The Period Of The Judges

 Chapter 10

Judgment of God Is Described    [Judges 2.11-19]
   
Scripture

11 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim:
12 And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.
13 And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.
14 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.
15 Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed.
16 Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.
17 And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so.
18 And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.
19 And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.

Commentary

Israel missed the opportunity to be a Witness for Jehovah. The nations in Canaan were in terrible bondage to ignorance, idolatry, and immorality, and they desperately needed to know the true God of Israel. But instead of giving illumination [1](Isa. 49:6 ), the Jews stooped to imitation and joined their neighbors in their sins. What an opportunity Israel missed, and what a price they paid!

In their relationship with God and their neighbors, the next generation of Israeites failed. Are we also failing in these ways today?

11 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim:

We have within this passage a preview of the entire period of the Judges. Here we can trace the fourfold cycle which characterized that time:
• Sin (vv. 11–13)
• Servitude (vv. 14, 15)
• Supplication (not stated here, but see 3:9; 3:15; 4:3; etc.)
• Salvation (vv. 16–18)
This pattern of behavior has also been described as:
• Rebellion
• Retribution
• Repentance
• Rest

This synopsis of Judges, as Jensen points out, brings into focus the two divergent truths evident throughout the book:
1. The desperate wickedness of the human heart, revealing its ingratitude, stubbornness, rebellion, and foolishness;
2. God’s longsuffering, patience, love and mercy.
No book in the Bible brings these two truths into sharper contrast—the utter failure of Israel and the persistent grace of Jehovah.

The statement that they served Baalim indicates that they worshiped localized Baal deities. Baal was a fertility god. He was looked upon as the chief vegetation god of the Canaanites and was thought to bring productivity to crops, animals, and men. He was also associated with the occurrences of weather and was usually depicted in Canaanite carvings as holding a lightning bolt in his hand. Thus, he is also called the “god of fire,” indicating the significance of Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal (see I Kgs. 18). The Hebrew word ba˓al means “master,” or “lord.” When the Israelites settled in Canaan, they soon discovered the local Baal deities were looked upon as the individual lords of the land. Thus, by worshiping him they were forsaking the lordship of their God for the lordship of Baal! The text also refers to their serving other gods … of the people among whom they lived. As they forsook the Lord, they … served Baal and Ashtaroth. These were multi-breasted female fertility deities, whose worship often included bizarre sexual practices. The Babylonian form of this deity was Ishtar, and the Roman form was Easter (whose fertility signs, interestingly, were a rabbit and an egg). They made these false gods supernatural rulers or governors, each having his peculiar district and office; but when they wished to express a particular Baal, they generally added some particular epithet, such as Baal-zephon, Baal-peor, Baal-zehub, Baal-shamayim. The two former were adored by the Moabites; Baal-zebub by the Ekronites. Baal-berith was honored at Shechem; and Baal-shamayim, the lord or ruler of the heavens, was adored among the Phoenicians, Syrians, Chaldeans, etc. And whenever the word baal is used without adding a tag, it probably meant the sun, among all these people. The author (ultimately, the Holy Spirit), gives us a general idea of the series of events in Israel during the time of the judges; four events that were repeated over-and-over in the same order.
 
12 And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.
13 And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.

The people of Israel forsook the God of Israel, and gave that worship and honor, which was due to Him alone, to the dunghill deities of the Canaanites. “Be astonished, O heavens! at this, and wonder, O earth! Hath a nation, such a nation, so well fed, so well taught, changed its God, such a God, a God of infinite power, unspotted purity, inexhaustible goodness, and so very jealous of a competitor, for stocks and stones that could do neither good nor evil?” (Jer. 2:11, 12). Never was there such an instance of foolishness, ingratitude, and disloyalty. Observe how it is described in verses 11–13. In general, they did evil; nothing could be more evil, that is, more provoking to God, or more prejudicial to themselves, and after all it was done in the sight of the Lord; all evil is exposed to him, but he takes special notice of the sin of having any other god. In particular:

a) They forsook the Lord (v. 12, and again v. 13); this was one of the two great evils they were guilty of [2](Jer. 2:13 ). They had been joined to the Lord in covenant, but now they forsook him, like a wife treacherously leaves her husband. “They forsook the worship of the Lord,” however, those that forsake the worship of God, do to all intents and purposes forsake God himself. It aggravated them that he was the God of their fathers, and that they were born in his house, and therefore bound to serve him; and that he brought them out of the land of Egypt, he loosed their bonds, and upon that account they also were obliged to serve him. This was one of the greatest aggravations caused by their evil doing (they forsook the Lord); they forsook the God who brought them out of Egypt; a place where they endured the most severe oppression and were subjected to the most degrading servitude, from which they never could have rescued themselves. They were set free by such an awesome display of the power, justice, and mercy of God, that it should never have been forgotten, because it was the most stupendous event that had ever occurred. They forsook HIM, and served idols that were as destitute of real life as they were of influence and power.

b) When they forsook the only true God they did not turn into atheists, and they were not so foolish as to say, There is no God; but they followed other gods. They were a religious people, with a religious history; so much so that there remained within them the desire to have a God. Israel had the honor of being a peculiar people who were dignified above all others, and yet they ignored their privileges and special standing with the Great God, who created them and loved them and would eventually die for them. Instead, they were fond of the gods of the people that were round about them. Baal and Ashtaroth, he-gods and she-gods; they made their courtyards a shrine to honor the sun and moon, Jupiter, Juno, Baalim, and Ashtaroth. They forsook Jehovah, who is true God, and replaced Him with many Gods. Whatever they took for their gods, they served them and bowed down to them, gave honour to them and begged favors from them. In time they forgot God’s word—when you forget the word of God, you are in danger of forsaking the God of the Word, which explains why Israel turned to the vile and vicious worship of Baal.

Served Baal and Ashtaroth. Ashtaroth is a plural word for Ashtoreth, the Phoenician goddess (the Astarte of the Greeks), which were worshipped as idols during times of spiritual decline in Israel. [3]Jude 10:6; [4]1Sa 7:3, 4; [5]1Sa 12:10; [6]1Sa 31:10; [7]1Ki 11:5, 33; [8]2Ki 23:13.  Jeremiah [9](Jer. 44:18, 19 ) refers to Ashtoreth as the "queen of heaven." In a general way, probably, Baal and Ashtaroth mean the sun and moon; but in many cases Ashtaroth seems to have been the same among the Canaanites as Venus was among the Greeks and Romans, and to have been worshipped with the same obscene rites. The term is also used to represent all the female divinities, whose rites were celebrated by the most gross and revolting acts.

14 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.
15 Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed.

The God of Israel was provoked to anger, and delivered Israel into the hand of their enemies. He was disgusted with them, for He is a jealous God and true to the honor of his own name. God loved them and scriptures bear out that those that He loves, He will also chastise. He punished them for their apostasy by giving them to their tormentors whom they yielded to like slaves to their masters. From such a low point, they made themselves as wretched and miserable by forsaking God as they would have been great and happy if they had continued faithful to Him. After they forsook God, whenever they took the sword in hand and went to do battle they were as sure to be beaten as they had been sure to conquer. Formerly their enemies could not stand before them, since wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was with them; and then, when they began to cool in their religion, God ceased to favor them; He stopped the progress of their successes, and would not drive out their enemies any more (v. 3); He only allowed them to keep their ground. But now, when they had become heavily involved in idolatry, which was regarded as a breach of the covenant with the God of Israel, the war turned directly against them, and they could not any longer stand before their enemies. God would rather give the success to those that had never known Him or possessed Him than to give it to those that had done both, but had now deserted him. Wherever they went, it might have looked like God himself had turned on them to become their enemy, and even fought against them, [10](Isa. 63:10 ). It was then that the balance of power turned against them. Any enemy might destroy them, any nation might oppress them. God gave them into the hands of their enemies; not only did He delivered them up without restraint, but He did it for a good reason, that He might be honored as a jealous God, who would not spare even his own peculiar people when they provoked him. Since their worship of Yahweh was the unifying factor among the Israelite tribes, the apostasy into Baal worship also tended to decentralize the strength of the nation. Their neglect of the covenant which bound them to the Lord, and also bound them together, caused them to present a divided front to their enemy invaders.

The hands of spoilers. The anger of the Lord was severely against Israel; therefore, He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them; probably marauding parties of the Canaanites, making frequent incursions into their lands, carrying away cattle, ruining their crops, etc. These and other adversities befell them in close and rapid succession. But all these calamities were designed only as chastisements—a means of correctional discipline by which God brought His people to see and repent of their errors; for as they returned to faith and allegiance. He "raised up judges."
The lesson here may be…“THOSE THAT HAVE FOUND GOD TO BE TRUE TO HIS PROMISES MAY THEN INFER THAT HE WILL BE AS TRUE TO HIS THREATENINGS.”

16 Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.
17 And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so.
18 And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.

The God of infinite mercy saw their distress and took pity on them. Even though they had brought their troubles upon themselves by their own sin and recklessness, He brought them deliverance by the judges He elevated. Nevertheless, despite the fact that their trouble was the punishment for their sin and the accomplishment of God’s word, yet they were eventually saved out of their trouble. Notice the following:

1. The inducement for their deliverance. It came purely from God’s pity and tender compassion, and the reason for it came from within Him. It is not the case that they repented because of their iniquities (for it appears from verse 17, that many of them continued the same behavior). But, It repented the Lord because of their groanings; but it is not so much from the burden of sin as it is from the burden of hardship and trouble that they are said to groan. It is true that they deserved to perish, and yet, He does not stir up his entire wrath, because He feels sorry for them. Justice says that He might have abandoned them, but, out of pity he could not do it.
2. The instruments of their deliverance. God did not send angels from heaven to rescue them, nor did He bring in any foreign power to help them. What He did was this: He raised up judges from among the people, as they were needed, men to whom God gave extraordinary qualifications to perform that special service for which they were designed, which was to reform and deliver Israel. They made great attempts to save Israel which God crowned with wonderful success: The Lord was with the judges when he raised them up, and so they became saviors. Observe:

1. At those times when the church is experiencing the greatest corruption and distress there will be some whom God will put together to deal with its grievances and set things right.
2. God must be given credit for developing useful men for public service. He endues men with wisdom and courage, and gives them hearts to act with courage. All that are in any way looked upon as being a blessing to their country must be looked upon as the gifts from God.
3. Those whom God calls He will own, and give them His presence and those whom he raises up he will be with.
4. The judges of a land are its saviors.

The Lord raised up judges. That is, leaders, generals, and governors, raised up by the Lord for a special mission; to deliver Israel, and take vengeance on, their adversaries.

Which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. The judges who governed Israel were strictly God's agents, and He was the supreme ruler. Those who were elevated to this position retained the dignity of their office for as long as they lived; but there was no regular, unbroken succession of judges. Individuals, prompted by the inward, irresistible impulse of God's Spirit when they witnessed the depressed state of their country, were roused to achieve its deliverance. It was usually accompanied by a special call, and the people seeing them endowed with extraordinary courage or strength, accepted them as delegates from Heaven, and submitted to their influence. Frequently they were appointed only for a particular locality, and their authority extended no farther than over the people whose interests they were commissioned to protect. They were without pomp, great wealth, or the entourage usually attached to the office. They had no power to make laws; for these were given by God; nor to explain them, for that was the province of the priests -- but they were officially upholders of the law, defenders of religion, avengers of all crimes, particularly of idolatry and its attendant vices.

Went a whoring after other gods. Idolatry, or the worship of false gods, is frequently termed spiritual adultery, fornication, and whoredom, in the sacred writings. Since many of their idolatrous practices were accompanied with impure rites, the term “whoring” was not only figuratively but literally proper. 

The cycle of apostasy, repentance, re-apostasy which is the theme for the historical narrative that is Judges is explained here by way of introduction. After deliverance by a particular judge, the people would not hearken unto their leadership, but would return to whoring after other gods, indicating that apostasy was looked upon as a form of spiritual adultery and infidelity. Sadly, we are told they turned quickly out of the way of the Lord and the leadership of the judge.

The degenerate Israelites were not thoroughly reformed by their judges.
1. Even while their judges were with them, and active in the work of reformation, there were those that would not hearken to their judges, but at that very time went a whoring after other gods. They had been espoused to God, but broke the marriage-covenant, and went a whoring after these gods. Idolatry is spiritual adultery, so vile, and hideous, and deceitful. It is a thing that is so addictive that it is very hard to reclaim those that are addicted to it.
2. Those that were alive during the times of reformation began to return to the true God, and yet they turned quickly out of the way again, and became as bad as ever. The way they turned out of was that way which their godly ancestors walked in, and also the way they were taught in their youth. You might say that they set out under the influence both of their fathers’ good example and of their own good education. The wicked children of godly parents still do so, and will therefore have a great deal to answer for.

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Article 2.2: Pagan Gods

GODS, PAGAN — the false gods and idols worshiped by people during Bible times—especially the false gods of Egypt, Mesopotamia (Assyria and Babylon), Canaan, Greece, and Rome.

Religion has always played an important part in civilization; in the ancient world it was a powerful force. The pagan civilizations of Bible times worshiped many gods. They had male and female deities, high and low gods, assemblies of gods, priests and priestesses, and temples and sacrifices. All the forces of nature that could not be controlled or understood were considered supernatural powers to be worshiped and feared.

Our knowledge of the pagan gods of the ancient world comes from the religious literature, idols, and other objects discovered by archaeologists. We have also learned from the meanings of names found in the literature from this period. People in Bible times were often named with sentences and phrases; sometimes they used the name of their favorite god in the compound name. Thus, names very often reflected popular religion. Most of the people of the ancient world were polytheistic; they worshiped more than one god.

The people worshiped these gods in the form of representative idols. This practice is called idolatry. The nation of Israel, however, was forbidden to make graven images of the one true and living God whom they worshiped (Ex. 20:3–6; Deut. 5:7–10). The pagan nations made statues or images to represent the powers they worshiped. Most of these idols were in the form of animals or human beings. But sometimes the idols represented celestial powers, like the sun, moon, and stars; forces of nature, like the sea and the rain; or life forces, like death and truth.

Belief in false gods was characterized by superstition and magic. The people believed that what happened to their gods would also happen to them. Puzzled by the workings of nature, they assigned the causes of various natural happenings to their gods. Rain was absolutely essential to life in agricultural societies. If it rained, they believed this was caused by a rain god. If it did not rain, they thought this was because that god had not sent the rain. They prayed and sacrificed to the god to send it.

In time an elaborate system of beliefs in such natural forces was developed into mythology. Each civilization and culture had its own mythological structure, but the structures were often quite similar. The names of the gods may have been different, but their functions and actions were often the same. The most prominent myth to cross cultural lines was that of the fertility cycle. Many pagan cultures believed that the god of fertility died each year during the winter but was reborn each year in the spring. The details differed among cultures, but the main idea was the same.

According to the Old Testament, God is a jealous God who permits no rivals: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3; Deut. 5:7). God’s will is all-powerful, and people must submit to it. He reveals Himself when He pleases and to whom He pleases, demanding that we obey His revelation. Nevertheless, the Hebrew people sometimes gave in to temptation and worshiped pagan gods from the surrounding cultures.

The many pagan gods that served as a temptation to the Hebrew people may be conveniently grouped into four distinct types: the false gods of (1) Mesopotamia (Assyria and Babylon), (2) Egypt, (3) Canaan, and (4) Greece and Rome.

The Pagan Gods of Mesopotamia. The biblical references to pagan gods begin with the statement that Terah, Abraham, and Nahor, when they dwelt on the other side of the River (that is, the Euphrates in Mesopotamia), “served other gods” (Josh. 24:2). Ancient Mesopotamia covered the region that is roughly equivalent geographically to present-day Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

The prominent gods in Mesopotamia were those over heaven, air, and earth, personified by Anu, Enlil, and Enki (Ea). Another group was made up of those that controlled the heavenly bodies: the sun, the moon, and the planet Venus (the “morning star”). In fact, Ur, the city from which Abraham came, was the center for worship of the moon god SIN. As Mesopotamian religion developed, each god had his or her own star, and the worship of the stars became popular with the development of ASTROLOGY. Many of the astrological texts and charts of the ancient Babylonians read like modern horoscopes.

The worship of the sun, moon, and stars eventually spread across the entire ancient world. The Egyptians, Canaanites, and Phoenicians all incorporated features of this form of worship. Place names in pre-Israelite Canaan reflect the practice. Beth Shemesh (Josh. 15:10) means house of the sun [god]. Jericho (Num. 22:1) probably means moon city. Joshua’s miracle of the sun and the moon standing still takes on greater significance in light of this fact. It was a demonstration of the sovereign power of the Lord God of Israel over the pagan gods identified as the sun and the moon, worshiped in pagan cities (Josh. 10:12–13).
Another god of ancient Mesopotamia was Adad, who represented the storm—either the beneficial rains for the crops or the destructive storms with hurricanes. Identical with Adad, or Hadad, was Rimmon or Ramman, the Assyrian god of rain and storm, thunder and lightning. The two names, Hadad and Rimmon, were combined in one name, Hadad Rimmon, in one Old Testament reference (Zech. 12:11). In the Old Testament Rimmon was an Aramean (Syrian) god who had a temple at Damascus. Naaman and his royal master worshiped this pagan god (2 Kin. 5:18).

The ancient Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar symbolized Mother Earth in the natural cycles of fertility on earth. Ishtar was the daughter of sin, the moon god. She was the goddess of love, so the practice of ritual prostitution became widespread in the fertility cult dedicated to her name. Temples to Ishtar had many priestesses, or sacred prostitutes, who symbolically acted out the fertility rites of the cycle of nature. Ishtar has been identified with the Phoenician Astarte, the Semitic Ashtoreth, and the Sumerian Inanna. Strong similarities also exist between Ishtar and the Egyptian Isis, the Greek Aphrodite, and the Roman Venus.
Associated with Ishtar was the young god Tammuz (Ezek. 8:14), considered both divine and mortal. In Babylonian mythology Tammuz died annually and was reborn year after year, representing the yearly cycle of the seasons and the crops. This pagan belief later was identified with the pagan gods Baal and Anat in Canaan.

Another kind of god in both Babylonia and Assyria was a national god connected with politics. In Assyria it was Ashur, and in Babylonia it was Marduk, who became prominent at the time of HAMMURAPI (1792–1750 B.C.). The ancient ideas about the ordering and governing of the universe were taken over by these two gods. Marduk, for example, achieved his prominence by victory over Tiamat, goddess of the ocean. This cosmic conflict, described also in ancient Sumerian and Canaanite myths, was believed to have established order.

In contrast, the Bible makes it clear that the forces of nature are not pagan gods that war with one another annually to bring about an established order of the universe. They are part of the Lord’s creation (Genesis 1).

The Babylonian god Bel (Is. 46:1; Jer. 50:2; 51:44) is the same as Marduk, the chief Babylonian god. The Babylonian god Merodach (Jer. 50:2), an alternate spelling of Marduk, was the god of war and the patron deity of the city of Babylon.

Nebo (Is. 46:1) was the Babylonian god of education, literature, writing, wisdom, the arts, and sciences. The special seat of his worship was at Borsippa, near Babylon. The Akkadian form of his name is Nabu.

Nisroch (2 Kin. 19:37; Is. 37:38) was an Assyrian god with a temple in Nineveh. The idol representing this pagan god had a human form with an eagle’s head.

Sikkuth (Amos 5:26; Sakkuth, NRSV) was a name given by the Babylonians to the planet Saturn.

Succoth Benoth (2 Kin. 17:30) was a Babylonian goddess, identified by some scholars with Zarpanitum, the mistress of Marduk. Other scholars believe this god is a designation of Marduk himself as Sakkut Binuti, the supreme judge of the world.

When SHALMANESER, king of Assyria, deported the inhabitants of Samaria to far-flung regions of his empire, he also imported into Samaria settlers from afar to colonize it. These people brought their religions and their pagan gods with them. Among the gods were: Adram-melech (2 Kin. 17:31), an idol of the Sepharvites worshiped by child sacrifice; Anammelech (2 Kin. 17:31), another god revered by the Sepharvites; Ashima (2 Kin. 17:30), an idol worshiped by the people of Hamath; Nergal (2 Kin. 17:30), the war god of the men of Cuth; Nibhaz (2 Kin. 17:31), an idol of the Avvites; and Tartak (2 Kin. 17:31), an idol also worshiped by the Avvites.

The Pagan Gods of Egypt. The gods of Egypt were a constant threat to the Israelites, both during their years in bondage and afterwards. Their deliverance from Egypt was described by the Bible as a great spiritual victory, with the sovereign Lord of Israel defeating the gods of the Egyptians (Ex. 18:11; 2 Sam. 7:23).

Egyptian religion reflected the same pagan ideas that were popular in the ancient world, but with different figures. Horus was the god of Egypt’s western delta; he was a human figure with a falcon’s head. Hathor, the corresponding goddess, had a cow’s body and a woman’s head. The god Set had a man’s body and an animal’s head. Anubis had a man’s body and the head of an ibis. Besides gods that were composite with animal forms and human forms, some Egyptian gods were portrayed as completely human. For instance, Min symbolized fertility. The name of Amun, the famous god of Thebes, was often combined with that of Ra (see below).

In ancient Egyptian religion Osiris was the god of the lower world and judge of the dead. He was the brother and husband of Isis and father (or brother) of Horus. Osiris was killed by Set, who was jealous of his power, Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility, persuaded the gods to bring back Osiris, her dead husband. The myth is therefore an ancient vegetation cycle.

Egypt also had cosmic deities. The Egyptians envisioned the earth as in the shape of a dish with their fertile region (Egypt) in the center. The Nile River flowed from under the earth, bringing fertility to the land. These elements of nature were personified as gods. Geb, earth, was portrayed as a god lying down. Nut, heaven, was a goddess who arched her body across from mountain to mountain. Shu, the air, stood erect, holding up the sky.

The Egyptians also worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. Ra (also Re), the sun god, was the supreme deity of the ancient Egyptians. He was represented as a man with the head of a hawk or a falcon, crowned with a solar disk and the figure of the sacred asp or cobra. Ra appears in the Old Testament in the name of Joseph’s father-in-law, Poti-Pherah (Gen. 41:45, 50; 46:20), priest of On, a city called Heliopolis (“city of the sun”) by the Greeks—the principal seat of the worship of the sun. When Ra is absent, Thoth, the moon, is prominent. But the moon is definitely inferior to the sun.

The Egyptians had many other pagan gods. Notable among them was Maat, representing the abstract idea of truth, and Bes, a grotesque god who watched over childbirth. The worship of all the gods also involved magic and superstition. The purpose of these gods apparently was to explain the cycle and forces of life and to insure stability and fertility.

Amun, one of the principal gods of the Egyptians, may have been one of the false gods worshiped by the Israelites—a practice condemned by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 46:25, 26).

The great PLAGUES OF EGYPT before the EXODUS (Ex. 7:14–12:30) struck at the heart of Egypt’s religion. Their fertile land was struck with plagues; their sacred river was turned to blood; their glorious sun was darkened; and even the son of the “divine” pharaoh was killed. The wonders that God brought against Egypt clearly demonstrated that their gods were powerless before the true and living God of Israel.

The Pagan Gods of Canaan. The pagan peoples who inhabited the land of Canaan before the Israelites arrived also worshiped many gods and goddesses. The Canaanite literature discovered at RAS SHAMRA (on the site of the ancient city of Ugarit) on the Syrian coast provides abundant information about several gods mentioned in the Bible.

The Canaanite god most often referred to is Baal, which means “lord” or “master.” The word could be used as a title for any person who owned something, or any god considered to be a lord or master. But the word Baal soon became identified with various regional gods that were thought to provide fertility for crops and livestock. As a god who symbolized the productive forces of nature, Baal was worshiped with much sensuality (Num. 22:41; Judg. 2:13; 1 Kin. 16:31–32).

Baal appeared in many forms and under many different names. The Bible often makes reference to the Baalim (the plural of Baal, KJV) or to the Baals (NKJV; Judg. 2:11; 1 Kin. 18:18; Jer. 2:23).

The word Baal was often used in forming names, such as Baal of Peor (Deut. 4:3; Baal-peor, KJV). Peor was the name of a mountain in Moab. Baal of Peor was an idol of Moab (probably to be identified with Chemosh) that Israel was enticed to worship with immoral practices. In several passages the idol is simply called Peor (Num. 25:18; Josh. 22:17).

Baal-Berith, which means “lord of the covenant,” is a name under which Baal was worshiped in the time of the judges at Shechem, where he had a temple. In Judges 9:46 he is called simply the god Berith (El-Berith, NIV).

Baal-Zebub, which means “lord of the fly,” was “the god of Ekron” (2 Kin. 1:2–3, 6, 16)—the name under which Baal was worshiped at the Philistine city of Ekron. The name is probably a deliberate and scornful scribal corruption of Baal-Zebul, “lord prince,” another name for the Canaanite god Baal (see below). In the New Testament, reference is made to Beelzebub, a heathen god considered the chief evil spirit by the Jewish people (Matt. 10:25; 12:27; Luke 11:18–19). The Pharisees called him “the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15), and Jesus identified him with Satan.

This word Baal was also used in personal names, but when the worship of Baal became a problem in Israel, Baal was replaced by Bosheth, which means “shame” (probably because it was shameful to have the name of a pagan god as part of one’s name and because Baal was a shameful god; Jer. 11:13). For instance, Merib-Baal (1 Chr. 8:34; 9:40), the name of the son of Jonathan, became Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9:6–13), and Esh-Baal (1 Chr. 9:39) became Ishbosheth (2 Sam. 2:8).

The Canaanite god Baal was known as Baal Zebul (“lord prince”) and Aliyan Baal (“strong lord”), as well as by a number of other titles. Baal was considered the god who brought rain and fertility (especially good harvests and animal reproduction). In a number of passages in Canaanite literature he is identified as Hadad, another god believed to bring the rains, storms, and fertility. Hadad is the god Adad of Assyria.

Archaeologists have discovered rock carvings of Baal holding a club in his right hand and a lightning flash with a spearhead in his left. These identify him as the god of rain and storm. Baal is also known as the “rider of the clouds,” a term showing his power over the heavens. Psalm 68:4, “Extol Him who rides on the clouds,” gives this title to the God of Israel—a declaration that the Lord, and not the false god Baal, is ruler over the heavens.

Baal and related deities are also portrayed as a mating bull, symbolizing fertility. It is no surprise that while Moses was on Mount Sinai, receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord, the disobedient Israelites fashioned a golden calf to worship (Ex. 32). Jeroboam I, king of Israel, acted in accordance with this pagan idea by making two calves of gold, setting up one at Bethel and the other at Dan (1 Kin. 12:26–30).

During the history of the Israelites, a rivalry developed between Baalism and the true worship of the Lord (Jer. 23:27). Perhaps the best example of this rivalry was the conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Elijah’s challenge to them to bring down fire from heaven was appropriate, because the Canaanites believed that Baal could shoot lightning flashes from the sky. Elijah’s mocking of Baal struck at the heart of their claims; he knew that Baal was powerless, that the prophets of Baal had misled the people, and that only the Lord God of Israel was alive and able to answer. In the struggle to the death between true religion and false religion, Elijah knew that Baalism and its prophets had to be destroyed.

In Canaanite mythological texts Baal is sometimes called the son of Dagon. Dagon (Judg. 16:23; 1 Sam. 5:2–7; 1 Chr. 10:10) was the chief god of the ancient Philistines, a grain and fertility god whose most famous temples were at Gaza and Ashdod. Dagon continued to be worshiped by the Canaanites up to the time of Christ. In the APOCRYPHA mention is made of a temple of Dagon at Azotus in 147 B.C. (1 Macc. 10:83–84). Azotus was a later name for Ashdod, one of the five chief Philistine cities.
Like the myths of so many pagan religions, Canaanite stories claim that Baal came to prominence by defeating other gods. One of Baal’s enemies was the sea monster known as Lotan. The Old Testament references to Leviathan (Job 3:8; 41:1; Ps. 104:26; Is. 27:1) correspond to this word. But in the Bible Leviathan is simply a powerful creature in the sea that people cannot control, and not like Lotan—a pagan god in the form of a twisting serpent.

Baal’s mistress or lover was Anat (or Anath), the goddess of war, love, and fertility. She was the virgin goddess who conceives and was also the victor over Baal’s enemies. With the help of Shapash, the sun god, Anat rescued Baal from Mot (the god of death). Her victories in battle were vicious; she is described as up to her hips in gore with heads and hands from the enemies stacked high. Thus, Anat was the driving force in the annual fertility cycle of Baal.

Anat is sometimes identified with the “queen of heaven,” to whom the Jews offered incense in Jeremiah’s day (Jer. 7:18; 44:17–19, 25). But some scholars identify the “queen of heaven” with the Assyro-Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Anat was the patroness of sex and passion; lewd figurines of this nude goddess have been discovered at various archaeological sites in Palestine.

The goddess Asherah (1 Kin. 15:13; 2 Chr. 15:16; Asherahs, Judg. 3:7) was portrayed as the wife of El (or sometimes Baal) in Canaanite mythology. Asherah was a favorite deity of women. Some of the wives of David and Solomon worshiped her (1 Kin. 15:13), as Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, also probably did (1 Kin. 16:31–33). King Asa suppressed the worship of Asherah (1 Kin. 15:13), and King Josiah destroyed “the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven” (2 Kin. 23:4). Recently discovered inscriptions at Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Kom seem to indicate that the goddess Asherah was sometimes worshiped as if she were the wife of the Lord Himself—a pagan abomination of the worst possible sort.

The word asherah also refers to a wooden pole, or cult pillar, that stood at Canaanite places of worship—perhaps the trunk of a tree with the branches chopped off—and associated with the worship of the goddess Asherah.

Other pagan gods in addition to Baal and his companions were worshiped by the Canaanites. Molech was the national deity of the Ammonites (Lev. 18:21; Jer. 32:35), whose worship was accompanied by the burning of children offered as a sacrifice by their own parents. The god Molech also appears in the Old Testament as Milcom (2 Kin. 23:13; Zeph. 1:5; Malcham, KJV) and in the New Testament as Moloch (Acts 7:43).

Chemosh (Judg. 11:24; 2 King. 23:13) was the national god of the Moabites. This deity was apparently compounded with Athtar, the Venus star, and so is thought to be a pagan god associated with the heavenly bodies. Chemosh has been identified with Baal of Peor, Baal-Zebub, Mars, and Saturn, as the star of ill-omen. Dibon (Num. 21:30), a town in Moab north of the River Arnon, was the chief seat of its worship.

Like Molech, Chemosh was worshiped by the sacrifice of children as burnt offerings, but scholars believe it is incorrect to identify Chemosh directly with Molech. Solomon sanctified Chemosh as a part of his tolerance of pagan gods (1 Kin. 11:7), but Josiah abolished its worship (2 Kin. 23:13). Human sacrifice was made to Chemosh, according to 2 Kings 3:27, which reports that Mesha, king of Moab, offered his oldest son as a burnt offering on the wall of Kir Hareseth, the ancient capital of Moab.

Ashtoreth (1 Kin 11:5, 33; 2 Kin. 23:13) was the ancient Syrian and Phoenician goddess of the moon, sexuality, sensual love, and fertility. In the Old Testament Ashtoreth is often associated with the worship of Baal. The KJV word Ashtaroth is the plural form of Ashtoreth; the NKJV has Ashtoreths (Judg. 2:13; 1 Sam. 12:10; also see Ishtar above).

Remphan (Acts 7:43; Rephan, NRSV, NIV, REB; Rompha, NASB) was an idol worshiped by Israel in the wilderness. This may be the same pagan god as Chiun (Amos 5:26; Kiyyun, NASB; Kaiwan your star-god, NRSV), or Saturn.

Nehushtan, literally “bronze serpent-idol,” was the contemptuous name given by King Hezekiah to the bronze serpent made by Moses in the wilderness (Num. 21:8–9), when people began to worship it (2 Kin. 18:4).

Gad (Is. 65:11; Fortune, NRSV, NIV, NASB; Fate, REB) was a heathen deity worshiped along with Meni (Is. 65:11; Destiny, NRSV, NIV, NASB; Fortune, REB). Scholars are uncertain about the exact identity of these pagan gods.

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The Lord was with the judge. God himself was king, and the judge was his representative.

It repented the Lord. He changed his purpose for them: he was intent on destroying them because of their sin; but they repented and turned to Him, and out of love...

He changed His purpose. The purpose was to destroy them if they did not repent; when they did repent, His not destroying them was quite consistent with His purpose. God is seen throughout the OT as free to change His effective direction in response to human need. 

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Article 2.3: The Judges

The judges were tribesmen in Israel upon whom the Lord laid the burden of Israel's apostate and oppressed state. They were the spiritual ancestors of the prophets; that is to say, men raised up by God, the theocratic King, to represent Him in the nation. They were patriots and religious reformers because national security and prosperity were inseparably connected with loyalty and obedience to Jehovah. Not one of the chosen deliverers had anything to glory about in the flesh. The Judges: Othniel was the son of the younger brother of Caleb; Ehud was a left-handed man and an assassin; Shamgar, a rustic with an ox-goad; Deborah, a woman; Gideon, from an obscure family in the smallest tribe, etc. Each of the classes mentioned in [11]1Co 1:27, 28  is illustrated among the judges.

When the people repented and turned again to the Lord, He raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of their enemies and led them back to faithfulness to the Law and to their covenant with the Lord. The Hebrew word for “judge” is shopet, meaning “ruler,”, and is the source of the noun mishpat, meaning “judgment” or “justice.” The basic concept of the word has to do with a verdict given by a judge and is descriptive of every phase of the judge’s work. Therefore, the noun mishpat means the judgment given by the shopet and, thus, may indicate justice, ordinance, or law (torah) given by God Himself, since Yahweh is the God of mishpat (Gen 18:25 ). Real judgment and justice cannot be separated from Him who is the basis of all ethical righteousness. Thus, to the Hebrew mind God’s justice (mishpat) was not a mere idea, but an activated principle in time and history. It was manifested in real and observable events because the real God acted with vindicating righteousness upon His people. When Israel repented and sought the Lord, He raised up “judges” to accomplish His act of deliverance for Israel. Thus, the English title “judge” may often be misleading since it conveys the idea of acting mainly in the legal realm of arbitrating.
Actually, the noun shopet is not used to describe the men themselves, though the verb “judged” is used for describing the action of Othniel, “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” (3:10); Deborah, “And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.” (4:4); Tola, “And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir” (10:2); Jair, “And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years” (10:3); Jephthah, “And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead” (12:7); Ibzan, “And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel” (12:8); Elon, “And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years” (12:11); Abdon, “And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel”  (12:13); and Samson, “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (15:20). Their main duty was the act of “judging” by which they delivered Israel from oppression. As Cundall, in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (p. 15), has shown, the actual “Judge” in Israel was the Lord Himself; for He only is called the shopet! The individual judges were called by divine appointment and brought to prominence in the role of a deliverer through whom God administered His justice by empowerment with His Spirit, “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” (3:10). Perhaps later they settled as civil leaders as well, since the years of each one’s “judgeship” are recorded after the initial deliverance of the people from oppression.

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This plainly points at the deliverances God wrought for Israel through the judges, by saving them out of the hands of those to whom He had sold them because of their sins, and how his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel (Jdg. 10:16), and this when they were reduced to the last extremity. God helped them when they could not help themselves; for there was none shut up or left; that is, none that dwelt either in cities or walled towns, in which they were shut up, nor any that dwelt in scattered houses in the country, in which they were left at a distance from neighbours. Note; God’s time to appear for the deliverance of his people is when things are at the worst with them. God tries his people’s faith, and stirs up prayer, by letting things go to the worst, and then magnifies his own power, and fills the faces of his enemies with shame and the hearts of His people with such great joy, by rescuing them out of extremity as brands out of the burning.

Verse 18 indicates that the Lord was with them throughout the period of the judge’s leadership and “He delivered them out of the hand of their enemies.” The Lord enabled the Judges to lead the people of Israel victoriously against their foes. Both the victories and the defeats recorded in the book of the Judges are interpreted as acts of God.

The statement that it repented the LORD because of their cry unto Him as a result of the subsequent oppression does not mean that God changed His mind about the need for allowing the oppression, but rather that He felt “sorrow” or “grief” for their agony. In other words, the author is merely indicating that God was not pleased with having to discipline His people in such a way, but that it was necessary lest they continue in greater sinfulness. Since God’s covenant with Israel was conceived of in the terms of a marriage, spiritual adultery was all the more serious. It was an attempt on the part of Israel to break her vows to Yahweh, her spiritual husband.

The judges ruled Israel during a transitional period that led up to the establishment of a monarchy that began with King Saul. But history shows that the ministry of the Judges had no lasting effect on Israel. However, a strong Judge could influence the people for God during his lifetime.

19 And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.

When the judge was dead. It appears that in general the office of the judge was for life. However, when the judge was dead, they looked upon the dam which checked the stream of their idolatry as having been removed.

They corrupted themselves more than their fathers. They tried hard to outdo their ancestors in acquiring foreign gods and inventing irreverent and wicked rites of worship. They refused to stop worshipping their lifeless idols even though they could not do anything for them. In time they lost any shame they might have held for those idolatrous rituals that were both revolting and barbarous; they would not so much as diminish one step of their hard and stubborn way. Thus those that have forsaken the good ways of God, which they have once known and professed, commonly grow more daring and desperate in sin, and finally, they have their hearts hardened.

Their stubborn way. Their hard or difficult way. Most sinners go through great tribulation, in order to get to eternal perdition; they would have had less pain on their way to heaven.

General Notes

[1](Isa. 49.6) “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” The Servant (Isaiah) has a twofold mission from the Lord who formed Him from the womb to be his servant. That mission is to bring Jacob again to him and to restore the preserved of Israel. This first aspect of His assignment is to the House of Israel and to the believing remnant of Israel in particular. In addition, He is also commissioned to be a light to the Gentiles. This statement is quoted in Acts 13:47 as being fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

[2](Jer. 2:13) “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” The people had committed two evils. First, they had forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters. Isaiah had already used this imagery of God’s blessing (Isa 44:3), and Jesus later alluded to it (Jn 4:10–15; 7:37–39). The second sin was that of idolatry, i.e., broken cisterns. To people living in an arid land where the search for fountains of fresh water and good cisterns to hold it was a daily priority, this imagery was a powerful object lesson.

[3](Jude 10:6) “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”

[4](1Sa 7:3,4) “And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only.”

[5](1Sa 12:10) “And they cried unto the LORD, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD, and have served Baalim and Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee.”

[6](1Sa 31:10) “And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.”

[7](1Ki 11:5, 33) “For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father.”

[8](2Ki 23:13) “And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile.”

[9](Jer. 44:18, 19) “But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men?”

[10](Isa. 63:10) “But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.” In spite of all of God’s good intentions toward His people, they were ungrateful and rebellious. And vexed his Holy Spirit. This was the nature, or the description, of their rebellion. Vexed means to afflict, or to grieve, or to pain. This idea is similar to the one conveyed in Ephesians 4:30. Note again in these verses a specific reference to the Trinity. Jehovah extended His mercy to His people, He sent His angel (Christ) to deliver them, but they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit, and Jehovah became their enemy. This was accomplished in Israel’s history by allowing heathen nations to conquer and plunder Israel.
[11](1 Co 1.27-28) “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:” The selection of God is designed to bring to silence the wisdom of man. He selects the foolish to shame the wise; the weak to shame the strong; and the “nobodys” to shame the “somebodys.”
[12]
(Gen 18:25) “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

 

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