JUDGES, BOOK OF (שֹֽׁפְטִ֑ים; Κριταί; Lat. Liber, Judicum; judge, ruler, magistrate).
I. Archeological background
It is apparent that the Israelites settled down immediately in the land, for archeological excavation at several of the cities destroyed at this time show no subsequent break in occupation. The absence of any transitional period is a witness to the fact that the Israelites were not typical nomads. There is, however, a clear distinction between the well-built Canaanite structures and the simpler, almost primitive type of Israelite occupation that succeeded it. This decline in architectural standards is illustrative of a lower cultural standard among the incoming Israelites.
The evidence of continuing Canaanite occupation of the low-lying areas (e.g. at Megiddo and Beth-shan), where their extensive chariot forces gave them a tactical advantage, confirms the Biblical admission that these areas were not occupied in the earlier part of the Judges’ period (e.g. Josh 11:13; 13:1ff.; 17:16; Judg 1:19, 27, etc.).
Before the Israelite invasion, because of the uncertain water supply, there was limited Canaanite occupation of the central hill country. Coincident with the entry of Israel was the widespread employment of underground cisterns to store water during the prolonged summer drought, facilitated by the use of a waterproof lime plaster that made them leak proof. This discovery made possible the extensive Israelite settlement in areas that previously were sparsely populated.
The fact that no Israelite sanctuary of the Judges’ period has yet been discovered may be attributable to their inferior building techniques. However, it may also be an indication of the divine prohibition against an indiscriminate erection of sanctuaries (Exod 20:24-26; Deut 12:1-7).
Many clay figurines representing a naked female about to give birth have been found. The lack of any insignia of a goddess calls into question an identification with the fertility goddesses of Canaan; they may simply have been good luck charms associated with childbirth. It is not impossible, however, that this may be an incidental witness to the fundamental prohibition against idol worship (Exod 20:4-6, etc.). No representation of a male deity has been found at any known Israelite site of this period.
The decisive victory of Deborah and Barak took place “at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo” (Judg 5:19). This cryptic allusion to Megiddo has been illumined by archeological research, which suggests that Taanach and Megiddo, about five m. apart, were not occupied simultaneously. The inference is that Taanach was settled at the time of this battle, whereas Megiddo was in ruins. The convergence of historical, archeological, and literary evidence has made a date c. 1125 b.c. virtually certain.
Archeological research in Trans-Jordan has illumined the state of the small kingdoms, which were as thorns in Israel’s side during the period (esp. Moab and Ammon). Westward, our knowledge of the culture and organization of the Philistines has been enriched by discoveries in the Negeb, the Shephelah, and even as far away as Cyprus. It is clear that the Philistines formed a ruling class over a subject population whose religion and culture they assimilated. The god of the Philistines was Dagon, an old Amorite deity (1 Sam 5:2ff.). The extent of the Philistine penetration of the hinterland may be estimated by the degree of distribution of a distinctive type of pottery known generally as “Philistine ware.” This accords with the literary evidence of Judges and 1 Samuel.
The destruction of the amphictyonic shrine at Shiloh is not mentioned in Judges, but its place in Israelite tradition is witnessed by Psalm 78:60 and Jeremiah 7:12; 26:6. Archeological research shows that it was, in fact, destroyed by fire c. 1050 b.c. It is clear that this followed the double defeat inflicted upon the Israelite army at Aphek (1 Sam 4). Other Israelite cities were destroyed at this time, doubtless by the same agency, which reflects the Philistines’ dominance in the immediate premonarchic period. (See also Period of Judges.)
The purpose of the editor of the Book of Judges determined his selection and use of material. The book covers the period from the death of Joshua (Judg 1:1; 2:8) to the point when the Philistine menace had become acute, i.e. c. 1060 b.c. His concern was to account for, as well as to describe, the political, moral, and religious decline during the period, and to demonstrate its effect upon the life of the community. This general observation will throw light upon the consideration of such things as structure, unity and date.
III. Composition, unity, and date
A. Composition. The Book of Judges divides naturally into three distinct sections: (1) Judges 1:1-2:5 sets forth the settlement in Canaan. The major portion (1:1-36) deals with the attempt by the tribes to occupy their territory. The general movement is from S to N, beginning with the tribe of Judah, whose exploits are dealt with in far greater detail. This may indicate that this section originated in Judah. A certain deterioration is discernible as the ch. progresses; Judah (vv. 1-19) and the Joseph tribes (vv. 22-27) are relatively successful, but the remainder of the tribes had scant success (vv. 21, 27-36 give a catalogue of unoccupied territory). The close connections with the Book of Joshua (e.g. Josh 15:13-19, cf. Judg 1:10-15; Josh 15:63, cf. Judg 1:21; Josh 17:11-13, cf. Judg 1:27, 28; Josh 16:10, cf. Judg 1:29) show that this is an account, or extracts from an account, of the Conquest. It is, therefore, a valuable complement to the account in Joshua. The opening words of the ch., “After the death of Joshua,” cannot therefore apply to this section but are rather a general introduction and title to the whole book. The reason for the inclusion of this historical survey is to set the scene for the period of the judges. This was a disordered situation, with only a minority of the tribes occupying their territory, whereas the remainder dwelt in varying degrees of tension with the Canaanites. Judges 2:1-5 completes this bleak picture by bringing into prominence the fact of the broken covenant.
(2) Judges 2:6-16:31 presents the judges of Israel. In this, the main portion of the book, are recorded the exploits of Othniel (3:7-11), Ehud (3:12-30), Deborah and Barak (4:1-5:31), Gideon (6:1-8:35), Jephthah (10:6-12:7), and Samson (13:1-16:31). These are usually classified as the major judges, in contradistinction to the minor judges, of whom little is recorded. This second group comprises Shamgar (3:31) Tola and Jair (10:1-5), and Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15).
The individual stories undoubtedly had a history of their own before they were gathered together. Possibly they were preserved in both oral and written forms (Judg 8:14 is an important attestation to an early, widespread diffusion of the art of writing) in the areas in which the exploits were performed. Some of the difficulties of the stories, and the alleged duplications, are readily explicable on this assumption. The author of this selection may have used more than one account of the same event, e.g. the prose and poetical accounts of deliverance from the Canaanites (Judg 4; 5). Or there may be an incidental witness to the art of the storyteller with his use of reiteration to preserve the vital thread of the narrative. Recent literary conventions should not be imposed upon the lit. of the ancient Near E. One of the fallacies of the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis was its examination of the text of the OT without reference to lit. from Israel’s contemporaries. The criteria used for dissecting the early books of the Bible, including double names of individuals, groups, places, common nouns, the deity, and even changes of style, are, in fact, features that are paralleled in contemporary documents from Israel’s neighbors. For this and many other reasons, the documentary hypothesis has been widely abandoned or modified. In particular, it is not now generally held that the so-called Elohist or Yahwist sources can be traced in Judges.
The individual stories have been brought together in an orderly manner, in which their chronological sequence has been maintained (see article, Period of Judges, sec. 3), and set in a framework of editorial comment. A standard form of introduction is discernible in the stories of Othniel (3:7ff.), Ehud (3:12ff.), Deborah (4:1ff.), Gideon (6:1ff.), Jephthah (10:6ff.), and Samson (13:1ff.). A standardized conclusion is discernible in 3:10, 11, 30; 8:28; in the case of Deborah it is divided between 4:23 and 5:31. In the case of the minor judges, excepting Shamgar (3:31), the standard details include the length of judgeship and the place of burial (10:2, 3, 5; 12:7, 9-15). The same details are given in the case of Samson (15:20; 16:31). An extended general introduction to the period is given in 2:6-3:6. This notes the general trends in the period after Joshua’s death, with its pattern of apostasy, judgment, repentance, and deliverance, a cycle of events that is traced in the remainder of the period of the judges.
The composition of this section, therefore, reflects a certain artistry and a clear point of view. It may be described as interpretative history.
(3) Judges 17:1-21:25, the final section of the book, contains two apparently unrelated events: (a) the shrine of Micah and the Danite migration (17:1-18:31); (b) the outrage at Gibeah and its aftermath (19:1-21:25). There is no evidence of the religiously motivated comment that characterizes 2:6-16:31. Instead, the reason for the disorders is found in the absence of the centralized authority of a monarchy (cf. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). It is unlikely that these narratives were preserved in the traditions of the two tribes principally involved, viz. Dan and Benjamin, since they were shown in an uncomplimentary light. The link that connects these two incidents may be the ineffectiveness of the tribal organization. In the first story, Micah has no court of appeal against the heartless rapaciousness of the Danites. In the second narrative, the amphictyony intervened to punish the men of Gibeah, but their judgment was so mismanaged that the complete extinction of the whole tribe of Benjamin was averted only by resorting to two desperate expedients. The historical setting of the editor of this section is, almost certainly, the reigns of David and Solomon, when the kingdom was firmly but justly administered. These two incidents are of great importance in revealing the conditions operating in certain areas at definite points in the period of the judges. But allowance must be made for the selection of this kind of incident and the final judgment balanced by the completely different picture of the Book of Ruth.
B. Unity. Attention has been drawn to the diversity of the contents of the Book of Judges. However, there is an inward unity in that all the contents witness in one way or another to the political, social, moral, and religious decline in the period between the death of Joshua and the institution of the monarchy. The first section traces the incompleteness of the Conquest, with at least a hint of deterioration within the dismal record of the first chapter. Judah and Simeon enjoy a measure of success, and Benjamin, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Naphtali seem to have dominated over local Canaanite populations, but in the case of Asher and the Danites, the reverse is true.
The second section traces the recurring cycle of apostasy and deliverance through the exploits of the judges. Once more there is a general deterioration with the passage of time, and from Abimelech onward there is no mention of peace. Gideon was able to avoid civil war with Ephraim (8:1-3), but Jephthah failed (12:1-6). The story of Abimelech demonstrates the clash between Israelite and Canaanite elements in the neighborhood of Shechem (9:1-57), and illustrates the effects of an incomplete conquest. Samson effected no real deliverance from the Philistines, and the chs. concerned with his exploits (chs. 13-16) show a decline in the religious comment of the editor, perhaps even suggesting that the stories speak for themselves.
The final section is a graphic picture of the disorders of the period and is devoid of specifically religious comment, the implication being that the nonexistence of the monarchy was the cause of the national malaise. Thus there is an inherent unity in the whole book, and an unmistakable impression is created that this was the “Dark Ages” of Israel’s history.
C. Date. The period of the early monarchy is the most likely date for the composition of Judges in what was basically its present form. The collection of the material in the main section (2:6-16:31), i.e. the exploits of the individual judges, could hardly have taken place before the restoration of national unity. The time of David and Solomon was such a period, and the awakening of national pride would lead to an interest in recording past traditions (the literary activities of Samuel, Nathan, and Gad are noted, in 1 Chron 29:29; 2 Chron 9:29). Moreover, there was a human motive underlying the promulgation of the Book of Judges. The monarchy in the early period faced opposition from the champions of the old traditions. There was an active concern to show that the monarchy had achieved what the amphictyony had singularly failed to win—namely, a complete conquest and the establishment of law and stability, which indicates an early, rather than a post-Disruption (922 b.c.) date. The favorable attitude to the monarchy thus implied, makes the Talmudic tradition that Samuel himself was the author of Judges appear unlikely. His attitude to the monarchy is clearly revealed in 1 Samuel 8. So, to the main corpus of the Book was added a prologue, itself a selection from an otherwise unknown source, showing the incompleteness of the conquest (Judg 1:1-2:5). Similarly, an epilogue (17:1-21:25) was appended, underlining the low standards of the period now replaced by the monarchy.
It is impossible to determine precisely the date of the Book of Judges, or whether more than one hand was involved in its production. The difference in attitude between the second and third sections points to two editors. One fact may be of significance, namely, that Bethlehem (in Judah) figures in both of the incidents narrated in the third section (17:7-9; 19:1, 2) as well as in the events of the Book of Ruth (Ruth 1:1, 2, 19, 22). This lends slight support to a date in the reign of David, himself a native of Bethlehem. Although admitting the absence of definite proof, it seems most probable that the Book of Judges was compiled during the reign of David, and that its human motive was to demonstrate the advantages of the monarchy in contrast to the ineffective system operating since the death of Joshua.
Brief mention may be made of two critical theories concerning the composition of Judges. One view proposes that chs. 9, 16, 17-21, which are devoid of the religious comment found elsewhere, are secondary, having been interpolated into the text at a later date. A second view asserts there were two editings. In the first of these, in the 7th cent. b.c., chs. 9, 16, 17-21 were excluded, the remainder being subjected to editorial treatment from the so-called Deuteronomic school. In a second revision, in the 6th cent. b.c., the omitted chs. were reincorporated as they stood, thus escaping the editorial comment that was characteristic of the first edition. The possibility of minor revisions and reshaping when the Book of Judges was incorporated into the “Former Prophets,” the official history of Israel from the Conquest to the Babylonian Captivity, must not be excluded. The finalizing of this section was accomplished prob. in the early years of the Exile. But the most acceptable view of the origin of the Book of Judges itself, is, as indicated, during the reign of David.
IV. Place in canon
In the Heb. Bible, as in the Eng., Judges occupied seventh place. It was the second book of the “Former Prophets” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). The designation “prophet” is a witness to the belief that the will and purpose of God was mediated through the facts of history as well as by the mouths of the prophets. This section of the Heb. Bible frequently is described as “Deuteronomic History,” since it illustrates, both by example and editorial comment, the principles enunciated in the Book of Deuteronomy. So long as no critical undertones concerning the date of Deuteronomy attach to this expression, no objection need be taken to its use. The Book of Ruth was originally in the third section of the Heb. canon, the Writings. In the LXX it was placed immediately after the Judges, presumably because it related to the same period. This order was followed in the Vul. and most modern VSS. The canonicity of Judges never has been seriously questioned.
The Heb. text of Judges has been remarkably well preserved. One exception to this, the Song of Deborah (ch. 5), is generally reckoned to be contemporary with the events it described. The poetical form and its archaic features present considerable problems to the tr. and prob. have resulted in slight damage to the text in its transmission.
A unique problem relates to the LXX text, where there are two apparently independent VSS of Judges. The first is represented principally by the A (5th cent. a.d.), supported by most of the uncial and cursive MSS of the Gr. texts. The second finds its main witness in the B (4th cent. a.d.), which has the support of texts emanating from Upper Egypt. There is no unity among scholars about the inter-relationship of these recensions, or to which approximates most closely to the original LXX text; each textual variant must be considered on its own merits. In Rahlf’s ed. of the LXX, the unusual expedient has been adopted of printing the two principal VSS side by side.
VI. The moral problem of Israel’s judges
The reader of Judges soon becomes aware of a difference in its leading characters when compared with Israel’s leaders of other periods. The blemishes of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David, for example, are depicted honestly, without affecting the general estimate of the high quality of their lives. In the Judges, the characters are of lesser stature; their shortcomings are more obvious, and there is a certain popular delight in their less reputable exploits. Ehud appeared as an assassin; Jael was praised for a treacherous act (4:17-21; 5:24-27); Gideon settled his family feud in the course of his victory over the Midianites (8:18-21); whereas Jephthah is a brigand chief with a vindictive streak and a scant concept of the requirements of the Lord. The situation becomes most acute in connection with Samson, who, in spite of his Nazirite state, shows a regrettable lack of genuine consecration and indulges his own sensual appetite in an irresponsible manner. These were men who were anointed with the Spirit of the Lord, i.e. they were charismatic individuals. How is this divine endowment to be equated with the low moral and spiritual tone of their lives? The following points must be considered:
First, one must differentiate between the popular verdict of contemporary Israelites and the viewpoint of the editor who collected these stories. No doubt those who had firsthand experience of the various oppressions exulted in every savage detail of the overthrow of their overlords. But the editor who selected these incidents may not have been unaware of these moral and religious blemishes. Indeed, part of his concern may have been to illustrate the low standard of leadership of the period, cf. his condemnation of Gideon in 8:27. The judges were men who lived in an age of low standards, and this fact is reflected in the narratives, giving a graphic representation of conditions in a period of apostasy, when the Mosaic covenant, with its high standards, was in partial abeyance.
Second, special attention must be given to the stories of Samson. It has been observed that in this section (chs. 13-16) there is an absence of the religiously-motivated comment characteristic of the earlier section. An explanation often advanced for this phenomena is that the stories had become so fixed in tradition that the ed. could not adapt them, although surely the same would apply equally to the other traditions. It seems more reasonable to suppose that these narratives were self-explanatory. Here was a leader, but of what character! Unable to effect a deliverance from the Philistines, his exploits were resented by his own countrymen (15:11). Similarly, the material in the appendix (17-21) could speak for itself, without adding to the politically-motivated comment of 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 20:25. One can be grateful for the overruling of the Holy Spirit in the selection and presentation of this history. It serves as a perpetual reminder of what happens to a nation, and the individuals comprising it, when the Lord is forsaken and His commandments broken. Some parts of Scripture are for inspiration and edification, but the Book of Judges sounds a solemn note of warning.
In the third place, the OT events frequently are related directly to God Himself. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exod 4:21; 7:3, 13; etc.); He sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Judg 9:23); an evil spirit from the Lord troubled Saul (1 Sam 16:14; 18:10; 19:9); He put a lying spirit in the mouths of the false prophets (1 Kings 22:23). It is the effect upon the object rather than the quality of the spirit itself that is prominent in the latter references. The significance of this in common life was that unusual power or qualities of any kind, e.g. strength or wisdom, were conceived to be a unique endowment from the Spirit of the Lord. But the vital connection is with the sovereignty of God who influences and controls men and nations in accordance with His own will. This is reflected in Judges 14:4, where the parents of Samson, having understandably opposed their son’s marriage outside of the covenant people, are shown to be unaware of the divine overruling. Samson himself was devoid of higher motives, but God used him to “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judg 13:5).
Therefore, the charismatic anointing of the Judges’ period was for a limited but definite purpose. It must not be understood as parallel to the NT doctrine of the Spirit, which invariably is associated with holiness of life. The Lord made the Judges a channel of His power or the means of His revelation, without any necessarily direct influence upon their moral character. Elsewhere in the OT God employed unlikely agents, such as Balaam, a professional prophet (Num 22-24); Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who was called His servant (Jer 25:9; 27:6; 43:10); and the Pers. Cyrus, described as “my shepherd” and “his (God’s) anointed,” Isa 44:28; 45:1; cf. 45:4). The wisdom of God’s choice is not always observable to men, and there must always remain an inscrutable element. He could use a man like Samson, whose short career centered upon his illicit relationships with Philistine women, some of whom were of dubious character. It must be stressed, however, that Samson and others should have lived up to the standards already revealed in the Mosaic law.
VII. Permanent value
The Book of Judges illuminates the political, social, and religious condition of Israel during the vital period between the Conquest and the institution of the monarchy. The manner in which this is done, allows the reader to capture the atmosphere of the period in a way that would be impossible in a formal history.
It provides a dramatic illustration of the effect of apostasy upon every aspect of life. The root cause of Israel’s decline was that the covenant relationship with the Lord, with its requirement of absolute and loyal obedience to His commands, was broken. This led to disintegration in the political, religious, social, and family spheres and to a sharp increase in immorality. The Book of Judges serves as a reminder that a nation cannot live on its past glories. The author of Judges was, of course, a preacher to his own generation, but his message has a permanent and universal application, and may be summed up in the words of Proverbs 14:34:
“Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people.”
Israel’s chronic inability to profit by its own bitter history is a solemn exhortation to profit from the lessons of experience, whether observed or experienced.
Against this somber background, the enduring character of God stands out more clearly. He remained faithful to His covenant, not making a final end of His people in spite of their repeated infidelity. His righteousness is seen in His judgments, for sin is an affront to Him which He cannot pass over lightly. The sovereignty of God is revealed in His use of the surrounding nations as the rod of His anger against Israel. He is able to save by few as well as by many (cf. Judg 7:2-7). The forces of nature are at His disposal (5:20, 21). When His Spirit comes upon a man, such an anointing makes that man invincible (3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6; etc.). God’s longsuffering evidences itself in His willingness to hear the cry of His distressed people, and to give them a new chance, however short-lived that repentance might be. While the solemn note of judgment may appear to predominate, it does not silence the undertones of grace.
The points made in the preceding paragraph reflect, in measure, the point of view of the later editor. He wrote from the standpoint of a living faith in God, for the spiritual edification of his contemporaries. This quality of faith also characterized the principal characters in Judges. They were not free of moral blemishes, nor did they always conform to the requirements of God’s law; but there can be no question of their vital apprehension of their God. Since the Song of Deborah is agreed to be contemporaneous with the events it narrates, it is a telling example of this fact. It speaks of His effective past intervention on Israel’s behalf (5:4), and of His control of nature (5:4, 5, 20, 21) and of His present participation in Israel’s fight against the Canaanites (5:23). The enemies of Israel are His enemies also (5:31). The intolerance that characterizes this poem cannot hide the incredibly vivid faith that it reveals. In an apostate age, men who knew their God in this way wrought great exploits for Him (cf. Dan 11:32) and four of them, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah are catalogued among the great heroes of faith (Heb 11:32).
A. The partial conquest of Canaan (1:1-2:5). 1. Judges 1:1-21 records the relative success of the tribes of Judah and Simeon. The latter tribe soon lost its identity and was absorbed into the more powerful tribe of Judah. This account is complementary to Joshua 10:1-43, the activities of the individual tribes recorded in Judges 1, being within the overall strategy of Joshua’s generalship highlighted in Joshua 10. The fact that the general movement is from N to S, beginning at Jerusalem, is evidence against the view that this section witnesses to an independent invasion from the S by the Judah tribes. Jerusalem was defeated but not occupied (Judg 1:8). Subsequently reoccupied by the Jebusites (1:21), it resisted capture until David’s reign (2 Sam 5:6-11). The initial victory against the lowland cities (Judg 1:18) is qualified by the admission of 1:19.
2. The destruction of Bethel (1:22-26), although attested by archeology, is not recorded in Joshua, but the men of Bethel assisted in the defense of Ai (Josh 8:17), which was adjacent to Bethel. Some connection between the two accounts must be assumed, but the question is complicated by archeological evidence from the site of Ai, which appears to have been unoccupied from c. 2200 b.c. Since Ai is described as a small city (Josh 7:3), whereas the identified site of Ai shows a relatively large and well-defended city, the most likely explanation is that the survivors of the earlier city resettled at another adjacent site. The Hittites (Judg 1:26) were a major power c. 1800-1200 b.c. Their empire spread over modern Asia Minor and Syria. Hittite influence is prominent in the patriarchal narratives (e.g. Gen 23:7; cf. Josh 1:4).
3. Judges 1:27-36 is a depressing catalogue of unoccupied territory. In certain cases the Israelites were strong enough to reduce the Canaanites to bondage (1:30, 33, 35), although this is not always achieved quickly (1:28). The Asherites appear to have been the weaker group (1:32) and the Danites were quite displaced (1:34). The Canaanites retained control of the low-lying areas, where their chariots could be effectively deployed, until the time of Deborah and Barak (Judg 4, 5). The result was that many of the tribes failed to occupy their allotted portion, and the lists in Joshua 14:1ff. were consequently idealistic.
4. Judges 2:1-5 records the Israelites confronted with their great sin of disobedience, which was, in effect, a breaking of their covenant with Yahweh. The idea of covenant, which was fundamental in the early history of Israel, has been illumined by archeological evidence of covenant treaty forms (mainly Hitt.) of the second millennium b.c. This provides further attestation of the reliability of the early OT records. The movement of the angel of the Lord from Gilgal to Bochim prob. is to be associated with the transference of the central sanctuary from Gilgal. The LXX connects Bochim (i.e. Weepers) with Bethel, where the sanctuary was subsequently located (Judg 20:18-28; 21:1-4). Confronted with this challenge, and with the manifestation of the deity, the people wept, but their subsequent conduct shows that there was no permanent reformation.
B. Israel’s judges (2:6-16:31)
1. Introduction (Judges 2:6-3:6). Judges 2:6-10 is paralleled in Joshua 24:28-31, a reminder that the death of a great man both begins and ends an era. It is a tribute to Joshua that the people remained faithful to the Lord in his generation, although they all had firsthand experience of the great works of the Lord. Timnath-heres (Judg 2:9) should be read as Timnath-serah (Josh 19:50; 24:30); a scribe reversed the consonants.
The general tendency of the whole of the Judges’ period is summarized (Judg 2:11-15). It was a period of apostasy in which the nature-gods of Canaan were worshiped. Baal, the god of the thunderstorm and the rain, was the great, active figure in the Canaanite pantheon. Astarte was one of the goddesses of war and fertility. The pl. forms (vv. 11, 13) may hint at the many local variants and name derivatives (e.g. Num 25:3; Josh 11:17; Judg 9:4; 2 Kings 1:2), but more likely it refers to the totality of the Canaanite gods who were worshiped in the fertility cults. These gods were thought responsible for fertility in man, beasts, and agriculture, and possibly a semipagan generation of Israelites considered it wise to pay them due respect. They ignored the absolute sovereignty of the Lord, who chastised them for their infidelity.
The cycle of apostasy, servitude, and deliverance through a divinely-empowered judge is outlined (Judg 2:16-3:6), along with the general deterioration characteristic of the period. For this reason they were unable to drive out the original inhabitants of the land. But the historian, conscious of an overruling sovereignty, saw other good reasons why these nations were allowed to remain (2:22; 3:1, 2, 4). The Philistines were a people of Aegean stock who inhabited their pentapolis of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. Canaanites may designate all the inhabitants of the land, but sometimes it is restricted to those settled in the low-lying areas. The Sidonians and Jebusites were the Canaanite inhabitants of Sidon and Jerusalem respectively. The Hivites usually are associated with the Horites, who established a strong kingdom in upper Mesopotamia some centuries before the Judges’ period. The Amorites are ethnically indistinguishable from the Canaanites. They are often associated with the hill country, in contradistinction to the specialized use of Canaanites (Num 13:29). Little is known of the Perizzites, who may have been an aboriginal group. One of the prime causes of Israel’s apostasy was the intermarriage with this pagan population (Judg 3:6), in which the relationship of the individual deities would be a major problem. This is referred to as spiritual adultery (2:17; cf. Jer 3:1ff.).
2. Othniel (3:7-11). The first oppression came from Mesopotamia (lit. “Aram of the two rivers”). Mesopotamia itself is a Gr. form that usually describes the area drained by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The reference could be to the Euphrates and one of its tributaries. The name of the oppressor is disguised in the text; Cushan-rishathaim means “Cushan of double-wickedness.” The Israelites were sufficiently united at this early period for Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, who was associated with the southern tribe of Judah (cf. Josh 14:13-15; Judg 1:10-15), to lead them against an invader from the N.
3. Ehud (3:12-30). The second oppression came from Moab, which was located E of the Dead Sea between the Arnon and the Zered Rivers, her NE neighbor, Ammon, and the Amalekites, who came from the area S of Judah. The Moabite penetration prob. was limited to the territory of Benjamin and Ephraim. Jericho (the city of palms, v. 13) had been under a curse by Joshua (Josh 6:26) and was not rebuilt until the time of Ahab (1 Kings 16:34). The reference is prob. to an adjacent site, which would utilize the natural resources of the region. Ehud, a left-handed man (cf. Judg 20:16; 1 Chron 12:2) was the deliverer on this occasion. His assassination of Eglon was cunningly planned and boldly executed. Disarming the Moabite king by the offering of tribute, he secured a private audience in the secluded roof chamber and used his left-handedness to devastating effect. The natural reticence of Eglon’s servants gave him time to escape. The “sculptured stones” near Gilgal (Judg 3:19, 26) were possibly the commemorative stones set up by Joshua (Josh 4:19-24). The number of the Moabites slain indicates an unusually large force W of the Jordan. Though not impossible, the word for thousand (אֶ֫לֶפ֮, H547) may refer to an army group.
4. Shamgar (3:31). Here is no mention of Israel’s apostasy or cry for deliverance, or of an actual oppression, nor any reference to divine enablement. Moreover, Judges 4:1 takes up the story from the death of Ehud, not Shamgar. Since his name is non-Israelite, possibly Hittite or Hurrian, it has been conjectured that he was a foreigner whose exploits benefitted Israel. Anath was another of the Canaanite goddesses of war, etc., and the expression “the son of Anath” may refer to his warlike propensities. An ox-goad was a metal-pointed implement about nine ft. long. Such a weapon may indicate that the Philistine policy of depriving the native population of weapons was already in force (1 Sam 13:19-22). Certain Gr. VSS place Shamgar after the Samson stories (i.e. after 16:31), but 5:6 confirms the chronology of the Heb. text.
5. Deborah and Barak (4:1-5:31). Two accounts have been preserved of the deliverance from the Canaanites, a prose account (4:1-23) and a poem of victory (5:1-31), the latter being generally attributed to Deborah herself. There are difficulties in the interrelationships of the accounts. In ch. 4, Jabin appears as the nominal leader of the Canaanites, although Sisera, the commander of the chariot force, has the active part. Two tribes, Naphtali and Zebulun, are mentioned and the engagement takes place between Mount Tabor and the River Kishon. In ch. 5 Jabin is not mentioned, although the coalition of the Canaanite city-states is implied (5:19); four more tribes, viz. Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir, and Issachar, participate and the action moves westward to “Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo” (5:19). There is also the question of another Jabin, king of Hazor who led an earlier Canaanite coalition against Joshua’s Israelites (Josh 11:1-15).
It is not necessary to assume that chs. 4 and 5 are contradictory accounts. Archeology confirms the destruction of Hazor by fire (cf. Josh 11:11-13) about the time of the Israelite invasion. Thereafter, only the upper city (c. twenty-five acres) was occupied, the lower city (c. 150 acres) remaining unoccupied. Hazor, however, occupied a strategic position dominating a major trade route, and its emergence as the leader of a coalition of Canaanite city-states a cent. later is not surprising. It was prob. more convenient to maintain the chariot force at Harosheth ha-goiim (Judg 4:2) under the control of the local king, Sisera, where they could deal more effectively with any Israelite uprising.
Historians were concerned to give God the glory for the victory rather than to give a detailed account, but the following reconstruction is reasonable. Deborah, who was a civil judge (4:5) before she became a military judge, encouraged Barak to break the Canaanite yoke, the initial movement being confined to the tribes principally affected, Naphtali and Zebulun. A considerable success was gained between Tabor and Kishon, which was followed by a general summons to the tribes, with the exception of Judah and Simeon, who were isolated because of geographical and political factors. The rout of Sisera’s army was completed by this reinforced Israelite army in the vicinity of Taanach (5:19), which resulted in the precipitant westward flight of the Canaanites. Sisera’s attempted escape was foiled by the treachery of Jael, who efficiently dispatched the man whom she had lulled into a false sense of security. Hazor itself, and Jabin, survived the events of this campaign (4:23, 24), but the Canaanite power was shattered.
Among the incidental details of these chs. are: (1) the picture of a God who controls the forces of nature (5:4, 5, 20, 21), prob. an unseasonable thunderstorm immobilized the Canaanite chariotry and nullified Sisera’s advantage. (2) The condition of Israel under the crippling bondage of the Canaanites (5:6-8). (3) The evidence of partial unity among the Israelites; six tribes participated in the deliverance, whereas four (Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher, 5:15-17) were upbraided for their nonparticipation. The inference is that they ought to have been present, which confirms the existence of the tribal league. (4) The song of Deborah witnesses to a genuine faith in God.
6. Gideon (6:1-8:33). There is greater detail concerning the oppression by the Midianites and their allies, and Gideon’s liberation of his people, than any other of the episodes narrated in Judges. Possibly the author combined two or more of the popular accounts of this great deliverance, including all that he considered significant. Or the apparent repetitions may be due to the technique of the ancient storyteller, who needed an occasional recapitulation; not unrelated to the natural element of repetition that appears in the parallelism of poetry, and which prob. influenced prose composition.
The seasonal incursions of the Midianites and their allies had disastrous effects upon the economy of the land and the morale of the Israelites (6:1-6). In the patriarchal period there was a similar seasonal movement between the Negeb and the central hill-country, which occasionally resulted in friction even though the land was sparsely populated (cf. Gen 34). The Midianites came into areas that had a setted population and their annual predatory raids reduced Israel to poverty. The full-scale use of camels is the first historically documented employment of this beast in warfare. It struck terror into the hearts of the Israelites. Gideon’s action in beating out wheat in a wine press (Judg 6:11) shows both his fear and the smallness of his crop. His reply to the angelic visitor (6:13) illustrates the popular explanation of their plight; the Lord had forsaken them. But Gideon seemed unaware of the reason for this rejection (cf. 6:1, 7-10).
Gideon’s hesitation to accept the divine commission is paralleled in the case of Moses (Exod 4:13), Barak (Judg 4:8), and Jeremiah (Jer 1:6; cf. 2 Cor 3:5, 6). Before he could deliver Israel, work was to be done nearer at hand, for the syncretistic tendencies of the age were illustrated in the shrine of Baal, of which his father Joash was custodian. This Gideon broke down, and also cut down the Asherah, a Canaanite cult-symbol (with undoubted sexual connections) made of wood, prob. a formal substitute for a sacred tree. Joash was a man of good sense who saw that if Baal was a real god he could deal personally with this affront.
The seasonal invasion of the Midianites was the occasion of Gideon’s charismatic anointing (6:34). Initial support came from his own town (showing the absence of resentment for the destruction of its Baalshrine), his fellow tribesmen of Manasseh, and the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Issachar is surprisingly omitted from this list, but its territory must have been affected. The faith of Gideon was strengthened by three signs from the Lord, who graciously accommodated Himself to the timidity of His anointed (6:36-40; 7:9-14). From this point on, Gideon’s faith did not waver. The first stage in the reduction of his army (7:2, 3) followed the provisions of Deuteronomy 20:8; the second stage (Judg 7:4-7) prob. marked out those who remained on their guard, scooping up the water and lapping from their cupped hands without relaxing vigilance. Against the immense hordes of Midianites (6:5; 7:12) such a reduction of numbers must have appeared incredible, but it emphasized that this was the Lord’s act of salvation, not man’s.
The audacious plan of attack was implemented with careful attention to detail (7:19-25). The aim was to make as much noise as possible from all sides, the lights giving the impression of a great host. As the watch had just changed, more men than usual would be moving about in the darkness, thus increasing the confusion. The effect of the clamor upon the camels would be disastrous. A full scale panic ensued, in which every man’s sword was against his neighbor, followed by a desperate flight for the fords of Jordan. Gideon’s men hardly seem to have been engaged in this phase, and they suffered few, if any casualties (Judg 8:4).
The initial overwhelming success led to the summoning of the tribal contingents, which doubtless included those who had no heart for battle at an earlier phase (7:23, 24). An ugly crisis with the Ephraimites, which could have facilitated the Midianite escape, was averted by the diplomacy of Gideon (8:1-3). The refusal of the rulers of Succoth and Penuel to supply their brethren with provisions was an act of treachery motivated by self-interest; they were nearer to the haunts of the Midianites and were afraid of reprisals. They paid dearly for their unbrotherliness when Gideon returned (8:13-17, note the incidental witness to the widespread early use of writing in v. 14), after his successful pursuit of the remnant of the Midianite host that had escaped before the Ephraimites sealed the Jordan fords (7:24). The end of Gideon’s campaign came at Karkor (8:10), well to the E of the Dead Sea, where the Midianites must have felt secure. But Gideon, by forced marches along the caravan routes (8:11), took them by surprise a second time and completely routed them. Then, wisely, he returned home, exacting a personal revenge upon the two captured kings for their slaughter of his brothers (8:18-21).
Such was the sense of gratitude of the Israelites that they offered Gideon the kingship (8:22). Some scholars believe that his refusal was in fact an acceptance, but couched in ambiguous terms, hinting that such an honor would be within the kingly rule of the Lord. Support for this is seen in the fact that Gideon subsequently exercised the functions of a king, and it was assumed that his sons would rule after his death (9:2; cf. 8:35). However, v. 29 does not indicate any great accession of power and in any case his influence would be limited to a small area and prob. was not significantly greater than that of the other judges. His construction of an ephod, for oracular purposes, prob. was innocent enough in its intention, but its very preciousness (8:26, 27) meant that it became itself an object of worship, indicating that idolatry was not far removed from the average Israelite at that time. Gideon’s indulgence (8:31) involved his family in near extinction subsequently (9:1ff.), and his example in his declining years made a sad contrast to his earlier devoted leadership.
7. Abimelech. Abimelech was not one of Israel’s judges (Judg 9:1-56). His mother lived in Shechem, a city that retained many Canaanite characteristics; possibly it was incorporated into Israel by treaty. Since Abimelech’s mother was a concubine, his own citizenship was attached to Shechem rather than to his father’s family in Ophrah. Abimelech himself appears as a vindictive and utterly unscrupulous individual, and the story witnesses to the tensions that existed between the Israelites and the original inhabitants of the land. His three-year rule in Shechem and its district was hardly an antecedent of the monarchy in Israel; rather it was a reversal to the localized rule of the king of a Canaanite city-state.
Abimelech’s first act was to arrange the massacre of the legitimate sons of Gideon, securing the help of the men of Shechem by appealing to their self interest. The scheme was financed by funds from the heathen sanctuary (Judg 9:4). The one survivor, Jotham, fled after delivering his famous fable (vv. 7-21) from the top of Mt. Gerizim. The point of the fable was that the Shechemites had made the wrong choice of a king, the useless bramble created a fire hazard and was incapable of giving shade. The doom of the Shechemites already was sealed by their treacherous ingratitude to the house of Gideon.
The remainder of the ch. documents the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Shechemites soon tired of their new loyalty and when open rebellion was advocated, Abimelech acted ruthlessly to crush it. The “Tower of Shechem” (v. 46), unlike that at Thebez (v. 50) and most ancient cities, was apparently outside the city. It was reduced by a stratagem that Abimelech sought to reapply at Thebez, with disastrous results. His request to his armorbearer (v. 54) reflects the sense of dishonor at dying at the hands of a woman. His reputation, however, was not saved (2 Sam 11:21). No reason is given for the campaign against Thebez, but the attitude of rebellion against Abimelech prob. was widespread.
9. Jephthah (10:6-12:7). This editorial section (10:6-16; cf. 2:6-3:6) introduces the oppressions of the Ammonites and the Philistines, which prob. were contemporary (10:7). It outlines again the main characteristic of the period, viz. Israel’s apostasy, which was oblivious to the Lord’s past deliverances; Israel’s weakness under the pressure of her neighbors; Israel’s repentance and reformation, and the renewal of the Lord’s mercy. The Ammonite raids had extended beyond the Jordan to include Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim (v. 9), although the attack that brought Jephthah to leadership apparently was confined to Gilead (vv. 17ff.). “Maonites” (v. 12) possibly refers to the Midianites.
The Gileadites (Judg 10:17-11:1), in despair, turned to Jephthah, the leader of a band of brigands. Jephthah was the son of a harlot, but unlike Abimelech, his lineage attached to his father’s family and his expulsion was clearly illegal. Nevertheless, he was opportunist enough to pocket his pride when he was offered the leadership of his people.
Judges 11:12-28 is surely one of the earliest diplomatic wrangles in recorded history. Jephthah met the Ammonite claim by reminding them of Israel’s care not to offend Edom and Moab during the wilderness journeyings. Sihon, the Amorite king, had attacked Israel and consequently lost his kingdom. The disputed territory, therefore, had been Amorite, not Ammonite, and in any case, any Ammonite claim had lapsed with the passage of time (v. 26). As in many subsequent diplomatic exchanges, the Ammonites remained unconvinced. Two factual errors may be noted in Jephthah’s message: Chemosh (v. 24) was the god of the Moabites, not the Ammonites; the 300 years (v. 26) can hardly be taken literally. Possibly it was unwise to expect absolute accuracy in the statement of a robber chief.
Jephthah’s sweeping victory, under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, is dealt with briefly (Judg 11:32, 33). The main interest of the historian concerns Jephthah’s rash vow and its tragic fulfillment. The vow, which was intended to secure the Lord’s favor, was both unnecessary and undesirable. The practice of child sacrifice in the ancient world was usually reserved, as here, for an emergency (cf. 2 Kings 3:27). It was alien to true-Israelite worship and was not widely practiced until the latter period of the monarchy (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6). Jephthah obviously intended a human sacrifice (Judg 11:31), but the emergence of his only daughter at his victorious return (v. 34) was unanticipated. The text will not allow any other interpretation than that Jephthah literally fulfilled this vow. There is something magnificent, if pathetic, about the acquiescence of Jephthah’s daughter in her fate (vv. 36-40).
Although on an earlier occasion (Judg 8:1, 2) Gideon had pacified the jealous Ephraimites with conciliatory words, Jephthah was not a man of peace, and he resented the nonintervention of the Ephraimites in Gilead’s crisis. Recalling his recently dispersed army, he smote the Ephraimites and seized the fords of Jordan to prevent their escape. The Ephraimites were incapable of pronouncing “sh.” Any word with this sound included would have revealed their identity, and it was the word “shibboleth” (lit. “ear of corn”) that was employed. This word has become proverbial as a catchword for certain groups.
10. Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15). Bethlehem (v. 8) was not Bethlehem-judah (which is usually so written KJV), but a small town about ten m. N of Megiddo, in Zebulun. “The hill country of the Amalekites” (v. 15) may indicate an Amalekite enclave, although this is inconsistent with the geographic and Biblical evidence (Exod 17:8-13; Deut 25:17-19; 1 Sam 15:2, 3). Or it may have some connection with the raids of Judges 3:13; 6:3; 7:12; 10:12.
11. Samson (13:1-16:31). The Philistine menace (Judg 13:1) was the greatest threat to Israel’s existence during the period of the Judges and the early monarchy. This was, in measure, due to the nature of Philistine control—a Philistine overlordship was superimposed upon an alien population, backed up by a military efficiency unknown in Israel. The men of Judah did not find this kind of rule particularly onerous, and they resented Samson’s activities (15:11). This apathetic acceptance of the situation was dangerous and the value of Samson’s exploits was in bringing the conflict out into the open. Samson waged a one man war on the Philistines, who had penetrated into the territory of Dan and Judah. During the time of Samuel and Saul, Israel was engaged in a life and death struggle with the Philistines, whose power finally was broken by David (2 Sam 5:17-25).
Samson’s birth was announced by the angel of the Lord (Judg 13:2-20; cf. Gen 18:10; Luke 1:13), and special instructions were given concerning both mother and child. Two forms of the Nazirite vow are found in the OT. The regular vow was for a limited period and contained three stipulations: (1) abstinence from all products of the vine; (2) the hair was to be left unshorn; (3) all contact with the dead was to be avoided (Num 6:1-21). A second type was a life vow taken by the parents of the one consecrated. Of the three stipulations only the second was taken seriously by Samson, and his actual consecration to the Lord was nominal. The concern of the parents for the upbringing of their child was most laudable (Judg 13:12). They were unaware of the identity of their divine visitor until his ascent in the sacrificial flame, after which Manoah’s wife showed a great deal more common sense than her husband (vv. 22, 23). It was widely believed that such an encounter was inevitably fatal (cf. Gen 32:30; Exod 33:20; Judg 6:22, 23).
There is an interconnection between all the events recorded in Judges 14:1-15:20, which made Samson the principal public enemy of the Philistines. Timnah was four m. SW of Zorah, on the opposite side of the fruitful Vale of Sorek. The short distance between the two places may explain the ambiguity in the movements of ch. 14, e.g. the return journey of Samson’s parents (cf. vv. 5, 9) is not noted. The editor of Judges accounts for the apostasy of the period by the prevalence of mixed marriages (3:6; cf. Exod 34:16; Deut 7:3); so it is more revealing when one of Israel’s judges was involved in at least two relationships with foreign women (Judg 14:1ff.; 16:1). The grief of his parents is understandable (14:3), particularly in the light of the supernatural nature of his birth, although they were unaware of the divine overruling (14:4). The marriage normally was consummated at the end of the wedding feast, but the enraged Samson left precipitantly when the solution of his riddle was revealed (14:10-18). Such an event brought great shame upon the bride’s family, so she was immediately given in marriage to the “best man.” Samson evidently had made it clear that he knew who was responsible for the revealing of his secret (14:18b; 15:2). Three acts of revenge followed in quick succession. First, Samson destroyed the standing crops of the Philistines (15:3-5), a devastating blow in an agricultural community (cf. 2 Sam 14:29-33). The Philistines, guessing correctly the identity of the incendiary, took a summary judgment upon the family responsible (15:6). Finally, Samson slaughtered an unspecified number of Philistines (15:7, 8).
A fourth act of revenge was thwarted by Samson’s incredible strength. A large force of Philistines sought to capture Samson in his hideout at the rock of Etam, which has been tentatively identified about two and a half m. SE of Zorah. The apathetic acceptance of Philistine rule is shown by the concern of 3,000 men of Judah not to alienate their overlords. Even after Samson’s exploit, they made no effort to secure their freedom. It is equally obvious that the Philistines did not regard the actions of Samson as representative of Israel generally. The “fresh jawbone of an ass” (v. 15) would be a formidable weapon in the hands of a determined man. The name of the place, Lehi (“jawbone,” 15:14, 15), or Ramath-lehi (“the hill of the jawbone,” 15:17) was given as a result of this episode. Another etiological feature is the name En-hakkore (“the well, or spring, of him who called,” v. 19). 1 Kings 19:4ff. provides a parallel to God’s gracious care for His overwrought servant. Judges 15:20, which records the length of Samson’s judgeship, may have marked the end of an earlier VS of Judges.
Gaza was the southernmost of the five Philistinian cities, and here Samson (Judg 16:1-3), a man of unbridled passions, sought the company of a prostitute. A plot to seize him when morning broke was foiled by Samson’s incredible feat of uprooting gates, posts, and securing-bar. City gates were strong, for this was an obvious danger point in time of siege, but Samson transported this heavy load to the top of a prominent hill on the way to Hebron, thirty-eight m. distant. Small wonder that the Philistines were subsequently unwilling to approach him until they were sure he was rendered helpless.
Samson’s passions were to prove his undoing (Judg 16:4-31). The movements of this ch. involve at least six visits to Delilah and indicate more than a passing passion. The large bribe offered (v. 5, about 150 lbs. of silver) and the reference of vv. 9, 12, 14, and 20 may indicate that Delilah was an Israelite, although the bribe would be commensurate with the risk involved. Samson’s playfulness in suggesting various explanations of his strength was countered by the heartless persistence of Delilah. In their second attempt (vv. 10-12) Delilah and the Philistines overlooked, or were unaware of, the earlier failure of this method (15:13, 14). The third attempt, involving the weaving of Samson’s hair, came perilously close to the truth. Eventually, Delilah’s desire for gain, perhaps aided by her unwillingness to concede defeat, wore down Samson’s resistance. His capitulation led swiftly to his capture, degradation, and imprisonment. Samson’s unshorn hair was, in one sense, only the symbol of his Nazirite consecration, but the surrender of this led to the withdrawal of the Lord’s power. The sentence “And he did not know that the Lord had left him” (16:20) is surely one of the saddest in the OT. Yet one final triumph was in store. It appears incredible that the Philistines, knowing the secret of Samson’s strength, should have allowed his hair to grow again. Probably they thought they had nothing to fear from this blind shambles of a man who could be led about by a lad (v. 26).
Dagon (v. 23) was an Amorite grain or vegetation god, and his worship by the Philistines shows their propensity to accept the culture and even the religion of the people they dominated. Samson’s one act of true devotion is noted in v. 28, and even this contains a grim jest in the reference to “one of my two eyes.” The house (v. 26, etc.) was supported by wooden pillars set on stone bases. The whole structure was rendered unstable because of the large number of spectators on the roof, pressing forward to see this Samson who had taken cover between the pillars. Samson’s last feat of strength displaced two of the pillars from their bases and the whole building crashed in ruins. More Philistines died in this catastrophe than the total killed by Samson in his lifetime prior to this (16:30; cf. 14:19; 15:8, 15).
The final estimate of Samson is one of an unrealized potential, because his massive strength was not matched by discipline and genuine devotion.
C. Appendices (17:1-21:25)
1. Danites move to the north. The setting of the account of Micah and the Danites (Judg 17:1-18:31) is the later period of the Judges, when the intertribal organization had decayed and when the Danites, reduced by the Philistine pressure (chs. 13-16) to a small area around Zorah and Eshtaol (18:2), were compelled to migrate northward. Thus the events of the first appendix followed soon after those of the Samson narratives.
The low standards and the religious irregularities (Judg 17:1-13) are clearly evidenced. Micah’s mother may have suspected her son, hence the uttering of a curse in his hearing (17:2). In the ancient world, a curse was considered to have effective power of fulfillment, but it could be countermanded by a blessing. Only part of the restored fortune was used to make an image, although this whole amount had been dedicated (17:3). Micah bypassed the Levitical priesthood by consecrating his own son, but when a true Levite appeared he was immediately engaged in preference. His genealogy (18:30) confirms that the Levitical priesthood was operative at this period and the reference in 17:7 must be construed accordingly. He was not of the tribe of Judah, but was a Levite attached to that tribe. However, some disorder is evident for he had no secure place of service. The idolatrous nature of Micah’s shrine is evident by the presence of an ephod, a teraphim, and a molten image. The teraphim prob. were household gods and, like the ephod, were used to ascertain the divine will.
Events are sometimes determined by apparently insignificant details (Judg 18:1-31). The chance hearing of a Levite’s voice secured a propitious oracle for the mission of the five spies, which seemed to be confirmed by the evidence of their own eyes (v. 7). Laish, the modern Tell el-Qâdi, was a large city in a fertile valley, with an assured water supply. Its secluded nature, shielded as it was by the Lebanon range and Mt. Hermon, had lulled its inhabitants into a false state of security. The spies recognized a situation that offered rich rewards at minimum cost, and so the remnant of the tribe of Dan moved northward (v. 11ff.). The recollection of the earlier oracle led to the theft of all the equipment of Micah’s shrine, and the abduction of the Levite, who was willing to sell himself to a higher bidder. Micah’s protestations (v. 24) were met with a thinly veiled threat, and being outnumbered by the Danites, Micah retreated. The mission was duly completed and the Levite was duly installed in what was to become one of Israel’s national shrines during the reign of Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:26-30). “The day of the captivity of the land” (Judg 18:30) often is taken to refer to the Assyrian deportation under Tiglath-pileser or Sargon in the 8th cent. b.c. But the parallel time reference, “as long as the house of God was at Shiloh” (v. 31), suggests a reference to the Philistine control after the events of 1 Samuel 4.
2. Civil war against the Benjaminites. The affair of the Levite’s concubine and the subsequent war between Israel and Benjamin prob. took place in the earlier part of the Judges’ period (Judg 19:1-21:25). There is no hint of Philistine oppression and the tribal unity was still evident; the amphictyony moved swiftly to deal with the outrage. Phinehas (20:28; cf. Josh 24:33) was still alive and the central sanctuary appears to be at Bethel, not Shiloh.
This sordid and tragic story began simply enough (Judg 19:1-15) with a Levite seeking to win back his estranged concubine. The joy of the father is understandable, since his daughter’s return would bring shame to his house. This joy and the leisureliness, characteristic of the E, are reflected in the prolonged festivities. The Levite and his party cannot have left much before 3 p.m. on the fifth day, when there was no possibility of reaching their destination before nightfall. Jerusalem, five or six m. to the N and still a Jebusite city (cf. 2 Sam 5:6-9) was avoided because it was non-Israelite—a fact that has added significance in the light of the sequel. Gibeah and Ramah were respectively four and six m. N of Jerusalem. Sunset made a continuation of the journey impossible, so Gibeah was, of necessity, their stopping place; but they were met with an ominous lack of the traditional Eastern hospitality.
This omission of the Benjaminites was made good by a generous sojourner (Judg 19:16-30), another detail that highlights the boorish conduct of the men of Gibeah. Faced by an intimidatory, homosexual demand, the Levite’s host placed the claims of hospitality above those of family relationship and was willing to sacrifice his own daughter and the Levite’s concubine (cf. Gen 19:1-11). The Levite, confronted with acute personal danger, saved his own skin by thrusting out his concubine to endure a night of shame and terror. His reaction the next morning was no more creditable, for there was no indication of any intent to ascertain the fate of his concubine before setting off. His subsequent action is paralleled in 1 Samuel 11:1-8 and was clearly an urgent and solemn challenge to the tribes. There may have been a sacramental significance in that the nation was involved in the life that had been taken, or a magical connection invoking a curse of the blood of the life taken upon those who failed to respond. The inference is that the tribe of Benjamin was included in this summons.
The reaction of the eleven tribes was immediate (Judg 20:1-11) but the Benjamites stood by Gibeah, rejecting the subsequent appeal of the allied tribes (12ff.). The allies assembled at Mizpah, a few m. nearer to Gibeah than the central sanctuary of Bethel. Careful plans were laid for an extended campaign, and Judah, whose tribal portion was similar to that of Benjamin, was chosen to lead the attack against a tribe renowned for the prowess of its fighting men (cf. Gen 49:27; 1 Chron 8:40; 12:2). The minor discrepancies in the numbers of the Benjamites (Judg 20:15, 35, 46, 47) may be due to the fact that no casualities are recorded for the first two days. The 700 men of Gibeah (v. 15) prob. are to be identified with the select group who were expert with the sling, a formidable weapon which could project a stone weighing a pound at great speed. In restricted territory, these men wrought havoc on two successive days, causing the Israelites to seek the Lord’s help with a greater sense of urgency.
A certain recapitulation, characteristic of the storyteller anxious not to omit any details, makes it difficult to understand the events of the third day (Judg 20:29-48). Further complication is the proximity of Gibeah, Gibeon, and Gebah, which frequently are confused. But the general movement is clear. A small ambush was set W of Gebah, which was NE of Gibeah (v. 33). The main attack came from the same direction as previously, i.e. the NW, toward Gibeon (which should be read in v. 31, since two roads are indicated, viz. the Gibeah-Bethel and the Gibeah-Gibeon highways). The main army, feigning flight, drew the Benjamites away from Gibeah (v. 32), which was then taken and burned by the force in ambush (v. 37). The smoke of the doomed city was the signal to the Israelite main force to turn (v. 38), and the Benjamites, fleeing eastward, prob. between Gebah and Gibeah, were trapped in a pincers movement (v. 42) and decimated. The survivors turned northwards to the Rock Rimmon (v. 47), and the victorious Israelites put all that remained to Benjamin to the ban, which involved a dedication of total destruction to the Lord in fulfillment of a vow.
The attitude of the allied tribes, so roughly handled by Benjamin in the early stages of the battle, reflects creditably upon them (Judg 21:1-25). There was no sense of exultation, rather there was deep sorrow at the prospect of the elimination of one tribe, which reveals their sense of unity. It is evident that, in the heat of the crisis, ill-considered and hasty vows had been made. The Israelites extricated themselves from their dilemma by a somewhat casuistic weighing of one vow against another, and by their condoning of mass abduction. Their motives were good, but their methods were questionable and the editor regarded the proceedings as irregular (v. 25). The nonparticipation of the men from Jabesh-gilead (v. 9) may be due to their closer kinship with Benjamin; both were descendants of Rachel. Subsequently there was an understandably close link between the Benjamites and Jabesh-gilead (cf. 1 Sam 11:1ff.; 31:11-13). The detailed description of Shiloh (Judg 21:19) shows that this was before it became prominent as the central sanctuary; it may have been a Canaanite enclave (v. 12), since clearly it had no representative in the discussion of vv. 19-22. The “yearly feast of the Lord” (v. 19) was possibly a Canaanized VS of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Bibliography C. F. Burney, The Book of Judges, 2nd ed. (1930); J. Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History: Joshua-Judges (1931); J. M. Myers, “The Book of Judges,” IB, II (1953); F. F. Bruce, “Judges,” NBC (1954); C. A. Simpson, Composition of the Book of Judges (1957); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (1960), 179-187; A. Weiser, Introduction to the Old Testament (1961), 147-157; A. E. Cundall and L. Morris, Judges and Ruth (1967).
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