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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- Judges

by Editor - Joseph Exell



Title and place of the book in the canon

The title, “Judges,” or “The Book of Judges,” which the book bears in the Jewish and Christian Bibles, is given to it because it relates the exploits of a succession of Israelite leaders and champions who, in the book itself as well as in other parts of the Old Testament, are called Judges. The significance of the Hebrew word is, however, much wider than that of the Greek κριτής, the Latin judex, or the English, judge. The verb shaphat is not only judicare, but vindicare, both in the sense of “defend, deliver,” and in that of “avenge, punish.” The participle shophet is not only judex, but vindex, and is not infrequently synonymous with “deliverer.” Again, as the administration of justice was, in times of peace, the most important function of the chieftain or king, the noun is sometimes equivalent to “ruler,” and the verb signifies “rule, govern.” In this sense it is most natural to take it in the lists of minor Judges (e.g., Judges 10:2-3; cf. Judges 12:7-8; cf. Judges 12:11; cf. Judges 12:14; Jdg 15:20; 1 Samuel 4:18; 1 Samuel 7:15; cf. 1 Samuel 8:20). The title, “Book of Judges,” was in all probability meant by those who prefixed it to the book to correspond to that of the Book of Kings; the judges were the succession of rulers and defenders of Israel before the hereditary monarchy, as the kings were afterwards. In the Hebrew Bible the Book of Judges stands in the first division of the Prophets, the Prophetic Histories (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) which narrate continuously the history of Israel from the invasion of Canaan to the fall of Jerusalem (B.C. 586). In the Greek Bible Ruth is appended to it, sometimes under one title (κριτα߁), sometimes under its own name; and in manuscripts, the Pentateuch, together with Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, frequently forms a codex (Octateueh). In the history of Israel before the exile, Judges covers the time from the close of the period of conquest and occupation with the death of Joshua to the beginning of the struggle with the Philistines in the days of Eli. A better division, from our point of view, would have been the establishment of the kingdom of Saul. There is some evidence that, in one at least of the older histories which our author had before him, Eli and Samuel were reckoned among the judges (1 Samuel 4:18; 1 Samuel 7:15); but as Samuel is the central figure in the story of the founding of the kingdom, it was not unnatural to begin a new book with his birth. The character of the two works shows conclusively that Judges was not composed by the author of Samuel; the peculiar religious interpretation of the history which is impressed so strongly on Judges is almost entirely lacking in Samuel. (Prof. G. F. Moore.)

Date of Compilation of the Book

Its authorship--or rather, the authorship of any part of it, for it is drawn from more than one source--is unknown, and its final redaction, as is shown by the presence of Deuteronomic and other elements, cannot have taken place until after the exile. Its composite character is shown by the fact that it has two beginnings (see Judges 1:1 and Judges 2:6). The main section of the book, extending from Judges 2:6 to Judges 16:31, consists of an apparently consecutive narrative, grouped round six principal judges--Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson--the intervals being filled with the history of Gideon’s son, Abimelech, and references, more or less brief, to six minor heroes--Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. The religious pragmatism of this narrative is obvious; the history falls into running cycles, all corresponding to the scheme indicated at the outset (Judges 2:11-23). The apparently consecutive character of the narrative disappears when its chronological data are carefully analysed; from these we find that the chronology of the section is based on two artificial “alternative schemes, either of which, but not both together, can be reconciled with the datum in 1 Kings 6:1. Thus the narrative of the greater judges was originally separate from that of the minor ones. The religious standpoint of this main section, taken along with other points of internal evidence, shows that in the main it must have been composed about the eighth century B.C. There are signs of Deuteronomic redaction, however; but, on the other hand, the section contains elements that carry us much further back than the century named--such elements, e.g., as the Song of Deborah, and the history of Abimelech. Of the remaining portions of the book, Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 is relatively old--older than the Book of Joshua, which relates to the same subject, the conquest of Canaan, but treats it in a much later manner. The closing section of the book is made up of two unconnected and independent narratives of very different dates. The history of Micah and the Danites (Judges 17:1-13; Judges 18:1-31) is a piece of very old history: that of the Levite and the Benjamites is considered by Wellhausen to be post-exilic, and in any ease must be regarded as comparatively very late. (Chambers’s Encyclopaedia.)

The Chronology of the Book

The only guide to the chronology is to be found in the genealogies which span the period, for there are no materials in the book itself from which to construct an accurate rendering of the number of years between the death of Joshua and the commencement of Eli’s judgeship. There are ten genealogies in Scripture given with more or less completeness, which include the interval of time between the exodus and David.

(1) That of David himself (Rth 4:18-22; 1 Chronicles 2:10-15; Matthew 1:4-6; Luke 3:31-32).

(2) That of Zadok the High Priest (1Ch 6:4-8; 1 Chronicles 6:50-53; Ezra 7:2-5).

(3) That of Abiathar (made up of different notices of his ancestors in 1 Samuel up to Eli, and by assuming the same number of generations between Eli and Ithamar as there are between Jehoram, the grandfather of Samuel, and Assir, son of Korah).

(4) That of Saul (by putting together 1Sa 9:1, 1 Chronicles 7:6-8; 1 Chronicles 9:35-39).

(5) That of Heman (1 Chronicles 6:33).

(6) That of Ahimoth (1 Chronicles 6:25).

(7) That of Asaph (1 Chronicles 6:39.)

(8) That of Ethan (1 Chronicles 6:44).

(9) That of Zabad (1Ch 2:25-36; 1 Chronicles 11:41.)

(10) The succession of the kings of Edom (Genesis 36:31-38, 1 Chronicles 1:43-50).

Of these ten genealogies, of which those of David and Zadok especially have the appearance of being drawn up in their respective lifetimes, and carry every conviction of their completeness, and those of Saul and the Edomitish kings have also all likelihood of being complete, only one, that of Heman, differs, in appearance even, from the others in length; but this apparent difference is removed, and the line of Heman brought to the same length as the other nine, when we observe that Seven, or rather nine names from another genealogy (that of Ahimoth, verses 22-25) have apparently been interpolated bodily between Elkanah in verse 35 and Korah in verse 37. The evidence, then, of these ten genealogies concurs in assigning an average of between seven and eight generations to the time from the entrance into Canaan to the commencement of David’s reign, which would make up from 240 to 260 years. Deducting thirty years for Joshua, thirty for Samuel, and forty for the reign of Saul (Acts 13:21), in all 100 years, we have from 140 to 160 years left for the events related in the Book of Judges. This is a short time, no doubt, but quite sufficient, when it is remembered that many of the rests and servitudes there related are not successive, but synchronise; and that no great dependence can be placed on the recurring eighty, forty, and twenty years, whenever they are not in harmony with historical probability . . . The narratives which have the strongest appearance of synchronising are those of the Moabite, Ammonite, and Amalekite servitude (Judges 3:12-30), which lasted eighteen years, and was closely connected with a Philistine invasion (Judges 3:31); of the Ammonite servitude which lasted eighteen years, and was also closely connected with a Philistine invasion (Judges 10:7-8); and of the Midianite and Amalekite servitude which lasted seven years (Judges 6:1), all three of which terminated in a complete expulsion and destruction of their enemies by the three leaders, Ehud, Jephthah, and Gideon, heading respectively the Benjamites, the Manassites, and the northern tribes, and the tribes beyond Jordan: the conduct of the Ephraimites as related in Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1, being an additional very strong feature of resemblance in the two histories of Gideon and Jephthah. The forty years of Philistine servitude mentioned in Judges 13:1 seem to have embraced the last twenty years of Eli’s judgeship and the first twenty of Samuel’s, and terminated with Samuel’s victory at Ebenezer; and if so, Samson’s judgeship of twenty years also coincided in part with Samuel’s. The long rests of forty and eighty years spoken of as following the victories of Othniel, Barak, Ehud may very probably have synchronised in whole or in part. If the numerals are correct, and the rests are successive, we should have no less than 160 years (40+80+40) without a single recorded incident in any part of the twelve tribes, which must be deemed improbable. (Lord Arthur Hervey.)

The Object of the Book

In this sacred history we are authoritatively taught what the moral causes were, in the instances recorded in it, which led to the fall and rising again of Israel. The book is a record of the righteousness, the faithfulness, and the mercy of God. Again, as the preservation of the Israelitish people through this troublesome and perilous portion of their existence was not an accident, but a part of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of mankind, so is the record of it, and of the means by which it was brought about, an integral portion of those Holy Scriptures which were given by inspiration to God. This book exhibits the wondrous strength which man acquires from good and glorious works when his faith lays fast hold of the faithfulness of God. It exhibits, too, the fearful perils which they incur who seek for safety in weak and indolent compliance with the demands of sin, instead of in a bold and uncompromising adherence to the law of Christ. It teaches us by heart-stirring examples to “fight the good fight of faith,” and “lay hold on eternal life.” It holds out to us in figures the mighty victory of Christ over all His foes, and so stimulates our own hope of sharing His victory, and being partakers of His kingdom, when all enemies are put under His feet. (Lord Arthur Hervey.)

Contents of the Book

The Book consists of three parts: Judges 1:1-36; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 2:6-31; Jdg 17:21

(1) Judges 1:1-36; Judges 2:1-5. A brief account of the conquests and settlements of the Israelite tribes in Canaan.

Judges 1:1-21. The southern tribes: Judah, Caleb, the Kenites, Simeon, Benjamin.

Judges 1:22-29. The central tribes: Joseph (Manasseh, Ephraim).

Judges 1:30-33. The northern tribes: Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali.

Judges 1:34-35. Dan’s settlement in the west.

Judges 1:36. The southern border,

Judges 2:1-5. The angel of Yahweh reproves the Israelites for sparing the inhabitants of the land, and foretells the consequences.

(2) Judges 2:6-23; Judges 3:1-31; Judges 4:1-24; Judges 5:1-31; Judges 6:1-40; Judges 7:1-25; Judges 8:1-35; Judges 9:1-57; Judges 10:1-18; Judges 11:1-40; Judges 12:1-15; Judges 13:1-25; Judges 14:1-20; Judges 15:1-20; Judges 16:1-31. The history of Israel in the days of the Judges.

Judges 2:6-23; Judges 3:1-6. Introduction: The religious interpretation and judgment of the whole period as a recurring cycle of defection from Yahweh, subjugation, and deliverance--The nations which Yahweh left in Palestine.

Judges 3:6-31; Judges 4:1-24; Judges 5:1-31; Judges 6:1-40; Judges 7:1-25; Judges 8:1-35; Judges 9:1-57; Judges 10:1-18; Judges 11:1-40; Judges 12:1-15; Judges 13:1-25; Judges 14:1-20; Judges 15:1-20; Judges 16:1-31. The stories of the Judges and their heroic deeds.

Judges 3:7-11. Othniel delivers Israel from Cushan-rishathaim, King of Aram-naharaim.

Judges 3:12-30. Ehud kills Eglon, King of Moab, and liberates Israel.

Judges 3:31. Shamgar kills six hundred Philistines.

Judges 4:1-24. Deborah and Barak deliver Israel from the Canaanites; the defeat and death of Sisera.

Judges 5:1-31. Triumphal ode, celebrating this victory,

Judges 6:1-40; Judges 7:1-25; Judges 8:1-35. Gideon rids Israel of the Midianites.

Judges 9:1-57. Abimelech, the son of Gideon, King of Shechem.

Judges 10:1-5. Tolah; Jair.

Judges 10:6-18. The moral of the history repeated and enforced; preface to a new period of oppression,

Judges 11:1-40; Judges 12:1-7. Jephthah delivered Gilead from the Ammonites; he punishes the Ephraimites.

Judges 12:8-15. Ibzan; Elon; Abdon.

Judges 13:1-25; Judges 14:1-20; Judges 15:1-20; Judges 16:1-31. The adventures of Samson, and the mischief he does the Philistines.

(3) Judges 17:1-13; Judges 18:1-31; Judges 19:1-30; Judges 20:1-48; Judges 21:1-25. Two additional stories of the times of the Judges.

Judges 17:1-13; Judges 18:1-31. Micah’s idols; the migration of the Danites and foundation of the sanctuary of Dan.

Judges 19:1-30; Judges 20:1-48; Judges 21:1-25. The outrage committed by the inhabitants of Gibeah upon the Levite’s concubine. The vengeance of the Israelites, ending in the almost complete extermination of the tribe of Benjamin. (Prof. G. F. Moore.)

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