You will find and introduction and outline of the book of Judges, here.
A prayer to use before you begin reading from Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) a prominent theologian of the medieval period.
II. Judges 3:7-16:31 The Individual Judges: A Downward Spiral
A. 3:7-11 Othniel, the Model Judge
B.3:21-31 Ehud and Shamgar
C. 4:1-5:31 Deborah, Barak, and Jael
D. 6:1-10:5 The Downhill Slide Begins: Gideon and Abimeleich, Tola and Jair
10:1-5 Tola and Jair: There are three sets of minor judges. Each occurs during each of the three phases of the judges era. Shamgar in the middle of the first faithful stage, Tola and Jair at the end of this transition and Ibzan,Elon and Abdon in the middle of the last tragic stage. Tola seems to have been a “successful” judge, like Gideon. For Jair we are not told much other than he seems to have been more concerned about family (power?). He is not described as having delivered Israel.
Why do you think there are these interludes of minor judges in what seems to have been reasonably quiet times?
E 10:6-12:15 Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon: Notice in the story of Jephthah how important dialogue is to each of the five scenes. Notice how this story follows, with some variety, the “standard” judges plot. What do the variations tell us?
10:6-11:11 Israel, the Lord, and Jephthah: In the first two scenes, notice how God speaks rebuking Israel and Jephthah speaks rebuking the elders of Gilead. There is rejection, rebuke and then a favorable response in both scenes, but how are the responses different? In verse 16, the Lord “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.” Some commentators think that the Lord now feels Israel’s repentance is sincere and so God decides to change God’s mind. Other commentators, because the word translated at “to bear” can have the connotation of frustration, and loss of patience and exasperation, think that God is moved by Israel’s suffering and not Israel’s claim of repentance. Does God act out of joy at Israel’s repentance or out of response to the pain of Israel’s suffering while knowing Israel’s repentance is temporary- thus the frustration? Notice the ambivalent picture we have of Jephthah.
11:12-40 Jephthah and his Daughter, and the Ammonites: Verses 12-28 are a retelling of extended negotiations with the Ammonites. (See Numbers 21 for the story) Jephthah has both a theological argument and a practical one, why after 300 years is Ammon acting now? What does this tell us about Jephthah? Before the battle the Spirit of the Lord comes over Jephthah and then he makes a vow. What do you think is going on here? Does his making a vow after receiving God’s Spirit mean he didn’t trust God enough? Is he trying to manipulate God? Or is the vow made under the Spirit’s influence? Faithful people in the Bible have previously made vows. Is the problem the careless wording of the vow? Or does Jephthah not realize he has received the Spirit and is trying to influence God? Commentators have suggested all these possibilities. What do you think of Jephthah’s words to his daughter in verse 35? What does that say about Jephthah? What does the daughter’s response say about her? Think about the women in the book of Judges thus far. At the beginning of the book, when Israel is faithful to God women are presented as strong, independent and having some power. As Israel becomes increasingly unfaithful and slides into disaster the treatment of women also deteriorates.
12:1-7 Jephthah and the Ephraimites: Now we have conflict between the tribes of Israel, rather than conflict with others. Early in Judges, Ephraim is called by the other judges to help protect Israel and Ephraim responds positively. By the second “set” of judges, Ephraim is not called by Gideon until late in the battle and Ephraim’s feelings are hurt. (7:24-25;8:1-3). This time the Ephraimites are not invited at all and instead of dealing with the problem diplomatically, Jephthal kills 42,000 fellow Israelites. Notice how language plays a role in this conflict. Jephthah only judges for 6 years, the shortest so far.
12:8-15 Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon: three minor judges. Notice that none of these judges “delivers” Israel. All we are told about is their involvement with their families.
F. 13:1-16:31 Samson the Last Judge: In Samson’s story we will see echoes of the stories of earlier judges.Samson appears to show us all that was wrong with earlier judges or he acts in the opposite manor from the “good” judges. At the same time we could say Samson also embodies the nation of Israel by his actions.
13:1-25 the Birth of Samson: Once again Israel is oppressed but we are not told they cry out to God. Instead God sends an angel to Samson’s mother. Again we have a story of a barren woman who finds favor with God. See Num 6:1-21 for the laws concerning Nazirites. Normally the vow is taken by an adult but in this case,there is a special dedication from the womb. The reader is set to expect great things from this birth. Notice the faithfulness of Samson’s parents. Does the offering of a meal and the asking of the angel’s name remind you of other stories? See Gen 18:1-15 and Gen 32:29. If you did not know the rest of Samson’s story, what would this chapter lead you to anticipate?
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of Joshua.
Amit, Yairah, “Judges” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Aporcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition, Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Dentan, Robert C., Leslie J. Hoppe “Joshua” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Exum, J. Cheryl, “Judges” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Olson, Dennis T. “Judges”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.