Series: Thru the Bible
The Time of the Judges – a Review
This post offers a very basic 10,000′ view of the book of Judges & Ruth. Each of the Judges and stories mentioned here are covered in MUCH more detail in their individual chapters earlier this year. You can visit any and all of these by clicking the following links:
- Introduction to Judges – Judges 1-2
- Deborah, a Mother in Israel – Judges 3-5
- Gideon, Mighty Warrior – Judges 6-8
- Jephthah’s Vow – Judges 9-12
- Samson the Nagged – Judges 13-16
- People did what was right in their own eyes – Judges 17-21
- Ruth & Naomi: God Provides a Covering – Ruth
Now, there are several aspects regarding the book of Judges which are a bit scattered. Some things mentioned in it actually happen before any of the events in the book occurred. We know this because Phinehas is mentioned at the end of the book of Judges, which would have been at least 200+ years following his death. In the case of the story of the kinsman redeemer between Naomi, Ruth & Boaz however, it doesn’t appear in Judges at all, but has an entire book dedicated that story alone. Of course, the story is significant enough to warrant its own book. In it, Ruth is revealed as a Gentile believer who is more faithful to God and honoring of His ways than many in the Jewish nation. Naomi discovers how God often works in, with and throughout the happenings of our lives – incognito. In His sovereignty, He works out His redemptive purposes for goodness towards us, without drawing direct attention to Himself. It is sort of a hide and seek approach to finding God, Who baits us to seek after Him and discover Who He is and His great heart of love towards us. To give the book its greatest significance, God reveals His Own character as Redeemer, through the humble farmer Boaz. It is such a great and clear depiction of what God did for the Jews and the world through Christ, that if we didn’t know any better, we’d think it was an allegorical and fictional story given with that intent. God however, in His sovereignty can influence real, free-willed people’s lives with such skill that no fiction was necessary!
The time of the Judges was between the end of the benevolent yet, monarchical leaderships of Moses & Joshua and the time of the Kings – a span of about 207 years approximately between 1250-1043B.C..
The phrase which bookends this book and describes much of what occurs in it is, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
The book begins with Israel inquiring of the Lord about taking some of the land they failed to take during the life of Joshua as well as new land they desired to acquire. As the book progressed a few things became clear.
- God is faithful, true and just. In fact without God those very words have NO clear definition, for they find their definitions in His character.
- Man’s tendency is that of unfaithfulness towards God, belief in lies and a heart attuned towards injustice.
- Power & authority come from and are within the complete control of God.
- God is a God of Justice.
- God is a God of Mercy – meaning He is full of compassion and is tender-hearted.
- God pities man because man does not really know Him. If this is true – then why no mercy for angels? Well, one of the KNOWN differences between man and angels is that man has never seen God’s face – not even Adam NOR Jesus when He was in the flesh. We do not know with perfect clarity WHO we are rejecting. Angels on the other hand, had seen God themselves, been fully exposed to the glory of His person and character and therefore their rebellion was against someone they KNEW. THAT is unforgivable!
Also, we see examples of God’s ways in that His answer for Israel’s need of deliverance is always a person – a deliverer. In addition to this we see the foreknowledge and power of God in that He has the Judge born many years before Israel actually cried out to Him for deliverance. He is the God Who “answers before we call”.
We learned early on that these judges acted as judiciary examples to Israel and were used by God to deliver Israel from their many bondages. In many ways, they were like the prophets, who were to live before the people as living examples but who in themselves had little to no actual authority over the people. This was in keeping with the story God was telling. God wanted to rule and reign over His people directly, so the first several generations who lived in the Promised Land following the death of Joshua, lived in a Theocracy that was patrolled by judges & prophets.
Of course, Israel often rebelled against God and worshiped foreign gods. In times like these, God revealed Himself as a God of Justice and brought them into bondage to their enemies. When they eventually came to themselves, often due to oppression, they would cry out to God. In response, God would reveal Himself to Israel as a God of faithfulness & mercy, by sending a judge to deliver them again. This cycle continues throughout the entire book.
Israel’s first rebellion against God resulted in bondage to Cushan-rishathaim King of Aram. They cried out to the Lord and God rose up Othniel nephew to Caleb as the deliverer of Israel. God placed His Spirit upon him, and he judged Israel. Then the land knew peace for 40 years.
The next two judges were Ehud and Deborah. Ehud was a left-handed Benjamite who God used to deliver Israel from Eglon King of Moab. Israel had served King Eglon for 18 years by the time Ehud became Judge. Israel sent Ehud to the king with tribute money, but Ehud used both cunning and skill to slay the king. He feigned the need for privacy in order to give the king a message. Once they were alone, Ehud buried his 18 inch dagger into the obese King’s stomach up to the hilt – an inch of steel for every year the King held them captive!
The 3rd judge in Israel was the Prophetess Deborah who, in her humility and respect for the position she had in Israel as a woman, referred to herself as “a mother in Israel”. The main story here was not one of personal deliverance, but one of encouragement. Deborah knew that God had spoken to a man named Barak to go and deliver Israel from the hand of their captor Jabin King of Canaan. We do not know if she knew this by direct revelation or if it was through her prophesying to Barak in the first place, thereby giving her first hand knowledge. In either case, she called to him and encouraged him to go to battle. Barak however, would not go without Deborah. Deborah then prophesies to him saying that if she goes, there would be no honor for him in the battle, but that the glory would pass from him to a woman. The fulfillment of this prophecy winds up having an unexpected twist, because one would naturally have thought that Deborah was that woman, but as it turns out it was Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. She drove a tent spike through the temple of the commander of Jabin’s army, thus initiating their defeat. Following this battle the land enjoyed peace for 40 years!
Gideon was the next judge in Israel. His story begins with Israel’s rebellion and being handed over to Midian for 7 years as a result. Israel began to cry out to God, but this time God sent a prophet to remind them of all He has done for them, and that all they have done in return is run after other gods. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, calls him a mighty warrior and tells him that God is with him. Gideon is clearly confused by this and says so. He asks, “Please Sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, ‘Hasn’t the LORD brought us out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.” In response Gideon receives a commission to go and deliver Israel from Midian. Gideon then fixes a meal for Him. The angel instructs him to place it on a rock and He consumes it in a flame that rose up from the rock when his staff touched the food and then, He simply vanishes into thin air. This so astounds Gideon that he believes he will now die because he has seen the Lord, but the Lord speaks to him and says, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.” So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there calling it a name unique in all the Bible in honor of Him – Yahweh (Jehovah) Shalom, which means, the God Who reveals Himself as a God of Peace.
Gideon seems to have trouble believing God. He asks for two signs regarding dew and a piece of fleece. He then destroys a pagan altar made to Baal and an Ashera pole which earns him the name Jerubbaal, which means “Let Baal contend with him“.
He then gathers 32,000 men to make war with Midian, but the Lord reduced the number of men to 10,000 by just letting go those who were afraid. Ten thousand men however, were still too many, so God had Gideon reduce their numbers again by having them drink from a brook. Whoever lapped up the water like a dog were sent home and those who drank water from their cupped hands remained – that reduced their numbers to 300 men! This is how many went up against at least 135,000 warriors.
The night before the battle, God assures Gideon that He has handed Midian over into his hands, but God tells him that if he is still afraid, he could go with his servant to spy out the camp and eavesdrop on their conversations. Here again, we encounter the sovereignty of God. God in His foreknowledge, knew at what location of the enemy’s camp Gideon was going to spy, and so gave the man in that tent a dream and to his friend it’s interpretation. Gideon overheard a discussion between these two men in which he heard about both the dream and that its meaning – which was that Israel would certainly be victorious. This encouraged Gideon’s faith and he immediately bowed down and worshiped God. He then returned to his camp and didn’t wait, but stirred his men to attack that very night! He arranged the men in groups of 100, he gave each of them a trumpet and an empty pitcher with a torch inside it. Then being a true leader he said, “Watch me, and do the same. When I come to the outpost of the camp, do as I do.” Then Gideon and the men who were with him, “blew their trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands holding their torches in their left hands, their trumpets in their right hands, and shouted, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” The Lord honored His word and delivered Israel’s enemy into his hand.
Israel wanted to have Gideon rule over them due to his victorious campaign, but he wisely refused. However, he asked for a single gold earring from each of the men who went into battle – from which he made an ephod. This ephod eventually became an object of worship to Israel and a snare to the house of Gideon. Gideon had a total of 70 sons, and Israel enjoyed peace for another 40 years.
Among Gideon’s sons was Abimelech, who won leadership over Israel by treachery and the murder of his brothers. He was eventually killed and then Israel enjoyed peace again for another 53 years between the judging of Tola and then Jair.
Then Israel did evil AGAIN and abandoned God worshiping other gods. So God turned them over to the Philistines and the Ammonites. They were in bondage and ill treatment for 18 years until they cried out to God. At first, God mocked them and reminded them of His faithful deliverance in the past, but now He encouraged them to pray to their foreign gods for deliverance because quite frankly…He was done! In response, Israel did something new! They repented and said, “We have sinned. Deal with us as You see fit; only deliver us today!” Then they actually got rid of the foreign gods and worshiped the Lord. Then we see the tender-hearted mercies of the Lord. The scriptures tell us that even though He had denied them at first, “the LORD became weary of Israel’s misery”, and so God raises up Jephthah!
Jephthah was a good man and a great warrior, but was rejected by his brothers because he was the son of his father Gilead’s illicit sex with a prostitute. Nevertheless, God chose him! The Ammonites later made war with Israel and so the elders of Gilead appealed to Jephthah for help. He gave conditions for his help and they agreed that if the Lord delivered them through him, Jephthah would becoming their commander and leader.
Jephthah sent conditions for peace to the King of Ammon, but he would not listen. So Jephthah made a vow to God that he would offer to the Lord as a whole burnt offering, whatever first came out to meet him upon his victorious return home. Of course, he was victorious and it was his one and only daughter who first came out to meet him. She was a godly and honorable girl who was given 2 months to mourn her virginity before being dedicated to serve as a Nazarite for the remainder of her days. In this way she literally became a whole burnt offering – and not in a symbolic way. You see, the burnt offering was a depiction of a heart fully dedicated to God, and so it was the offering which would have been symbolic – her life of dedicated service became the real “whole burnt offering”.
Jephthah judges Israel for only 6 years until he died. Then we are given a quick and short list of judges who ruled after him.
Ibzan, who was from Bethlehem, judged Israel after Jephthah for seven years.
Elon, who was from Zebulun, judged Israel for 10 years.
After Elon, Abdon son of Hillel, judged Israel for eight years, followed by perhaps the most famous judge in all of Israel’s history – Samson!
A Nazarite from his birth and dedicated to the Lord, Samson seemed a logical choice as a moral leader…until we discover his weaknesses. Simply put Samson was unique! I’m at a bit of a loss however, for how and why he has obtained the notoriety he has – unless it is due to people’s love of superheros and such, because, to me anyway, this man leaves MUCH to be desired!
Samson had a soft spot for women, and allowed himself to be taken in by them on more than one occasion. He seemed nearly clueless that he was being manipulated. In the end, it was not so much his love for Delilah that cost him his freedom, strength and his sight, but his being worn down by her incessant nagging. Once he revealed the secret of his strength, Delilah cut his hair and his enemies easily overtook him.
When compared to other judges, Samson actually killed fewer enemies of Israel than most. In terms of actual deliverance from Israel’s enemies – we have no definitive proof that this ever even happened, only that with his final act of strength, Samson took out what appears to be most of the Philistine’s political leaders – a total of about 3,000 people which is more than he had killed in his whole life.
Samson died with his enemies, having judged Israel for 20 years.
At the end of the book of judges we have a collection of short stories whose only central theme seems to be that they are about Levites – and not so good of Levites at that! We furthermore discover that these stories do not actually have anything to do with the time of the judges!
We learn of a young Levite named Micah who “sold his services” as priest to the highest bidder. He saw no conflict of interest in owning pagan idols and in the end, his personal idolatry influenced idolatry in an entire Israelite tribe.
Then we meet another Levite whose name we never learn. He has a concubine who was unfaithful and not devoted to him, in that she left him to return to her father house. Now a concubine was a true wife, making this man her true husband. The only difference between one’s primary wife and a concubine was status. The concubine was of a lesser rank, so to speak.
This Levite pursues her out of what appears to be genuine love. We get a glimpse at his heart for her in the phrase, “Then her husband got up and went after her to speak kindly to her and bring her back.”...which he did. However, on the way home he stayed in a city in Benjamin and was there accosted by homosexual men in that city. The owner of the house he had come to stay at encouraged the men of Benjamin to satisfy their lust upon his own daughter and the Levite’s concubine, but to do this Levite no harm. They then essentially shoved these poor women out into the throng where they were abused all night. The next morning, the Levite found his concubine dead and took her home, divided up her body and sent the remains to the other tribes of Israel. He then explained that he had done so out of outrage over what happened to his concubine. Of course, in his explanation he failed to tell them that it was he who had surrendered her to the mob of lustful men in the first place.
Israel was outraged and determined to go to war with Benjamin over such an atrocity against one of the daughters of Israel. Additionally, they vowed not to give any of their daughters to those men of Benjamin who remained alive after the battle. By the end of the story, Benjamin is nearly wiped out having only 600 who escaped. Then Israel wept for their brothers and conspired to give aid to the 600 who remained alive by seeking them wives. To do this, they discovered a city in Israel who did NOT go to war in judgment against Benjamin and so the men of war attacked that city killing everyone except the virgin girls, of which there were 400. This left 200 Benjamin men without wives, so they told the men of Benjamin to go to an annual festival to the Lord and hide in the vineyard not far from where the virgin girls would dance in celebration. When they saw a girl they fancied, they were to run out into the field and capture her and she would become their wife. In this way, the men of that city would be held blameless of breaking their vow, because they did not actually GIVE their daughter away to a Benjamite for marriage.
That is the end of the book of Judges, though as we know the events recorded in the book of Ruth occurred sometime during the time of the judges.
Ruth is a very short book about a Hebrew woman named Naomi, her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth and a Hebrew kinsman redeemer named Boaz. Boaz provides for them both by buying Naomi’s dead husband’s land from her and marrying Ruth – thus providing a covering for them both. Boaz impregnated Ruth who bore a son unto her deceased husband in order to perpetuate his name in Israel.
Perhaps the most famous line of the entire book was when Ruth told her mother-in-law Naomi that she would never leave her – “wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do this to me, and even more, if anything but death separates you and me.” Ruth made good on her promise to make Naomi’s people her people and Naomi’s God her God! She was a godly and honorable woman who was honored by God in being the great-grandmother of King David, and part of the lineage of the promised Messiah – Jesus.
I hope this teaching will challenge you and encourage you to place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
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