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No. 79: Dynastic Aspirations in the Book of Judges

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 79
November, 1995
Copyright 1995, Biblical Horizons

(The following is a supplement to my book, God’s War Against Humanism, a study of the book of Judges, available from Biblical Horizons for $20.00 – a photocopy of the original book, which is now out of print).

The turning point in the book of Judges is 8:22-28. Here Gideon rejects the call to kingship, but proceeds to set up an icon, which draws him and the people into spiritual harlotry. To this point, the judges have been faithful men, and Israel has faithfully followed them as representatives of King Yahweh. At this point, however, a judge falls into sin, and leads Israel into the sin of seeking another king.

Gideon himself subtly seeks to set up a dynasty for himself, naming one of his sons Abimelech, which means "My Father is King," and taking many wives. We are told that he had 70 sons (8:30-31). This sets up a literary and historical structure that governs the next six judges and their behavior, to wit:

A. Gideon, seeks dynasty, 70 sons.

B. Tola, does not seek dynasty, no sons mentioned.

C. Jair, seeks dynasty, 30 sons.

D. Jephthah, seeks dynasty through daughter, but is thwarted.

C’. Ibzan, seeks dynasty, 30 sons.

B’. Elon, does not seek dynasty, no sons mentioned.

A’. Abdon, seeks dynasty, 70 sons.

Thus, both the historical and numerical information sets up a chiasm with Jephthah at the center. Jephthah hoped to establish a dynasty through his daughter, but God took her to be His own daughter, and she served out her days at His house, not at the house of Jephthah.

This seven-fold sequence is countered by the story of Samson (chapters 13-16), whose seven braids of hair represent the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in his life. Samson has no dynastic aspirations, and instead follows the Spirit’s guidance. The Spirit connects him to King Yahweh. For 20 years Samson provides good judgments for southern Israel, until he falls into sin at the ends of his life.

Samson’s defeats of the Philistines, in life and in death, prove that Israel does not need a "king like all the nations" (1 Samuel 8). One Spirit-filled man is quite enough.

The last two sections of Judges fill out the theme in two ways. Because Israel did not submit to Yahweh’s kingship, "there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes." Contrary to the stupid opinions of most modern commentators, this does not mean that Israel needed a strong central government and a human king. Quite the opposite. What Israel needed was to acknowledge King Yahweh.

Why was Israel failing? Because, as both the last two sections of Judges make clear, the Levites were failing in their task of making King Yahweh’s rule present to the people.

An additional note to this discussion: The book of Judges as a whole is structured chiastically, something I missed a decade ago when I wrote my commentary. The turning point is the sin of Gideon.

The Structure of the Book of Judges

A. Israel’s failure to hold land against the Canaanites. Progressive compromise, leading to judgment. 1:1–2:5.

B. Israel’s idolatry, the cycle of judges, and war as God’s chastisement. 2:6–3:6.

C. Northern Gentiles (Mesopotamia), and Othniel. 3:7-11.

D. Lot: Moab, and Ehud. 3:12-13.

E. Minor judge: Shamgar. 3:31.

F. Canaanites opposed. Women crush the serpent’s head. Deborah & Barak. 4-5.

G. Gideon’s faithfulness. 6:1–8:26.


G’. Gideon’s fall. 8:27-32.

F’. Canaanites embraced. Woman crushes the serpent’s head. "King Abimelech." 8:33–9:57.

E’. Minor judges. 10:1-5.

C’. Southern Gentiles (Philistia: Egypt), and Samson. 13-16.

B’. Israel’s idolatry. 17-18.

A’. Israel’s faithfulness in destroying "Canaanites." Faithfulness, leading to blessing and resurrection. 19-21.