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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Judges, the Book of

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The time comprised extends from Joshua to Eli. Divisions:

(1) Introduction (Judges 1 - 3:6). Judges 1, Israel's relations to Canaan, geographical and political, what the several tribes and houses achieved, or otherwise, in conquering the land; Judges 2 - 3:6, Israel's relations religiously to the Lord, this second portion tells us the reason of Israel's failure to drive out the Canaanite remnant and of their falling under oppressors, namely, apostasy; Jehovah leaving those nations in order to prove Israel whether they would obey Him. Hengstenberg suggests that Judges 1 presents the events before Joshua's death, Judges 2 the death itself and the events following it. The general lessons of the book are summed up in Judges 2:11 ff, namely, Israel's high calling and yet apostasy, Jehovah's chastening, and then raising up of judges because of His own pity for their groanings; then Israel's relapse into idolatry upon each judge's death.

(2) Judges 3:7-16. The opening formula (Judges 3:7) is resumed from Judges 2:11, "the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord," etc. Political events are subordinated to spiritual. Of the 13 judges, the account of six (Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson) is full, that of the remaining seven very brief. In Gideon's case alone his sons' history is detailed, because it illustrates the great lesson of the book. His sin in making the ephod issued in his family's slaughter by Abimelech with the men of Shechem's aid, these in turn mutually punishing one another. Abimelech's was the first effort to substitute an earthly king for the Lord of the theocracy, Samson's history illustrates Israel's, whom he represents, strength and weakness, strength in separation to Jehovah, utter weakness when the consecration became severed, as Samson's locks, by lust. Othniel is the only representative of Judah; the greater number of judges belonged to northern and eastern Israel.

(3) Judges 17-21. The appendix. It records:

(1) Micah's idolatry in Mount Ephraim, and the Danite adoption of it in Laish, the conquest of which is narrated. A time "when there was no king in Israel" (Judges 19:1), before Samson's days (compare Judges 13:25 margin with Judges 18:12); also before Jabin, 150 years after Joshua, had established a strong Canaanite kingdom in the N., when Dan could not have taken Laish; perhaps shortly after Joshua's death (Judges 18:30). A comparison of Judges 18:1 with Judges 1:34; Joshua 19:47, implies that this history occurred at the earliest part of the judges' period. The Danites set up Micah's graven image, and Jonathan's sons were its "priests until the day of the captivity of the land," i.e. the removal of the ark by the Philistines (compare Psalms 78:59-64; Jeremiah 7:12-14; 1 Chronicles 16:34-35). Jehovah's giving up His glory (the ark) into captivity was a virtual giving over of Israel to captivity, i.e. to their enemy's power; for the sanctuary was the land's "kernel and essence" (Hengstenberg), and the completeness of Israel's prostration under the Philistines appears in 1 Samuel 13:19-23. No mention of the judges occurs in this appendix. The appendix records

(2) Gibeah's awful wickedness and Benjamin's countenancing it, and Israel's unitedly punishing almost to extermination the sinning tribe. The unanimity of the tribes implies an early date; also the mention of Aaron's grandson Phinehas (compare Judges 20:28 with Joshua 22:13; Joshua 24:33). These two histories appended depict the spirit of the age morally and religiously.

HISTORIC TRUTH. The comparison with the heroic age of Greece is unwarrantable. Though the judges were heroes, it was an age preceded by the Mosaic legislation and the due settlement of the people by Joshua in their inheritance; not an age of lawless semi barbarism. Jahn (Hebrew Commonwealth) truly says the Book of Judges is a record of the exceptional diseases of the body politic, while the years of health are passed over in silence. The ability to write a description of the Succoth elders, 77 men, on the part of a young man taken at random implies it was no age of ignorance; contrast the Homeric age, in which only dubious traces of the existence of writing occur (Judges 8:14, margin). Israel's servitudes occupy 111 years, the time of peaceful independence 319 years (i.e. taking the whole period as 430). Hence, the oft recurring phrase, "the land had rest ... years" (Judges 3:11; Judges 3:30; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28). Hence too in the millennial future restoration of Israel Isaiah (Isaiah 1:26) announces from God, "I will restore thy judges as at the first," as in Israel's most peaceable days: Joshua, the judges, and Samuel (compare Isaiah 32:1; Matthew 19:28).

The chequered history of Israel at this period is too modest to be the work of a forger to glorify Israel. The mention of the Canaanite chariots accords with the Egyptian accounts which make the Cheta chariots their main strength. A hieroglyphic inscription of Rameses II mentions Astert as the Cheta or Hittite divinity, so Judges 2:11-13. The Shasous in Egyptian monuments resemble in habits the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6-8). Philistine power increases in Judges and 1 Samuel parallel with Egypt's decline in the monuments. The usages, mutilation (Judges 1:6-7), blood feuds (Judges 8:19), the intermixture of ruling people and subject tribes (Judges 1:19-36), the hiding of the oppressed in caves (Judges 6:2), earrings worn by men (Judges 8:24-26), women peeping through the lattice (Judges 5:28), fables (Judges 9:7), riddles (Judges 14:12) to be solved at a forfeit, all accord with oriental usage, and occur so naturally and incidentally as to exclude suspicion of design.

DESIGN. The aim is not to give a continuous history of the period between Joshua and Samuel, but to illustrate in striking particular deliverances the divine principle of dealing with Israel laid down in Judges 2:16-19. The judges imperfectly realize the ideal. Each only delivered one part of Israel: Shamgar the region toward Philistia; Deborah and Barak northern Israel (Judges 4:10); so Gideon (Judges 6:35), Jephthah, eastern Israel; Samson, Judah, Dan and the region adjoining Philistia. Gideon corrupted the worship of God, Samson yielded to lust, Jephthah made a rash vow and took revenge upon Ephraim. The possession of inspired gifts did not always ensure the right use of them, just as the miraculous gifts at Corinth were abused (1 Corinthians 14). This is analogous to God's mode of dealing as to natural gifts; we are not judges of what God does, but learners from what He has done when He was pleased to create free agents. The time was one of transition before the kingly era.

As yet Israel developed itself freely under the Mosaic law and theocracy, which are taken for granted; each did what was "right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6), thus giving scope, as a common central government could less do, to the operation of that particular providence which gave prosperity or adversity according to the obedience or disobedience, not only of the nation but of each tribe and family (Judges 1:1-19; Judges 1:21-33). The judges were God's vice-gerents in carrying out part of that particular providence which distinguished Israel's God from the idols of the pagan around. Historical facts not subserving the Spirit's design are passed by, as Ephraim's victory over Oreb and Zeeb (Judges 8:3; Isaiah 10:26). Eli and Samuel are not included, because Eli was high priest, and as such was officially judge, not, as the rest, especially called to be judges. Samuel was the Lord's prophet, delivering Israel, not by the sword, but by the word and by prayer (1 Samuel 7:3-10). Samson was the last extraordinary judge.

Samson was born during Eli's high priesthood, for before his birth the Philistines ruled Israel (Judges 13:5); "he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines." Samuel completed Israel's deliverance from them which Samson began. Throughout the inspired writer views Israel's history in the light of God's law. Israel's unfaithfulness punished by the foe's oppression, and Jehovah's faithfulness in raising up judges to deliver them at their cry, are the two hinges upon which the history turns (Keil). Only the tribes oppressed at a particular time are noticed; the rest walking according to the law, and therefore at peace, do not come under consideration. Intermarriages with pagan neighbours, Gentile associations, the beauty of the Canaanite women, the pomp, gaiety, and voluptuousness of their rites, the hope of learning the future by idolatrous divination, superstitious fears of the alleged gods of the locality where they settled, inclined Israel to add to Jehovah's worship the pagan idolatries (for they had too strong proofs of the divine law to renounce it wholly).

Extraordinary judges, following severe chastisement from those very nations whose sin they copied, were just the discipline they needed and God raised. Thrice Jehovah threatened Israel with oppression for apostasy: at Bochim (Judges 2:1-4), at the Midianite invasion (Judges 6:7-10), at the Ammonite and Philistine oppression (Judges 10:10-14). He fulfilled His threats in the ever deepening oppression of the foe, the Philistine crowning all, and in the internal disunion of the nation's tribes.

Under Othniel and Ehud all Israel rose against the foe; under Barak Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher took no part (Judges 5:15-17). Gideon scarcely appeased Ephraim's jealousy. Abimelech's usurpation of the kingship of Shechem illustrates further the national decay. Ephraim fought with Jephthah and the eastern tribes to its own sore loss. The men of Judah were so degenerate as to seek to give up Samson, their deliverer, to the Philistines (Judges 15:9-14). The Angel of Jehovah, the Son of God, at the call of Moses appeared to him, then the Spirit of Jehovah qualified him (Exodus 3:1-6; Exodus 13:21). So the divine Angel four times appears, the Spirit following to qualify the judge for delivering Israel:

(1) Judges 2:1-5; Judges 3:10;

(2) Judges 6:11; Judges 6:34;

(3) Judges 10:10-16, compare Isaiah 63:8-9; Judges 11:29;

(4) Judges 13:3-25. The servitudes increase in length successively for the most part: Chushan Rishathaim 8 years, Eglon 18, Jabin 20; also in the humiliation

(1) a distant king,

(2) a neighbouring king,

(3) a king in Canaan itself.

The three first servitudes brought Israel under the nations destined to scourge it in after history: Moab, Philistia, Mesopotamia or Babylon. Jabin disarmed (as in 1 Samuel 13:22 the Philistines are stated to have done) and brought them into union with Canaan by constraining them to worship his idols (Judges 4:3; Judges 5:8). Or rather, "Israel chose new gods"; therefore in penal retribution from God "war was in their gates," and among the 40,000 (see Joshua 4:13) Israelites fit for war no shield nor spear was to be seen wielded against the enemy. The fourth (Midian), fifth (Ammon), and sixth (Philistines) servitudes rise in progressive severity for 7, 18, and 40 years respectively. Jair's time is one of those peaceful intervals of which it is said, a people is happiest when it has least to record; the allusion in Judges 10:4 is to the happy days of the conquest under Moses (Numbers 32:41). But the great decline of Israel necessitated the kingdom, which followed, as better for a carnal people than the theocracy of which they showed themselves unworthy.

CHRONOLOGY and UNITY. (On the length of the period of the judges (See CHRONOLOGY, probably 430 or else 450 years). The period between the division of the land and Jephthah was 300 years (Judges 11:26), which alone disproves the view of the Speaker's Commentary as to the period of the judges being only 160 or 140 years. The book, as we have seen, carries out the design with which it set out. At the close, as repeated declensions leave the guilty, in spite of revivals, lower than at the first, Samson is left by the degraded people, single-handed, to resist the foe, and in his death accomplishes under God what previous judges failed to effect by their lives. The appended histories are placed at the end not to interrupt the historical sequence of judges according to the plan stated at the first, also chiefly because these histories are not isolated facts but permanent influences for evil (Judges 18:30-31); Gibeah's evil was not eradicated by Benjamin's terrible punishment, but must have affected the tribes generally, as their sore chastisement at first proves; and Hosea testifies the evil continued ever afterward (Judges 9:9; Judges 10:9).

DATE, AUTHOR. It must be not earlier than the end of that servitude to the Philistines which Samson "began" (Judges 13:5) to deliver Israel out of, and from which Samuel completed their deliverance (1 Samuel 7:9-14). And it must have been before David's capture of Zion from the Jebusites, for they had dwelt with the Benjamites in Jerusalem to the time of writing Judges (Judges 1:21; compare 2 Samuel 5:6). Tyre is not mentioned, but Zidon oppressed Israel (Judges 10:12), and was the protector to whom the neighbouring Canaanites looked up (Judges 18:7). Tyre on the contrary took the lead in David's time; moreover Tyre and Sidon were his allies, not enemies. But royalty was already set up, and the blessing of organized government was realized, as appears from Judges 18:1; "in those days when there was no king in Israel; but every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (compare Deuteronomy 12:8): Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1.

This points to Saul's reign, or the very beginning of David's reign. Either Samuel or one of his school of prophets probably wrote it. The words (Judges 18:30-31), "until the day of the captivity of the land ... they set up Micah's image ... all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" (awful perversity! in the face of divine light close to them) imply that the book was written after the Philistine capture of the ark, and after its return and setting up at, Nob in Saul's reign (1 Samuel 21); it remained at Shiloh only until its capture at Eli's death (1 Samuel 1:3; 1 Samuel 3:21; 1 Samuel 4:3), in David's reign the tabernacle was at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39; 1 Chronicles 21:29). The connection of Judges with Joshua, of which it is the sequel, appears in the reference to Joshua's death, Judges 2:6-9 (compare the same words from which Judges draws them, Joshua 24:28-31), which verses resume the narrative suspended from Judges 1:1, "now after the death of Joshua," by Judges 1 - 2:5.

Also compare passages common to both: Judges 1:10-15; Judges 1:20-21; Judges 1:27; Judges 1:29, with Joshua 15:14-19; Joshua 15:13; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 17:12; Joshua 16:10; Judges 18, with Joshua 19:47. Again the Spirit links Judges with the books of Samuel and Kings which follow; thus Judges 1:28; Judges 1:30; Judges 1:33; Judges 1:35 accords with the tributary condition subsequently of the Canaanite remnant under Solomon (1 Kings 9:18-22). So Judges 1:16 accounts for Saul's and David's subsequent kindness to the Kenites (1 Samuel 15:6; 1 Samuel 30:29). Judges 9 records Abimelech's mode of death, alluded to 2 Samuel 11:21.

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Judges, the Book of'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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