Summary of the Book of Judges
I. War with the Canaanites
II. Established Judges
IV. Gideon defeats Midianites
VII. Samson and Delilah
IX. The Levite
X. Israelites defeat Benjaminites
I. War with the Canaanites
The book of Judges occurs at the time Joshua has died. The title Judges is derived from the activities of twelve men and one woman designated as judges by God. Judges is intended to describe aspects of history and to learn from them as it asserts the works of Yahweh through the people. With the death of Joshua, the tribes turn to God for guidance in dealing with the question of who will go to the Canaanites. Judah is chosen and makes a deal with Simeon for help. Together, they have great success early on against the Canaanites under Abdonibezek, although they are unable to remove the Canaanites in Hebron from the valley.
The Benjaminites are not as successful in their task to remove the Jebusites from Jerusalem. They are forced to live side by side. The house of Joseph, consisting of Ephraim and Manasseh, make a deal with a man coming out of Bethel. To spare his family, the man shows the house of Joseph how to get into the city. The city is captured and the man and his family are spared.
The tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali all have some success, but never completely drive out the Canaanites. At their most powerful they force them into labor, but because of their disobedience to God they are not able to drive all of the Canaanites out. For their misconduct, God appears suddenly in the form of an angel. The angel tells them that because of their failure to be obedient, they will be forced to live with the Canaanites. In time and out of goodness God raises up the judges to remove the Canaanites once again. Unfortunately the people relapse back into idolatry (with the Canaanites), which caused God to become very angry. God refuses to remove them and the people are left to do it themselves.
II. Established judges
God leaves the five Philistine tyrants, the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites to test the Israelites to see whether they will obey His commands given to their parents through Moses. However, as the Israelites live among them, they begin to intermarry and worship their gods. God becomes angry that the People of Israel forget Him and begin to worship other gods so he sells them into servitude for eight years. The Israelites then cry out to God and he sends a savior to rescue them. Othniel, Caleb’s nephew receives the Spirit of God, rallies Israel and brings war on their oppressors. The fighting stops for forty years and the Israelites again act against God. So He again allows for the Israelites to endure servitude, and again they quickly cry out to God. Then Ehud conceals a sword under his clothes and goes to present a tribute to the Moab king. Ehud enters the king’s chambers and pretends to give a message from God, but instead kills him and escapes before the king’s servants realize what has happened. Ehud escapes successfully and rallies the People of Israel to attack the Moabites and the land is peaceful for another eighty years. The Israelites continue to commit evil acts within sight of God. Ehud is now dead and God sells them to Jabin king of Canaan and Sisera the commander of the army. Deborah, a judge over Israel at the time, is a prophet. The Israelites cry out to God to save them again. Deborah sends for Barak and tells him that God commanded him to prepare for battle with ten companies of soldiers and she will have Sisera and his army at the river. She assures Barak that he will win the battle. Barak agrees as long as Deborah accompanies him, so she agrees but says that the glory of killing Sisera will now be in a woman’s hands. The battle occurs as Deborah has said, all of Sisera’s men are killed, but he escapes to the tent of Jael, the wife of a friend of the king. Jael allows Sisera to come inside and she gives him something to drink. Then while he is sleeping, she takes a tent peg and hammer and drives it through his temple and into the ground. When Barak comes in pursuit of Sisera, Jael greets him and brings him back to her tent to see Sisera dead. The People of Israel then destroy Jabin, the Canaanite king.
Deborah, being a Judge in Israel, sings a song of praise and encouragement to the people of Israel along with Barak. Their joyous hymn reconciles the people of all status- the weak and the strong, the poor and the wealthy, the merchants and the kings. They sing about past occurrences in battle and recount the “righteous victories of the Lord and the victories of his villagers in Israel” (8:11). The celebrations beget peace in the land and for forty years the people of Israel live in harmony.
IV. Gideon defeats the Midianites
As time passes, the Israelites act against God’s will and do what is evil in His eyes. Because of their actions, God allows the Midianites, a cruel faction feared by all, to overtake their community and the city of Israel. The Israelites flee to the mountains where they live in poverty, without food or flock. Without thought of culpability, they cry to their Lord and beseech His aid and mercy. God answers with a warning and rebukes them for their transgressions– living in polygamy and worshiping others in previous years. However, He promises to send a prophet, who eventually appears to Gideon with the command to “Go with the strength you have and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you” (6:14). After being chosen, Gideon takes God’s command, brings Him sacrifices and builds an altar in His name. After the first night, the altar is destroyed and Gideon questions God’s choice of him as the prophet to save Israel. He challenges God to dampen the fleece that he set out and if on the next morning God fulfills his promises and Gideon is able to wring out plentiful amounts of liquid, then Gideon would know that God would help him save his kingdom. All of this is accomplished and Gideon knows he is the chosen one.
After defeating the people of Midian, Gideon and his three hundred men continue in pursuit of Zebah and Zalmunna, the Kings of Midian. He and his army stop in Succoth for rest and food. The officials of Succoth deny them either because Gideon has not yet captured Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon informs them that he will return and punish them with thorns and briers. Gideon is once again denied at Peniel. He promises them that he will return and destroy their tower. Finally in Kakor, Gideon and his troops catch Zebah and Zalmunna. They had murdered Gideon’s brothers at Tabor. In return, Gideon kills them. Also, he returns to punish the officials of Succoth and destroys the tower of Peniel.
Since Gideon saved the Israelites from the control of Midian, they want him to rule over them, but Gideon says that he will not rule them because he believes that there is only one ruler, the Lord. Gideon has the Israelites melt down a portion of their plunder from Midian rulers’ gold to make a monument as a reminder of the Lord for the Israelites.
After Gideon’s forty years of peace in Israel, he dies, and his brother, Jerub-Baal, takes over maintaining the land. With Jerub-Baal’s leadership, the Israelites worship Baal-Berith as god and forget the lesson that Gideon put forth– that they shall worship only the Lord, God. Also, the Israelites hold some animosity towards the family of Jerub-Baal, forgetting that it is the family of Gideon.
Abimelech is the illegitimate son of Jerub-Baal through his concubine whom he keeps in Shechem. Abimelech rallies the people of Shechem for support because although he is the son of a leader, he is among the common people. The people give him money with which he hires a company of men to kill all of his seventy brothers, except for Jotham who is hiding. When he returns, Abimelech is crowned king by Shechem and Beth Millo. Jotham goes to the citizens of Shechem, and he tells them that they will be destroyed by fire one day for their disloyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal. After three years of rule by Abimelech, there emerges some tension between his governing and the citizens. Gaal, son of Ebed, with his brothers, enter Shechem, and threaten Abimelech of his kingdom. Abimelech sets his army upon them and drives Gaal out of the land. Then Abimelech fights the people of Shechem, whose hostility to Abimelech comes to a head. Abimelech destroys the people and the land with fire just as Jotham had forewarned. Abimelech dies during an ambush when he is setting fire to the tower of Thebez and his skull is cracked by a stone dropped by a woman. He has his servant kill him so no one could say that a woman killed him.
The Israelites have many leaders each of whom they serve and worship. After Abimelech, Tola, son of Puah, led Israel for twenty-three years. For twenty-two years, Jair of Gilead leads Israel with his thirty sons. Then they fall under the control of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who suppress their community and way of life for eighteen years. The Ammonites are in pursuit of more lands, such as Judah, and they are destroying everything in their path. The Israelites appeal to their Lord, whom they have not worshiped since Gideon’s control. However, their Lord will not save them because they have not been devoted to him. The Israelites gather together to decide upon a leader who will launch attack against the Ammonites. Jephthah, son of Gilead himself, becomes their next leader.
Jephthah is driven out of his home by his wife’s two sons and settles in the Tob country. Some time later, the Ammonites attack Israel. At this time the elders of Gilead go to Jephthah and ask him to “come be our chief so that we can fight the Ammonites”. At first he refuses because they are the very people who rejected him and drove him away; they admitted to this and Jephthah tells them that he will be their commander if he can beat the Ammonites. Jephthah says “If you bring me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD delivers them to me, I am to be your commander”.
Jephthah sends messengers to the King of Ammonites trying to figure out the roots of the conflict. This continues for some time until one day the spirit of the LORD comes upon Jephthah and he makes a vow to the LORD stating “If you deliver the Ammonites into my hands, then whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering”. Jephthah crosses over to the Ammonites and attacks them, causing them to submit to the Israelites.
When Jephthah returns home, he returns to a daughter and realizes that he has “uttered a vow to the LORD and could not retract”. The daughter tells him that she will go for two months to the hills to bewail her maidenhood and when she returns he can do with her as he promised. This becomes custom in Israel for the maidens to go every year for four days and chant dirges for the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
The men of Ephraim come to Jephthah and ask for his help to fight the Ammonites but he refuses based on the fact that the men of Ephraim didn’t help him in his battle against the Ammonites. He then gathers all the men of Gilead and fights the Ephraimites. Jephthah leads Israel for six years and when he dies, he is buried in Gilead. Izban of Bethlehem leads Israel following Jephthah; he has 30 sons and marries off 30 daughters outside the clan. He leads for 7 years and then dies and is buried in Bethlehem. Following Izban is Elon the Zebulunite, who leads for 10 years. Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite then leads for 8 years and dies and is buried in the territory of Ephraim.
The Israelites once again offend the LORD and he delivers them into the hands of the Philistines for 40 years. Then Manoah and his barren wife are approached by an angel who tells them that they will conceive a son soon who will be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines. Manoah makes an offering to the LORD and flames appear, so that he knows this is an angel of the LORD who has appeared to him. The woman bears a son and names him Samson, the boy grows up and the LORD blesses him.
VII. Samson and Delilah
G-d had appeared to Samson’s mother in angel form and told her that she will have a child but that she may not drink wine or alcohol and she cannot eat anything “unclean” while she is pregnant. She also has to dedicate her son to being a Nazirite which means that a razor can never touch his head (never cut his hair). The angel says that this child is to help deliver Israel from the Philestines. The woman goes to her husband, Manoah, and tells him what G-d has told her. Manoah asks that he reappear so that the angel can teach them what they should do with the child, so he does. They want to make a sacrifice for the angel but realize it is G-d when the angel tells them he will not eat it, but to make a burnt offering to the Lord instead, and they do.
Samson is in Timnah and sees a Philistine woman that he wants to marry and he comes back home and tells his parents about her. On his way back to Timnah, a lion attacks him and Samson rips the lion to pieces with his bare hands, but does not tell his parents what happened. He marries the Philistine woman and afterwards sees that the carcass of the lion is full of bees and honey, so he ate some of the honey and took some to his parents to eat. He holds a feast and at the feast he asks a riddle, saying that anyone who can answer it will be rewarded and if the can’t then they will have to reward him. The riddle is, “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.” The Philistines cannot figure it out so they go to Samson's wife and tell her that she must find out. So she nags him for seven days and he finally tells her. She goes to tell the Philistines and they come back and tell him the answer. G-d fills Samson with power so he goes down to Ashkelon and kills thirty men and takes the reward he promised to the men. When he returns, he is angry at his wife and has her given to his friend. After a while he returns for his wife but her father says he did not think that he would be back and that he gave her to another man, and then he offers Samson his own sister instead. Samson sets fire to some stuff because he is angered once again, and he burns down a lot of the Philistines property. So the Philistines are angered that Samson’s father-in-law provoked him, so they kill the father-in-law and Samson’s wife as well. So Samson kills some of the Philistines. Samson is creating problems for his fellow people so they ask him if they can turn him in and when they are about to do so, Samson kills the one thousand Philistine men who are there to take him. Then he is thirsty and asks G-d for water and a spring appears from a rock. Later Samson goes to Gaza and falls in love with Delilah, a Sorek woman. The Philistines come to Delilah and ask her to extract from Samson what it is that makes him so strong and that they will pay her. Three times she asks Samson about his strength to test it out, and each time he lies. He finally tells her that it is his hair that gives him strength, so after he goes to sleep she has his hair cut. The Philistines capture him and gauge his eyes out. They bring him to a party to be displayed; he asks to be placed in between two pillars so that he can hold himself up. Then he asked G-d to remember him and give him strength a final time. G-d obliges and Samson grasps the two pillars and knocks them down, killing himself and a greater number of people at the party then in all of his life
Mi’cah is a man who lives on mount E’phra-im. His mother thought someone stole eleven hundred shekels of silver from her, but he tells her that he had actually taken the shekels and gives them back to her. She plans on using that money to make a graven image and a molten image for E’phr-im and uses two-hundred shekels to do so. Mi’cah then establishes a house of God with an ephod and teraphim, and consecrates one of his sons as his priest.
A young Levite from Beth-lehem-judah of the Judah family travels to the house of Mi’cah. Mi’cah asks him to act as his priest for ten shekels of silver a year, clothing, and food, and the young man agrees.
The Danites (the children of Dan) send five men fro Zo’rah and Esh’ta-ol to search for a land to claim. They find the house of Mi’cah in E’pha-im and speak to the Levite priest, who tells them that they will be prosperous. The men then go to La’ish where they see that it is easy to defeat the people and take their land. They return home to tell of what they have see and leave for La’ish with 600 armed men. On their way, they stop by mount E’phra-im to take Mi’cah’s carved image, ephod, teraphim, and molten image. They also convince the Levite priest to come with them and serve as their priest. They overtake the people of La’ish and establish a new city (Dan). Jonathan and all of his sons serve as the priests for the tribe of Dan until the land is taken later.
IX. The Levite
During these same years, a Levite traveling in E’phra-im takes a concubine out of Beth-lehem-judah. She runs away to her father’s home and stays for four months. When he goes to get her with his servant and a couple of asses, her father is overjoyed to meet him. Her father has the Levite stay for three days before the man tries to leave. The father convinces him to stay until the fifth night when the man leaves with his concubine. The man travels to Gib’e-ah, which is a town of Benjamin, that night. Since no one in the town offers lodging, the man plans to sleep in the street for the night until an old man passes by offers to let him stay with his concubine and servant at his house. As they group eats and drinks at the old man’s house, a group of townspeople (sons of Be’li-al) surround the house and demand the Levite man. The old man asks them to stay outside and to not hurt the man, and instead offers his daughter and the Levite’s concubine. The men take the concubine for the entire night and rape and abuse her until daybreak. When she makes it to the house the next morning she dies at the door. The Levite then takes a knife and divides her into twelve pieces to send to all the coasts of Israel to tell all the Israelites what has happened.
X. Israelites defeat the Benjaminites
The Israelites have an assembly at Mitzpah to discuss the murder of the wife of the Levite and decide to do battle with Gib’e-ah because the city has disgraced all of Israel with the criminal act. The Israelites demand that the Benjaminites hand over the men responsible for the crime but the Benjaminites refuse and take up arms against the rest of Israel. As the battle begins, the Israelites suffer defeat the first two days and go to Bethel to ask the Lord for advice concerning the war. The first day, the Lord tells the Israelites to “Go up against them,” and so the Israelites press on. The second day, the Lord informs them “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” The next day, the Israelites set up an ambush around Gib’e-ah. The Israelites draw the Benjaminites away from the city into the country and the main force of the Israelites defeats the remaining Benjaminite army. That third and final day of battle, twenty-five thousand Benjaminite men are defeated and the Israelites set fire to the remaining towns of the Benjaminite realm. At Mitzpah, the Israelites swore that “No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin.” Therefore, some of the Benjaminites would have no wives. In the middle of this problem, it is revealed that the tribe of Jabesh-gilead sent no one to the Lord’s assembly at Mitzpah, and so the Israelites attack the Jabesh-gilead and kill every man and woman whom has had sex. The Israelites then decide that, because the tribe of Jabesh-gilead did not go to the Lord at Mitzpah, the four hundred virgins of Jabesh-gilead will be the wives of the unwed Benjaminites. So, at the festival of the Lord at Shiloh, the Israelites instructed the Benjaminites to go to each of the women while they are dancing and find a wife for himself. The Benjaminites do as the Israelites say and then go back to their towns with their wives and rebuild everything. Since there is no king of Israel at this time, the people have to decide matters such as this for themselves.