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Invitation to Judges

What Is the Setting of the Book of Judges?

The Book of Judges covers the time between the conquest of Canaan under Joshua until the rise of the monarchy under Israel’s first king, Saul. The period is characterized by political disorder and violence; anarchy prevailed in the land. That setting is confirmed by the theme sentence of the book, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Not only does that refrain echo throughout the book (Judg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1), but the document concludes with it (21:25) as a kind of climactic summation of the time period.

That thematic statement certainly reflects the socio-political tenor of the time, in which a central governmental authority, a standing army, and even the central sanctuary at Shiloh all go unmentioned. Israel was merely a loose tribal confederacy. The content of the book reflects this lack of unity, often providing accounts of individual tribes that over-lap historically. But the theme sentence is more than a socio-political comment—it is also a moral one. Relativism had set in; this was a time of spiritual confusion and apostasy. Indeed, everyone acted as his or her own king and did what they found pleasing.

The period of the judges is a dark, grim hour in the history of the people of the covenant. Yet, this time is also a tremendous testimony to God’s faithfulness to his people even in the midst of their heinous sin. God’s grace to them in their iniquity is truly staggering. God’s promises to his people are sure and true, and no matter how the powers of darkness attempt to thwart God’s plans, they will never succeed. The center of God’s promises are Messianic in nature (e.g., Gen 3:15; 49:10). The entire Book of Judges, with its slew of fallen deliverers and anti-heroes, cries out for the coming of the true deliverer. Whereas any deliverance from the enemies of God’s people in the Book of Judges is merely temporal and short-lived, the promised Messiah will bring eternal redemption.

What Is the Structure of the Book of Judges?

Although at first glance the Book of Judges seems to be a hodge-podge of stories that are disconnected, the reality is different. The book provides a highly structured and highly stylized account of the period. The individual stories are based upon a pattern or cycle defined in Judges 2:11–19, presenting a monotonous refrain that fixes Israel’s history during this time. The repetitive sketch is a deliberate literary device used by the author. The pattern is as follows:

  • Apostasy (2:11–13). The opening scene of the cycle is the unfaithfulness of Israel to Yahweh and their serving other gods. They “abandoned” (2x) the Lord and put something else in his place for worship. Idolatry is the principal sin of Israel during the time of the judges. The author confirms this in Judges 2:11, where the word “evil” is preceded in the original language by a definite article; idolatry, in other words, is “the” main evil of the time.
  • Discipline (2:14–15). The second stage of the cycle presents God’s response to Israel’s infidelity. He responded with righteous anger and then acted by giving Israel into the hands of her enemies. God punished and disciplined his wayward people, but he did it for restorative purposes that they might return to him and the good path (cf. Amos 4:6–10; Heb 12:4–11). The people then plunged into distress, and they groaned (Judg 2:18) and cried out for relief from oppression (e.g., 3:15; 4:3; 6:7).
  • Deliverance (2:16, 18). Thirdly, God raised up a “judge” to deliver the people for a season from their enemies. The Hebrew term for “judge” is not being used in the sense of one who decides court cases, although that function may be part of the duty of the office (e.g., 4:5). Rather, this word refers to one who delivers from injustice, and often does so through military means. The bulk of the content of each story focuses on this aspect of the cycle.
  • Repetition (2:17). Although the judges may have succeeded for a short time, the Israelites quickly returned to their old ways and “they whored after other gods.” The Hebrew verb “to whore” is used here in a figurative sense to reflect Israel’s religious intercourse with pagan deities. That language is rightly descriptive because many of the false gods were fertility gods.
  • Greater Sin (2:19). The Hebrews not only reverted to their wicked ways, but they went into deeper corruption, forming a downward spiral of sin. The sin of idolatry was at the heart of the problem, and the Israelites were “stubborn” in their gripping it. The Hebrew word for “stubborn” was used earlier of Pharaoh’s “hardened” heart in his refusal to allow Israel’s release from the land of Egypt during the exodus.

This downhill cycle or pattern appears in its full form seven times in the book:

  • Othniel (3:7–11)
  • Ehud (3:12–30)
  • Deborah (4:1–5:31)
  • Gideon (6:1–8:28)
  • Abimelech (8:33–9:57)
  • Jephthah (10:6–12:7)
  • Samson (13:1–16:31)

The number seven often symbolizes the concept of completion in the Old Testament. By the end of the book, what the reader witnesses is complete anarchy in Israel. The concluding story of the seedy, degenerate Benjaminite debacle was a spiritual low-point in the history of God’s people (19:1–20:24). Truly, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (20:25).


The relativism and anarchy of the period of the time of the judges sets the scene for the establishment of the institution of the monarchy in Israel and, ultimately, for the coming of the Messianic King.

Key Verse

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

— Judges 21:25 ESV


The Book of Judges may be outlined simply according to the following three sections:

I. Israel’s Unfaithfulness (1:1–3:6)

A. Ongoing Conquest of the Land (1:1–26)

B. Failure to Fulfill the Conquest (1:27–36)

C. Israel’s Disobedience (2:1–3:6)

II. The Downhill Cycle (3:7–16:31)

A. Othniel (3:7–11)

B. Ehud (3:12–30) and Shamgar (3:31)

C. Deborah (4:1–5:31)

D. Gideon (6:1–8:32)

E. Abimelech (8:33–9:57)

F. Tola and Jair (10:1–5)

G. Jephthah (10:6–12:7)

H. Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8–15)

I. Samson (13:1–16:31)

III. The Sinful Abyss (17:1–21:25)

A. Micah, the Levite, and the Tribe of Dan (17:1–18:31)

B. Sin of the Benjaminites (19:1–21:25)

Israel’s Unfaithfulness (1:1–3:6)

Ongoing Conquest of the Land (1:1–26)

1:1 The first verse of this text opens with a familiar statement, “after the death of Joshua.” The book of Joshua had begun with the phrase “after the death of Moses” (Josh 1:1). This literary introduction reflects the necessity of new leadership for the conquest and settlement of the land. Now, we will see, that the tribe of Judah will take the lead and be prominent among the tribes of Israel. Despite the change in leadership, the same conquest simply continues that of the book of Joshua. In the original text, the verse begins with the word “and,” showing the natural flow from one book to the next.

Obviously much of the land of Canaan was not under Israelite control and possession. Under Joshua, the land was initially and generally conquered, but had not been occupied fully by the Israelites at that time. This condition reflects the description found in the book of Joshua. Near the end of Joshua’s life, God had said to him, “you are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess” (Josh 13:1). No disharmony exists between the two books in this matter.

1:2 Yahweh gave Judah the lead role in the continuing conquest of the land. Why so? This role likely goes back to Genesis 49:8–12, in which Jacob gave a special blessing to Judah (and his descendants): he would rule over his brothers, and the great king would come from him. This preeminence was already evident in the book of Joshua, in which the tribe of Judah received the first allotment of land in Canaan (Josh 15:1).

1:3 The Judahites invited the tribe of Simeon to participate in the opening strike against the Canaanites. Why Simeon? The tribal ancestors, Simeon and Judah, were born to the same mother (Gen 29:33–35). And because of Simeon’s sin in the matter of Dinah and the destruction of Shechem (Gen 34), the tribe of Simeon was shamed and given a land allotment within the territory of Judah (Gen 49:5–7; Josh 19:9). The two tribes were intertwined and their interests were closely knit.

1:4–7 Here the first military foray is briefly recorded. The Israelites defeated a force of 10,000 soldiers at the site of Bezek, which was ruled by Adoni-bezek. His name means “lord of Bezek,” and presumably was a royal title. Adoni-bezek fled the battle, was captured, and the Israelites cut off his thumbs and big toes. This mutilation was not merely punishment, but he would not be able to grasp a weapon or have balance to continue to fight. It was a common practice in the ancient Near East to cut off the hands of captives. It was one way that the conqueror ascertained a body count and humiliated the defeated. Adoni-bezek himself recognized the ironic justice in the act.

1:8 The army of Judah then took Adoni-bezek with them when they assaulted and captured Jerusalem. Perhaps he was a trophy of victory that Judah used to taunt the people of Jerusalem. In any event, Judah captured Jerusalem, but they did not settle in the city. It is clear from Judges 1:21 that the Jebusites resettled the city after this initial conquest. In fact, Jerusalem was not finally conquered and settled by the Israelites until the time of David (2Sam 5:6–9).

1:9–11 The Judahites followed this with a broad military sweep through the Judean highlands, the Shephelah (or, “foothills”), and the northern Negeb. Two of the conquered sites are mentioned in the text: Hebron (in the highlands), vanquished earlier by Caleb (Josh 10:36–37), and Debir (in the Negeb), destroyed during the southern campaign of Joshua (Josh 10:38–39). Some commentators believe the Judges accounts are mere elaborations of the Joshua stories; others, however, believe them to be re-conquest narratives.

1:12–15 Caleb offered the reward of his daughter in marriage to the one who dared to capture Debir. Othniel, who would later become the first judge in the cycle of judges (Judg 3:7–11), answered the call, captured Debir, and took Achsah for his wife. For her dowry, Achsah induced Othniel to ask Caleb for a parcel of land. Caleb gave them land in the Negeb where rainfall is minimal. So, Achsah requested from her father the water rights for the land they had received.

1:16 This parenthesis describes what happened to the Kenites who were descendants of Moses’s father-in-law Jethro (Exod 3:1). Apparently, they traveled with the army of Judah from Jericho, the “city of palms,” to the city of Arad in the Negeb. There they settled. This parenthesis also has a purpose to set up a later account in the book in which some of the Kenites migrated to the land of Naphtali in the north (Judg 4:11). Most Kenites, however, remained in the Negeb (1Sam 15:6–7).

1:17–26 The remainder of the section demonstrates that the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh (“the house of Joseph”) had some military success in the ongoing conquest. For example, Judah captured Hormah and three cities in the Philistine plains. The text, however, clearly underscores the unfinished and incomplete nature of the conquest and settlement of the land. This reality is presented in two ways. First, the tribes were unable to dislodge some of the native inhabitants. The text particularly mentions the fact that the Judahites took possession of the highlands, but they could not expel the Canaanites from the open country. The Canaanites had the military advantage of chariotry. In addition, the Benjaminites could not displace the Jebusites in Jerusalem, and it was not captured and settled until the time of David. Second, as already mentioned, the Hebrew tribes conquered enemy cities, but did not settle in them. Often the cities returned to Canaanite possession and settlement. That certainly was the case with Judah’s conquest of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron: those three cities came under Philistine hegemony and became part of their pentapolis (or, “five capital cities”).

God had commanded Israel to take possession of the entire land, expel their enemies, and settle in it (e.g., Deut 6:18–19). The main point of the present section is to demonstrate that Israel failed in completing the conquest. It serves as an early warning in the book that the native inhabitants will be a continuing problem and a snare for the people of Israel. The reality of this will play out as the Book of Judges unfolds.

Failure to Fulfill the Conquest (1:27–36)

1:27 This section punctuates the failure of all the tribes of Israel to dispossess the Canaanites from the land of Canaan. The Israelites were able to obtain a strong foothold in the central hill country, but the Canaanites “persisted” in living in the lowlands of Canaan. The areas mentioned as unconquered by the Israelites specifically include the Jezreel Valley, the coastal regions, and parts of the Shephelah (or, “foothills”).

1:28–36 The relationship between the Israelites and the native inhabitants was contentious. At times the Israelites appeared to have the upper hand, placing the Canaanites into forced labor. The Canaanites sometimes were stronger and resisted Israel’s incursions. So, for instance, the tribal inheritance of Dan was located along the Mediterranean coast, including the ancient port of Joppa. The Amorites (or, “Canaanites”) successfully opposed Dan’s settlement of the area and drove them back into the highlands. Dan later migrated to the far north (Judg 18).

The geographical boundaries between the settlements of the Israelites and the Canaanites were not clearly delineated. This is evident in the status of Gezer located in the foothills of Canaan. Gezer was an important Canaanite city-state. It lay in the territory that had been inherited by the tribe of Ephraim; the Ephraimites, however, were unable to dislodge the Canaanites from Gezer. Rather, the text tells us that the inhabitants of the city continued to live in the very midst of the Israelites (“among them”). This reality, of course, posed a great threat to Israel. Gezer, in fact, did not come under Israel’s sovereignty until the time of Solomon (1Kgs 9:15–17).

Israel’s Disobedience (2:1–3:6)

2:1–5 In the opening verses of this section, the angel of the Lord came to Israel to call them to account for their failure in displacing the Canaanites from the land. Who is this figure? The angel of the Lord spoke as if he were God. That identification is made elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g., Judg 13:17–22). John Calvin argues that the angel of the Lord is the Messiah, that is, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. He says, “But let us enquire who this Angel was? … The ancient teachers of the church have rightly understood [it to be] the Eternal Son of God in respect to his office as Mediator.”

The angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal, which was the main camp of the Israelites in the Jordan Valley (Josh 9:6; 10:6; 14:6), to Bochim. There, the angel confronted Israel. The book has already underscored Israel’s military failures in dislodging the Canaanites, and now the reason is given for their failures: they disobeyed the commands of God. So, the Lord gave the people over to the consequences of their disobedience. The Canaanites will, thus, from now on, be a thorn in their flesh. The response of the people to this judgment was they “wept.” This verb is a play on words with the name of the site: Bochim means “weepers.”

2:6–10 The biblical author here records the death of Joshua, providing basically the same account already found in Joshua 24:28–31. The writer of Joshua had given his account to demonstrate Israel’s faithfulness and fidelity to Yahweh during the time of Joshua and the elders. In contrast, the author of Judges inserts the narrative of Joshua’s death to show the unfaithfulness of the succeeding generation after Joshua and the elders. That reality is confirmed by comparing the two generations. The statement that the next generation “did not know” does not mean they did not hear of Yahweh and his work in the initial conquest, but they had no first-hand knowledge of either him or his labors on Israel’s behalf. They simply had apostatized.

2:11–19 Since we already dealt with this passage as the structural framework of the period of the judges in the introduction to this book, we will simply add a few remarks not given there. A crystal-clear definition of Israel’s apostasy is provided in Judges 2:12–13. First, “they abandoned the LORD” (2x); that is, they left off serving and worshiping him. The KJV translates the phrase as “they forsook the LORD.” And in his place, the Israelites “served” the gods of the Canaanites. They walked after the Baals. The word “Baal” means “lord, master,” and it refers to many gods in the ancient Near East. For the Canaanites, Baal was a major deity: he was a symbol of fertility and the rain god (cf. 1Kgs 17–18, in which a pitched battle occurs between Yahweh and Baal regarding rain production). The Israelites also served the Ashtoroth. Ashtoroth is plural of Asherah, who was the consort of El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon. Her worship was associated with a cultic pole or tree, which reflects fertility (Deut 7:5; 16:21). When used in the plural, the name can refer to goddesses in general. Israel’s actions were a rejection of monotheism and a firm gripping of polytheism.

God’s response to Israel’s apostasy was swift and certain. Their idolatry was “the evil” in the Lord’s eyes, and so he placed them in servitude to other peoples who plundered them. The Lord had warned them and took a covenantal oath that this would come upon Israel if they defected to pagan polytheism (see Lev 26:14–33; Deut 28:15–68).

The longsuffering character of God, however, shone forth as he raised up deliverers for his people; he was moved with compassion for them because they were severely oppressed. Yet, after each deliverance, the Israelites rejected the leaders God had given to them and rejected God’s word to them. The text employs powerful imagery, stating that Israel “whored” after pagan gods: they were unfaithful to God by committing adultery.

2:20–22 Yahweh’s anger with Israel had painful consequences as he gave them over to their sin. Here God calls them “this people;” the word God used of “people” here is not the common one used of Israel but normally used of pagan nations. Because Israel repeatedly broke the covenant, God regarded them just like the unbelieving nations. He continued to test Israel, and Israel continued to fail.

2:23 The ultimate result was that God “left” the other nations alone. That verb in Hebrew commonly means “to give rest;” Yahweh gave rest to the pagan nations. This rest, ironically, is what God had promised to Israel (see Josh 1:13, 15). But because of their disobedience, Israel will have no true rest during this period.

3:1–5 The opening verses of the third chapter provide specific detail regarding the nations that Israel did not dislodge. The groups mentioned here were located in the Upper Galilee, the northern coastal plain, and the southern coastal plain (these areas were inhabited by the Phoenicians and the Philistines). The result was that Israel lived among many different people groups. God left these peoples in the land for two reasons: (1) so that the next generation of Israelites might learn the tactics of war, and thus be battle-hardened, and (2) in order to test Israel’s faithfulness to the Lord.

3:6 Israel failed to obey the Lord. God, in his law, had commanded Israel not to intermarry with the pagan peoples of the land (e.g., Exod 34:16; Deut 7:3). Their acculturation, however, was swift, an ominous sign for the age of the judges.

The Downhill Cycle (3:7–16:31)

Othniel (3:7–11)

3:7–8 The opening rotation of the cycle used throughout the Book of Judges appears in these verses. The Israelites apostatized by forsaking the service of Yahweh and pursuing the service of the pagan gods of Canaan. The Lord responded by selling them into bondage to Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia. The identification of this ruler is unknown from ancient Near Eastern records, although he perhaps was a ruler of the Arameans in Mesopotamia. The second part of his name (“rishathaim”) in Hebrew means “double-wickedness,” and it is likely being used pejoratively by the author. The subjection of Israel under this distant foreign oppressor lasted for eight years.

3:9–11 The Israelites groaned under the oppression, and they pled with God to intervene. Yahweh answered them by raising up a deliverer who would save the people. Othniel was a likely candidate for this first judgeship: he was introduced earlier in the book as a brave leader who led a military campaign against the city of Debir (Judg 1:11–13). Othniel, however, did not deliver Israel from Cushan-rishathaim by his own power, but “the Spirit of the LORD was upon him.” This is an idiom (see 6:34; 11:29) that does not necessarily reflect spiritual regeneration, but a temporary infusion of God’s power to the judge. Othniel’s triumph resulted in the land having rest and peace for forty years; that length of time often signified a complete generation in the Old Testament. Othniel then died, and this fact recalls the words of Judges 2:18, indicating that the people experienced deliverance “all the days of the judge.”

This first account is a simple, direct, and matter-of-fact description of Othniel’s judgeship. As was highlighted in the introduction, the reader ought to remember that the period of judges was a downhill cycle. And as the reader moves from one story to the next, there is evidence of increased corruption and oppression. This reality appears in various ways in the next revolution of the cycle.

Ehud (3:12–30) and Shamgar (3:31)

3:12 The next narrative begins with Israel reverting to their idolatrous ways: they committed “the evil” (2x) before the Lord (see 2:11; 3:7). So begins another revolution of the literary cycle. The Lord responded, and he “strengthened” (cf. other uses of the verb translated “hardened” in Exod 4:21; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10) Eglon, king of Moab, to attack Israel. Eglon was simply doing God’s bidding (cf. Prov 21:1). So, the Moabite king allied with the armies of the Ammonites and the Amalekites to assail Israel. These groups lived in areas that abutted Israel, and they were foes who would plague Israel for centuries.

3:13–14 The initial result of the military incursion was the pagan armies took possession of the city of palms—Jericho (Deut 34:3). Jericho was the first city captured by Israel during the conquest, and now it returned to pagan hands. Israel ended up in servitude to Eglon for eighteen years.

3:15 In response to Israel’s pleading for relief from oppression, God raised up a deliverer named Ehud, the son of Gera. Ehud was from the tribe of Benjamin, a tribal name that means “son of the right hand.” Ironically, the exceptional description given of Ehud is that he was “a left-handed man.” Although some commentators believe this description indicates Ehud’s sly prowess as a warrior (cf. Judg 20:16), the opposite may have been the case. A close reading of the verse indicates that Ehud was “a man bound/restricted/impeded as to his right hand.” Late Hebrew renders the verb as “lame/crooked of arm.” It may be that Ehud was, in fact, physically infirm in his right hand and thus may have been a most unlikely deliverer and assassin of Eglon. Because of their vassal status to Moab, Israel sent tribute to Eglon by “the hand” of Ehud. Ironically, later in the story, Ehud’s “hand” plunged his sword into Eglon’s belly.

3:16–19 In preparation for this encounter, Ehud crafted a long dagger (cubit = 1½ feet, or 46 centimeters) “with two edges.” This description is perhaps a wordplay because it has the basic meaning “with two mouths.” Commentators have suggested that the two mouths/edges of the sword obliquely refer to Ehud’s cunning words to Eglon that were two-edged. Indeed, in his second audience with Eglon, Ehud said, “I have a secret message from God for you.” The Hebrew term translated as “message” has two basic original meanings, a “word” or a “thing.” This term is likely a double entendre, in which to Eglon, Ehud bore a secret “word,” but to Ehud and the reader, the judge bore a secret thing hidden under his cloak.

Literary word play is part of the essential fabric of this account. The author describes Eglon as a “very fat man.” This description is often used of cattle in the Old Testament (Gen 41:2, 4, 5, 7, 18, 20; 1Kgs 4:23). In fact, the name “Eglon” is likely related to the noun “calf/fatted calf” in Hebrew. When the story reaches its climax, the text says that the Israelites killed 10,000 Moabites who were “strong, able-bodied men.” The term “strong” used there often means “fat” in Hebrew; Eglon’s army was like himself, fat and ready for slaughter! Like king, like nation!

3:20–30 When Ehud spoke to Eglon, he used the name Elohim for God; it derives from the name El, which was a generic name for a god of the ancient Near East. Eglon would be more receptive to a word from El than from Yahweh—the covenantal name for the God of Israel. Later, when Ehud rallied his own people to fight the Moabites, he used the name Yahweh. Again, Ehud was clever in his dealings with the pagan, Moabite ruler.

The downhill spiral of Israel’s existence during the period of the judges is emphasized by the obvious intensification as the text moves from one story to the next. In the previous Othniel account (Judg 3:7–11), the Israelites were oppressed for eight years, but now the experience oppression for eighteen years (3:14). The oppressor in the Othniel judgeship was from far away Mesopotamia (3:8), but now the enemy comes from neighboring Moab (3:12). The peace that followed the two judgeships also increased, from forty years (3:11) to eighty years (3:30). Matters were intensifying and increasing as Israel became “more corrupt” (2:19).

3:31 We know little of the third judge, Shamgar the son of Anath (3:31); he is mentioned only here and in Judges 5:6. It has been suggested that his title “son of Anath” refers to the warrior goddess Anath of Canaan, but the exact connection is uncertain. Shamgar fought against the Philistines located west of Israel and saved his people from them. We see here for the first time in the book that a judge performed a spectacular military feat to defeat an enemy: Shamgar killed 600 Philistines with a mere farming implement!

Deborah (4:1–5:31)

4:1–2 After the death of Ehud, the Israelites returned to their apostate practices. Yahweh then gave them into the oppressive hand of Jabin, a king who reigned in Hazor. In the northern campaign of Joshua, the Israelites had destroyed Hazor (Josh 11:10–13). Now it was back in the hands of the Canaanites who apparently had resettled the city and made it into a royal center. Conditions had deteriorated for the Israelites, for now the Canaanites within the territory of the tribe of Naphtali were victimizing them. In addition, the oppression had intensified as Israel was under the thumb of Jabin for twenty years.

4:3 As was their custom, Israel cried out because of the oppression. They were severely subjugated because Sisera’s army had 900 chariots of iron. Israel was at a great disadvantage because there were few iron-makers in Israel (1Sam 13:19) and, thus, they had few metal weapons (Judg 5:8; 1Sam 13:22). The word “oppressed” used here bears the sense of being “squeezed;” it is graphically used in the picture of Balaam’s donkey squeezing and crushing Balaam’s foot against a wall (Num 22:25).

4:4–5 Deborah is now introduced as a judge in Israel. The author’s description of her begins with her position as “a prophetess.” This detail involves two words in the Hebrew, that is “a woman prophetess.” Even though the author uses a feminine ending on the word “prophet,” he finds it necessary to add “a woman” to it. He is highlighting the unique, special nature of this position. In fact, only five women are designated as “prophetess” in the entire Old Testament (Miriam, Exod 15:20; Huldah, 2Kgs 22:14; Isaiah’s companion, Isa 8:3; and Noadiah, Neh 6:14). It was a rare and exceptional position in Israel. In addition, Deborah did not serve as a military leader as the other judges, but she functioned as a civic judge who decided court cases.

4:6–9 The text relates a specific incident of Deborah’s judgeship. In her position as judge, she sent for a man named Barak and asked him if the Lord had not commanded him to muster an army to fight Sisera. Why had Barak not acted? Here is a first hint to Barak’s reluctance and timidity. In Judges 4:9, Deborah reproved him for his timidity and shamed him for his lack of courage and leadership. Barak will not receive the glory of victory, but an unnamed woman will defeat Sisera (i.e., Jael in 4:18–22). John Calvin comments on the leadership of these women by saying, “God doubtless wished to raise them on high to shame the men” and he used them for war “whenever God wishes to brand man with a mark of ignominy.”

4:10 Barak was finally obedient, and he mustered 10,000 soldiers from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Not all Israel was involved in this campaign, but these two tribes only responded because they were directly in the path of danger. Hazor, in fact, lay within the tribal boundaries of Naphtali. The mustering of troops took place at Mount Tabor, which sits about 1,300 feet or 400 meters above the Jezreel Valley on the southern borders of Zebulun and Naphtali.

4:11 A parenthesis interrupts the flow of the narrative and introduces the reader to a new setting that will become important later in the story. As mentioned in Judges 1:16, a family of Kenites had moved from the Negeb in the south to live in the land of Naphtali in the north. The leader of this part of the clan was Heber, who is designated as a descendant of Hobab, “the father-in-law” of Moses. According to Numbers 10:29, Hobab, in fact, was the brother-in-law of Moses; he was the son of Jethro/Reuel who was the father-in-law of Moses (Exod 2:18; 3:1). This is not a problem, since the Hebrew word for “father-in-law” can also refer to other blood relationships such as son-in-law and brother-in-law.

4:12–16 After that brief interval, the author resumes the account of battle. The Israelites were victorious over the army of Sisera. The reason for this triumph is clearly stated: Yahweh “routed” Sisera and his forces. The verb “routed” commonly means “to throw in a panic,” and it is the same verb used of Yahweh when he threw the Egyptian army into panic at the Red Sea (Exod 14:24). The Israelite rout of Sisera was complete.

4:17–23 Sisera fled from the battlefield, and he came to the tent of Heber that had been introduced in Judges 4:11. The movement of the story from one scene to the other is for dramatic effect. Sisera ran to the tent expecting protection because of the peace between Heber and Jabin. Heber’s wife made Sisera feel safe, and she covered him with a rug in order to hide him. She had other plans, however, and she killed Sisera in a most brutal way while he lay exhausted in the tent. At the end of Judges 4:21, the author uses a staccato list of verbs that summarize the narrative in a simple way: a proper translation would be, “he was sleeping heavily, and he was weary, and he died.” Deborah’s prediction as a prophetess came true that Yahweh “will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” The author, however, makes sure that the reader understands that the glory rightly belongs to Yahweh for delivering his people.

5:1 The defeat of Sisera is followed by a hymn of victory sung by Deborah and Barak. A prose account followed by a poetic account was a common literary style in the ancient Near East and in the Bible. For example, the Song of Moses (Exod 15) came immediately on the heels of the account of the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Exod 14). The reader should note that, in keeping with the narrative account of Deborah’s leadership in the deliverance from Jabin, Deborah is mentioned before Barak in the singing of this hymn of triumph.

5:2–5 The opening stanza of the hymn is one of praise to the Lord. The name “Yahweh” appears six times in this unit because he is the main subject of the section. He is extolled because he took the field of battle at the head of Israel’s army against the Canaanites.

5:6–9 Prior to God’s intervention, Israel had been in a state of great peril. The people avoided the major thoroughfares in the land, probably due to the control of the Canaanites. In Judges 5:7, the ESV says that “villagers” ceased in the land; that noun is better translated as “warriors,” thus indicating the military vulnerability of Israel at this time. The passage goes on to explain that the Israelites had no arms for professional armies, underscoring the grim setting before Deborah “arose as a mother in Israel.”

5:10–11 Deborah and Barak encouraged all the people of God to recount the deliverance that Yahweh brought at the time. Judges 5:10 is a merismus (a poetic device in which two aspects/portions represent a whole entity or idea), in which the wealthy and the lowly were both urged to speak of the triumph of the Lord. Even those gathered at watering places, where communities often met, were to review the deeds of Yahweh in song—perhaps by singing this very song.

5:12–19 According to chapter 4, Barak called for the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali to muster for battle. But some of the other tribes also answered the summons: Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir of Manasseh, and Issachar. The song mentions other tribes who purposefully stayed out of the conflict: Reuben, Gilead of Manasseh, Dan, and Asher. Judah, Levi, Simeon, and Gad remain unmentioned in the account. The diversity of tribal responses noted here ought to remind the reader of the regional nature of this conflict and that many of the stories during the time of judges have the same regional identity.

5:20–27 Although from an earthly perspective, Israel was at a keen military disadvantage, the reality was that the very forces of nature fought on their side. Some people were expected to help in battle, but did not; others, however, unexpectedly helped the cause of Israel. Jael is blessed because she killed Sisera.

5:28–30 Here we encounter a final scene change. Sisera’s mother is pictured as eagerly awaiting the return of her son from the battle. Why is he delayed? she wonders. She convinced herself that he was late because of the likelihood of great pillage on his part. Here, however, was a mother bereft of her son. She stands in contrast to Deborah who led her son to victory (cf. 5:7).

5:31 The conclusion to the hymn is a call for all God’s enemies to perish like Sisera and a request for God’s people to break forth like the sun at daybreak. In keeping with that call, the “land had rest for forty years.”

Gideon (6:1–8:32)

6:1–6 The opening of this account delivers the same old tune: Israel had forsaken the Lord and gone after other gods (“the evil”). The Lord responded by placing Israel under Midianite oppression. The Midianites were a frontier group from the deserts of western Arabia and the Sinai Peninsula. The type of oppression they forced on Israel was not a land grab but rather one of constant pillage. For seven years, the Midianites swept into the land of Israel at the time of harvest and pilfered all its produce, including both crops and animals. The author compares the Midianites to a swarm of locusts who naturally come upon pasturelands and devastate crops. The raids left Israel impoverished, and Israel turned back to the Lord for help.

6:7–10 A new twist is added to the cyclical framework. Instead of God immediately supplying a deliverer for the people in distress, he instead brings a prophetic indictment against Israel. He raised up an unnamed prophet to castigate Israel for their disobedience to God in contrast to his wondrous works on their behalf. The first person singular subject is emphasized in the text: “I led you . . . I brought you . . . I delivered you . . . I drove them out . . . I gave you.” Thus, prior to deliverance, God was calling the people to account for their sin.

The angel of the Lord now makes a sudden appearance. This figure was introduced in Judges 2:1–5 and spoke to Israel as if he were God. This present appearance is also a theophany, in which the angel of the Lord speaks God’s words directly to Gideon (cf. 6:14). At the time, Gideon was threshing wheat in order “to hide” it from the marauding Midianites. That verb in Hebrew most commonly means “to cause to flee,” and the idea is that Gideon was working in such a way that he could move the wheat quickly when threatened. The location of Ophrah is uncertain, although it is reasonable to assume it lay in the heartland of the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon’s clan was part of the half-tribe of Manasseh that had settled on the west side of the Jordan River (6:15).

6:11–18 Gideon is called and commissioned to be the deliverer of Israel from the hand of the Midianites. The call is reminiscent of God’s call to Moses to save his people from the oppression of Egypt in Exodus 3. First, it was the angel of the Lord who spoke to both men (Judg 6:12; Exod 3:2), and his call to the men to deliver was clear (Judg 6:14; Exod 3:10). Both deliverers showed great reluctance by questioning his own status and ability (Judg 6:15; Exod 3:11). When God answered Moses’s unwillingness, he said, “But I will be with you” (Exod 3:12); the Lord quoted that clause exactly in his response to Gideon (Judg 6:16). In both cases, God provided a sign to them of their divine calling (Judg 6:17; Exod 3:12). The purpose of this echo is to show that God will deliver Israel out of the oppression of Midian through a weak, human vessel, just as he rescued his people from Egypt.

6:19–27 Employing proper ancient Near Eastern hospitality, Gideon prepared a meal for the stranger (cf. Gen 18:6–8). The stranger did not eat the meal provided by Gideon but offered it up as a sacrifice. The angel of the Lord used the tip of his staff to ignite the fire that consumed the sacrifice. The stranger then disappeared, and Gideon finally realized that he was speaking with the angel of the Lord. Gideon was afraid he would die for God himself had said, “man shall not see me and live” (Exod 33:20). The expression “face to face” is to remind the reader again of Moses who, like Gideon, saw God and lived (Deut 34:10). The act of building an altar at the site of a great spiritual event was a common one (e.g., Gen 12:7–8; 26:25; 35:1).

The Lord then commanded Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal and the Asherah next to it in his hometown. Baal—the god of the weather—was a major fertility god of the Canaanites. Asherah—the consort of El—was a fertility goddess who was associated with a tree or a cultic pole (Deut 16:21). God ordered Gideon to cut down that tree/pole and then, in an act of ironic justice, to offer a sacrifice on an altar to the Lord using the wood of the Asherah pole. Gideon obeyed; but he acted at night because he was afraid, although God had promised to be with him and told him not to be afraid.

6:28–32 Gideon’s fear turned out to be substantive, as the men of Ophrah wanted to execute him. His father, however, intervened and called for Baal to make his own defense. If Baal really is a god, he needed to “contend” for himself (3x in 6:31). Apparently, no further action was taken against Gideon. Because of the incident, he received another name: Jerubbaal, which means “let Baal contend,” is both ironical and polemical.

6:33–35 After the commissioning of Gideon and his destruction of the shrine for Baal and Asherah, the author takes the reader back to the original threat of Judges 6:3. The menace was a raid into the Jezreel Valley by the Midianites and their allies. In response, the Spirit of the Lord “clothed” Gideon; that is, he enveloped and empowered Gideon to seek Israel’s deliverance (cf. Judg 3:10, in which the Spirit of the Lord “came upon” Othniel). Gideon then mustered the troops of his clan—the Abiezrites (from the tribe of Manasseh)—and those of the remainder of Manasseh and the adjacent tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali.

6:36–40 In the final section of this chapter, Gideon again displays his reluctance to be the deliverer of God’s people. He puts God to the test twice. On the first night, he laid out a fleece on the bare rock of the threshing floor and asked that dew would be on it but not on the surrounding ground in the morning. The next night he asked for the opposite—that the dew would appear on the ground but not on the fleece. He thus called on God to perform miracles of separation. The expectation would have been that dew would be on both the fleece and the ground. The exclusion of one from another was a means that God used in the Old Testament to give assurance to his people. For instance, God miraculously excluded the Israelites in Goshen from experiencing the fourth, fifth, seventh, and ninth plagues on Egypt (Exod 8:23; 9:6, 26; 10:23).

7:1–8 Gideon’s army mustered and encamped at the spring of Harod at the foot of Mount Gilboa in the eastern Jezreel Valley. They were located a mere two miles from the Midianites who were camped next to the hill of Moreh to the north. Gideon had 32,000 troops with him. God told a hesitant Gideon that the number of soldiers was too many and that when victory came over the Midianites, the Israelites would claim the glory, taking credit for what God had done (Deut 8:11–20; 9:4–5). The Lord was intent on reducing the number of troops for the upcoming battle with Midian.

The troop reduction first took place by God commanding an exemption from battle for those afraid; this was one of the exemptions stipulated in the law (Deut 20:5–8). A huge contingent of the army—22,000 men—opted out of the coming battle. Still there were too many soldiers. God established a “test” for the remaining 10,000 men. The word “test” in Hebrew commonly means “to smelt, refine;” thus, God was using a test as a crucible in order to burn off the dross. The exact nature of the test is uncertain, although it appears that the soldiers who were veteran warriors would stealthily move to the spring, lie low, and place their mouths to the water. They would be invisible to the enemy. The other group would have been more vulnerable to the enemy by standing and bringing water to their mouths with their hands. Following this test, a mere 300 soldiers did the latter, and they were the ones God chose for battle. God used the inexperienced soldiers to show that he was the one saving his people.

7:9–15a Gideon’s timidity, however, rose to the surface again: the verb “to be afraid” appeared three previous times in the story regarding Gideon’s emotions (Judg 6:10, 23, 27). God encouraged him in his task by having him overhear a dream of a Midianite sentry. Gideon and his servant went to the outskirts of the Midianite camp, and they saw soldiers without number: how discouraging considering Israel’s mere 300 inexperienced warriors! As the two reconnoitered the camp, they heard two pickets in conversation. One of these enemy soldiers recounted a dream that he had: he dreamt that one measly loaf of bread tumbled into the Midianite camp and wreaked havoc. The other sentry interpreted the dream to symbolize that Gideon would conquer the Midianite encampment. Dreams were one of the ways that God spoke to people in the Old Testament, whether believer of unbeliever (e.g., Gen. 20:3; 41:1–8). The dream and its interpretation greatly encouraged Gideon, and he immediately worshiped God.

7:15b–18 Due to his conviction, Gideon then prepared his 300 men for battle. He divided his men into three companies, and he issued each soldier a trumpet, an empty jar, and a torch. The text nowhere mentions weaponry, and Israel did not employ arms in the initial victory (see 7:23).

7:19–25 The first stage of the conflict took place when the three companies of Israel’s soldiers surrounded the Midianite camp in the middle of the night. Gideon and the company with him began the fight by blowing their trumpets and smashing their jars. The two other companies soon followed suit, shouting “a sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” All the noise sent the Midianites into a panic so that many fled the camp. The second stage came directly from the hand of God as he set Midianite against Midianite in armed conflict. The ones who were able to flee ran south and east by way of the Jordan Valley toward Midian. The final stage took place when Gideon appealed to the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, Manasseh, and Ephraim to join the pursuit of the fleeing Midianites. The first three tribes had been mustered earlier (cf. Judg 6:35), but Ephraim was a new participant in the conflict. The tribe of Ephraim, settled in the hill country just south of the Jezreel Valley, was able to cut-off the Midianite retreat to the south and then chased the Midianites across the Jordan River. As a punctuation mark to the story, the Ephraimites captured two of the princes of Midian, killed them, beheaded them, and brought the heads as bloody trophies to Gideon.

8:1–3 The men of Ephraim, however, were not satisfied with the mop-up role they played in the Midianite conflict. In fact, they were indignant and contended strongly with Gideon. The Ephraimites have a history of this behavior with the other tribes (cf. Josh 17:14–18; Judg 12:1); the prophet Isaiah called it “the jealousy of Ephraim” (Isa 11:13). Gideon placated their envy by pointing out that Ephraim’s contribution to the battle reaped greater benefits than did Gideon’s own clan, the Abiezrites—the Ephraimites captured the two princes of Midian!

8:4–9 Further inter-tribal discord appears as Gideon seeks provisions for his men from two towns in the tribal territory of Gad: Succoth and Penuel, near the Jordan River. Gideon and his men were tracking down two kings of Midian, but they were worn down. Gideon asked for food from these two Gadite towns on the way, and the towns denied any aid. Before Gideon moved on in pursuit, he threatened future punishment on both towns—he promised he would “flail” the flesh of the leaders of Succoth with thorns and briers. The verb “flail” commonly means “to thresh,” an agricultural procedure that crushes crops to separate grain from their stalks. Gideon then warned the leaders of Penuel that he would return an destroy the central, prominent tower of their city.

8:10–12 The narrative returns to the ongoing pursuit of the Midianite army. That army had fled to Karkor, which is located about 100 miles or 160 kilometers to the east of the Dead Sea. The Midianites were in home territory, and they felt secure and confident. Their numbers were decimated, yet they still had 15,000 troops compared to Gideon’s mere 300 soldiers. Gideon, however, surprised and routed the Midianite army, and he captured their two kings.

8:13–17 The narrator returns to the story of Succoth and Penuel (this alternation of narratives is for dramatic effect). Gideon and his men returned to the area of these two towns, and nearby they captured a young man of Succoth. Gideon interrogated the youth, and the young man turned informer and gave up the names of Succoth’s leaders. Having a written list in hand, Gideon proceeded to have the leaders flailed as he had promised in Judges 8:7. He then turned to Penuel and knocked down its central tower as he said he would in Judges 8:9. Yet, Gideon added to the punishment of Penuel by killing its men, which perhaps was a ban (Heb. cherem) on the city. If Penuel was an Israelite enclave, the use of the ban by Gideon was exceptional and uncalled for against his own people. The act was an unfortunate sign of the times and, in fact, may anticipate Israel’s later ban upon the tribe of Benjamin (Judg 20:48).

8:18–21 The biblical author returns to the story of the two Midianite kings. New information is given: apparently these kings had executed some Israelites on Mount Tabor, and they happened to be Gideon’s blood brothers. This passage, then, provides further background to Gideon’s deliverance. Part of his assault on the Midianite kings was a personal vendetta against them. Yet, Gideon again hesitates to act. He ordered his son Jether to pounce on the kings, but Jether refused because of fear, age, and inexperience. The Midianite kings, defiant to the end, taunted Gideon to perform the deed himself to demonstrate whether he had prowess or not. Gideon killed them and took as trophies of victory the crescents that would have been worn on camels belonging to royalty.

8:22–28 Here the downhill nature of the times is on display in the person of Gideon. On the one hand, Gideon’s refusal of the offer to be Israel’s king showed an orthodox recognition of Yahweh as king. Gideon did not grab for power. On the other hand, his demand for gold from the people to make an ephod (a priestly vestment) that would be worshiped was grossly unorthodox. Gideon ultimately encouraged the people in their “evil” ways of idolatry. He had delivered them from Midian but delivered them into the hand of idols. Despite this irreverent behavior, the land rested for forty years under Gideon’s judgeship.

8:29–32 Here the story of Gideon comes to an end, and this section serves as a transition to the next judge Abimelech—the son of Gideon. After the war with Midian, Gideon had returned home, and he fathered seventy sons by means of many wives. In addition to his idolatry, Gideon was also a polygamist. The introduction of these seventy sons anticipates the actions of Abimelech in Judges 9:5. Abimelech was not the son of one of Gideon’s wives at Ophrah but of his concubine in Shechem (which was located some thirty miles south of Ophrah). Abimelech’s name means “my father is king”—an ironic name due to Gideon’s rejection of the kingship of Israel. Perhaps the son played-off the meaning of his name by making every effort to become king himself.

Abimelech (8:33–9:57)

8:33–9:15 Not only did Israel worship the ephod that Gideon set up, but immediately after his death, they turned to pay homage to foreign gods. They served the many forms of Baal in the land and particularly Baal-berith (“lord of the covenant”) whose temple was at Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim. Ironically, Shechem had been a town set apart as a Levitical city (Josh 21:21), and now it housed a pagan temple complex. By fastening themselves to the “lord of the covenant,” the Israelites broke the covenant with Yahweh and with Gideon’s family. The word in Judges 8:35 for “steadfast love” (ESV) commonly means “covenant loyalty;” Israel had snubbed the covenant with God and his people, and they attached themselves by covenant to Baal.

The continual moral deterioration of Israel can be seen clearly with the arrival of Abimelech on the scene. The biblical writer draws the reader’s eyes to Abimelech as a dominant figure, using his name 38 times in chapter nine. Abimelech was a shady and cunning character. In the opening episode, Abimelech went to his mother’s kin in Shechem seeking their backing to become king in opposition to the 70 sons of Gideon residing in Orphah. The Shechemites agreed because kinship affinities at this time were more important than national ones. The leaders of Shechem funded Abimlech’s grab for the throne with seventy pieces of silver to wipe out the seventy sons of Gideon. Abimelech then killed all his brothers, rivals to the throne, “on one stone.” Although uncertain, killing his brothers on a stone may have been some sort of perverse ritual sacrifice (cf. 1Sam 14:33–34). After the carnage, the leaders of Shechem crowned Abimelech king near a tree at “the pillar of Shechem.” Archaeologists uncovered a large pillar in the Canaanite temple at Shechem, and it was likely that Abimelech was installed there. That pagan structure thus served as the background for this first attempt at kingship in Israel.

One of the brothers, named Jotham, survived the onslaught. When the massacre was over, he stood on a promontory of Mount Gerizim, a safe distance from Shechem, and spoke a parable to the leaders of the city. The parable is structured in a paneled sequence, repeating elements in successive movements, that is, the same dialogue occurred between the trees and four other natural elements. This paneling serves to build dramatic tension in the text. The first three elements were offered the kingship over the trees—the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine—and they are all highly productive parts of nature. But they all refused to reign. The trees finally offered the kingship to the bramble, a useless, dangerous, and prickly element. Ultimately, the bramble threatened the trees.

9:16–21 Jotham then interpreted and applied the parable to the current situation at Shechem. Obviously, the trees represented the leaders of Shechem who chose Abimelech as their king, and the bramble symbolized Abimelech. Jotham makes the connections clear, calling for fire to come from Abimelech to engulf Shechem’s leaders, as the bramble in the parable threatened to consume the trees. This part of Jotham’s speech was accusatory and sarcastic, as if the leaders in any sense had acted with equity toward Gideon and his sons. Out of fear, Jotham fled the scene into hiding, which was reminiscent of his first escape (see 9:5).

9:22–25 An interlude of three years occurred before God took action to sow discord between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. God sent an evil spirit to do this in order to bring judgment on them all. We should note that the Lord does not perform evil, but evil elements are under his command to bring about his purposes (e.g., 1Kgs 22:19–22). In this account, God’s judgment came in the form of ironic justice, returning the violence perpetrated on Gideon’s sons upon Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem.  Those leaders of Shechem who had supported Abimelech at first now turned to destroy him.

9:26–41 An opportunity for a coup d’etat against Abimelech presented itself with the appearance of Gaal and his relatives at Shechem. They were probably Shechemites (see his use of “we” in 9:28). The people of Shechem held a celebration with much drinking, and that led to contemptuous boasting against Abimelech. Gaal, in a smug frenzy, questioned Abimelech’s legitimacy because his father was a non-Shechemite, and then he gave a military challenge to Abimelech.

Zebul, who was an official appointed by Abimelech in Shechem, overheard the braggadocio of Gaal and informed Abimelech of it. Knowing the city environs well, Zebul counseled Abimelech how best to subdue the city. Abimelech responded by setting up an ambush around the city at night and springing the trap the next day. Gaal thought he saw the enemy soldiers, but Zebul, playing his part in the ruse, dissuaded him of that idea. The upshot was that Gaal was defeated and fled the scene.

9:42–45 Abimelech took vengeance on Shechem and its inhabitants. Thinking the danger over, the people went out to check on their crops, and Abimelech had them all killed. He then captured the city and killed all who were in it. Judges 9:45 provides a staccato list of verbs that reflect Abimelech’s ruthless actions: he “fought . . . captured . . . killed . . . razed . . . sowed.” His final deed of sowing the city with salt was a form of curse that called for the city to be infertile in the future.

9:46–49 Part of the destruction included Abimelech’s assault on the leaders of Shechem who had dealt treacherously against him. They had all gathered for safety in the stronghold of the house of El-berith. Abimelech burned down the stronghold on top of them all, in accord with the speech of Jotham; indeed, the bramble had devoured the trees with fire!

9:50–57 In a parallel story to the Tower of Shechem, Abimelech attacked the city of Thebez, where the leaders sought safety in its central tower complex. Whereas the treasonous leaders of Shechem died in their tower, the treasonous Abimelech met his doom at the Tower of Thebez. This account is another case of ironic justice because God brought similar treachery back upon the unjust. Jotham’s curse from Mount Gerizim came to pass with the deaths of everyone involved.

Abimelech’s judgeship continued the downhill moral spiral in Israel. Although this era began with Israel’s return to idolatry, Abimelech did not deliver them from it. His was a godless judgeship. We read nowhere that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him to save Israel, as with many of the other judges (cf. Judg 3:10; 6:34). Rather, God sent an evil spirit to bring judgment against him and the leaders of Shechem (9:23). This account is a mere brutish and crass example of tribal infidelity and infighting.

Tola and Jair (10:1–5)

10:1–2 Following the great turmoil of the time of Abimelech, the biblical author provides two scant notices of the judgeships of Tola and Jair. Little narrative material is included, depicting a peaceful interlude at this time. Tola was from the tribe of Issachar, whose land allotment included much of the Jezreel Valley. Tola, however, had migrated to the tribal territory of Ephraim, and he lived in the town of Shamir. Shamir is probably connected with Samaria, which lies about 6 miles or 10 kilometers northwest of Shechem; it later became the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel (1Kgs 16:24). Tola, in contrast to Abimelech, rose up to save Israel, a stated purpose of many of the judges (e.g., Judg 3:9, 15, 31; 6:14; 8:22). Tola judged Israel for 23 years, died, and was buried in Shamir; this final description is similar to what was said of Gideon (cf. 8:32).

10:3–5 The next judge was Jair, who was from the land of Gilead to the east of the Jordan River. The author pictures him as one of nobility and abundance. Jair had 30 sons who rode on 30 donkeys; the donkey at that time was the mount for nobility. In addition, his prosperity was reflected in the naming of 30 towns after his name: Havvoth-jair means “villages of Jair.” No turmoil is mentioned as having occurred during his 22 years as judge. Jair was buried at Kamon, located in the northern portion of the tribal territory of Gad.

Jephthah (10:6–12:7)

10:6–9 Here the author presents the first two steps in the recurring pattern of the era of the judges. This passage does not merely repeat the pattern because the writer wants to demonstrate the intensification of each step over its previous appearances. The first step was an avalanche or tsunami of idolatry on the part of Israel. They were serving gods near and far. Yahweh’s response was similarly punctuated as he gave Israel into the oppressive hands of two groups: the Philistines to the west and the Ammonites to the east. The two verbs commonly translated “shattered and crushed” at the beginning of Judges 10:8 are a hendiadys (a figure of speech wherein two words are combined) that emphasizes the severity of the oppression of the Ammonites, in particular. Not only did the Ammonites fight against the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan, but they also invaded the highland tribes on the west side of the river. The result was that Israel “was severely distressed.”

10:10–16 As usual, Israel felt the oppression keenly, and so they cried out to Yahweh for deliverance. The Lord reminded them that he had already saved them numerous times from various nations. God lists seven groups—a number of completion and fullness—from which he has delivered his people. The present situation was the same old story, and so God threatened not to deliver Israel again. This threat, however, bore the appropriate consequences: not only did Israel repent but they rid themselves of their idols. This was no mere lip service. God was then prepared to act on their behalf.

10:17–18 The opportunity for the deliverance of Israel presented itself when the Ammonites mustered for battle in Gilead. The Israelites also congregated, but the text merely says that they “gathered” together. This verb likely reflects the idea that whereas the Ammonites were in battle array, the Israelites were more of an undisciplined crowd or motley crew. They were without military leadership or discipline.

11:1–3 Gilead was under direct threat. The author suddenly introduces the reader to Jephthah, who was a Gileadite. Perhaps he was the one who would deliver Israel from oppression, for indeed he was a mighty warrior—exactly what Israel needed to lead them against the Ammonites (see 10:18). The writer, however, underscores the questionable pedigree of Jephthah; he may have been valiant, but he was the son of a harlot. Because of his mixed parentage, Jephthah’s half-brothers exiled him from the community. He fled to Tob, a land on the fringes of the desert east of Gilead. There, on the outskirts of society, a rabble of men joined him.

11:4–11 With the commencement of the fighting, the elders of Gilead recalled Jephthah from exile and asked him to be their “leader;” this word refers to a military commander (see its use of ranking officers in Joshua’s army in Josh 10:24; the ESV translates it as “chiefs” there). Jephthah was offended, and he accused them of being part of the plot to disinherit him. He felt that they wanted him only when it suited their needs. In response, the elders increased their offer: they now solicited him to be “head/chief” over all the people of Gilead, and not just the army. A bargain was being sought, and Jephthah appropriately brought Yahweh into the discussion. The elders then took an oath on the agreement, and Jephthah responded with his own oath of office before all the people at Mizpah (cf. Judg 10:17). The people elevated him as both head of all the people and commander of the army.

11:12–28 Asserting his new leadership, Jephthah began diplomatic negotiations with the Ammonites. In response to Jepthah’s emissaries, the king of the Ammonites accused Israel of having seized land from both Ammon and Moab during the period of the wilderness wanderings. The tribes of Gad and Reuben now occupied the territory, and the king wanted it back. Jephthah, in turn, attempted to set the record straight: he recounted the events of Numbers 21–24, which demonstrated that the initial hostility came from the pagan peoples on the east side of the Jordan River. The Amorite king at that time would not listen to the messengers of the Israelites. A similar response now came from the king of Ammon who would not listen to the emissaries of Jephthah. Recognizing the diplomatic impasse, Jephthah rightly appealed to Yahweh to judge and act in the situation.

11:29–33 Yahweh empowered Jephthah to act (cf. Judg 3:10). The deliverer then traveled throughout the lands of Manasseh, including Gilead, perhaps raising an army to face the Ammonites. In addition to mustering soldiers, Jephthah made a vow to Yahweh. The vow was structured with a protasis (if . . . ) and an apodosis (then . . . ); it was, therefore, conditional. The vow was uncomplicated: if Yahweh gave him victory, then Jephthah would offer as a burnt offering the first thing that came from his house after the victory. The object of sacrifice was ambiguous (“whatever”), but the type of sacrifice was not. The sacrifice was to be a whole burnt offering that was totally consumed by fire (see Lev 1). The Greek translation of the Hebrew word for this sacrifice is holocaust.

The vow seems to have been a foolish and hasty. Perhaps Jephthah expected an animal to come out to meet him. Animals often lived in the houses of people, usually roaming in the lower floor of a two-story home. Following the vow, the Lord gave the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands so that they were subdued. Now, what about that vow?

11:34–39a When Jephthah arrived home after the conflict, his daughter came out of the house singing and welcoming home the victor. Jephthah reacted with grief by tearing his clothing (cf. Job 1:20). He could not retract his vow according to law (see Num 30:2; Deut 23:21–23). And the text indicates that he fulfilled his vow of sacrifice. The common suggestion that he only dedicated his daughter seems to do injustice to the text and take the sting out of the story.

Why Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?

The text and the entire theme of the Book of Judges indicates that Jephthah carried out his rash vow and killed his daughter as a human sacrifice. How, then, do we explain Jephthah’s vow and its result? Jephthah was the son of a harlot thrown out of the Israelite community of Gilead. He fled to Tob, located near Ammonite territory. Ammonite culture and religion, whose main god was Molech—the god of child sacrifice (Lev 18:21; Jer 32:35)—impacted Jephthah’s own practices. What we may be witnessing is syncretism in which Jephthah diluted the worship of Yahweh with cult practices of Molech. In other words, Jephthah knew something of Yahweh and his power, but he added a heinous dimension of pagan human sacrifice to them. The account of Jephthah reeks of paganism and serves as a glowing example of the theme passage of the Book of Judges: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Again, we get a glimpse of the downhill spiral of the moral and spiritual character of the age.

11:39b–40 The author ends this part of the Jephthah story with an editorial remark that it became a custom that the women of Israel went four days a year to lament Jephthah’s daughter. This ritual is never again mentioned in the Old Testament: perhaps it was merely a regional activity, or it died out quickly. Indeed, after the period of the judges, the territory of Gilead ceased to be a major political center in Israel.

12:1–4 Almost out of nowhere, the tribe of Ephraim mustered its militia, crossed the Jordan River, and confronted Jephthah. They were upset that they had not been included in the battle against the Ammonites. This reaction was the same as they had made against Gideon in the war with the Midianites (cf. Judg 8:1). Jephthah responded to the threat by employing diplomacy first, as he had done with the Ammonites. He corrected the Ephraimites by reminding them that he had called for their help, but they had refused to act. But also like the Ammonite affair, Jephthah then resorted to arms against the tribe of Ephraim.

12:5–6 The Gileadites were victorious, and they killed many soldiers of Ephraim. Apparently, many of the Ephraimite warriors attempted to flee back across the Jordan River, but they were exposed and killed as they attempted to cross. The fugitives were identified by their speech: the Gileadites would ask a fugitive to say the word “Shibboleth.” If he could not pronounce it correctly, he would be killed. The test was not the meaning of the word because Shibboleth and Sibboleth probably have the same meaning (“an ear of grain”). The difference is in the pronunciation. The dialect of the Ephraimites made it difficult for them to pronounce the š-sound at the beginning of the word.

12:7 The final epitaph of Jephthah is minimalistic. It merely says that he judged, he died, and he was buried. The writer makes no mention of the land having any rest during his time, as with most of the other judges (cf. Judg 3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28). It probably was not a peaceful time: Israel was not only battling foreign enemies, but its tribes were battling among themselves.

Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8–15)

12:8–10 The next three judges spanned a period of 25 years, and each one is given little attention by the biblical writer. The first one was Ibzan from Bethlehem. We are uncertain of this town’s location because there are two sites with this name, one in Judah (Judg 17:7) and one in Zebulun (Josh 19:15). Ibzan had a vast progeny, indicative of wealth and blessing. His oversight of the marriages of his children reflected his administrative abilities as a tribal leader in Israel.

12:11 Ibzan was followed by Elon from the tribe of Zebulun. The writer offers nothing unique about his life or judgeship.

12:13–15 The third judge was Abdon from the tribe of Ephraim. He was one also greatly blessed, having 40 sons, 30 grandsons, and 70 donkeys! The number 70 was particularly used of abundance (cf. Judg 8:30). Three verbs are used in summation of the work of these three judges: “he judged . . . he died . . . he was buried.”

Samson (13:1–16:31)

Perhaps the most serious military threat to Israel in the later periods of the judges was the Philistines. They were one group of “Sea Peoples” who invaded the Mediterranean coastal areas of Canaan, roughly the same time Israel conquered the highlands of Canaan. They settled in the southern coastal plain where they established a territorial state under the organization of a pentapolis, that is, five capital cities: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza. Conflict between the inland Israelites and the coastal Philistines was continual and often severe.

13:1 Israel returned to their idolatrous ways, and God responded by putting them under subjection to the Philistines for 40 years. The number 40 in the Old Testament is often used to symbolize a period of testing (e.g., Gen 7:4, 12, 17; Deut 8:2; 1Sam 17:16). Israel was about to face a most formidable opponent in a severe trial.

13:2 The biblical author telescopically moves to consider one Israelite family experiencing great peril. Manoah lived in Zorah, which is located about two miles or three kilometers north of Beth Shemesh in the Sorek Valley. This valley runs east and west between the habitations of the Israelites in the highlands and of the Philistines in the coastal areas. Manoah’s family was from the tribe of Dan, whose original tribal allotment directly abutted Philistia. The man’s wife was childless: the writer uses a hendiadys (a figure of speech wherein two words are combined) here with the phrases “was barren” and “had no children” to underscore the certainty of her barrenness.

13:3–5 Suddenly, the angel of the Lord (see Judg 6:11–12) appeared to her and announced to her that she would soon bear a son. A barren woman who gives birth to a deliverer through divine intervention is a common motif throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Gen 11:30; 21:1–7; 1Sam 1:2, 20). The angel of the Lord then announced that the child would be set apart as a Nazirite to God from birth. The verb from which “Nazirite” derives means “to be set apart, consecrated,” and it referred to a group of people under a vow of devotion to God. Both men and women could participate (Num 6:2). The specific aspects of their separation included no partaking of strong drink (Num 6:3), no touching or drawing near to a dead body (Num 6:6), and no razor shall come upon the head (Num 6:5). An interesting use of the term appears in Leviticus 25:5 and 11, in which it refers to an “undressed” or unpruned vine; this vine was being set apart during the Sabbath year. Nazirites were spiritual figures, and the prophet Amos cites them in parallel to the prophets as spiritual leaders in Israel (Amos 2:11–12).

13:6–14 The woman reported the gist of the conversation to her husband. She was uncertain of the identity of the stranger, although she had an inkling of it. Manoah, however, was uncertain of his wife’s testimony, and so he prayed that the Lord would send the visitor to them again. The angel of the Lord then appeared to the woman and her husband, and he reiterated his commands regarding the preparations for the birth of the child.

13:15–20 This section echoes Gideon’s previous encounter with the angel of the Lord (cf. Judg 6:11–24). Manoah, like Gideon, desired to show hospitality to the visitor by preparing a meal. In both cases, the angel of the Lord performed a miracle and then vanished from before them (Judg 6:21; 13:20). By these means, Gideon and Manoah with his wife began to realize the identity of this person. Manoah was direct by asking the stranger his name; in the Old Testament, the name of a person often reflects their identity. The angel of the Lord responded by not revealing his name but merely said that his name is “wonderful”—a word indicating something extraordinary and unsurpassable in nature.

13:21–25 Manoah finally came to the right conclusion: he and his wife had seen God. He was properly afraid that they would die, although his wife gave a reasonable argument against it. The angel of the Lord’s pronouncement came to pass as the woman bore a son whom she named Samson. The child grew and was blessed by the Lord. As a set-up for the next episodes, the Spirit of the Lord impelled Samson to action—prodding him to act against God’s enemies.

14:1–2 The opening episode of Samson’s adulthood began with his traveling “down” to the Philistine city of Timnah. He was descending from Israelite territory in the highlands to the coastal lowlands of the Philistines. Excavations at Timnah (modern Tel Batash) have revealed a thriving Philistine city during the period of the judges. In Timnah, Samson saw a Philistine woman that he wanted to marry, and so he told his parents of his desire. His demand for this woman was wrong; God had repeatedly warned the Israelites not to intermarry with the pagan peoples of the land (e.g., Exod 34:16; Deut 7:3).

14:3–4 Samson’s parents protested that he would dare marry one from the “uncircumcised” Philistines—a people who did not wear the sign of the covenant. Samson’s response was telling. He countered his parents’ wisdom by stating “she is right in my eyes.” This statement is a clear example of the theme of the entire Book of Judges: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (e.g., Judg 17:6) Despite Samson’s sinful behavior, however, God was working circumstances for his own purposes. He was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines because they were ruling over and oppressing his people.

14:5–7 Samson and his parents likely went down to Timnah to negotiate the marriage. On the outskirts of the city, a lion approached Samson in a fierce way. In response, “the Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon him” to engage the lion. This phrase appears frequently in the Samson account (Judg 14:19; 15:14), and in this passage it serves as a precursor for what Samson will do to God’s human enemies. He tore the lion apart in the same way that a lion would tear a goat apart. Samson’s refusal to tell his parents what happened is suspenseful; even his parents did not know the answer to the riddle that he later proposed to the men of Timnah. Samson then went into Timnah to see the woman, and the author again emphasizes that “she was right in the eyes” of Samson (see comments on 14:3, above).

14:8–9 The episode of the lion continues here as Samson returns to the carcass of the lion and finds it filled with bees and honey. He took some of the honey and shared it with his parents. Yet, he again did not disclose to them where he found the honey.

14:10–11 Samson’s father went down to Timnah to conclude the marriage contract. Samson then prepared a “feast” for the wedding celebration as was the custom of the day. The word “feast” derives from the verb “to drink,” and it reflects a drinking party or bout. This was perhaps problematic, since Samson was a Nazirite and was to abstain from strong drink (Judg 13:4). The Philistines from Timnah gathered 30 men to be with Samson when they “saw” him. The verb “to see” in Hebrew is quite similar in spelling to the verb “to fear,” and they are often confused in the language. It may be that the Philistines were afraid of Samson, and so they surrounded him with 30 Philistine men. The tension begins to mount.

14:12–14 The banquet was to last seven days, and on the first day Samson posed a riddle to his 30 companions. The riddle was in the form of a wager: if the men could solve the riddle, Samson would give them each a linen garment and a change of clothing. If they could not, then they would reciprocate. The men took the bet. The riddle was in poetic form as a balanced parallelism:

a                         b                     c

Out of the eater        came           something to eat

a1                       b1                   c1

Out of the strong      came          something sweet

Three days of the banquet passed without the men being able to solve the riddle.

14:15–18a The banquet companions then sought to find the answer to the riddle through threat of violence to Samson’s wife and in-laws. On the fourth day of the feast, they threatened to burn her alive if she would not find out the meaning of the riddle. For fear, she cried upon Samson for the remainder of the seven days to pry the answer from him. Her deceptive nagging eventually wore him down so that on the last day of the feast he revealed the answer to her. She shared it with the companions who, at the last minute (“before the sun went down”), gave the answer to Samson.

14:18b–19 Samson responded by accusing them with subterfuge (having “plowed with my heifer”). This is an agricultural metaphor of plowing a field with someone else’s animal to produce crops: the companions used what belonged to Samson to get what they wanted. And, thus, he reacted with “hot anger.” The Lord, who had been seeking an opportunity against the Philistines, used this incident and his Spirit “rushed upon” Samson (cf. Judg 14:6). The Spirit temporally empowered Samson to go to the Philistine capital of Ashkelon, about twenty miles southwest of Timnah. There he killed 30 Philistines, stripped off their clothes, and gave them to the banquet guests. Samson then returned to his family in Zorah. The deceitful actions of the Philistines had turned back upon them as Samson slew 30 of their own to fulfill his vow.

Why Did God Use Samson?

In this chapter, the reader is introduced to the flawed character of Samson both as a Nazirite and an Israelite. He was a true anti-hero. He obviously associated with Philistines often, and he even attempted to marry one. In disobedience to his vows, he hosted a drinking fest, and he touched numerous dead bodies. Yet, God used him despite his sin. This truth did not give Samson license to sin, but God uses sinful people to bring about his own purposes and to bring glory to himself.

14:20 In the final verse of the chapter, the author sets up the next confrontation between Samson and the Philistines by telling the reader that Samson’s wife was given to his closest companion. This act, of course, heightens the tension, and the stakes of the drama intensify as God continued to seek an opportunity against the Philistines.

15:1–3 After an interval of time, Samson returned to Timnah in order to consummate the marriage. The setting was the time of the wheat harvest, setting up Samson’s later activity of burning the Philistine wheat fields. In his hands, Samson brought a young goat as a present for his wife (perhaps like bringing a woman a bouquet of a dozen roses in western culture). Her father, however, barred Samson from seeing his wife, and he admitted to giving her to Samson’s best man. He offered her younger sister to him instead, but Samson refused because he believed the father had broken the marriage contract. Thus, Samson sought revenge.

15:4–5 Samson acted by capturing 300 foxes. These animals were likely jackals who travel in packs, whereas foxes travel alone. He took them two-by-two, tied their tails together, and set torches between their tails. Then he lit the torches and set the animals loose in the grain fields of Timnah. It was time of the wheat harvest and, therefore, the act would be particularly devastating.

15:6 The Philistines were told that Samson had perpetrated the offense because of his father-in-law’s cunning maneuver in breaking the marriage contract. Ironically, the Timnites burned to death both the woman and her father. They had made that threat earlier (Judg 14:15), but now they carried it out for another reason.

15:7–8 The escalation of the clash heightened as Samson responded in force by striking down some of the Philistines “hip to thigh.” The meaning of this idiom is unclear, although it may be a figure called a merism (two opposites that are all-inclusive). The first term “hip” actually refers to the lower leg, and the second term “thigh” refers to the upper leg. It perhaps signifies a complete and devastating blow to each enemy struck by Samson. After the victory, Samson left Timnah to stay in the area of the rock of Etam, perhaps in hiding.

15:9–10 After the destruction of their crops and men, the Philistines made an incursion into the Israelite lands of the tribe of Judah. They were looking for Samson in the area of Lehi; we do not know the location of Lehi, but its name means “jawbone” in Hebrew (this will come into play later in the story). The raiders were seeking ironic justice “to do to him what he did to us.”

15:11–13 For fear of the Philistines, the Judahites served as a proxy for them: 3,000 Judahites went to Samson and accused him of bringing trouble on them. Samson claimed the same justification of ironic justice as had the Philistines; he said, “as they did to me, so I have done to them.” In any event, Samson submitted to the Judahites, who bound him with new ropes and led him off to the Philistines.

15:14–15 When the Philistine army saw Samson approaching Lehi, they gave a war cry or a shout of victory. But here was another opportunity that God sought against the Philistines, and so his Spirit rushed upon Samson to empower him (see Judg 14:6, 19). The bands on his arms were like crops in the field that burned with fire; this figure of speech obviously is to remind the reader of Samson’s previous destruction of the Philistine harvest (14:4–5). Samson then took a “fresh jawbone” of an ass, and he struck down many Philistine warriors with it. The object was fresh, which means it was not brittle and would not easily break in his hand. In addition, the Hebrew word for “jawbone” is lehi, which was the name of the place of confrontation.

15:16–17 Samson then sang a poetic song of victory. The first two lines of the poetic song employ a wordplay. The words “donkey” and “heap” are a heteronym (two words with the same spelling but with two different meanings). Also, the last two lines parallel the first two lines, and this poetic redundancy underscored Samson’s impassioned declaration. Samson then further extolled his victory by naming the site of his conquest. He called it Ramath-Lehi, which means “the height/hill of the jawbone.” This title reflected the “heaps upon heaps” of Samson’s song.

15:18–20 After the battle, Samson was exhausted, and he asked that God would deliver him from the hands of the Philistines. He recognized that God had already delivered him in the battle, but now he was afraid that he might be abandoned to “the uncircumcised” (cf. Judg 14:3). God delivered him again by splitting open a rocky spring so that Samson was revived. The place of the incident was memorialized with the name En-hakkore, which means “the spring of the one who called” a name that persisted down to the time of the writing of the story. The author finally inserts the formulaic ending of a judgeship, that is, Samson had judged Israel for twenty years.

16:1–3 Samson’s flawed, sinful character is further revealed in this episode. He was one who did what “was right in his own eyes,” and so he went to Gaza, “saw” a Philistine prostitute, and had sex with her. Gaza, like Ashkelon in Judges 15:19, was one of the Philistine pentapolis cities and, thus, Samson was in the heart of enemy territory. His presence soon became known, and the Gazites set an ambush to kill him. Samson, however, was not one to trifle with: using his enormous strength, he yanked out one of the gate systems at Gaza, put it on his back, and carried it to the Israelite city of Hebron. Hebron is located approximately 36 miles or 58 kilometers uphill to the east of Gaza in the highlands of Judah. The drama of Samson’s judgeship thus intensified, and the Philistines, who were being shamed by him, continued to look for a way to destroy him. That opportunity presented itself in the next scene.

16:4–5 At some later point, Samson loved a woman from the Valley of Sorek; his former wife resided in the same valley at the town of Timnah (Judg 14:1). The woman’s name was Delilah (meaning “flirt” or “one of amorous behavior”). The leaders of the Philistines saw an opportunity to capture Samson by bribing the Philistine woman to use her seductive ways against him. The entire entrapment scene (Judg 16:4–21) is repetitive and highly structured. The sequence is paneled with four successive movements that contain repeated elements. The purpose of paneling is to heighten the drama and tension as the text drives to the final panel.

16:6–9 In the first panel, Delilah asked Samson to reveal the source of his great strength. He answered falsely, perhaps teasingly, that he would lose his power if he were bound with seven fresh ropes that had not been dried. Delilah tied him up that way and declared that the Philistines were about to pounce. But Samson easily snapped the ropes.

16:10–12 In the second panel, a similar scene occurred with repeated elements. Delilah accused Samson of deceit and then again asked the source of his physical prowess. He answered untruthfully again, that if he were bound with unused new ropes, he would become weak. Ironically, back in Judges 15:13–14, the Judahites had tied him that way, but he had released himself with little effort. In any event, Delilah bound him again, and then sprung the trap. But Samson easily snapped the ropes.

16:13–14 In the third panel, Samson’s response to Delilah came closer to the true source of his strength, that is, his hair. He told her if she wove the locks of his head and then thrust a pin into it, he would become frail and faint. The ESV renders the text as “she made them tight with the pin;” a more basic, common reading would be “she drove in the peg.” This is the same expression used in Judges 4:21, in which Jael “drove in the peg” into Sisera’s head. The scenes are generally similar, portraying dangerous women seeking to destroy an enemy combatant. Samson, however, thwarted this attempt as well.

16:15–21 The final panel is extended and climactic. Day after day, Delilah nagged and “pressed” him; that latter verb was used in Judges 14:17 of Samson’s former wife, who “pressed” him to tell her the meaning of the riddle. Samson’s exasperation with Delilah was clear as “his soul was vexed to death.” He finally gave-in and explained to her that his strength came from his Nazirite vow, symbolized by uncut hair. If the vow was broken by cutting Samson’s hair, then he would become weak like any other man. Delilah acted immediately on the information by summoning the Philistines. She was paid for her treason, and seductively shaved off Samson’s hair.

The Philistines captured Samson, bound him, and plucked out his eyes; the latter act carries an important satirical sense because the narrative has frequently portrayed Samson as doing “what was right in his own eyes.” They took him to Gaza, where he had earlier stolen the gate (Judg 16:1–3) and put him to work grinding in the prison mill. Samson was unable to resist because his strength had left him. The text highlights the true reason for his reduced strength: “he did not know that the Lord had left him.” Samson’s real strength was not in his hair, but it was the Lord who empowered him. He will soon “see” this truth.

16:22 This verse is a dramatic interlude between the stories of Samson’s capture and his vengeful death. The impact of the verse is satirical in the sense that the Philistines were blind and foolish not to continue cutting Samson’s hair!

16:23–30 The Philistines then held a great feast and sacrifice in the temple of Dagon in Gaza. The word “house” is used four times in this final section (Judg 16:25, 27, 29, 30), and it often can simply denote a temple structure. The name “Dagon” could be related to either the word “grain” or “fish;” obviously he was some sort of sustenance deity. The many people who attended the event praised Dagon for giving Samson into their hands. They then called for and paraded Samson before the crowd and made him to stand between the pillars of the temple.

A Philistine temple has been excavated at Tell Qasile. Two round stone bases were found about ten feet or three meters apart, previously supporting two wooden pillars. The pillars held up the second story and roof of the edifice. In the temple at Gaza, Samson was placed between these two foundational columns. When he pushed them, the entire edifice collapsed and killed many of the attendants.

16:31 Much of the narrative of Samson’s life and judgeship was one of seductive self-interest. Samson “did what was right in his own eyes.” In this final episode, however, he gained new sight, and he turned to the Lord with a new confession. The Lord had sought “an opportunity against the Philistines” (Judg 14:4), and how his justice came on them through Samson’s death. The account ends in a similar way as some of the other judges, with the burial of Samson and the recording of the length of his judgeship (cf. 8:28, 32; 10:2; 12:7).

The Sinful Abyss (17:1–21:25)

Micah, the Levite, and the Tribe of Dan (17:1–18:31)

The saga of the judges concludes with Samson’s death and burial (Judg 16:28–31), and the final five chapters serve as an epilogue to the book. The story of Micah in chapters 17–18 reflects a radical downturn in the spiral of Israel during the time of the judges.

17:1–4a The text opens by introducing the reader to a man named Micah. He was of the tribe of Ephraim, located in the central highlands. Micah’s name means “who is like Yahweh?” This covenantal name of God appears twice more in the first three verses of the account. Apparently, Micah’s mother had a large amount of silver stolen from her, and Micah confessed his act of theft. She blessed Micah in the name of Yahweh and then, ironically, consecrated the silver to Yahweh by ordering a metal-worker to fashion a carved image out of some of the silver. This act was unorthodox and probably reflects syncretism and the display of Yahweh by images.

17:4b–6 Micah proceeded to set up the idol in his “house,” which is further defined as a “shrine” (the literal reading is “a house of gods”). So, Micah was idolatrous and polytheistic. He then made an ephod—a priestly vestment—and ordained one of his sons to be his priest at his sanctuary. All these acts were clearly breaking the commandments of God given to Moses at Sinai. God had commanded that Israel serve him alone at a central sanctuary that he would designate and only through the Levitical priesthood that he established. Precisely at this point, the author inserts an editorial comment that the reader is familiar with: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Micah was creating his own rogue religious center. Ironically, he was living in contrast to his name (meaning “who is like Yahweh?”).

17:7–11 Another character makes a sudden appearance in the text, a Levite who had been in residence in Bethlehem in the land of the tribe of Judah. As a Levite, he had no land allotment himself, and so he is pictured as roaming the land looking for work. In his travels, the Levite arrived at the home of Micah. Micah obviously saw an opportunity to legitimize his sanctuary by hiring one who was of the priestly tribe of Israel. Micah asked the Levite to remain with him and be his spiritual father and a priest of his sanctuary. Micah offered room and board, clothing, and ten pieces of silver (a year’s wage for a common laborer).

17:12–13 Micah then ordained the Levite. This act perhaps indicates that the young man was not a Levitical priest, but only a Levite. The adage goes: “Not all Levites are priests, but all priests are Levites.” The entire scene is one of questionable orthodoxy: by what authority did Micah ordain a Levite to a priestly position in an unauthorized local shrine? Micah’s belief that he will prosper because of the Levite was presumptive: why would Yahweh bless a rogue sanctuary and a falsely ordained priest?

The account of Micah and the Levite in chapter 17 not only reflects the cultural and religious tenor of the day, but it serves a larger purpose. It sets the scene for the migration of the tribe of Dan from its original inheritance to an area in the far north of Israel. This earlier narrative provides further justification for Dan’s migration and its destruction of the northern Canaanite city of Laish.

18:1–2 This chapter opens with a thematic reminder: “In those days there was no king in Israel.”. The tribe of Dan had been unable to secure their land inheritance, located in a precarious position next to the Mediterranean Sea and the land of the Philistines (see Judg 1:34). So, the tribe, apparently of its own accord, decided to search for another land allotment where they could settle. They sent five men from Zorah and Eshtaol (important towns in the Samson story; Judg 13:25), and they traveled into the highlands of Ephraim to the east.

18:3–6 On their travels, the scouts stayed for a time with Micah, and there they overheard the voice of the Levite. Perhaps they knew him because Zorah and Eshtaol are only about 12 miles or 19 kilometers from Bethlehem, the previous residence of the Levite (Judg 17:7). Under their questioning, the Levite told his story. Learning of his priesthood, the scouts sought an oracle from him to discern if their task would succeed. The Levite assured them that their journey was under the watchful eye of Yahweh; this, of course, was seen as divine justification for their mission and for Dan’s migration.

18:7 The five Danite spies moved on to continue reconnoitering the land, and they came to the far north and saw the city of Laish. They saw a city of peace and that the inhabitants felt secure. The entire region of Laish was sparsely settled in antiquity, and Laish itself was isolated. The area was lush and fertile.

18:8–10 The scouts returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, and they gave their report. Their general assessment had great clarity: the land is very good and, because of its isolation, will be easy pickings for the Danite forces. The conclusion was that God had given the city and its environs into their hands; this judgment agreed with the oracular pronouncement of the Levite.

18:11–13 Six hundred Danite soldiers, equipped for battle, left the camp and retraced the journey of the five scouts. They first stopped at Kiriath-jearim, which lies on the border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. This must have been somewhat momentous because the name of the town was later often called Mahaneh-dan (that is, “the camp of Dan”). From there, the contingent traveled to the northeast into the tribal allotment of Ephraim, and they came to the house of Micah.

18:14–20 Micah’s home likely was a compound with several buildings with an entrance gate. When the Danites arrived, they stood heavily armed in the gate area. Apparently, the Levite resided in a sanctuary, and the five spies went into it and attempted to abscond with the cult objects. The Levite confronted them, but he ended up in league with them. The Danite spies lured him with the carrot of a greater ministry, drawn away by his own ambition. The Levite then took oversight of the cult objects now under the auspices of the Danites.

18:21–26 The Danites left and moved north toward Laish. In their march, they placed the vulnerable parts of their contingent toward the front because of the threat of Micah’s men at their rear. Indeed, Micah’s men mustered for conflict and were able to overtake the Danites. In a verbal exchange between the two groups, they argued regarding ownership of the cult objects and the priest. The spiritual aura of the time had sunk so low that members of two Israelite tribes were bickering over the possession of unorthodox cult objects! Ultimately, the Danites had a superior military force, and Micah withdrew from the pursuit and went home.

18:27–29 The Danite military force attacked, destroyed, and then rebuilt the city of Laish. As anticipated, the battle was easy, with no one to come to the defense of the city. The Danites then renamed the city after their ancestor Dan, who was a son of Israel (i.e., Jacob; Gen 49:2, 16–18). Renaming the city or a surrendering ruler was an act often used to reflect conquest of or authority over another (see 2Kgs 24:17).

18:30 The final two verses of the account are disheartening, and they demonstrate the depth of the apostasy of God’s people at this time. We read that the Danites set up the carved image in Dan and then established a priestly line to oversee the cultus. Finally, the name of the Levite is revealed: he was Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the grandson of Moses. Apostasy had even infected the line of the great lawgiver of Israel! The weight of this revelation is evident in the scribal tradition of this passage; some scribes attempted to blunt the negative force of this identification by adding an “n” consonant to the name Moses, so that the text would read “Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh.” But the impact of the correct reading of the text is clear: this apostate priestly line began just three generations from Moses and served for centuries in Dan until the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

18:31 The carved image, as well, stood for a long time in Dan. The text indicates that it did not come down until the tabernacle was no longer in Shiloh: Shiloh was not destroyed until the very end of the period of the judges, about 1050 BC. Dan had a long history of idolatry and unorthodoxy; it was here that Jeroboam 1 set up one of the golden calves of his heretical reign (see 1Kgs 12:25–33).

Sin of the Benjaminites (19:1–21:25)

Chapter 19 begins just like chapter 18 with the reminder that there was no human or centralized state in Israel. Relativism reigned, and as we shall see in the story before us, even individual tribes do what is right in their own eyes.

19:1–3a The author introduces another nameless Levite who was sojourning (cf. Judg 17:7). This Levite, however, was residing in the land of Ephraim, and he acquired a concubine from Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah (Bethlehem was the home of the former Levite in the Micah story). Some type of problem arose in the relationship, and the concubine walked-out on the Levite and fled to her father’s house in Bethlehem. Both the ESV and the NIV say that she “was unfaithful to him,” and consequently, ran home. The Septuagint (Greek translations of the OT) renders the phrase as “she became angry with him,” and this may be correct because throughout the story she appears to be the offended party, and he was the one who sought reconciliation with her. Regardless of the exact nature of the wrongdoing, the Levite went to Bethlehem to try to bring her back to Ephraim.

19:3b–9 The Levite arrived in Bethlehem, and his father-in-law welcomed him. The two of them then feasted and celebrated for five days, an elaborate show of hospitality. The reader should note the repetition with some variation throughout the account: there are three literary panels in which the Levite attempted to leave, but his departure was postponed by further hospitality from the girl’s father. The purpose of such paneling in narrative is for dramatic effect, and it emphasizes the overwhelming nature of the hospitality.

19:10–14 Finally, the Levite and his contingent were able to break from the father-in-law’s hospitality and hit the road. As they neared the city of Jebus (a pre-Israelite name for Jerusalem), about six miles or ten kilometers north of Bethlehem, the day was waning, and they sought a place to spend the night. The Levite, however, decided to skirt the city because it was under non-Israelite control. He likely thought, who knows what could happen to us in such a dangerous city? So, they continued and came to the Israelite town of Gibeah that belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. The group felt much safer here than in Jebus.

19:15 The Levite and his group entered Gibeah and sat down in the central, public square of the town. These ancient piazzas were often located immediately inside the main gate of a city. No one, however, took them in. This cool reception serves as a stark contrast to the welcome the Levite received in Bethlehem earlier in the chapter. The absence of any hospitality in Gibeah was an ominous sign.

19:16–21 A new character is introduced in this section of the story. He was the only one who would extend hospitality to the strangers. The author further makes certain that the reader knows that the old man was not a native Benjaminite, but he was an Ephraimite sojourning in Gibeah. Before offering the Levite a place to spend the night, the old man questioned him. We learn for the first time that not only was the Levite heading home, but he was also planning to visit the tabernacle of the Lord at Shiloh, some 17 miles or 27 kilometers north of Gibeah in Ephraimite territory. The old man then took them in, but the invitation was not only to keep the culture of hospitality. His statement to the Levite, “do not spend the night in the square” reflected a lurking danger in Gibeah, and so he took them in to protect them from an unknown menace.

19:22–25 While the two men feasted in the house, suddenly some “worthless fellows” banged on the door of the house and demanded that the owner send out the visitor to them. The term “worthless fellows” literally reads “the sons of Belial,” and the phrase refers to people who were scoundrels and savages (e.g., 1Sam 2:12). The intent of the men was clear: the verb “know” is a euphemism for sexual relations and, therefore, their purpose was one of homosexual gang rape. The old man refused to comply, and he named it for what it is: a vile, disgraceful, and profane action. The old man’s alternative action, however, was also appalling. By offering his own daughter and the concubine to them, the old man was doing what was right in his own eyes. And then he told the intruders to do to the women “what is good in your eyes”! Here is the theme of the Book of Judges in all its striking ugliness and wickedness. The men of the city then took the concubine, gang raped her, abused her, and then discarded her.

This storyline is an echo of an earlier incident. We read in Genesis 19 of two angelic travelers who sat in the town square of Sodom and how Lot brought them into his home (Gen 19:1–11). After they were invited into the house, the men of the city surrounded the house with the purpose of having sexual relations with the visitors. In order to stave off the impending homosexual gang rape, Lot offered his two daughters to the men outside. Not only are the two narratives similar in theme and structure, but both share linguistic affinities (see, e.g., Gen 19:4; Judg 19:22, Gen 19:5; Judg 19:22, Gen 19:7; Judg 19:23, and Gen 19:7; Judg 19:24). How are we to understand such duplication? Judges 19 is an example of the purposeful use of Genesis 19 in order to shape the telling of the new event. Its purpose is striking: this passage demonstrates that the Benjaminites, who are Israelites, were acting the same as pagan Sodomites. In fact, the parallel anticipates that judgment will come upon the Benjaminites as it had on the Sodomites. And, indeed, the next chapter recounts the destruction of Gibeah and much of the tribe of Benjamin.

19:25–29 In the morning, the Levite came out of the house, and he appeared callous toward his concubine. She, however, did not respond to him because she was dead. The Levite then returned to his home in Ephraim, cut her into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout the tribes of Israel. His purpose certainly was to encourage a national response, perhaps the mobilization of troops against Benjamin. Some commentators assume that the Levite sent one piece of the concubine to each tribe, but that was unlikely. The text says that he cut her up and sent “her” throughout the land, that is, the twelve severed pieces were sent out together. His point was symbolic: one body divided into twelve parts reflected Israel as one people divided into twelve tribes and not acting as one body. The Levite was calling for Israelite unity against the rogue tribe of Benjamin.

19:30 How bad things had become was clear from the response of the tribes. They concluded that nothing like this had ever happened in the history of Israel, from the time of the exodus unto the present day. The tribes then took counsel in order to decide what to do.

20:1–3 In response to the Levite’s actions, all Israel assembled at Mizpah, a town located about five miles or eight kilometers north of Gibeah on the border between the tribal territories of Ephraim and Benjamin. The author emphasizes that all Israel came out by using the common expression for the entirety of the land, “from Dan to Beersheba.” Even some of the Transjordanian settlers were part of the mix. They all gathered “as one man,” that is, as one body, which was the hope of the Levite in his gruesome work. The one exception, however, was that the tribe of Benjamin was not at the assembly.

20:4–7 In the assembly, the Levite took the witness stand and recounted to Israel all that happened in Gibeah. He added one important detail to the narrative—not only did the leaders of Gibeah sanction the vile activity, but they took part in it. This disgraceful act thus included the socio-political chiefs of the city. The Levite had moral outrage, and so he asked the assembly to decide what to do.

20:8–11 Israel’s reply was unanimous; they responded as “one man” (Judg 20:8, 11 use this expression to bracket the response). The Israelites decided to establish a draft or levy, in which 10% of eligible troops would be mustered from each tribe. And the troops of the various tribes gathered as one army “united” against Gibeah.

20:12–17 Israel then sent messengers to Benjamin to give the tribe an opportunity to hand over the culprits and purge the evil from Israel (cf. Deut 13:5; 17:7). The heinous act of Benjamin had communal consequences for all Israel and, therefore, it must be addressed (see the story of Achan in Josh 7:10–26). Benjamin, however, refused and then mustered its troops for battle at Gibeah. The Benjaminites were severely outnumbered (with a ratio of approximately 16:1), although they did have some prodigious warriors. These left-handed marksmen were like their ancestor Ehud, who was also restricted in his right hand (Judg 3:15).

20:18 Prior to battle, the Israelites went to Bethel, located about seven miles or 11 kilometers north of Gibeah on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin, to ask the Lord who should lead them in battle. The Lord specified that Judah should have that honor. He had chosen Judah to lead the war against the Canaanites (Judg 1:1–2), and now he elected Judah to be the first against the Benjaminites.

20:19–23 During the opening day of the battle, Benjamin afflicted a stunning, resounding defeat on Israel. Israel, in dismay, went to inquire of the Lord again, and God commanded them to continue the military engagement.

20:24–28 The second day of battle was much like the first, as Benjamin dealt Israel another blow. Obviously, the advantage of numbers was not going to give Israel the easy victory. So, they rightly went before the Lord in worship and asked him what they should do. Phinehas, the high priest, led the inquiry: he was a man of integrity and honor (see Num 25:6–11). The Lord’s answer was clear: God will give the Benjaminites into the hand of Israel the next day.

20:29–36a The decisive battle occured on the third day. Rather than face the Benjaminites head-on like the previous days’ battles, Israel resorted to ambush. The Benjaminite warriors were lured out of Gibeah, fully expecting another victory. They fell into the trap and were routed. The cause of Israel’s victory is clearly stated, “the Lord defeated Benjamin.” The entire scenario is reminiscent of Joshua’s defeat of Ai in Joshua 8: there, as well, the Lord was the one who gave Israel victory through ambush (cf. Josh 8:7).

20:36b–49 The last section of the chapter provides more detail to the general ambush scene of the previous section. Repetition and expansion is common in the narrative writing of the Old Testament (cf. the account of Caleb’s capture of the Hebron area in Judg 1:10–15 as a later elaboration of Josh 15:13–19). In the present account of the Israelite-Benjaminite war, the author demonstrates how the men of Benjamin were lured from Gibeah and trapped in a vise-like military grip. Israel destroyed most of the Benjaminite army of 25,000 soldiers. Six hundred soldiers, however, escaped to the hills. Finally, Israel placed the “ban” (cherem) on Gibeah and other Benjaminite towns. Israel was treating them like captured pagan cities, such as Jericho.

21:1 The opening verse of this chapter inserts an account of a decision that Israel had made when they first gathered in Mizpah before the war with Benjamin (see Judg 20:1). At that time and place, Israel established a prohibition that they would not allow their daughters to marry Benjaminites. The reason for this requirement is disputed by commentators, but it was likely to guard Israel from being tainted by Benjamin’s sordid behavior. It may, in fact, parallel God’s frequent command for Israel not to intermarry with the pagan peoples of Canaan (e.g., Deut 7:3). Again, Benjamin had become like the natives of Canaan (i.e., Sodomites).

21:2–5 After the Israelite-Benjaminite war, the people of Israel went before God at Bethel and mourned the devastation of Benjamin. The word the ESV translates as “missing” is actually the verb meaning “to muster,” used in Judges 20:15 of Benjamin’s preparations for war. Benjamin now had no army to muster after her defeat by Israel. The Israelites then built an altar and offered sacrifice, yet God did not answer their pleas. Israel was left to do what was right in their own eyes.

21:6–7 Israel had compassion on Benjamin, and so they decided to act on a most pressing matter: the Benjaminites had no wives to produce children to continue the Benjaminite line. Israel, however, could not fill the void because they had taken an oath at Mizpah not to do so. So they hatched a plan to get wives for Benjamin.

21:8–11 The victims of the Israelite plot were the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, a town located in the Transjordan in the tribal territory of half-Manasseh. This town had not answered the call of muster against Benjamin and, therefore, it had become the object of Israel’s oath. Throughout the book of Joshua, Israel had applied the ban (cherem) against the Canaanites (e.g., Josh 6:17–21), but now they used it on their own people. This probably was an unduly harsh, cruel, and unjust act; the Israelites were simply doing what was right in their own eyes.

21:12–15 There was one exception to the human ban at Jabesh-gilead: the Israelites spared 400 young, virgin women, and brought them to their camp at Shiloh, west of the Jordan River. They then gave the captured women to the Benjaminites, almost as a token marking the end of hostilities. In this manner, Israel had compassion on the Benjaminites. Yet the text seems to indicate that the Israelites may have blamed the Lord for the “breach” between the tribes, although the fault clearly lay at the feet of the Benjaminites.

21:16–24 A problem yet persisted: there was not enough women to continue the survival of the line of Benjamin. So, the Israelite elders hatched a second plot. This scheme involved the kidnapping of women from Shiloh who were there to celebrate a yearly festival to the Lord. Shiloh was where the tabernacle was located and where the high priest led the worship of the Lord. This yearly festival was perhaps referred to in 1 Samuel 1:3, in which Elkanah made a yearly trip to Shiloh and Eli served as high priest at “the temple of the Lord” (1Sam 1:9). In the plot, Israel commanded the Benjaminites to set up an ambush, and when the women came dancing in the fields, they were to abduct them and take them to Benjaminite territory.

The Israelites provided a rationale for the ransacking of their own people. If the kin of the women came to complain about the kidnapping, the Israelites would simply argue that they did not take the women by military force. As well, the kin did not simply give the women away. So, they would respond, “what’s the complaint?” Such argumentation is muddled thinking and morally despicable—the height of absurdity. Israel ransacked its own people at the sanctuary of the Lord and then callously left as each man went to his own tribal and family inheritance.

21:25 The final verse of the book packs a whopping sting. The author simply repeats the theme of the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Israel’s degeneracy had hit such a low point that they plundered their own people. They had brought the ban to bear on their own people, and they had kidnapped their own women who were worshiping at the tabernacle of the Lord. Their degradation was complete. Israel was in need of a king who would return them to the Lord and back to fidelity to the covenant. Who would that king be? And that, of course, is the rest of the biblical story: Israel would have many kings in the future, but these all failed to restore the people of God. Yet, a coming promise would point to an eternal king who would come to set up an eternal kingdom for his people—the King “who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1Tim 6:15).


Block, D. L., Judges, Ruth. New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999.

Chisholm, R. B., A Commentary on Judges and Ruth. Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013.

Davis, D. R., Judges: Such a Great Salvation. Focus on the Bible. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2000.

Keddie, G. J., Even in Darkness, Judges and Ruth Simply Explained. Welwyn Commentary Series. Darlington, England: EP, 1993.

Younger, K. L., Judges, Ruth. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.


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Judges 1


The Continuing Conquest of Canaan

1:1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table. As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. And afterward the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.

11 From there they went against the inhabitants of Debir. The name of Debir was formerly Kiriath-sepher. 12 And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter for a wife.” 13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter for a wife. 14 When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 15 She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have set me in the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.

16 And the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad, and they went and settled with the people. 17 And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they defeated the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath and devoted it to destruction. So the name of the city was called Hormah.1 18 Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19 And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. 20 And Hebron was given to Caleb, as Moses had said. And he drove out from it the three sons of Anak. 21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

22 The house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the LORD was with them. 23 And the house of Joseph scouted out Bethel. (Now the name of the city was formerly Luz.) 24 And the spies saw a man coming out of the city, and they said to him, “Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly with you.” 25 And he showed them the way into the city. And they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go. 26 And the man went to the land of the Hittites and built a city and called its name Luz. That is its name to this day.

Failure to Complete the Conquest

27 Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.

30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.

31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, 32 so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.

33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.

34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. 35 The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor. 36 And the border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.


[1] 1:17 Hormah means utter destruction