The current manual covers the multitude of stories in the Book of Judges by drawing brief lessons from the lives of Gideon, Deborah, and Samson, along with that perennial Sunday School favorite, “the cycle of apostasy.” Because they are individually brief (although collectively a bit long), I’m including here not only the lessons on Gideon, Deborah, and Samson, but others whose stories appear in Judges, taken from the 1933 seminary text Land and Leaders of Israel, by Ezra C. Dalby (Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1933). Also included as a useful overview of the reign of the Judges – and because its take on the period as one of “growth and development” is in contrast to the current manual’s focus on the “cycle of apostasy”; it is a short chapter from another seminary text, J.A. Washburn’s Story of the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1937).
RULE OF THE JUDGES
Israel’s Age of Heroes
Conditions Among the Israelites at the Time of Joshua’s Death.
In Lesson Fifty-Five we learned briefly about Israel’s conquest for the possession of Canaan. The tribes did not remain together as they had been under the leadership of Moses. Each tribe was given a definite part of the country to conquer and make its home and was separated from the others by natural boundaries.
Under Moses’ leadership there was a strong central government, with Moses as chief judge. When Joshua became leader, and the tribes spread over the entire country. this central power was weakened though many of the officers remained, as shown in Joshua 24:1.
And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.
After Joshua’s death, however, there seems to have been no more of this union of all the tribes.
We have seen that the tribes did not drive out the Canaanites, but lived among them and compelled some of them to pay tribute. As a result many of the Israelites intermarried with the natives and adopted their heathen worship of idols. Joshua’s last plea with them shows they were worshiping idols before his death (Joshua 24:23).
It seems clear then that at Joshua’s death several very great dangers confronted the Israelites. First, the tribes were widely separated, and no other strong leader arose to unite them and to protect them against their enemies. Second, they lived among the idolatrous Canaanites and adopted their easy, immoral religion. third, while marriage with the Canaanites was forbidden (Deut. 7:3-4), the people disregarded the commandment and mixed with them. Fourth, and finally, the tribes grew jealous of each other and often refused to cooperate even in the interest of safety. these and other conditions caused the troubles that arose during the time of the judges.
Who the Judges Really Were.
In truth, the period of the judges began with Moses. He and Joshua were the only true judges in Israel. They judged and directed all the tribes, and all Israel looked to them for guidance and justice. After Joshua it was not so. The men called Judges were in reality not judges as we think of the term; they were deliverers. We have learned how they mixed in marriage and religion with the Canaanites and turned from the Lord. Then they lost power and influence, and their enemies afflicted them. Judges 2:11-19 explains how it happened.
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim. And they forsook he Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger. … and the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. … Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. … And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.
The Rule of the Judges was a Period of Growth and Development.
It was a long stride from Abraham and Sarah, alone on the plains of Canaan, to Solomon’s great kingdom which extended from Egypt to the Euphrates River and rivaled all other kingdoms of his time. But it did not happen in a day nor a year. Like all great movements it required many years of struggle and development. The Lord had said to Abraham while in Canaan, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy children for ever, and I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth.” (Gen. 13;14-17.)
In our story thus far we have seen how Abraham’s children increased until now they were actually spread over the entire land of Canaan which was given to Abraham by the Lord. But they were not yet a great nation, for they were divided into tribes with none to rule over them. “There was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 17:6).
The twelve tribes of Israel in Canaan were very much like the thirteen original colonies in America. There was no central government. Each individual group tried to be independent of the others. There were always jealousies and contentions among them. It took the people of the thirteen colonies in America a long time to learn that if they continued to exist, they must stand and work together. Their interests were alike. They had to protect themselves from Indian massacres, and oppression by foreign nations. There were roads to build, canals to dig, and a hundred other things to do that demanded the united effort of all the colonies. Out of their trials and struggles has come the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the greatest nation in the world.
The rule of the judges was just such a period of struggle and development. Israel entered Canaan, not as a baby, but as a youth, growing rapidly, but there was no definitely organized plan for the future. It was the dangers, trials, and wars of this period that drove the Israelites together into a great kingdom later. when they entered Canaan, they were herdsmen. Now they lived in conquered cities and learned to till the soil. this change from wandering herdsmen to agriculturists was a great step forward and required a long time and many hard and severe experiences. In spite of their tendencies to do evil, the purity of the Hebrew home life and their faith in Jehovah held them together.
Number, the Length of Rule, of the Judges.
The account of the rule of the judges is recorded in the book by that name. There were fifteen judges, not including Moses and Joshua. it is difficult to tell just how long the period lasted. Acts 13:20 says it was about the space of 450 years. Bible scholars usually make the time much shorter.
Of these fifteen judges only the stories of Gideon, Samson, and Samuel will be told in any detail. Deborah is interesting because she was the only woman judge. She is the Joan of Arc of the Bible. She was a prophetess, saw visions and inspired Barak, the general, to lead the Israelites to victory against the Canaanites. Through her influence the tribes were more closely united than at any other time during the long rule of the judges.
Jephthah also claims our interest, not because of any great thing he did, but because of the loyalty and courage of his unnamed daughter. He was promised the right to rule if he would deliver Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites. He coveted the honor “and vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mien hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” He was victorious, but, alas, “Jephthah came to mizpeh unto his house, and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.’
She courageously accepted her father’s vow and asked only that she might first spend two months with her girl friends in the mountains. “And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah, the Gileadite, four days in a year.” (Judg. 11.)
TABLES OF THE JUDGES
Judges – Yrs. – Tribe – What They Accomplished
1. Othniel – 26 – Judah – Delivered Israel from the kings of Mesopotamia
2. Ehud – 80 – Benjamin – Defeated the king of Moab.
3. Shamgar – 80 – ? – Defeated the Philistines.
4. Deborah – 40 – Ephraim – Delivered Israel fro the Canaanites. Almost united Israel.
5. Gideon – 40 – Manasseh – Delivered Israel from oppression of the midianites.
6. Abimelech – 3 – Manasseh – Not a deliverer.
7. Tola – 23 – Issachar – No deliverance mentioned for him.
8. Jair – 22 – Manasseh – Nothing of importance recorded.
9. Jephthah – 6 – Manasseh – Delivered Israel fro the Ammonite oppression.
10. Ibzan – 7 – Judah – No deliverance recorded.
11. Elon – 10 – Zebulon – No deliverance recorded.
12. Abdon – 8 – Ephraim – No deliverance recorded.
13. Samson – 20 – Benjamin – Relieved Israel from Philistine oppression.
14. Eli – 40 – Levi – A judge and priest. Reared Samuel from childhood.
15. Samuel – 21 – Ephraim – Prophet, priest, and judge. Anointed Saul and David to be kings of Israel.
Gideon, the Humble Patriot
Lesson Text: Judges 6 and 7.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 59:1-12.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “And the Lord said unto him, surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” – Judges 6:16.
The Message of the Lesson
Three Hundred, and God
Twenty miles north of Ebal and ten miles south of Tabor is Gilboa, also rising above the plain of Esdraelon. this mountain is considerably larger than Tabor, but not so high by three hundred feet. Several events of great importance occurred near and on this mountain. the events narrated in today’s lesson took place just north of it, in the beautiful valley of Jezreel.
The overwhelming defeat of Sisera put an end to all efforts on the part of the original inhabitants to recover their lost territory. The next event of importance was entirely different. A new enemy threatened the children of Israel. The Midianites invaded Palestine, not to make homes, but to plunder and rob. The entire southern half of Canaan was at their mercy. Finally, a vast horde of them came up from the southeast of the Jordan and crossed at the upper fords and invaded the fertile plain of Esdraelon, and stripped the country bare. The people were greatly impoverished, and in their desperation they cried unto the Lord for deliverance. And what happened?
In their affliction, a prophet was sent to rehearse in their hearing what the Lord had done for them in the past, and to remind them that they had failed to keep the covenant they had made with him. This led to their repentance, and God sent another deliverer in the person of Gideon, son of Joash of the tribe of Manasseh. he lived in the little village of Ophrah near Shechm. One day while at work an angel came and saluted him with the words: “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” Gideon was threshing wheat at the time, by the wine-press in a ravine, to hide it from the searching eyes of the invaders. He did not feel under these circumstances as if the Lord was with him, and said so: “If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?” The heavenly visitor countered with this startling statement: “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites; have not I sent thee?” Gideon, like Moses, was modest; for he replied: “Oh, my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” The Lord insisted and promised to be with him, and that he should smite the Midianites as one man.
But Gideon knew his own limitations, and he hesitated to accept the call. He wanted to be absolutely sure that God would support him. It took a lot of faith to raise his feeble arm against an unnumbered multitude of trained warriors. He asked for a sign that he might know for a surety of God’s support, and this was given him. Then he no longer hesitated or questioned. First he was asked to destroy the altar to Baal, which his father had erected, and cut down the grove where it stood. He could see the need of this, for if God was to assist him, he must first cleanse his own household. But it was a hard thing to do, for it meant the immediate alienation of his friends, and the anger of his father. It took real courage to violently strike at the religious life of his home town. But he did it. And, as he had expected, there was a furious uproar, and Gideon’s life was demanded. But his father saved him. He wisely suggested that Baal should be able to look out for himself. If the fallen god wanted redress, let him kill Gideon himself. This was sound advice, and it might have been applied with profit during the long sad history of religious persecutions.
But now when it was time for Gideon to lead an army against the Midianites, and he saw the innumerable multitude that he must conquer, his heart again failed him, and he asked for another sign that God would indeed be with him. His request was granted, and still he asked for another. This also was given him. Now he was convinced that God would give him the victory, and proceeded to carry out his commission. Thirty-two thousand men rallied to his standard, a small number compared to the army of Midian. But to his surprise the Lord said it was too many, and told Gideon to give permission to all who were afraid that the might return home. Twenty-two thousand left, and only ten thousand remained. These gathered at the foot of Gilboa, while the enemy, “like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude,” lay encamped a host distance to the north in the valley of Jezreel.
“And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many.” The Lord intended that the victory should be won by faith, and he wanted men who could be absolutely depended upon. A final test was provided. They were to be brought down to the brook to drink, and every man who simply stooped and threw the water to his mouth with his hand, keeping his eye on the enemy all the while, was to be selected, while those who bowed down on their knees to drink with their mouths to the water were to be excused. Three hundred passed this test; and with this handful Gideon prepared to attack the enemy. “And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.” They were commanded to surround the camp, and at a signal to be given by Gideon, every man was to break his pitcher and hold the light in his left hand and the trumpet in his right, and blow with all his might, at the same time shouting: “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.”
Every man did his part to perfection. The Midianite watch had just been changed, and all was still as death, when Gideon’s trumpet broke the stillness, and three hundred voices rent the air. Add to this the noise of shattered pitchers, and three hundred flashing lights, and mad confusion reigned supreme in the camp of the Midianites. They thought ten thousand men were in upon them, and every man drew his sword against another, thinking he was an enemy. Thousands fled in great confusion down the steep banks that led to the Jordan, shouting and killing each other as they went. All Israel rose to cut them off, and none escaped. Like the army of Sisera, the army of Midianites were annihilated, and were never again heard of as enemies of Israel.
Gideon is a splendid example of how God can use a humble instrument to accomplish a great objective. Like a plague of locusts these marauders afflicted the land of Canaan, and no man among all the leaders of Israel dared challenge their depredations. It was left for an unknown farmer, the least in his father’s house, to raise the standard of revolt. Gideon, with three hundred men like himself, plus God, was mightier than all the hosts of Midian.
We reserve our honors for “A” students. Their names figure in the distribution of prizes. Great predictions are made for their future achievements. They are the ones who will “set the world on fire.” And all the time the plodding “C” students are overlooked. They belong to the common crowd and no one notices them. So they pass through school “unwept, unhonored, and unsung,” and are soon forgotten. They themselves feel that the struggle is useless, and often give up in despair.
This lesson should revive their drooping spirits. A “C” man, who loved his country, struck for its deliverance, and won. Gideon, having first destroyed idolatry in his father’s house, walked out with God to the camp of the Midianites, and they melted away like snow in the summer’s sun. And so this “ordinary man” wrote an immortal name higher on the scroll of fame than any “A” grade man of his day and generation.
A Commonplace Life
A commonplace life, we say, and we sigh;
But why should we sigh as we say?
The commonplace sun in the commonplace sky
Makes up the commonplace day.
The moon and the stars are commonplace things,
The flower that blooms, and the bird that sings;
But sad were the world, and dark our lot,
If the flowers failed and the sun shone not,
And God, who sees each separate soul,
Out of commonplace lives makes his beautiful whole.
Questions and Problems
1. Tell all you can about the Midianites. (Gen. 25:1-2)
2. Describe the method of threshing in those days.
3. What signs were given Gideon? (Judges 6:21, 36-40)
4. Describe the test that determined the choice of the three hundred. How did it determine the character of the men?
5. Give a detailed account of the attack and the result.
6. Do you think that Gideon had considered attacking the Midianites before he received his call? Why?
7. Why did Gideon demand so many signs before he would comply with God’s request? Would you commend his attitude or condemn it? Why?
8. Why were three hundred men better than three thousand for Gideon’s purpose?
9. What great lesson do we derive from the story of Gideon?
10. Discuss the memory poem.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Eternal God, father of all the children of men, help us to glorify the commonplace. Most of us belong to that great group of people who are called “ordinary.” We are without great talent, great ability, or great leadership. Help us to remember Gideon, “the least in his father’s house,” and his great achievement. When days are dark and obstacles block our way, give us courage to struggle on. Help each of us to find thee, and walk with thee to victory. We seek not for riches, fame, or honors, but only to be numbered among those who believe and trust in thee. Grant us this, we humbly pray.
Gilead, the Country East of Jordan
Lesson Text: Numbers 32:1-33.
Responsive Reading: Deut. 11:18-28.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us we will go.” – Joshua 1:16.
The Message of the Lesson
The Land of Gilead
Coming back again to the summit of Mount Ebal and turning our eyes eastward beyond the deep trench of the Jordan valley, we see a long sweep of country, extending from Mount Hermon on the north to the southern end of the Dead Sea on the south, about one hundred and thirty-five miles. This is what the Bible speaks of as “on the other side of the Jordan.” It is now known as the Eastern Range. Just across the river from where we stand to the east is the fertile and beautiful central portion of this territory, which in Bible times was known as Gilead, a district about forty miles long by twenty miles in width. North of Gilead is what is known as Bashan, or Hauran. This district is a treeless plain, and is famous as a grain-producing section. The country south of Gilead is an open, rolling plain, less level than Hauran, but fine pasture land.
There are three rivers that enter the Jordan valley from the east: (1) The Yarmuk, in the northern part of Gilead, a river almost as large in volume as the Jordan, which runs at the bottom of a deep valley in a winding course from east to west, and enters the Jordan a few miles south of the Sea of Galilee. (20 The Jabbok, farther south, but also in Gilead, a river sixty miles long, and flowing between steep hills in a somewhat rapid course, and which, judged by its windings, seems to have difficulty in finding its way to its destination. It empties its waters into the Jordan at a point about twenty-five miles north of the Dead Sea. We mentioned Jabbok in lesson thirteen, in connection with Jacob. It was on the banks of this stream where he wrestled with an angel of God all night, and refused to allow the heavenly messenger to depart until he had first received a blessing at his hands. (3) Farther south still is the Arnon, which crosses the plateau in a deep canyon gorge fifty miles long, and empties its waters directly into the Dead Sea.
At the time Israel came up from the south to invade Canaan, this country was inhabited from south to north by the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and by the Midianites and Ishmaelites, all wandering tribes of the desert. These people were closely related to the Israelites. The Edomites’ ancestor was Esau, the son of Isaac and brother of Jacob. The Moabites and ammonites were descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and the Ishamelites and Midianites were descended from Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Midian.
When the army of Israel reached the Jordan, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh, asked of Moses that the might be given their inheritance east of the Jordan, because it was especially adapted for cattle-raising. At first their request did not meet with favor. Moses said to them (Num. 32:6-7): “Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them?” Then he reminded them of the division in the camp of Israel when they were about to enter Canaan from the south, and contended that if they were again divided, it would be impossible for them to possess the promised land.
The two and a half tribes answered Moses by promising that they would build cities for their wives and children, and corrals for their cattle, and leave them there, while they went with the army across the Jordan and helped to conquer Canaan, promising at the same time that they would not return “until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.”
This was fair enough, and Moses granted their request on those conditions, but at the same time reminded them that if they failed to do their full duty to the other tribes, “Ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.” They faithfully fulfilled their promise; and when Joshua divided the land and gave to each of the tribes its inheritance, Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were given the country east of the Jordan.
But the tribes they settled among, though related to them by a common ancestor, proved not only to be bad neighbors, but at times cruel enemies. Bitter jealousies and long-standing feuds led to frequent marauding and plundering expeditions. So, while the country was good, the environment was bad. For this reason Reuben and Gad remained more backward and less progressive, than the tribes that settled west of the Jordan.
Because of its greater seclusion, Gilead was able to preserve to a greater extent than the country, either on the north or on the south, the institutions of Israel. During its entire history from the time of Moses to the coming of Christ, it remained quite as Jewish as Judea itself. Marauders from the desert hesitated to invade Gilead, for they were not so safe among its hills as in the more open country to the south and east. They could not flee so readily from the inhabitants, who had a better opportunity to be in ambush and surprise them in the inaccessible hills. The Arab may bring his camels among the mountains, but he is in danger if he attempts to use them in the forests, where the branches of the trees spread out in every direction. Thus it comes about that Gilead bears a more important part in Israel’s history than the other provinces east of the Jordan.
As we view this choice territory from the top of Mount Ebal, we call to mind several interesting events that took place in this favored province. It was into Gilead that Gideon pursued and overtook the fleeing Midianites, after the panic which he created among them in the valley of Jezreel near Gilboa. Here, too, looms the imposing figure of Jephthah, whose exploits will be related in a later lesson. It was also in Gilead that Sault proved his ability to rule as king by succoring the helpless city of Jabesh-Gilead, when the Ammonites threatened its destruction; a service which the people remembered when they rescued his body from insult, and buried it with honor after the terrible disaster at Gilboa. Here, too, David conquered Ammon and Aram of Damascus, and brought all eastern Palestine under his rule. So completely did David win the hearts of these people that when the wily and crafty Absalom rebelled against him, it was in Gilead he sought refuge. and here this treacherous and guilty son followed him. The decisive battle between their respective armies was fought in a forest of Gilead. And here Absalom met the death he so justly deserved. As he was riding through the forest on a mule, his long hair caught in the branches of a tree, and the mule went on and left him there suspended in the air. When the relentless Joab heard of it, he came and shot him through the heart. Gilead was also the home of the prophet Elijah.
In the days of Jesus, the country east of the Jordan was called Perea, and he passed through it several times. In Perea, some of the most touching incidents of his ministry occurred; among others that most beautiful of all Bible stories, the blessing of little children. Here, too, he told many of his parables; such as the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the elder brother, the rich man and Lazarus, and several more.
The Land of Holy Men
O little Land of holy men
Of fearless dream and deed,
From clime to clime the storms of time
Have strewn thy hardy seed;
And fearless still and holy still.
We sang through hate and shame.
With faith we fought, with deed and thought
And God’s enduring name.
– Jessie E. Sampter.
Questions and Problems
1. Locate and give the extent of the country “beyond Jordan.”
2. Why did Reuben and Gad ask to remain east of the Jordan?
3. Why did Moses at first refuse their request?
4. On what conditions was their request granted?
5. Describe this country as to provinces, rivers, soil, etc.
6. Name some of the events that have happened there.
7. What took place at the river Jabbok?
8. Name the tribes that inhabited this country when Israel came up from the south. What was the character of these people?
9. In what way were they related to Israel?
10. Why was it safer to live in Gilead than in the other provinces to the east of Jordan?
11. Very few of the heroes of Israel ever came from “beyond Jordan.” Can you tell why?
12. If you should visit Gilead, what place would you go to first? Why?
13. What is meant by the expression, “Balm of Gilead”? Where is it first used?
14. Why did the native tribes east of the Jordan hate the Israelites?
Suggestive Closing Prayer
O Father, help us to know and remember the names and places in that holy land where dwelt the greatest men and women of the ages. Grant that some day in thy providence we may have the rare privilege of walking over the hills and dales and sacred sites where thy ancient servants left their names and deeds. We would cross the Jordan where Israel walked on dry land, and see the place where Jacob wrestled with an angel till the breaking day, and prevailed. We, too, would wrestle with thee for the blessing he received, until we also might hear the blessed words: “For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
Abimelech, the Usurper
Lesson Text: Judges 9.
Responsive Reading: Judges 9:8-15.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” – Proverbs 14:34.
The Message of the Lesson
Choosing Our Rulers
The Bible is a book of light and shade, day and night. Our lesson today is darkest midnight. The first line of our text introduces us to one of the most despicable characters in the scriptures. Abimelech had not one redeeming quality. he was bad through and through, setting the laws of God and man alike at defiance to gratify his inordinate lust for power. And yet, strange as it may seem, this monster in human form was a son of the heroic Gideon, who refused to be king that God might be the ruler over Israel. (Judges 8:22-23) It sometimes happens that the gloomiest night follows the brightest day; so in this case, the darkest period of Israel’s history followed Gideon’s long and honorable leadership. In passing from chapter eight to chapter nine, we drop, as it were, from glory to shame. What a deplorable sequel this is to the beautiful ending of the previous chapter! It is strange how good men sometimes have the worst of sons.
No sooner was Gideon dead, when this degenerate son got busy. His mother was a slave woman of the old town of Shechem, where Abraham built his first altar in Canaan. You will remember that it was situated in the beautiful valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. At this time Shechem was a center of Baal worship. It may be, too, that among the mixed population there were jealousies of the position gained by the hill village of Ophrah during Gideon’s rule. At any rate, the people there were ready to receive with favor the crafty suggestions of Abimelech, that he was a viper they had taken into their hearts, and they rebelled against him. One Gaal, not much better than Abimelech himself, arose to dispute his claim to power, and the people of Shechem were ready to side with him. But they were not well enough organized to overcome Abimelech’s army, and he took a terrible revenge. Men, women, and children were cruelly slaughtered, and the city was destroyed. A short distance away was a tower or sanctuary to which a thousand people had fled for safety. Abimelech piled branches of trees against the door, and set fire to the place. Not one escaped; all were burned to death. Then Abimelech, to show his utter contempt for the city where the people were “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh,” sowed the site of it with salt.
Fortunately, this monster of cruelty soon met his death. At Thebez, a city near Shechem, Abimelech was directing operations against a tower in the center of the city, where the people had assembled for protection. he pressed close to the door in an effort to set the place on fire, when a woman cast an upper millstone from the parapet with so true an aim that it broke his skull. Then he called his armorbearer to thrust him through with his sword, that it might not be said that a woman slew him. The young man complied with his request.
We turn from these scenes of bloodshed and cruelty with relief. But there is a lesson for us in this terrible story. The people of Shechem deliberately and of their own free will selected this man to rule over them. They must have known his character; but because he claimed relationship with them and because of town pride, they were willing to sacrifice the safety of their entire confederacy. they were too blind to see that the man who could murder in cold blood the sons of their national hero could also kill and destroy them, if he pleased to do it. The people of Shechem learned to their sorrow, as many have done since that tie, that it is easier to elect a “bramble”to rule over them, than it is to get rid of it afterwards.
And this fable of the trees electing a king is also worth pondering over. As long as we have olive and fig trees and vines that refuse to take public office, or discharge their full duties as citizens, just that long will brambles come forward to be our rulers. it is the unwillingness of men of ability and integrity to serve that makes way for the “bramble.” This lesson teaches us the need of vigilance, if our liberties are to be safeguarded. We cannot be indifferent to the duties of citizenship if we are to have good government. And as Jotham appealed to the memory of his dead father, who had won the liberty of Israel, so let us remember the heroes who have transmitted to us our glorious heritage of liberty, and resolve that no Abimelech shall ever destroy it because of our failure to discharge the duties of citizenship.
Unwept, Unhonored, and Unsung
Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
“This is my own, my native land”?
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well,
For him no minstrel raptures swell!
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power and pelf,
The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.
– Sir Walter Scott
Questions and Problems
1. Why does the bible tell about such men as Abimelech?
2. What great crimes did Abimelech commit?
3. Who was Jotham? what fable did he tell the people of Shechem?
4. Tell about the revolt of Shechem against Abimelech. What punishment did he inflict on the inhabitants?
5. Give an account of Abimelech’s death.
6. What is an “upper millstone”?
7. What mistake did Gideon make? (Judges 8:24-27)
8. How do you account for the fact that good men like Gideon have sons like Abimelech?
9. Do you think that Gideon was in any way responsible for such a son? give reasons.
10. Can you think of another meaning to Jotham’s fable than the one given in the text? State it.
11. What two lessons may we learn from the story of Abimelech?
12. Discuss the Memory Gem.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Our fathers’ God, we thank thee for the glorious land in which we live; for the freedom which is our heritage; for the “Star Spangled Banner” – won by the blood and tears of our heroic dead. Wilt thou make us zealous for good government, and integrity in those who shall hold public office. As citizens in this great country of ours, into whose hands will be committed its future destiny, may we see to it that only good men shall rule over us; that no “bramble” shall usurp authority because of our indifference and neglect. Heavenly Father, in this our morning of life, may we dedicate ourselves to the perpetuation of every ideal, every principle, every element of government set forth in the great Constitution of our country.
Jephthah, the Outcast
Lesson Text: Judges 11.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 47.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text; “Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come into me now when ye are in distress?” – Judges 11:7.
The Message of the Lesson
The Making of Vows
We are over the Jordan in Gilead again today, where Jephthah, the subject of this lesson, lived. it is probable that he belonged to the tribe of Manasseh, but we are not quite certain. It may have been Gad. He lived in that semi-barbaric period of Hebrew history, when there was no stable government. the times were wild and lawless, and “every man did what seemed right in his own eyes.” Israel had not yet reached the period of cooperation. Every tribe had to look out for itself when it was threatened by an enemy, and fight for its own existence. At the time when Deborah called for assistance to expel Sisera, Reuben and Gad remained on their side of the river, and left the tribes bordering on the Esdraelon plain to fight the enemy as best they could. In her song she bitterly condemns them. Of Reuben she said (Judges 5:16): “Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks?” And Gad she said remained beyond Jordan. And now it is their turn. The children of Ammon are threatening to overwhelm the territory of Reuben and Gilead, and no help can be looked for from the west of the Jordan.
Jephthah, the hero of today’s lesson, had an unfortunate birth. His father’s name was Gilead, the same as the country in which he lived, but nothing more is said about him. His mother was not the legal wife of Gilead, but an Aramean harlot. The legitimate sons would have nothing to do with him. “Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman,” they said; and they cast him out.
Expelled from his own people, he became the captain of a band of outlaws, and made it dangerous for all travelers who chanced to pass through Gilead, just as bands of Arabs do today. In this wild life Jephthah acquired wonderful ability as a leader. He learned how to control men, and get them to do their best. Because of his ability as an organizer, and his genius for military tactics, he soon transformed the outlaws who had gathered to his standard into an army of soldiers, who could be depended upon to carry out his wishes in any emergency.
Gilead had no leader capable of checking the Ammonites, and in desperation the elders turned to Jephthah, and asked him to become their defender. He expressed surprise that they should come to him. “And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of his father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?” This was a pretty good answer, and must have greatly humiliated them. Jephthah was really pleased with their offer and agreed to take charge of the army, with the understanding that he be continued in power if he was successful. They readily agreed to his proposal, and called the Lord to witness that they would do according to his words.
Notwithstanding his outlaw life, Jephthah was a deeply religious man. now that a great responsibility had been given him, he felt the need of divine assistance, and repaired to the trivial sanctuary at Mizpeh to ask for God’s sanction and blessing. And there before the altar of Jehovah he registered a vow that whosoever should be the first to meet him on his return to Mizpeh, if he were victorious, he would offer as a burnt offering to God. this was in accordance with the heathen beliefs of the time, that God must be bought or bribed before he would give the victory. Jephthah felt that it was his golden opportunity to become the recognized leader of his people, and no sacrifice on his part was too great. If he succeeded, it would mean continued leadership; while, if he failed, he would be none the worse for his experience.
Jephthah first resorted to diplomacy with the Ammonites, in the hope that bloodshed might be averted. he tried to show them that they had no just grievance against Israel. But they remained obdurate. Now there was nothing to do but fight, and Jephthah boldly led his army southward and attacked them on their own ground. We are not told just how he conducted his campaign, but the ammonites were completely subdued.
The report of his victories preceded him; and when Jephthah reached his home in Mizpeh, his daughter, with a chorus of maidens, came out to meet him. She was his only child, and the broken-hearted father exclaimed: “Alas, my daughter! Thou has brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me.” The writer of the account leaves this fact just a simple statement; but it is sufficient. Nothing more could be said that would make it more touching. Our hearts go out to the heroic daughter, as the nature of his rash vow is made known to her. Because the Lord gave the children of Ammon into her father’s hands, she felt that her life was a small price to pay. she had only one request to make before the sacrifice: “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.” To this her father consented. “And it came to pass, at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.”
Because of their horror at the awful deed, some commentators have tried to prove that Jephthah did not carry out his vow. But the narrative says he did, and there is no ground for thinking otherwise. There was nothing abhorrent in that age in such a sacrifice. The enemies of Israel sacrificed their children to their gods to obtain victory in battle. Should Jephthah be less loyal to Jehovah? We shudder now at the very thought of a deed so terrible. But jephthah acted according to the best light he had, and we admire the hero in his grim determination to hold to the terms of his contract with Jehovah, as he understood it. but what adequate tribute can we give to the brave daughter who rises at one to the grandeur of her situation, as the instrument that brought about a victory over the enemies of Israel? By her willingness to die for her father and her country, she reaches the supreme heights of patriotism.
People seemed to think in those days that Jehovah could be bought with a human life, to grant victory to Israel. In the opinion of Jephthah, it was pleasing in the sight of God for him to kill his daughter because of his vow. to us this seems horrible. But we must remember that in those days people were immature morally. They lived up to the light they had, and that is all that should be expected. it would be well for us if we were as true to our ideals of right, as Jephthah and his daughter were to theirs. By their loyalty and devotion to their conception of right and duty, they set an example that our generation would do well to follow. Awful as it seems to us, it was not the slaughter of an unwilling victim. the girl gladly gave her life in the thought that it contributed to the honor of her father and the salvation of her country. It was a filial act of obedience and love, which sheds an everlasting halo of glory upon her who made the sacrifice. The memory of this innocent girl and her heroic death should be enshrined in every heart, for she was akin to Him who came in a later day to give his life as a ransom for the sins of the world.
A Loyal Daughter
Since our country, our God, – oh, my sire!
Demand that thy daughter expire;
Since thy triumph was bought by thy vow –
Strike the bosom that’s bared to thee now!
And the voice of my mourning is ‘er,
And the mountains behold me no more;
If the hand that I loved laid me low
There cannot be pain in the blow!
When the blood of thy giving hath gush’d,
When the voice that thou lovest is hush’d,
Let my memory still be thy pride,
And forget not that I smiled as I died!
Questions and Problems
1. Where did Jephthah live? to what tribe did he belong?
2. How did he become a freebooter?
3. What handicaps did Israel have at this time in meeting its foes?
4. Why was Jephthah called to lead Israel against Ammon? What answer did he make?
5. Tell about Jephthah’s campaign against Ammon.
6. What happened when he got hoe?
7. What was his daughter’s attitude in regard to his vow?
8. What redeeming feature was there in jephthah’s sacrifice?
9. What is a vow? is it right to make vows? what was jephthah’s vow? Should vows always be kept?
10. How do you account for the fact that Abraham was warned not to kill his son, while no warning was given to jephthah?
11. How can we determine the nature of the sacrifices we should make to God?
12. Should we commend or condemn Jephthah’s daughter? Give reasons for your answer.
13. Would it have been better to have left this story out of the bible? Why?
14. Does this lesson inspire or depress you?
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Eternal Father, we thank thee for the ever-increasing light that comes to us and reveals more fully thy glorious personality. As the years come and go, we understand better and better thy will concerning us, and the duties and obligations which we owe to thee. Thy love for us is more wonderful and deeper than the affection of an earthly father for his children. And in return we give to thee our loyalty, our devotion, and our sincerest reverence. Like Jephthah, we dedicate to thee the best we have, knowing, as he did not, that thou dost not require any sacrifice on our part which conflicts with the noblest affection which thou hast planted in our hearts.
Samson, the Giant
Lesson Text: Judges 13:1-5, 24-25; 14; 15.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 51:9-19.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: ‘Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.” – Deut. 7:3.
The Message of the Lesson
Frittering Our Strength
From the top of Mount Ebal westward toward the Maritime plain, we have a good view of the long straight line of the Mediterranean coast from Mount Carmel on the north to the Philistine city of Ashkelon, seventy-five miles to the south. There is neither bay nor natural harbor along the entire coast, only a long line of sand carried in from the sea, which in some places extends inland several miles. That is why no seafaring people ever lived in Canaan. The water of the shore is shallow, so that it would have been impossible for an invading army to land anywhere on the coast. the northern part of the maritime plain from Mount Carmel to Joppa, forty-five miles, was known as Sharon. It is a level strip of coast from six to twelve miles in width, and rises as it recedes from the sea to the hills of Samaria. There are two vales that come up from Sharon toward the central highland. The northern of these is the vale of Ajalon, where Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, won a great victory over five Amorite kings. During the battle, with poetic eloquence he commanded: “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon (a city in the valley); and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.” (Joshua 10:12-13)
South of Ajalon a few miles is the vale of Sorek, which extends from near Joppa in a southeasterly direction toward Jerusalem. It was in the village of Zorah, on a crest of the hill overlooking this vale, that Samson grew up. In our tet today, we have an account of the miraculous events connected with his birth. One of the promises made by the angel to his mother was that he should begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines, who at that time occupied the Maritime plain south of Sharon. They were a war-like people who exacted tribute from the children of Israel.
This was a great promise to the parents of Samson, and they must have had high hopes that he would become a great leader. No character that we have so far considered had a higher destiny pointed out for him than did Samson. But as he grew up, he seems to have been more attached to the olive-groves and gardens of the Philistines, than to the highlands of his own people. Like Esau, he was more intent on having a good time, than in preparing himself for the mission which God had marked out for him. When he reached manhood, he became enamored by the charms of a Philistine maiden who lived at Timnath, just over the hill south from Zorah.
Samson’s parents could not have been very careful in training their bo. perhaps they thought that because of the promise that the Lord had made concerning his future, there was nothing for them to do, except to watch and to wait. If that was their idea, they certainly made a great mistake. God gives parents children, but he expects them to do their duty in bringing them up. there is a responsibility that attaches to parenthood, that even a child of promise cannot absolve them from discharging. In Samson’s case, there can be no question but that his parents were over-indulgent, and let him have his own way, until they lost all control over him.
When Samson came to his father and mother and practically demanded that they make arrangements for his marriage with the Philistine, they feebly protested: “Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?” Samson answered this by saying: “Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well.” That settled it; the father went and arranged for the marriage, according to the custom of the time. If Samson had been living today, he would have taken matters into his own hands, and perhaps never have mentioned the marriage to his parents at all.
it was no doubt in a merry mood that Samson set out for timnath on the day of the wedding. It seemed that on a previous occasion he had killed a lion with his hands, when it ”roared against him;” for by this time he had become the strongest man in Israel. And now he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion; “and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion. And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating.” When he came to the scene of the festivities, he proposed to the thirty young men who were in attendance that he would tell a riddle, and if they could solve it in seven days, he would give each of them a linen garment. and, on the other hand, if they failed to tell the answer, he was to receive thirty linen garments from them. They told him to put forth the riddle, and he said to them: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
But when, after three days, they were unable to guess the riddle, they went to Samson’s wife and demanded that she wrest the secret from him, threatening, if she refused, to burn her father’s house. So either through fear or deceit, she went to Samson and wept before him, and said: “Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not; thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of y people, and hast not told it me.” At first he refused to tell, but day after day she kept up her weeping and whining until on the seventh day he told her, and she told it to the young men. And on that day before the sun went down they came to Samson, and said: “What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?”
Of course he was not blind to what had happened, for he said to them: “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.” Samson proved himself a good sport, however, even though his method of obtaining the promised garments was rather a questionable one; for he went down to Ashkelon and he slew thirty Philistines and brought back their wearing apparel to adorn the backs of the young rogues who had outwitted him.
But Samson was angry and much displeased with his wife’s conduct. So he went back to his father’s house at Zorah, until he had time to cool off a little. Then he returned to Timnath to seek a reconciliation with his wife. But his father-in-law, in the meantime, had given her to one of his companions. When Samson heard this, he became very angry and determined to wreak vengeance on the whole Philistine tribe. he caught three hundred foxes; and, turning them tail to tail, fixed a firebrand between each two tails and sent them into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up both the shock and the standing corn.
The result was that the Philistines became very much wrought up over the affair. They took vengeance on Samson’s father-in-law and his family by burning them to death. For this Samson vowed that he would be avenged and he smote them with a great slaughter. Then he went and dwelt in the cave of a rock at Elam, a few miles southeast of Zorah.
This did not end the affair, however, for the Philistines went up and spread themselves against the Israelites. And the men of Judah, in order to compromise the matter, agreed to deliver Samson bound into their hands, for at that time the Philistines ruled over Israel. This willingness to give up the man who might have saved them from their bondage to the Philistines, shows how timid and cowardly they were. Three thousand men of Judah went to get Samson from the rock. With that number he might have delivered Israel, but instead of that he was willing to be returned to his enemies. He only exacted a promise that they themselves would do him no harm. to this they agreed, and they delivered him bound to the Philistines.
But when they “shouted against him,” he seems to have taken it as a personal affront, and he snapped the new cords with which he was bound. Finding the jawbone of an ass, he “put forth his hand and took it, and slew a thousand men” with this formidable weapon. We may assume that the rest fled, for Samson seems to have been left alone after that.
It will be noticed that all Samson’s exploits were single-handed. He made no effort to unite Israel against the Philistines, or even to lead his own tribe of Dan to attack the enemy. He was actuated solely by personal and selfish motives, rather than by love of country or God. He seems to have had no love or sympathy for his people. Samson furnishes good material for the story-teller. there was an element of humor in his dealings with the Philistines, and the clever way in which he turned the tables on their efforts to entrap him. But his personal character was in every way unworthy, and it is hard to see any good that he did, either to himself or to his country.
Love alone is strength!
Might that is not born of love
Is not might born from above:
Has its birthplace down below
Where they neither reap nor sow;
Love alone is strength!
Love is stronger than all force,
Is its own eternal source;
Might is always in decay,
Love grows fresher every day:
Love alone is strength!
– George MacDonald
Questions and Problems
1. Relate the incidents connected with Samson’s birth. (Judges 13:1-5)
2. What reasons have we for thinking that his parents failed in his education?
3. Why did he ask his father to make arrangements for his marriage? What objections did his father make?
4. What riddle did he propound to the Philistines?
5. Why did Samson leave his wife?
6. Tell the story of the foxes. (Judges 15:4-5)
7. What evidence have we of the servility of Judah in this lesson? (Judges 15:9-14)
8. What happened when Samson was delivered bound into the hands of the philistines? (Judges 15:15-17)
9. How do you account for Samson’s failure in life?
10. Was the angel’s promise to his mother fulfilled? Why? What lesson does this teach us?
11. Why was Samson’s marriage to a Philistine girl a mistake?
12. Why was Samson considered one of the heroes of Israel? What were the defects in his character?
13. Discuss the memory poem.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
O Heavenly Father, author of our life and being, give unto us strong and beautiful bodies; not for physical display, or vain boasting of physical strength, but that our souls may have ‘stately mansions” in which to dwell. Help us to cleanse and keep them free from all impurity. may we hold them in sacred trust, as thy gift to us forevermore. In a world soiled with sin and given to iniquity, we need thy help to keep our bodies clean and pure. Wilt thou be mindful of us, and watch over us for good all the days of our lives.
Samson, the Weakling
Lesson Text: Judges 16.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 57.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” – I Corinthians 3:16-17.
The Message of the Lesson
Profaning Our Destiny
We read at the end of the fifteenth chapter of Judges that Samson judged Israel twenty years, but just what is meant by that statement is hard to say. Nothing is told of these years, and we may well conclude that nothing happened worth telling. Whatever he may have done during that time, it seems certain that he learned nothing from his past experiences with the Philistines. The women and cities down there continued to attract him. When the story opens again, we find him down in Gaza, where he was discovered by his enemies; and they shut the gates of the city on him, with the intention of killing him the next day. Samson must have learned of their plans; for at midnight he arose and took the doors of the gates of the city and the two posts and carried them away on his shoulders, “bar and all,” to the top of a hill on the way to Hebron. This prank undoubtedly exasperated the Philistines quite as much as it amused Samson. What a man he might have been, if he had directed his strength to some useful end! But such pranks only increased the resentment of his enemies, without in any way helping his own people.
Up to this time Samson had gone through life in a happy-go-lucky sort of way, without meeting with any serious disaster. His great physical strength showed no sign of abating, but all the time he was losing his moral fibre. Every day he was slipping nearer to the brink of ruin. Without a thought of his country and its sore distress, he went on in his care-free way, with apparently no desire but to gratify his own selfish whims. With that attitude toward life and its sacred obligations, a Delilah was bound to come sooner or later to complete the ruin. And now she came. Let us see.
Induced by a promise of rich reward from the Philistine lords if she would discover the secret of his strength, she deliberately set about her task by such wiles as are known only to women of her kind. Poor Samson, in the hands of such a woman, was helpless. Again and again, she tried to draw from him the precious information, and every time he held out by telling her a lie. But with unholy persistence Delilah continued her efforts. Under the circumstances, it was certain that she would finally succeed. Samson had dallied with temptation too long to hold out against so wily a foe. He knew that she intended to betray him, and yet he was so helpless in her coils that he could not rouse himself in defense of his own honor and manhood. Could anything be more pathetic? This giant-man, who might have been numbered among the great deliverers of Israel and a hero of the true faith, sold himself and his precious gift for less than Esau received for his birthright.
Samson tried in his weak way to hold out against her. But she continued daily to press him with her words and urge him, until he could hold out no longer, but “told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”
The rest of the story is soon told. She made him sleep upon her knees, and called for a man to cut off his locks of hair, and he was a Hercules no more. Again he heard the challenge: “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson;” and he rose determined to resist them as before. But it was useless; his hair was gone, his vow broken. he was helpless in the hands of his cruel foes. he grappled and handled himself as in times past, but nothing came of it. His strength was gone. “The Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza; and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.”
How low the great can fall! Samson, whose coming to earth was announced by an angel, proclaimed as the deliverer of Israel from the tyranny of the Philistines, now forsaken by God, the sport of his enemies! Completely ruined and utterly beaten, he is the saddest sight, the most pathetic picture in the Bible. Our hearts go out to him when we contemplate his tragic fate. Blind, broken, and in prison, taking the place of a donkey to grind the corn of his enemies, what can we say for him? We can only weep for his folly. he dragged his own honor, the honor of his country, and the name of his God in the mire. To gratify his selfish appetites and desires, eh turned the joy of his father and mother at his birth into mourning when his manhood was reached; he made the word of an angel untrue, by refusing to fulfil his destiny as the savior of his country.
Compare Jephthah with Samson. The man of Gilead looms a giant beside the pigmy of Zorah. One born in shame and driven from his home an outcast; the other, God’s special gift to his parents, is honored as the coming savior of his people. But the man whose destiny has been announced by heaven, falls from his high estate, while the outcast rises to the very pinnacle of patriotism by the sacrifices which he made for his country.
As time went on, however, Samson began to recover from the blow. As his shorn locks grew again, his mighty strength began to come back to him. His physical eyes were gone, and they could not be restored. That was the penalty he had been compelled to pay for his dishonor, but a light came to him in the darkness. His inward sight became keener, and he saw God in the night better than he had seen him in the day. Perhaps he might still strike a blow against the enemy that had so long afflicted his people. The Philistines saw him bent and blind and helpless, as he ground at the prison mill, but they could not see his expanding soul. They never suspected that he was still to be reckoned with as an enemy. Had any one told them to beware of him, they would have laughed.
After many days his hair was as long as it had ever been. But this was not noticed by his tormentors. They had forgotten the source of his former strength. A great festival was called in honor of Dagon, their god, and the poor blinded Samson was brought to the temple to make sport before the Philistine multitude that had assembled. They laughed at him, made sport of his apparent helplessness, and sang a song in praise of Dagon, the conqueror of Jehovah and Samson. This was too much. They had gone too far. Suddenly, there came to Samson the consciousness that his strength had returned to him; and then a quick resolve. Would there ever come a better time than at Dagon’s feast, to strike one more blow against his life-long enemy, even though it might cost him his life!
The house was full of men and women, and three thousand people were on the roof, and all the lords of the Philistines were there, while Samson made sport for them. And Samson prayed: “O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein; so the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
And so Samson perished with his enemies. His kindred came and recovered the body amid the chaos of the wrecked temple, and laid the mighty frame to rest near his father Manoah. We could have wished that his last prayer had been for his people, rather than revenge for his two yes. But at any rate, Israel profited by his heroic death; for the Philistines were crushed by the fall of their temple and god, and thousands of their people, and it was a long time before they recovered from the shock.
Weakness of Strength
Whom have I to complain of but myself?
Who this high gift of strength committed to me,
In what part lodg’d, how easily bereft me,
Under the seal of silence could not keep,
But weakly to a woman must reveal it,
O’ercome with importunity and tears.
O impotence of mind, in body strong!
But what is strength without a double share
Of wisdom? Vast, unwieldy, burdensome,
Proudly secure, yet liable to fall
By weakest subtleties; not made to rule,
But to subserve where wisdom bears command.
God, when he gave me strength to show withal
How slight the gift was, hung it in my hair.
Questions and Problems
1. What was the great weakness of Samson?
2. Tell about his adventure in Gaza. Where was Gaza? 9Judges 16;2-3
3. What as the character of Delilah? What was her nationality?
4. What was her reason for betraying Samson?
5. Give the details of how she succeeded.
6. Why was Samson’s fall particularly sad?
7. Compare Samson with the other judges of Israel.
8. What did the Philistines do to him?
9. Give in detail the story of his death.
10. How did he show selfishness in his last prayer?
11. Discuss this statement: “With such an attitude towards life and its sacred obligations, a Delilah was bound to come sooner or later to complete his ruin.” Is this always true?
12. What were the steps in Samson’s fall? Will the same steps lead to the same tragic consequences today? Why?
13. Compare the characters of Samson and Jephthah.
14. Do you think that his strength returned simply by his hair growing again? Why?
15. What class of people are like Samson today?
16. Discuss the memory poem.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Heavenly Father, may we learn from the great tragedy of Samson the weakness of the strong. Help us to see that mere physical prowess, without moral courage and spiritual endowment, is weakness, that largeness of body and size of limb are no true measurements of strength. They alone are strong who walk with thee. Thou art our strength and our salvation. With thee all things are possible, and without thee we can do nothing. Wilt thou, our Father, be merciful unto us, and save us from the weakness of Samson.
Deborah, the Prophetess
Lesson Text: Judges 4. (See also 5)
Responsive Reading: Psalms 10:1-16.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” – Judges 5:20.
The Message of the Lesson
A Woman’s Courage
Let us ascend Mount Ebal, the highest peak in central Canaan, and view the land northward. A hundred years or more have passed since Joshua bade his people farewell, and during that time Israel had forgotten the solemn covenant which they made with Joshua to serve the Lord their god, and him only. they could not resist the temptation to worship the deities of Canaan also, for on them they felt depended the prosperity of their flocks and herds. There seemed to have been an idea prevalent at that time, that every land had a local deity who must be propitiated. This led them to adopt many of the immoral and degrading practices of the Canaanites, and the high ideals given them at Sinai were in a great measure forgotten.
And the prophecy which Joshua had made that if they forgot God and turned to the idols of Canaan, he would no longer drive out the people of the land, but leave them as a scourge and a snare to God’s people, had been fulfilled. The land was overrun with their enemies, and many of the children of Israel were enslaved. There was no stable government. Every man “did what was right in his own eyes,” and anarchy and disorder reigned throughout the land.
Especially oppressive and galling to the children of Israel at this time was the presence of Sisera and a great army in what was called “Harosheth of the Gentiles,” with “nine hundred chariots of iron.” For twenty years his powerful arm mightily oppressed the Israelites, until they lay crushed and helpless at his feet. No one dared raise a hand against him. He held the entire plain of Esdraelon in his grasp, and thus it was difficult for the tribes of the north and south to cooperate under one leadership. Patriotism was dead, and it was difficult to distinguish God’s people from the rest of the inhabitants of the land. The fear of Sisera and his nine hundred chariots gripped all hearts, and kept the people in constant terror.
At this critical juncture, when even hope was all but dead, it was a woman who sounded the battle cry to rally. Deborah, a prophetess, carried in her breast faith in Jehovah and his promises to Israel. She saw the affliction of Israel, and resolved that with God’s help she would revive the patriotism of that glorious day when Joshua led his army from victory to victory. She left her native Ephraim, and journeyed northward to summon Barak to strike a blow for freedom. Barak was a leader in the tribe of Naphtali, but had never thought of revolting. He consented to lead the army, if Deborah would accompany it. He felt that her presence would be an inspiration to the soldiers greater than he could give them. What a tribute that was to Deborah! It meant that Israel’s fate depended upon the dauntless courage of a woman. We are reminded of a similar situation in France, when that unhappy land lay crushed beneath the iron heel of England, and all hope of deliverance was gone, how Joan of Arc, a mere girl, revived the spirit of the army and led it to a glorious victory. There have been other times when the destiny of a nation has hung in the balance, and the heroic courage of a woman has saved it.
Six of the tribes responded to Deborah’s call to save the land. The others that were not so directly concerned preferred to let those in the greatest danger do the fighting. They were held up to scorn and contempt in Deborah’s song in chapter 5. There are always slackers, and the scathing denunciation they received in this case was well deserved. We still have our shirkers. Public service means sacrifice for the common good, and some people live only for themselves.
And now, going back to the summit of Mount Ebal, we look in a northerly direction and a little to the east and see Mount Tabor thirty miles away. It rises about eighteen hundred feet above the surrounding plain, and it was at the foot of this mountain on the west side that the army of Barak and Deborah gathered. That we may better see the ensuing battle, let us transfer ourselves to the summit of Tabor. while the patriots of Israel are gathering at our feet, we turn our eyes westward and a little south. About sixteen miles away, easily to be seen, is “Harosheth of the Gentiles.” Here Sisera with his large army and his nine hundred chariots of iron are gathered. He has heard of the uprising of Israel at Tabor but has little fear, for they have no chariots and their army is much smaller. For twenty years no combination has been able to defeat him, and he goes confidently forth with his chariots in front, backed by a host of footmen with javelins and spears, and by archers with bows, to annihilate the presumptuous little army that has dared to raise its puny strength against his.
Up the plain of Esdraelon they march, all keeping step, all ready to make short work of their contemptible foe. But in that army of hastily gathered men there is a power greater than chariots, greater than numbers. It is the solitary figure of a woman. She carries no spear or javelin or other weapon of war. As yet, she has uttered no word of command, but her presence there is a token of the success of that untrained army which is making its stand for hearth and home; for she is the symbol of Jehovah’s presence. She is there in the name of the god of Israel whom Sisera has defied.
And now Deborah, watching from an elevated position, cried out: “Arise, Bark, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.” And so the march began. Israel’s little army all on foot went out to meet the hosts of Sisera, with full faith that Deborah’s God would give them the victory. As the two opposing forces met, for a moment darkness covered them, then a tremendous storm of sleet and hail and wind from the east burst over the plain, driving with full force into the faces of the Canaanites. It was impossible for them to fight. No earthly power could stand against such a storm. The blinding sleet, the biting cold, disabled them before they could strike a blow, while Israel with the storm on their backs were little troubled by it. and feeling that God was with them, they drove against their foes with twenty years of oppression back of their blows. The storm grew worse. The river Kishon became a raging flood and spread over the plain. The chariots were mired in the shifting sand. Panic seized the terror-stricken Canaanites, and all the time Israel was mowing them down. The Kishon rose higher and higher, and many of the enemy were buried in the raging flood. None escaped. The vast army that had so long been the pride and terror of Esdraelon was annihilated. Certainly, God was with Israel.
Sisera alone escaped. Lighting from his chariot, he fled eastward, and reached the tent of Heber the Kenite, on a plateau above the Sea of Galilee, where he fell into the hands of Jael, the relentless wife of Heber. She invited him into her tent. He asked her for water, and she was good enough to give him milk. Then she covered him with a cloak. He begged her to stand at the door and watch. She did, but not in the way that he expected. She watched the tired man. When he was fast asleep, she stole quietly to his side, with a hammer and tent spike in her hand. Then with one swift blow she drove the spike with such force through the temple, that his head was staked to the ground. So perished the commander, and his dread army, in one of the most important battles in the history of Israel, for it gave to the Hebrews for the first time undisputed possession of the plain of Esdraelon and all central Canaan. The lowland as well as the highland of Palestine was now subject to Israel.
Judged by our standards, the murder of Sisera cannot be defended. It was a treacherous and cowardly thing to do. But in that age it met with the highest approval. Deborah sings in the next chapter: “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be; blessed shall she be above women in the tent.”
And thou, O God, of whom we hold
Our country and our freedom fair,
Within thy tender love enfold
This land, for all thy people’s care.
Uplift our hearts above our fortunes high,
Let not the good we have make us forget
The better things that in thy heavens be!
Keep, still, amid the fervor and the fret
Of all this eager life, our thoughts of thee,
The hope, the strength, the God of all the free.
– Author Unknown
Questions and Exercises.
1. Quote the first and second of the Ten Commandments and show how the Israelites were breaking them.
2. What conditions in Israel required the leadership of the judges, and what determined the length of their rule?
3. How did the judge in Israel differ from a judge in our day?
4. Why was it more difficult for the tribes to cooperate in Canaan than in the desert under Moses?
5. Compare the twelve tribes of Israel with the thirteen original American colonies. Show as many similarities as you can.
6. Read in class Micah 6:6-8, and show that Jephthah did not understand just what the Lord requires of men.
7. Have some one report on the life of Joan of Arc.
8. Compare Deborah with Joan of Arc.
9. Why was the period of the Judges important in Israel’s development?
10. Why may the judges he called “the champions of Israel?”