is our
custom to appease our own gods by making images of things that
have brought trouble to us. Therefore we should even make five
images of the type of sores that have come to Philistia. They
should also be made of gold and included with the five images of
mice. It would be well to remember the tales that have been
handed down about how the God of Israel dealt with the Egyptians
when they held the Israelites against their will. [Exodus,
chapters 7 through 12.] To make a further effort to avoid such
curses, the ark should be returned in a fine, newly built cart
drawn by untrained cows whose calves have been taken so far away
from them that they won't be turned aside because of sensing them
in any direction. The animals should then be sent off with what
they have to pull. This way we can test the God of Israel and see
if He is the One who brought our troubles upon us. If the cows
take the cart to Beth-shemesh, it will be a sign to show us
whether the God of Israel is powerful enough to work miracles.
But if the cows choose to haul the ark in any direction they
choose except that of the Danite village of Beth-shemesh, then we
will know that it was only by chance or by natural conditions
that the sores and mice have come to Philistia." (I Samuel
Fantastic and even droll as this plan might seem, the
Philistine leaders took it quite seriously. They believed in the
ideas of their priests and seers.
The suggestions were carried out as soon as possible. The
cart and golden images were made and the images were put into a
coffer, or box. The ark and the box containing the golden images
were loaded onto the cart. Two cows with calves were brought to
hitch to the cart, and the calves were taken to the opposite side
of the city of Ekron. (I Samuel 6:10-11.)
The Sign of the Cows
As soon as the cows were harnessed to the cart, everyone
stood back to see what would happen. A few moments passed. Then
the cows suddenly set out together to harmoniously pull the cart
as though they had been trained all their lives as a pair to do
The Philistine rulers and others present stared in
amazement, but not just because the two cows had agreed on how to
pull the cart. The astonishing thing was that the animals had
chosen to go directly to the road that led to Beth-shemesh! This
was the sign that was supposed to prove to the Philistines that
the ark was the source of their trouble.
"This means that the God of Israel has been dealing with us
because of our capturing the box!" one Philistine ruler
"I'm not convinced yet," another observed. "The animals are
starting out in that direction, but they could turn at any moment
and go elsewhere. I'm in favor of following them to see what
The others agreed. It was an odd sight -- two cows lowing
for their calves as they pulled the new cart along, and the five
Philistine rulers and their aides and advisors following
curiously on their various mounts.
The animals didn't turn to right or left from the road that
led into Beth-shemesh about twelve miles southeast of Ekron. Some
Israelite harvesters just outside the village caught sight of the
unattended cows pulling the cart, just as they reached the field
of a man named Joshua, but not the same Joshua who had many years
before led Israel across the Jordan River. (Joshua 3:9-17.) They
ran to the road, stopped the animals and swarmed around the cart
to see what it contained. (I Samuel 6:12-13.)
When the Philistines saw this, they turned off the road and
watched, unnoticed, from a nearby grove of trees. They saw the
Israelites rip off the top of the box containing the golden
idols, then move around excitedly when they discovered what was
Many of the harvesters ran to the nearby villages to tell
others that the ark had been found. It resulted in every
inhabitant of that area rushing forth to see for himself. The
cows and cart were taken off the road and into a nearby field.
From there they were guided up a large, rocky mound that jutted
up through the field.
"God has chosen the people of our village to find the ark!"
a leading citizen loudly proclaimed. "Let us show our devotion to
our God by sacrificing these two cows!"
There was a chorus of agreeing shouts. The animals were
immediately slaughtered and dressed by the village's Levites. The
wooden cart was broken up and set ablaze under the carcasses.
While thousands of the people watched with rapt attention, other
thousands inspected the odd trespass offerings sent by the
Ark of the Sanctuary Profaned
Unfortunately, there were many who examined and handled the
ark without proper reverence for God, even to the extent of
lifting the lid and peering inside. Obviously they weren't aware
of or hadn't remembered what had happened to certain other people
who had touched the ark. That ark represented God's throne. Such
crass disrespect was bound to bring an awful penalty.
These things were witnessed by the Philistines. They at last
had seen enough to convince them that they had blundered in
taking the ark away from the Israelites and holding it in
Philistia for seven months. They returned that same day to their
country to commend their priests and diviners for giving them
proper advice concerning the ark. The rulers could never know
that the God of Israel had caused matters to work out as they
did, even to the extent of working through the so-called wise men
of Philistia. (I Samuel 6:14-18.)
Following the departure of the Philistines, a "great
calamity" fell on the village of Beth-shemesh and on all the
country around. Fifty thousand and seventy men suddenly were
seized with a strange, painful condition that brought death to
all upon whom it came. (I Samuel 6:19.) These were thousands who
had treated the ark irreverently. Not even the Philistines had
done so to it! The Israelites should have known better, what with
a part of them being Levites who surely realized that God had
warned the Israelites that death would come to any who looked
into the ark or touched it except by its carrying poles -- or
showed any lack of reverence for God in their conduct toward the
ark. (Leviticus 16:2; 26:2; Numbers 4:5-6, 15.)
There was loud mourning in the villages for the next few
days. Some felt that God had dealt unfairly with them. (I Samuel
6:19-20.) Most of the people were anxious to have the ark taken
away. Messengers were sent to the nearest town, Kirjath-jearim,
to ask men there to come and remove the ark from the area of
The officials of Kirjath-jearim were pleased at the
opportunity to have the ark in their town, though some of the
people there feared it. They hurriedly sent more than enough men
to carry it.
At Kirjath-jearim, built on a hill, the ark was taken to the
home of a man named Abinadab. His son, Eleazar, was chosen to
keep and guard it. No one would have guessed then that it would
remain in that place for the next twenty years. (I Samuel 7:1-2.)
Meanwhile, the Philistines continued to trouble Israel by
constant raids and attacks. Life became increasingly miserable
for those in western Canaan, and their complaints to Samuel
increased accordingly. Always Samuel's answer was that if the
Israelites would give up their worship of pagan gods and turn
back to the one real God, they wouldn't be troubled by their
enemies. The Israelites were so weary of grief that they did
gradually pull away from idol worship.
And Finally -- Repentance
Though this change required several years, Samuel was
greatly pleased. When the time for the Festival of Tabernacles
came, he called the people to meet at Mizpeh, only a few miles
from Kirjathjearim and the ark. There many thousands of
Israelites prayed, fasted and acknowledged their sins. The
assemblage was led and directed by Samuel, who spent most of his
time and efforts in giving advice and instruction to those who
had problems and needed help. (I Samuel 7:3-6.)
Just when the people were in the midst of this long-due
event, a man rode swiftly into Mizpeh.
"The Philistines have learned that we are gathered here!" he
shouted excitedly. "They have sent a huge army that will be here
Within minutes the startling news had spread to all the
people. Even though many of them were armed, a large part of the
Israelites fell into a state of panic because of a fear of being
slaughtered. They realized that escape to the east wasn't very
probable, inasmuch as there weren't enough roads for so many of
them to use.
Thousands quickly milled around Samuel's quarters, and
thousands of voices joined in a thunderous plea for help from
Samuel. At last the Israelites realized only God could help them.
"Ask God to save us from the Philistines!" they shouted. (I