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.
I. Judges 1:1-3:6 Introduction: Judges as an Era of Decline
II. Judges 3:7-16:31 The Individual Judges: A Downward Spiral
III. Judges 17:1-21:25 Conclusion: Israel’s Disintegration
A. 17:1-18:31 Idols, Hired Priests, and Unholy Conquests: Chapter 18: Recall that the tribe of Dan had lost their land, being driven out by the original inhabitants the Amorites (1:34-36; Josh 19:40-47) The Danites were the only tribe of Israel who lost their land after conquering the original people. There is some echo in this story of the conquest of Jericho and the sending of spies (Num 13-14; Judges 2 and 6).Notice the Levite seems willing to go with whoever will hire him. Verse 6 is ambiguous in the Hebrew. It literally reads “Go in peace. Your way is in front of the Lord”. The NIV translates the second part as “your journey has the Lord’s approval”. The NRSV translates it as “The mission you are on is under the eye of the Lord”, which implies a more critical judgment. Notice how the rules of holy war are broken here. Earlier the emphasis was on Israel’s weakness and the “enemies” strength. In this case Israel is strong and the “enemy” is weak and peaceful. In holy wars the conquered wealth was dedicated to the Lord but here there is no indication of that. In addition they set up their own sanctuary using Micah’s idols. Note that the Levite is now identified as being of the line of Moses.
B.19:1-21:25 The Levite’s Concubine and War Within Israel: At the start of this reading of Judges we suggested watching how women were portrayed in the book. Early on there were women judges and women were portrayed as faithful and bold. Then the portrayal of women declines. Jephthah’s daughter and in the Samson story the wives are manipulated and exploited by men. Now things get even worse.This story can function on two levels. It is a story of horrible violence against a woman and also it is a metaphor for the moral and religious decline of Israel. Chapter 19 begins by telling the reader “In those days Israel had no king.” The reason the concubine ( a wife of secondary status) left is unclear. The NRSV says she became angry with her husband and left. The NIV says she was unfaithful to him. The Hebrew is “to commit adultery” or “prostitute oneself”. In ancient Israel a woman could not initiate divorce and the act of leaving her husband could be seen as adultery. Notice how the woman’s perspective and feelings are not part of the story. The father exhibits extreme hospitality, so much so that the Levite has trouble leaving. Finally he leaves and bypasses a town where there are “aliens/foreigner” in favor of Gibeah which is in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. No one except an old man, who is a resident alien, offers them shelter. The story reminds us of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The men of the city surround the house and demand sex with the traveling men. In this story the concubine is “seized” (NRSV) and sent out. She is found on the door step in the morning and in an amazing display of callousness says “Get up, we are going.” It is unclear if the woman is dead, dies on the way, or is killed by the man. He cuts her body into 12 parts, reminiscent of Saul’s summoning the tribes by cutting up an ox and sending the body parts to them. What does the accompanying message mean? “Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day?” What “thing” is being referred to?
Notice in chapter 20 how the Levite tells the story. He alters the story so that he is blameless. The location, Mizpah, reminds us of the story of Jephthah and his daughter. God’s answer to the oracle in verse 18 recalls 1:1-2 where Judah is sent to fight first and is successful. Here Judah is defeated. Notice the large numbers of people who die. Then, oddly, Israel is worried that the tribe of Benjamin might not survive what Israel has done to it. They have made a vow (21:1) that no one will give their daughters in marriage to Benjaminites. Israel, like the Levite, seems to not be aware of their part of the tragedy. So in V 6 Israel attacks Jabesh-gilead ( another part of Israel) “out of compassion for Benjamin”! They kill everyone except 400 virgins who they “give” as wives to the Benjaminte men. This is still not enough women and so Israel tell the Benjaminites to kidnap their daughters, then the men of Israel will not have broken their vow.
The book ends with the words,”In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” How far has Israel strayed from the initial covenant. Judges is a difficult book to read as Israel slowly but steadily descends into a shadow of it’s former self.
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.