Once again, and for the last time, we encounter more minor judges as we walk through this book: Izban, Elon, & Abdon. Together with the previous judges, they bring the total number of minor judges to 6, equaling that of the major judges. These three serve as a bridge between the Jephthah cycle (chapters 10-12) and the Samson cycle (chapters 13-16).
The account is so short we can quote it in full:
After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 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. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem. 11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun. 13 After him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, and he judged Israel eight years. 15 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. (Judges 12:8-15)
We noted last week that Jephthah is the first major judge who does not give the land rest. In addition, he’s also the first to have the length of his judgeship announced – and it’s shorter than all the periods of rest! Now these judges too do not give the land rest, we only learn how long the judged.
What do we learn from them? Well, there is a clear focus on children: Izban had 30 sons and 30 daughters, Abdon had 40 sons and 30 grandsons. These two recall the account of Jair who had 30 sons. Moreover, just as Jair gave his 30 sons donkeys to ride on, Abdon gives his sons and grandsons donkeys. With these two accounts of numerous children, Jephthah stands out in sharp contrast as a man with only one daughter, and one he sacrificed at that.
However, the account of these numerous descendants is not itself positive – since it implies that (like Gideon) they took many wives. Furthermore, none of them are said to deliver Israel as the early judges did. More and more, the judges seem preoccupied with building little dynasties for themselves rather than leading God’s people and delivering them.
Compare them to Shamgar, the paradigmatic minor judge. We learn almost nothing else about him other than how he delivered Israel from the Philistines. But with these judges, we learn more details but they fail to work God’s deliverance for His people.
However, God can and does work through flawed (and even unfaithful) leaders – so their very presence is a testament to God’s covenant faithfulness. He has not abandoned His people and even these three men, little as we know about them, were used by God to lead His people and bring them through the time of kingdom chaos until the promised king would come – initially fulfilled in David but ultimately in Christ.
And they take us up to the time of Samson, whose narrative will begin in Judges 13, which we will look at this Sunday.