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Friday Bible Blogging - Judges 1 to Judges 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleToday marks another minor milestone in this series. It's the 6 month anniversary (mensiversary?) of my first post of the series. I'm just about 1/6 of the way through the Bible - not bad progress, but still a lot left to go. I hope I can keep up my motivation till the end of the series, and not peter out like I've seen other people's attempts to blog the Bible (like Blogging Biblically - a much more humorous take on the Bible than this series). I have to admit that it's getting pretty tedious right now, but maybe later chapters will pick up.

Judges is the next of the Historical Books. It begins just after Joshua's death, and goes through a series of ups and downs for Israel. The Israelites will forget God and get punished for it by being subjugated by neighboring peoples, until God feels sorry for them again and raises up a leader to free them. But once the leader dies, they fall back into their pagan ways, and get punished by God again. In chapters 1 through 10, at least, this pattern repeats over and over. And there aren't really any passages from these chapters that stand out as being particularly well known.

Judges, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 picks up the story of the Israelites immediately following the death of Joshua. They asked the Lord who was going to lead them in their fight against the Canaanites, and God appointed Judah. And of course, they fought and defeated many peoples and cities, sometimes killing everybody. One passage caught my eye - this would definitely be termed cruel and unusual punishment if it were to occur today.

6 Adoni-bezek fled; but they pursued him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Adoni-bezek said, 'Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has paid me back.' They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

There was some repetition from Joshua. Recall the story from chapter 15 of Joshua where Othniel son of Kenaz conquered Kiriath-sepher and in so doing won Caleb's daughter, Achsach, as his wife. That story was repeated again in this chapter, this time apparently after Joshua's death.

The chapter moved on to other tribes, and their conquests against the peoples in the land. However, not all of the conquests were complete. Often times, it was noted that a tribe didn't manage to conquer all of a people, and so they continued to live in the land. However, there was usually an accompanying statement that those peoples were eventually subjected to forced labor once the Israelites became strong enough.

There was one passage that is probably recognizable to most skeptics who are familiar with the Iron Chariots website.

The Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron.

It makes you question the Lord's omnipotence if iron age weapons could stop him. This is also one of the verses that illustrates the translation issues with the New International Version (NIV) and a few other translations. This verse was harmonized by making it read "they were unable to drive the people from the plains", even though the original Hebrew isn't plural there.

Judges, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 began with God scolding the Israelites for not remaining faithful to the covenant, and took away his support in conquering the people's of the Promised Land. In despair, the people wept and made sacrifices to God.

Next the chapter went back to Joshua's death. It was almost like a second start to the book. This was another instance of repeating content from the previous book. To quote myself from last week, "after Joshua's death, Israel served the Lord for as long as the elders survived who had witnessed the works of the Lord." It also repeated the burial of Joshua.

After a few generations had passed, the Israelites abandoned God and began to worship Baal and the Astartes. This angered the Lord, so he punished them. "Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune..." But sometimes God tried to help, raising up "judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them." But the people would only follow the judges while they (the judges) were still alive, and then the people would again abandon Yahweh and go back to worshiping other gods. These verses were all pretty generic, not listing any of the specific judges or conquering peoples. This might have been an interlude, but I suspect it was more of an introduction to the chapters that were to follow.

Judges, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 continued on with the theme from the previous chapter, but got into more detail of "the nations that the Lord left to test all those in Israel..." Actually, there was a statement in this chapter that God left these nations intact specifically so that there could be war, "it was only that successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before." In a similar vein, there was a statement that the wars were simply to test Israel, "They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their ancestors by Moses."

Think about the morality of those statements. War didn't just happen because of the failings of people, or even because one group had acted sinfully and God wanted to punish them. God specifically wanted for there to be wars, and all the attendant suffering and cruelty, just to test the Israelites.

Next came a cycle of Israel abandoning Yahweh for other Gods, then being rescued by a hero, then abandoning Yahweh again. The heros included Othniel son of Kenaz, Ehud son of Gera, and Shamgar son of Anath.

Ehud actually got a bit of an extended story, and he actually behaved rather treacherously. He took a tribute to King Eglon of Moab (the then oppressor of the Israelites), but had strapped a dagger/short sword to his thigh, hidden under his clothes. After delivering the tribute, he told the king that he had a secret message for him, and the king sent everybody out of his chamber. In a scene that could have come from an action movie, Ehud told King Eglon, "I have a message from God for you," and then stabbed the king through the belly. He stabbed so hard (and Eglon was a bit fat), that the sword disappeared inside the king, "and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out." I wonder if that last part is in reference to excrement. Anyway, he left the king to die in his chamber, locking the chamber doors behind him. The kings servants, thinking the king was relieving himself, were too embarrassed to enter the chamber until it was too late and the king was dead, giving Ehud enough time to escape. With the king dead, Ehud led the Israelites in conquering the Moabites.

Judges, Chapter 4

To start the chapter, "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord," and suffered because of it. But the leader of Israel this time was a woman, "Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth". She summoned Barak son of Abinoam to lead an Israelite army against Sisera, the commander of the enemy army. But she warned Barak that he wasn't going to receive glory, "for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." There was the expected battle, the Israelites were victorious, and Sisera fled the battle field. He went to "the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite." Jael invited him inside, and hid him under a rug. After providing him with some milk to drink, she "went softly to him" and hammered a tent peg through his temple "until it went down into the ground". That was the turning point in the war against King Jabin, which the Israelites eventually won.

While it would be nice to think that having two women involved in an Israelite victory was a sign of some respect to women, Wikipedia notes that it might be "a further sign that Yahweh ultimately is responsible for the victory" and that allowing Sisera to be killed by a woman was "the ultimate degradation".

Judges, Chapter 5

Chapter 5 consisted almost entirely of the Song of Deborah. This was a victory hymn commemorating the Israelites' victory over the Canaanites. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), this song probably pre-dated the text in the preceding chapter. There were also several discrepancies between the song and the prose, such as the tribes that participated and the details of Sisera's death. The glorification of violence, while par for the course for the Bible, was also rather graphic.

She put her hand to the tent-peg
   and her right hand to the workmen's mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
  she crushed his head,
  she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 He sank, he fell,
  he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
  where he sank, there he fell dead.

Judges, Chapter 6

Again, "The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord," and this time were turned over to Midian. The angel of the Lord came and sat under a tree where Gideon was beating out wheat to hide in a wine press. The angel told Gideon that he (Gideon) was to lead the Israelites against the Midianites. After questioning why God had abandoned them, Gideon next wondered how he was going to be the one to lead them, "My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." But Gideon was reassured that the Lord would be with him.

Gideon asked the angel to wait while he prepared a present, but also that he would like to see a sign that the angel was who he said he was. So Gideon prepared a meal for the angel and brought it out to him. The angel directed him to dump out the broth, and put the solid food on a rock. The angel touched the food with his staff, whereupon it burst into flames, and the angel disappeared.

At the Lord's command, Gideon pulled down the altar to Baal that his father had made, and cut down the adjacent sacred pole. Then he sacrificed a bull, burning it with the wood from the pole. Out of fear for his own safety, Gideon did all this at night. In the morning, when the people saw what had happened, they were furious and ready to kill Gideon, but Gideon's father came to his aid, threatening to kill anyone who defended Baal. He also made a statement that's a bit ironic, "If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down." Would that all religious people let their gods contend for themselves.

An army gathered to Gideon, but he wasn't done testing God just yet. He asked for two more proofs. Fist, he let a fleece out overnight, asking God for a sign by making only the fleece wet with dew, but not the adjacent ground. After this test, he asked for another the next night, by making only the ground wet, but leaving the fleece dry.

Judges, Chapter 7

Now Gideon was in a position to conquer the Midianites, but he had too large of a following. If he was victorious, the Israelites would think they had been successful on their own, and not give the credit to God. So, God had Gideon thin out his ranks. First, he sent home every man that was fearful of the upcoming battle, but there were still too many. So he took them down to the water, and all those that "lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps" were separated from those that drank with their hands. There were only 300 who had drank like dogs, so they became Gideon's private force.

Gideon was still afraid to attack, so, at the Lord's command, he snuck down to the Midianite camp, and overheard a conversation between two soldiers. One had had a dream foretelling the victory of Gideon (though using symbols like a cake of barley bread). With this knowledge, Gideon finally had the courage he needed, and led his force in a sneak attack in the middle of the night. The Midianites fled, and then all of the Israelites chased them down. After the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, had been killed, their heads were taken to Gideon.

Judges, Chapter 8

The Ephraimites were at first upset with Gideon for attacking on his own, but he soothed their anger by pointing out that they had had the honor of killing Oreb and Zeeb.

But the fighting wasn't over. Gideon and his private force were still chasing down some of the enemy. When they arrived in the city of Succoth, they asked for bread. But the people of Succoth refused, "Do you already have in your possession the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna, that we should give bread to your army?" Gideon threatened them, "I will trample your flesh on the thorns of the wilderness and on briers," and moved on. He received the same treatment in Penuel, and threatened them with knocking down their tower once he had caught Zebah and Zalmunna.

Before too long, Gideon did capture Zebah and Zalmunna. On his return trip, he caught a young man from Succoth, and interrogated him to learn the names of the city's officials and elders - 77 people. With that knowledge, he carried through with his threats, "he took the elders of the city and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them he trampled the people of Succoth. 17 He also broke down the tower of Penuel, and killed the men of the city."

There was a bit of an odd story when it came time to kill Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon told his firstborn son to kill them, but the son was still a boy and too afraid to draw his sword. So Gideon went and killed them himself.

With some of the gold from his conquests, Gideon made an ephod that he put on display in his town, "and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family," though not much else was said of it. Gibeon had many wives and 70 sons, plus another son, Abimelech, from his concubine.

Once Gideon died, Israel again abandoned the Lord.

Judges, Chapter 9

Abimelech had ambitions to be king. So, he went to his mother's kinfolk to gain their support, and "killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone". Only Gideon's youngest son, Jotham, survived by hiding. Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim, and gave a speech, calling down a curse on Abimelech. Immediately after, Jotham went into hiding out of fear of his brother.

Abimelech ruled for three years before the Lord "sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem". So, there was a new series of battles, this time between Abimelech and Gaal son of Ebed. After winning several battles, Abimelech finally met his end in the siege of a tower. A woman threw down a rock that crushed his skull. Rather than suffer the indignity of dying by the hand of a woman, Abimelech had one of his own men "thrust him through". So, after unknowingly enacting God's punishment on the people of Shechem, Abimelech received his own punishment.

Judges, Chapter 10

Two more judges were briefly mentioned, Tola son of Puah son of Dodo and Jair the Gileadite, before moving on to another story. "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, worshiping the Baals and the Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines." And as before, God punished the people for it, but eventually began to feel pity for them. The Israelites "put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the Lord; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer."

The chapter closed with a gathering of armies in preparation for a battle, and the Israelites wondering who was going to rise up to lead them. But since I'm only reading ten chapters per week, the rest of the story will have to wait until next time.


This book is a bit tedious. It's the same cycle over and over. Israelites do evil in the sight of the Lord, he punishes them, eventually feels pity for them, gives them a leader to restore them, and then the Israelites abandon him again. I'm not sure how historically accurate these chapters are. I don't suspect that they're terribly accurate, but I can see them being based on real events. I mean, just about any nation is going to have its ups and downs - winning some wars, and losing others. When you're looking to the gods to justify outcomes of events, its easy to see how people would blame losses on sins, and credit victories to faithfulness. But I suspect these stories are from before there was a unified nation of Israel. I would guess that they're based more on tribal warfare.

At any rate, the actions of God's chosen heroes are remarkably violent, and not exactly the type of behavior that should be expected from noble military leaders.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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