The Times of the Judges
A limited conquest
The children of Israel now turn to God to enquire which tribe should go first against the remaining Canaanites. Judah is
selected and, along with Simeon, subdue all except some in the valley. However, the tribes of Benjamin, Joseph, Manasseh,
Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali and Dan did not drive out all the Canaanites from places allotted to them, though Israel
is sufficiently strong to make many of them their tributaries.
God’s judgement on disobedience
Whilst the elders who outlived Joshua were still alive, the children of Israel continued to serve God. But with the coming of
a new generation who had not witnessed Joshua’s leadership and God’s good works, they begin to disobey His
commandments and break their covenant with Him by mixing with the Canaanites and turning to their gods. As God had
warned them, this would lead to a period in which they would be overwhelmed by the Canaanites and oppressed by them.
God’s plan is that each time the Israelites distance themselves further from Him, He will raise a judge to deliver them. The
Israelites seem incapable of learning from this, and following each deliverance they just seem to get into deeper trouble,
invoking God’s wrath more each time.
Now the Israelites begin to intermarry with the Canaanites and serve their gods. Consequently, God allows
Chushanrishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, to subdue them and they serve him for eight years. The Israelites cry out to God
and He raises Othniel, a nephew of Caleb, to deliver them from Chushanrishathaim. A period of forty years’ peace then
The Israelites again lapse into idolatry and are delivered into the hands of the Moabites for eighteen years. Ehud, a left-
handed man of the tribe of Benjamin, kills Eglon, the king of Moab, while pretending to offer him a present in the privacy of
his parlour. Ehud locks the doors when leaving, allowing time for his escape before the murder is discovered. He then leads
the Israelites into battle and the Moabites are defeated, bringing peace that is to last for eighty years.
The next leader was Shamgar son of Anath. He too rescued Israel, and did so by killing six hundred Philistines with an
oxgoad. [Good News Bible]
Deborah and Barak
Following Ehud’s death, the Israelites once again lapse and this time are oppressed for twenty years by Sisera, commander
of Jabin’s army in Hazor. Deborah is leading Israel at this time, settling disputes brought to her by the people. She
summons Barak to lead ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun to Mount Tabor, while she lures Sisera and his army to
the Kishon River where Barak will be able to defeat him. Barak refuses to go unless Deborah goes with him. She agrees but
declares the honour of victory would consequently be given to a woman. Sisera’s army is defeated and all slain in battle,
but Sisera flees to Zaanannim near Kedesh. Here there are some Kenites living who have had friendly relations with Jabin.
(The Kenites are descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law.) Jael, the wife of Heber, a Kenite, lures Sisera into her tent.
Sisera is expecting to be hidden, but is killed by Jael while he sleeps by driving a tent peg through his temple. Deborah and
Barak sing a victory song and peace follows for forty years.
Having again fallen into idolatry, the Israelites are now oppressed by the Midianites who invade their lands each season,
destroying crops and livestock. After seven years, the Israelites call to God for help. Gideon is chosen by God, and an angel
of the Lord is sent to give him his mission. Gideon has no confidence that he is able to do the task and asks for
confirmation that this messenger is truly from God. When Gideon prepares a meal for the angel he is instructed to place it
on a stone, and when the angel touches it with his staff it is consumed by fire. Gideon is then instructed by the Lord to
pull down his father’s altar to Baal, build an altar to the Lord and sacrifice a bullock on it.
The Midianites and Amalekites come, as is their habit now, and camp in the Jezreel valley. Gideon sends messengers
throughout Manasseh, and to Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali to come to meet with him, but he again has doubts and asks for
two signs from God using a fleece laid on the ground overnight. After the first night, the fleece is soaked in dew but the
ground dry; after the second night, the fleece is dry and the ground covered in dew.
Gideon musters an army of thirty-two thousand men, but God does not want this great number as the Israelites would
claim victory for themselves. God instructs Gideon to send home all those who are fearful, which reduces the army to ten
thousand. He then has them all drink from nearby water and selects all those who drink by lapping (putting their hands to
their mouths) as those who are to fight. This reduces the army to just three hundred men. Gideon and his small army
panic the Midianites into fleeing by surrounding them; then, on Gideon’s signal, they blow trumpets and expose lamps by
breaking the pitchers in which they are hidden. When the Midianites are fleeing, the men of Manasseh, Naphtali and Asher
gather and pursue them. Gideon sends messengers throughout Ephraim who then join in the pursuit, capturing and killing
two princes of Midian and bringing their heads to Gideon.
The men of Ephraim then jibe Gideon for not including them in the original assault, but he appeases them by stating the
importance of their capture of the princes.
Despite the weariness of his army, Gideon then crosses the Jordan to pursue two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. He
asks the men of Succoth and then, a little farther on, the men of Peneul for some bread for his army, but is refused on
both occasions. Gideon catches up with the Midianites, defeats the remaining army of fifteen thousand, then pursues and
captures the two kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. Returning via Peneul and Succoth, he teaches both communities a lesson for
not helping him when he had asked for bread for his men.
The defeat of the Midianites is completed when Gideon slays Zebah and Zalmunna. The Israelites ask him to be their king,
but Gideon refuses, saying the Lord will rule over them. He then makes a request of them that each should give him an
earring from their bounty. They agree and Gideon makes an ephod from the earrings and keeps it in his city. Unfortunately,
the Israelites come to treat the ephod as an item to be worshipped, and it becomes a snare to Gideon and his house.
Gideon has many wives and seventy sons, as well as one by his concubine in Shechem whom he named Abimelech.
Israel now enjoys forty years of peace, but, as is the pattern, when Gideon dies they slide into idolatry making Baalberith
The usurper Abimelech
Abimelech, the son of Gideon’s concubine in Shechem, seeking to fulfil the request made to Gideon to rule over the people,
suggests to the people of Shechem that it would be better for him to rule over them rather than the other seventy sons of
Gideon, especially as he was also of Shechem. This reasoning is accepted and Abimelech is given money to hire some men,
then slays Gideon’s sons at Ophrah, except for the youngest, Jotham, who hides from them. Schechem then unilaterally
makes Abimelech king over Israel. Hearing of this, Jotham goes to the top of Mount Gerizim from where he is able to recite
a parable, which all Shechem can hear. This parable belittles their choice of Abimelech asking and foretells their
destruction with a curse.
After Abimelech has been king for three years, tensions arise between him and Schechem, with Ebed’s son Gaal taking up
arms and opposing Abimelech. Gaal is defeated in battle, but the tensions between Schechem and Abimelech continue.
Abimelech goes into battle against Schechem and all the city is defeated and killed. He then goes to Thebez and attacks
that city, but the inhabitants take refuge in a tower within the city. While he is attacking the tower, a woman throws down a
piece of a millstone, striking Abimelech on the head and killing him. This act ends the tensions and fulfils Jotham’s curse on
the wickedness of Shechem and Abimelech.
Tola and Jair
After Abimelech there follows twenty three years of peace under Tola, and twenty two years of peace under Jair.
Yet again the children of Israel fall into idolatry, serving the gods of a number of the nations around them. Consequently,
God permits the Philistines and Ammonites to overrun them, and after eighteen years they cry out to God for help. God
reminds them of all He has done for them in the past and how He has come to their help in more recent decades. This time
He refuses to help and tells them to go to the gods they’ve been worshipping to solicit their help. But the Israelites put
away their foreign gods and serve the Lord only, and He grieves for them.
The Ammonites gather in Gilead for battle, but the Israelites are gathered in Mizpeh, so the Gileads are now wondering
who will fight for them. Of Gilead’s sons, Jephthah was born of a harlot and was disowned by his brethren, not wanting him
to share in their inheritance. But Jephthah became a mighty man of valour and the Elders of Gilead now seek his help,
offering to make him head over them, to which he agrees.
Because he is now head of Gilead, Jephthah sends messengers to the Ammonites questioning what argument they have
against him that causes them to fight in his land. Their reply is that they are reclaiming the land the Israelites took from
them when they came from Egypt. Jephthah’s response is that it was God who gave the Israelites the land, and therefore
their argument is not with him, but they take no notice.
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord that ‘whatsoever’ came to meet him from his home when he returned in peace would be
offered to Him as a burnt offering. He defeats the Ammonites, but when he returns to his home it is his only child, his
daughter, who is first to greet him. His daughter accepts her fate because it was a vow to the Lord, but requests a period
of two months’ grace before the vow is honoured, which is agreed.
The Ephraimites now claim that Jephthah did not include them in the defeat of the Ammonites and a dispute arises
between the Gileadites and Ephraimites, resulting in the death of some forty-two thousand Ephraimites.
Jephthah leads Israel in peace for another six years.
Ibzan, Elon and Abdon
After Jephthah, Ibzan leads Israel for seven years before his death and is buried in Bethlehem. After him, Elon leads Israel
for ten years, then Abdon for a further eight years.
Israel again falls into idolatry and is oppressed by the Philistines for forty years.
Manoah, a Danite, has a wife, whose name we are not given, who is barren. An angel of the Lord appears to her, and later
to her and her husband together, announcing she is to give birth to a son who will be a Nazarite to God and begin the work
of freeing the Israelites from the Philistines. She names her son Samson.
When Samson grows to a young man, God’s Spirit leads him to take a Philistine wife to open an opportunity to take
vengeance on the Philistines (the Philistines have control in Israel at this time). When Samson goes with his parents to
Timnath to meet with his future wife, he is attacked by a young lion and kills it with his bare hands, but he tells no one of
the incident. Sometime later, Samson again goes to Timnath to complete his marriage and goes out of his way to find the
lion he had previously slain. He finds there is a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass and feeds on the honey, then takes
some to his parents, but does not tell them where the honey came from.
At his wedding feast, Samson poses a riddle to thirty of the guests, based on the episodes with the lion. If they solve the
riddle in seven days, when the celebrations finish, then he will give them thirty sheets and thirty changes of garment. If
they do not, then they are to give him the same. Being unable to solve the riddle, they persuade Samson’s wife to extract
the answer from him, which she succeeds in doing after some effort, and they win the wager. Because they had cheated,
Samson, driven by the Spirit, slays thirty men at Ashkelon, and from the spoil pays those who solved the riddle. He then
returns to his father’s house.
Because Samson is away at his father’s house for some time, his father-in-law assumes he has left his daughter and she is
given to another. Samson’s reaction to this is to send foxes with firebrands tied to their tails through the Philistines’
cornfields and vineyards to set fire to them. The Philistines take revenge by burning his wife and father-in law. Samson
then retaliates and smites many of them before going to dwell at Etam in Judah.
An army of Philistines goes to Judah to capture Samson, helped by three thousand men of Judah. Samson willingly submits
and goes with them bound with cords. When he is delivered to the Philistines, he has the Spirit of God in him and kills a
thousand of them using a fresh jawbone from an ass. After this he is thirsty. He calls out to God and is provided with water
found in the hollow part of the jawbone.
Samson then judges over Israel for twenty years, although the Philistines still occupy Israel territory.
At some time, Samson goes to Gaza and stays for the night with a harlot. The men of Gaza surround the place overnight,
intending to kill Samson, but he escapes at midnight.
In time, Samson meets and falls in love with Delilah. With the prospect of a great financial reward, she is persuaded by the
Philistines to discover the secret of Samson’s strength so they can defeat him. Three times she is told different things by
Samson that are untrue, but on the fourth occasion he tells her that if his head is shaven, then his strength will be lost.
While he sleeps, she has his head shaven and the Philistines are then able to capture him. They take out his eyes and
throw him in a prison in Gaza, but while in prison his hair begins to grow again.
The Philistines now have a celebration, giving credit to their god Dagon for Samson’s deliverance. Samson is brought to
where they are celebrating and is put between two pillars so they can make sport of him. Samson cries out to God for
strength and he is able to displace the pillars, bringing the building down, and killing all those in the building and on the
roof. It is said that the number he slew at his death was more than he slew in his life.
Micah and the Danite migration
The last five chapters of Judges form an epilogue that tells of the rise of idolatry in Israel before God begins to deal with
Micah, a man of Mount Ephraim, had taken some silver from his mother. When he confesses, she is thankful and gives a
portion for the manufacture of images through which they will worship God (presumably because they are some distance
from Shiloh) and which are then kept in Micah’s possession. Micah then consecrates one of his sons to become his priest.
A young Levite is travelling through the country to find a place to settle and comes across Micah’s house. When Micah
realises he is a Levite, he invites him to stay to be his priest for payment and his keep. Micah feels that this would put him
in good stead with God, having a Levite as his priest.
Later, the Danites send some men to spy out the land to complete their inheritance. They come across Micah’s home, and
the Levite living there, and enquire of his circumstances before seeking divine guidance concerning the direction in which
they should travel. Moving on, they come across Laish, which is a plentiful land where the inhabitants are relaxed about
their security. This is reported back to their people and six hundred men are dispatched to take the land. On the way they
call at Micah’s house, take the images and persuade the Levite that it would be better for him to be a priest to many rather
than one man. When Micah discovers this he pursues the Danites, but withdraws when it is clear the group is too strong for
Laish is taken and the people settle there and rename it Dan. The Levite and his sons after him are priests in Dan until the
captivity, and the idols are used for worship all the time God’s house is in Shiloh.
The Levite’s concubine
A certain Levite is passing through Ephraim when he takes a concubine who is later unfaithful to him. She leaves him and
goes to her father’s house to which he follows her. Her father plays host to him for a few days before he leaves to return
home with his concubine. On the way they arrive at Gibeah where they need to stop for the night. They are unable to find
a place to stay until an old man, an Ephraimite, offers them lodging. Some wicked men of Gibeah surround the house with
the same intent as those at Sodom who surrounded Lot’s house. The Levite’s concubine is given to them instead and they
abuse her all night to the extent that she dies from the abuse. The Levite takes her body home, then cuts it into twelve
pieces and sends them to all Israel.
An assembly of the children of Israel is gathered at Mizpah to hear from the Levite the whole story of what had happened
to his concubine. They unanimously agree that the people of Gibeah should be punished for what they had done, and ask
the tribe of Benjamin to deliver the men of Gibeah to them. But, instead, the Benjamites prepare for battle to defend
Gibeah. With God’s approval, the Israelites go into battle against the Benjamites, but are twice defeated. Being encouraged
by God, they go into battle a third time and this time the Benjamites are thoroughly defeated, all of them being killed
except for six hundred men.
The children of Israel had sworn an oath at Mizpeth that none of them should provide wives for the Benjamites, but they
now repent of this and grieve that a tribe of Israel should be effectively wiped out. Now Jabeshgilead had not supported
Israel in dealing with Benjamin, and the decision is made to destroy these people except for the virgins, who would be
given to the Benjamites. But this was insufficient, providing only four hundred virgins. However, there is an annual feast of
the Lord held in Shiloh, so they take advantage of this and connive to obtain another two hundred virgins. The Benjamites
are to lie in wait for the virgins to come out to the vineyards to dance, then take them for their wives. When their fathers
come to complain, they will be told of the Benjamites’ plight. This is how the tribe of Benjamin is to be saved from
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.