Judges

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Home > Old Testament > Judges

Subpages: Chapters 1-2  •  3-5  •  6-10a  •  10b-16  •  17-21

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Summary

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Relationship to Old Testament. The relationship of Judges to even larger blocks of text is discussed at Organization and Overview of the Old Testament and First Historical Cycle.

Story. Judges consists of three major sections.

  • Chapters 1-2: Israel is rebuked. Israel is twice rebuked for violating three key conditions for possession of the promised land: entering into alliances with foreigners, intermarrying with foreigners, and tolerating idolatry. Israel is consequently informed that the covenant of complete possession or conquest is being replaced with a lesser covenant of partial conquest under foreign nations will be left in the land to stir Israel up unto remembrance of God.
  • Chapters 3-16: Increasing weakness. In three pairs of stories Israel's increasing weakness is illustrated.
  • Chapters 17-21: Tribes of Dan and Benjamin. In the final two stories, the entire tribe of Dan apostatizes and abandons its land of inheritance, and almost the entire tribe of Benjamin is destroyed by Israel itself. This is because the commandments are no longer followed and, in the absence of a king to maintain order, every man does as he chooses. Ruth is often read as a third contrasting story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Judges include:

  • Partial conquest. Why Israel failed to gain complete control of the promised land of Canaan.
  • Kingship. Why Israel needed a king.

Historical setting

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It is likely that Judges covers about 250-300 years between about 1350-1300 BC to 1050 BC. Judges recounts a little more than 400 years of history, but some of the judges were probably regional and concurrent with each other, so that many years are counted twice.

Judges ends with two stories in which grandsons of Moses and Aaron figure prominently, but those two men would likely have been dead by the end of this time period. So the material in Judges has probably been arranged out of strict chronological order in order to make clear the lessons that its author sought to teach. The judgeships of Eli and Samuel occur at the end of Judges.

A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel, and where Judges fits within that hsitory, is found at Old Testament: Historical Overview.

Discussion

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The Book of Judges can be understood as explaining: (1) why the Israelites failed to finish conquering Canaan despite a promising start under Joshua; (2) why Israel needed a king despite Gideon’s refusal of that position; and (3) that an Israelite king should be descended from David of Judah, not from Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) as in the Northern Kingdom, and not even from Saul of Gibeah in Benjamin.

The Book of Judges also sets forth and illustrates the new, lesser covenant established by the Lord between himself and Israel. In Genesis 17:8, Exodus 34:10-17, Deuteronomy 7:1-5, ____ the Lord promised to give all of the land of Canaan to the Israelites. But the Lord also established conditions that the Israelites were to: (1) not make any alliances with the Canaanites, (2) throw down their heathen altars, and (3) not intermarry with them. In Judges 2:2 Israel is rebuked for violating the first two conditions, and in Judges 3:6 the Israelites are reported to violate the third condition. In Judges 2:1-5 and 2:20-3:4 the Lord therefore declares broken his previous covenant to deliver the entire land of Canaan to the Israelites, and in its place he declares that foreign nations will be left in Canaan to prove his people Israel and to be thorns in their sides. The former covenant will not be restored until the time of King David.

The Book of Judges is also about how Israel gets from Deborah, in which Israel is shown to be so strong that an allied woman can slay a foreign general, to Samson, in which Israel is now so weak that a foreign woman can defeat Israel’s greatest physical hero. The turning point appears to be Gideon’s final recorded act in making a golden ephod. Significantly, this is the first reported act by an Israelite leader to turn the people toward idolatry. Previously the people had often fallen into idolatry, and leaders were sometimes slow to trust the Lord, but those leaders were also consistently portrayed as faithful and able to each deliver 40 years of rest. The account of Gideon’s ephod is also followed by 40 years of rest, but it is the last rest that Israel will enjoy.

The account of Gideon’s ephod is immediately followed by the story of Abimelech and the town of Schechem, which illustrates Israel’s turning away from the Lord who has repeatedly delivered them. The many obvious parallels between the stories of Gideon and Jephthah show that Abimelech is the central story of Judges (to the extent that there is one). The next story is of Jephthah, who is able to defeat the Ammonites but not to deliver rest. And the last story of the group is of Samson, who does not even pretend to lead. The Samson story illustrates Israel’s failure to keep its covenants and to be an example to the nations as enjoined in Deuteronomy 4:6-8. The apparent lesson is that, although the people may have been idolatrous, they could be delivered by a strong righteous leader, but deliverance and rest become impossible when the leaders actually incite sin. Also see references to the Pattern on the other page. Twice in each of the last two stories "There was no kin gin Israel, and every man did as he pleased."

Outline and page map

This section contains an outline for the entire book. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of the book. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →

I. Introduction: Israel breaks the covenant of complete conquest (Judges 1-2)

A. Faithful second generation conquered much of Canaan (Chapter 1)
• Joshua dies, portions of Canaan conquered by second generation (1:1-26)
• portions of Canaan not conquered by second generation (1:27-36)
B. Faithless third generation will not conquer all of Canaan (Chapter 2)
a. angel rebukes disobedience, announces lesser covenant of partial conquest (2:1-5)
b. Joshua and second generation were faithful (2:6-10)
b. third generation is unfaithful (2:11-19)
a. Lord rebukes disobedience, announces lesser covenant of partial conquest (2:20-23)


II. Development: Israel's downward spiral of deliverance followed by apostasy (Judges 3-16)

II.1. First pair: Ehud & Deborah-Barak (Chapters 3-5)
● Othniel: pattern of (1) wickedness, (2) captivity, (3) repentance, (4) deliverance and 40 years of rest (Chapter 3a) (3:1-11)
• list of nations left to stir Israel up unto remembrance (3:1-4)
• Israel internmarries with foreigners and worships idols (3:5-7)
• captivity under Mesopotamia, repetance, deliverance, 40 years of rest (3:8-10)
A. Ehud: 80 years of rest (Chapter 3b) (3:12-30)
• captivity under Moab, Ammon, and Amalek (3:12-14)
• Ehud stabs fat king Eglon of Moab (3:15-26)
• Ehud rallies Israel to subdue Moab (3:27-30)
Shamgar briefly mentioned (3:31)
B. Deborah-Barak: Israelite-allied woman kills foreign general (Chapter 4-5) (4:1-5:31)
• captivity under Jabin of Canaan and his general Sisera (4:1-3)
• Deborah instructs Barak to attack, but the credit will go to a woman (4:4-9)
• Barak defeats Sisera's army (4:10-17)
• woman Jael kills Sisera with a nail through the head (4:18-24)
• song of praise for the victory (5:1-31)
II.2. Second pair: Gideon & Abimelech (Chapters 6-10a)
● Prophet reproves Israel for not trusting in the Lord (Chapter 6a) (6:1-10)
• captivity to Midian until Israel repents (6:1-6)
• prophet explains that Israel has worshiped idols rather than the God who brought them out of Egypt (6:7-10)
A. Gideon: deliverance but return to wickedness (Chapter 6b-8) (6:11-8:35)
• Gideon called to deliver Israel (6:11-24)
• Gideon casts down altar of Baal (6:25-32)
• Midian and Amalek attack, Gideon twice seeks sign of the wet or dry fleece (6:33-40)
• Gideon reduces army from 30,000 to 300 men (7:1-8)
• Gideon enters Midianite camp and hears interpretation of a dream (7:9-14)
• Midianite camp surrounded and set upon itself (7:15-25)
• Gideon responds with humility to Ephraim's complaint that he did not request its help (8:1-3)
• revenge on those who refused help to Gideon's army (8:4-21)
• Gideon declines to become king (8:22-23)
• Gideon makes a golden ephod out of earrings (8:24-27)
• 40 years of peace, but then Israel forsakes both God and Gideon's house (8:28-35)
B. Abimelech: town of Shechem kills Gideon's sons, Israelite woman kills Israelite usurper (Chapter 9) (9:1-57)
a. Shechem allies with Abimelech to kill Gideon's other sons and make him king (9:1-6)
b. Jotham's parable to Shechem of the bramble (9:7-21)
c. Shechem abandons Abimelech to ally with Gaal (9:22-29)
b. Abimelech destroys Shechem (9:30-49)
a. Abimelech killed by a woman dropping a millstone (9:50-57)
Tola and Jair briefly mentioned (Chapter 10a) (10:1-5)
II.3. Third pair: Jephthah & Samson (Chapters 10b-16)
● Lord says he will no longer deliver, but Israel repents (Chapter 10b) (10:6-18)
• Israel worships idols, captivity to Ammon and Philistines (10:6-9)
• Lord tells Israel to call upon its idols for deliverance (10:10-14)
• Israel puts away its idols and gathers for battle (10:15-18)
A. Jephthah: deliverance but no rest (Chapter 11-12a) (11:1-12:7)
• Jephthah an outcast, then made Israelite leader in Gilead (11:1-11)
• Jephthah refutes Ammon's claim to Gilead (11:12-28)
• Jephthah's vow, his victory over the Ammonites, and the sacrifice of his daughter (11:29-40)
• Jephthah responds to Ephraim's complaint that he did not request its help by defeating Ephraim (12:1-7)
Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon briefly mentioned (Chapter 12b) (12:8-15)
B. Samson: no deliverance, foreign woman kills Israelite hero (Chapter 13-16)
A. angel announces Samson’s birth and call to deliver Israel (13:1-25)
b. Philistine bride learns secret to riddle of the honeycomb (14:1-20)
c. in vengeance Samson burns crops, kills Philistines with jawbone (15:1-20)
b. Philistine Delilah learns secret to Samson’s strength (16:1-20)
c. in vengeance Samson kills 3,000 Philistines and himself (16:21-31)


III. Conclusion: Israel breaks all covenants and self-destructs / Bethlehem Trilogy (Judges 17-21)

A. Tribe of Dan: abandons land of inheritance and turns to idolatry (Chapter 17-18)
• Micah makes himself an idol and hires a Levite priest (17:1-13)
• Dan sees Micah's priest while spying out Laish for conquest (18:1-10)
• Dan takes Michah's idol and hires his priest (18:11-26)
• Dan conquers and settles at Laish (18:27-31)
B. Tribe of Benjamin: defends rape and murder and is nearly destroyed (Chapter 19-21)
• town of Gibeah abuses and kills a Levite's concubine (19:1-30)
• Benjamin defends Gibeah, Israel nearly destroys Benjamin (20:1-48)
• Israel destroys town of Kirjath-Jearim to provide wives for survivors of Benjamin (21:1-25)
(C.) Ruth (Ruth)

Unanswered questions

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Prompts for life application

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Prompts for further study

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Resources

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Translations and Lexicons.

Related passages that interpret or shed light on Judges

  • The Joseph Smith Translation changed only one verse in Judges:[1]
  • Judges 2:18
  • Ruth. The Talmud states that both Judges and Ruth were written by Samuel. The Talmud also refers to the two final stories of Judges regarding Dan and Benjamin, plus the story of Ruth, as the Bethlehem Trilogy. While Judges may not have been written with Ruth in mind, it appears that Ruth was written with the stories of Dan and Benjamin in mind, and that it should therefore be read in light of the Book of Judges. The story of Ruth may have occurred about the same time as Gideon since she is the great grandmother of King David.
  • The covenant of partial conquest (Judges 2) is similar to the role of the Lamanites described in 2 Ne __.
  • The description of Gibeah in Benjamin (Judges 19) is very similar to that of Sodom (Genesis __)

References cited on this page.

  • Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 131. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009

Other resources.

Notes

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.

  1. Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 131.


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