We begin our overview of the book of Judges with several concepts right off. The judges were to be like Moses and their job was to judge the people. Messiah will be presented as judge and deliverer in the various judges we will look at. We are not going to go over every story but we will select certain stories to get to the heart of the matter. Again, we will not be going verse by verse but we are going to look at certain phrases, idioms and concepts that will help us understand the book and help us in our own lives.
Like many books in the Tanak, the author is not mentioned. According to ancient Jewish sources the author was Samuel the prophet. It describes the time after the death of Joshua and up to the end of the life of Samson and was probably written at the beginning of the reign of Saul. The period of the judges lasted some 340 years and once Joshua died there was no standing “office” of national leadership. There was no king, president or prime minister, only Yehovah. God would raise up a leader to meet certain needs at certain times and then these people would go back into their previous lives again. These leaders were not elected and they did not rise to these positions because of a succession, like with Moses to Joshua. They were empowered by the Lord to do certain things and the people knew who they were and respected them.
When the Scriptures use the term “judges” it doesn’t mean they sat in a court and decided cases. The Hebrew word “shaphat” carries the idea of a mighty leader or warrior. People today want to teach and tell people what they think the Scriptures say, but they don’t want to put in the hours and years it takes. They don’t do their homework. These judges knew the Lord and they knew the Torah and that was a basic prerequisite to their ministries.
A basic overview of Judges looks like this. Judges 1.10-37 talks about Israel’s failures and apostasy, and they even served the Baalim and the Asherot (3.7). Judges 3.8 to 16.31 tells us about seven periods of oppression and deliverance. Judges 17.1 to 21.25 tells us about the idolatry and continued moral decline of Israel.
In Judges 1.1-10 we learn that Joshua has died. He “potentially” conquered the land but now it was up to the individual tribes to finish the job. In the same way, Yeshua died and potentially gave us the victory but we must engage in spiritual warfare and take it for ourselves and overcome through him. Israel inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim about who will go up first to fight against the Canaanites (merchants, traffickers symbolizing the world and the flesh). After Joshua’s death, this period was seen as a “dark age” for Israel and things were confusing. But we will also see how Yehovah comes during these times and rescues the people. We will also find out a disturbing fact about man in this book. Man would fall back into disobedience and idolatry right after being rescued and the whole cycle would repeat.
Here they do the right thing by asking the Lord about what to do. With Joshua gone they must develop a new trust in the Lord because they did not have a human leader to go to. In the same way, our resolve fails at times but we can go to the Lord for direction. The Lord says that Judah (praise) should go up first and they ask the tribe of Simeon (hear/obey) to go with them. This is a wise thing to do and it symbolizes what the body of Messiah should do. Each part of the body should help out the other.
In Judges 1.8 we learn that Judah fought against the lower part (eastern) of Jerusalem and captured it. In Josh 15.63 it says they could not take it because of Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech and the Philistines. However, after these descendants of Abimelech died after the time of Joshua Judah was able to conquer it portion of the city. The western part of the city belonged to Benjamin and this was inhabited by the Hittite descendants of Ephron who also made a covenant with Abraham when he bought the cave at Machpelah (Gen 21). As a result, they could not drive them out in Judges 1.21. This teaches something about covenants. Abraham had a treaty with Abimelech and Ephron. Even thought God gave this area around Jerusalem to Israel, they had to honor the previous covenants. This teaches the concept about keeping our word.
They defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites (squaters) at Bezek (lightning) and their king Adoni-bezek (Lord of the lightning and a type of Satan) fled and they caught him. They cut off his his thumbs and big toes, brought him to Jerusalem and he died. Now, having a name like “Lord of the lightning” sounds terrifying but he was defeated anyway. His punishment might seem cruel but he did the same thing to seventy kings previously so now it is happening to him (Judges 1.7). This punishment also made Adonai-bezek worthless as a warrior so he wasn’t going to come back and give Israel trouble. Judges 1.8-20 tells us about Judah’s victories in the south. Israel conquers Hebron (communion) and it was given to Caleb and his family (Josh 15.13-19).
The descendants of the Kenite Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, went up from Jericho (city of palms) with the sons of Judah to the wilderness of Judah in the south of Arad (wild ass) and is west of the Dead Sea. Judah and Simeon struck Zephad (watch tower) and destroyed it, so it was renamed Hormah (banned, broken rock). Judah took Gaza (strong city), Ashkelon (fire of infamy) and Ekron (barreness) to the west but could not take the valley because the inhabitants had iron chariots. This had more to do with the attitude of Judah than the Canaanite strategy in war. Chariots had not been a problem before (Exo 14.7-29; Josh 11.1-8; 1 Kings 20.21). Their attitude should have reflected what was written in Psa 20.7, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of Yehovah our God.”
We have an interesting concept on prayer in Judges 1.13-15. Achsah (anklet) is the daughter of Caleb (dog) and she asks for a blessing. She thought about what she wanted and had a definite request and then went to her father. She also asked for help with her request by asking her husband to ask her father for a field. She had a definite relationship with her father and she was humble. She actually asked for exactly what she wanted because he had given her things in the past. She received what she asked for i n abundance and was not criticized by her father for asking.
As we have said before, the tribes did not have total success in defeating the Canaanites. This would lead to trouble in the future and these nations that survived would become like thorns in their sides and their gods became a snare (Judges 2.1-3). This teaches us that we cannot fool around with those around us who are not believers. They will be a snare to us sooner or later unless we defeat them. This concept is seen in Judges 1.27 where Manasseh (to forget) failed to take the city of Beth-shean (house of tranquility). Spiritually, by not forgetting the past we may fail to make the spiritual progress we need. Looking back like Lot’s wife will hinder us.
Judges 1.29 tells us that Ephraim (fruitful) failed to drive out the Canaanites in Gezer (portion cut off) and were diminished in their fruitfulness In Judges 1.30 Zebulon (to dwell) compromises with the Canaanites and puts them under forced labor and in Judges 1.31 Asher (happy) failed to take full possession of their inheritance. Naphtali (sweetness) puts the Canaanites under tribute and Dan (judge) did not take their land fully either. The Amorites (talkers) pushed Dan into the mountains and did not let them come down and this should never happen to believers. However, when the tribe of Joseph got stronger they became forced labor. This alludes to the fact that Messiah will prevail in the end despite all our failures.
As we can see, instead of doing what God said with their enemies and completely drive them out they compromise, doing what they think is best. We should never treat our spiritual enemies this way. We don’t need to hate them to defeat them. Now the enemies of God have a defined border within the promised land. Israel was satisfied with a lot less than what God had for them and this should never be our attitude as a believer. Judges 1.36 tells us that the Amorite kingdom went from the ascent of Akrabbim (scorpions), from Sela (Petra meaning “rock”) and upward. This alludes to the fact that Satan’s kingdom of scorpions also stops at “the rock” (Messiah).
In Part 2 we will pick up here.