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Book of Judges

Book of Judges
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

The book is named for the judges who govern Israel after the death of Joshua and until the advent of the prophet Samuel. There are 21 chapters. The major function of the judges was to lead the nation (or a number of tribes) in war. Only in the case of Deborah is there a hint of a judge having a judicial function. The judges did not bequeath their positions to their children (except in the case of Abimelech), or even to another member of their tribe. There were 12 judges, six major and six minor ones.

Chapters of the book can be organized into the following manner:

  1. Palestine after the Death of Joshua
  2. Stories of the Judges
  3. Tribes of Dan and Benjamin in the Days of the Judges

A narrative summary of the the Book of is as follows.

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I. Palestine after the Death of Joshua - Judges 1-3:6.

The opening of the Book of Judges recounts the hostilities between the Israelites and the Canaanites after Joshua's death. Judah is chosen to lead the attack which results in the capture of Adonibezek and destruction of Jerusalem. Next is the story of Othniel Ben Kenaz. This is followed by a list of the successes and failures of Judah and Simeon's campaigns and a corresponding list of the failures of the campaigns by the northern tribes. The death of Joshua (Judges 2:6-9) similar to the account in Joshua. An introduction to the role of Biblical judges. The falling of the Israelites into heathen practices. An explanation of why God allowed some Canaanites to remain. A recap of the Israelites falling into heathen practices, as the start of the main part of the book.

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II. Stories of the Judges - Judges 3:7-16.

Deborah organizes the Israelites to fight against the Canaanites who have invaded from the north. A sudden rainstorm leaves the Canaanite chariots stuck in the mud, so that the Israelites prevail. Gideon mounts a surprise attack against the Midianites who have invaded from the east. By blowing trumpets, smashing jars, and waving torches, Gideon's men rout the enemy. Jephthah was an outcast who led the Israelites to victory over the Ammonites from the east, but a rash vow bound him to sacrifice his own daughter. Samson was a strong man who led raids against the Philistines to the south. He also loved Philistine women, one of whom betrayed him.

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III. Tribes of Dan and Benjamin in the Days of the Judges - Judges 17-21.

The Israelites turn from battling other nations to fighting each other. The story concerning the Levite and his concubine, is notable in that its main characters are not named, leading some to speculate that it is fiction. Others speculate that it may actually relate not to the period of judges, but to the ruining of the tribe of Benjamin by the war between David and the house of Saul.

We will now direct our focus on the Book of Ruth.

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