Judges cover the hundreds of years between Joshua’s death and the beginning of the Israeli Kings beginning with Saul. The book has three sections: an introduction providing a basic overview of the purposes of judges (Judges 1 – Judges 3:6), an overview of twelve judges (Judges 3:7-16:31) and concludes with two stories of lawlessness and idolatry. The judges described were not actual judges in the way we think of judges. Rather, they were regional leaders, sometimes called by God to deliver different parts of Israel from oppression from neighboring tribes. The stories have a regular pattern. The people feel oppression for a number of years, cry to the Lord for deliverance, at which time a judge is called by the Lord to deliver their people, the people enjoy a period of rest and peace. The book describe a few judges in great detail, the rest of them are mentioned in passing.
The book of Judges is extremely violent in often disturbing ways. The purpose of Judges is not to provide a model of righteousness, but rather how difficult it is to fulfill the promises of Abraham – to build up a covenant nation whose purpose is to bless the earth. The Israeli’s are commonly falling into bad habits of those around them, resort to violence and other serious ethical failings. They do have a national memory, consistently remembering their deliverance from Egypt, God’s hand in that deliverance, and with that, as times become desperate, they call on God for deliverance, often coming through violence. But this never results in long-term peace.
God’s alternatives are clear. God desires peace.
This chapter offers a nice introduction of the theme of judges. In verse 1, an angel promises that God “will never break my covenant with (Israel)”. Israel is warned about the non-covenant people they share the land with that will be “as thorns in (their) sides” (verse 3) when they stumble. After Joshua’s death and as that generation passed on, the next generation after them “knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (verse 10). In their rebellions, they fall into the hands of their enemies.
Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.Judges 2:16
Each time to people forget God, they fall under the rule of neighboring tribes. A number of years pass and they pray for deliverance, the Lord raise up judges who find a way to deliver the people. They people enjoy peace for time until they again forget God, rinse, cycle repeat (verse 16-19).
Why is it so hard to pass on knowledge of the Lord to the next generation?
How can we be influenced by good and influence for good as we are naturally integrated into a broader society that does not live within the same covenantal relationship with God?
Judges 3 – Ehud, the left-handed judge
Judges 3 spends most of the chapter describing the judge Ehud, a left-handed judge who confronts Eglon king of Moab who ruled over Israel for 18 years. Eglon is fat, Ehud is lefthanded, both facts are relevant to the story. Ehud makes a small two edge dagger and hides it under his clothes on his right thigh. In this sense, being left-handed is an advantage considering the people who would protect the king would expect and search him for weapons on his left side not realizing he’s left-handed. Ehud and his people present an offering for Eglon. Ehud sends everyone away, saying he has a secret errand for the king. Unsuspecting, Eglon allows Ehud to come to him alone at which point Ehud thrusts the dagger into Eglon’s stomach. Eglon’s fat “closed upon the blade” preventing Ehud from pulling it out. Ehud flees. His people assume, with the doors locked, that Eglon was disposed, giving Ehud an opportunity to escape. They finally break in discovering their dead king.
With the Moabite king dead, Ehud organizes his troops for battle and “Moab was subdued”.
Judges 4 – Deborah, the prophetess
Deborah is the only female judge sited in Judges, the only one who actually is said to offer judgment and the only one described with prophetic gifts. She is not, however, a war general, and instead calls Barak to deliver their people from Jabin king of Canaan, whose captain and key the story is Sisera. Barak refuses unless Deborah joins him. Deborah agrees, but prophesies that the glory will go to a woman deliverer.
At Deborah’s urging, Barak’s army confronts Sisera’s army, defeating them. Sisera flees leaving his people but pursued by Barak. Sisera seeks rest at the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, believing he’s found an ally and a source of support. Jael plays the part at first, offering him milk, shelters him and even covers him with a blanket. Once asleep, she drives a tent nail through Sisera’s temple, fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy.
How can unusual, looked over or unexpected gifts or circumstances be the means for accomplishing God’s plan for us?
Judges 6-8 Gideon
This story opens with the Midianites harrasing the Israelites like “grasshoppers for multitude”, devastating their livelihood. In verse 6:6, the Israelites cry to the Lord. An angel of the Lord visits Gideon saying the Lord is with him, a mighty man of valour (verse 6:12). Gideon questions the angel, remembering God’s past willingness to deliver Israel, wondering why God forsakes them now. God calls Gideon to be the deliverer. Like Moses, Gideon shrinks at first, saying “my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (verse 6:15).
Gideon, still unsure, asks for a sign as assurance (verse 6:17). Gideon prepares food, places them on a rock, the angel touches the rock and a fire rises up out of the rock and consumes the food, giving Gideon the sign he seeks.
The first thing God tells Gideon to do is to tear down the altar of Baal and built up an altar to God in its stead, offering a burnt sacrifice on it, something Gideon does with ten men in the middle of the night. When the Midianites discover this, they quickly realize it was Gideon’s doing and demand his father, Joash, to turn Gideon over so that they can put him to death. Joash defends his son telling them to let Baal fight his own battles.
The Midianites and the Amalekites gather for a battle, and Gideon gathers people from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Additionally, he asks for further reassurance involving a fleece of wool on the floor. Assured, Gideon prepares for battle, but the Lord tells him he has too many people. In response, Gideon tells anyone who is “fearful and afraid” to leave. 22,000 people leave, but still with 10,000 left behind, the Lord still says Gideon has too many and offers an extremely random an unrelated for battle filtering mechanism. The army are told to go down to the river to drink. Any of them who drink the water with their hands can remain. Those who get on their knees to drink straight from the pool are dismissed. This left 300 soldiers remaining, sufficiently small enough to go to battle.
Three hundred Israelis against the Midianites and Alalekites who “lay along in the valley like grasshoppers” (verse 7:12). Gideon in preparation went down with his servant, Phurah to scout things out in secret and overhears a man tell another about his dream, who then interprets it. This dream assures Gideon of their impending success. He returns, divides the 300 men into three companies and stations them around their enemies’ camps, with a trumpet in one hand and a lamp in another, but notably no weapons. In the middle of the night, just at the beginning of the middle watch, they blow their trumpets, hold up their lamps, injecting chaos into the minds of their enemies causing them to flee.
In chapter 8, Gideon is shown to be a much more decisive leader, completes his overthrow of his enemies and is ultimately offered the position of king, , “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: The Lord shall rule over you.”
How can we rise up to our challenges when we feel overwhelmed?
How does knowing God is with us help? How can we get that assurance?
Can we over-prepare? How come sometimes the Lord asks us to become more vulnerable? Can you think of applications?
Judges 13-16 Samson
Chapter 13 focuses on Samson’s mother. With previous judges, they are called into action as adults, directly by God through a prophet or by an angel. With Samson, his mother is called to bring forth a child that will be dedicated to called as a Nazarite. Even from the womb, she is not to take “strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” (Judges 13:7). Manoah, the father, is not included in the original vision but wants in and asks God for that visitation. The angel comes again, but again to his wife. His wife summons her husband and they, together, encounter the angel. Like Gideon, Manoah offers a sacrifice upon a rock, and like with Gideon a flame consumes it and the angel disappears, confirming the angel’s divine mission.
The remaining chapters in this section focuses on Samson who over and over again uses his gifts not for the benefit of Israel but for his own purposes. In Chapter 14, he desires a woman from the Philistines. On his way, Samson kills a lion unknown to his parents. Later, on a return trip, he sees a swarm of bees with honey in the lion, eats and takes honey for his parents.
Still later, at the wedding feast, his prospective wife brings thirty companions to which Samson offers a riddle they have no hope in answering, wagering thirty sheets and garments as part of the wager. His to-be-wife’s companions badger Samson’s wife to find out the answer or risk having their house burned down. She badgers her husband for seven days and finally he tells her. When the companions successfully answer the riddle, Samson expresses anger to his wife, goes to Ashkelon and kills thirty men in order to honor the wager. In response, the wife is given to his companion.
When Samson discovers he lost his wife, he catches three hundred foxes and sets them loose on the Phillistine corn, destroying their crops, vineyards and olives. The Philistines respond by killing Samson’s wife and father. Samson response by killing them with “a great slaughter (Judges 15:8). The Philistines respond by threatening Judah. They convince the men of Judah to deliver to them Samson. Samson allows the men of Judah to bind him and deliver him to the Phillistines promising him they will not attack him themselves.
Bound and delivered, Samson uses his strength to break the cords. He sees a nearby jawbone of an ass and kills one thousand men with it. After the battle, he is thirsty and for the first time, calls on God to provide water, which is provided.
The final chapter (16) begins with Samson sleeping with a harlot. The Gazites want to kill him and wait for him in the gate of the city. Samson waits until nightfall and takes the doors of the gate and the two posts and carries them to the top of a hill. After that, he falls in love with Delilah.
The Philistines see an opening through his wife and offers her a lot of money to find out how to weaken Samson. After multiple attempts to discover Samson’s strength, Delilah finally discovers the secret is his hair and she has it cut off. The Philistines subdue Samson, gouge his eyes and imprisons him.
The story ends when the Philistines bring him brought him out of prison and tie him between two pillars in order to mock him. Samson finds renewed strength, brings down the pillars killing him and all those who were there celebrating.
What lessons can we learn from Samson’s birth and the way it echoes Abraham’s, Jesus’ and John the Baptist?
How does this echo the birth of our own children?
Samson has obvious gifts but uses them for selfish purposes. What are the difficulties, dangers and temptations of having gifts that put us in positions of power and authority over others?