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OT Lesson 19 Study Notes: Judges 2; 4; 6-7; 13-16

Posted by Jim F. on May 2, 2010

The notes this time are shorter than usual, for which you may well be grateful. I’ve had much more difficulty thinking of verse-by-verse study questions for these chapters.  


The translation “judge” is misleading, for it suggests that the person it describes had judgment as his or her primary duty. However, the judges of Israel lived in a time before the powers of government had been separated into anything like legislative, executive, or judicial functions. As a result, “leader” or perhaps even “chief” would be a more accurate translation, for the people that the King James translation calls the judges of Israel were leaders more than they were judges. They were leaders of the groups they oversaw, persons to whom one could go for advice and good judgment, who would consult the law and use it to give wise advice or to make a wise decision—more than someone whose job was to apply the law to a case and render a judgment of guilty or innocent. And when necessary, they might act as a military leader.

In addition, the word “judge” is misleading because of the way we think about law and judgment. We understand the rule of law and the function of a judge under that rule; however, the ancients did not see government as a matter of the rule of law. Of course they knew what laws were. But whereas we understand ourselves to be governed by laws that are created and administered by people, they understood themselves to be governed by people who had the wisdom or the right to make laws, or who had the ability to interpret the previous decisions of other judges and the documents (such as religious texts) that were relevant. In general, the law was what the ruler said, not what he or she administered (though this changes in the direction of our understanding after the Exile). For the Israelites, the judge (whether one of the judges in this part of the Old Testament, or a patriarch, such as Abraham, or a prophet, such as Moses, or a king, such as David, or someone like a tribal chieftan, as in Judges) was only a representative of the true ruler, God (and he or she was also a representative of the people before God). The law was that which God decreed. This means that though we think of law in impersonal, even objective terms, the Israelites always thought of it as coming from a person: the judge, or God, or God through the judge.

Note also that the period between the reign of the judges, with Othniel as the first judge and Samson as the last (with gradually increasing numbers of judges as time progresses), is historically much more murky than much of the rest of the Old Testament.

As we will see in probably every lesson from the Old Testament, as Moses had promised, when Israel was faithful to its covenant, it prospered and when it was unfaithful, it was subjected to its enemies. Compare and contrast this Old Testament pattern with the Book of Mormon pattern of pride and destruction.

The Book of Judges is strange in many ways, not the least of them that the people we find as judges are often not admirable: perhaps Ehud, the assassin (Judges 3:15-22); Jepthah, son of a harlot, a man who acted with incredible stupidity (Judges 11:1, 30-39); and Samson, a thoughtless profligate (Judges 14). In at least one case they are not whom we expect even if admirable: the woman, Deborah. What point is the narrator of Judges making by telling us of these people? The writer is doing more than just recounting the objective history of Israel; he chooses the stories he tells us for a reason. What might it be?

Judges 2:1-5 and 10-16 is a good synopsis of the material in the reading for this lesson. If you were to write one sentence that encapsulated what you see in those verses, what would it say? See also Judges 6:1-8 for another synopsis.

Let’s look at three of the judges, Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. Doing so will help us understand better the time of the judges.


What does it mean to say that Deborah was a prophetess (Judges 4:4)? The word is used in five other places—Exodus 15:20, 2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22, Nehemiah 6:14, and Isaiah 8:3. Do any of those help us understand what it means? Read what the Bible Dictionary in the back of the LDS edition of the scriptures says about what the word “prophet” means. Does that description preclude women from being prophets? How does our use of the word today differ from its use in the Old Testament?

What is the point of the story of Deborah?


When the angel of the Lord calls Gideon (Judges 6:11-16), why does he call him a “mighty man of valour”? All we have seen Gideon do so far is thresh wheat in a place that he hopes will not be found by the Midianites. What is Gideon’s response? Where have we heard this before? Why does the Lord keep calling men who have what we would describe as a poor self-image (such as Enoch and Moses)? How did the Lord reduce the number of Israelites who were to go into battle (Judges 7:3-7)? Why did he do so (Judges 7:2)?

What specific things can we learn from the story of Gideon?


The story of Samson is not an uplifting story. He betrays his covenants, he marries a foreigner, he breaks his Nazarite vow, and finally kills himself in the act of avenging himself by killing 3,000 people. Why does the Bible not only include it, but also give us a great deal of detail about Samson’s tenure as judge?

9 Responses to “OT Lesson 19 Study Notes: Judges 2; 4; 6-7; 13-16”

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  2. kirkcaudle said

    What does it mean to say that Deborah was a prophetess (Judges 4:4)?

    I think the following items might be somewhat helpful. First, from the BD, “In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost.” To me, this sounds like how many of my protestant friends describe prophets (not saying that is a bad thing). Second, the Lord says in D&C 68:4 while speaking to missionaries that, whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture.”

    Therefore, in short, a prophetess appears to be a woman that is firm in her testimony of the Lord and has the ablity to speak by the power of the Holy Ghost when called upon to do so.

    • Jim F said

      Is that what Old Testament means when it says that Deborah was a prophet? I’m skeptical. It seems to me to be saying more than that.

  3. kirkcaudle said

    Why does the Bible give us a great deal of detail about Samson’s tenure as judge?

    In at least one way, I think Samson resembled God more than any other Biblical figure. Sampson, like God, never needed help from anyone else. He was so strong that nobody could stop him from doing whatever he wanted. Not once do we read about Sampson requiring service from another person. He was completely sovereign. However, Sampson’s power came only because of his covenants and obedience to the laws he was under.

    This makes me wonder if we are to quick to usurp power in our own lives. We all want to be self-sufficient and hold more power than the next person. However, if we move faster in our temporal life than we do in our spiritual life we are ripe for trouble. The problem with being totally independent is that you really don’t think you need anyone else. That “anyone else” often includes God when we are the biggest dog on the block.

  4. Jim F said

    Samson may not have required anyone to serve him but he was a bloody murderer and we have very little record of his obedience but a lot of record of his disobedience.

  5. kirkcaudle said

    #4 Jim, I do not think Sampson is somebody who should be looked up to at all. I think his is a story that shows what happens when humans possess too much power. Humans want power, yet that same power destroys them. Thus, the old saying, “power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    When I went back and read my post I think this line should be taken out of context, “Sampson’s power came only because of his covenants and obedience to the laws he was under.” I meant his Nazarite vows and never cutting his hair. I see:
    Hair=sign of the covenant
    Cutting of hair=being cut of from god.

  6. kirkcaudle said

    Jim (#2), I agree. I also think it means more than that. I just provided what I think is a general idea of the office.

    Daniel H. Ludlow says,”although the term prophetess has a wide range of possible usages, the general intent of the biblical term likely has to do with the sister having an abundance of the Spirit of the Lord, one gift of which is the gift of prophecy.”


    I am not so sure how this term relates specifically to Deborah (which was the original question). She appears to function in much more of a military capacity than a spiritual capacity. I don’t know that there is much from the text we can pull from to gage her spirituality with.

    So when you say, “It seems to me to be saying more than [my original response].” I must say I am in agreement. I do not really have a great answer for the “prophetic” role of Deborah.

    • kirkcaudle said

      One more comment I forgot to add.

      Deborah appears to be the only one of the Judges that performs anything that could be considered a judicial function. Perhaps that plays into her title on some level?

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