Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1-4. Canaanite nations left to try, and train, the Israelites. Judges 3:5-7. Evil effects of intermarriages. 8. Tyranny of Clmshan-rishathaim. Judges 3:9-11. The Israelites delivered by Othniel. Rest of forty years. Judges 3:12-14. Tyranny of the Moabites and allied nations under Eglon for eighteen years. Judges 3:15-30. Assassination of Eglon and deliverance of Israel by Ehud; rest of eighty years. Judges 3:31. Heroic action of Shamgar.
Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan;(1) To prove Israel.—The verb here used is the same as in Judges 2:22 and Judges 3:4, but, as R. Tanchum observes, it is used in a slightly different sense, meaning “to train them.” Symmachus renders it askēsai.
As many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan.—This expression clearly implies the generation after that of Joshua. “The wars of Canaan” are equivalent to “the wars of the Lord,” and refer to the struggles of the actual conquest.
Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof;(2) Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war.—The LXX. here render, “Only because of the generations of the children of Israel to teach them war.” The Vulgate is here a mere paraphrase, and the translations vary. The meaning seems to be, “Only that He (Jehovah) might know the generations of the children of Israel, to teach them war.” The expression resembles 2Chronicles 32:31. The “teaching them war” doubtless implies the lesson that they could only learn successfully by the help of God.
As before knew nothing thereof.—That is, “knew nothing of those nations, or of those wars.”
Namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath.(3) Five lords of the Philistines.—The princes of the Pentapolis, Gaza, Ashdod, Askelon, Gath, Ekron. The word rendered “lords” is evidently a technical or local title—Seranim. It is rendered by the LXX. “satrapies,” and by the Vulgate, “satraps.” It is variously derived from seren, “a hinge” (comp. “cardinal” from “cardo”); from sar, “a prince,” being interchanged with sarim, in 1 Sam. 13:30; 1Samuel 29:6 (Ewald, i. 332); and from some Phœnician root. For the Philistines, see Judges 13:1.
All the Canaanites.—Of the shephēlah or maritime plain.
The Sidonians.—In Genesis 10:15 “Sidon” is the eldest son of Canaan. They maintained their complete independence to the last.
The Hivites that dwelt in Mount Lebanon.—In Joshua 11:3 they are described as living “under Hermon, in the land at Mizpeh,” whence Mizpeh has been identified with “el-Mutalleh,” which also means “the look-out” or “watch-tower.” The name has been derived from Havvah, a circular encampment or village, because they lived (as they do to this day in northern Syria) in circular villages, with enclosures for cattle in the centre. Ewald ( i. 318) supposes that the word means “midlanders,” and Gesenius “villagers.” The Hivite is the sixth son of Canaan, in Genesis 10:17.
Mount Baal-hermon unto the entering in of Hamath.—In Joshua 13:5 we have “from Baal-gad under mount Hermon unto,” &c. Baal-gad is also mentioned in Joshua 12:7; Joshua 11:17, and is usually supposed to be Paneas or Cesarea Philippi. It was probably a temple of Baal, but must be farther south than Baalbek. The hill of Paneas is therefore, in all probability, “ Mount Baal-hermon,” and Baal-hermon may be only another name for Baal-gad. Fürst supposes that both Gad and Gedi (in Engedi) are names of Astarte.
The entering in of Hamath.—This is the usual phrase to describe the northern boundary of Canaan. The LXX. take it as a proper name, Labo emath.
And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.(4) To prove Israel.—See Judges 2:22.
And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites:(5) Dwelt among the Canaanites . . .—These nations are enumerated also in Exodus 33:2; Exodus 34:1. In Joshua 24:11 the Girgashites are added; in Ezra 9:1 the Ammonites and Moabites. (See Notes on those places.) At this verse begins the second great section of the book (Judges 3:5-16), which Prof. Cassel summarises as “a history of sin repeating itself, and of Divine Grace constantly devising new remedies.”
And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.(6) And they took their daughters.—This beginning of intermarriages shows that we are now a generation removed from the days of Joshua. Such marriages had been forbidden in Deuteronomy 7:3. but are not among the sins denounced by the Angel-messenger at Bochim (Judges 2:1).
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.(7) Did evil in the sight of the Lord.—Rather, did the evil, as in Judges 2:11.
And the groves.—Rather, and the Asheroth, i.e., the wooden images of the nature-goddess, Asherah (which are called also Asherim). The LXX. render the word Asherah by alsos, “a grove,” and other versions follow them. (Sec Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 8:5; Deuteronomy 16:21; 2Kings 23:14, &c.) Thus Luther renders it die Hainen, and it used to be erroneously supposed that the word pointed to tree-worship. The Vulgate rundere it “Astaroth.” It seems, however, to be clear from the researches of Mövers and others that Asherah and Astarte were different though allied deities. For the latter, see Judges 2:13. Asherah is from a root which means upright (like Orthia or Orthosia, a designation of Artemis, Herod. iv. 87), and her images are generally mentioned in connection with altars and images of Baal (Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3; 1Kings 14:23, &c.; Micah 6:12).
Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.(8) Into the hand of Chushan-rishathaim.—If the reading of all the MSS. be correct, this must be a term of hatred rather than a name, for it means “Cushan of the double wickedness.” Some MSS. of the LXX. have Chousarsathaim. Josephus (Antt. v. 3, § 3) shortens it into Chousarthes; and St. Clemens of Alexandria (Strom. i. 21) into Chousachar. Syncellus (Chronogr. i. 58) says that Paphos was founded by those who fled from this Mesopotamian conqueror (Ewald). Cushan only occurs elsewhere in Habakkuk 3:7, “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction.” Cush was a son of Nimrod (Genesis 10:8), and our translators, in the margin of Habakkuk 3:11, render Cushan by Ethiopia. It is quite possible that Rishathaim may be the distorted form of the name of some town. It is always the tendency of a people to re-stamp a word which they receive into their current phraseology, because no nations like to use a term which they do not understand. Thus in our London streets, “Hangman’s Gains” is a corruption of Hammes et Guynes, and Blind Chapel Court, of Blanch Appleton.
The Jews were not only accustomed thus to re-stamp (sur-frapper) the names of foreign kings, peoples, and idols, but they especially rejoiced in using terms of hatred. Thus the Romans in the Talmud are called Idumeans; Beelzebul was changed into Beelzebub; Bethel into Bethaven; Ptolemy into Talmai; Ir-Cheres into Ir-Heres (see Note on Judges 1:33), &c. In an ancient Rabbinic commentary the “two wickednesses” are supposed to be those of Balaam and Cushan, or that of Laban repeating itself in his descendants. The Targum and Syriac render it “the criminal Cushan.”
King of Mesopotamia.—In the original Aram-naharian, “the highland of the two rivers” (Euphratesand Tigris), or, as the LXX. render it, “Syria of the rivers.” His invasion, like that of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and Amraphel, king of Shinar, was from the south. Hence it is repelled by Othniel, whose inheritance was in the tribe of Judah. We find no other invaders from the far east till the close of the monarchy.
And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.(9) Cried unto the Lord.—“In the time of their trouble, when they cried unto Thee, Thou heardest them from heaven; and according to Thy manifold mercies Thou gavest them saviours” (Nehemiah 9:27). “Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses” (Psalm 107:13; see, too, Psalm 26:5; Psalm 78:34; Psalm 106:44).
Othniel.—The name means “lion of God.” St. Jerome makes it mean “my time of God,” and spells it Athaniel
The son of Kenaz.—(See Judges 1:13.) Josephus, to escape the apparent improbability of a brother of Caleb being young enough to marry Caleb’s daughter, when Caleb was past eighty-five, calls him “a person of the tribe of Judah.” He rightly regards the events of Judges 17-21 as preceding the judgeship of Othniel; but they can hardly have happened during the oppression of Cushan-Rishathaim.
And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.(10) The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.—Here the Targum has “the spirit of prophecy” (comp. Isaiah 61:1), perhaps with reference to Numbers 11:25. They render the same phrase in Judges 6:34, “spirit of courage from Jehovah.” This expression constantly recurs in this book (Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25). For “came upon him” (literally “was upon him”), a stronger phrase is “clothed him” (Judges 6:34; 1Chronicles 12:18; 2Chronicles 24:20). The Jews, however, placed Othniel highest among the judges, and applied to him the words of Song of Solomon 4:7, “Thou art all fair; there is no spot in thee,” because he alone of the judges is represented as irreproachable. Further than this, they followed some dim traditional data in identifying him with Jabez (1Chronicles 4:10), and regarding him as a learned teacher of the law. (See Judges 1:13.)
He judged Israel.—Some of the Rabbis explain “judged” (yishhab) here to mean “avenged,” as in Psalm 43:1, “Avenge me, O God” (Shapetêni),possibly from disliking the notion of a Kenizzite, however distinguished, holding the office of a suffes, or judge. There is a difficulty about Othniel’s age; Caleb was eighty-five at the conquest, and, if Othniel was his brother, he could not have been less than fifty or sixty at that time. But even supposing him to have been Caleb’s nephew, and aged forty at his marriage, then, since Joshua lived to be 110, and Cushan-Rishathaim’s oppression did not begin till after the death of the elders who outlived Joshua, and lasted eight years, if Othniel was judge for forty years, this would make him quite 143 years old at his death. It is only another sign that the chronological data of the Book of Judges are not sufficiently definite to enable us to construct a system out of them.
And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.(11) The land had rest forty years.—Rabbi Tanchum interprets this to mean, “till forty years after the death of Joshua.” For the very difficult chronology of this period, see the Introduction. Many questions have been raised, such as—Do the forty years include or exclude the period of servitude? Is forty meant to be an exact or a general number? Are the various periods of rest and servitude continuous and successive, or do they refer to different parts of the Holy Land, and do they synchronise? Perhaps no final answer to these questions is as yet possible, and no less than fifty schemes of the chronology of the period of the judges have been attempted, which fact alone proves how insufficient are the data on which to decide.
Died.—Probably during the forty years, unless we suppose that he attained a most unusual age. After this event the tribe of Judah sinks into the background till the days of David.
And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD.(12) Did evil again.—Literally, “added to do evil.” We find this Hebraism even in the New Testament. “He added (prosetheto) to send” (Luke 20:11-12).
Evil.—Literally, the evil, with special reference to idolatry, as in Judges 2:11, &c.
Strengthened Eglon the king of Moab.—See this event referred to by the prophet Samuel, in 1Samuel 12:9. Eglon was a successor of Balak. We have seen that Rishathaim is probably a term of hatred or scorn; is the name Eglon due to the same tendency? It may be so, since Eglon means “a fat bullock” (comp. Psalm 22:12; Amos 4:1).
And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees.(13) The children of Ammon.—They were closely allied with the Moabites by affinities of race and character. (Genesis 19:37-38.) We find them united with Moab against Jehoshaphat in 2Chronicles 20:1. (See Judges 11:24.) It has been supposed that Chepharhaammonai (Joshua 18:24), or “the village of the Ammonites,” is a memorial of this conquest (Stanley, Jewish Church, ii. 316).
Amalek.—The wild desert clans, which are united under this name, had been from the first the bitterest enemies of Israel. They had attacked the sick and feeble of their rearguard in the wilderness, and, after the battle of Rephidim, had called down on themselves the internecine anger of Israel (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17), which finally found expression in the reign of Saul (1Samuel 15:2-8). They are first mentioned in Genesis 14:7, and it is probable that there was a tribe of Amalekites older than those descended from Eliphaz.
The city of palm trees.—No doubt Jericho. (See Judges 1:16.) The verb “possessed” by no means implies that the whole city was necessarily re-built, still less that it was fortified. The “palace” of king Eglon was probably a wooden structure.
So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.(14) Served Eglon.—One instance of that receiving of “a yoke of iron” which had been threatened as a punishment of apostasy (Deuteronomy 28:47-48). The narrative, however, shows that the Moabite dominion did not extend beyond the borders of Ephraim (Judges 3:13).
But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.(15) Ehud the son of Gera.—In Genesis 46:21 Gera is a son of Benjamin; in 1Chronicles 8:3 he is a son of Bela, son of Benjamin. The name Gera was hereditary in the tribe of Benjamin (see 2Samuel 19:18; 1Chronicles 8:1-7), and the Jews so constantly omit steps in their genealogies that we can never be sure that “son” means more than “descendant.” Ehud seems to be another form of Abihud (1Chronicles 8:1-8). St. Jerome explains it to mean “one who praises “or “is praised.” Josephus calls him a young man, and even “a youth” (neaniskos).
A Benjamite.—“Ben-ha-jemînî,” as in Psalm 7:1. The word is generally written undivided, so that here the LXX., Vulgate, and Luther have “son of Jemini.” No doubt the Syriac, Arabic, and Chaldee rightly understood it to mean a Benjamite, but still there seems to be an intentional play on words, for “Ben-ha-jemînî” may also mean “a son of the right hand, who,” as the writer adds, “was helpless with his right hand” (Ben-ha-jemînî eesh ittêr jad-jemînî).
Lefthanded—Marg., “Shut of his right hand.” Luther also renders it “links” but the LXX. and the Vulgate take it to mean “ambidextrous,” i.e., able to use his left hand as well as his right (LXX., amphoterodexion; Vulg., qui utrague manu pro dexterâ utebatur). Josephus says that he was “best skilled in using his left hand, in which was his whole strength” (Antt. v. 4, § 2). This rendering is merely an inference, from the fact that in Judges 20:15-16 (comp. 1Chronicles 12:2) there are “700 chosen men left-handed.” (See the Note on that verse.) The Hebrew ittêr, however, is correctly rendered “shut” in the margin of our version (comp. Psalm 69:16, “lest the pit shut her mouth upon me “), and cannot possibly mean “ambidextrous.” No doubt Ehud, like other Benjamites, might have been trained to use the sling with the left hand, but it does not follow that he may not have had some accident which maimed the right hand; and if so it would avert all suspicion from him in his dreadful purpose. Ehud in that case was a Hebrew Scœvola. Stobæus mentions some African tribes which, like the Benjamites, were “left-hand fighters” (aristeromachoi), and for the same cause an Egyptian tribe was known as the Euonymitae. The Greek Laius has the same meaning.
By him.—Either because he was the chief of one of their houses (1Chronicles 8:6), or perhaps because he had intimated to them his design. The narrative in Judges 20 falls chronologically in the days of Phinehas and, therefore, Ehud’s act occurred at a still earlier period after the conquest; for Ehud would hardly have been chosen for this honourable function after the terrible degradation and decimation of the tribe of Benjamin. Possibly Eglon’s invasion occurred soon after Joshua’s death.
Sent a present.—The Hebrew word is minchah, here euphemistically used for “tribute,” as it is elsewhere. (2Samuel 8:6 : “And the Syrians became servants to David, and brought gifts.” 1Kings 4:21 : “They [the Philistines] brought presents and served Solomon.” Psalm 72:10 : “The kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring gifts.”)
But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.(16) Made him a dagger which had two edges.—Probably, as in other servitudes, the children of Israel had been disarmed. The “two edges” (comp. Revelation 1:16) show that it was not a mere knife (comp. Psalm 144:6; Hebrews 4:12). Jerome, in the Vulgate, after rightly rendering the word ancipitem, adds, “having a handle in the midst,” which seems useless and meaningless, and has no equivalent in the Hebrew.
A cubit length.—The LXX. and Vulgate render it a span long (spithamēs, palmœ; Luther, eine elle lang). The Hebrew word is not ammāh, the usual word for a cubit, but gômed. A dagger of a span long hardly, however, suits the following narrative, and perhaps gômed is an archaic word for ammāh. It meant originally “a staff.”
Under his raiment.—The LXX. and Vulgate have “under his war-cloak” (LXX. manduan, Vulg. sagum). The LXX., however, are only adopting a method very common with them—of choosing a Greek or, as in this case, a Persian (Hesych.) word which resembles the Hebrew word (maddim) in sound. The root of the Hebrew word shows that a long flowing robe (vestís talaris) is intended. Dean Stanley suggests that he wore it as leader of the tribe. Prudentius describes Discord as “hiding a dagger under her robe.”
Upon his right thigh.—This would avert all suspicion. Doubtless the war-cloak was flung in folds over the left shoulder, and Eglon, unaware that the bearer of the tribute was left-handed, would see that the side at which arms were usually worn was covered with a flowing robe, and would not suspect the dagger hidden at the right side. Daggers were often, however, worn at the right side, when a sword was slung to the left. Amasa fell by a similar act of treachery. Joab, advancing to kiss him, clasped his beard with his right hand, while with his unsuspected left he gave the deadly thrust (2Samuel 20:9-10).
And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.(17) He brought the present.—Literally,”caused it to come near.” Josephus, in his version of the story, evidently means to insinuate a parallel between the deed of Ehud and that of Harmodius and Aristogiton. He calls Ehud a young man who lived in familiarity with Eglon, and who had won his favour by frequent presents (Antt. v. 4).
A very fat man.—Vulg., Crassus nimis. Such seems to be the undoubted meaning, and the notice is inserted with reference to Judges 3:22. The LXX. render it by the word asteios, a word which may mean either “graceful,” or, as more probably in this place, “ridiculous.”
And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present.(18) The people.—The tribute-bearers, headed by Ehud, would carry their offerings in long and pompous array, according to the fashion of the East, which always aims at making a present seem as large as possible (see Genesis 32:16). “Fifty persons often bear what one man could easily carry” (Chardin, iii. 217).
But he himself turned again from the quarries that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him.(19) But he himself turned again.—The plan of Ehud was deeply laid. He wished (1) to secure his end, which would be more difficult amid the soldiers and attendants who would guard the king during the presentation of the tribute; (2) to avoid endangering his comrades; (3) to provide, if possible, for his own escape. By going away with the deputation of serfs
which he had introduced, he would still more lull suspicion asleep.
From the quarries.—The Hebrew word is pesilîm. The LXX., followed by our margin, render it “graven images;” and the Vulgate, “from Gilgal, where were idols.” (Luther, Götzen.) Such is the meaning of pesîlîm in Deuteronomy 7:5; 2Kings 17:41; Psalm 97:7, &c. The rendering, “stone quarries,” is derived from the Chaldee and Rabbi Jarchi; but it probably means idols of some kind—probably those of Moab. Some explain it of the twelve stones which were taken out of Jordan, and pitched at Gilgal (Joshua 4:2). The LXX. (in some MSS.) make it mean that Eglon returned, but this is clearly a mistake. Gilgal was near Jericho, and when Ehud had accompanied his comrades to some well-known landmark at Gilgal, he returned to Jericho. Josephus says he had “two attendants” with him; but the word “people” in Judges 3:18 implies that many more had accompanied him.
By Gilgal.—Ewald thinks that Gilgal belonged to Ephraim, and that “he went to see if all was safe at this frontier-post.” If the pesîlîm were sacred stones to mark a boundary (cp. Judges 5:26), they would, like the Greek Hermæ, have been condemned by the Jews as idolatrous.
I have a secret errand unto thee, O king.—Something in Ehud’s position and antecedents enabled him to reckon on the king’s credulity. Eglon, aware of discontent among the Israelites, may have supposed that Ehud had some secret to betray. Similarly Darius obtained an interview with the Pseudo-Smerdis, for the purpose of assassinating him, by pretending to have a secret message to him; and, in explaining it to his comrade, says, “When lying is necessary, lie” (Herod, iii. 72). In Josephus’s version of the story, Ehud pretends that he has a dream to narrate.
Who said, Keep silence.—Rather, “And he said, Hush!” (Heb., Hâs.) The narrative is very graphic, but it does not appear whether the “Hush!” was addressed to Ehud, to prevent him from saying any more in the presence of the attendants, or as an intimation to the attendants to retire. They at once understood that the king wished to be left alone.
All that stood by him.—Courtiers always stand in the presence of Eastern kings.
And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.(20) Ehud came unto him.—The previous message had either been spoken at some distance, in a loud voice, or had been merely a message sent to the king by the attendants.
In a summer parlour.—Literally, a parlour of cooling (comp. Amos 3:15). The room is one of the kind known in the East as alijah (Greek, huperōon; Mark 14:15), the coolest part of an Eastern house. Obergemache der Kühlung (De Wette). Sommer-laube (Luther). The expression reminds us that the scene of the incident is placed in the Ghôr—the Jordan valley, which lies nearly a thousand feet below the level of the Mediterranean, and is probably the hottest district in the world. Eglon had retired into this room after the public reception of the present, and Ehud had anticipated this as part of his deeply-laid design.
Which he had for himself alone.—Rather, “in his solitude.” The words merely mean (as in the LXX. and Vulg.) that he was sitting alone.
I have a message from God unto thee.—Josephus makes him say that he had a dream to impart to Eglon, by command of God. The whole narrative implies that Ehud was, to some extent, an honoured person even among the Moabites. Probably he was reckoned as a prophet. In the East sacred claims are readily conceded, even to enemies. The Mohammedans received St. Francis of Assisi with entire respect.
He arose out of his seat.—Probably out of reverence, to receive the Divine message, which would naturally be delivered in low and reverent tones. “He rose from his throne (and came) near him” (LXX.). Josephus says that he “leaped out of his throne for joy of the dream.” Thus Cimber pressed close upon Cæsar (Plut. Cœs. 86), and Cleander upon Parmenio (Curt. 72, 27) (Cassel).
And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:(21) Thrust it into his belly.—This would involve certain, though not necessarily instant death. Josephus says, inaccurately, that he stabbed him to the heart (Antt. v. 4, § 2). The assassination is exactly similar to that of Henry III. of France, by the Dominican monk, Jacques Clement, who had provided himself with a commission from a friend of the king: “On Tuesday, Aug. 1, at 8 a.m.,” says L’Estoile, “he was told that a monk desired to speak with him. The king ordered him to be admitted. The monk entered, having in his sleeve a knife, unsheathed. He made a profound reverence to the king, who had just got up, and had nothing but a dressing-gown on, and presented him despatches from the Comte de Brienne, saying that he had further orders to tell the king privately something of importance. Then the king ordered those who were present to retire, and began reading the letter. The monk, seeing his attention engaged, drew his knife from his sleeve, and drove it right into the king’s small gut, below the navel, so home that he left the knife in the hole.”—Guizot, “Hist. of France,” iii. 479.
And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.(22) The haft also went in after the blade.—The tremendous violence of the blow marks that resoluteness of character which Ehud shows throughout. The Hebrew for “blade” is “flame,” as the LXX. here render it. It is as though the vivid narrator would make us see the flash of the dagger ere it is buried, hilt and all, in the huge body. So in Nahum 3:3 we have, “The horseman lifteth up the flame of the sword and the lightning of the spear.” The only other passage where the word occurs is to describe the polished head of the spear of Goliath (1Samuel 17:7).
So that he could not draw the dagger out.—Thus he had disarmed himself by the force of his own blow; but the original only says, “for he did not draw the dagger out.”
And the dirt came out.—The meaning of this clause is excessively doubtful, because the Hebrew word rendered “dirt” (parsedonah) occurs here and here only. (1) Our E.V. follows the Chaldee and the Vulgate with the alternative rendering (2) “it came out at the fundament” (marg.), which is the view of Gesenius. The Jews were themselves uncertain of the meaning and even in Rabbi Tanchum’s commentary we find that some understood it to mean (3) “he (Ehud) ran out into the gallery.” (4) A fourth guess—that of the Syriac version—is, “he went out hastily.” The LXX. omit it altogether, either because they thought that they were consulting propriety—a tendency which they constantly show—or because they could not rightly explain it. The resemblance of the word parsedonah to the word misderōnah (“porch”), in the next clause, is certainly in favour of its meaning some part of the house. Ewald renders it, “he rushed out into the gallery,” which runs round the roof. He refers to Ezekiel 42:5. To understand it more exactly, we should require to know the structure of the house. Following the analogy of other Eastern houses, as described by Shaw, it seems that Eglon’s alijah was a separate building (domation, Jos.), or part of a building, with one door opening on a balcony, and another on a private staircase and closet (Judges 3:24). It was an inner room, and its outer door communicated with the house.
Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.(23) Then Ehud went forth through the porch.—Rather, into. The word rendered “porch”—misderōnah—is derived from seder (“order”). The Chaldee represents it by a transliteration of the Greek word exedra, “a hall decorated with pillars.” Kimchi supposes it to mean an ante-chamber where people waited to see the king, standing in order; and this seems to be the view of the LXX. (in the Vatican Codex), who render it, “he went out through those set in order” (tous diatetagmenous). If this be the meaning, it can only refer to his walking boldly out through the attendants after he had fastened the doors. But the fact is that the ancient versions were as uncertain of the meaning as ourselves. The Syriac has, “through the xystos” or colonnade; the Arabic, “through the window.”
Shut the doors of the parlour upon him—i.e., upon Eglon.
Locked them.—The LXX. have “wedged them” (esphēnose). The lock was probably of a character similar to that used by all ancient nations, namely, wooden slides which entered into a hole in the doorpost, and were secured by catches cut into it. See Jahn, Archœol. Bibl. 2:6-37.
When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour were locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.(24) Behold, the doors of the parlour were locked.—It never occurred to them to suppose that they could have been fastened from without. “They were not strictly on the watch, both because of the heat and because they had gone to dinner” (Jos.).
Surely he covereth his feet.—They assumed that the king had fastened the door inside for the sake of privacy. The margin correctly explains the phrase “covereth his feet,” following the LXX. in both their readings (apokenoi tous podas B. pros diphrous kathētai. A) and the “Vulgate (purgat alvum), the Chaldee, and the Syriac. Josephus gives the same explanation when alluding to the scene described in 1Samuel 24:4 (Jos., Antt. vi. 13, § 3), though here (Antt. v. 4, § 2) he explains it erroneously of “lying down to sleep.” It is an Eastern euphemism taken from spreading out the garments while relieving the needs of nature (Bochart, Hierozoicon, i. 677).
In his summer chamber.—The word used for “chamber” (cheder) is not the same as in Judges 3:20. It may mean either gynœceum, i.e., “women’s apartments,” or some “retiring place,” as rendered by the Alexandrian Codex of the LXX.
And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.(25) Tarried till they were ashamed.—See 2Kings 2:17; 2Kings 8:11. It is a dangerous matter to intrude on the privacy of an Oriental king.
A key.—Literally, the opener. The ancient key was simply a bar of wood, hooked at the end, which passed through a hole in the door and caught the bolt inside.
Their lord was fallen down dead.—Comp. Judges 4:22.
And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirath.(26) Unto Seirath.—Perhaps, rather, into the bush, or woodland, as the word has the article, and does not occur again. When he had got beyond the frontier post of Gilgal, into the district of Ephraim, he was safe from pursuit.
And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them.(27) He blew a trumpet.—The word for “trumpet” is shophar. The LXX. have “he trumpeted with a horn” (Esalpisen en keratine).
He before them.—He assumed the leadership.
And he said unto them, Follow after me: for the LORD hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over.(28) The Lord hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.—Comp. Judges 7:9-15; 1Samuel 17:47; 1Kings 22:12.
Took the fords of Jordan.—This was a matter of extreme importance. The fords of Jordan were few, and far distant from each other. (Joshua 2:7.) The steep ravine through which it flows forms a natural barrier to Western Palestine, and by securing the fords they cut off from the Moabites all chance of succour. The vehement rapidity of Ehud’s movements had rendered their escape impossible.
Suffered not a man to passover.—Comp. Judges 12:5-6. It was a massacre of vengeance, like the Sicilian Vespers, or the massacre of the English of the Pale in Ireland, or that of the Danes in England on St. Brice’s day.
And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man.(29) At that time.—Apparently in the first surprise of the Moabite forces and garrisons.
All lusty.—Literally, every fat man and every soldier of strength, the word being the same as that used in Judges 3:17 to describe the fatness of Eglon. The choice of the word seems to be dictated by a certain grim sense of humour. “The narrative ends, as it had begun, with its half-humorous allusion to the well-fed carcases of those who, corpulent like their chief, lay dead along the shore of the river.” (Stanley.)
So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.(30) The land.—Meaning, probably, the southern tribes.
Fourscore years.—The LXX. add, “And Ehud judged them till he died.” Josephus (Antt. v. 5, § 1) seems to have read “eight years.”
As to the moral aspect of the assassination committed by Ehud, it is only necessary to say that while his courage, and capacity, and readiness to sacrifice himself, if need be, for the deliverance of his country were thoroughly noble, the act by which he achieved his end was unjustifiable. To quote his example in defence of the principle of assassination is a gross abuse of Scripture. Those who defend the murder do so by assuming that the Divine call to Ehud to deliver his people sanctioned and possibly even suggested the means by which it was accomplished. But such methods of inferential exegesis undermine the very bases of morals. It is not in the least surprising that, when adopted, they are liable to the grossest abuse, and made to cover the most horrible crimes. Thus, when Jacques Clement asked whether a priest might kill a tyrant, he was told that “it was not a mortal sin, but only an irregularity”; and when Pope Paul V. heard of the murder of Henry IV. by Ravaillac, he said, “The God of nations did this, because he was given over to a reprobate mind.” If it has been always true that
“The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose,”
he has done so not rarely by the lips of those who have professed to teach it. “Worse than the dagger,” says Prof. Cassel, “is such doctrine.”
And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.(31) Shamgar.—Mentioned here alone, and alluded to in Judges 5:6.
The son of Anath.—There was a Beth-anath in Naphtali, but Shamgar could hardly have belonged to Northern Israel. We know nothing of Shamgar’s tribe or family, but, as neither his name nor that of his father is Jewish, it has been conjectured that he may have been a Kenite; a conjecture which derives some confirmation from his juxtaposition with Jael in Judges 5:6. Shamgar means “name of a stranger” (comp. Grershom, “a stranger there”). Samgar-Nebo is the name of a Babylonian general (Jeremiah 39:3).
Six hundred men.—It has been most needlessly assumed that he slew them single-handed, and not, as is probable, at the head of a band of peasants armed with the same rude weapons as himself. If he slew 600 with his own hand, the whole number that perished would almost certainly have been added. There is, indeed, no impossibility (even apart from Divine assistance, which is implied though not expressly attributed to him) in the supposition that in a battle which may have lasted for more than one day a single chief may with his own hand have killed this number, for we are told that in a night battle against Moawijah, Ali raised a shout each time he had killed an enemy, and his voice was heard 300 times in one night; and a story closely resembling that of Shamgar is narrated of a Swedish peasant; but the question here is merely one of interpretation, and nothing is more common in Scripture, as in all literature, than to say that a leader personally did what was done under his leadership, e.g., “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1Samuel 18:7).
With an ox goad.—The LXX. (Codex B) and Vulgate have “with a ploughshare;” and the Alexandrian Codex of the LXX. renders it “besides the oxen.” These translations are not tenable. The phrase occurs here alone—bemalmad ha bākār; literally, “with a thing to teach oxen.” There can be little doubt that an ox-goad is meant. In the East they are sometimes formidable implements, eight feet long, pointed with a strong sharp iron head. The use of them—since whips were not used for cattle—is alluded to in 1Samuel 13:21; Acts 9:5. Being disarmed, the Israelites would be unable to find any more effective weapon (Judges 5:6; Judges 5:8). Disarmament was the universal policy of ancient days (1Samuel 13:19); and this reduced the Israelites to the use of inventive skill in very simple weapons (1Samuel 17:40; 1Samuel 17:43). Samson had nothing better than the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:15). Similarly the Thracian king Lycurgus is said to have chased the Bacchanals with an ox-goad (bouplêgi, II. vi. 134), and that in this very neighbourhood (“near Carmel,” Nonnus, Dionys. 20). The Athenians, in their painting of Marathon, in the Pœcile, represented the gigantic rustic, Echetlus, who was supposed to have slain so many of the Persians, with his ploughshare (Pausan. i. 15, § 4). Comp. Hom. Iliad, vi. 134.
He also delivered Israel.—Josephus (Antt. v. 4, § 3), following some Jewish hagadah, says that Shamgar was chosen judge, but died in the first year of his office. This may have been a mere inference, from his being passed over in Judges 4:1. He does not mention his deed of prowess.