The Book of Judges

Aleppo Codex

Joshua 1:1 in the Aleppo Codex. I couldn't find a picture of Judges 1:1.


Studying the Book of Judges has been a intriguing and fun. Authorship is traditionally assigned to Samuel — who was a judge himself — but some of the language in Judges indicates the book may have been finished by Nathan or Gad. The book exhibits a satisfying symmetry: The story of Gideon and Abimelech is bracketed by Deborah and Jephthah (both descendants of Joseph) and in turn, they are bracketed by stories of the great heroes Ehud and Samson. There is an informative prologue, detailing the actions and failings of the Israelites and providing the reasons for Israel's tribulations and the book ends with a graphic epilogue providing insight into the spiritual depravity of the time.

The book is symmetrical, but it is not chronological. The events in the epilogue and the prologue take place prior to the individual accounts of the judges. The Danites move to Laish around the time of Othniel. The Benjamites raped the Levite's concubine in the early years of Ehud's life (this is also around the time Naomi went to Moab in Ruth 1:1-2.) Also, some of the stories of the judges transpired concurrently: The events of Deborah and Gideon overlapped and Jephthah and Samson took place in the same time frame (this was also about the time of Eli.) Keep in mind however, the dating of The Book of Judges as well as much of the Pentateuch is notoriously difficult.


Othniel

Othniel is the first judge in Judges. He is a major judge though his story is brief. He is Caleb's nephew or younger brother, there is some ambiguity in the language. He had helped Caleb secure the town of Debir and in return, was allowed to marry Caleb's daughter, Acsah.

Judges 3:9 But when they cried out to the LORD , he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them.

For the evil of worshiping Canaanite gods, God "sells" the Israelites into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim, king of Aram Naharaim. Cushan-Rishathaim means "doubly wicked Cushan" and Aram Naharaim is the place Abraham sent his servant to find Rebekah for Isaac back in Genesis chapter 24. After eight years of oppression by Cushan-Rishathaim, The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Othniel and he conquers the king. There was peace for forty years until Othniel died.


Ehud

The story of Ehud is almost as brief as that of Othniel. Like Samson, Ehud is a lone hero, powerful and cunning. After Othniel's death, the Israelites returned to worshiping the Baals and God gives them to the Moabites and their king Eglon. Eglon had allied himself with the Ammonites and Amalekites and forcefully taken possession of Jericho. In Judges 3:15, the Israelites cry out to God for a deliverer. He gave them Ehud.

Ehud is a Benjamite. In Genesis 35:16-18, you can read of Rachel dying in childbirth. With her last breath, she named her son Ben-Oni, which means "son of my trouble" but Jacob chose instead to name him Ben-jamin, which means "son of my right hand". So in Judges 20:16, you learn that a significant number of Benjamites are in fact, left-handed. Ehud is left-handed. There is no point, just a fun fact.

King Eglon exacted a tribute from the Israelites and they had Ehud deliver it with several men. After delivery, Ehud dismissed his men and turned to leave but just before doing so, he turned and said, "I have a secret message for you, O king." Intrigued, Eglon called for quiet and all his attendants leave the room so it is just Eglon and Ehud. Left-handed Ehud had strapped a eighteen inch sword to his right leg, under his clothes and at this point he says, "I have a message from God for you" and he reaches down, grabs his sword and plunges it into the fat man's belly. The bible says Eglon is very fat and the handle of the sword goes in and the blade comes out his back and the fat closes around the handle. Some bible version include the king defecating or the intestines coming out his back, but NIV doesn't. In any case, Ehud loses his sword, but he probably didn't really want it back.

Ehud then casually leaves the upper room, locking the doors behind him. The king's servants don't enter the room because they don't want to disturb him while he's on the toilet and so Ehud quietly escapes and goes to Seirah. There he is able to rally the Israelites to go down and take possession of the fords of the Jordan river. This allowed the Israel to both prevent Moab from sending reinforcements to kill any Moabites trying to leave Jericho. The Israelites killed ten thousand Moabites.

Judges 3:30 That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.


What happened to Dan?

Joshua 19:47 (But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory, so they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their forefather.)

Dan's territory was adjacent to Philistia and the Philistines were indeed formidable, but it was the Danite predisposition to worship the Canaanite gods that caused their grief. Lesham is in the northern part of Naphtali's land. It's a shame too, the original had beaches.

List of Israel Tribes

Ephraim and Dan are missing from the list in Revelations with no indication as to why. Ephraim may be represented by the inclusion of Joseph, but why is Dan not listed? The bible does not say why, but many sources point to the early adoption of idolatry by the Danites. You can read it in Judges chapters 17 and 18.

A fellow named Micah living in the hill country of Ephraim, had set up his own "church" in his house with carved images, cast idols, an ephod (priestly garment) and had even hired a Levite to install as his own personal priest. Things were going well for Micah until some warriors from the tribe of Dan on their way to find a new place to live with fewer Philistines happened upon his house. They recognized the Levite and asked him some questions about his arrangement with Micah and then continued on their way to Laish (it is called Leshem in Joshua) where they found a Sidonian outpost. The people were peaceful, prosperous, and secure. The Danite warriors go back home and report this.

About six hundred Danites depart for this new "promised land". The original five warriors tell the others of what they found at Micah's house and the horde decides to get themselves some gods. They steal the idols and the ephod from Micah's house and convince the Levite to come with them. The priest went willingly and in fact became complicit in the theft. (Micah did try and stop them, but when he realized he was greatly overpowered, he went back home.) The Danites continued to Laish, killed the people living there and burned the city and then settled there. The bible says, "They continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh."

And it turns out that the Levite was Jonathan, grandson of Moses. This is not revealed until the end of the story, but it does mean that these events took place before the rise of the major judges.

Another reason for Dan's omission in Revelations may be that, in many Jewish traditions it is believed the Antichrist will rise from the tribe of Dan. The bible doesn't state this categorically, but the view is widely held and comes from this verse in Genesis:

Genesis 49:16-18 16. "Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17. Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider tumbles backward. 18. "I look for your deliverance, O Lord.


A Levite and His Concubine

The most disturbing story in Judges. This takes place early in the time of the judges and graphically illustrates Israel's moral depravity.

A Levite from Ephraim's land took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. She was "unfaithful" and fled back to her father's house. After four months, the Levite took a couple of donkeys and his servant and went to Bethlehem to retrieve his wife. (The bible uses the word "husband" referring to the Levite and "father-in-law" referring to her father. I don't understand the legal status, but for intents and purposes, it is a marriage.) The father-in-law extends hospitality and after a few days, the Levite departs with his wife. They are headed toward Shiloh in Ephraim but will have to cut across Benjamin's land.

The Levite doesn't want to stay in Jerusalem because at the time because the inhabitants are not Israelites so they head toward Gibeah arriving after dark. They sit in the city square until a day-worker spots them and asks why they are there. Aware of potential danger, the worker asks the travelers to stay in his house as his guest. While they were all enjoying themselves a gang of "wicked men" surrounded the house banging on the door and demanding the homeowner send out the guest so they could have sex with him. (Like Lot in Sodom, only these rapists are Israelites from Benjamin.)

The homeowner implores the crowd to not do such a disgraceful thing and offers to send out his own virgin daughter and the concubine for them to rape, but they would not listen to him. The Levite then sent his concubine outside and the mob rapes and abuses her all night. At daybreak, she finds her way back to the house, falls at the door and lays there until daylight. Her hand is on the threshold of the door, but she is dead she has literally been raped to death.

When her master comes out of the house, he doesn't realize she is dead and he commands her, "Get up; let's go" but there is no response. He then places her on his donkey and sets out for home. Once there, he takes a knife and cuts her up into twelve pieces and sends a piece to every Israeli state. This had the intended reaction; it freaked people out:

Judges 19:30 Everyone who saw it said, "Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!"

The last two chapters of Judges recount the bloody battle between ALL of Israel and the Benjamites. Both sides suffered great losses but at the end, only six hundred Benjamites were left alive and on the run. The Israelites had killed most of the Benjamites, burned their cities and killed the people and animals in them. The Israelites realize they came close to exterminating an entire tribe and repented. Sort of.

All of Israel had vowed to never give one of their women in marriage to a Benjamite. They had also vowed to destroy any group that failed to assemble and fight the Benjamites. They then determined that no one from Jabesh Gilead (in Gad's territory) had joined them in the battle. So they sent twelve thousand swordsmen to Jabesh Gilead and killed everyone except the female virgins. There were four hundred of them. They were given to the Benjamites for wives. They still needed two hundred girls.

The Feast of the Tabernacles was coming up so the Israelites sent word to the Benjamites that they should hide in the vineyards near Shiloh and when the young girls come out to dance, they should run down and "steal" one. Yep, steal a wife. This is another social loophole; the Israelites can't give a daughter to a Benjamite for marriage since they had made an oath not to, but there was no oath against stealing one. In this way, Israel facilitated the rebuilding of Benjamin.


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