A few months back, I said that reading Numbers was discouraging. Well, reading Judges was almost depressing. I say almost because, however low the Israelites sank, Yahweh never abandoned them. And He is what keeps the story from being a cause for utter despair.
The book can be outlined as follows: 2 prologues (chapter 1 & 2), main body (chapters 3-16), two epilogues (chapters 17-18, 19-21). The arrangement is more thematic than chronological, because the epilogues deal with events earlier in the history of the nation. The main section, however, is chronological.
In chapter 1, the refrain is that the Israelites failed to drive out all the Canaanites living in the land. This sets us up for the rest of the book, since all their troubles derive from this failure. In chapter 2, the narrator summarises chapters 3-16 in verses 16-19. The Israelites fell under foreign oppression, they cried out to the Lord, He sent a judge and all was well, the judge dies and they fall back into idolatry and eventually oppression. Rinse and repeat. There is no indication of true repentance in Judges, which makes God’s forbearance even more marvellous.
There are 12 judges named in Judges, although one can argue that Shamgar (3:31) isn’t explicitly called a judge, thus bringing the number to 11 (and back to 12 if you add Samuel, the last judge). I don’t know if it’s particularly important…
|Name||Tribe||Peace for how long?||Particularities|
|Othniel son of Kenaz||Judah||40 years||Caleb’s nephew. Killed Cushan-Rishathaim (tr. twice-wicked Cushan), king of Aram to whom Israel had been subject for 8 years. His name means ‘lion of God’.|
|Ehud son of Gera||Benjamin||80 years||Left-handed man. Killed fat King Eglon of the Moabites, to whom Israel had been subject for 18 years.|
|Shamgar son of Anath||Struck down 600 Philistines with an ox-goad. His name means ‘sword’.|
|Deborah (tr. bee) wife of Lapidoth||Ephraim?||40 years||Prophesied the defeat of Jabin king of Canaan who oppressed Israel for 20 years. She also prophesied that a woman would receive the honour for the defeat of Jabin’s commander, Sisera.|
|Gideon son of Joash||Manasseh||40 years||Destroyed Baal’s altar in his hometown. Defeated the Midianites. His name means cutter-down/ feller/ hewer.|
|Tola son of Puah son of Dodo||Issachar||23 years||His name can either mean ‘worm’ or ‘scarlet stuff’.|
|Jair of Gilead||Manasseh||22 years||His name means ‘he enlightens’.|
|Jephthah the Gileadite||Manasseh||6 years||Son of a prostitute. Defeated the Ammonites. His name means ‘whom God sets free’.|
|Ibzan of Bethlehem||Judah?||7 years||His name means ‘their whiteness’.|
|Elon the Zebulunite||Zebulun||10 years||His name means ‘terebinth’ or ‘mighty’.|
|Abdon son of Hillel from Pirathon||Ephraim||8 years||His name means ‘servile’.|
|Samson||Dan||20 years||Begun Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). His name means ‘like the sun’.|
Do you notice anything about the provenance of the judges? I’d actually noted this back in Joshua 14-19, where a lot of space was given to Judah’s and Joseph’s descendants. It is repeated here, with 7/12 judges coming from the tribes of Judah, Ephraim and Manasseh. Even if Deborah and Ibzan aren’t counted, that still leaves almost half the judges coming from 3 of 12 tribes. Oh, and Samuel was an Ephraimite.
As mentioned above, I read Judges and Acts contemporaneously. I was really thankful that today we have the Holy Spirit to enable us to live a God-pleasing life. Even then, it isn’t always a cakewalk for us. How much harder it must have been for the nation of Israel…
From my days in Sunday School, I remembered the account of Gideon in the winepress. I knew of Gideon and the fleeces. However, my education seems to have bypassed the account in Judges 6:17-24, which is perhaps the most spectacular in that chapter. Is it because in those verses there is no moral, no direct application for us today? Why is it we often read the OT looking for moral examples from the people in the story, and not focusing on the God of the people in the story? (That’s a whole other post.)
In 8:22-27, how does Gideon about-turn so fast?
What’s with the men of Ephraim in 8:1-3 and 12:1-3?
For such a terrible time, the angel of the Lord dropped by quite often (2:1-5, 6:11-24, 13:3-5, 9-21). The last two accounts are also rather similar, with the sacrifices being consumed by fire. In the account of Mr & Mrs Manoah, I found it interesting that the angel didn’t give any extra information on his second appearance.
Finally, I wondered what the Lord was doing getting involved in the gruesome civil war in chapters 20 and 21.
Sources: Bible.org, FBC Durham, Dale Ralph Davis and someone I personally know, Dan Pinckney.