THE AGE OF THE JUDGES OF ISRAEL
Part I: THE RULE OF THE JUDGES OF ISRAEL
Biblical Period 5
Lesson # 13

Loving Father,
In the period of the Judges You gave Your Covenant people leaders to guide and protect the infant nation of Israel.  When the Israelites were strong in their faith their leaders were also strong but as the time passed and the memories of the miracles of the Exodus experience and the conquest of Canaan dimmed the people began to grow lax in their covenant obligations and their leaders reflected their lack of faith and commitment.  The lesson for us today is that our leaders also reflect our moral and spiritual values.  Give us, O Lord, the spiritual and moral strength to elevate our nation in our choice of leadership, and sent Your Holy Spirit to guide us in this today's lesson.  We pray in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"The people served Yahweh throughout the lifetime of Joshua and throughout the lifetime of those elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the great deeds which Yahweh had done for the sake of Israel. [..] And when that whole generation had been gathered to its ancestors, another generation followed it which knew neither Yahweh nor the deeds which he had done for the sake of Israel." Judges 2:7-10

The Readings for Biblical Period #5: THE JUDGES OF ISRAEL

The End of the Conquest Judges 1:1-2:23
Israel Falls into Sin --
God Raises up the Judges
Judges 2:11-23
Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar Serve Israel Judges 3:7-11;15-31
Deborah and Barak
defeat Sisera
Judges 4:1-5:31
Gideon Defeats
the Midianites
Judges 6:1-9:57
Jephthah Defeats
the Ammonites
Judges 10:6- 12:7
Samson Defeats
the Philistines
Judges 13:1-16:31
The Decline of Faith
in Israel
Judges 17:1-21:25
The Story of Ruth and
The Kinsman Redeemer
Ruth 1:1-4:22
The Birth of
the Prophet Samuel and The War against
the Philistines
1 Samuel 1:1-28; 7:1-17

THE BOOK OF JUDGES

The Book of the Judges is the second of the historic books of the Old Testament.  The Hebrew title is Sopetim [Shophetim], which is usually translated "judges" but the Hebrew word sopet not only caries the idea of administrating and maintaining justice but also has the meaning of "liberator" or "deliverer."  The Judges of Israel in this period of Salvation History not only deliver the people from oppression but the also rule over them, administering justice as Yahweh's representatives.  It is Yahweh, the One True God, who is the true ruler of the people of Israel.  This book covers the period of Israelite history that falls between the settlement of Israel in the Promised Land of Canaan and the establishment a monarchy over a united Israel.

SUMMARY OF THE BOOK OF JUDGES

BIBLICAL PERIOD #5 THE JUDGES RULE ISRAEL
FOCUS CYCLE OF
APOSTASY
CYCLE OF
DELIVERANCE
CYCLE OF
DEPRAVITY
COVENANT THE SINAI COVENANT
SCRIPTURE 1:1---------------2:1---------------3:5-------------------------------17:1----------19:1--------------20:1-----21:5
DIVISIONS Israel fails to complete the conquest God judges Israel The six campaigns
to take the Land
Sin of idolatry Sin of immorality Sin of Civil War
TOPIC CAUSES OF THE CYCLES CURSE OF THE CYCLES CONDITION OF ISRAEL
DURING THE CYCLES
LIVING WITH THE CANAANITES WAR AGAINST THE CANAANITES ADOPTING
CANAANITE CUSTOMS
LOCATION THE PROMISED LAND OF CANAAN
TIME circa 350/ 410 YEARS ?

The author of the book is anonymous however Jewish tradition attributes the great prophet/judge Samuel as the author of this sacred text.  Several statements in the text help to date the period of the book, which covers approximately 350 ? 410 years:

Please read Judges 1:1-2:23: The End of the Conquest
Even though Joshua ruled Israel wisely and faithfully, the 12 tribes were not able to subdue all of Canaan in his lifetime.

Question: What tribe assists Judah in their conquest of the land?
Answer: Simeon.  Judah is the largest of the 12 tribes.  The name in Hebrew is Yehudah, meaning "Yahweh's people".

Question: In Judges 1:8 the tribe of Judah successfully conquers Jerusalem but was Judah able to keep the city?  See Judges 1:21 and 2 Samuel 4:3-11 & 5:6-9.
Answer: No. Later the tribe of Benjamin was also unsuccessful in taking Jerusalem.  Jerusalem would not be conquered until King David's assault in the book of 2 Samuel 5:6-9.

The Tribe of Judah was successful in conquering the highlands and pasture lands of Southern Canaan, with the exception of Jerusalem, but the tribe was unsuccessful in driving out the people of the plain [Judges 1:19]. The Philistines ruled the fertile plain [Shephelah in Hebrew], an intermediate region between the higher mountains to the east and the coastal plain to the west.

Question: Why was Judah unable to drive out the Philistines?
Answer: They had iron technology which gave them a considerable military advantage.  Israel was still using Bronze Age weapons.  The Philistines were one of the "Sea Peoples" who appeared at the end of the Late Bronze Age.  Archaeologists believe these people are related to the Dorian Greeks and were forced to migrate in a time of great political and social upheaval in mainland Greece and the islands of the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea [i.e. Crete].  Egyptian documents specifically mention the problems caused by the migration of the "Sea Peoples" during this time.

Instead of the victories ascribed to Judah in the first part of the chapter, the second part [Judges 1:27-36] lists a series of unsuccessful attempts by the Northern tribes to conquer the land.

Please read Judges 2:11-23: Israel Falls into Sin -- God Raises up the Judges

The Angel of Yahweh went up from Gilgal.  In Hebrew gilgal means "circle of stones".  This name appears to be given to more than one place in Scripture but this passage is probably referring to site mentioned in Joshua 4:19 and 5:9.

Question: What was the significance of this site in the Book of Joshua?  See Joshua 4:19; 5:9, and 10.
Answer: In the beginning of the Conquest was the base of operations of Joshua where a circle of 12 commemorative stones was set up.  It was where the sons of Israel were circumcised when they first entered the Land, and it was where the Passover was celebrated, which means the Tabernacle of Yahweh rested there.

Question: From Gilgal were does the Angel of Yahweh go and why is this site significant?
Answer: He goes from the site of the first camp of the conquest, near Jericho, to the site at Bethel ="house of God", about 14 miles north of Jerusalem.  This is the site where Abraham built an altar after God's first 3-fold promise [Genesis 12:8].  It is the site where Jacob/Israel erected a standing stone after God appeared to him in the dream of the ladder to ascending and descending angels where Yahweh made the same covenant promises to Jacob that He had made to Abraham and Isaac before Jacob leaves the Promised Land for Haran [in Genesis 28:10-22].  And it is in Genesis 35:1-13, after Jacob's return to Canaan that Yahweh commands Jacob/Israel to build an altar and repeats the covenant promises made to Abraham and Isaac.

Question: What is the significance of mentioning these 2 sites in connection with the Angel of Yahweh?

Answer: God Himself in visible form is reminding Israel of the Covenant promises made to their "fathers", which He kept when He brought Israel into the Land under the leadership of Joshua.

Question: After reminding Israel of His faithfulness, what commands does Yahweh remind them were their covenant obligations in taking the Land?
Answer: He would never break His covenant with them if they were obedient in:

  1. making no covenant with the inhabitants of the Land
  2. destroy their altars

Question: Did Israel keep these covenant obligations?  If not what are the consequences? See Deuteronomy 28:15-46.
Answer: Yahweh will not drive out these nations as He had intended to do for His people, and Israel will be oppressed by them.

Question: Why did Yahweh tell Israel He would dispossess these people in favor of Israel?  Was it because of Israel's holiness?  See Deuteronomy 9:4-6
Answer: Not because of Israel's holiness but because of Canaanite wickedness.

Question: In summary, what was it that Yahweh asked of Israel in her part of the covenant obligations? See Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Answer: Love expressed in willing obedience.  The circumcision of the flesh is only a visible sign of the spiritual obligation of a circumcised heart that is committed only to Yahweh.

The people began to wail and bemoan their fate but they do not repent.  A legitimate act of contrition must be followed by action and not just sentiment.  The people made sacrifices and named the place Bochim, which in Hebrew means "weeping".

Question: What happened to the 3rd generation after the Exodus?  See 2:10-13.
Answer: The 3rd generation lapsed into infidelity [Baal worship], forgetting the works and faithfulness of God. And yet God in His faithfulness makes provision for the people and will raise up men and women to rescues Israel from the hands of their oppressors.

Judges 3:7-11; 15-31: Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar Serve Israel

The majority of the accounts of the 6 major and 6 minor Judges follow the same 7-part pattern or formula. Here is an example from the account of Othniel in Judges 3:7-11:

THE 12 JUDGES OF ISRAEL:

#1. Othniel: Joshua 15:16-19; Judges 1:11-15;3:1-11; 1Chronicles 4:13

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Judah. Nephew and son-in-law of Caleb.  Captured Kirjath Sepher in the conquest. Cushan-Rishathaim of Mesopotamia 8 years 40 years
judge over Israel.

#2. Ehud: Judges 3:12-30

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Benjamin. Great-grandson of Benjamin.  Killed Eglon King of Moab & defeated army Moabites; Ammonites; Amalekites 18 years 80 years

#3. Shamgar: Judges 3:31-5:6

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Possibly half Israelite; no tribe [name not Hebrew]. Killed 600 Philistines with oxgoad. Philistines Not given Not given

Please read Judges 4:1-5:3: Deborah and Barak defeat Sisera
Deborah, whose name in Hebrew means "bee" was the wife of Lappidoth [see Judges 4:4; 5:31], of the tribe of Ephraim who lived in the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah [the home of the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:17] and Bethel.

Question: In addition to being the only woman judge named in Scripture what other distinction did Deborah have, not shared by the other 11 judges?  See Judges 4:4
Answer: Deborah is a prophetess. 

Question: How many women are named as Prophetesses in Scripture?
Answer: There are only 7 women prophetesses named in Scripture: Miriam [Exodus 15:20]; Deborah [Judges 4:4]; the wife of the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 8:3]; Hulda [2Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22]; Noadiah [ Nehemiah 6:14]; Anna [Luke 2:36]; and the woman Jezebel of the church at Thyatira [Revelation 2:20].

#4 Deborah and Barak: Judges 4:1-5:31; 1Samuel 12:11; Hebrews 11:32

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Deborah = tribe of Ephraim.  Barak = tribe of Naphtali; Assembling an army of 10,000 from  tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun  defeated the Canaanites of Hazor on Mt Tabor. Canaanite Jabin king of Hazor and Sisera, general and vassal of Jabin. 20 years 40 years

When the Israelites were oppressed by the Canaanite army of Jabin of Hazor and his general Sisera, they appealed to Deborah.  She summoned Barak of Naphtali and in the name of Yahweh ordered him to raise an army of 10,000 men from the two northern tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali [from the region of the Galilee].   This is the same region where Jesus of Nazareth will raise His army of disciples to go into battle against the powers of Satan.

Question: Barak is willing to lead the army of Israel but on what condition?
Answer: He refuses to go unless Deborah accompanied him.  Deborah agrees to lead the army with Barak [in Hebrew = lightening].

On Deborah's order the Israelites march into battle and defeat the Canaanites at the Battle of Kishon on Mt. Tabor.  In celebration of the victory Deborah and Barak sing a victory song which is found in Judges 5:1-31.  Modern scholars are unanimous in affirming the antiquity of this song.

Question: General Sisera escapes Deborah and Barak's army but how does he receive justice for his crimes?  See Judges 5:24-27.
Answer: He seeks refuge in the tent of Heber the Kenite whose wife Jael [Hebrew = Ya-el] is alone there.  She crushes his head with a tent pen and a mallet: "She hammered Sisera, she crushed his head, she pierced his temple and shattered it."

Question: Sisera was an enemy of "the promised seed" of Israel and therefore he is a "seed of the serpent."  What prophesy is being fulfilled by Jael?
Answer: Genesis 3:15 "I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers [her seed].  It [he, she, it] will bruise [crush] your head and you will strike its [he, she, it] heel."

Question: In addition to "prophetess" what other title is Deborah given in Judges 5:7?
Answer: "Mother of Israel".

Please read Judges 6:1-9:57: Gideon Defeats the Midianites.
The Midianites were the people of Moses' wife Zipporah.  Her father had been supportive of Israel's exodus from Egypt.  Zipporah's father Jethro or Reuel was a Midianite priest [Exodus 18:1], and Hobab, the son of Reuel acted as guide to the Israelites through he desert from Sinai.  Population pressures and other factors probably caused a shift in alliances.  Midianite chieftains are mentioned as vassals of Sihon, king of Moab, in Joshua 13:21 and Midianite raids on Israelite territory were a scourge in the period of the Judges [see Judges chapters 6-8].

#5 Gideon: Judges 6:1-8:32; Hebrews 11:32

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Manasseh.  Destroyed altar of Baal.  Leads God's "select" army in defeating combined Midianite-Amalekite-Eastern people army.  Refuses to become king but leads the people into idolatry. Midianites; Amalekites;
"People of the East"
7 years 40 years

Gideon is called by "the Angel of Yahweh" to deliver his people from oppression.  The first encounter between Gideon and Yahweh is somewhat amusing.  Gideon seems to find Yahweh's greeting more annoying than complimentary, however, his name in Hebrew does mean "warrior"; Yahweh is calling the young man to "live up to" his name.

Question: Gideon asks for a "sign" of assurance.  What sign does Yahweh give him?  See Judges 6:17; 21,22.
Answer: As a sign his sacrifice is consumed by fire.

Question: What does Gideon do to commemorate the event?
Answer: He builds an altar and calls it Yahweh-shalom [Yahweh is peace].

Question: When Gideon in obedience to Yahweh destroyed his father's altar to Baal what did Gideon's father do?
Answer: He defends his son's actions and gives him a name change, which in Scripture always reflects a change of destiny.  His name becomes Jerubbaal, meaning "Baal contends" or "Baal strives for" suggesting that Baal had no control over Gideon's action in destroying the altar of the false god.

Question: Gideon asks Yahweh for another sign in Judges 6:36 to assure himself that Yahweh does intend to use him to lead Israel in victory against her enemies.  What is the sign?
Answer: He places a woolen fleece on the threshing-floor twice.  First requesting that the fleece is dewy on the dry floor and a second time requesting the fleece be dry and dew on the ground.  Yahweh honors his request.  The introduction of the "threshing floor" will become significant; watch for passages in Scripture that make reference to a "threshing floor".  In villages the threshing floor became the site of open civil court where justice was meted out. In 1 Samuel 24:21 David will purchase the threshing floor of Araunah which will become the site of Yahweh's Temple, the place where the justice of Yahweh separates the just from the unjust. In Matthew 3:12 speaking of the Messiah, John the Baptist prophesies: "His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out." [also see Luke 3:17].

Question: Why does Yahweh require Gideon to reduce the size of his army?
Answer: The victory is Yahweh's--the army must rely solely on God to succeed.  The number 300 probably reflects this fullness {3} and the perfection of order {10} of the number of men required by Yahweh.

In Judges 8:22-24 the grateful Israelites urge Gideon to rule over them as King.

Question: What is Gideon's response?
Answer: "Yahweh shall rule you."

Question: It is unfortunate that we cannot simply remember Gideon in this act of obedience and faith. What serious error does Gideon make that will have serious consequences for the people? See Judges 8:27
Answer: He creates a golden cult object and uses it for divination.  He may have intended it originally for the worship of Yahweh but the object clearly is a violation of the Covenant restrictions and becomes "a snare for Gideon and his family."  Gideon's poor example also affects Israel for "all of Israel following his example, prostituted themselves..." [Judges 8:27].

Question: Is there a warning for us today in the selection of our leaders?
Answer: Yes, you cannot separate politics from morality.  A bad leader's example can effect generations.

After Gideon's death Israel again prostituted itself in Baal worship.  Judges 8:34 records that Israel offered worship to Baal-Berith.  Baal-Berith or El-Berith was the Canaanite god of oaths and contracts who was especially venerated by Canaanite merchants.

The sin in Gideon's family becomes evident in the next generation when Abimelech, the son of Gideon and a Canaanite concubine who lived at Shechem, orchestrates a coup against the rule of the sons of Gideon.  He convinces the citizens of Shechem, to whom he has a blood tie, to support him in his rebellion.  He is successful and kills all of his brothers with the exception of Jotham [Judges 8:29-9:21].  Abimelech is not a judge over Israel but is instead a usurper and an enemy of "the promised seed".

Question: What is it about the death of Abimelech in Judges 9:50-57 that reminds us of the prophecy concerning God's judgment on the "seed of the serpent" in Genesis 3:15?
Answer: His head will be crushed by a woman.  This judgment on Abimelech, the "seed of the serpent", is referenced by King David's general in 2 Samuel 11:21 and an earlier fulfillment of the prophecy is recalled in the experience of Sisera at the hand of Jael in Judges 4:21 and 5:25-27.  These passages are a partial fulfillment of prophecy that prefigures the promised "seed of the woman" Jesus of Nazareth, who will crush the head of the serpent, Satan, when He will definitively conquer Satan in His death and resurrection-- defeating the powers of darkness, binding the powers of demonic forces, casting out and rendering Satan powerless [see Psalms 110:6; John 12:31-32; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 12:5-10; 20:1-13].  Other Old Testament head-crushing references which recall the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 are found in 1Samuel 5:1-5; 17:49-51; 2 Samuel 18:9; 20:21-22; Psalms 68:21; Habakkuk 3:13.

#6 Tola: Judges 10:1,2

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Issachar.     23 years judged Israel

#7 Jair: Judges 10:3-5

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Manasseh.  He had 30 sons who were itinerant judges of 30 towns     He judged Israel 22 years

Please read Judges 10:6- 12:7: Jephthah Defeats the Ammonites

#8 Jephthah: Judges 10:6-12:7; Hebrews 11:32

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Manesseh, clan of Gilead.  Son of a man of Gilead by a harlot. He fought both the Philistines and the Ammonites, conquering 20 Ammonite cities.  He also warred against the tribe of Ephraim. Philistines and the Ammonites 18 years He judged Israel 6 years

Question: Jephthah is best remembered for what foolish vow?  What did his vow cost him?  See Judges 11:30-40.
Answer: He vowed if Yahweh gave him victory over the Ammonites that the first thing to come out of the doors of his house when he returned would belong to Yahweh and would be sacrificed as a burnt offering.  As a result of his foolish vow he sacrificed his daughter.  This is a very troubling account.  Some scholars have tried to explain the vow as one in which his daughter was to consecrate her virginity to Yahweh in a life of service but at this time there was no such consecration in Israelite religion.  The question must also be raised as to why Jephthah would expect that an animal would exit his door rather than a slave or a kinsman or a kinswoman?  One explanation may be that, raised by a Canaanite harlot mother he accepted human sacrifice as a religious practice.  It is a warning that even someone called to perform a "work" of God can be led astray by false teachings.

#9 Ibzan: Judges 12:8-10

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest

Tribe of Judah [or possibly Zebulun, see Joshua 19:15].  Socially prominent man; 30 sons and daughters.  Jewish tradition identifies him with Boaz of Bethlehem.

    Judges Israel 7 years

#10 Elon: Judges 12:11, 12

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Zebulun     Judges Israel 10 years

#11 Abdon: Judges 12:13-15

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Ephraim.  Man of wealth.  Had 40 sons and 30 grandsons.     Judges Israel 8 years

Please read Judges 13:1-16:31: Samson Defeats the Philistines
The story of Samson is one of the great dramatic narratives of the Old Testament with all the romance and intrigue of a Hollywood drama.  Unlike the stories of the other judges Samson's story covers the period of his life from birth to death.  It is the story of a man called by God from the womb and given the gift of great physical strength, but a man who suffered from debilitating moral weakness.  His excesses almost led to his complete defeat but enslaved and blinded he turned to God and was able to prevail against the Philistines, the enemy of Israel.

Question: In Judges chapter 13 the Angel of Yahweh announces Samson's birth.  He tells Samson's mother that her son is to be consecrated a Nazarite from the womb.  What is a Nazarite?  See Numbers chapter 6.
Answer: In Hebrew nezir means "consecrated" or "one set apart".   The regulations concerning a Nazarite under the Sinai Covenant are found in Numbers chapter 6 and include:

It was in this way that a man or woman could consecrate themselves to Yahweh.  And in the case of a man who was not of the hereditary priesthood, this was a way for him to offer himself in lifelong service to Yahweh.  According to tradition James, the kinsman of Jesus and first Christian bishop of Jerusalem was a Nazarite.

Question: What was unique about Samson's nazarite commitment?
Answer: Yahweh Himself called Samson to be a Nazarite from the womb.  His mother was forbidden to drink any wine and was required to stay in a state of ritual cleanliness [Judges 13:4], "For the boy is to be God's nazarite from his mother's womb to his dying day."

Question: This Scriptural evidence that a child's life may be destined for greatness by God from the womb of his mother has serious consequences for modern 21st century society.  How many future doctors with the cures for terrible diseases and how many men and women gifted with other great blessings, how may ordinary human beings called into the covenant family have been murdered in the womb through abortion before ever having the opportunity the realize those God given gifts?

#12 Samson

Major Events Enemies of Israel Period of Oppression Period of Rest
Tribe of Dan. Angel announced his birth.  Consecrated a Nazarite from the womb [see Numbers ch. 6].  He was a man of great strength and had a fatal fondness for foreign women.  Pulled down the Temple of Dagon killing himself and 3,000 Philistines. Philistines 40 years Judges Israel 20 years

Please read Judges 17:1-21:25: The Decline of Faith in Israel
The era of the Judges was a time of increasingly instability and moral degeneration. Scripture describes it as a period when "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" [Judges 17:6].  Even though there were Judges of great faith and moral courage like Deborah there were also many weak judges.  The moral and spiritual decline of the people was reflected in their judges. Without sound leadership the people often turned to idolatry instead of remaining faithful to the Covenant formed with Yahweh.  Judges like Gideon who at first faithfully acted to stamp out idol worship later became lax to the point of even promoting idolatry in their own families.  The further the generations of Israel were separated from the miracles of the Exodus experience the more they forgot their Covenant with Yahweh and the more they slipped into sin.  The tribe of Benjamin refuses to offer justice in a case of a brutal murder by protecting the criminals instead of turning them over to the other tribes for justice.   This moral outrage and the resulting civil war nearly produced the annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin.  The sins of idolatry, immorality and warring among themselves brought the Children of Israel to a condition similar to the immoral practices of the Canaanites they were commanded to destroy.  The account of the Age of the Judges ends with the statement: "In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as he saw fit." [Judges 21:25].

Questions for discussion: How would you judge the condition of society today?  Does the world yield in obedience to God's sovereignty or in these days "does everyone do as he/see sees fit" judging morality according to one's own conscience?  What about Christian Churches who claim to be God's Covenant people but disregard the teachings of Sacred Scripture and Tradition like Israel claimed to be God's Covenant people in the last years of the Judges Biblical time period?  Does a Covenant people have an obligation to be obedient to the Law of God or should they be swayed by the moral judgments of the time in which they live?  How does moral relativism link us to the sin of our original parents?  In an age that accepts the sacrifice of infants to the gods of selfishness and convenience should the Catholic Church adjust her morality to fit "the signs of the times?"

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