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A Slice of Life: The Book of Judges

Updated on October 6, 2013

World Famous Heroes


The Seventh Book of the Bible

Following the conquest of the Promised Land (the area in and around present day Israel) the Hebrew people went through a period in history when they lacked either a king or a divinely-appointed leader such as they had during the preceding 50 years when Moses, then Joshua led them through their mostly nomadic journey away from Egypt where they had been slaves for almost 400 years, and through times of wars.

Now they were settled in their Promised Land with territories divided among the 12 tribes as based on the 12 sons of Jacob, an immigrant to Egypt from the same region as the Promised Land about 450 years earlier.

The Hebrew people kept going through alternating phases in which God either rewarded them for faith or punished them for drifting away into idolatry, the key distinction being whether the “children of Israel” (i.e., descendants of Jacob who also was called “Israel”) had kept faith with their God—the invisibility of Whom was a concept to which they were introduced by Moses, who spoke directly to God.

They tried to keep faith, but at times slipped into dangerously close relationships with the idol worshiping inhabitants of the Promised Land, who were the only people left there after the wholesale slaughters that took place when Moses and Joshua told their people to attack, kill, and burn all the cities because God wanted the Hebrews, not the existing residents of those cities, to have this land.

God was OK with this because those previous inhabitants worshiped images rather than the true God, the Lord God of Israel.

From time to time, certain judges would rule over the Hebrew people during the era described in the Book of Judges. But they did not have the strong authority that Moses and Joshua had previously.

After Joshua’s death, the Judah tribe (one of the twelve tribes tracing ancestry back to Jacob’s twelve sons) was first to continue the attacks on the thousands of non-Hebrew people still inhabiting the Promised Land. Most of these people were known as Canaanites as the Promised Land consisted mainly of an area called “Canaan.” The attacks involved the conquest of several cities including Jerusalem. The destruction was very thorough, the general plan being to kill everyone and burn almost everything. Any captured kings were maimed and humiliated.

Other Israeli tribes then followed suit, aiming to destroy the remaining inhabited cities. They succeeded in killing many thousands of Canaanites but still left a few living near and among the Hebrews in the Promised Land.

This unfinished business (God had told them to kill every living person there) proved to be the Hebrews’ downfall as they would start to associate with the Canaanites over the years, adapting to their sinful ways such as idol-worship, and turning from the true God of Israel who had spoken to Moses and his successor Joshua.

The Hebrew people, often called the “children” (descendants) of Israel (Jacob), followed God while Moses and Joshua lived and for a time thereafter when the next generation still lived, but then started to connect too much with the Canaanites, which made God very angry.

God would punish them by subjugating them to the Canaanites until they returned to worshiping the invisible God of Jacob (Israel) and his ancestors Isaac and Abraham. Then God would reward the Hebrews with a good judge to lead them to fight and kill the Canaanites, freeing themselves from domination for several years until the judge and any successors died, whereupon they would drift back into corrupt relations with Canaanites again.

Thus they moved back and forth in cycles between times of conquest while keeping faith in the invisible God, and times of denigration after associating with the misguided Canaanites. It was considered especially sinful to marry one of them.

Othniel, was the first judge. He was a good judge for 40 years. He conquered those who had enslaved Israel. But after him, the “children” lost faith and drifted back into non-Hebrew relationships and eventual slavery until finally they started keeping to themselves and praying to the real God again.

The next judge was Ehud, who stabbed and killed an evil ruler who had enslaved the Hebrews. Ehud led the slaughter of ten thousand people. After Ehud came Shamgar, who slaughtered six hundred people with an ox goad. Early biblical slaughters usually included children, elders, and women (except female virgins).

After these judges came another period of contacts with Canaanites, followed by the inevitable corruption, punishment, and final repentance. This time when the Hebrews returned to God they were given Deborah, a prophetess, as their judge. She conquered the evil army and its commander, all enemies of God. Deborah was so happy that she sang a song about the details of the killings.

But back-sliding again got the better of the “children of Israel.” After learning their lesson the hard way they came back to God begging for help as before. This time the world-famous Gideon came into the spotlight. He blew his renowned trumpet and rallied his people to fight, but he didn’t need so many warriors. With only 300 soldiers, a few trumpets, and a big assist from God, Gideon defeated the armies of the evil kingdom, the Midianites.

No matter what they were called, Canaanites or Midianites, it seemed that everyone inhabiting that part of the world was deemed evil except the Hebrews. Even they, however, would become temporarily evil when they made the mistake of associating too closely with non-Hebrews and picked up their bad habits.

Gideon personally executed two kings of the Midianites. Then he went back and punished people in cities he’d passed through when he and his army were pursuing those kings. The people in the cities in question had refused to give food to his soldiers.

Although the Hebrews wanted Gideon to rule them, Gideon refused and said that only God could rule his people.

After Gideon died, the Hebrews again slid into their forbidden entanglements with non-Hebrews. Then, through some corrupt persuasion of the Israelites, Gideon’s son Abimelech became ruler. He was the only one of Gideon’s 71 sons who was not born of marriage, but instead had been born to Gideon’s concubine. Centuries later the British would adapt the term “bastard” to describe such a person.

True to form, Abimelech, immediately following his abrupt ascent to power, murdered his 70 brothers. This sparked a rebellion against him. Eventually he was killed after a woman dropped an “upper millstone” from a tower aiming for, and striking Abimelech on the head.

Tola then became judge, followed by Jair. But after their tenures, the children of Israel again began to worship false gods of the non-Hebrews, becoming their slaves until finally they cried out to confess their sins to God and receive mercy.

This time the Hebrews’ mercy came in the person of Jephthah, a tough son of a harlot. He slaughtered enemies in twenty cities after vowing to God that he would kill the first person to exit from his house on his return from the wars, if only God would let him win his battles. Unfortunately, that person turned out to be his own daughter, whom he proceeded to kill, although with her consent in order to honor the covenant with God.

Neighboring Hebrews became jealous that Jephthah hadn’t invited them to join in with the battles. They fought against Jephthah in what seemed a minor civil war, but were defeated.

Following Jephthah’s judgeship there were Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon who also were judges. But then, “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord” once again and became slaves of non-Hebrews, this time the Philistines.

Now the famous Samson was born. He grew into a man of great strength who once tore apart a lion. But his big mistake was always falling in love with Philistines instead of his own people. First he married young lady only to leave her after discovering that Philistine men had “plowed with” his “heifer.” After these men murdered his estranged wife, Samson killed them along with a thousand other Philistines, using only the jawbone from the remains of a dead donkey.

Samson became judge of Israel. But he fell in love again, this time with Delilah, who unfortunately was no more a Hebrew than his first wife. She also betrayed him by disclosing to the Philistines that his secret powers came from the fact that he’d never cut his long hair. They shaved his hair, maimed him by blinding his eyes, and made him work in prison as a grinder.

But Samson’s hair grew back and when he was presented to the Philistine people as their prized captive, he shook the pillars of their temple. It collapsed, killing all the Philistine lords and Samson too.

Leaving off the stories of the different judges, the Book of Judges closes with two stories concerning some members of the various tribes of Israel.

In the first, a certain priest of the tribe of Levi came to live in the house of a man who kept idols in his home. The Hebrew soldiers of the tribe of Dan took the idols and the priest from this home, continued on their way to conquer and destroy a non-Hebrew city because the Danites needed that territory for their portion of the Promised Land, and then set up the idols as carved images for themselves.

In the second story, another Levite had been living in the mountains with an unfaithful concubine who deserted him. He went to fetch her at her father’s house in Bethlehem. After visiting there several days, he started back home with her, but stopped overnight in a Hebrew city within the territory of the tribe of Benjamin.

The men there wanted to have sex with the Levite man, but were persuaded to use his concubine instead. They abused her all night until she died. The Levite carried her home to the mountains on his donkey, cut her body into twelve pieces, and sent the pieces to the tribes of Israel. They were shocked, and even more so when they heard about the shameful behavior of the Benjamite men.

In a massive civil war that followed, the eleven tribes other than Benjamin slaughtered and destroyed nearly all the Benjamites in existence. Later Israel felt sorry for the few surviving Benjamites who didn’t have any of their own women to marry because they were all dead. So the Israelites decided to go to a different city and kill everyone there except the virgins, then give the virgins to the Benjamite survivors as wives.

The unfortunate inhabitants of that other city were chosen because they were the only ones who did not attend the religious ceremonies of remorse following the civil war.

But there still weren’t enough virgins to go around, so the remaining survivors of the Benjamites had to seize dancers from a celebration in yet another city, and make them their wives.

The Benjamites rebuilt their cities and restored their tribe.

The Bible and Hebrew family of people deserve lasting tribute and respect for their greatness. The Book of Judges is filled with a lot of violence that we find difficult to understand in a peaceful society. But it is essential to read the Bible in order to appreciate the values of mankind.

Bible Fables and History

The Instructional Tales in the Bible

Although there is a lot of historical fact in any Bible, the stories, especially prevalent in the interesting dramas related in books like the Book of Judges, sometimes tempt readers to believe that these are like modern-day historical novels, played against a backdrop of historical facts.

Much of what is written in the Bible must be based on true events. The question in the minds of scholars is whether these written accounts have been exaggerated.

A fable will teach a lesson that all humanity agrees is very moral and very true. But the facts of the fable aren't meant to be actually true. The Bible, however, is more than a fable because it incorporates things that history has recorded as true. But the issue remains as to whether writers of the Bible have enlarged the details of the famous stories.

The Bible is storytelling designed to bolster up the spirit and faith of religious people. It was written essentially by, for, and about Jewish people, including Jesus Himself as a devout Jew who was trying to improve the attitude of his fellow Jews. The Bible has become an inspiration to everyone in the world. It is not simply a way to learn truisms that help in practical life, such as the famous quotes from philosophical writers like Shakespeare and Ben Franklin. It is of a more epic nature, pertaining to the inner lives and thoughts of all human beings, and the importance of placing faith in the guidance given people by God when they ask for God's help.


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      Faith Reaper 5 years ago

      Excellent and thorough study on the Book of Judges. Yes, it is very essential to read the Bible. Well done. In His Love, Faith Reaper