Judges 12:8-15 – Men Of Few Words With Much To Teach

Posted: September 14, 2017 in Book of Judges
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Judges 12:8-15
Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon Become Judges

I am not a famous man and never will be. I am not President of the United States. I am not a movie star. I am not famous athlete. I am not a popular music icon. I may not even be known outside my work environment, church environment, and family environment. It may also end up that I am just a name in some genealogical research done by someone in multi-generations from now. Because I had two daughters, even my last name will not live on past this generation. I will just be a name on a genealogical tree that evokes no emotion just recognition of a name as a placeholder. They will not know me. My existence will have vaporized with the wind. When you think about our existence on this planet, we all want to have lived lives of significance. We desire to have had existence significance. During our lives, we think that we are significant but within 3 generations who we were fades from memory. Only those with an obsession about genealogies and family histories will know even the slightest tidbits of the history of our lives. We live our lives as if we know that our earthly lives are individually significant all of us. And we think people will remember us forever. Some of us don’t even think about it – how long we will be remembered. It is really depressing to think that there are only a select few people in the world are remembered by all for any length of time. Great historical figures who had lasting impacts on the world or changed the course of history are the only ones who get remembered for more than 2 or 3 generations. There are those that are famous briefly for no reason at all nowadays such as the Kardashians, Snookie, and other reality stars. But let’s face it, they will not be remembered within five years after their shows are or have been cancelled. Hurricane Harvey victims will be forgotten and replaced in the American psyche long before recovery is complete in southeast Texas. The same is true for the victims of Hurricane Irma. We have short attention spans so who will remember us?

I think it was Henry David Thoreau in his book, Walden, that said something “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I have never read that book but to me the quote means that most of struggle with the meaning of life in the middle of the seemingly enforced drudgery in the midst of growing older each day to the point that we die. And then we are not remembered in any way beyond, at best, our great-grandchildren’s lives. We are gone like a puff of wind. No memories or recollections of who we were or what we even meant to the people in our lives while we were alive. It is all fleeting and is gone in a flash. All the wealth and the toys that we gather crumble into dust eventually. As I sit here in this house that own that is now 92 years old. It too will vanish from the face of the earth within the next 92 years. All people and things turn to dust. We have no significance beyond three generations after us. We vanish. Our things we accumulated and may have even treasured greatly will vanish within a century. As Eccleasiates 1:2, Soloman says, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” And he goes on to ask the question, “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” in the very next verse. When you catch yourself in this cycle of thinking, it can be very sobering and even depressing. We think that we have this great importance in the scheme of things, but each of us, most of us, are living lives that won’t be remembered even by our own lineage beyond three generations from now.

It was that idea of how we think we will be remembered forever but really we are not is what came to mind along with the question, what do I want to be remembered for even if it is just brief obituary clipped and saved in some scrap book that may survive in my family for a 100 years. What do I want my family legacy to have been. Let us read about these three judges that ruled over Israel in succession over the 25 years between Jephthah and the birth of Samson in Judges 12:8-15:

8 After Jephthah died, Ibzan from Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He sent his daughters to marry men outside his clan, and he brought in thirty young women from outside his clan to marry his sons. Ibzan judged Israel for seven years. 10 When he died, he was buried at Bethlehem.

11 After Ibzan died, Elon from the tribe of Zebulun judged Israel for ten years. 12 When he died, he was buried at Aijalon in Zebulun.

13 After Elon died, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He judged Israel for eight years. 15 When he died, he was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.

Here, in this passage you see three judges about whom very little is said. They had no great stories like Gideon, Jephthah and certainly not the grand story of Samson to follow later. Why are these guys even mentioned. They are not remembered as great Bible characters. They would be Bible trivia questions. Nothing much is known about them. And you do seriously wonder why the Holy Spirit inspired the writer of Judges to include there reference. They are not included in the “Hall of Fame of Faith” in Hebrews 11. They are nobodies in the pantheon of great biblical characters. What is it that God is trying to tell us in this passage that is so seemingly insignificant and just like one of those small towns that you’ll miss if you blink your eyes as you drive through. What do they matter? They are just transition it seems between Jephthah and Samson. These are but brief obituaries on men who are no longer known beyond these words on a page (just like we will be names on a genealogical tree that are simply placeholders to readers of our tree 4 or 5 generations from now).

But God influenced and inspired these words to be included in the Book of Judges for a reason. These judges collectively remind us and each of these judges teaches us what we need to strive for to be remembered as. First, together they remind us that we should be remembered as men of God and as family men. Individually, they teach us about unity, identity, and influence.

First and foremost, if nothing else is remembered about us is that we are men and women of God. They are included in the passage because God chose them to bring peace to the nation after a period of civil war. They must have been godly and trustworthy men that sought to satisfy and please God. That there were no great tragedies that befell Israel is a testament to their godliness. That there is no mention of the people “again doing what is evil in God’s sight” means that they were men of humility and served by example and were not greedy and power hungry. They were just simple, quiet, humble men that loved and served the Lord. What better way to be remembered (even if it is only for a couple of generations).

Izban by himself teaches us about the fact that we should seek unity (and therefore, peace) in our lives. He stabilizes the nations by marrying off his daughters to other clans and bringing daughters of other clans to marry his sons. In this day and age where everybody thinks they are right and are unwilling to compromise, this brief mention of what Izban is most famous for is instructive. He sought unity. He sought stability. He was tired of the drama of Israel and he sought unity and peace. As Christ followers, we are called to seek unity among our brethren and to seek peace in the world. So easy it is to make our concerns primary and everyone else’s secondary, Izban reminds us that unity and peace among ourselves and the world around us is what we as humble servants of the Lord should be striving for.

Elon has the least said about him of these three quietly mentioned Judges. What I take from his brief mention is that his greatest attribute was that he was from the tribe of Zebulon. That may have been what he wanted to be remembered for was his identity. We’re told nothing at all of his family. But we are given a suggestion of what may have motivated him. He, like Ibzan, was a man of Zebulun; but he is so identified with his tribe that he is twice—in very few words—called by the name of his tribe. He was buried in a city of Zebulun; and so, in just two very short verses, his tribe is mentioned three times. That got me to thinking. I know that I am proud of my family name, of being a Bowling, but my dad’s line of the Bowling family will die with him. I had two daughters who hopefully both one day be married. Meghan is already married and I hope one day Taylor will marry as well. But when Taylor marries that is the end of the Mark Bowling branch of the Bowling family. Similarly, with my brother, he has a married daughter. He does have a son but for reasons I will not mention here, he will never have any blood children unless he goes outside the family bloodlines to adopt a child, if he ever desires to have any children. So, my Dad’s bloodline, my line, my brother’s line ends here. What then do I want to be remembered for? It can’t be the tribe I am from…at least not the bloodlines kind. My legacy needs to be the tribe I am adopted into. I am grafted into the family of God’s chosen people. My desire should be that I am so identified with Jesus Christ that he is mentioned no less than three times in two short verses about me. Now that’s the identity I want. Yes, I am proud to be a Bowling, but I am prouder of being a son of Jesus Christ.

Finally, what I gather from Abdon the final of these three briefly mentioned judges is that he had influence. The only mention in his epithet is that he and his sons and grandsons rode on donkeys. As Shania Twain would say in today’s world, “that don’t impress me much!” Riding on donkeys doesn’t impress anyone today; but in Abdon’s day, was a significant symbol of nobility and authority (see Jair’s story in 10:3-5; or see the poetic description in 5:10). And all of his sons and grandsons rode them; suggesting that they were all significant men of influence. We’re told, “He judged Israel eight years” (v. 14b); and perhaps much of that leadership was done through his sons and grandsons. Abdon had, then, great influence on the successive generations of his family. That they were considered men of nobility and authority means that they were respected. Respected men are men of their word and men with integrity. May we want to have that kind of influence on our families. May I be a father that passes on integrity, honor, duty, and a willingness to sacrifice for my family and my community and my nation for my family. May I influence my daughters and stepdaughter to be godly women who seek after godly men. May I be the priest of my own household to my wife. May I be a godly influence on her life. May I be of godly influence on the world outside my family. May I have influence for Jesus Christ.

This then is why these three unknown judges are mentioned briefly. That have much to tell us from their short obituaries. Much more than the few words they are allotted in Israel’s history. What do you want your legacy to be in a brief obituary? Do we want to be known as pursuers of Jesus Christ who sought to unify the world under His leadership, who sought to be so identified with Jesus that you can’t say much about you or me, who sought to be of influence on successive generations of our family and the world around us for Jesus Christ? That’s the legacy we want to pass on.

Amen and Amen.

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