WHY JUDGES RULED ISRAEL
● Israel continued its conquest of Canaan (Judges 1:1–26).
— Mutilating captives was a common practice among heathen (vv. 1–7).
— It was a culture based on material wealth.
— The Canaanites had extraordinarily immoral religious practices.
● When Joshua died, no new prophet was called to replace him. Each of the tribes now became ruled by their tribal leaders in a federal system. Each tribe was a unique state and, at the same time, they were united as children of Israel (similar to the states in the United States today, except there was no national federal government in Israel).
● Israel fell into a repeating cycle: (Judges 2:10–23)
● The reign of the judges is similar in many ways to the history of the Nephites prior to the coming of Christ. It is a story of one continuous cycle of apostasy and repentance. When the Israelites turned from the Lord, their enemies began to prevail (Judges 2:14–15). Suffering under oppression and war, the people would cry unto God and he would raise up a Deborah or a Gideon to deliver them. But once peace and security were reestablished, the people turned again to their former ways (Judges 2:16–19). The story of the time of the judges is thus primarily a sad and tragic one, although in this period lived some of the most remarkable men and women of the Old Testament. In their lives of courage, faith, and personal greatness, as well as in the lives of those who forsook the Lord and pursued selfish ends, are many lessons of importance for Saints today.
● A new generation of Israelites rejected the Lord and chose to worship Baal and Ashteroth (Judges 2:10–13). These practices had a profound influence on Israelite children and youth, who found the worship of Jehovah restrictive and boring.
● Israel had ignored the Lord’s counsel to destroy the heathen among them (Deut. 20:16–18). Israel could not resist their influence and culture (Judges 3:5–7). Because of this, God no longer assisted Israel in driving out the Canaanites (Judges 2:1–5).
● Intermarriage with the heathen nations was a natural result of serving “Baalim and the groves” (Judges 3:1–7). The groves were local worship centers for heathen gods and included a tree or pole and altars, often among groves of trees.
● During this period, from time to time, the Lord raised up “judges” for Israel (Judges 2:16–19). These so-called judges, according to the record, appear to be more military heroes rather than officers of the judiciary.
● “The English word ‘judge’ doesn’t well describe these leaders. Though the root of the Hebrew word used means primarily ‘to judge,’ it is used secondarily also in the extended meaning ‘to govern.’ Most of the ‘judging’ done in this period was a matter of giving advice and rendering decisions. Regular court procedures are nowhere described for the times of the Judges in Israel. In fact, the most common function they are seen to perform is that of military leadership.”
● The judges did not reign over all of unified Israel during their period of leadership. The chronicler of these stories likely took the choicest of the heroes from each of the tribes during this generally apostate period and combined into one book their righteous achievements and their moral lessons for Israel.
● The judge-heroes discussed in the book of Judges are as follows. We will not discuss all of them in this lesson—only three major examples that provided noteworthy actions.
Hero: Tribe or City: Enemy: Noteworthy as:
Othniel Judah Mesopotamia Caleb’s nephew
Ehud Benjamin Moabites Slew the “fat king”
Shamgar (not known) Slew 600 by himself
Deborah Ephraim Canaanites A prophetess
Gideon Manasseh Midian
Jair City of Gilead
Jephthah City of Gilead Ammonites Jair’s daughter
Samson Dan Philistines
DEBORAH & BARAK
● The Canaanites overpowered Ephraim for 20 years (Judges 4:1–3). Their king, Jabin, used 900 chariots of iron to subdue Ephraim.
● The “judge” (deliverer) in this case was Barak (Judges 4:4–5). Deborah was a prophetess (“shophet”—lawgiver or governor) in Israel. She was much respected for her wisdom and judgment.
● Deborah prayed for Israel’s deliverance from the Canaanites. The Lord told her to raise up Barak to accomplish it. Barak refused to go unless Deborah went with him (Judges 4:6–9).
● Sisera’s forces became mired in the mud and were defeated by Barak. Sisera escaped to Heber’s home (a friendly Israelite) for protection. Jael, Heber’s wife, put him to bed for rest, then drove a long nail through his temples, nailing him to the floor and killing him (Judges 4:13–15).
● Deborah composed a song to commemorate the victory (Judges 5), which contains a key for overcoming every adversary: “Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves” (Judges 5:2).
● 40 years of peace followed Deborah and Barak’s leadership. Then Israel returned to its abominations.
● The Midianites and Amalekites scourged Manasseh for 7 years. They would attack Israel at harvest time in hordes like locusts and take all their crops. The Israelites were forced to flee to caves for protection (Judges 6:1–6).
● God sent a prophet (unnamed) to call them to repentance (Judges 6:7–10).
● An angel was sent to Gideon, calling him to deliver the Israelites, but Gideon felt inadequate (Judges 6:11–16).
● Gideon sought for a sign of God’s support for him, and received one (Judges 6:17–24). “When Gideon asked for a ‘sign’ he seemed only to want a sign that the messenger was a bona fide emissary of the Lord (v. 17). On this point, note that messengers may sometimes be from the wrong source and discernment is important. (D&C 129; 2 Cor. 11:13–15; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 John 4:1–2). Also, signs may be given, based upon man’s faith and the will of God (D&C 63:10).”
● Gideon threw down his father’s altar to Baal and destroyed the nearby grove. The men of the city sought to kill him but his father defended him. His father named him “Jerubaal” in honor of what he had done. The name means “let the shameful thing content for itself” (Judges 6:25–32).
● Gideon was filled with the Spirit and courage—32,000 volunteers joined him. He was still outnumbered 4–to-1 by the Midianites’ 120,000 men. He sought for a sign to know that the Lord would indeed be with him. When that sign was given, he asked for another to be sure it was of the Lord (Judges 6:33–40).
● The Lord said he had too many soldiers. He told Gideon to invite anybody who was afraid to depart. 22,000 did so, leaving only 10,000 men (Judges 7:1–3).
● The Lord said there were still too many soldiers and provided a way to test them. Gideon watched the mean drink water; those who lay face-down and lapped the water like a dog were excused; those who drank from cupped-hands staid. This eliminated another 9,700 men—leaving only 300 (Judges 7:4–8).
● Gideon snuck into the Midianite camp and heard their fears of his army. Gideon surrounded the Midianites and provided sudden lights and noise (v. 20). The Midianites scrambled in terror and were defeated by Gideon’s men (Judges 7:9—8:21).
● President Thomas S. Monson said: “We can take strength from the example of Gideon. You will remember how Gideon and his army faced the overwhelming strength of forces vastly superior in equipment and in number. . . . The outcome of that mighty battle is recorded in one short sentence: ‘And they stood every man in his place . . . ‘ (Judges 7:21), and the victory was won. Today, we are encamped against the greatest array of sin, vice, and evil ever assembled before our eyes. Such formidable enemies may cause lesser hearts to shrink or shun the fight. But the battle plan whereby we fight to save the souls of men is not our own. It was provided . . . by the inspiration and revelation of the Lord. Yes, I speak of that plan which will bring us victory. . . . And as we do battle against him who would thwart the purposes of God and degrade and destroy mankind, I pray that each of us will stand in his or her appointed place, that the battle for the souls of men will indeed be won.”
● The people wanted to make Gideon their king—but he refused, saying, “The Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:22–23).
● Gideon made a golden robe from the spoils of his battles (a common practice among the heathen—making golden robes for their gods). It became a snare to his family who worshipped it instead of worshiping God (Judges 8:24–27). “When the text says Israelites ‘went a whoring after it,’ the idiom means they looked upon it as if it were an idol, and idol worship is often condemned in these terms as infidelity to God.”
● Gideon had 70 sons by many different wives—including Abimalech by one of his concubines.
● 40 years of peace followed, then Israel returned to its abominations.
● The Philistines oppressed Dan for 40 years (Judges 13). The story of Samson is told with prejudice—his sins are not admitted but excused as God’s will for him in order to sound favorable. Zorah, the home of Samson (vv. 1–2), had been assigned originally to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:33), but was later inhabited by the tribe of Dan, which had been unable to take over the land farther north that was assigned to it as its inheritance.
● Manoah’s barren wife received a vision wherein she was promised a son. The child was to be a Nazarite—devoted to the service of God (Judges 13:2–5).
● Samson was born and was greatly blessed: (Judges 13:24–25).
—The name “Samson” means “wonderful.” “The angel does not say that it [his name] was secret, but . . . hu peli, ‘wonderful’—one of the names given to Jesus Christ [Isaiah 9].”
—He was announced by an angel.
—He was born of a previously barren woman.
—He was blessed with tremendous gifts from the Lord.
● Samson was indulgent, immoral, selfish, revengeful, and constantly violated his covenants: (Judges 14:1–7).
—He fell in love with a woman of Timnath (a Philistine pagan).
—He demanded of his parents, “Get her for me to wife” (Judges 14:2)
—His parents refused, so he did it himself.
—While there, he slayed a lion with his bare hands.
● At the wedding feast, Samson boasted with a riddle and bet they could not solve it. His wife broke her vow to him and betrayed the answer to his riddle. Samson fled to Ashkelon, slayed 30, and delivered their garments to the betters. He then returned home (Judges 14:8–20).
● Samson later returned to Ashkelon, where his wife had already remarried. In anger he set loose 300 foxes with fiery tails. All the crops of the city were burned to the ground. His former wife and her father were burned alive (Judges 15:1–8).
● Samson fled to the mountains of Judea, followed by those seeking revenge. He slew 1,000 with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:9–17). The place was named “Lehi” (meaning “jawbone”) in honor of this achievement (Judges 15:18–20). This is the homeland after which the prophet Lehi was named.
● Samson went to Gaza, slept with a harlot, and was locked in by his pursuers, but he tore off the entire gate of the city and escaped (Judges 16:1–3).
● Samson went to the valley of Sorek to pursue Delilah—another Philistine woman. He knew from the beginning that she would betray him, but didn’t care. He childishly gambled with his life—almost a death wish (Judges 16:4–15).
● The famous haircut was administered—and Samson lost his strength (Judges 16:16–20). It was not the hair but the Nazarite vow that was the source of his strength.
● He was blinded, shackled, imprisoned, and forced to grind grain like an ox. When 3,000 people assembled at a great festival in the Temple of Dagon, God strengthened Samson, who toppled its pillars and the entire coliseum (Judges 16:21–31). The people died, but so too did Samson.
1. Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 2 vols. , 1:149.
2. Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:150.
3. “Correlation Brings Blessings,” Relief Society Magazine, Apr. 1967, 246–247.
4. Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:15.