Feast upon the Word Blog

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Judges

Posted by cherylem on May 16, 2010

Here are my notes for Lesson #19, on Judges

Judges
• The transition from a tribal society under the leadership of elders and eventually charismatic “judges” to a nation under a monarch is traced through the books of Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel.
• Wars of the judges were very limited in scope, not involving the entire nation of Israel at any one time; wars intermittent
• The “judges” functioned more as charismatic military leaders/saviors/deliverers than people adjudicating the law
• “Deuteronomistic” framework.

6 major, 6 minor* (minor “judged” for less time) judges (one anti-judge: Abimelech)
Each differs from the last in background, class, even gender. Note the warrior nature of the judges.
1200* Othniel Judges 3 From Judah, fought Edom or Syria
1170 Ehud Judges 3 From Benjamin, fought Moab. A left-handed man. Bathroom humor?
1150 Shamar Judges 3 Non-Israelite, fought Philistines
1125 Deborah Judges 4-5 With Barak, from Ephraim, fought N. Canaanites
1100 Gideon Judges 6-9 From Manasseh, fought Midianites – camel nomads. Hints of
annunciation of his birth? Divinely chosen? Chosen for his
weakness. Not devout.
1080 (Abimelech) Judges 9-10 Anti-judge. Wicked king. Son of Gideon. Abimelech: “My
father is king.” Complete disaster.
1080 also Tola, Jair
1070 Jephthah Judges 11-12 From Gad, fought Ammonites. An outlaw. Tragic story of his
daughter
1070 Also Isban, Elon, Abdon
1070 Samson Judges 13-16 From Dan, fought Philistines. Fatal weakness toward foreign
women; not a moral exemplar
*all dates approximate, best guesses

Israel’s government and religion:
• No central government. The Bible describes the early Israelite socio-political unit as the tribe.
• Tribe is attached to a territory. (2nd half of Joshua: division of land into 12 units for the 12 tribes)
• Fairly independent tribes united by a common religious covenant and military necessity. Religious life not consistently practiced among all the tribes
• Similar to other tribal confederations: Midianites, Arameans, Ishmaelites, Edomites. Etc.

Structure and Composition of the book of Judges:
1. Prologue
a. 1:1 – 2:5 Record of Israel’s failure to obtain total conquest and statement they had broken the covenant
b. 2:6 – 3:6 General overview o the pattern of recurring cycles of covenant breaking during the time of the judges
2. Stories of the Judges
12 judges, 6 major, 6 minor
Illustrates recurrent cycles of apostasy
Illustrates progressive deterioration of Israel (Israel being new to start with)
Judges become less ideal and less successful over time
3. Epilogue
Total chaos, anarchy, apostasy, civil war at end of the time of the judges: a king is needed!
a. 17-18. Apostasy of Dan and migration north. Micah’s idolatrous shrine.
b. 19-21. Civil war with Benjamin, apostasy and failure of the covenantal and sacrificial mechanisms. Gruesome story of the Levite’s concubine. (only time most were united was against one of their own!)

• The stories of the judges were almost certainly handed down orally initially.
• How was Judges written/compiled? Most likely, in stages, ending with the organization around and condemnation of Israel for breaking the covenant.
• It is not always possible to distinguish between the “voice of God” and the “voice of the majority” because Ancient Israel could not always distinguish between the two (see Joshua 22 and Numbers 13:1-3 versus Deut. 1:22-23 – stories of the spies – for instance.) Some theological drama involved.

Assumptions and conclusions of Judges:
1. God is just (righteous) and sovereign (all-powerful)
2. Israel is the chosen people of God
3. God’s justice requires and his power ensures that:
• When Israel is righteous, God will bless
• When Israel is idolatrous (wickedness = worship Gods of Canaan), God will curse
⇒ Therefore, all victories in war will be seen as coming from the hand of God and all defeats will be seen as coming from Israel’s wickedness.
⇒ In addition, all victorious war leaders will be seen as inspired/strengthened by God and chosen by God regardless of their personal failings, non-Israelite origin, methods of operation, etc.

Fundamental differences between worship of YHWH (the one God) and Baalism
YHWHism:
Divine intervention in history, unrepeatable historical events, man on a journey to God through time – dynamic and changing, sacrifice understood to remind of historical events and covenant.
BAALism:
Polytheistic intervention in nature, cyclic myths, man trapped in cycles of nature, sacrifice maintains the status quo: fertility of the womb and the land

To think about: why would there be social military, psychological and other forces acting on the Israelites to syncretize (reconcile and unite) the two religions?
It is a near miracle that the Israelite religion survived at all.

Reasons given for partial conquest of Canaan:
1. To prevent wild animals from taking over after rapid depopulation (Ex. 23:29-30; Deut. 7:22-23)
2. Superior arms and fortifications of Canaanites (Judges 1:9)
3. Israel’s making alliances with Canaanites (Judges 2:1-15)
4. Punishment of Israel’s sin (Judges 2:20-21)
5. God’s testing of Israel (Judges 2:22-23; 3:4)
6. Later Israel needed to be instructed in the art of war (Judges 3:1-3)

Chapter 1: a list of places failed to be taken by the Israelites.
Chapter2: 1-5. COVENANT LAWSUIT #1
Chapter 6: 7-10. COVENANT LAWSUIT #2.
King Benjamin sermon?? Mosiah 3 ff.

To think about: What is the Deuteronomistic History/School? It is believed that:
1. Written, compiled, edited, etc. around the time of the exile and destruction of Jerusalem. (the destruction: 587 B.C. )
2. Responsible for at least Deuteronomy through 2 Kings. Joshua – 2 Kings = “former prophets”
3. Concept of Israel’s election occurs first time in Deuteronomy. Election = holy, separated to God. Separate from the common, ordinary (mundane).
4. Dangers of a superiority complex (See 1 Nephi 17:31-35; Deut. 8:17; Deut. 9:4)
5. Providential concern (Hosea will further develop Deut. 8) (Deut. 32:10)

To think about: What is the “former prophets” and the “later prophets”? How will knowing this help us understand the Old Testament?

The Former Prophets include the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings. They read as a historical narrative. This material is a theologically oriented account of Israel’s history from the conquest of Canaan, or what is represented as the conquest of Canaan, to the destruction of the state by the Babylonians in 587-586 BCE. This material is therefore crucial background to reading the Latter Prophets. Now the Latter Prophets is a collection of books, each of which bears the name of the individual whose prophecies it purports to contain. These prophets delivered their oracles at critical junctures in Israel’s history, in the nation’s history, so their words are only going to make sense to us if we first understand the particular historical crises that they are addressing. And that historical narrative that runs from Joshua through 2 Kings provides that information. It tells us of the critical junctures in the nation’s history, and that will help us then slot the different prophets. (http://www.freeversity.org/liberal-arts-1/religious-studies/introduction-to-the-old-testament-hebrew-bible Lecture 12)

We’ll talk about this more and how it relates to Lehi, Nephi, the Book of Mormon, etc. in later weeks.

To think about: Satan in the Old Testament. Where is Satan?
• Basically 5 references in the Old Testament to Satan (some go on for 3-4 verses, but the same reference)
• Basically four references to “devils”, all of them mentioning sacrificing their children to “devils.”
• Serpent: creation story. Serpent as devil after that does not exist except perhaps Isaiah 27:1
• Lucifer: Isaiah 14:12.
• What are the ramifications of this?

New Testament Use:
The importance of faith: Hebrews 11:32, 33

From the Class Member Study Guide:
What can we learn from Deborah about being a true friend? How have your friends helped you face difficult challenges or obey the Lord’s commandments? How can we be better friends to others?
• As a Nazarite and a member of the house of Israel, Samson made covenants with the Lord. What covenants do we make with the Lord? How have these covenants strengthened you?
• What were the consequences of Samson’s violation of his covenants? (See Judges 16:17–21.) What are the consequences when we violate our covenants?

2 Responses to “Judges”

  1. Thanks for the notes Cheryl. I am wondering if you or anyone else is interested in commenting on the lesson in the OT manual or the central issues of Judges. Here are a couple of my random thoughts:

    Concerning the lesson:
    – The lesson in the OT manual seems to have nothing to do with the text of Judges. The idea that the account of Deborah has to do with her being a “righteous friend” or that the story of Gideon has to do with the strength of his faith both seem extremely far removed from the text. Granted, this is not so unusual but why does it happen? Why such strange gerrymandering of the material?

    – In Mormon discussions of people who seek signs we are typically rather hard on these folks. Gideon seeks signs three times and the manual does not see this as weakness, so what’s going on here? Why isn’t there an appeal to the idea that faith is a form of knowledge that doesn’t come through proofs?

    Concerning the text:
    – Deborah makes two prophecies that are fulfilled 1) Telling Barak that he will defeat Sisera. 2) Telling Barak that God will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman. Indeed This is an important literary feature of the text in that the story ends with a detailed account of how Sisera is done in by Jael. This is pretty interesting stuff as is the description of the role of God in the military actions that occur in each story. In this case God causes a confusion, Sisera and his men run away. In this case and others, God does not participate in the violence, but he does create the occasion for it to occur.

    – The cycle of apostasy does not include repentance in the actual text. Ch2 among others is pretty direct that God intervenes in the affairs of Israel because Israel complains to God concerning its oppression but there is no description of repentance in CH 2 or in later stories. Some would say that repentance is implied but its also note worthy that the text is not all that concerned with the spiritual life of Israel, these scriptures concern themselves with war, military leaders, conquest, as well as the details of violence done to those who oppressed Israel. A spiritual crisis does start the cycle of apostasy but sometimes the nature of that crisis seems to not matter at all.

    – What about the violence in this book? As I read it there are a few noteworthy elements, Including the fact that Israel fully embraces brutal violence against its enemies, including mockery and degradation in the manner of death and its literary description.

    -Violence is/isn’t a means to an end. The cycle of Apostasy begins with Israel doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. Then they are oppressed, then a military leader arises and they gain military victory over their oppressors. Military victory leads to a period of peace but how this is tied to the spiritual life of Israel is not that clear. What is spiritually transformative about defeating one’s enemies that causes Israel to stop doing evil in the eyes of the lord, even if only for a few years? Was it simply the act rememberance that caused Israel to appeal to God in their oppression that lead Israel in a more spiritual direction?

    – Ideology: A fair reading of Judges might be to say that what we see here is a great deal of ideology, Israel’s attempt to justify its desire for violence, to stamp out once and for all the presence of the Other in the regions it sees as exclusively its own. The dynamic between God and Israel on this count is too complex for me to lay out here but I’ll put it out there that if we can say that Judges does contain a good dose of ideology, that ideology is not always consistent, does not always lead to the conclusions that one would expect. But it does always seem to point in the direction that the most salient feature of the text is the consistency of God in relation to Israel, he will punish them but he will also always hear their cries when they are oppressed. When Israel remembers them, he is there. When Israel forgets him, he is there as well.

    Sorry for the random nature of these comments.

  2. James said

    I’ve been studying Judges the past few days in preparation for my lesson on Sunday. I’ve run into a lot of the same questions that have been asked here as I’ve read the text. This book would definitely be rated R if it were made into a movie.

    I think that perhaps the only real spiritual lesson that can be found in this book, if we stretch a bit, is that these Israelites are slow to remember the God that they have covenanted with until a crisis occurs. We still do this today in our personal lives. I’ll probably make that the theme of my lesson.

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