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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon

We did not have time to deal with the last few verses of Judges 12 on Sunday, so I’d like to do that here.  In Judges 12:8-15, we find the last of the six “minor judges,” Ibzan, Elon, and Adbon.  Like Shamgar (3:31), Tola (10:1-2), and Jair (10:3-5), not much is said about these judges, and this is most likely because their respective judgeships do not contribute much to the overall themes of the book.  As we have seen, the author has been very disciplined in his choices of material, seeking above all to develop the twin themes of the apostasy of Israel and God’s determination to save His people.
In light of this, we may find it difficult to determine why these judges are included at all.  As I have noted before, I believe their inclusion indicates the historicity of the events of Judges.  If the book was merely a collection of fictional moral tales or tragedies, we wouldn’t expect to find these six very brief mentions of characters that add little to the overall themes.  The author seems to be accounting for the tenures of all of the judges while focusing on those that are most instructive. 
Regarding these last three minor judges, the text reads:
After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.  He had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he gave in marriage outside his clan, and thirty daughters he brought in from outside for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years.  Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.   
After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years.  Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.
After him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel.  He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, and he judged Israel eight years.  Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.
 (Jdg 12:8-15 ESV)
Beyond the usual information about where the judge was from, how long he judged, and where he was buried, the text offers that Ibzan had 30 sons and 30 daughters.  As with Jair (10:1-2), such a large number of children would have required a large harem (one scholar estimates between 13 and 24 wives) as well as the resources to support such a harem.[1]  The same is true of Abdon, who had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, a sign of great opulence.
What do these details tell us?  First of all, the precedent of the judge as royalty set by Gideon is still intact.  The things said of these men are what we would expect to learn about ancient Near Eastern kings – many children, large harems, and great wealth.  What should be noted is that at this point in Israel, God had not provided for a monarchy.  And even if He had, the section of the Law governing the office of a future king forbade the gathering of many wives and much wealth (Deut 17:14-17). 
Second, that Ibzan arranged for all of his children to marry outside of his clan was highly unusual.  It was customary for children to marry within the extended family.  That he did not do so indicates that Ibzan was mainly interested in building and securing a power base.  Intermarriage in the ancient Near East was a way of creating alliances and increasing the scope of one’s political influence.  This is another indication of the Canaanite influence on the Israelites.
So at the very least, these judges do not show a course correction of any kind in the morality of Israel.  The self-interest that characterized the Gideon and Jephthah cycles has become the norm. 
This is instructive for you and me.  Set patterns of sin and idolatry in our lives do not go away on their own.  Unless significant action is taken, we can expect our progression toward worldliness to continue unabated.  Only a cross-centered life will experience victory over sin and progress toward Christlikeness.

[1] K. Lawson Younger, Jr. The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) 277.

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