What does Judges 10:18 mean?
ESV: And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said one to another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”
NIV: The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, 'Whoever will take the lead in attacking the Ammonites will be head over all who live in Gilead.'
NASB: And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, 'Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon? He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.'
CSB: The rulers of Gilead said to one another, "Which man will begin the fight against the Ammonites? He will be the leader of all the inhabitants of Gilead."
NLT: The leaders of Gilead said to each other, 'Whoever attacks the Ammonites first will become ruler over all the people of Gilead.'
KJV: And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
NKJV: And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”
Verse Commentary:
The Ammonites have oppressed Israel for eighteen years (Judges 10:6–9). This enemy who has brought such misery is now staging another offensive. The Ammonites have collected their army in the region of Gilead east of the Jordan River. The Israelites have responded by masing their own troops at a place in Gilead known as Mizpah. The two forces are mounting for an impending battle.

Here, a problem is revealed. The Israelites in Gilead have no military leader. Obviously, there would have been some with more experience than others. And some men were likely natural leaders. But it's clear none of their options are the right one; nobody has risen to provide strategy, direction, and boldness for the fighters of Gilead to follow. So, Gilead's leaders agree together to make a grand offer to whatever qualified man will take over. The person who leads them against the Ammonites will be granted the role of head—the "chief" or "captain"—over all the people in Gilead. Presumably, he will take this role as soon as the Ammonites are defeated.

The following chapter reveals who this man will be and how he will come to be selected. The prior judge, Gideon, was involved in questionable choices and family sins (Judges 8:27–31). Yet, he's remembered mostly for his victories (Judges 8:22–23). Jephthah will also rescue Israel, yet he will be best known for a single unwise and controversial promise (Judges 11:30).
Verse Context:
Judges 10:17–18 forms a bridge between Israel's repentance and God's choice of their new deliverer. The Ammonites prepare to attack again. Israelites in Gilead gather fighting men while searching for a military leader. The following chapter details the rescue accomplished through that man: the next judge, Jephthah.
Chapter Summary:
Two more judges, Tola and Jair, rescue Israel for a time. Little detail is given about either. Once again, the people return to idolatry and depraved sins (Deuteronomy 12:29–31). In response, God submits His people to the Ammonites and Philistines. After eighteen years, they confess and beg for mercy. God bluntly refuses, this time. And yet, Israel shows humble repentance, getting rid of their idols. As God prepares to save the people, an army of Israelites in Gilead gathers to face an army of Ammonites. But the Israelite army lacks a leader.
Chapter Context:
After Gideon rescued Israel (Judges 6—8), his son, Abimelech, murdered his siblings and became a despotic ruler (Judges 9). That ended with further tragedy and bloodshed. Judges 10 begins with a brief description of two judges who ruled after the time of Abimelech. Then Israel falls further than ever into the worship of false gods. Nearly two decades after God turns the people over to their enemies, they confess their sinfulness. The Ammonites encamp against Israel in Gilead. The leaders of Gilead search for someone to lead them in battle. Chapter 11 details the call and success of the next judge, Jephthah.
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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