Judges 3

CHAPTER III

An account of the nations that we left to prove Israel, 1-4.

How the people provoked the Lord, 5-7.

They are delivered into the power of the king of Mesopotamia,

by whom they are enslaved eight years, 8.

Othniel is raised up as their deliverer; he discomfits the king

of Mesopotamia, delivers Israel, and the land enjoys peace for

forty years, 9-11.

They again rebel, and are delivered into the hand of the king

of Moab, by whom they are enslaved eighteen years, 12-14.

They are delivered by Ehud, who kills Eglon, king of Moab, and

slays ten thousand Moabites, and the land rests fourscore

years, 15-40.

NOTES ON CHAP. III

Verse 1. Now these are the nations] The nations left to prove

the Israelites were the five lordships or satrapies of the

Philistines, viz., Gath, Askelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza; the

Sidonians, the Hivites of Lebanon, Baal-hermon, &c.; with the

remains of the Canaanites, viz., the Hittites, Amorites,

Perizzites, and Jebusites.

Those who were left to be proved were those Israelites that had

not seen all the wars of Canaan.

Verse 2. That-Israel might know, to teach them war] This was

another reason why the Canaanites were left in the land, that the

Israelites might not forget military discipline, but habituate

themselves to the use of arms, that they might always be able to

defend themselves against their foes. Had they been faithful to

God, they would have had no need of learning the art of war; but

now arms became a sort of necessary substitute for that spiritual

strength which had departed from them. Thus Gods in his judgments

leaves one iniquitous nation to harass and torment another. Were

all to turn to God, men need learn war no more.

Verse 4. To know whether they would hearken] This would be the

consequence of the Canaanites being left among them: if they

should be faithful to God, their enemies would not be able to

enslave them; should they be rebellious, the Lord would abandon

them to their foes.

Verse 6. And they took their daughters] They formed matrimonial

alliances with those proscribed nations, served their idols, and

thus became one with them in politics and religion.

Verse 7. Served Baalim and the groves] No groves were ever

worshipped, but the deities who were supposed to be resident in

them; and in many cases temples and altars were built in groves,

and the superstition of consecrating groves and woods to the

honour of the deities was a practice very usual with the ancients.

Pliny assures us that trees, in old times, served for the temples

of the gods. Tacitus reports this custom of the old Germans;

Quintus Curtius, of the Indians; and Caesar, and our old

writers, mention the same of the Druids in Britain. The Romans

were admirers of this way of worship and therefore had their luci

or groves in most parts of the city, dedicated to some deity. But

it is very probable that the word asheroth which we

translate groves, is a corruption of the word ashtaroth,

the moon or Venus, (see on Jud 2:13, ) which only differs in

the letters , from the former. Ashtaroth is read in this place

by the Chaldee Targum, the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Vulgate,

and by one of Dr. Kennicott's MSS.

Verse 8. Chushan-rishathaim] Kushan, the wicked or impious;

and so the word is rendered by the Chaldee Targum, the Syriac, and

the Arabic, wherever it occurs in this chapter.

King of Mesopotamia] King of Aram naharayim, "Syria

of the two rivers; " translated Mesopotamia by the Septuagint and

Vulgate.

It was the district situated between the Tigris and Euphrates,

called by the Arabian geographers Maverannaher, "the country

beyond the river," it is now called Diarbek.

See Clarke on Ac 2:9.

Served Chushan-eight years.] He overran their country, and

forced them to pay a very heavy tribute.

Verse 9. Raised up-Othniel, the son of Kenaz] This noble Hebrew

was of the tribe of Judah, and nephew and son-in-law to Caleb,

whose praise stands without abatement in the sacred records.

Othniel had already signalized his valour in taking

Kirjath-sepher, which appears to have been a very hazardous

exploit. By his natural valour, experience in war, and the

peculiar influence of the Divine Spirit, he was well qualified to

inspire his countrymen with courage, and to lead them successfully

against their oppressors.

Verse 10. His hand prevailed] We are not told or what nature

this war was, but it was most decisive; and the consequence was an

undisturbed peace of forty years, during the whole life of

Othniel. By the Spirit of the Lord coming upon him, the Chaldee

understands the spirit of prophecy; others understand the spirit

of fortitude and extraordinary courage, as opposed to the spirit

of fear or faintness of heart; but as Othniel was judge, and had

many offices to fulfil besides that of a general, he had need of

the Spirit of God, in the proper sense of the word, to enable him

to guide and govern this most refractory and fickle people; and

his receiving it for these purposes, shows that the political

state of the Jews was still a theocracy. No man attempted to do

any thing in that state without the immediate inspiration of God,

the pretension to which was always justified by the event.

Verse 12. The children of Israel did evil] They forgat the Lord

and became idolaters, and God made those very people, whom they

had imitated in their idolatrous worship, the means of their

chastisement.

The Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab] The success he had

against the Israelites was by the especial appointment and energy

of God. He not only abandoned the Israelites, but strengthened the

Moabites against them.

Eglon is supposed to have been the immediate successor of Balak.

Some great men have borne names which, when reduced to their

grammatical meaning, appear very ridiculous: the word Eglon

signifies a little calf!

Verse 13. The city of palm trees.] This the Targum renders the

city of Jericho; but Jericho had been destroyed by Joshua, and

certainly was not rebuilt till the reign of Ahab, long after this,

1Ki 16:34. However, as Jericho is expressly called

the city of palm trees, De 34:3, the city in question must have

been in the vicinity or plain of Jericho, and the king of Moab had

seized it as a frontier town contiguous to his own estates. Calmet

supposes that the city of palm trees means En-gaddi.

Verse 15. Ehud the son of Gera-a man left handed]

ish itter yad yemino, a man lame in his right hand, and

therefore obliged to use his left. The Septuagint render it ανδρα

αμφοτεροδεξιον, an ambidexter, a man who could use both hands

alike. The Vulgate, qui utraque manu pro dextera utebatur, a man

who could use either hand as a right hand, or to whom right and

left were equally ready. This is not the sense of the original,

but it is the sense in which most interpreters understand it. It

is well known that to be an ambidexter was in high repute among

the ancients: Hector boasts of it:-

αυταρεγωνενοιδαμαχαςτανδροκτασιαςτε

οιδεπιδεξιαοιδεπαριστερανωμησαιβων

αζαλεηντομοιεστιταλαυρινονπολεμιζειν

Iliad, lib. vii., ver. 237.

"But am in arms well practiced; many a Greek

Hath bled by me, and I can shift my shield

From right to left; reserving to the last

Force that suffices for severest toil."

COWPER.

Asteropaeus is also represented by Homer as an ambidexter, from

which he derives great advantages in fight:-

ωςφαταπειλησαςοδανεσχετοδιοςαχιλλευς

πηλιαδαμελιηνοδομαρτηδουρασιναμφις

ηρωςαστεροπαιοςεπειπεριδεξιοςηε

Iliad, lib. xxi., ver. 161.

"So threatened he. Then raised Achilles high

The Pelian ash:-and his two spears at once

Alike, (a practised warrior,) with both hands

Asteropaeus hurled."

COWPER.

We are informed by Aristotle, that Plato recommended to all

soldiers to acquire by study and exercise an equal facility of

losing both hands. Speaking of Plato, he says: καιτηνεντοις

πολεμικοιςοπωςαμφιδεξιοιγινωνταικατατηνμελετηνωςδεονμη

τηνμενχρησιμονειναιταινχεροιντηνδεαχρηστον.-De Repub.,

lib. ii., cap. 12. "He (Plato) also made a law concerning their

warlike exercises, that they should acquire a habit of using both

hands alike; as it is not fit that one of the hands should be

useful and the other useless."

In Jud 20:16 of this book we have an account of

seven hundred men of Benjamin, each of whom was

itter yad yemino, lame of his right hand, and yet slinging

stones to a hair's breadth without missing: these are generally

thought to be ambidexters.

Sent a present unto Eglon] This is generally understood to be

the tribute money which the king of Moab had imposed on the

Israelites.

Verse 16. A dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length] The

word gomed, which we translate cubit, is of very doubtful

signification. As the root seems to signify contracted, it

probably means an instrument made for the purpose shorter than

usual, and something like the Italian stiletto. The Septuagint

translate it by σπιθαμη, a span, and most of the versions

understand it in the same sense.

Upon his right thigh.] Because he was left-handed. Ordinarily

the sword is on the left side, that it may be readily drawn out by

the right hand; but as Ehud was left-handed, to be convenient his

sword must be on the right side.

Verse 17. Eglon was a very fat man.] The ish bari

of the text is translated by the Septuagint ανηραστειοςσφοδρα, a

very beautiful or polite man, and in the Syriac, a very rude man.

It probably means what we call lusty or corpulent.

Verse 18. Made an end to offer the present] Presents, tribute,

&c., in the eastern countries were offered with very great

ceremony; and to make the more parade several persons, ordinarily

slaves, sumptuously dressed, and in considerable number, were

employed to carry what would not be a burden even to one. This

appears to have been the case in the present instance.

Verse 19. He-turned-from the quarries] pesilim. Some of

the versions understand this word as meaning idols or graven

images, or some spot where the Moabites had a place of idolatrous

worship. As pasal signifies to cut, hew, or engrave, it

may be applied to the images thus cut, or to the place, or quarry

whence they were digged: but it is most likely that idols are

meant. Some think that trenches are meant, and that pesilim here

may mean the boundaries of the two countries: and when Ehud had

got thus far, he sent away the people that were with him, under

pretense of having a secret message to Eglon, and so got rid of

his attendants, in presence of whom he could not have executed his

scheme, nor have secured his escape afterwards. But I do not see

the evidence of this mode of interpretation.

Verse 20. He was sitting in a summer parlour] Besides the

platforms, says Dr. Shaw, which were upon the ancient houses of

the East, and which are found there to this day, it is probable

that heretofore, as well as at present, most of the great houses

had a smaller one annexed, which seldom consisted of more than one

or two rooms and a terrace. Others, built as they frequently are

above the porch or gateway, have, if we except the ground-floor,

all the conveniences belonging to the house, properly so called.

There is a door of communication from them into the gallery of the

house, kept open or shut at the discretion of the master of the

house, besides another door which opens immediately from a privy

stairs down into the porch or street, without giving the least

disturbance to the house. In these back houses strangers are

usually lodged and entertained; hither the men are wont to retire

from the hurry and noise of their families, to be more at leisure

for meditation or diversions; and they are often used for

wardrobes and magazines. These the Arabs call oleah, which

exactly answers to the Hebrew word aliyath found in this

place; and without doubt such was the apartment in which Eglon

received Ehud, by the privy stairs belonging to which he escaped,

after having killed Eglon. The doors of the Eastern buildings are

large, and their chambers spacious, conveniences well adapted to

those hotter climates; but in the present passage something more

seems to be meant; at least there are now other conveniences in

the East to give coolness to particular rooms, which are very

common. In Egypt the cooling their rooms is effected by openings

at the top, which let in the fresh air. Mons. Maillet informs us

that their halls are made very large and lofty, with a dome at the

top, which towards the north has several open windows, so

constructed as to throw the north wind down into the rooms; and by

this means, though the country is excessively hot, they can make

the coolness of those apartments so great, as often not to be

borne without being wrapped in furs. Eglon's was a chamber; and

some contrivance to mitigate the heat of it was the more

necessary, as he appears to have kept his court at Jericho,

Jud 3:13, 28, where the heat is so excessive as sometimes to

prove fatal. See Harmer's Observations.

I have a message from God unto thee] debar

elohim li aleycha, a word of the gods to me, unto thee. It is very

likely that the word elohim is used here to signify idols, or the

pesilim mentioned above, Jud 3:19. Ehud, having gone so far as

this place of idolatry, might feign he had there been worshipping,

and that the pesilim had inspired him with a message for the king;

and this was the reason why the king commanded silence, why every

man went out, and why he rose from his seat or throne, that he

might receive it with the greater respect. This, being an

idolater, he would not have done to any message coming from the

God of Israel. I have a message from God unto thee is a popular

text: many are fond of preaching from it. Now as no man should

ever depart from the literal meaning of Scripture in his

preaching, we may at once see the absurdity of taking such a text

as this; for such preachers, to be consistent, should carry a

two-edged dagger of a cubit length on their right thigh, and be

ready to thrust it into the bowels of all those they address! This

is certainly the literal meaning of the passage, and that it has

no other meaning is an incontrovertible truth.

Verse 22. The haft also went in after the blade] As the

instrument was very short, and Eglon very corpulent, this might

readily take place.

And the dirt came out] This is variously understood: either the

contents of the bowels issued through the wound, or he had an

evacuation in the natural way through the fright and anguish.

The original, parshedonah, occurs only here, and is

supposed to be compounded of peresh, dung, and shadah,

to shed, and may be very well applied to the latter circumstance;

so the Vulgate understood it: Statinque per secreta naturae alvi

stercora proruperunt.

Verse 24. He covereth his feet] He has lain down on his sofa in

order to sleep; when this was done they dropped their slippers,

lifted up their feet, and covered them with their long loose

garments. But the versions, in general, seem to understand it as

implying a certain natural act.

Verse 26. Passed beyond the quarries] Beyond the pesilim, which

appear to have been the Moabitish borders, where they had set up

those hewn stones as landmarks, or sacred boundary stones.

Verse 28. Took the fords of Jordan] It is very likely that the

Moabites, who were on the western side of Jordan, hearing of the

death of Eglon, were panic-struck, and endeavoured to escape over

Jordan at the fords near Jericho, when Ehud blew his trumpet in

the mountains of Ephraim, and thus to get into the land of the

Moabites, which lay on the east of Jordan; but Ehud and his men,

seizing the only pass by which they could make their escape, slew

ten thousand of them in their attempt to cross at those fords.

What is called here the fords was doubtless the place where the

Israelites had passed Jordan when they (under Joshua) took

possession of the promised land.

Verse 29. All lusty, and all men of valour] Picked, chosen

troops, which Eglon kept among the Israelites to reduce and

overawe them.

Verse 30. The land had rest fourscore years.] This is usually

reckoned from the deliverance under Othniel, that being a term

from which they dated every transaction, as in other cases they

dated from the exodus, from the building of Solomon's temple, &c.,

and as other nations did from particular events: the ROMANS, from

the building of the city; the MOHAMMEDANS, from the Hijreh, or

flight of Mohammed to Medina; the CHRISTIANS, from the birth of

Christ, &c., &c. But see the preface, and the different

chronological schemes there mentioned.

Verse 31. And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath] Dr. Hales

supposes that "Shamgar's administration in the West included

Ehud's administration of eighty years in the East; and that, as

this administration might have been of some continuance, so this

Philistine servitude which is not noticed elsewhere, might have

been of some duration; as may be incidentally collected from

Deborah's thanksgiving, Jud 5:6."

Slew-six hundred men with an ox-goad] malmad habbakar,

the instructer of the oxen. This instrument is differently

understood by the versions: the Vulgate has vomere, with the

coulter or ploughshare, a dreadful weapon in the hand of a man

endued with so much strength; the Septuagint has αροτροποδιτων

βοων, with the ploughshare of the oxen; the Chaldee, Syriac, and

Arabic, understand it of the goad, as does our translation.

1. THAT the ox-goad, still used in Palestine, is a sufficiently

destructive weapon if used by a strong and skilful hand, is

evident enough from the description which Mr. Maundrell gives of

this implement, having seen many of them both in Palestine and

Syria: "It was observable," says he, "that in ploughing they used

goads of an extraordinary size; upon measuring of several I found

them about eight feet long, and at the bigger end about six inches

in circumference. They were armed at the lesser end with a sharp

prickle for driving the oxen, and at the other end with a small

spade or paddle of iron, strong and massy, for cleansing the

plough from the clay that encumbers it in working." See his

Journey from Aleppo, &c., 7th edit., pp. 110, 111. In the hands

of a strong, skilful man, such an instrument must be more

dangerous and more fatal than any sword.

It is worthy of remark that the ox-goad is represented by Homer

to have been used prior to this time in the same way. In the

address of Diomed to Glaucus, Iliad. lib. vi., ver. 129, Lycurgus

is represented as discomfiting Bacchus and the Bacchanals with

this weapon. The siege of Troy, according to the best

chronologers, happened within the time of the Israelitish judges.

ουκανεγωγεθεοισινεπουρανιοισιμαχοιμην

ουδεγαρουδεδρυαντοςυιοςκρατεροςλυκουργος

* * * * * * * * *

σευεκατηγαθεοννυσσηιοναιδαμαπασαι

θυσθλαχαμαικατεχευανυπανδροφονοιολυκουργου

θεινομεναιβουπληγι

"I fight not with the inhabitants of heaven;

That war Lycurgus, son of Dryas, waged,

Nor long survived.-From Nyssa's sacred heights

He drove the nurses of the frantic god,

Thought drowning Bacchus: to the ground they cast

All cast, their leafy wands; while, ruthless, he

Spared not to smite them with his murderous goad."

The meaning of this fable is: Lycurgus, king of Thrace, finding

his subjects addicted to drunkenness, proscribed the cultivation

of the vine in his dominions, and instituted agriculture in its

stead; thus θυσθλα, the thyrsi, were expelled, βουπληγι, by the

ox-goad. The account, however, shows that Shamgar was not the

only person who used the ox-goad as an offensive weapon. If we

translate βουπληξ a cart-whip, the parallel is lost.

2. It appears that Shamgar was merely a labouring man; that the

Philistines were making an inroad on the Israelites when the

latter were cultivating their fields; that Shamgar and his

neighbours successfully resisted them; that they armed themselves

with their more portable agricultural instruments; and that

Shamgar, either with a ploughshare or an ox-goad, slew six hundred

of those marauders.

3. The case of Ehud killing Eglon is a very serious one; and how

far he was justified in this action is with all a question of

importance, and with not a few a question of difficulty. "Is it

right to slay a tyrant?" I, without hesitation, answer, No

individual has a right to slay any man, except it be in his own

defence, when a person attacks him in order to take away his life.

"But may not any of his oppressed subjects put an end to the life

of a tyrant?" No. The state alone can judge whether a king is

ruling contrary to the laws and constitution of that state; and if

that state have provided laws for the punishment of a ruler who is

endeavouring to destroy or subvert that constitution, then let him

be dealt with according to those laws. But no individual or number

of individuals in that state has any right to dispose of the life

of the ruler but according to law. To take his life in any other

way is no less than murder. It is true God, the author of life and

the judge of all men, may commission one man to take away the life

of a tyrant. But the pretension to such a commission must be

strong, clear, and unequivocal; in short, if a man think he have

such a commission, to be safe, he should require the Lord to give

him as full an evidence of it as he did to Moses; and when such a

person comes to the people, they should require him to give as

many proofs of his Divine call as the Hebrews did Moses, before

they should credit his pretensions. "But had not Ehud a Divine

call?" I cannot tell. If he had, he did not murder Eglon; if he

had not, his act, however it succeeded, was a murderous act; and

if he had no message from God, (and there is no proof that he

had,) then he was a most base and hypocritical assassin. The

sacred historian says nothing of his motives nor call; he mentions

simply the fact, and leaves it without either observation or

comment, and every reader is left to draw his own inference.

The life of any ruler can only be at the disposal of the

constitution, or that system of rules, laws, and regulations, by

which the people he rules should be governed; if he rule not

according to these, he is, ipso facto, deposed from his

government. If he break the constitution, to the great injury or

ruin of his subjects, then he is to be judged by those laws

according to which he must have pledged himself to govern. If a

king be deposed on any other account, it is rebellion. If his life

be taken away by any means but those provided by the constitution,

it is murder. No pretended or proved tyranny can justify his being

taken off in any other way, or on any other account. And what

constitution in the civilized world provides for the death of the

supreme magistrate? It is true the good people, as they were

called, of England and France, have each under a pretense of law,

beheaded their king; and they endeavoured to justify their conduct

on the ground that those kings had broken the constitution: this

being proved, they should have been deposed. But by what law,

either of those nations or of the civilized world, were their

lives taken away? Let it be remembered that the inflation of the

punishment of death, either against or without law, is murder.

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