Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Judges. Day 45, Judge Ibzan, Judge Elon, Judge Abdon

Chapter 12 concludes with some brief information about the three judges who followed Jephthah. Though this passage is short, we won't move beyond it today because the next chapter begins with the birth of Samson and we will need to devote several days to studying him.

Yesterday we learned that Jephthah died after serving as judge of Israel for six years. It's possible he was already a senior citizen when he led the men of Gilead in battle against the Ammonites since he passed on only six years later. If that's the case, his bravery is worth even more recognition than we've already given it since he was not in his prime when he stepped up to defend his people. We could argue that he was a youngish man at the time of the battle with the Ammonites since his daughter was still unmarried and living at home. (Females typically married in their early to mid teens in those times.) But we don't know at what age Jephthah himself got married and fathered a child. Whether Jephthah was old or young, we know he only judged Israel for six years and that the next three men who judged Israel only held that office for a short time.

"After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. He had thirty sons and thirty daughters." (Judges 12:8-9a) Like Gideon, Ibzan was apparently a polygamist. He had to have had multiple wives in order to have sired sixty offspring. This also indicates he was quite wealthy since he was able to support so many households. Another indication that he was wealthy is that he arranged marriages for his daughters with young men of other clans and that he obtained wives for his sons from other clans. This means parents from other clans considered a familial connection to Ibzan to be a great advantage. "He gave his daughters in marriage away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan." (Judges 12:9b)

"Ibzan led Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem." (Judges 12:9c-10) I think Ibzan must have been middle aged or older when he became judge of Israel because during his tenure his children were of age to be married. We are not told that he performed any deeds of faith but we aren't told of any wicked deeds performed by him either. Politically speaking, he may have been a fair and honest judge. Morally and spiritually speaking, many scholars think that the example he set for the nation was mediocre at best. This is because he married so many wives and apparently lived an ostentatiously wealthy lifestyle. I think these scholars may be onto something because although we are not told of anything he did anything to harm the nation, we are also not told of anything great he did for the nation. 

Very few details are provided to us regarding the judge who succeeded him. "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) This is another judge about which we are told nothing good or bad. He may not have had any male children or any children at all since the author of Judges has been in the habit of informing us of the number of offspring of the judges. 

"After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys." (Judges 12:13-14a) Abdon was another polygamist. He fathered forty sons and likely fathered daughters too, although their number is not mentioned. He gave a donkey to each of his forty sons and thirty grandsons. Donkeys were ridden by kings and princes and this may indicate that Abdon thought of himself as a king and of his male descendants as princes. "Then Abdon son of Hillel died and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites." (Judges 12:15) 

The thing that comes across to me about our passage today is that, when I die, I hope people can say more about me than just when and where I was born, when and where I was buried, and what kind of worldly possessions I may have had during the years in between. I don't want anybody having to struggle to find good things to say over my coffin. I want people to be able to affirm, based on the way I lived my life, that I loved the Lord and that I loved other people. I want people to be able to tell stories about me standing firm under pressure because I trusted in the Lord to see me through. I haven't walked through every trial valiantly, not by a long shot, but today's text challenges me to do better. I've stood firm during some crises and I've allowed myself to be knocked to the ground during others. When I come to the end of my days I want people to be able to say my faith was strong more often than it was weak. If we take nothing else away from the verses we've studied today, I think we can take away a desire to live in such a way that people will have story after story to tell about our faith.

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