THE BOOK OF JUDGES
Lesson 1: Introduction and Chapters 1:1-2:5
Part I: The Cycle of Apostasy
A Summary of the Conquest and Settlement in Canaan
and the Prophecy of Disasters to Come

Holy Lord,
We acknowledge that a holy God deserves a holy people. But we must confess, Lord, that as individuals and as a covenant people that we often fail to persevere in holiness. The remedy for this failure is repentance in acknowledging our sins and in our petition for forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with You. We are promised that You never reject a humble confession of guilt and that You are always ready to extend Your mercy and forgiveness. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of the Israelites in the era of the Judges. We pray that their failures will be a lesson for us that vigilance in living a holy life and that continual repentance and conversion are necessary on the journey to salvation. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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That day Joshua made a covenant for the people; he laid down a statute and ordinance for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there, under the oak tree in Yahweh's sanctuary. Joshua then said to all the people, Look, this stone will be a witness to us, since it has heard all the words that Yahweh has spoken to us: it will be a witness against you, in case you should deny your God.' Joshua then dismissed the people, everyone to his own heritage.
Joshua 24:25-28

The Judges too, each when he was called, all men whose hearts were never disloyal, who never turned their backs on the Lord, may their memory be blessed! May their bones flourish again from the tomb, and may the names of those illustrious men be worthily borne by their sons!
Ecclesiasticus 46:11-12

All Scripture passages are from the New Jerusalem Bible unless designated NAB (New American Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), Tanakh (Jewish Bible), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters in either the NAB or Tanakh is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

INTRODUCTION

The Book of Judges is the second book among the section of the historical books of the Christian canon, coming after the Book of Joshua and before the Book of Ruth. In the Hebrew canon, Judges is part of the second canonical division, Nevi'im or Prophets, and within that division is considered among the works of the "former prophets." The Nevi'im is comprised of the eight books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets (considered as one work). These books are divided in half with Joshua through Kings called the "former prophets" (nevi'im rishonim), and Isaiah through the Twelve Minor prophets called the "latter prophets (nevi'im aharonim). The terms "former" and "latter" refer only to the placement of these books within the Nevi'im and not to their chronological order (see the chart on the comparison between the Jewish and Christian Old Testaments).

The Hebrew title of Judges is Shophetim (judges). Shophetim not only means "judges" in the sense of maintaining justice by settling disputes but it can also carry the meaning "liberators" or "deliverers." Israel's judges are first sent by God to deliver the people from their enemies and then also to continue to rule and administer justice. Every instance of the Israelites' deliverance through God's divine intervention brought a period of peace that often lasted for about a generation before there was another cycle of apostasy and oppression by Israel's enemies that was followed by another cycle of the people's repentance and God's deliverance.

Theme of the Book of Judges

 

The theme of the Book of Judges and the message for modern readers is that when a society who professes belief in Yahweh becomes disloyal and refuses to adhere to God's moral and spiritual laws the result is anarchy and violence. In the Book of Judges, the violence begins in the first chapter with the cutting off of an enemy's toes and thumbs and ends with the total lack of morality exhibited in the final chapters with the murder and desecration of the body of a defenseless woman and the resulting civil war. Even the judges are for most part a product of their times. Most of the judges are moral people whose actions are guided by their faith in God and obedience to His laws, but some are as vicious as their enemies and one (who was not called by God) is a completely cruel and unprincipled man who reflected the state of Israelite society's complete moral decay. The Book of Judges is the most violent book in the Bible.

In the Israelites' repeated forgetfulness of God's mighty acts on their behalf and their ingratitude in their forgetfulness of those acts, the Book of Judges tells us "each man did what he felt was fit" (17:6; 21:25) instead of relying of the Law of the Sinai Covenant to be the guide to a righteous life individually and as a people. In the repeated cycle of covenant failure in usurping God's sovereignty over their lives by deciding for themselves what was right, the ancient Israelites in the period of the Judges are much like us. How many of us have turned away from faith, trust and obedience in God and in the guidance of mother Church to decide for ourselves what is right or wrong behavior according to what "feels right" according to secular standards of moral behavior (premarital sex, divorce, adultery, abortion, etc.)? The condition of Israel in the time of the Judges can be seen as an example of mankind's continual need for repentance and conversion that is necessary on the faith journey to eternity.

The Author

The inspired writer is anonymous, but according to tradition the writer is Israel's last judge, the prophet Samuel (see 1 Sam 1:19-28; 3:1-21). Samuel is not only Israel's last judge but he is also the link between the period of the judges and the period of Israel's United Monarchy.

Date

Internal evidence helps to establish an approximate date of composition. Judges 18:31 and 20:27 reveals that the book was written after the Philistines attacked the shrine of Yahweh at Shiloh and captured the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 4:3-11). There is also the repeated phrase "in those days there was no king in Israel" (Judg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1 and 21:25), which reveals that the book was written before there was a monarchy to rule over Israel. In addition, the mention that the Jebusites still controlled Jerusalem "to this day" (Judg 1:21) means the book had to be written prior to King David's conquest of Jerusalem in c. 1000 BC (2 Sam 5:5-9). The period of the judges can be estimated as covering the 350/410 years during the time eleven men and one woman gave justice and guidance to the twelve tribes before Saul was chosen as Israel's first king in c. 1047 BC.

Format of the Book

The Book of Judges can be divided into three parts. The first two chapters are both a prologue and a bridge from the narrative at the end of the Book of Joshua. Chapter one contains the account of the death of Joshua, God's agent and the hero of the conquest of Canaan, and also the failure of the twelve tribes of Israel to complete the conquest after his death. Chapter 2:1-3:4 contains the judgment of God for not completing the conquest:

  1. An Angel of God announces God's judgment (2:1-5)
  2. The Godly generation of the conquest dies (2:6-10)
  3. The enemy is left to test Israel's obedience and faith (2:11-3:4)

The announcement of the uncompleted conquest and God's judgment sets the stage for the events during the years between Joshua's death and the beginning of the united monarchy of Israel. Part II of Judges in chapters 3-12 presents a repeated formulaic sequence of events:

  1. Israel's disloyalty to God (sin).
  2. God removes his hand of protection and Israel is oppressed by her enemies (subjugation).
  3. Israel's repentance and pleas to God for deliverance (supplication).
  4. God sends up a judge to unite the people and rescue them from their enemies (salvation).

Part II records the six campaigns against Israel's enemies and six cycles of repentance, deliverance, and the return to apostasy:

  1. The Southern Campaign: (Judg 3:5-31)
    1. The Judge Othniel (3:5-11)
    2. The Judge Ehud (3:12-30)
    3. The Judge Shamgar (3:31)
  2. The Northern Campaign: The Judge Deborah (Judg 4:1-5:31)
  3. The Central Campaign: (Judges 6:1-10:5)
    1. The Judge Gideon (6:1-8:32)
    2. Abimelech (8:33-9:57)
    3. The Judge Tola (10:1-2)
    4. The Judge Jair (10:3-5)
  4. The Eastern Campaign: The Judge Jephthah (Judg 10:6-12:7)
  5. The Second Northern Campaign (Judges 12:8-15)
    1. The Judge Ibzan (12:8-10)
    2. The Judge Elon (12:11-12)
    3. The Judge Abon (12:13-15)
  6. The Western Campaign: The Judge Samson (Judg 13:-16:31)

The book concludes in Part III with three failures of the Israelites in sinning like the pagan peoples they were commanded to dispossess and in their failure to maintain their unity as a covenant people in Judges 17:1-21:25:

  1. The failure of Israel through idolatry (17:1-18:31)
  2. The failure of Israel through immorality (19:1-30)
  3. The failure of Israel through civil war (20:1-21:25)

In the Book of Judges, every incidence of Israel's repentance and deliverance is sadly followed by another descent into sin and apostasy and another repeated cycle of repentance, deliverance and the slow decent again into sin and separation from God. The stories of each of the twelve judges that God sent to deliver Israel are presented in a seven-part formulaic sequence:

  1. Announcement of Israel's wrong doing
  2. Statement of Yahweh's response
  3. Notice of how long Israel was oppressed by the enemy
  4. Reference to Israel's repentance in "crying out" to God
  5. Announcement of God "raising up" a deliver
  6. Description of how deliverance was achieved
  7. Concluding statement of how long peace lasted

The Judges of Israel do not work to unify Israel. Each judge serves his own tribe or a collection of tribes in his own region of Canaan/Israel, but occasionally the call is made for a unified response against an enemy or to right a wrong within the tribal confederation. Traditionally the major judges are Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. The minor judges are Shamagar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, and Elon. Abimelech is not numbered as a judge; he was the son of a Judge and was a usurper who ruled unjustly. Although there are 12 judges, they do not match the 12 tribes of Israel. The tribes of Reuben, Simeon and Levi have no judges attached to them chronicled in this book.
The Judges and their Tribes:

  1. Othniel — Judah
  2. Ehud — Benjamin
  3. Shamgar (perhaps a foreign convert)
  4. Deborah — Ephraim
  5. Gideon — Manasseh
  6. Tola — Issachar
  7. Jair — Manasseh (in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan River)
  8. Jephthah — Manasseh (in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan River)
  9. Ibzan — Judah
  10. Elon — Zebulun
  11. Abdon — Ephraim
  12. Samson — Dan

See Judges of Israel for a chart of the Judges.

SUMMARY OF THE BOOK OF JUDGES
BIBLICAL PERIOD #5 THE JUDGES RULE ISRAEL
FOCUS CYCLE OF
APOSTASY
CYCLE OF
DELIVERANCE
CYCLE OF
DEPRAVITY
COVENANT THE SINAI COVENANT
SCRIPTURE 1:1------------------------------3:6-----------------------------17:1---------------19:1---------------20:1-------21:5
DIVISIONS Prologue:
–Israel fails to complete the conquest
–God judges Israel
The six campaigns to conquer the land Results of Israel's spiritual and moral decay
TOPIC Causes of apostasy Curses of apostasy Sin of idolatry Sin of immoral conduct Sin of Civil War
Living with the pagan occupiers of the land The wars against Israel's enemies Adopting pagan customs and religious practices
LOCATION THE PROMISED LAND OF CANAAN/ISRAEL
TIME circa 350/410 YEARS*

*When the various time spans of the Judges are added together they total 410 years (i.e., the years oppression, judging, and peace). However, a number of the judges' time of service probably overlapped since most were from different tribes and regions of the land.

TIME LINE: BC
World Empire: Egypt----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Assyria
                                                                                                                                     UNITED KINGDOM ---DIVIDED KINGDOM
                                                                                                                                                                      Northern Kingdom = Israel
                                                                                                                                                                      Southern Kingdom = Judah
c.1300                                      c.1200                                    1100                             1047         1000           930                     722
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
               Conquest of       ---------   c. Period of the Judges     --------------------------    Saul          David         Rehoboam=        Assyria
                  Canaan                                                                                   /                                   conquers    Civil War              conquers
                                                                                                          Ruth and Boaz                 Jerusalem                                Israel

Historic Condition of Israel in the Era of the Judges

Archaeology has shown that in the days of the Judges of Israel most of the Israelite settlements were located on hilltops. They were small communal sites with possibly 400 people in the largest towns (Shiloh and Gibeon for example) and were for the most part unwalled settlements. For defense the people clustered the houses close together with the fields surrounding the settlement divided into different plots of farm land. The Israelite purity laws ensured a healthier population than their neighbors and more of their children survived infancy. Israelite families lived in extended family households often with their relations living in clusters of houses around a central courtyard. Houses were made of mud-brick with a stone foundation and some houses had a second story of wood. The main living space consisted of a distinctive four room style arrangement of one long rectangular room across from three smaller rooms (also discovered in the Delta region of Egypt during what is estimated to have been the period prior to the Exodus). The houses often had additional sleeping space on the flat roof.

The domesticated animals were mostly sheep and goats but some families were wealthy enough to own donkeys and cattle. Rarely was an animal killed but most often it was used for milk, diary by-products and wool. The animals were very valuable so if a family only owned a few sheep they were often kept inside the house at night in one of the smaller side rooms on the first floor or in the common courtyard. The boys took the animals out to the fields to graze in the morning and stayed with them throughout the day (like David in 1 Sam 16:11). Larger herds and flocks were kept within stone enclosures or caves in the fields and guarded in the day and throughout the night (as was still the case when Jesus was born in Lk 2:8).

In this period the Israelites had no domesticated horses or camels, nor did they have the technology for smelting iron. They used flint and bronze tools and for weapons they depended on the bronze cycle-sword (called a kadif) and slings and had no trained standing army. Their Canaanite and Philistine neighbors, however, lived in walled city-states with their own kings. The Philistines, for example, had a confederation of five cities in the southeast governed by rulers (Judg 16:18). Their enemies also had horses, chariots, and superior iron weapons and a trained military force.

Israel had no central government and was a loose confederation of twelve tribes with each tribe and town governed by elders. Every town had its own hierarchy and was ruled by the chief from a ruling tribal family or by town elders that handled day-to-day affairs within the community (Judg 11:4-11; Rt 4:9-12). Disputes that could not be settled locally were brought before the judge who was in office at the time, either at some central location (Judg 4:4-5) or at certain designated towns which the judge visited regularly (1 Sam 7:15-17). On certain occasions, assemblies of representatives from the tribes were convened to deal with matters of concern to the tribes as a whole, such as serious misconduct by one of the tribes, an enemy attack on one or more tribes, or when action was required to defend the integrity of Israel (Judg 10:17-18; 20:1-3). There was no standing army so it was necessary to raise a force of volunteer fighters any time a national emergency arose.

The towns belonged to larger political units or regional chiefdoms of whatever tribe was allotted that area of the Promised Land. The smaller villages were under the jurisdiction of the major town of the area. Excavations around the central area of the chiefdom of Shechem in the time of Abimelech (Judg chapter 9), was about 20 miles across, but the land of the tribe of Benjamin farther south was smaller with a chiefdom of about a 5-mile radius around Gibeah and another of the same size around Bethel. Trade with foreign peoples was active. There were imported trade goods such as jewelry, iron and Mediterranean fish from the Philistines and Phoenicians on the coast, and other trade goods from as far away as Egypt and Mesopotamia have been found in the archaeological excavations from the era of the Judges.

The archaeological evidence suggests that for the most part the Israelites appeared to be obedient to God's command that worship must be limited to His one Sanctuary and one altar which was first at Gilgah (Judg 2:1) and later was located at Shiloh in the central highlands, about ten miles north of Bethel to the east of Jerusalem (Judg 18:31). No large temples or idols have been found in Israel from this period, although some small household shrines and figurines have been found that were perhaps kept in secret by some less than observant families. However, we know from the Book of Judges that it was a period in which the generations that followed the holy warrior generation of the Conquest began to drift away from God and to be influenced by their pagan neighbors in following their own inclinations for religious expression.

Sometimes the term "Canaanites" is used to refer in general to all pagan inhabitants of the land and at other times to the original inhabitants. It is during the period of the Judges that the tribes of Israel are oppressed by enemies on all sides. These are the enemies of Israel named in the Book of Judges:

  1. The Amorites lived in city-states mostly on the east side of the Jordan River but also in settlements within Canaan.
  2. The Canaanites and Perizzites lived in settlements in the center of the land.
  3. The Hittites lived in northern Canaan.
  4. The Hivites (Horites) inhabited several sites in Canaan including Shechem in central Canaan and near Mt. Hermon in the north.
  5. The Jebusites inhabited the city of Jerusalem and its dependancies.
  6. The Midianites controlled lands to the east of the Jordan River.
  7. The Moabite kingdom was to the southeast across the Jordan River.
  8. The Philistines had five cities on the coastal plain.
  9. The Sidonians had the city–state of Sidon on the Mediterranean coast

Even though there were continuing periods of conflict with Israel's neighbors and internal struggles and disputes within the twelve tribes, there were also prolonged periods of peace where faithful Israelites continued to pursue lives of genuine piety (Judges 3:11, 30; 8:28). The Book of Ruth takes place in the period of the Judges during one of the periods of peace and recounts the story of one faithful family in the town of Bethlehem in the tribal lands of Judah in the central highlands.

The unifying center of Israel was supposed to the Yahweh's presence at the Tabernacle at Shiloh, but since the Israelites could not maintain their covenant fidelity without a political force to maintain the Law of the covenant, apostasy led to anarchy as the absence a central governmental authority allowed the people to do as they pleased (Josh 17:6; 21:25). The internal decay was as much a threat to Israel's future as their aggressive pagan neighbors. The answer to the anarchy in the period of the Judges will be God's choice of a leader for Israel who can create a political center and with the power and authority to gain control and unite the tribes. This is the failure of the judges who are only able to unite a single tribe of a few tribes to fight Israel's enemies. The goal of political unity is finally achieved, but the process is long and painful and will finally be realized in the Book of Samuel when God, at the people's request, has His prophet anoint a man named Saul from the tribe of Benjamin to be a king to lead the people. However, it won't be until God's tells His prophet to anoint a shepherd boy as King of Israel that David of Bethlehem conquers Israel's remaining enemies, brings peace and political unity to God's people, and establishes "a place for God's name" in the city of Jerusalem. The coming of David as God's man who redeems God's people foreshadows the coming of the Messiah, David's descendant Jesus of Nazareth, whose very name, Yahshua (Yahweh saves) holds the promise of salvation (see Acts 4:12).

Chapter 1: Prologue
The Summary of the Renewed Conquest in Canaan

You may say in your heart, "These nations outnumber me; how shall I be able to dispossess them?" [..]. Do not be afraid of them, for Yahweh your God is among you, a great and terrible God. Little by little, Yahweh your God will clear away these nations before you, you cannot destroy them all at once, or wild animals will breed and be disastrous for you. But Yahweh your God will put them at your mercy, and disaster after disaster will overtake them until they are finally destroyed.
Deuteronomy 7:17, 21-23

With the exception of the Hivites who lived in Gibeon, no city made peace with the Israelites...
Joshua 11:19 (NAB)

When the initial phase of the war was completed and the Israelites have settled their families in the land. Now it was time to continue the conquest as God had laid out the plan before the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River into Canaan. The renewed conquest will begin in southern Canaan in the lands allotted to Judah and Simon (Jugd 1:4-21; also see Josh 15:1-12). Next, the renewed conquest will move to central Canaan as the tribe of Joseph conquers Bethel (Judges 1:22-26), and finally to the northern parts of the country and the failures of the northern tribes on the east side of the Jordan River (Judges 1:27-35). When the conquest first began, the Israelite men of fighting age numbered in the census in Numbers chapter two were 603,550. With the return of about 108,250 men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh to the east side of the Jordan River, the army of Israel on the western side of Canaan now numbers only about 495,300 men of fighting age (between 20 and 50). The Israelites are outnumbered by the inhabitants of Canaan, but God has promised them, if they are obedient to His commands, He will give them victory (Dt 7:17-24). It is the same promise God gave to Joshua at the beginning of the conquest (Josh 1:1-9).

Judges 1:1-9 ~ The Renewed Conquest of Judah and Simeon
1 Now after Joshua's death, the Israelites consulted Yahweh, asking, Which of us is to march on the Canaanites first, to make war on them?' 2 And Yahweh replied, Judah is to march on them first; I am delivering the country into his hands.' 3 Judah then said to his brother Simeon, March with me into the territory allotted to me; we shall make war on the Canaanites, and then I in my turn shall march into your territory with you.' And Simeon marched with him. 4 So Judah marched on them, and Yahweh delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands, and they defeated them at Bezek, ten thousand of them. 5 At Bezek they came upon Adoni-Bezek; they joined in battle with him and defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek took flight, but they chased and captured him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Adoni-Bezek said, Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up the crumbs under my table. As I did, God does to me.' He was taken to Jerusalem, and there he died. 8 The sons of Judah attacked Jerusalem and took it: they put its people to the sword and set fire to the city. 9 After this the sons of Judah went down to make war on the Canaanites who were living in the highlands, the Negeb and the lowlands.

Joshua died when he was 110 years old. Joshua's friend Caleb, who was probably about the same age, was 85 years old in the fifth year of the conquest when only parts of the central and southern sections of Canaan had been conquered (Josh 14:6-10). The Northern campaign covered a large area and the fighting was against a coalition of five kings. The initial success in the north was followed by the allotment of lands and the Israelites settling their families in the lands they had conquered thus far. The first phase of the conquest must have taken at least 20 years followed by the settling of the families and establishing the farmland.

Some Bible scholars believe there is a discrepancy between the accounts of the conquest in the Book of Joshua and the account in the Book of Judges since Judges relates that the conquest was not complete at the time of the death of Joshua. However, it was never God's plan that the taking of the land should be accomplished in one war of conquest. That the conquest of Canaan occurred over a considerable time is also supported by the archaeological evidence.

Question: What did God tell the Israelites was the plan for conquering the land? See Dt 7:17-23
Answer: Yahweh instructed the tribes prior to the invasion of Canaan that the conquest must be accomplished over time. God told the assembly of Israel "Little by little, Yahweh your God will clear away these nations before you..." (Dt 7:22).

After the first three campaigns of the conquest in central, southern, and northern Canaan, the tribal lands were chosen by lot (Joshua chapters 15-19) and the Levitical towns and cities of refuge were designated (Joshua chapters 20-21). At that time the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh who had been given land on the east side of the Jordan River were dismissed from military service and were allowed to return to their families (Josh chapter 22). The army of Israel on the west side of the river has been reduced to about 495,300 men of fighting age.

After Joshua's death and when the tribes were settled on their allotted lands, it was God's will that the conquest should continue. The tribes consulted Yahweh, asking, Which of us is to march on the Canaanites first, to make war on them?' They probably went to Yahweh's Sanctuary which may have still been at Gilgah (Judg 2:1) and asked the reigning high priest to consult the urim and thummim, the devices kept in his breastplate and used to determine the will of God in what was probably a "yes" or "no" (Ex 28:30; Lev 8:8). God told Moses to have Joshua consult Him through these devices: He will present himself to the priest Eleazar who will consult Yahweh on his behalf by means of the rite of the urim; at his command, they will go out and, at his command, they will come in, he and all Israelites with him, the whole community (Num 27:21). What is different is that for the first time no one man is designated by God as the leader of the people other than the high priest.

Question: Which tribe does God task with carrying on the holy war to secure the lands not yet conquered? What do we know about this tribe? Who was Judah's ancestral father? See Genesis 29:31-35 and also see Numbers 2:1-31 for the numbers of fighting men in each tribe.
Answer: The tribe of Judah was descended from Judah, the fourth son of Jacob-Israel and his wife Leah. Judah was the strongest of the twelve tribes, having the greatest number of fighting men between 20 and 50 years of age.

None of Israel's previous leaders had come from the tribe of Judah. Joseph was the youngest son of Jacob-Israel and the father of the tribe of Joseph that became the two half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim (from Joseph's sons), Moses was from the tribe of Levi, and Joshua was an Ephraimite from the tribe of Joseph.

Question: When had God singled out the tribe of Judah previously at Mt. Sinai? See Num 2:1-4; 10:13-14.
Answer: The tribe of Judah was singled out by God to be the vanguard in the march of the tribes during the forty years in the wilderness wanderings before coming to the camp on the east side of the Jordan River, and it was Judah who was given the place of honor in camping farthest to the east guarding the entrance of the Sanctuary.

It was for Judah that Jacob-Israel gave his death-bed prophecy of preeminence over his brothers and future kingship: Judah, your brothers will praise you: you grip your enemies by the neck; your father's sons will do you homage. Judah is a lion's whelp. You stand over your prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, a mighty lion: who dare rouse him? The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute be brought him [until Shiloh come] and the peoples render his obedience (Gen 49:8-10; [..] = literal Hebrew, IBHE, vol. I, page 135). Shiloh in Greek is the word Siloam and means "the one who is sent" according to Jn 8:7). King David and all the kings of Judah and Jesus of Nazareth were members of the tribe of Judah (see Mt 1:3-16).

Question: Why does the tribe of Judah ask the tribe of Simeon to join them in driving out the pagan peoples? See Joshua 15:1-12 for the tribal lands allotted to Judah and Joshua 19:1-9 with special attention to verse 9. Also see the map of the allotment of the twelve tribes in Canaan.
Answer: The tribal lands allotted to Simeon were within the lands allotted to Judah in southern Canaan, and therefore it was in the interests of both tribes to work together to drive out the original inhabitants from their inherited lands.

Judges 1:5-7 ~ 5 At Bezek they came upon Adoni-Bezek; they joined in battle with him and defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek took flight, but they chased and captured him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Adoni-Bezek said, Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up the crumbs under my table. As I did, God does to me.' He was taken to Jerusalem, and there he died.

The combined armies of Judah and Simeon defeated a coalition of Canaanites and Perizzites at Bezek, a city ruled by Adoni-Bezek. The exact location of this city is debated, but most archeologists believe it was located between Shechem and Jerusalem.(1) The ruler of the city is Adoni-Bezek. It is unlikely that this is his name; it is more likely his title which means "Lord of Bezek." It appears he was mutilated on the battle field and when he was rescued by his soldiers he was taken to Jerusalem, a city allied with him, and there he died either from his wounds or in the attack on Jerusalem by the forces of Judah and Simeon.

Question: How was the captured ruler mutilated and why? What was his response to his fate?
Answer: Without his thumbs he can no longer wield a sword or shoot a bow and arrow. With his toes cut off he can no longer run. He is no longer fit for battle or fit to lead soldiers in battle. His fatalistic response is that he has received the same king of punishment he inflicted upon his defeated enemies.

Judges 1:8-11 ~ 8 The sons of Judah attacked Jerusalem and took it: they put its people to the sword and set fire to the city. 9 After this the sons of Judah went down to make war on the Canaanites who were living in the highlands, the Negeb and the lowlands. 10 Judah next marched on the Canaanites living in Hebron *(the name of Hebron in olden days was Kiriath-Abra) and beat Sheshia, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there, he marched on the inhabitants of Debir *(the name Debir in olden days was Kiriath-Sepher).
The warriors of Judah were obedient to God's command to subject the conquered town to herem, the curse of utter destruction.

In Deuteronomy 20:16-18, God instructed the Israelites: But as regards the towns of those peoples whom Yahweh your God is giving you as your heritage, you must not spare the life of any living thing. Instead, you must lay them under the curse of destruction: Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, as Yahweh your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the detestable things which they do to honor their gods; in doing these, you would sin against Yahweh your God. In herem the guilty under the curse of destruction died in their sins but the innocent, who died as a result of the wicked actions of their people were consecrated to God. The word herem means both "curse of destruction" and "consecration."

Question: For what two reasons did God promise to help Israel take possession of the Promised Land and to dispossess the former inhabitants? See Dt. 7:4-5.
Answer: Taking possession of the Promised Land was not only to fulfill God's promise to the Patriarchs, but it was also to bring God's divine judgment on the Canaanites/Amorites for crimes against humanity.

The sins of the Canaanites brought them under God's divine judgment: The ancient inhabitants of your holy land you hated for their loathsome practices, their acts of sorcery, and unholy rites. Those ruthless murderers of children, those eaters of entrails at feasts of human flesh and of blood, those initiates of secret brotherhoods, those murderous parents of defenseless beings, you determined to destroy at our ancestors' hands, so that this land, dearer to you than any other, might receive a worthy colony of God's children. [..] not that you were unable to hand the godless over to the upright in pitched battle or destroy them at once by savage beasts or one harsh word; but, by carrying out your sentences gradually, you gave them a change to repent, although you knew that they were inherently evil, innately wicked, and fixed in their cast of mind; for they were a race accursed from the beginning (Wis 12:3-11; with a reference to Gen 9:25 in verse 11).

Question: What are the iniquities of the Canaanites and other inhabitants of the land that are listed above in the passage from Wisdom 12:3-11 and also listed in Num 33:52; Dt 7:5, 25; 12:31 and 18:9-12 that are abhorrent to God?
Answer:

  1. Sorcery and the occult
  2. Unholy rites/acts (immoral rituals including orgies & ritual prostitution and incest)
  3. Child sacrifice
  4. Cannibalism
  5. Abortion
  6. Idol worship

Some scholars believe verse 8 is a later addition since it appears to contradict verse 21. However, it is possible that there is no contradiction; perhaps after the Judahites turned the city of Jerusalem over to the tribe of Benjamin, in whose territory Jerusalem was located, the tribe of Benjamin was unable to keep the city which was retaken by the Jebusites. Nor was the tribe of Judah able to conquer the Jebusites a second time (see Josh 15:63).

From the highlands of Jerusalem, the combined armies of Judah and Simeon moved southeast into the lowlands. The Hebrew word Negeb means "south." It is the name given to the arid, southern part of Judah's lands and is the largest region in the modern state of Israel. The Negeb is a hot and dry, receiving less than 8 inches of rainfall annually.

The Israelites defeated the armies of three rulers and took both cities of Hebron and Debir.
Question: What is the significance of the city of Hebron to the Israelites? See Gen 12:7; 15:7 and 23:1-9, 17-20.
Answer: Hebron is an ancient city where Abraham purchased land and buried Sarah in a cave. This was the only land Abraham ever owned in Canaan and it was the beginning of the promise God made to Abraham that his descendants would one day own the land of Canaan.

Judges 1:10-16 ~ The Settlement of Caleb's Clan and the Settlement of Hobab the Kenite
10 Judah next marched on the Canaanites living in Hebron *(the name of Hebron in olden days was Kiriath-Abra) and beat Sheshia, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there, he marched on the inhabitants of Debir *(the name Debir in olden days was Kiriath-Sepher).
12 Caleb said, To the man who conquers and captures Kiriath-Sepher, I shall give my daughter Achsah as wife.' 13 The man who captures it was Othniel son of Kenaz, younger brother of Caleb, who gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. 14 When she arrived, he urged her to ask her father for arable land, but when she alighted from the donkey and Caleb asked her, What is the matter?' 15 She said to him, Grant me a blessing! As the land you have given me is the Negeb, give me springs of water, too!' So Caleb gave her what she wanted: the upper springs and the lower springs. 16 The sons of Hobab the Kenite, father-in-law of Moses, marches up with the sons of Judah from the City of Palm Trees into the desert of Judah lying in the Negeb of Arad, where they went and settled among the people.

* Parts of verses 10 and 11 identify the ancient pagan place-names of the towns that were later re-named by the Israelites. The Semetic word kiriath means "city;" for example Kiriath-Baal means "city of Baal," Kiriath-sepher means "city of books/scrolls," and Kiriath-Arba means "city of Arba" (Josh 14:15). It is a frequently used prefix of compound names for places that were Canaanite or Amorite towns (see Gen 23:2 and Josh 15:15).

The narrative suddenly returns to events that happened during the 5th year of the conquest when Joshua was still alive in Joshua 10:36-43 and 14:13-19 to repeat the story of Caleb and his family. This part of the narrative concerns the settlement of Israel's Gentile converts in the Promised Land. Verses 12-15 are a retelling of the story of the chieftain Caleb who, under Joshua's command, took the city of Hebron (Josh 15:13-19) and is a reminder of the fulfillment of the promise God made to Caleb in Numbers 14:24-15.

Question: Who is Caleb? What is his ethnic background and to what tribe is he allied? See Num 13:1-6, 30; 14:5-9; 20-25; Josh 14:6-10. How is the unity of Joshua and Caleb in their faith and trust of God become symbolic of the New Covenant?
Answer: Caleb was a Kenizzite Gentile convert who became a chieftain of the tribe of Judah. He was one of the 12 spies chosen to reconnoiter the land of Canaan after the Israelites first left Mt. Sinai. Along with Joshua, they were the only men of the 12 spies to have faith and trust in God and believed they could conquer the people living in the land of Canaan. God condemned the Israelites to 40 years of desert wandering for their failure to be willing to trust Him in taking the Promised Land; only Caleb and Joshua are promised that they will live to take part in the conquest led by the new generation of Israel. For his faithfulness, God promised him a portion of the Promised Land. Caleb the Gentile and Joshua the Israelite, men who loved the Lord and had complete faith and trust in Him, symbolize the composition of the New Covenant Church in which Gentiles and Israelites/Jews are united in Christ Jesus.

Judges 1:12-13 ~ 12 Caleb said, To the man who conquers and captures Kiriath-Sepher, I shall give my daughter Achsah as wife.' 13 The man who captures it was Othniel son of Kenaz, younger brother of Caleb, who gave him his daughter Achsah as wife.
Question: What promise does Caleb make to the man who successfully took the city of Debir?
Answer: He promised to give his daughter as a bride to the man who led the attack on Debir and conquered the city.

Question: Who was Othniel, who was Othniel's father, and what is the relationship to Caleb? See Josh 15:17; Judg 1:13.
Answer: Othniel was the Judahite chieftain under Caleb's command who took Debir. Othniel's father was a man named Kenaz who was Caleb's younger brother; therefore Othniel was Caleb's nephew and his father was a Gentile convert like Caleb who was adopted into the tribe of Judah.

Othniel's father was a convert, but Othniel was a member of the new generation of Israelite warriors after the Exodus generation. With his new wife, Achsah, his first cousin and the daughter of Caleb, they will become the parents the first generation of Israelites from the tribe of Judah to be born in the Promised Land.

There are an unusual number of women named or mentioned in the Book of Judges, more than in any other Old Testament book. Four women are named in the Book of Judges and twelve are unnamed individuals or groups of women. Achsah, Deborah, Jael, and Delilah are named, and the unnamed women are Sisera's mother, Jephthah's daughter, the woman of Thebez, Samson's mother (Manoah's wife), the Timnah women (Samson's wife and her younger sister), the thirty daughters of Ibzan, the mother of Micayehu, the daughter of the man of Gibeah, the Levite's concubine, the woman and virgins of the tribe of Benjamin, and the daughters of Shiloh. Only more women are mentioned by name in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles in the Old Testament. In the New Testament more women are mentioned by name in the Gospel of Luke in which eight women are named, and in the 16th chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Romans where he mentions eight women and names six. As we read about these women in the narrative of the book of Judges, notice what the named women in have in common as opposed to the unnamed women.

Just as the narrative of the conquered lands of tribe of Judah began with an account of Caleb's promised heritage within the tribal lands of Judah, so now in the continuing story of Judah's conquered lands comes the retelling of Caleb's personal story. This account, first told in Joshua chapter 15, completes the promise Caleb made to Joshua in 14:12 to drive the Anakim out of Hebron and to take the town of Debir. The taking of Debir was covered in a general summary in the story of the southern campaign in Joshua 10:38-39.

According to the genealogies of the tribe of Judah in 1 Chronicles, in addition to his daughter, Achsah, Caleb also had three sons (1 Chr 4:15), and his brother Kenaz had two sons (1 Chr 4:13). Achsah and Othniel's mothers were probably women of the tribe of Judah. As he promised, Caleb gave his daughter in marriage as a reward for Othniel's victory over Debir. It was common for first cousins to marry and there was no prohibition against it in the Holiness Code of the Law (see Lev 20:8-21).

Question: Why does Achsah's husband ask her to petition her father for additional land? Debir was located on the edge of the hill country as it descends into the arid Negeb.
Answer: Debir was located where the Judean hill country descends into the arid Negeb; therefore the land was not as favorable for growing crops. Othniel wants better land for farming.

Question: How does Achsah solve the problem?
Answer: She goes to her father and wisely asks him for a blessing. The blessing she asks for is a well to water the land he has given her new family as a part of the bridal dowry. The water source will provide irrigation for the crops.

Question: What is her father's response and how does his answer tell us more about his character?
Answer: Before she asks, her father anticipates that she has come to make a request. He not only grants her request for a source of water, but her father generously gives her the "double blessing" of an upper and lower spring.

Most Biblical heroes are men who have good qualities but also moral failures. There is nothing in the Biblical record concerning Joshua and Caleb that is negative. They were honorable men who demonstrated complete faith and trust in God and obedience to His commandments.

Judges 1:16 ~ 16 The sons of Hobab the Kenite, father-in-law of Moses, marches up with the sons of Judah from the City of Palm Trees into the desert of Judah lying in the Negeb of Arad, where they went and settled among the people.
The City of Palms was Jericho (Dt 34:3; 2 Chr 28:15) and the site of the Israelite's first victory (Josh chapter 6). This part of the narrative also includes the new information that the Gentile descendants of Hobab, the Kenite kinsmen of Moses through his marriage to Zipporah the daughter of Jethro/Reuel/Hobab the priest of Midian, were settled on land within Judah's territory.(2) Moses' father-in-law joined the Israelites on the journey to Sinai (Ex 18:1-12, 27) but returned to his own land. His son, however, remained with Moses and the Israelites; his descendants received a portion of the land as promised by Moses (Num 10:29-32). The Kenites, like the Kenizzite ancestors of Caleb, were an ethnic group listed among the pre-Israelite inhabitants of the land of Canaan (Gen 15:19).

Judges 1:17-21 ~ Judah and Simeon complete the Campaign
17 Judah then set out with his brother Simeon. They beat the Canaanites who lived in Zephath and delivered it over to the curse of destruction [herem]; hence the town was given the name of Hormah. 18 Judah then captured Gaza and its territory, Ashkelon and its territory, Ekron and its territory. 19 And Yahweh was with Judah, who made himself master of the highlands; he could not, however, dispossess the inhabitants of the plain, since they had iron chariots. 20 As Moses had directed, Hebron was given to Caleb, and he drove the three sons of Anak out of it. 21 As regards the Jebusites living in Jerusalem, the sons of Benjamin did not dispossess them, and the Jebusites have been living in Jerusalem with the sons of Benjamin ever since.

Zephath was located in the lowlands at the southern end of the Shephelah (the low hills in western Canaan separating the coastal plains from the central mountain ridges to the east) and adjacent to the Negeb. The tribes of Judah and Simeon conquered the Canaanites who lived in Zephath, a town specifically allocated to the tribe of Simeon (Josh 19:4). The city was then subjected to herem, the curse of total destruction that God required of all Canaanite/Amorite cities (Dt 7:1-6, 24-26; 20:16-18; Josh 6:18, 21). A new Hebrew name was given to Zephath; the Israelites called it Hormah, which means "destruction."(3) The destruction of the Canaanite population of Zephath brings Judah's subjugation of the highlands, the Negeb and the Shephelah to a decisive closure.

Judges 1:18-19 ~ Judah then captured Gaza and its territory, Ashkelon and its territory, Ekron and its territory. And Yahweh was with Judah, who made himself master of the highlands; he could not, however, dispossess the inhabitants of the plain, since they had iron chariots.
Despite an initial success, Judah was not able to consolidate its hold on the lowland cities. The excuse that is given is that they possessed iron chariots, which could be used very effectively in the lowlands and coastal plains. The Israelites did not have chariots or iron weapons. But why would the chariots make such a difference since God promised Israel through His agent Joshua: And you will dispossess the Canaanites, although they have iron chariots and although they are strong (Josh 17:18b). Something else is happening to slow the momentum of the conquest. Could it be because the tribe of Judah did not put the Philistine cities of Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron under the curse of destruction? The coalition of these Philistine cities will become the great enemy of Israel in the last part of the age of the Judges and in early part of the age of the United Monarchy.

Judges 1:20-21 ~ 20 As Moses had directed, Hebron was given to Caleb, and he drove the three sons of Anak out of it. 21 As regards the Jebusites living in Jerusalem, the sons of Benjamin did not dispossess them, and the Jebusites have been living in Jerusalem with the sons of Benjamin ever since.
For Moses speaking of the defeat of the giant Anakim see Deuteronomy 1:28. Here again is the positive mention of faithful Caleb's success in driving out the inhabitants of Hebron contrasted by another reversal in the attempt to continue the conquest by the tribe of Benjamin. The story of Caleb began the allotment of ancestral lands to his adopted tribe in Joshua 14:6-15, and now the narrative of Caleb's final victory comes in the middle of the recounting of the borders and towns of Judah's heritage. That Caleb drove out the Anakim recalls the fulfillment of his promise to Joshua in Joshua 14:12: ... but if Yahweh is with me, I shall drive them out, as Yahweh has said. The former Gentile has been recognized as a leader in Judah, and it is the remembrance of this faithful man who submitted his life to the God of Israel and who, like the descendants of the Gentile Hobab the Kenite, was completely incorporated into the covenant of God's people that the inspired writer wants the reader to remember. The incorporation of these Gentile families into the covenant family foreshadows the millions of Gentiles and Jews that will one day be united in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

Judges 1:22-26 ~ The Tribe of Joseph Conquers Bethel
22 Similarly, the House of Joseph marched on Bethel, and Yahweh was with them. 23 The House of Joseph made a reconnaissance of Bethel. (In the olden days, the name of the town was Luz). 24 The scouts saw a man coming out of the town and said to him, Show us how to get into the town and we shall show you faithful love [covenant love = hesed].' 25 And when he had shown them a way into the town, they put the town to the sword but let the man and his whole clan go. 26 The man went off to the country of the Hittites and built a town which he called Luz; and that has been its name ever since.

In the first years of the Conquest, the armies of Israel fought against the combined forces of Ai and Bethel/Luz in the central highlands north of Jerusalem and took the town of Ai (Josh 8:17). Apparently the Israelites conquered Ai but not Bethel (Josh 8:26-29). The tribe of Joseph is successful at Bethel (see Gen 28:19; 35:6-7; 48:3) which became part of the tribal lands of Joseph-Ephraim. Yahweh was with them because they were faithful to Yahweh. They spared the man and his extended family who showed them how to attack the town because of the covenant of peace they made with him (verse 24), in the same way the Israelites spared Rahab of Jericho and her family (Josh 6:27-25). In obedience to God's command, the tribe of Joseph placed the Canaanite population under the curse of herem. The man who helped them did not join the Israelites like Rahab and her family; he left to establish another city called Luz in the region of modern Syria. The site archaeologists believe is ancient Bethel shows a massive destruction by fire at the end of the Late Bronze Age (late 13th century BC).

Question: What is significant about Bethel in the history of the children of Israel? See Gen 28:10-18.
Answer: It was where Jacob had a vision of God and received the covenant promises God made to Abraham which included that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. It was Jacob who named the place Beth-el, "place of God."

Now the inspired writer of Judges takes us from the successes of the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Joseph in the renewed conquest to the failures of the Northern tribes on the west side of the Jordan River.
Judges 1:27-36 ~ The Failure of the Northern Tribes
27 Manasseh did not dispossess Beth-Shean and its dependencies, nor Taanach and its dependencies, nor the inhabitants of Dor and its dependencies, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and its dependencies, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and its dependencies; in those parts the Canaanites held their ground. 28 But when the Israelites became stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor, although they did not dispossess them. 29 Nor did Ephraim dispossess the Canaanites living in Bezer; thus, the Canaanites went on living in Gezer with him. 30 Zebelun did not dispossess the inhabitants of Kitron or to Nahalol. The Canaanites lived on with Zebulun but were subjected to forced labor. 31 Asher did not dispossess the inhabitants of Acco, nor those of Sidon, of Mahlab, of Achzib, of Helbah, of Aphek or of Rehob. 32 So the Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the country, not having dispossessed them. 33 Naphtali did not dispossess the inhabitants of Beth-Shemesh or of Beth-Anath; they settled among the Canaanite inhabitants of the country, but the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-Anath were subject to forced labor for them. 34 The Amorites drove the Danites back into the highlands and would not let them come down into the plain. 35 The Amorites held their ground at Har-Heres and Shaalbim, but when the hand of the House of Joseph grew heavier, they were subjected to forced labor. 36 The territory of the Edomites begins at the Ascent of Scorpions, runs to the Rock and continues upwards.

Question: What is the reoccurring pattern of the tribes' failures and what are the repeated formula statements?
Answer: In each case it is said that the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali "did not dispossess" the inhabitants living on their allotted lands, but they were strong enough to "subject them to forced labor."

Manasseh and Ephraim are in fact the two half-tribes of Joseph. Like the Judah section, the narrative begins with their victory and ends with their failure; they were successful at Bethel but now their efforts do not end in success in driving out the Canaanites.

God promised the Israelites victory over their enemies so long as they were faithful and obedient to God's commandments.
Question: What did God warn the Israelites would happen if they were not faithful to the covenant and to Yahweh's command to drive out their enemies? See Num 33:55.
Answer: If they did not drive out the pagan inhabitants:

The question is if these tribes were powerful enough to force these peoples to work for them, were they really unable to dispossess them from the land or was the temptation to have unpaid laborers a more appealing prospect. This would be in direct violation of God's command to drive out the inhabitants of the land since otherwise their sinful practices would become a snare and a trap for Israel; all the inhabitants and their towns were under the "curse of destruction" (Dt 7:1-16, 23-26).

Judges 1:36 ~ The territory of the Edomites begins at the Ascent of Scorpions, runs to the Rock and continues upwards.
There is confusion concerning whether this verse refers to the Edomites (ha domi) or the Amorites (ha mori). The LXX solves the problem with "the border of the Amorite, the Edomite..." The boundaries of the Promised Land are given in Numbers 34:1-15 and verse 4 mentions the same place-name "the Ascent of Scorpions" in association with Edom's boundaries (also in Josh 15:3). The place-name "the Rock" is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:7 also in association with Edom. Edom was on Israel's southeastern boundary.

Chapter 2: The Angel of Yahweh tells Israel of Disasters to Come

Yahweh's conditions for success in the conquest of Canaan:

Judges 2:1-5 ~ Prophecy of Disasters to Come
1 The Angel [mal'ak = messenger] of Yahweh went up from Gilgal to Bethel and said, I have brought you out of Egypt and led you into this country, which I promised on oath to your ancestors. I said, "I shall never break my covenant with you. 2 You for your part must make no covenant with the inhabitants of this country; you will destroy their altars." But you have not listened to my voice. What is the reason for this? 3 Very well, I now say this, "I am not going to drive these nations out before you. The will become your oppressors, and their gods will be a snare for you."' 4 When the Angel [mal'ak = messenger] of Yahweh had spoken these words to all the Israelites, the people began to wail at the top of their voices. 5 And they called the name of the place Bochim, and offered sacrifices to Yahweh there.

The identification of Bochim as Bethel is based on the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament first made in 250 BC) and upon the connection of Bethel to weeping (verse 5; also see 20:26; 21:2 and a href ="http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/genesis/genesis35.htm#v8">Gen 35:8). Later Bethel will be identified the apostasy of golden calf worship (1 Kng 12:25-30). It is fitting that this holy site where Jacob/Israel had his first encounter with Yahweh (Gen 28:10-19) serves as the place of rebuke to the northern tribes who have violated the convent and sinned by refusing to dispossess the Canaanites who inhabit their tribal territories.

Sanctuary of Yahweh will later be located at Bethel for a time (Judg 20:18-28), but apparently at this time it was still at Shechem (Josh 24:25-26). The angel/messenger of Yahweh travels from Gilgal to an assembly of the tribes at Bethel. The place-name "gilgal" means "circle" and probably refers to a stone circle of memorial stones like those Joshua placed at Gilgal on the west side of the Jordan River (Josh 4:19-20). Memorial stone circles were common in Canaan. There were four places named Gilgal in Canaan/Israel:

  1. Gilgal was the site of the first Israelite camp on the west side of the Jordan River near Jericho (Josh 4:19-20; 5:9-12). In the tribal period of the Judges and in the early monarchy it became an important political, religious, and military center: it was on the yearly circuit of places visited by the prophet/judge Samuel (1 Sam 7:16), it was where Saul was confirmed king of Israel by the tribes (1 Sam 11:14-15), it was a military rallying point in King Saul's campaigns against the Philistines (1 Sam 13:4-7), and it was where Saul's kingship was taken away from him (1 Sam 13:8-15). The Sanctuary was moved from Gilgal to Shechem and then to Shiloh. After the Philistines destroyed Shiloh, the Sanctuary and the center of the religious hierarchy shifted back to Gilgah (1 Sam 10:8; 11:14-15; 13:15-18; 15:10-33) and remained there until King David brought the Ark of the covenant and the Sanctuary to Jerusalem. The site remained an important religious center until the Prophet Hosea condemned it as a center of apostasy in the 8th century BC (Ho 12:11).
  2. There was a town called Gilgal that was located south Shechem and Mounts Ebal and Gerizim (Dt 11:30) and about seven miles north of Bethel. It was the Gilgal that was near the home of a community of prophets and is associated with the prophets Elijah and Elisha (2 Kng 2:1-4; 4:48).
  3. Gilgal north of Joppa where Joshua made camp (Josh 9:6).
  4. Gilgal/Galili near Dor, a seaport on the cost of the Mediterranean Sea south of Mt. Carmel, mentioned in a list of conquered Canaanite kings (Josh 12:23).

This is the first of three confrontations between Yahweh and Israel in the Book of Judges:

  1. The angel/messenger (mal'ak) of Yahweh confronts Israel (Judg 2:1-5).
  2. A prophet (navi) sent by Yahweh confronts Israel (Judg 6:7-10).
  3. Yahweh Himself confronts Israel (Judg 10:10-16).

The Hebrew word mal'ak literally means "messenger," but is often transliterated into English from the Greek aggelos as "angel." The title "angel/messenger of Yahweh" was also the divine personage who led the children of Israel on their 40 year desert wanderings (Ex 23:20; 32:34). Another divine messenger, called the "Captain of the army of Yahweh," appeared to Joshua to comfort and encourage him just before the first great battle of the conquest against Jericho (Josh 5:13-15).(4)

This messenger is either Yahweh Himself in visible form (Gen 16:7) or an angel, or he is a human prophet who speaks the words of Yahweh. It is likely that the "messenger of Yahweh" is a human prophet since he traveled from the Sanctuary at Gilgal (probably the Gilgal near Jericho) to the tribal assembly at Bethel whereas divine messengers appear and disappear at will. This mal'ak/messenger speaks for Yahweh in announcing an indictment against Israel in the form of a covenant lawsuit. It was the function of God's holy prophets to pronounce divine judgment in the form of a covenant lawsuit when the Israelites failed their covenant obligations and were about to receive God's verdict of divine judgment as a remedy to bring them to repentance and restored fellowship (see for example Isaiah in Is 1:2-9; 3:13; 34:8; Jeremiah in Jer 1:16; 11:1-8; and the prophet Hosea in Hos 2:4; 4:1; etc.).

Question: What are the two reasons for God's divine judgment and what is the punishment?
Answer: Since the Israelites in their disobedience have (1) failed to destroy the pagan altars and (2) have made covenant-treaties with the pagan inhabitants of the land:

  1. Yahweh will not drive out the pagan nations.
  2. They will oppress Israel.
  3. Their false gods will be a snare for the people.

The people mourn their fate but then committed another act of disobedience by offering sacrifice at a site other than God's altar of sacrifice at the Sanctuary (see Lev 17:1-10; Dt 12:8-12). It is another act of defiance in deciding for themselves what is acceptable to God. They called the place ha-Bochim, a Hebrew word meaning "the Weepers," which may be at the "Oak of Tears" near Bethel (Gen 35:8). It appears that their weeping was more a sign of distress concerning the conditions of God's judgment than a sign of genuine repentance.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
What are the greatest failures among professing Christians today concerning obedience to the commandments of God and the teachings of Mother Church? Why doesn't God leave it up to each of us to decide for ourselves what is or isn't acceptable moral behavior?

Endnotes:

1. There is also a city named Belek in north-central Canaan about 12 miles northeast of Shechem and 16 miles west of Jabesh-gilead mentioned in 1 Sam 11:8. It is unlikely that this is the site of the battle since that city was in the territory of Manasseh.

2. The multiple names attributed to Moses' father-in-law may represent personal names as well as clan, family names, or titles. The Romans, for example, typically had three names: a personal name, a clan name and a family name as in Gaius Julius Caesar or Marcus Antonius Felix.

3. Prior to the conquest, when the Israelites were still journeying to their destination on the east side of the Jordan River, the holy warrior generation of Israel was attacked by Canaanites living in the Negeb. The Israelites then defeated the Canaanites and placed them all under herem, the curse of destruction. It was the first time in which the Israelites destroyed an enemy by herem and they also renamed the place Hormah (Num 21:1-3).

4. Also see "Angel (messenger) of Yahweh" in Gen 22:11; and "Angel (messenger) of God" in Gen 21:17; 31:11 and Ex 4:19 who are divine persons. In Gen 16:13 the "Angel of Yahweh in verse 7 is identified as God Himself in verse 19. The "Angel of Yahweh" is also the one who executes God's divine justice as in Ex 12:23, or issues divine instruction or guidance as in Mt 1:20; Tob 5:4/5 and Acts 7:38. In the Old Testament the word mal'ak is frequently used for a human messenger as in messenger/mal'ak who informed Saul that the Philistines had invaded the country (1 Sam 23:27). In the New Testament the Greek word aggeloi (angel/messenger in the plural) is used for St. John the Baptist's disciples that he sent to Jesus (Lk 7:24), and St. Paul calls St. Titus and his fellow missionaries sent to the Corinthians aggeloi (2 Cor 8:23).

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