Judges (Hebrew: שֹּׁפְטִים) is a book of the Bible originally written in Hebrew. It appears in the Hebrew Bible (Judaism's Tanakh) and in the Christian Old Testament. Its title refers to its contents; it contains the history of judges who helped rule and guide the ancient Israelites.
Meaning of the title
The book derives its name from the fact that it deals with the "Judges," a term which, according to its use in the book, designates those who dealt out justice to the oppressed people; it is used in the sense of a "rescuer". The word, however, means more than this: it means the leaders who took charge of the affairs of the tribes in case of war, and who assumed leadership of their respective tribes in the succeeding times of peace. In accordance with the needs of the time, their functions were primarily judicial.
The introduction connects it with the previous narrative in Joshua as a "link in the chain of books" with Judges 1:1-2:8 being a summarised repetition of parts of Joshua. Judges starts off with the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan, however there are many Canaanite tribes still in the land who still resist them, so although they have entered the land they do not have full control of it. In Judges 1:1-2, the Israelites ask God who should fight against the Canaanites, and Judah is chosen (Simeon also participates because it is was a smaller tribe whose territory was within Judah's area).
Therefore Judges 1:3-21 is an account of the military campaigns of the southern tribes of Judah and Simeon. They defeat the Canaanites and Perizzites and capture their leader Adoni-Bezek (Judges 1:4-7). Then the Judeans invade Jerusalem and put it the sword (Judges 1:8), advance on Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills (Judges 1:9), then continue advancing against the Canaanites that lived in Hebron, defeating Sheshai , Ahiman and Talmai (Judges 1:10). After this they advance on the Canaanites living in Debir (Judges 1:11). As this was a royal Canaanite city, it was seen as being an important city to capture, and evidently Caleb becomes impatient to capture it as he offers the hand of his daughter Achsah in marriage to whoever defeats the city (Judges 1:12-13). Achsah is later given upper and lower springs, presumably in the Negev (Judges 1:14-15). The descendants of Moses' father-in-law (either Hobab or Raguel/Reuel - this is unclear) move to the Desert of Judah (Judges 1:16), which fulfills the promise Moses made in Numbers 10:29-31. The Simeonites and the Judeans attack and totally destroy the Canaanite town of Zepath , which they rename Hormah , the Hebrew word for "destruction" (Judges 1:17). Zepath/Hormah was a town in the Simeonite's territory. The Judeans then take the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron, however though the Judeans take the hill country they fail to take the plains because the people "had iron chariots" (Judges 1:18-19). This is puzzling because vs 19 clearly states "The LORD was with the men of Judah." (NIV) Hebron is captured and given to Caleb, who drives away the three sons of Anak (Judges 1:20). This fulfills the promise made to him by Moses in Numbers 14:24 (also recounted in Deuteronomy 1:35-36). In Joshua 1:21 the Benjamites attempt to drive out the Jebusites but they are unsuccessful.
Judges 1:22-36 is an account of the military campaigns of the house of Joseph. Spies are sent out to survey Luz (later renamed Bethel) and are shown how to enter it by a citzen of the city after they promise to spare the man and his whole family. They put the city to the sword, and the citzen they spared travels to the land of the Hittites and establishes a city he names Luz (Judges 1:22-26). Other tribes are unsuccessful; Manasseh is unable to drive out the Caananites of Beth Shan , Taanach , Dor, Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements (Judges 1:27); Ephraim is unable to drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer (Judges 1:29); Zebulun is unable to drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol (Judges 1:30); Asher is unable to drive out the Canaanites living in Acco, Siddon , Ahlab, Aczib , Helbah, Aphek or Rehob (Judges 1:31); Naphtahli is unable to drive out the Canaanites living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath (Judges 1:33); finally the Danites were confined to the hill country as the Amorites kept them from entering the plain and kept them from capturing Mount Heres , Aijalon and Shaalbim . In each of these cases, the book of Judges says that the tribes later subjugated the Canaanites into forced labour.
The story portrays the great tribulations of the time of the Judges. According to the Bible God inflicted these tribulations because the Israelites partially spared the Canaanites in spite of His command to the contrary (see Judges 2:1-5, especially verse 3). This was to have consequences later on.
For a time there was a period of relative stability while Joshua and the elders who served under him lived (Judges 2:6-7), however once Joshua died at the age of a hundred and ten a new generation of Israelites grew up and worshipped the Baals and the Ashteroths. As they had done this, God was provoked to anger, causing the Israelites to be plundered by raiders and made it so that they were never able to defeat their enemies when they went out to fight. The people were in "great distress". (Judges 2:8-15, NIV) Judges 2:6-10 is covered in more detail in Joshua 24. Judges 2:16-19 shows that God has compassion on the Israelites and raises up judges to save them from their enemies, however the people do not listen to the judges and refuse to obey God's commands. God raises up judges for them several times but each time the judge dies they go back to their old ways. Finally, in Judges 2:20-23, it is revealed that it was part of God's plan for the Israelites to be unable to drive out the remnant Canaanite tribes - he has left them there as a test to see whether the people would "keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did." (Judges 2:22, NIV) The nations left to test "all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan [were] the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians , and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath ." (Judges 3:3-4, NIV) Finally, in Judges 3:5-7 we find the Israelites marrying into foreign tribes (forbidden in Deuteronomy 7:3) and serving their gods.
First Period (3:7-ch. 5)
I. Servitude under Chushan-Rishathaim of Mesopotamia. This section describes Israel's delivery, through divinely appointed judges, from the subjugation to the Canaanites and the neighboring peoples which it had brought upon itself. The accounts of the activities of the several judges vary considerably in length; only the five so-called "Great Judges" are treated in detail.
Othniel delivers Israel, rest
II. Servitude under Eglon of Moab: Ammon, Amalek
Ehud's deliverance, rest
III. Servitude under Jabin of Hazor in Canaan
Barak - a total of 206 years
Second Period (6-10:5)
IV. Servitude under Midian, Amalek, and the children of the east
Abimelech, Gideon's son, reigns as king over Israel
Jair - a total of 95 years
Third Period (10:6-ch. 12)
V. Servitude under Ammonites with the Philistines
Abdon - a total of 49 years
Fourth Period (13-16)
VI. Servitude under Philistines
Samson - a total of 60 years (grand total of 410 years)
Samson's exploits probably synchronize with the period immediately preceding the national repentance and reformation under Samuel (1 Samuel 7:2-6).
After Samson came Eli, who was both high priest and judge. He directed the civil and religious affairs of the people for forty years, at the close of which the Philistines again invaded the land and oppressed it for twenty years. Samuel was raised up to deliver the people from this oppression, and he judged Israel for some twelve years, when the direction of affairs fell into the hands of Saul, who was anointed king. If Eli and Samuel are included, there were then fifteen judges. But the chronology of this whole period is uncertain.
The historic section of the book is followed by an appendix (17-21), which has no formal connection with that which goes before. It records (a) the conquest (17, 18) of Laish by a portion of the Tribe of Dan; and (b) the almost total extinction of the Tribe of Benjamin by the other tribes, in consequence of their assisting the men of Gibeah (19-21). This section properly belongs to the period only a few years after the death of Joshua.
The author of this book is traditionally believed to be Samuel. It was probably composed during Saul's reign, or at the very beginning of David's. The words in 18:30,31, imply that it was written after the taking of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines, and after it was set up at Nob (1 Samuel 21). In David's reign the ark was at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39).
The account of Gideon
The account of Gideon, vi.-viii., consisting of two separate narratives brought into harmony by the passages vii. 25 and viii. 10. According to the main text, including vi. 2-6, 11-24, 33 et seq., vii. 1, and vii. 9-25 (except verse 12), as well as the passages vi. 35; vii. 2-8, 14, 16-22, preserved only in revised form, Gideon delivered the whole of Israel from the inroads of the Midianites, whose camp on Mount Gilboa he surprised. The Ephraimites then captured and killed the fugitives together with their kings Oreb and Zeeb at the fords of the Jordan (comp. especially vii. 24). According to another account, which forms a connected series of additions to the main text (i.e., to vi. 2-viii. 3), and which includes vi. 7-10, 25-32, 36-40 as well as the Deuteronomically revised passage viii. 4-27, Gideon with 300 men captured the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna beyond the Jordan, whither he had pursued them.
A remnant of the earliest Hebrew history has been preserved in the story of Abimelech, which is appended to the story of Gideon. Jotham's daring and original parable of the trees in search of a king, included in this story, was probably added at a later time by an editor who took it from a source earlier than that of the main story. This parable, one of the few remnants of purely secular writing, probably did not originate in the time of Abimelech. It may have been a product of the Northern Kingdom, where the people had unfortunate experiences with elected kings.
The Book of Ruth
The Book of Ruth may originally have formed part of this book, but about A.D. 450 it may have been separated from it and placed separately in the Hebrew Bible.
Last updated: 07-29-2005 21:44:30