The Book of Judges: stories about our need for God

What is the pattern of the stories in the Book of Judges?
The pattern follows the “Deuteronomic” outlook:
a. God’s people become faithless. They are idolatrous or sinful in other ways.
b. They are punished by being overrun by their enemies.
c. They come to their senses and cry out to God.
d. God raises up a judge who saves them.
e. There is peace during the remainder of the time of the judge....and it happens over again!
Notice the “Deuteronomic” outlook: Immediate punishment for sin, but immediate reward for good, but God himself is responsive to the cry even of those who have opposed him; he is merciful.

Are the stories in Joshua historical?
Once again, the stories are probably epics. Very likely the stories of ancient heroes were embellished with many outstanding details and feats.
But there is one great theme which comes through each of the stories: The hero cannot do anything on his or her own; only by God’s power are the people delivered. The over-riding message, then, is not the spectacular feat of a hero, but dependence on God who is merciful and who will deliver.

How many judges are described in the Book of Judges?
The Book of Judges describes twelve heroes of Israel’s history during the two hundred years after Joshua and before the first king. Remember that a “judge” in the biblical sense is a charismatic military leader raised up in time of crisis to deliver the people from an enemy.

Who are these judges?
The judges are: Othoniel, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson (who are often called “major judges.”) The remainder are: Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.

Describe the stories about Gideon.
God appeared to Gideon in the form of an angel, but Gideon was skeptical. He asked for a sign. The first sign was that a fire consumed the sacrifice which Gideon offered. On another occasion, still seeking a sign, Gideon asked that there be dew on fleece while the ground was dry. When this happened, he asked that there be dew on the ground while the fleece was dry! Gideon finally believed.
He was called to fight against Midian. The Lord said that he had too many warriors. He finally thinned them down so that only a few remained. His final test was to have the soldiers drink water: those who lapped up water like a dog (300) were kept; the others (who knelt to drink) were dismissed. With the 300, Gideon defeated Midian. The story, remember, is epic. The lesson is that God gives the victory, even with a few. Read about Gideon in Judges 6-8.

What is the story of Samson?
Samson had a “Nazirite” vow. (See Numbers 6 for the requirements of a Nazirite: He was not to shave his hair or beard, and could drink no wine or strong drink.) According to the story of Samson, his strength came from the fact that he did not cut his hair, i.e. from his Nazirite vow or his dedication to the Lord. He fell in love with a beautiful pagan Philistine named Delilah. She seduced him. Delilah finally found the secret of his strength and cut his hair. He was immediately weak. The Philistines put out his eyes and had him tread grain like an ox. But his hair eventually grew back, and he regained his strength.

The book of Judges continues Israel’s story from the death of Joshua to just before the birth of Samuel, who is depicted as Israel’s last judge.