Introduction. In the Book of Judges and 1 Samuel, we find the history of Israel during the lives and times of fifteen Judges. This Book of the Bible records the relapses of God’s chosen people into idolatry. It reflects Israel’s repeated sins, apostasy, a falling away from the faith, judgment from God, temporary repentance, and consecration to God that only lasts as long as the leader is alive. We see human failure, God’s divine mercy and deliverance, and the power of prayer when God’s people sincerely cry out to Him.
The Judges’ time was about 450 years, starting after the death of Joshua and continuing until the end of Samuel’s time. Some of the stories of the fifteen judges are long and detailed, while some have only a few statements shared. Eight judges (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Eli, and Samuel) are considered significant or prominent judges. In contrast, seven (Shamgar, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon) are deemed minor. Barak is listed as a judge by some sources since he was associated with Deborah. However, the Bible refers to him as a mighty military leader, not a judge. Therefore, some sources will state that there were fifteen judges, while others will include Barak and cause the count to be sixteen. This post recognizes fifteen judges, with the significant judges in bold letters.
The judges appear in the Bible in this order:
The first servitude. After the death of Joshua and all of his generation, there arose a generation that knew not the Lord (Judges 2:10). The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and forsook God. They followed the gods of the people around them, serving Baal and Ashtaroth, which provoked God to anger.
God sold the Israelites into the hands of Chushanrithathaim, king of Mesopotamia, whom they were forced to serve for eight years. They cried unto the Lord sincerely, and God raised the first judge as a deliverer.
Othniel, the First Judge (Judges 2:9-11). Othniel was the son of Kenaz, the younger brother of Caleb, and was from the tribe of Judah. He was given the daughter of Caleb, Achsarah, as his wife when he conquered the city of Debir and drove out the Canaanites. God’s spirit came upon Othniel, and he went to war against Mesopotamia. Othniel overcame Chushanrithathaim, and the people enjoyed peace in the land for forty years.
Outcome. God chose Othniel because he was a man who was not afraid of a challenge. When Othniel drove out the Canaanites, he proved his worthiness as a leader, making him someone God could use as a deliverer for Israel. The people discovered that repentance and crying out to God brought deliverance.
The second servitude. After Othniel’s death, Israel returned to their old ways of doing evil in the sight of the Lord, angering God and causing God to send them into servitude. God raised Eglon, the King of Moab, against the children of Israel, and they were forced to serve him for eighteen years. They cried unto God for deliverance, and God raised the second judge, Ehud.
Ehud, the Second Judge (Judges 3:15-30). Ehud, the son of Gera, was a left-handed Benjamite. God allowed him to single-handedly deliver the Israelites from the Moabites using his left-handed status. Strapping a sixteen-inch sword to his right thigh hidden under his clothes, he visited Eglon, King of Moab, presumably to pay the required tribute for Israel. Intimating that he had a message for Eglon, he was allowed to have a secret meeting with him. While alone with the King, he stuck his sword into Eglon’s belly and escaped. With his mission a success, he sounded the shofar or ram’s horn and rallied the Israelites. They killed about 10,000 men, freeing the Israelites from Moabite oppression. As a result of this great success, the Israelites enjoyed eighty years of peace.
Outcome. God changed the history of an entire generation using one left-handed man. Ehud showed great faith in God and calmness of spirit when he defeated a king, escaped the palace, and defeated his oppressors. Repenting to God and crying out to him wrought an eighty-year peace for the nation.
The third servitude. Israel went into captivity to the Philistines when they fell into sin again. God, who is consistent, allowed them to go into servitude to the Philistines.
Shamgar, the Third Judge (Judges 3:31). The Bible next mentions Shamgar, the son of Anath, as a deliverer of Israel when he singlehandedly killed six hundred Philistines with an ox goad, a wooden tool about 8 feet long with an iron spike on one end. The ox goad was used to spur oxen as they pulled a cart or plow. It was an apparent miracle that so many men could be killed with its use.
Outcome. No mention is made in the Bible of how long the people had peace after deliverance by Shamgar.
The fourth servitude. Following the death of Shamgar, the people fell into sin, and God sold them into servitude to Jabin, King of Canaan, where they remained for 20 years. God then raised Deborah as a judge.
Deborah, the Fourth Judge (Judges 4:4-5:31). Deborah, the only female judge in the Bible, was a prophetess and a wife, married to Lapidoth. She contacted Barak and informed him that God had called him to gather 10,000 men to fight against Jabin’s army, promising He would make him victorious.
Barak was willing to do as he was directed, but only if Deborah accompanied him, which she did. As a result of his lack of faith, the victory for the battle was given into the hands of a woman, Jael, the wife of Heber.
Outcome. Barak’s army defeated Jabin’s Canaanite army, but Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, escaped on foot into the tent of Jael. Jael covered Sisera with a mantle and lulled him to sleep with warm milk. She then took a nail from the tent and hammered it into the temple of Sisera, causing his death. Following the death of Sisera, the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin until they destroyed him. The land then had rest for forty years.
The fifth servitude. Following their usual pattern, the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and He gave them into the hand of the Midianites for seven years. The Midianites caused the Israelites to hide in caves and dens, robbed them of their new crops, and took their stock. They cried unto the Lord, who raised Gideon as a deliverer.
Gideon (Jerubbaal), the Fifth Judge (Judges 6:11-8:3). Gideon was a military leader, judge, and prophet. He was the son of Joash from the Abiezrite clan in the tribe of Manasseh. He lived in Ophrah. The growth and development of Gideon from an ordinary man, fearful of his enemies, to a man strong in valor and faith is remarkable. God’s development of him from a weakling to a man of strength and power proves that God can use anyone to accomplish His goals.
An angel appeared unto Gideon while secretly threshing wheat by the winepress and addressed him as a man of valor. Of course, Gideon looked nothing like a man of courage at this point. Gideon was full of questions, wondering why his people were going through such distress when God had been so good in the past. The answer, of course, was that the people had sinned and left God, not that God had forsaken them. God was keeping His Word, having previously warned them of the bad things that would happen if they rejected Him. In response to Gideon’s many questions, God spoke to him and told him that he would be the deliverer of Israel. Gideon was humble before the Lord, unable to accept that God could use him in such a manner. He even needed a sign to prove that the Lord spoke to him. Reassuring Gideon that he had indeed called him to be the deliverer, he responded to Gideon’s doubts by giving him four signs:
- He miraculously consumed food that was prepared by Gideon when the angel allowed the fire to come out of a rock (v. 21)
- He allowed dew to appear on the fleece only and not on the floor where the fleece lay when requested by Gideon (v. 37-38).
- He allowed dew to appear on the floor but not on the fleece, as requested by Gideon. (v. 39-40).
- He allowed a member of the host of Midian to recount a dream of a cake of barley bread rolling into the midst of Midian’s camp. The dreamer said that Gideon and his Army had overcome the Midianites, the Amalekites, and all the children of the east. Hearing this dream reassured Gideon that God was with him. (7:9-15).
Once called, God tested Gideon when He directed him to perform an assignment. He told him to destroy the altar of Baal, which his father had built, cut down the grove by it, build an altar to God, then offer a burnt sacrifice of the second bullock using the wood from the grove he cut down. Bear in mind that Gideon was still a fearful man at this point. He obeyed God but did it at night because he feared his father’s house and the men of the city. The city’s men were so angry the next day that they desired to kill Gideon, but his wise father reminded them that if Baal was indeed a god, he did not need them to defend him. Surely, Gideon learned from this experience that he need not fear anyone who would come against him since God protected him. This faith was essential in light of the situations that he would encounter in the future.
Gideon proved himself to be a mighty man of valor as he allowed God to develop Him. He and three hundred men hand selected by God destroyed the Midianites. These were men of faith in God’s Word rather than their abilities and might. Following his victories over the Midianites, the country was quiet for forty years.
Outcome. Following Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites, the people offered to make him king over them. He refused their request, reminding them that God was their king. Unfortunately, Gideon had one flaw in his history: he requested his slain enemies’ gold earrings. He built an ephod of the earrings which the people used in idolatrous worship. Gideon died at a good old age with seventy sons of his many wives and a son by his concubine, Abimelech.
(Part II of this series continues in the next post.)