Judges 1-21

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Three Failures


1. Summary

• Tribes failed to unite in conquest

• The Judges leadership failed to produce covenant obedience in Israel.

• The Levites failed to lead the nation into righteousness

• Israel needed a godly king

2. Structure

-Tribes failures (Judges 1:1-2:5)
-Judges’ failures (Judges 2:6-16:31)
-Levites failures (Judges 17:1-21:25)

I. Judah’s Failures (1:1-2:5)

A. General Analysis

-Territorial perspective on the conquest (Judges 1:1-36)
-Theological perspective on the conquest (Judges 2:1-5)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. After the death of Joshua (Judges 1:1)

This phrase marks the end of the period of success, conquest and occupation under Joshua. It marks the beginning of a new era of disobedience and failure in Israel’s history.

The book of Judges recounts the results of Israel’s failure to complete the mandate for conquest issued in Deuteronomy and Joshua. Judges 1 surveys the later geographical placement of the tribes (from Judah to Dan, south to north) and points to the pattern of irresolution, absorption of foreign elements, and gradual tribal disintegration that foreshadows the remainder of the book.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 76.[/footnote]


2. Incomplete conquest

While Joshua emphasized a united Israel conquering the Promised Land, he also referred to the need for individual tribes to complete what they began corporately (Jos.13:1-13; 16:10; 17:12-13, 16-18; 18:2-4). So, Joshua presented a great military victory but an incomplete conquest.

The Israelites in these clashes usually did not drive out the Canaanites, and only in one case is this attributed to inferior armament (Judges 1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33). We are meant to understand that these defeats usually were intentional failures. This was a deliberate violation of the older injunction that commanded the removal of the nations of Canaan.[footnote]Ibid., 76.[/footnote]

Judges 1:1-2:5 describes the limited success of individual tribes in driving out the Canaanite inhabitants in their allotted portions. This introduction prepares us for the rest of Judges where we find Israel living side by side with Canaanites, who would be a religious and military threat in the future.
Deuteronomist’s Message: Without royal leadership Israel failed in conquest.

3. Judah’s leadership

This first portion of the book raises the issue of leadership among the tribes and the failures of Israel when there was no united godly leadership. The successes and failures of the various tribes are recounted. The writer of Judges affirmed Judah’s leadership (Judges 1:1-2; 1:3-20) and rejected any reliance on leadership from the tribe of Benjamin (see Judges 1:21).
Deuteronomist’s Message: Israel’s royal dynasty is through Judah not Benjamin.

4. Territorial perspective on the conquest (Judges 1:1-36)

Judges 1 arranges tribal episodes in a south-to-north orientation to foreshadow the geographic orientation of the Judges cycle in Judges 3:7-16:31.

Judge Tribe
Othniel Judah
Ehud Benjamin
Deborah Ephraim
Gideon Mannaseh
Jephthah Gileadite
Samson Dan

The territorial perspective on the conquest is purely territorial and is contrasted with the divine perspective (Judges 2:1-5).

5. Theological perspective (Judges 2:1-5)

The political explanation for why Canaanite altars were left is given in Judges 1:19. The theological explanation is given in chapter 2 (Judges 2:1ff; 2:22; 3:4). The LORD explains Israel’s failure to take the land as due to their failure to keep covenant, not to the military superiority of the Canaanites.
The angel of the Lord announces that, because of God’s displeasure about Israel’s having entered into alliances with the indigenous peoples, Israel would be unable to drive them out of the land; these nations would remain as “thorns in their sides” (Judges 2:1-5).
Thus the opening chapters set the stage for the narratives to follow, in which Israel will be repeatedly oppressed by the surrounding and remaining peoples of Canaan.
Deuteronomist’s Message: Israel’s failure and subsequent suffering is due to covenant disobedience.

6. From optimism to pessimism

David Dorsey sets out the structure of this contrast as follows:[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 106.[/footnote] -Optimistic opening assembly (Judges 1:1-2)

Tribal conquests begin
Obedient Israelites initiate positive communication with Yahweh
Tribes set out to take land, with Yahweh’s blessing and direction

-Failure of the tribes to take their lands (Judges 1:3-36)

From positive to negative to very negative

-Disheartening closing assembly (Judges 2:1-5)

Conquest ends in failure and divine condemnation
Yahweh initiates negative communication with disobedient Israelites
Yahweh will no longer help tribes take their land

Deuteronomist’s Message: Without royal leadership optimism will turn to pessimism.

7. Angel of the Lord (Judges 2:1)

This is the first of three accounts of the Lord’s direct confrontation with Israel: by a divine messenger (Judges 2:1-5), prophet (Judges 6:7-10), without a stated agent (Judges 10:10-16).
The term “angel of the LORD” occurs 59x in the Old Testament; 18 x in Judges. “Angel of God” occurs 9x in Old Testament; 3x in Judges.
He is a heavenly being sent by God to deal with men as his personal agent. He is also treated as God and yet as distinct from God (2 Sa.24:16; Zech.1:12ff). Manoah and his wife think they have seen God (Judges 13:21-22; cf. 6:22-23; cf. Ex 33:20). His appearance is awesome (Jdg.13:6), His name is beyond knowing (Jdg.13:18); he is associated with worship of the LORD (Jdg.13:15). Elsewhere he speaks as God in the first person (Gen.16:7ff; 21:17ff; 22:11ff; 31:13; Ex. 3:2; Jdg.6:11ff.)
a. Four identifications
So, who is this Angel of God? There are four suggested answers.
(i). An angel with a special commission
A secular messenger [mal’ak] was fully equated with their senders (Jdg.11:13; 2 Sa.3:12, 13). God’s “messenger” (cf. Gen.21:17; 22:11; 31:11; Ex.3:2; 14:19; 23:20; 32:34) and his angelic captain (cf. Num.22:23, 31; 1 Ch.21:16; Dan.10:5,20) were also so treated. But this angel seems distinct from other messengers from heavenly court.
(ii) A momentary descent of God Himself into visibility
Thomas McComiskey said:

It is best to see the angel as a self-manifestation of Yahweh in a form that would communicate his immanence and direct concern to those to whom he ministered.[footnote]Thomas E. McComiskey, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v. “Angel,” 48.[/footnote]

This self-revelation of God certainly anticipated Christ in a typological way, even if it was not Christ Himself. However, the angel is quite distinct from God in some passages (Ex.32:34-33:17)
(iii) Logos Himself (Christ)
Although the New Testament does not make an explicit identification, this may be a kind of temporary pre-incarnation of the second person of the trinity. This is supported by a previous appearance in Exodus where the angel carries the Lord’s character and authority (Ex.23:20-23). The angelic type being of Daniel 10:6 and Ezekiel 1:26-28 may be compared with John’s descriptions of Jesus (Rev.1:14, 16). Also, the angel of the Lord is not mentioned during our Lord’s life here on earth.
(iv) A special angel
This angel is so closely related to God his presence is equated with God’s self-manifestation. In Judges 6 the angel who visits Gideon is referred to both as “the Lord” and the “angel of the Lord.”
b. Four Appearances
In each of the four cases in Judges, the angel makes a sudden appearance, and he appears as the representative of the Lord.
(i) Judges 2:1–5
The angel of the Lord had been at Gilgal and went up to Bochim. He spoke to the people about their covenant disobedience which will result in judgment.

The phrase, ‘The Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim’ (2:1) is not an indication of any journey he has made, but in order to connect this event with the last time the Angel appeared that is, years before to Joshua at Gilgal, just before the invasion of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15).[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 201.[/footnote]

(ii) Judges 5:23
The angel of the Lord uttered the curse on Meroz.
(iii) Judges 6:11–24
The angel of the Lord came to Ophrah and appeared to Gideon to speak with him. He also performed a sign for Gideon, then vanished.
(iv) Judges 13:1–25
The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and to him, performed a sign, then vanished.
Deuteronomist’s Message: God will send a royal figure to lead and guide His people in conquest.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Judah

God’s choice of the tribe of Judah to lead Israel foreshadowed the choice of David as Israel’s king.

2. Christophanies

The book of Judges contains three Christophanies (Jdg.2:1-5; 6:11-24; 13:3-5,9-23).

II. The Judges’ Failures (2:5-16:31)

A. General Analysis

-Explanation of the pattern (Jdg.2:6-3:6)
-Examples of the pattern (Jdg.3:7-16:31)

Othniel (Jdg.3:7-3:11)
Ehud (Jdg.3:12-3:31)
Deborah (Jdg.4:1-5:31)
Gideon/Abimelech (Jdg.6:1-10:18)
Jephthah (Jdg.11:1-12:15)
Samson (Jdg.13:1-16:31)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Prototype Cycle

a Israel’s evil (Jdg.2:11-13)

b God’s anger and chastisement (Jdg.2:14-15)

c Israel’s cry (Jdg.2:15b, 18b)

b’ God raises up deliverer (Jdg.2:16a)

a’ Israel’s peace (Jdg.2:16b)
Aspects of this cycle are expanded upon from Judges 2:17-3:6. This preface summarizes the pattern of the six major judgeship accounts that follow. Covenant failure was not a rare or unique occurrence but became Israel’s way of life
a. Rebellion: Israel’s evil
The children of Israel do evil in the eyes of the Lord. This phrase appears seven times in the book (Jdg.2:11; 3:7,12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). The nature of the evil Israel commits is summarized in Judges 2:10-3:5 as idolatry and intermarriage. What this evil consists of is summarized as breaking covenant with the Lord (Jdg.2:1-2), turning from him, worship¬ping and serving other gods, and friendship and intermarriage with the Canaanites (Jdg.2:11-3:7).
b. Retribution: God’s anger
Because of their sin the Israelites not only are unable to expel the Canaanites, but they themselves are oppressed by foreign powers (Jdg.2:14; 3:8; 4:2; 10:9). The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel (Jdg.2:14). God chastised his people for their sins (WCF.17:3). He had a merciful purpose in this, namely to restore them to himself and His worship. Also, by testing His people God proves the true nature of their professed commitments to Him and the covenant. War is portrayed as divine judgment using terms such as: “The Lord sold them into the hands of X for X years.”
c. Repentance: Israel’s cry
During their oppression, the Israelites cry out to the Lord (Jdg.3:9, 15; 6:6-7; 10:10). Only 10:10 mentions repentance. This exception shows that their “crying out” heretofore does not entail godly repentance; the other “crying outs” were “fox-hole conversions” (cf. Ex.2:23-25; Deut.26:7).

In general, the judges did not lead Israel in true repentance and in putting away foreign gods, certainly not in the way the reforming kings did later in the kingdom of Judah. The one judge who did the most along this line – Gideon (Jdg.6:25–23) – did so at the beginning of his ministry; by the end, he was leading the people in exactly the opposite direction (Jdg.8:24–27).[footnote]D M Howard, An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

d. Restoration: God delivers
The Lord hears their cry and raises up a deliverer (Jdg.2:16; 3:9, 15; 10:1, 12) who is empowered by the Spirit of the Lord (Jdg.3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6,19). The Judge was a person who delivered from injustice or oppression. They were military deliverers. They were not spiritual leaders, although their judgeships had spiritual consequences for good and evil.

God’s faithfulness forms the counterpoint in the book to Israel’s apostasy. Despite Israel’s repeated falling away, He repeatedly provided for deliverance. He did not do this unthinkingly or mechanically, manipulated by Israel’s cries for help (see Jdg.3:9,15; 4:3; 6:6; 10:10), and He did not spare Israel from the consequences of its actions. (Indeed, He angrily delivered the nation into various foreign hands.) Rather, He delivered Israel because of His promises about the land; He remained faithful to these promises. We should emphasize that the immediate cause of God’s deliverance was not because of any merits on Israel’s part, nor even because of Israel’s repeated “repentance,” but rather because of God’s compassion and His pity (Jdg.2:16, 18). After a careful reading, one cannot escape the impression that God emerges as the “hero” of the book, that He acted on Israel’s behalf in spite of its faithless character, and that even the judges themselves did not contribute greatly to improvement of spiritual conditions in the land.[footnote]D M Howard, An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

e. Rest: Israel’s peace
This deliverance was followed by the submission of the enemy and a period of peace during which the deliverer judged Israel, followed in turn by the death and burial of the judge (Jdg.3:10-11; 8:28-32; 10:2-5; 12:9-15), and usually the lapse back into sin and idolatry (Jdg.2:19)
The cycle emphasizes two main thoughts. Firstly, the desperate sinfulness of the human heart and, secondly, God’s merciful long-suffering.

The stories, told with characteristically biblical honesty, are always dominated by an abiding faith that beneath the chaos there is a certainty, an order, if only Israel will be loyal enough to find it.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 146.[/footnote]

Deuteronomist’s Message: God will raise up a royal deliverer if Israel will repent and turn to Him.

2. Downward spiral

This recurring sequence of sin-oppression-deliverance is often called “cyclical.” But this designation is somewhat misleading if it is understood to imply that each “cycle” is more or less aimless or equal to all the others. A better way to describe it would be as a “downward spiral”: it is not that each cycle is more or less a repeat of the earlier ones; rather, there is a deterioration in the quality of the judges and the effect of their leadership.

Those who characterize the Book of Judges as consisting of cycles of rebellion, retribution, repentance and rest have not given careful attention to the text. The history of this period did not go in cycles like a carousel. Rather it moved like the plunge of a roller coaster with peaks and valleys, yet ever winding its way toward rock bottom. To change the metaphor, the author traces the deterioration of Israel from good health in the days of Joshua through the stages of ill, seriously ill, to critically ill.[footnote]J E Smith, The books of history (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

A quick survey of the major judges will demonstrate this:

Characters Oppressing Nation Years of Peace Moral Portrayal
Ehud (Shamgar)
Moab (Phlistines)
40 yrs (Jdg.3:11)
80 yrs (Jdg.3:30)
40 yrs (Jdg.5:31b)
Gideon (Abimelech) Midian 40 yrs (Jdg.8:28) Mixed presentation
(Minor Judges)
(Minor Judges)
No years of peace Largely negative.

This pattern of selective characterization served the purpose of the book of Judges. In the author’s view, judges became worse generation after generation. This decline clearly demonstrated Israel’s need for a godly king to provide permanent government and stable guidance for the nation.
Deuteronomist’s Message: Without a king in Israel things will go from bad to worse.

3. Othniel (Jdg.3:7-11)

Othniel was Caleb’s nephew and son-in-law (Jdg.1:13). He was the first judge and an example of what a judge should be. He is raised up by God and invested with his Spirit; he was a capable soldier under Joshua (Josh. 15:13-19), and he leads Israel in successful warfare as Joshua did. Upon his death the “downward spiral” of Israel begins in earnest.
The narrator essentially presents only the frame and blanks the details. His intention is to establish the pattern, the paradigmatic model, by which the other cycles should be evaluated, exposing the degeneration of Israel.

4. Ehud (Jdg.3:12-31)

The second “judge” was Ehud. However, we are not told that God raised him up nor that he was filled with the Spirit. The text is also silent about God’s will for him and his relationship to him. Judges 3:12 reads “the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel” but the story ends “That day Moab was made subject to Israel.”

5. Deborah (Jdg.4:1-5:31)

Deborah was a prophetess and a judge. Does this warrant the ordination of women?[footnote]J Currid, Lectures on Judges to Poets (Jackson: RTS).[/footnote] a. Judges is time of anarchy and should not be used as a norm. They were unusual times and unusual things were happening (eg. Jephthah).
b. Hebrew translation is “a woman, a female prophet.” He did not need to say that she was a woman. It seems that the writer is emphasizing the unique, special situation.
c. “Wife of Lapidoth” is patriarchal language. Every time that “prophetess” is used in the Old Testament, there is always the additional phrase “the wife of…” or “the sister of…(Moses).” The phraseology suggests that the prophetess was still subject to male authority.
d. “To judge” is used over 200 times in the Old Testament. Judges 4:4 is only time in entire Old Testament it is used of a woman.
e. Conclusion: Deborah a special case. This was not normative but exceptional. Israel required a special judge because of the special oppression the nation was experiencing at the hand of Sisera. It was a time of external and internal collapse (Jdg.5:6,8).
Her judgeship raises questions about the failure of male leadership in Israel. A woman gets the glory for victory instead of Barak and Sisera. Also, her song curses tribes that did not join the battle, which may foreshadow the later factionalism and disunity of chapters 20-21.

6. Gideon (Jdg.6:1-9:56)

-Introduction to Gideon: evil situation at the time of his call (Jdg.6:1-10)

-Gideon’s Call to Deliver (Jdg.6:11-32)

-Gideon’s personal struggle to believe God’s promise (Jdg.6:33-7:18)

-Gideon’s Delivers Israel from Midian (Jdg.7:19-8:21)

-Conclusion to Gideon: evil situation when he dies (Jdg.8:22-32)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 347.[/footnote] Gideon required three miracles to persuade him of his divine calling. He takes the coward’s route of tearing down the idols at night time. At the centre of the narrative is Gideon’s personal struggle to believe God. He eventually commits idolatry, immorality and mass-murder in his own family. With him the character of the judges deteriorates from good to worse, from positive to negative, from strong to weak. His story and the rest of the book make clear that Israel’s ultimate hope cannot be in the judges. They need a new kind of leadership, specifically kingship.
The account of Gideon is followed by that of his son Abimelech, a son who became Israel’s first “king” and also an oppressor and murderer of Israelites:

Abimelech is so central to the book. He is not a judge, but he could be. He is, after all, like Jephthah, an outcast, the son of a prostitute. The narrative of Abimelech establishes the whole background of the age, the tone and setting in which the judges operate. He is a military adventurer, a professional killer, able and entirely unscrupulous, very dangerous. He illustrates what Israel could become if it were not for the judges.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 147.[/footnote]

After a rebellion against his monarchy, Abimelech was killed by a woman who dropped a stone on his head.

Thus, Israel’s earliest experiment in monarchy was aborted. The list of places in the story of Abimelech makes it clear that his reign was limited not only in years but in geographical extent. All of his activity was confined to the region of Manasseh; there is not the slightest hint that he attracted any interest at all outside his own tribe. Plainly, Israel as a whole was not ready for monarchy or at least not the kind that Abimelech could offer.[footnote]E H Merrill, Kingdom of Priests (Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1992), 169-170.[/footnote]


7. Jephthah (Jdg.11:1-12:15)

Did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter?
a. The argument for “yes” is as follows
(i) The author does not seem to condemn or approve of the act, and he does not seem to suffer any punishment for it.
(ii) The vow implies human sacrifice (Jdg.11:30-31). She was sacrificed as an “whole burnt offering.” The Septuagint uses the word “holocaust” because it was consumed by fire. Probably Jephthah expected to meet an animal first. His reaction of tearing his clothes was a Hebrew sign of bereavement. This looks like a mixture of Judaism and paganism, as it was common for pagans to sacrifice their children.
(iii) Why did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter? “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Jephthah was doing what he thought was right. He had a confused sense of morality. The son of a harlot, he was thrown out of Gilead at a young age. Exiled in Ammonite territory, he was influenced by Molech worship which combined Judaism with paganism. Jephthah vowed to Yahweh, but offered a child sacrifice to Yahweh. He is a perfect example of the Canaanisation of Israel.
As the lesser of two evils he should have withdrawn from the vow and sought pardon for rashly making it.
b. The argument for “no” is as follows:
(i) Jephthah knew what he was doing right from the beginning. It was not a hasty vow.
(ii) Jephthah knew the Pentateuch well enough to know that human sacrifices were contrary to God’s law.
(iii) If Jephthah had sacrificed his daughter he could not possibly have been listed as an example of ‘faith’ among the heroes of Hebrews 11 (Heb.11:32).

All the requirements of the case are fulfilled, if we suppose he devoted his only daughter to lifelong virginity as a spiritual burnt-offering consecrated to Jehovah. This harmonizes with the sequel where Jephthah’s daughter asks for permission to go away to the mountains, with her close female friends, to mourn her virginity (Jdg.11:37-38). To mourn her virginity is not to mourn because she has to die a virgin, but because she has to live and remain a virgin. The statement in verse 39 that ‘she knew no man’ would be utterly superfluous if she had been put to death. She was to commit her life to a life of celibacy in the service of the tabernacle (cf. Exod. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22; Luke 2:37).[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 212-213.[/footnote]

Leon Wood suggests that what he did with his daughter ‘was something approved of God and that he was himself in right relation to God’. The true honor, however, must rest upon Jephthah’s daughter. The Lord turned the foolish vow of a father into a glorious memorial to his mercy and grace ‘through the lovely submissiveness and self-sacrifice of a godly daughter’.[footnote]Ibid., 212-213.[/footnote]


8. Samson (Jdg.13:1-16:31)

Samson is the last of the major judges. But he is a shadow of what a judge was supposed to be. Although as a child he had been set apart to God, like Israel he did not keep his vow of separateness. Samson progressively breaks his Nazarite vow (touches carcass [Jdg.14:5-9; 15:15]; drinks wine [Jdg.14:20]; cuts hair [Jdg.16:17]). He is full of self-indulgence and refuses to control his sexual appetite.
The story of Samson is the story of Israel recapitulated and focused for us in the life of a single man. As Samson was a “holy” (set apart) man, Israel was a “holy” nation (Exod 19:6). As Samson desired to be as other men, Israel desired to be as other nations. As Samson went after foreign women, Israel went after foreign gods. As Samson cried to Yahweh in his extremity and was answered, so did Israel. And finally … as Samson had to be blinded and given over to the bitter pain of Gaza before he came to terms with his destiny, so too would Israel have to be given over to the bitter suffering of exile in Babylon (cf. Judg.16:21; 2 Kgs.25:7). Samson, like Israel, is the blind captive and looks impotent, but at the darkest moment, God engineers a great victory through him.

Samson in a sense epitomizes the judges. He is, like Israel, a special child of God. He also is, like Israel, immature, opportunistic, rash. His weakness for women culminates in the loss of strength through the wiles of Delilah – like Israel, he has played the harlot once too often. He is enticed, as Israel is enticed; the source of his strength is taken from him, as God, the strength of Israel, removes himself to punish the Israelites; he is overcome, bound, and subdued, as Israel is sold into the power of her enemies and driven into the hills and mountains. Samson’s blindness seems to symbolize the blindness of the people of Israel when they give in to temptation and weakness and do evil in the sight of the Lord. Samson suffers literally the darkness that the Israelites suffer figuratively when they turn away from God and are forced to live in caves and dens, when their highways are unoccupied, their villages empty.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 147.[/footnote]


9. Why incomplete conquest?

In Jdg.3:1-3 the reason why the nations were not driven out is that Israel might learn the art of war. However, in Jdg.2:22 and Judg.3:4 it is for the purpose of moral testing, to see if Israel would obey. Both these reasons are compatible.

“To learn war” here means, as the previous context would seem to show, “to learn to depend upon the Lord for help in fighting against Canaan.” Hence, this is really but one of the means whereby Israel was to be morally tested.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 168.[/footnote]

Sadly, Israel failed the test by failing to complete the conquest.

Time and again the tribes of Israel fail to complete their assignment – for whatever reason, whether out of pity for the Canaanites, or from a feeling of power in subduing them and using and abusing them as forced labor, or from sympathy towards their religious beliefs and practices, or in thinking they knew better than the Lord and the divinely appointed leadership. It seems clear that they deliberately ignored God’s command to destroy the Canaanites.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 201.[/footnote]

Deuteronomist’s Message: Israel needs a faithful king to complete the conquest.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Heroes of faith

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness….. and these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise (Heb.11:32-39).

For all of their flaws and inconsistencies, we are to learn from their faith. In spite of their failures, their faith was real and exemplary.

III. The Levites’ Failures (17:1-21:25)

A. General Analysis

-A Levite and idolatry (Jdg.17:1-18:31)
-A Levite and violence in Israel (Jdg.19:1-21:25)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 348[/footnote]

B. Detailed Analysis

These last chapters in Judges narrate one of the worst periods in Israel’s history: idolatry, conspiracy, sense-less violence, and sexual degeneracy characterizes everything and everybody. They are contrasted with past faithfulness and blessing under Joshua and future peace and security under David.

1. Idolatry in Dan: A Levite and idolatry

-Example of personal idolatry (Jdg.17:1-13)
-Example of tribal idolatry (Jdg.18:1-31)
The Levites involvement in idolatry is presented as a strong argument against the Levites acting as Israel’s leader. The first shrine is set up by a private individual – which is bad enough – but the second is set up by an entire tribe! This serves to emphasize the deterioration.
Deuteronomist’s Message: Without a king Israel will turn to idolatry.

2. Immorality in Benjamin: A Levite and violence

-Violence by the men of Gibeah (Jdg.19:1-30)
-Violence against the men of Gibeah (Jdg.20:1-48)
-Violence against Jabesh Gilead (Jdg.21:1-25).
The situation in Israel had got so bad that Israel were becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah. God judged them with civil war and lays the blame for their covenant failures on the lack of a covenant keeping king (Jdg.17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

These narratives are different from the central section of the book because the problem has a different source. In Judges 2:6-16:31, Israel was afflicted by external enemies who oppressed them militarily. But in chapters 17-21, the problems were internal. Israel was her own worst enemy.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 186.[/footnote]

Deuteronomist’s Message: Without a king Israel will turn to violence.

3. Political viewpoint

The account of Micah’s idols suggests that the author may be making the point that the northern tribes were always involved in idolatry. The account of the Levite and his concubine (chap.19) and the subsequent war against Benjamin (chaps. 20-21) also makes a few political points against the North in general and Benjamin in particular. Who will treat you well? Answer: Someone from Bethlehem. Who will treat you poorly? Answer: Someone from Gibeah. The story appears to advocate loyalty from the northern tribes to a family from Bethlehem, rather than to a family from the corrupt Gibeah (Saul and his descendants). This historical account is strongly pro-David and anti-Saul, suggesting a setting fairly early in the monarchic period.
Deuteronomist’s Message: Israel’s law-keeping king will come from Judah not Benjamin.

4. Introduction/Epilogue Comparison

Introduction Pt. 1 (Jdg.1:1-2:5) Epilogue Pt. II (Jdg.19:1-21:25)
(a) “The Israelites asked of the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us first against the Canaanites, to fight against them? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up” (Jdg.1:1-2)
(b) The story of how Othniel got his wife (Jdg.2:11-15)
(c) The Benjaminites fail to drive out the Jebusites from Jebus (Jdg.1:21)
(d) Bochim: God’s covenant: Israel’s unlawful covenants with the Canaanites: Israel weeping before the Lord (Jdg.2:1-5)
(a) “The Israelites…asked …of God… Who shall go up for us first to battle against the Benjaminites? And the Lord said, Judah…” (Jdg.20:18)
(b) The story of how the remainder of Benjamin got their wives (Jdg.21:1-25)
(c) A Levite carefully avoiding the Jebusites in Jebus, suffers terrible outrage in Gibeah of Benjamin (Jdg.19:1-30)
(d) Bethel: the Ark of the Covenant of God: Israel weeps and fasts before the Lord (Jdg.20:26-29)


5. The need of a godly king

These chapters portray the anarchy and lawlessness of the Judges era, before there was a king in Israel. The repeated phrase, “in those days Israel had no king” (Jdg.17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), implies the author believed the lawlessness was due to a lack of firm royal leadership. He obviously supported the monarchy and believed that it was God’s instrument for providing security and peace in the land.

The book of Judges serves to show that the theocratic people need a righteous king. Without a king who reigns under the special authority of God, confusion follows. Every man did that which is right in his own eyes. The book thus has a negative purpose. When the people are without a ruler, there must be awakened within them longings and aspirations after a true king. Thus, by the period of the Judges, they gradually were brought to see their need of the king.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 167.[/footnote]

God was to be Israel’s king and lord (Jdg.8:23). But how would his rule over his chosen people be expressed in history? The book of Judges shows clearly that decentralized rule, even blessed with periodic divine intervention in the nation’s leadership and wars, would not produce a holy nation. Moses knew that Israel would someday have a king (Deut. 17:14-20), and Judges prepares for the transition to monarchy. Would kingship, already laden with the possibilities for abuse, make a difference? The book prepares us for kingship as the next and inevitable step. Israel is enmeshed in regional and tribal factionalism—will kingship make the difference? The great national experiment with the judges had not worked. How else is Israel to secure the land and remain in it? Will a monarchy finally manage to drive out the Canaanites? End the anarchy? Keep the purity of national allegiance to Yahweh?[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 127.[/footnote]

Deuteronomist’s Message: The answer to Israel’s national, moral, and spiritual problems is a divinely appointed King who will keep and establish the Mosaic covenant.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. The King of Kings (Jdg.21:25)

Although history proved that Israel’s kings themselves led the people into rebellion against God, this book repeatedly affirms that godly kingship is the only hope for the law of God to be enforced in the land. The only one who can do this is Jesus Christ (Rev.19:16)

IV. The Message

Original message: Israel needs a Davidic king to guide the people in battle, to provide peace and security and to enforce the standards of the Mosaic law.
Present Message: The Church needs the Davidic king (Christ) to guide us in battle, to provide peace and security and to enforce the standards of the Mosaic law.