Handbook of Judges




First 800 years in the promised Land
Alternate Oppressions and Deliverances
A Record of Great Exploits

    The Hebrew Nation, after the death of Joshua, had no strong central government. The were a confederacy, of confederacy of twelve independent tribe, with no unifying force, except their God.The form of government in the days of the Judges is spoken of as the "Theocracy"; that is, God himself was supposed to be the direct ruler of the nation. But the people did not take their God very seriously, and were continually falling away into Idolatry. Being in a state of anarchy, more or less, and harassed at times by civil war among themselves, and surrounded by enemies who made attempt after attempt to exterminate them, the Hebrew Nation was very slow in its National Development, and did not become a great nation it was organized into a Kingdom in the days of Samuel and David.
    The Exact Duration of the period of the Judges is uncertain. The years assigned to oppressions, 111 (see below), and to Judges, with the periods of rest, 299, total 410. But some of these figures may overlap. Jephthah, who lived near the end of the period, spoke of it as 300 years (11:26). And it is thought to have been, in round numbers, about 300 years; roughly, about 1400-1100 B.C. From Exodus to Solomon, which includes also the periods of the Wilderness, and of Eli, Samuel, Saul and David, is called, in I Kings 6:1, 480 years.

 Oppression by Judges, or Periods of Rest:
 Mesopotamians      8 yearsOthniel, or Kiriath-sepher, in Judah                         40 years
 Moabites
Ammonites  all       18 years
Amalekites
 
Ehud, of Benjamin                                                     80 years
 Philistines
Canaanites            20 years
Shamgar
Deborah, of Ephraim; Barak, of Naphtali               40 years
 Midianites
Amalekites              7 years
 Gideon, of Manasseh                                              40 years
Abimelech (usurper), of Manasseh                           3 years
Tola, of Issachar                                                        23 years
Jair, of Gilead, in E Manasseh                                22 years
 Ammonites           18 years



Philistines              40 years
Jephthah, of Gilead, in E Manasseh                         6 years
Ibzan, of Bethlehem, in Judah (?)                              7 years
Elon, of Zebulon                                                        10 years
Abdon, of Ephraim                                                     8 years
Samson, of Dan                                                        20 years
 Total Periods     111 years 299 years 
There were also oppressions by Sidonians and Maonites (10:12)


"4O Years"
    Othniel, Deborah and Barak, and Gideon, are each said to have judged Israel 40 years; and Ehud. twice 40. Later, Eli judged 40 years; and Saul, David and Solomon each reigned 40 years. "40 years" seems to have been a round number denoting a generation. Note how often 40 is used throughout the Bible: at the Flood it rained 40 days; Moses fled at 40; was in Midian 40 years; was in the mount 40 days. Israel wandered 40 years. The spies were 40 days in Canaan. Elijah fasted 40 days. 40 days' respite was given to Nineveh. Jesus fasted 40 days, and sojourned 40 days after resurrection.

Chapter 1. Canaanites that were Left in the Land

    Joshua had destroyed the Canaanites in some sections of the land, and had kept others in subjection (Joshua 10:40, 43; 11:23; 13:2-7; 21:43-45; 23:4; 24:18). After his death, they remained in considerable numbers (Judges 1:28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35).
    God had commanded Israel to utterly destroy or drive our the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:2-4). If Israel had fully obeyed this command, it would have saved them a lot of trouble.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: Iron in Palestine. The Bible states that Iron in possession of Canaanites and Philistines was the reason Israel could not drive them out (1:19; 4:3; Joshua 17:16-18; I Samuel 13:19-22). And that only after Saul and David broke the power of the Philistines did Iron come into use in Israel (2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 22:3 ; 29:7).
    Excavations have revealed many Iron relics of 1100 B.C. in Philistia; but none in the hill country of Palestine till 1000 B.C

Chapter 2. Apostasy after the Death of Joshua

    As the hardy, wilderness-bred generation, who, under the powerful leadership of Joshua, had conquered the land, died off, the new generation, settled in a land of plenty, soon lapsed into the easy-going ways of their idolatrous neighbors.

The Refrain Running Through the Book
    Every man did that which was right in his own eyes. They were ever and anon falling away from God into the worship of Idols. When they did this God delivered Israel into the hands of their oppressors. Then when Israel, in their suffering and distress, turned back, and cried to God, God had pity on Israel, and raised up Judges, who saved Israel from their enemies. As long as the Judge lived, the people served God. But when the Judge died, the people again played the harlot after Idols.
    Invariably, when they served God, they prospered; and when they served Idols, they suffered. Israel's troubles were due directly to their Disobedience. They did not keep themselves from Idols. They did not exterminate the inhabitants of the land, as they had been commanded; and from time to time the struggle for mastery was renewed.

Chapter 3. Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar

    Othniel, of Kiriath-sepher, in the extreme south part of the land, saved Israel from Mesopotamians, invaders from the northeast.
    Ehud saved Israel from Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites.
    Moabites were descendants of Lot. They occupied the tableland east of the Dead Sea. Their god, called Chemosh, was worshiped by human sacrifice. Had repeated wars with Israel.
    Ammonites were descendants of Lot. Their territory joined Moab, beginning about 30 miles east of the Jordan. Their god, called Moloch, was worshiped by the burning of little children. 
    Amalekites were descendants of Esau; a wandering tribe, centering mainly in north part of Sinai peninsula, but roaming in wide circles, even into Judah, and far to the east. First to attack Israel on departure from Egypt. Moses authorized their extinction (Exodus 17:8-16). They have disappeared from history.
    Shamgar, of whom little is told, saved Israel from Philistines.
    Philistines were descendants of Ham. They occupied the Coastal Plain on the southwest border of Canaan. The word "Palestine" is derived from them. Again oppressed Israel sin Samson's days.

Chapters 4,5. Deborah and Barak

    They saved Israel from the Canaanites, who had been subdued by Joshua, but had become powerful again, and with their chariots of iron were grinding out the life of Israel,

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: Canaanite Oppression (4:3). Israel's Victory at Megiddo (5:19).
    The Oriental Institute, excavating at Megiddo, found (1937), in the stratum of 12th century B.C., indications of a tremendous, fire.
    And underneath floor of palace about 200 pieces of beautifully carved ivory and gold ornaments, one of which represents Canaanite king as receiving captives who were circumcised. This looks like evidence of a terrific defeat for Canaanites, and their antecedent oppression of Israel.

Chapters 6, 7, 8. Gideon

    Midianites, Amalekites and Arabians (6:3; 8:24), had swarmed into the land, in such numbers for 7 years, that Israelites sought refuge in caves, and made hidden pits for their grain 6:24, 11). Gideon, with an army of 300 men, armed with torches hidden in pitchers, at Moreh, with the direct help of God, gave them such a terrific beating that they came no more.
    Amalekites. This was their second invasion. (See under chapter 3.) Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah. Their main center was just east of Mt. Sinai, but they roamed far and wide. Moses had lived among them ,40 years, and married one of them. Gradually they became incorporated with the Arabians.
    Arabians were descendants of Ishmael. Arabia was a great peninsula, 1500 miles North and South, 800 East and West. 150 times the size of Palestine. It was an elevated tableland sloping North to the Syrian desert. Sparsely inhabited by wandering tribes.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: The Grain Pits. In excavations, at Kiriath-sepher, by the Xenia Seminary and American School, under the direction of Kyle and Albright (1926-28), in the stratum belonging to the time of the Judges, many hidden grain pits were found; indicative of the insecurity of life and property.

Chapter 9. Abimelech

    Son of a wonderful father, but himself a brutal man. A typical story in the eternal struggle of gangsters for power.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: Abimelech's Destruction of Shechem. With money from the temple of Baal (4), he hired men to murder his brothers, and "beat down the city, and sowed it with salt" (45).
    Sellin (1913-14,1926-28), identified a mound near the modern city of Shechem as the ruins of ancient Shechem. He found a stratum of Canaanite ruins of 1600 B.C ; and above that an Israelite layer, with indications that it had been destroyed and abandoned about 1100 B.C. He found the ruins of a temple of Baal, believed to be the temple
mentioned in verse 4.

Chapters 10,11,12. Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon

    Tola, mentioned as a Judge. Jair, mentioned as a Judge.
    Jephthah was of Mizpah, in Gilead, land of Job and Elijah, in east Manasseh. Ammonites, whose power had been broken by Ehud, one of the earlier Judges, had again become strong, and were plundering Israel. God gave Jephthah a great victory over the Ammonites, and delivered Israel. The pitiful thing in the story of Jephthah is the
sacrifice of his daughter.
    Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, are mentioned as Judges.

Chapters 13,14,15,16. Somson

    Of the tribe of Dan, on the Philistine border, he was, before birth, appointed of God to be Israel's deliverer from the Philistines. God endowed him with superhuman strength and, under God, his exploits were amazing. He was the last of the Judges mentioned in the book of Judges. Soon followed the organization of the Kingdom.

Chapters 17,18. Migration of the Danites

    Danites had been assigned territory that included the Philistine plain, which they had not been able to take, and, being cramped for room, part of the tribe. with a stolen god, migrated to the far north, and settled near the headwaters of the Jordan.

Chapters 19, 20, 21. The Benjamite Deed of Shame.

    A narrative of savage justice, for a crime unspeakably horrible, as a result of which the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: Albright (1922-23), found, in the ruins of Gibeah, a layer of ashes, from a fire that occurred about 1200 B.C. It must have been this very fire (20:40).

Heroes of Faith
    Barak, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson, are included among the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11:32. In spice of some things in their lives about which we wonder, they had Faith in God. 

Miracles in the Book of Judges
    Angel appearances to Gideon, and to Samson;s parents. Dew on the Fleece sign. Gideon's defeat of Midianites, with 300. Samson born of a barren mother, and his superhuman strength. These show that God, in his mercy, still had his eyes on his people, even though they had sunk into the lowest depths. 

Archaeological Discoveries
    Philistines had Iron, when Israel had none. At Migiddo, Canaanite Oppression of Israel, and Defeat by Israel. Hidden Grain Pits at Kiriath-sepher. Abimelech's Destruction of Shechem. Burning of Gibeah. These are evidences that the Book is real history.    

Why Such a Book in the Bible?
    Well, it is simple history. God had founded a nation, for the purpose of paving the way for the coming of a Redeemer for the human race. God was determined to maintain the nation. And in spite of its Idolatry, and its Wickedness, God did maintain it. Except for such leaders as the Judges, and except for God's Miraculous aid in times of Crisis, Israel would have been exterminated.