32. The Appendices to the Book of Judges
The problem of the strange conclusion to the Book
of Judges has still to be faced. Consideration of it has been deferred long
enough. Briefly re-stated, the problem is this:
The main part of Judges consists of the
development of a regular pattern in this period of Israel’s history.
Declension into apostasy, tribulation, repentance, appeal to God, then the
raising up of a deliverer. These features follow one another in regular
sequence. Then, when the story of Samson’s single-handed struggles has
prepared the way for Samuel, the sequence is interrupted by three
A. Micah’s Levite and the Danite Migration
B. The Sin of Gibeah and its Punishment (Judges
C. The story of Ruth.
All of these are chronologically out of place,
and none of them concern the activities of a judge. Why the sudden change in the
character of the book? Why these additions, so different in theme from the
original purpose of the Judges narrative?
A clear hint meets the reader in the concluding
verses of Ruth, and in its very last word. One of the main purposes of the Book
of Ruth is to supply important links in the genealogy of David, the man after
God’s own heart. Again, is it just accident that A and B, like C, are
concerned with Bethlehem? In A, a worthless Levite is expelled from the town. In
B, a Levite of better quality is given lavish hospitality there. Again, it can
hardly fail to evade notice that Gibeah was the city of Saul, the first king of
Israel — a fact which seems to be specially underlined by an emphasis on
various other details which are picked out because of their association with
Saul — the story of Jabesh-gilead, the rousing of the tribes of Israel by
sending to each a portion of a carcase (1 Sam. 11:1-7).
It would seem, then, that these Scriptures under
review are far from being a chance agglomeration of folk tales. They have a
definite intention — to emphasize the striking difference between the
origins of Saul and David. Once this point has been grasped, much in these
stories of ‘Israel’s Iron Age’ which has hitherto seemed
rather aimless and unimpressive now begins to fit into a purposeful
The man who left the friendliness of Bethlehem
and scorned the city of Jerusalem (David’s chosen capital) as a place of
lodging was left by Saul’s forefathers to fend for himself. It was a
stranger who eventually offered hospitality.
The men of Gibeah, Saul’s ancestors, were
the vilest kind of perverts, men of Belial, unfit for inter-marriage. Gibeah
should have been not only destroyed but left as a ruin for ever, a warning to
succeeding generations (Deut. 13:16). More than this, they were men who refused
correction, and later were only too willing to add abduction to their crimes.
“Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf.”
The contrast with David’s progenitors in
the Book of Ruth could hardly be sharper. There is the picture of the kindly,
godly Boaz and of the helpless Gentile who came to Bethlehem with no means of
support save an unwavering trust in the God of Israel: “binding...his
ass’s colt unto the choice vine “ (Gen. 49:11). There is the quiet
devout determination to follow as closely as possible the provisions of the Law
which Moses gave, especially a scrupulous carefulness to avoid the slightest
breath of ill-fame.
It becomes easier now to cope with the problem
presented by the recurring refrain of Appendices A and B: “In those days
there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own
The problem is really a double
- Every man did not do what was right in his own eyes;
some men did. Appendices B and C show that others had a genuine desire to obey
the laws of God. The allusions to the Law of Moses in these two sections are
- The words seems to imply that, if
only there had been a king in Israel in those days, men would have feared the
Lord and walked in His ways.
Yet subsequent history hardly bore out such an
optimistic expectation. The reign of Saul was marked by the slaughter of priests
and a deliberate disregard of divine instructions. And once the influence of
David was left behind, the monarchy became an era of spreading corruption,
schism, and recurring chaos (except for the temporary influence of men like
Hezekiah and Josiah, who set themselves deliberately to recapture the good days
So it looks as though “no king in
Israel” has to be read with the idealism of the writer as meaning:
‘no king like David’.
Samuel, compiling this variegated and highly
instructive record, had a firm conviction that the boy from Bethlehem would one
day make life in Israel very different, to the glory of God.
The three Appendices to Judges would demonstrate
to a fickle nation their lack of stability in choosing a man like Saul, and
would indicate how much finer were the expectations that could be safely rested
on God’s chosen leader from Bethlehem.
Such a hypothesis as this serves immediately to
explain quite a number of the characteristics of Appendices A and B. For
instance, as already hinted, the mention of Phineas supplies an explanation (see
Chapter 22) of the switching of the priesthood to the junior branch of the
family of Aaron, culminating in Eli, Samuel’s mentor. The emphasis on the
dexterity of Benjamin’s left-handed slingers can now be set over against
the story of the lad from Bethlehem, who went in the fear of the God of Israel
and slew his mighty adversary with his first sling stone.
Again, the downfall of Benjamin is preceded by
what is, in effect, a conflict between Benjamin and Judah (20:18), in which
Judah is worsted at first and at second, but ultimately Benjamin is reduced to
obscurity. In his declining years Samuel, grieving over the increasing arrogance
and godlessness of Saul, would see in the history of these bygone days a
prophecy of Saul and David written in advance. And he would be able to go to his
long sleep confident that Saul’s hunting of David would fail of its
purpose. God had chosen His king from Judah.
Yet again, it is to be noted that in all the
narratives under consideration the only outstanding character to go unnamed is
the Levite of Mount Ephraim. Can it be that, just as the gospel writers mention
themselves either not at all or only indirectly, so the narrative here is
designedly vague because this Levite was an ancestor of Samuel’s? And does
this explain why his home town also goes unspecified? (See 1 Sam. 1:1.) And is
there a touch of fellow feeling in the mention of the old man of Ephraim who
offered hospitality in Gibeah?
This Saul-David hypothesis now being explored
seems to have relevance to the rest of the Book of Judges also.
The first tribe to go up against the Canaanites
(1:2) was Judah, and Judah had to take the lead in the capture of Jerusalem,
even though it was assigned to Benjamin (1:8). And apparently it was Benjamin
that relinquished Jerusalem again to the Jebusites.
David’s call to serve the Lord was
comparable with that of Barak (through a prophet); comparable also with that of
Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson — by the Spirit of the Lord coming
upon him. Whereas Saul came to the kingship by popular demand, as did Abimelech!
Facts such as these do not just happen. They are
Further, it is possible to trace quite a number
of connections between the Book of Judges and 1 Samuel which can hardly be
accidental. It is noteworthy and significant that the contacts with the story of
Saul are of a disreputable character, whereas those with the life of David are
of an opposite nature altogether.
For instance, the Lord departed from Saul as he
did from Samson when at his lowest spiritual ebb (Judges 16:20; 1 Sam. 16:14).
And in place of Holy Spirit there came upon him an evil spirit from the Lord, as
happened in Abimelech’s experience also (Judges 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14). And
the death of Saul was almost precisely that of Abimelech (Judges 9:54; 1 Sam.
By contrast, any parallels with the life of David
suggest a comparison with Barak and Jephthah and also Samson at his
The Adullam period in David’s chequered
career, when he was thrust out from his own folk and was joined in an outlaw
life by men in debt and men bitter of soul, is marvellously like the experience
of Jephthah. And David and Jephthah are the only two men in Scripture of whom it
is recorded that the maidens went forth to greet them in songs and dancing as
they returned from the vanquishing of their enemies. It was appointed to Samson
to “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines”; and
it was David who finished the work (1 Sam. 17 and 2 Sam. 8:1).
On the other hand, it was the Philistines who
brought Saul’s miserable career to an end. When David was encouraged in
his struggle against the enemies of the Lord, it was by “the sound of
marching in the tops of the mulberry trees” (2 Sam. 5:24) — an
experience immediately reminiscent of Barak’s: “Up; for this is the
day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the Lord
gone out before thee?”
For the sake of completeness it should be
mentioned that the story of Gideon presents two points of contact with the life
of Saul which at first glance seem scarcely to agree with the idea now being
worked out. When Saul spoke self-deprecatingly of his qualifications for
kingship, his words were a clear echo of Gideon’s: “Am not I....of
the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the
families....?” (1 Sam. 9:21; cp. Judges 6:15). And when, in 1 Sam. 11:11,
Saul divided his forces into three companies to go against the Ammonites, he was
copying Gideon’s tactics against the same people (Judges 7:16). But this
— let it be carefully observed — is Saul at his best, before
the declension into jealousy and disobedience and faithlessness had set
Similarly, a complete series of correspondences
can be traced between Gideon and — not Saul but — Saul’s son,
Jonathan, the Jonathan whose love for David, the Lord’s anointed, was
passing the love of women, the Jonathan whose humility and faith in the promises
of God was so real and intense that he could say: “Thou shalt be king over
Israel, and I shall be next unto thee.” (The words are a prophecy yet to
be fulfilled!) Like another Jonathan he was content to say: “He must
increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Consequently, the Word of God
honours him by stressing certain striking resemblances between him and one of
the “saviours” whom God raised up. Indeed it may well be that Gideon
was a hero of the family and that the resemblances are actually conscious
imitations. It looks as though one of the few good things Jonathan learned from
his father was a glowing admiration for Gideon the Abi-ezrite. The similarities
referred to include the following:
- When Jonathan went out against the enemy, there was a great
trembling in the host of Israel (1 Sam. 14:15 and 13:11); compare Gideon’s
army at the well Harod (trembling): “Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let
him return” (Judges 7:1,3).
- In each battle the
enemy was “as the sand by the seaside in multitude” (1 Sam. 13:5;
- Both Saul’s and Gideon’s
armies were severely reduced; and Jonathan was content to give battle almost
single-handed. “There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by
- Both Jonathan and Gideon went forth
accompanied only by an armour-bearer (1 Sam. 14:6; Judges
- And in each case there was a sign given from the
enemy — and each sign was acknowledged as coming really from the Lord (1
Sam. 14:10; Judges 7:11,14,15).
- In the victory which
each won, “every man’s sword was against his fellow” (1 Sam.
14:20; Judges 7:22).
This impressive catalogue serves not only to
heighten the reader’s esteem both for Gideon and for Jonathan, but it
emphasizes the contrast between Saul and Jonathan, and so between Saul and
Thus, when the relevant facts are marshalled
together, the Book of Judges is seen to be a history with a purpose. The
condescending critical opinion of the book as an inconsequential collection of
old hero stories, exaggerated and distorted by oral tradition and ‘licked
into shape’ generations later by an ignorant and none-too-scrupulous
editor, must give place to a more reverent and thankful spirit. Not least among
the men upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came, to transform them into saviours
of a wayward people, was the man who was guided to produce this divine record of
history divinely caused.