June 20, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Stories of Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson

John F. Fink(Twenty-fourth in a series of columns)

After Deborah defeated the army of Sisera, Israel was at peace for 40 years. Then, the Book of Judges says, the Israelites again offended the Lord, who delivered them into the hands of the Midianites for seven years. This time it was Gideon who came to the rescue, and his story is told in Chapters 6-8.

Again, there was peace for 40 years, until Gideon died. And again, after his death, the Israelites abandoned themselves to the god Baal.

Gideon had 70 sons because he had many wives. They lived in Ophrah. He also had a concubine who lived in Shechem. She bore him a son named Abimelech. After Gideon died, Abimelech went to Shechem and convinced them that he, rather than Gideon’s other sons, should rule them. He then went to Ophrah and killed all of his 70 brothers except the youngest, Jotham, who was hidden.

Abimelech ruled over Shechem for three years before God roused its citizens to rebel against him. Chapter 9 tells of the battle, which Abimelech won. But then he tried to conquer a neighboring city where a woman fractured his skull by dropping a millstone on him from a tower. Rather than be killed by a woman, Abimelech asked his armor-bearer to kill him with his sword.

It seems that the Israelites never learned. Again, they abandoned the true God and worshipped the gods of Sidon, Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines. So God allowed them to be oppressed for 18 years before they acknowledged their sins and asked for God’s mercy.

This time it was Jephthah who led the Israelites against the Ammonites, as told in Chapter 11. Before the battle, he made a vow to the Lord that, if he returned in triumph, he would offer as a sacrifice to the Lord whoever came out of the doors of his house to meet him. When he returned, it was his daughter who was the first to do so.

Improbably, Jephthah’s daughter agreed that her father had made a vow. She asked only that she be spared for two months while she “mourned her virginity ” (Jgs 11:37). Then Jephthah killed her.

Five minor judges are mentioned before we get the lengthy story of Samson, told in Chapters 13-16. He is listed as a judge of Israel, but his exploits are purely personal.

Samson is a tragic figure, endowed with great strength but lacking in wisdom, as his affair with Delilah showed. The announcement of his conception, by an angel to his mother, is echoed in Luke’s narrative of the announcement of the conception of John the Baptist, by an angel to his father. Both men are born to a woman who had been sterile, and both men take a Nazarite vow to abstain from wine and strong drink, although Samson doesn’t keep that vow.

Samson also seems to prefigure Solomon to some extent. Both men became involved with foreign women and that led to their downfall. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!