Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I love the Bible. It comforts me, calms me, makes me laugh, and challenges me. It probably does more but the awesomeness of the Bible is not the today’s topic. Today we’re looking at the book of Judges, which is a challenging book. The challenge largely comes in the form of the judges themselves. Some of them are awesome, some of them are bad, and one even got criticized by another judge:
In the days of Shagmar son of Anath,
In the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned;
Travelers took to winding paths.
Village life in Israel ceased,
Ceased until I, Deborah, arose,
Arose a mother in Israel (Judges 5:6-7).
And the arrogant-sounding Deborah is actually one of the good judges! Some of the judges don’t get a lot of ink, so you’re left to speculate about them. The Holy Spirit taught me about one of these lesser-known judges.
But before we get to him, we have to look at his predecessor, Jephthah. Jephthah was a pretty good judge. He came from humble beginnings, as recorded in Judges 11:1-3;
Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.
When the time came, God called him up and he rocked the Israelite’s oppressors, the Ammonites. History records,
The Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keremim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon (Judges 11:32-33).
However, when one of the other tribes, Ephraim, confronted him as to why he didn’t ask for their help, he lost his cool a little. We read,
The men of Ephraim called out their forces, crossed over to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.”
Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?” (Judges 12:1-3)
That doesn’t sound so bad, but then he immediately started to actually fight with Ephraim:
Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh” (Judges 12:4).
After the fight they cut Ephraim off and guarded the bridge, killing anyone with and Ephraimite accent. This is the first recorded civil war in Israel. Up until then there had been arguments and feuds, but this was the first total separation of the tribes. So, um, maybe Jephthah wasn’t really the best leader. Oh, and he also probably sacrificed his daughter (no, we’re not talking about that today, read your Bible).
Ok, so now Israel was in a state of civil war. Enter Ibzan:
After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died, and was buried in Bethlehem (Judges 12:8-10).
That’s it; his whole reign is just a footnote to one of Jephthah’s chapters. Ibzan has nothing written up except that he had a lot of kids and they were all intermarried within Israel. He seems unimportant, but check out his successor, “After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel ten years. Then Elon died, and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun” (Judges 12:11-12). Even though he had a longer reign than Ibzan, Elon had his ten years left totally unrecorded (presumably because nothing of note happened during his reign). Ok, so when compared to Elon, why does Ibzan get a focus on his family’s marriages? The Holy Spirit explained to me that Ibzan was a peacemaker. Consider this, Israel was at civil war, the tribes were fighting amongst themselves. So what does Ibzan do? He fostered peace through marriage. King Solomon also used this strategy when making peace with neighboring nations. History reminds us,
Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:1).
Actually, King Solomon used this tactic a lot (at least I hope that was part of his motivation):
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter- Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray (1 Kings 11:1-3).
God had forbidden intermarrying among the other nations in the Law (which is noted above) because marrying outside of Israel could lead to the mixing of cultures and peace with the surrounding nations (which was bad because the non-Israelites were pagans and held land that was supposed to go to Israel). However, while intermarrying outside of Israel was problematic, marrying within Israel would bring peace and understanding to their broken nation; and that’s what Ibzan and his family did.
Ibzan wasn’t a superhero. He didn’t fight any cool noteworthy battles or anything like that. And actually, it’s likely that the Philistine invasion a few verses later had probably started in his days. However, Ibzan was a good man who encouraged peace among his brethren. And don’t knock peace-making. Check about what David had to say about how awesome it is to have peace in the land,
How good and pleasant it is
When brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
Running down on the beard,
Running down on Aaron’s beard,
Down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
Were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
Even life forevermore (Psalms 133:1-3).
That might be a bit hard to understand; but basically David is saying that peace is holy (Aaron and anointing oil), refreshing (mountain dew), and awesome (blessings and everlasting life). In an interesting piece of trivia, the length of the Psalm of peace is the same length as Ibzan’s reign: three verses. Anyway, peace is a beautiful thing to behold, and Ibzan and his family brought peace to his broken nation through the gift of marriage. Such gestures will not be overlooked by the Lord, for our Savior, Jesus, said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Through the short note on Ibzan we can learn that you can be a hero without superpowers. Sure, Samson (who had super-strength) has a bigger write-up, but he looks like an idiot throughout much of it. No, Ibzan and his family did a simple good deed and it will forever be read in the Word of God. You may not do anything especially great in your life or even be noticed by others; but every little thing counts, and every little thing gets noticed by God. So do what you can today. Peter writes,
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:7-10).
Just be a nice person and do something good with what you have. The Lord will notice, and you might make a bigger difference than you think (even if your write-up isn’t all that impressive).
…Or, y’know, have a whole bunch of kids and grandkids and put them on donkeys;
After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. Then Abdon son of Hillel died, and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites (Judges 12:13-15).
The Bible is a challenging book, I love it.