Lesson 3 of 5
In Progress

Outline of Judges

1. Introduction (Judges 1:1–3:6)

Judges begins with a double introduction lifting up the political problem of an incomplete “conquest” of the land of Canaan (1:1-36) and the religious problem of the people’s recurrent apostasy (2:1–3:6).

A. The Political Problem (Judges 1:1-36)

The conquest of Canaan is presented as a gradual process with victories (1:1-26) and defeats (1:27-36) by various tribes. This is at some odds with the book of Joshua, which envisions a unified, successful conquest under the leadership of Joshua.

B. The Theological Problem (Judges 2:1–3:6)

This second introduction seeks to explain the defeats in Judges 1:22-36 as the result of a cyclical pattern: Israel’s apostasy (2:11-12), followed by oppression by the enemy (2:13-15), and God’s deliverance by means of a “judge” (2:16). The repetition of this pattern will structure the rest of the book.

2. Stories of the Judges (Judges 3:7–16:31)

The exploits of local charismatic heroes are collected to portray the downward spiral of the people due to their apostasy.

A. Othniel versus Cushan-rishathaim (Judges 3:7-11)

This first judge, from the tribe of Judah, exemplifies the cyclical pattern with little extra detail.

B. Ehud versus the Moabites (Judges 3:12-30)

Ehud, a Benjaminite, and left-handed, tricks and defeats the Moabite king, Eglon.

C. Shamgar versus the Philistines (Judges 3:31)

Shamgar is not assigned to a tribe, interrupts the story, fails to follow the cyclical pattern, and has a non-Semitic name. He may be included because he brings the number of judges to twelve, symbolic of the twelve tribes.

D. Deborah and Barak against the Canaanites (Judges 4:1–5:31)

Chapter four is a narrative account of the exploits of the Naphtalites Deborah and Barak, possibly at Esdraelon, while chapter five, possibly the oldest biblical material we have, is a poetic version of the same story. Deborah is treated here as a prophet rather than a judge.

E. Gideon against the Midianites (Judges 6:1–8:35)

Gideon, from the tribe of Manasseh, is raised up to deliver Israel from the Midianites but becomes a harbinger of the decline to come.

F. Abimelech, Gideon’s Son (Judges 9:1-57)

Abimelech tries to become king of Shechem, but fails. Jotham’s fable (9:7-15) illustrates the ambiguity concerning kings in the book of Judges.

G. Tola and Jair, Minor Judges (Judges 10:1-5)

Scant information is given about these minor judges from Issachar and Manasseh in Transjordan.

H. Jephthah against the Ammonites (Judges 10:6–12:7)

The tragic story of Jephthah, from Manasseh in Transjordan, culminates in his rash vow resulting in the sacrifice of his daughter.

I. Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, Minor Judges (Judges 12:8-15)

Another brief group of minor judges from Zebulun and, in Abdon’s case, Ephraim is listed.

J. Samson against the Philistines (Judges 13:1–16:31)

Samson, from the tribe of Dan, is unlike the other judges whom God raised up to deliver the people from oppression. Samson is, rather, a “hero” (or antihero) who exercises a personal vendetta against his opponents.

3. Two Supplements (Judges 17:1–21:25)

Judges closes with two appalling incidents that illustrate the anarchy that characterized the people when “there was no king in Israel, and all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6; 21:25).

A. The Origin of the Sanctuary at Dan (Judges 17:1–18:31)

The migration of part of the tribe of Dan to the north is recounted through the story of the Danites’ theft of Micah’s idol to account for the establishment of the sanctuary at Dan.

B. Civil War (Judges 19:1–21:25)

Outrage at the rape and murder of a Levite’s concubine erupts into the near elimination of the tribe of Benjamin by the other tribes. Both these supplements illustrate the truth of the refrain “There was no king in Israel” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) and the depth of Israel’s degradation without a leader. As such, they prepare the way for the books of Samuel.

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