3 After him came Jair of Gilead, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys. They governed thirty towns in Gilead, which are still called the Villages of Jair today. 5 When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon.
These villages of Jair were originally captured by Jair’s namesake (Numbers 32:41). His sons worked as his deputies, helping their father with his responsibilities. Unlike Abimelech, they worked together and with respect for their father’s authority. They rode donkeys, which had been used as mounts for a thousand years, as far back as Abraham’s time (Genesis 22:3). Horses were not used for riding in Israel until much later. The Holy Spirit describes Jair’s donkeys as “donkey colts,” just a glimmer of a foreshadowing of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:7; Luke 19:35). Jesus honored his Father in all matters including that one, and we are reminded by the brevity of this account that there was no upheaval during Jair’s judgeship. It was mostly uneventful, and so his sons simply carried out the will of their father. This, too, reflects the perfect obedience of Christ for his Father in heaven.
The fact that this many men could peacefully ride around on donkeys in one area suggests a time of quiet safety—a holdover from the hints of general safety we saw during (of all time) the recent anti-judgeship of Abimelech.
Tola’s judgeship lasted twenty-three years, and Jair’s twenty-two. Although it’s tempting to add them together, our text says that Jair’s term began “after” Tola’s, but not at all how long after. It seems likely, based on the chronology we have of the judges, that these two men governed in different places at just about the same time, with Tola coming just slightly ahead of Jair (by a year or two). The reason for this estimate is that we are late enough now in the time of the judges to need to account for some events that happened later on. Jephthah (who is next in line) will say that Israel has by now “occupied Heshbon for three hundred years” (Judges 11:26). Since the war against Sihon king of Heshbon and the conquest and occupation of Heshbon happened under Joshua in about 1360 BC (Joshua 13:15-21), Jephthah’s statement must have been made around 1060 BC (he could certainly have been speaking in round numbers). So a chronology of the judges might look something like this (based on Lawrenz). I also hesitantly include Ruth:
1446 The Exodus
1330 Death of Joshua (during the reign of King Tut in Egypt)
1330-1290 OTHNIEL (40 years)
1290-1210 EHUD (80 years)
1230 ? SHAMGAR (no record of years judged)
1210-1170 DEBORAH (and Barak, 40 years)
1170-1130 GIDEON (40 years)
1130-1127 A b i m e l e c h (3 years)
1127-1104 TOLA and JAIR (23 and 22 years)
1125 ? Naomi moves to Moab?
1115 ? Naomi and Ruth return; Ruth married Boaz?
1106-1066 Eli, High priest and judge (40 years)
1086-1080 JEPHTHAH (6 years)
1086-1066 SAMSON (20 years)
1080-1073 IBZAN (7 years)
1073-1063 ELON (10 years)
1068-1060 ABDON (8 years)
1066 Battle of Aphek, loss of Ark, death of Eli, death of Samson
1066-1046 Samuel, prophet and final judge (20 years)
1052 ? Saul anointed first king of Israel
Eli was also judge over Israel for forty years (1 Samuel 4:18). Since Eli died in about the year 1066, that would mean that he became judge at just about the same year that both Tola and Jair were called home by the Lord, and that while Eli was Israel’s high priest (and judge) at Shiloh, the last five judges of our book (Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon and Samson) were serving elsewhere in Israel at the same time.
God provided judges for his people, yet “God himself is judge” (Psalm 50:6). We think about this especially in terms of judgment day, when God will raise us from the dead to stand before him. John saw in his vision that “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done” (Revelation 20:13). Our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus (“the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin,” 1 John 1:7), and so for all of us who have faith in Jesus, the resurrection and judgment have nothing for us to fear. In fact, our faith in Jesus is centered on the resurrection and the promise of life in heaven. Without the resurrection, what would we need to have faith in? Our religion would be nothing but superstition, a vague hope that God would send rain and good weather and bless our crops, but it would be a miserable existence, no better than that of a worm nosing around for filth to keep it alive in the dirt for a few years. But because there is a judgment day, and a resurrection to bring us all before our heavenly judge, the victory of Christ means everything for us. Jesus’ blood is the righteousness we need to stand before God. We have it through faith in Jesus. “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25). As you look forward to your resurrection and the eternal life that will begin then, thank God for Jesus, who is not only your judge but your Savior, too.
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota