Author: Samuel (possibly)
The Book of Judges covers a span of over 325 years. It was considered the “dark age” of Israel.
King Adoni-bezek, an enemy of the Israelites, was flushed out after he escaped as his army was killed. He was captured and his thumbs and big toes were cut off, then he was taken to Jerusalem where he died. He remarked that, “I once had seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off, eating scraps from under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” (See Judges 1:4-7)
The mean from the tribe of Judah, while clearing out the remaining Caananites from their allotted land, attacked and seized Jerusalem, setting it on fire. (Maybe that’s how King Adoni-bezek died because he was taken there soon after his capture.)
Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, was Israel’s first judge. For 40 years there was peace after he conquered and led them away from the 8-year rule of King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim (which means “Aram of the two rivers” and is generally thought to refer to Northern Mesopotamia between the Balih and Euphrates Rivers.)
Ehud – “left-handed man of the tribe of Benjamin” – was Israel’s second judge. Since Othniel’s death, the fickle Israelites sank back into sin and abandoned God, so He made them suffer under the oppression of Eglon of Moab for 18 years.
Ehud was sent to pay tribute to Eglon, but before he did, he made a doube-edged dagger and strapped it to his thigh under his clothes. He paid the tribute, began to leave, but then turned back and told the king he had a “secret message” for him. The king ordered everyone to leave room so he could be told the secret in private. When they did, Ehud leaned in and said, “I have a message from God for you!” and used his left hand to stab the dagger in the king’s gut so deep that “the handle disappeared beneath the king’s fat” and his “bowels emptied.” (See Judges 2: 12-23)
Ehud escaped and soon returned with an army to wipe out the Moabites, giving the Israelites peace for 80 years.
If Jericho was leveled by Joshua first thing after they got to the Promised Land and then evoked a curse (Joshua 6:26), how did King Eglon use the city to set up his throne? Did he set inside of the ruins, because that curse meant no one could rebuild it.
Shamgar, son of Anath, was the third judge of Israel and the Bible only has that he once killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad.
Deborah was Israel’s fourth judge. After the death of Ehud, the Israelites once again forsook the Lord. This time, He turned them over to King Jabin of Hazor, a Canaanite king – not the same Jabin of Hazor from the time of Joseph. This was possibly a family name or kingly title passed on through the lineage. Joseph and the Israelites did not wipe out all the in inhabitants/Canaanites from the land originally, so this Jabin could have been survivor who claimed his ancestor’s throne.
King Jabin’s army commander was named Sisera, who led a 900-chariots, oppressed the Israelites for 20 years.
Deborah called upon Barak, son of Abinoam, one day and told him to rally 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. She would then call out for Sisera to meet the warriors at the Kishon River. Barak was assured victory. However, he did not want to go without Deborah the prophet(ess) so she agreed, but told him, “You will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” (See Judges 4:4-10)
The Israelite warriors met Sisera and his army, who were then thrown into a panic by God. Sisera jumped off his chariot and fled while his men were wiped out – all of them were killed. Sisera came upon a tent – that just so happened to belong to a descendent of Moses’ brother-in-law, Heber the Kinite. Since Heber and his family were friendly to King Jabin, Sisera figured he would be safe inside their tents. And for a moment he was. Heber’s wife, Jael, offered him food and covering until he fell asleep – then she grabbed a hammer and tent spike and drove it through his skull. When Barak came by, Jael said, “Come, and I will show you the man you are looking for.” (See Judges 5:14-22)
The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) recounts the victory over Hazor and Sisera. It also calls out the tribes of Israel who did not help them win the victory: Reuben, Gilead (either Gad or Manasseh), Dan and Asher. Their reasons are unknown, but show a lack of faith in God’s promises and plans.
After the victory, there was peace in Israel’s lands for 40 years.
Gideon, from the Abiezer clan of the tribe Manasseh, was Israel’s fifth judge. After the time of Deborah, the Israelites repeated history and fell away from worshipping God. This time, the Midianites plundered their lands and held them under their thumb for 7 years until the people once again cried out for the Lord’s mercy.
One day, while hiding wheat and threshing it beneath a winepress from the Midianites, an angel of the Lord spoke to him, telling him to go and conquer the invaders. The angel told Gideon that the Lord was with him, to which Gideon responded by asking where God and all His miracles from the past where since they were currently under siege at all times.
Gideon also said he couldn’t attack the Midianites because he was the weakest person in the weakest clan of the tribe of Manasseh. The angel of the Lord told him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (See Judges 6:16)
Gideon then asked for proof that the angel was really from the Lord. He asked that the angel stick around until he could bring back an offering. The angel said he’d wait. So, Gideon rushed home and prepared a goat, some broth in a bowl and some bread – without yeast – and soon returned to the angel who was still standing under the great tree.
The angel told Gideon to place the meat and unleavened bread on a nearby rock and pour the broth over it. Then the angel used the staff he was holding to touch the food on the rock and it burst into a flame of fire. Then the angel disappeared.
Gideon, realizing he just saw the angel of the Lord face to face, cried out to God who then spoke to him, telling him that he would not die because of it. Gideon then built an altar to the Lord there in Orphrah and named it “Yahweh Shalom” (the Lord is Peace.) (See Judges 6:22-24)
The Lord spoke again to Gideon, telling him to break down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah pole in the middle of the camp. In its place, he was to build an altar to God and use the wood from the pole for fuel for the fire. He was also to take his father’s 7 year-old bull and sacrifice it to the Lord. The next morning, the people started freaking out at the new altar to God and, after finding out it was Gideon who had destroyed the false god’s altars and built one for the Lord, they wanted to kill him. But, Joash, Gideon’s father, told them that if Baal was so powerful, let him kill Gideon for tearing down his altar. And, since Baal was a false god, he was powerless and Gideon didn’t drop dead right there. The people then called Gideon “Jerub-baal” meaning “Let Baal defend himself.” (See Judges 6:25-32)
As the enemy’s forces were uniting for an attack against the Israelites, “the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms…” (See Judges 6:34) He was suddenly bold for a few moments while he called on all the tribes of Israel to come together to fight of the Midianite onslaught.
However, doubt crept back in and Gideon asked for another sign – two signs actually. He placed a piece of wool fleece on the ground and asked that, by morning, it would be wet, but the ground dry. The next morning it happened just that way. But, that didn’t do it for him. This time, he wanted the fleece dry, but the ground wet. Next day, it happened just like that. That satisfied him for a time.
Gideon marched to towards the Midianites and camped near the spring of Harod. He had 32,000. The Lord told him that he had too many. If they defeated the enemy, then they’d boast it was their numbers and not God who delivered them. He told Gideon to ask that any man was afraid to go home. 22,000 men left, leaving Gideon’s army standing at 10,000.
God still thought that was too many. He then had Gideon bring the 10,000 men down to the spring and separate them into two groups. One was the men who got there and scooped up water in their cupped hands and lapped it up like a dog, and the other was the group of men who got on their knees and stuck their faces into the stream. The number of men who cupped their hands was 300. God said that was sufficient for Gideon and to send the other 9,700 men home.
Soon after, in the middle of the night, Gideon was told by God to take the Midianite camp. He was afraid at first, so God had he and his servant, Purah, sneak into the camp and hear about a dream where Gideon and his men – as a loaf of barley bread flattening a tent – would be victorious in battle. He then bowed before God in thanks, rallied and gathered the 300 men, dividing them into 3 groups, giving them each a ram’s horns, clay jars and a torch.
He told them to watch him. As soon as he and his group blew their horns, everyone else was to follow and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” So, just after midnight, Gideon as his 100 men reached the Midianite camp, broke their clay jars, and blew their horns. The held the lit torches in one hand and the horns in the other. Between blows, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” (See Judges 7:17-20) (Why was “a sword” added to the rally cry?)
The horns threw the Midianites into a panic and they awoke only to begin fighting and killing each other. The ones who managed to escape the camp were chased down and killed by Gideon’s men and others in the hills who came to help.
The two Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb, were caught and beheaded. Their heads were then delivered to Gideon who was by the Jordan River.
Tired and worn out, Gideon and his 300 crossed the Jordan River giving chase after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian. He arrived at the town of Succoth and asked for food for his men, but the town refused and he replied, “After the Lord gives me victory over Zebah and Zalmunna, I will return and tear your flesh with the thorns and briers of the wilderness.” Gideon then went to the town of Peniel, only to be told the same thing, come back for food after you beat the kings. He replied, “After I return in victory, I will tear down this tower.” (See Judges 8:4-9)
Zebah and Zalmunna had rallied the remaining 15,000 warriors left. 120,000 had already been killed. Gideon and his 300 took the army by surprise, capturing them all. The two kings fled again, but he caught up to them.
After his victory, he captured a guy from the town of Succoth and made him write a list of all the 77 elders of the town. He then marched into the town with Zebah and Zalmunna and presented them before the elders, yelling at them about what they had previously told him and fulfilling his promise of tearing their flesh. He beat them with thorns and briers in front of everyone. He also went to Peniel and tore down their tower, killing every man in town. And before he killed the two kings, Gideon gave his son, Jether, a shot at doing it, but he was too young and too afraid. Zebah and Zalmunna then chided Gideon, telling him to “be a man” and kill them himself. So he did. (See Judges 8:13-21)
The Israelites asked for Gideon to become their king, but Gideon refused, instead asking them to do one thing: That each of them would give him one gold earring worn by their fallen enemies (the Ishmaelites.) Combined with that, Gideon had the gold and plunder from the two Midian kings that he fashioned into an ephod – one which people began to worship and make an idol out of.
The Midianites never recovered as a people after their defeat at the hands of Gideon and his 300. For 40 years on until the death of Gideon, there was peace among the Israelite lands.
Gideon had 70 sons from his wives. Another one, from a concubine, was named Abimelech. He makes 71.
Abimelech was a piece of work. After his father died, he wanted to accept the kingship of Israel where Gideon had once turned it down. He rallied his home town of Shechem to get behind him, who helped him hire a band of mercenaries to kill his 70 half-brothers – but one got away. The youngest, Jotham. After this, Abilemech was made king of Shechem and Beth-millo. (See Judges 9:1-6) (Verse 9:5 states that “they killed all seventy of his half brothers,” but verse 9:6 tells how Jotham managed to escape and hide. Why the discrepancy? He only had the 70 brothers, right? Unless it was thought that he killed them all and that’s what this is referring to. Like the general consensus was that all 70 were dead so he was freed up to be crowned king. Or that even the lone survivor, Jotham, had his status and livelihood stripped from him, so, as far as that life, he was dead? Because, if not, the math appears to add up that he actually had 71 brothers. )
Abimelech had some problems thereafter. He had Gaal incite the city against him, but he had an insider, his deputy at Shechem named Zebul, hook him up with knowledge of the plan against him and Gaal was driven from the city. In return for their insolence, Abimelech killed the people of the city and threw salt all over the ground to indicate complete desolation – the city was not rebuilt for 150 years. Also, he torched the temple at Baal-berith with the elders of Shechem inside.
Abimelech then attacked the town of Thebez and the people rushed to hide inside the tower there. They all ran to the top as Abimelech ran towards the tower, where, much to his mortal dismay, a woman dropped a millstone from the roof and crushed his head. He turned to a soldier of his and said, “Draw your sword and kill me! Don’t let it be said that a woman killed Abimelech!” So the soldier ran him through. (See Judges 9:50-55) However, the story still goes that a woman killed him.
Tola, son of Puah, son of Dodo, was Israel’s sixth judge. Not much about him. He was from the tribe of Issachar and lived in the town of Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. He judged Israel for 23 years. He died and was buried in his hometown.
Jair from Gilead was the seventh judge. Not much about him either. He had 30 sons who rode on 30 donkeys and owned 30 towns in the land of Gilead. Sensing a pattern? The towns were since known as the Towns of Jair. He judged Israel for 22 years.
After Jair died, Israel fell back into false god worship and sin for 18 years. God allowed the Philistines and Ammonites to rule over and oppress them. Finally, as they tend to do, the Israelites cried out to God for help. He replied, “So I will not rescue you anymore. Go cry out to the gods you have chosen! Let them rescue you in your hour of distress!” However, after further pleading, God was “grieved by their misery” and decided to intervene again. (See Judges 10:13-16) (Who was the one that heard this from God? Was it an individual or a group of priests?)
Jephthah, son of Gilead, was the eighth judge of Israel. He shared a father with his brothers, but his mother was not theirs, his was a prostitute. He got flack for that all his life. He was chased off his father’s land by his half-brothers who vowed he would never get any of the inheritance.
One day, the Ammonites prepared to attack the Israelites. The elders of Gilead sent for Jephthah, who had assembled a rag-tag group of rebels and lived in the land of Tob. They said if he’d come back and defend them, they’d make him ruler of all Gilead. So Jephthah agreed.
When confronted by the Ammonite king concerning his land being stolen by the Israelites years earlier as they neared the Promised Land, Jephthah told him that the men at that time asked the king at that time, King Sihon of the Amorites, for safe passage, but he refused, then attacked them. The land gained by the Israelites was merely spoils of war. The king of Ammon did not like that answer so war erupted. Jephthah went throughout the land gathering up an army against the Ammonites. He then declared to God, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” (See Judges 11:30-31) (It appears that sometime between the Israelites beating King Sihon and Jephthah confronting the current king of the Ammorites, that the land in question, theoretically, according to the king’s mind, had somehow been transferred from Amorite to Ammonite possession – although neither physically had it because the Israelites inhabited it.)
Jephthah got his victory of the Ammonites, but it cost him dearly due to his vows. His daughter was the one to greet him when he returned home and he wept because he had to keep his vow to God. His daugther understood she would die a virgin and never have children, but asked if she could “roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months” and Jephthah honored her request. She died a virgin afterwards and the Bible states that, as a tradition, young Israelite women go way for four days to mourn the loss Jephthah’s daugther. (See Judges 11:34-40) (It is not known whether his daughter was literally given as a burnt offering, or given to the priests as a virgin to serve God the rest her life. People are divided on the issue, but it should seem evident that God would not allow for such a pagan action as human sacrifice to be done in His name – nor would His followers.)
Then the people of Ephraim got mad that they weren’t called upon to help Gilead defeat the Ammonites and threatened to burn Jephthah’s house down. In turn, Jephthah told them that he did ask them to help originally, but they declined, then he went ahead and attacked the tribe of Ephraim and beat them. At the shallow crossings of the Jordan River, the men of Gilead would ask any man who came across if he was a member of the tribe of Ephraim. If they said “no,” they would then be asked to say the word “Shibboleth” but since they the men of Ephraim could not pronounce the word correctly and would instead say “Sibboleth” they were killed on the spot. All in all, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed in the battle. (See Judges 12:1-6)
After judging Israel for six years, Jephthah died and was buried in one of the towns in Gilead.
Ibzan from Bethlehem was Israel’s ninth judge. All that is said about him is that he had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He married off the daughters outside the clan and brought in thirty women from other tribes to marry his sons. He judged for seven years and was buried in his home town.
Elon from the tribe of Zebulun was Israel’s tenth judge. He did so for ten years and when he died he was buried at Aijalon in Zebulun.
Abdon, son of Hillel, from Pirathon, was Israel’s eleventh judge. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, all who rode of 70 donkeys. He judged for eight years and then died and was at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.
For forty years after Abdon, the Israelites turned away from God and were given over to the Philistines to oppress them. Then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife, who was until then unable to conceive a child, and told she would give birth to a son – and his hair must never be cut because he was to be dedicated to God from birth as a Nazirite. She was told he would rescue Israel from the Philistines.(See Judges 13:1-5)
Manoah wanted to see the angel of the Lord for himself, so he prayed and God sent the angel again. Monoah asked about how to raise the child and even asked the angel his name, to which he replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful for you to understand.” Manoah then placed a burnt offering on a rock for the Lord and the angel ascended up into the sky through the flames that shot up from the altar. Monoah and his wife dropped to their faces because they realized they had seen God. (See Judges 13:11-21) (So the angel of the Lord is considered to be God, perhaps in the image of Jesus.)
Samson was born and was blessed early on. One day, he saw a Philistine woman and he told his parents he wanted to marry her, then insisted that they “get her” for him. After some argument, his parents relented and they left on their way to find her in Timnah. On the way, a lion attacked Samson, but the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he ripped the lion’s jaws apart with his bare hands. He didn’t tell his parents and kept on going to find the woman. He found her and they apparently scheduled a wedding. On his was back to Timnah for that wedding, he took the path they led by the lion carcass and saw that bees had made some honey in the carcass. He scooped up some honey in his hand and ate in along the way. He also gave some to his parents, but didn’t tell them were he got it.
At the wedding festival, there was a 7 day party. 30 men were chosen to be Samson’s running buddies. At some point, he gave them a riddle and if they got it right within the 7 days, he would give them thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing. They gave it a go. The riddle was: “Out of the one who eats came something to eat; out of the strong came something sweet.”
Days passed and the men began to get mad. The went to Samson’s wife and told her they’d burn her house down with her in it if she didn’t tell them the answer to the riddle. She began to pester Samson and he finally told her on the 7th day, and she quickly told the men, who came up to him with their answer: “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?”
Samson was livid. He called his wife a heifer and went to another town called Ashkelon, killed thirty men and stole their clothes, giving them to the other men who solved the riddle. He left his wife in Timnah and returned home with his parents. (See Judges 14 called “Samson’s Riddle”)
From there, Samson starts to play games with the Philistines. He walks back to Timnah to have sex with his wife, who had since been given in marriage to the best man from his wedding. The woman’s father tries to persuade Samson to take his other daughter, but Samson isn’t having that and replies, “This time I cannot be blamed for everything I am going to do to you Philistines.” He then captures 300 foxes, ties them up by the tails two-by-two, places a torch in between them and lets them go. They end up burning every harvest field to the ground. Samson also destroyed their vineyards and olive groves. He leveled the place. The Philistines freaked out and he killed “many of them” before going to live in a cave in Etam for a while. (See Judges 15:1-8)
Now the Philistines were really upset. The rallied and set up camp outside Judah near the town of Lehi. The men of Judah asked what was going on and the Philistines told them about Samson, and because Judah didn’t want any trouble, they agreed to bring him in. As 3,000 men from the land of Judah approached Samson, he made them promise that they wouldn’t kill him, but only tie him up and take him back to the Philistines. They agreed.
Back in Lehi, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson and he broke through the rope like it was nothing, grabbed the jawbone of a nearby donkey skeleton and killed 1,000 Philistines with it. The place was then dubbed “Jawbone Hill.” He even sang a song about it: “With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve piled them in heaps! With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve killed a thousand men!” (See Judges 15:9-16)
Samson was appointed the twelfth judge of Israel at this point.
Then Samson met a Philistine from Sorek named Delilah and fell in love. The six rulers of Philistine soon came to Delilah and each promised her 1,100 piece of silver for the secret to Samson’s strength. She agreed and set out to find it. First, he tricked her by telling her that seven new, undried bowstrings could tie him down. That didn’t work and he killed his would-be Philistine assassins. Second, he told her that new rope could bind him. Again, he jumped up and killed another set of would-be assassins. Third, he said if the seven braids of his hair were weaved into her loom, then he’d be unable to fight. And again he killed the men who attacked him. Lastly, after Delilah beat him down about it, he told her the truth about his hair never being cut and being a Nazirite. That night, she lulled Samson to sleep and had someone come in and shave off his braids. When she again shouted, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” he was unable to fight them off and was captured. Then they gouged out his eyes and tossed him in prison. (See Judges 16:4-22)
While in Gaza, his hair began to grow again. One day, he was brought out into the temple to be ridiculed and laughed at. He asked the person guiding him to place his hands on the two supporting pillars so he could “rest against them” There he prayed to God for one last feat of strength and he pushed out the pillars, bringing down the roof on top of 3,000 or so people, including the rulers of Philistine and himself. He died then and there, thus ending his twenty year judging of Israel. (See Judges 16:23-30)
Time passed and Israel fell far away from God. A man named Micah, who had stolen some money from his mother, decided to give it back to her. In honor of this, she had some of the silver made into idols of him. Micah turned his house into a temple for himself and made one of his sons his priest. Then a Levite from Bethlehem came along and was offered a job as Micah’s priest as well. Somehow through all of this, Micah still thought that God would be pleased with him, especially now that he had a Levite serving him. (See Judges 17)
The tribe of Dan, the roaming tribe that never conquered their portion of the Promised Land from years back, came knocking one day at Micah’s. They stole his idols and convinced his Levite priest to join them as they venture north to find a permanent home. Micah and some of his neighbors chased the tribe down, but saw that the fight would be too much for them to handle, and turned around. Dan soon came to the town of Laish, a peaceful town, and slaughtered everyone and took it for themselves. They renamed it Dan, after their tribe, and made Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Moses (or son of Manasseh) their priest. Micah’s carved image was worshiped there until the Tabernacle was moved from Shiloh. (See Judges 18)
The people of Israel had drifted very far from God’s laws that Moses handed down. A Levite’s concubine ended up repeatedly beaten and raped, then finally murdered by the people of a town in the land of Benjamin called Gibeah. The Levite took his dead concubine home and chopped her up into twelve pieces, sending one piece to each of the tribes of Israel with the story of how far they have all fallen if something like that could happen. (See Judges 19)
Upon hearing this news, all of Israel rallied against the tribe of Benjamin and asked that the men responsible for the woman’s death be handed over for execution. Benjamin refused and a war broke out. 400,000 Israelites marched towards 26,000 warriors from the tribe of Benjamin, plus 700 elite left-handed sling and rock troops from Gibeah.
On the way to battle, the Israelites stopped at Bethel to ask God which tribe should attack first. The Lord told them Judah was to go first and they attacked that morning, losing 22,000 men the first day. So the Israelites went back to Bethel to weep and ask God if they should attack Benjamin again, to which God answered yes. So the next day they advanced, this time losing 18,000 men. So, again the Israelites went back to Bethel to ask if they should continue attacking Israel. The Lord told them, “Go! Tomorrow I will hand them over to you.” So the next day they attacked and won, killing 25,100 men from the tribe of Benjamin. 18,000 died in battle; 5,000 were killed while fleeing on the roads; 2,000 were killed near Gidom. That equals 25,000, not 25,100. Maybe these are approximate numbers? Either way, they went back to the towns of Benjamin and slaughtered “everything they found.” They even burnt the towns down. Maybe that’s where the extra 100 people come into play. (See Judges 20)
Then the Israelites wept before God at Bethel because they had wiped out a tribe of their own people. They had previously made a vow that no one would give their daughters to the tribe of Benjamin to let them repopulate, but now they realized that was foolish. So, they found one group who did not go to war with them against Benjamin – which was something all the tribes were supposed to do or face death. The tribe of Jabesh-gilead was now marked for justice and 12,000 men attacked and killed everyone there except 400 virgins who were then given to the tribe of Benjamin as a peace offering. The tribe accepted, but 400 women was enough for them, so all of Israel put their heads together and decided that since the tribes made a vow not to “give” their daughters away, the men from Benjamin could each simply “take” themselves one if need be and all would be well. (See Judges 21)