The short reign of Abimelech has created a lot of history. Now we hear of two judges about whom little is mentioned, but who have governed for a long time. Together they govern for no less than forty-five years. They form a contrast with Abimelech and are a correction to his government or a remedy for it. It has been said: fortunately the people who have no history, because history is often nothing more than a story of sin, sadness and suffering. It is people like Abimelech who provide long chapters in the Bible.
Abimelech had plunged the land into chaos and left it there. In this way, a local church can also be destroyed by the ‘mismanagement’ of overseers. There is a need for ‘Tola brothers’ and ‘Jair brothers’. We will see what they represent. We read nothing about the great deeds of either of the judges. All they did was to keep the peace among the people of God. After Abimelech’s abuse of power, that must have been a relief for the people.
1 - 2 Tola
1 Now after Abimelech died, Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, arose to save Israel; and he lived in Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 He judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried in Shamir.
We don’t know much about this judge, but we may be able to learn something from the meaning of his name. Tola means ‘a worm’. This already contrasts enormously with Abimelech. The worm speaks of humility and stands opposite to the man who exalted himself. Tola is “the son of Puah, the son of Dodo”. Puah means ‘expression’, ‘speaking’ and Dodo means ‘his beloved’, ‘belonging to love’. Here we can observe that everything he says has its origin in love.
The consciousness of Divine love is the source from which everything originates. As a result, whoever is aware of being the object of this love will speak about it (Puah) and have a humble mind (Tola). That is the answer to what people like Abimelech are and have done and the result is the salvation of Israel.
Tola is a picture of Him Who revealed in perfection the mind of humility and redeemed His people. The Lord Jesus prophetically says: “I am a worm and not a man” (Psa 22:6a). That was His attitude toward all pride and seeking own honor of the religious leaders in Israel.
Tola lives in Shamir, which means among other things ‘diamond’. That name speaks on one side of shine and brilliance and on the other side of hardness, strength, inalterability. So it is also with a real mind of humility. It is full of brilliance and attraction for those who have an eye for it, and no insult or misunderstanding will change that mind.
Tola is buried where he lived. Perhaps we can apply it in such a way that his life has been a consistent life, without deviating from the principles expressed in it. His death did not change the ideas he had been standing for.
3 - 5 Jair
3 After him, Jair the Gileadite arose and judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities in the land of Gilead that are called Havvoth-jair to this day. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Kamon.
The successor of Tola is Jair. His name means ‘illuminator’. He seems to be someone who spreads light around him, Divine light. If we connect his name with that of Tola, then we can say that the mind of ‘worm’ leads to insight that can be passed on. The name Gilead speaks of this passing on, which means ‘witness’.
In Jair’s life, expansion becomes visible. He first has twenty-three cities (Num 32:41; 1Chr 2:22). That has become thirty in the verses we have before us now. We also see that through the lives of his thirty sons the light of their father is spread further. This is expressed in the meaning of the name “villages of Jair”. What has been translated as ‘the villages of Jair’ literally means ‘the lives of Jair’. Where Jair’s sons live, they reveal the light that radiates from Jair’s life. Thus the light expands.
Jair’s sons are rulers, but without demanding leadership. They are in practice. They each have their own small circle (village) for which they are responsible. In the same way, every believer has his own small circle where he has responsibilities. That is his place in the family, in the church and in the world, in society.
Just as the cities where the sons live are reproductions of the city of their father, so may the believers let shine the light of God in their lives. The believers are now “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). They may be in their lives “reproductions” of Christ who is “the Light of the world” (Jn 8:12).
There are thirty sons. The number thirty can be divided into ten times three. Ten is the number representing responsibility (think of the ten commandments); three is the number representing full revelation (think of the triune God revealed in Christ).
We can also see in all this a reference to the millennial empire of peace. Then Christ will reign and all believers may share in His reign and everyone will have authority over a number of cities according to the faithfulness shown during the absence of Christ (Lk 19:11-27). In that time Christ will rise as “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2) and shine as the true Jair, the ‘Illuminator’. Then He will be seen in glory. This glory will be given to him by God because He first humbled Himself so much and became a “worm” that was represented to us in Tola.
The ‘worm’ is found in the rejection of Christ and the ‘sun’ in His glorification. The rejection and the glorification are beautifully described in Philippians 2 (Phil 2:5-11).
Jair is buried in Kamon, which means ‘resurrection’, ‘life from the dead’.
6 - 9 A New Deviation
6 Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. 7 The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the sons of Ammon. 8 They afflicted and crushed the sons of Israel that year; for eighteen years they [afflicted] all the sons of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in Gilead in the land of the Amorites. 9 The sons of Ammon crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was greatly distressed.
After Jair died, the Israelites again took the first steps on the treadmill of ‘doing what is evil – slavery – calling out to the LORD’, which had already caused so much doom for them. They have learned nothing from it. Are we, who together form Christianity, behaving better? Asking the question is answering it.
For the sixth time it is said that Israel does what “is evil in the sight of the LORD”. Never before have we seen so many idols united in Israel. Seven are mentioned to indicate the completeness with which the Israelites surrender to them. The land is full of it. There is room for all kinds of false gods, by which the true God is expelled. The living God is exchanged for dead idols. The idols are not added, but they come in God’s place.
God now leaves them to themselves, so that they may feel the yoke they have voluntarily taken on by serving the idols. When the feeling of God’s authority over life is lost and that authority is given to other things, idols, God is compelled to make the authority of those other things to be felt. To make the people realize what they are doing and to whom they have entrusted themselves, He surrenders them to the power of the Philistines and Ammonites.
We have already paid some attention to the meaning of the Philistines. In the history of Samson we will hear more of them. In the history that follows, the Ammonites will come to the fore the most. They are on the other side of the Jordan and are attacked there. They cross the Jordan to also wage war in the land.
Ammon is a half-brother of Moab. They were both conceived by their father Lot with his two daughters (Gen 19:36-38). Through the line of Lot they are family of the people of Israel (Gen 12:5). We already met Moab in Judges 3; Ammon is also mentioned there. Here the descendants of Ammon emerge as the enemies God uses to discipline His people.
As already mentioned in Judges 3, the name Ammon means ‘independent’. Ammon will prove himself in the next chapter as someone who deals in his own way with the things of God and His people. He gives his own, independent, at first sight logical, statement to assert his right to the land that Israel has taken possession of.
We can therefore see in the Ammonites a picture of the mind of the nominal Christians who reason the things of God and reach different conclusions than God says in His Word. In Ammon we see the danger of rationalism, the religion based on reason. If this enemy prevails over the people of God (verse 9), the result is that the people are deprived of praise (Judah), strength (Benjamin) and fertility (Ephraim).
10 - 16 The Authenticity of the Confession Tested
10 Then the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” 11 The LORD said to the sons of Israel, “[Did I] not [deliver you] from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines? 12 Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands. 13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” 15 The sons of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.
The pressure on Israel becomes heavy. Then they call to the LORD with recognition of the wrong. But see how the LORD reacts. He reminds them of the past redemptions He has brought about and how they have dealt with them. After every salvation they have left Him again and again and have started to serve the idols again. Now they should go and ask those gods to save them.
This action of God does not miss its effect. The people understand that confession alone is not enough. The idols must be removed. We also see this with Jacob. In Genesis 35 we read that he commands his household to remove the idols (Gen 35:1-5). Jacob is with his house on his way to Bethel. There he will meet God. He realizes that life with God and the love of idols cannot go hand in hand. Both Jacob then and the people now come to the realization that the removing of the wrong is the true touchstone for real repentance.
Which idols are we dealing with? What are the things that make us wander away from God? That can be something different for everyone. But what happens when they are put away? They “served the LORD”. Then “He could bear the misery of Israel no longer” (verse 16). What a wonderful word! It indicates God’s special desire to help His people with all the compassion of His heart.
17 - 18 The Call for a Deliverer
17 Then the sons of Ammon were summoned and they camped in Gilead. And the sons of Israel gathered together and camped in Mizpah. 18 The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon? He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”
It seems that the enemy is becoming active now that Israel has made a confession of the wrong and shown its authenticity by removing the idols. If the people of God seriously wants to serve God, the enemy will not stand idly by. He is getting ready to fight. The Israelites then do two things. First, they go to Mizpah and gather there. Mizpah means ‘watch tower’. They woke up and now pay close attention to what the enemy is planning. This brings them, secondly, to the question of who will be the leader of Gilead.
Unfortunately, this question shows that the previous deviations have reduced the feeling of solidarity among the people. They ask for someone who will only be head over Gilead. The consciousness of the unity of God’s people has apparently disappeared. Another thing that characterizes this downward spiral is that God is not asked who He wants to give as deliverer. This spiritual downfall is at its lowest point in Samson’s history, where the people no longer ask for a deliverer, but even come to deliver the God-given deliverer to the enemy.
To the request for a leader two important thoughts can be linked. One is that asking for a leader means that we want people who lead us in battle. It is also possible to think of something else in this question, namely the question of a principle, a view, based on a truth from Scripture, which we are convinced will lead us to victory. We will see in Jephthah a man who represents such a principle to us, namely a certain way of thinking and dealing with Scripture, with the enemy and with each other.