Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

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 appendices:

A. Micah’s Levite and the Danite Migration (Judges 17,18).
B. The Sin of Gibeah and its Punishment (Judges 19,20,21).
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 pattern.

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 eyes.”

The problem is really a double one:

  1. 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 really impressive.
  2. 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 of David).

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 designed.

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. 31:4).

By contrast, any parallels with the life of David suggest a comparison with Barak and Jephthah and also Samson at his best.

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 in.

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:

  1. 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).
  2. In each battle the enemy was “as the sand by the seaside in multitude” (1 Sam. 13:5; Judges 7:12).
  3. 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 few.”
  4. Both Jonathan and Gideon went forth accompanied only by an armour-bearer (1 Sam. 14:6; Judges 7:10).
  5. 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).
  6. 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 David.

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.

Next Next Next