Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon

It is not without moment that the Spirit of God separates the light from the darkness in these words, ‘And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola … and he dwelt in Shamir in mount Ephraim’, Judg. 10. 1. It was time someone arose to defend God’s people. Israel’s previous judge, Abimelech, son of Gideon’s concubine, had not been a deliverer but a tyrant. After slaughtering his own family to consolidate his position as a petty despot, he had turned his attention to Shechem, his mother’s hometown. He left it in ashes, the funeral pyre of ‘about a thousand men and women’, Judg. 9. 49. Next on his agenda was Thebez, which fell quickly to his hand, except for a tower into which the citizens had retreated. Abimelech drew near to set fire to the door. Combining the substantial mass of a piece of a millstone with the force of gravity, a woman on the rampart brought to an end his ignominious career. ‘Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech’, 9. 56, and thus did the woman apply (in a somewhat more grisly fashion) the millstone principle enunciated by our Lord, Matt. 18. 6.

How ironic, then, that Joab would think this story of Abimelech’s end would come to David’s mind when he heard that general Joab had led his men so close to the wall in their attack on Ammon. David’s wrath, Joab told his messenger, would be stilled when David heard the words, ‘Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also’, 2 Sam. 11. 21. But in the place of wrath, David found a millstone of guilt hanged about his heart for what he had done. It is with evident relief that we turn from the sordid details of the tyranny of Abimelech to the short but encouraging accounts of five faithful men. What do we make of these few verses left on record?

First, they stood for the right in an evil day. Obviously they were holding back, by their influence, the flood-tide of idolatry and its accompanying evils. Following the deaths of Tola and Jair, we read the sad refrain, ‘And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, Zidon, Moab, Ammon, and of the Philistines, and forsook the Lord, and served not him’, Judg. 10. 6. A similar statement follows the death of Abdon, 13. 1. We all have ‘influenza’; it’s just the Italian word for ‘influence’. And it is catching. How desperately our society needs Christian influence today, not by political action or social protest, but by moral conviction. As the moon controls the tides, so the believer, reflecting the glory of the sun to a dark world, can influence the tides of the cosmic struggle by prayer, witness and godly living.

Notice, too, that the men had staying power. No ‘flashesin- the-pan,’ were these men! Between them Tola and Jair ‘defended’ and ‘judged’ Israel for 45 years; the others for more than 17 years. It is a good thing to start well, better to continue well, but best to finish well. The graces of patience, longsuffering, and forbearance are not specially in plentiful supply today. To stay under the load, to keep at it until the work is done, is a premium quality for the servant of God. See how well it is exemplified in the chief Servant, ‘Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds’, Heb. 12. 2-3. No doubt there were days in the lives of these men that they did not enjoy, but they did endure. We can always enjoy the Lord, but we do not always enjoy what we are required to do for Him. ‘Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’, 2 Tim. 2. 3.

Finally, Scripture records that these judges had their families with them. That would not be the case with Eli, or Samson‚ or David, nor is it often the case today. We must be careful not to be presumptuous in our judgement of parents whose children do not ‘walk in the ways of their fathers’. True, parents have a solemn charge, ‘And thou shalt teach (the principles of the word) diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up’, Deut. 6. 7. But the child makes his own choices. And it is to be remembered that the best Father in the universe has had more than His share of wayward children! Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see these judges with their children obedient and submissive, some actually serving the Lord alongside their fathers, Judg. 10. 4; 12. 14. I know I would take notice if a judge arrived at my farm with his posse of seventy young men thundering up the valley on 70 ass colts! The world would notice in our day, too, if men took on spiritual leadership, and their families responded by happy submission to the Lord.


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