This year, I was allowed to present a lesson before the Dalraida church of Christ concerning the Judges: Why Judges?. The lesson was written and presented specifically for Vacation Bible School: Heroes of the Faith. The first area covered in the lesson was Who Were the Judges?.
Why Judges?: Who Were the Judges?
The nation of Israel entered into the Promised Land with one thing in mind: take the land. But, once they arrived and took the land, other things began to happen. The Promised Land seemed to change quickly from “the land of milk and honey” to a place of hardship and terror. Eventually God rose up a group of men and one woman, spread over various generations called Judges. I found as I began to consider how God used this group of people was the question “Why Judges?” Why did God use these seemingly haphazard, sometimes even downright sinful individuals to lead His people back to Him? I hope that as we study the scriptural reasons for God’s purpose for these Judges, we’ll perhaps understand His purpose for us as well.
Who Were the Judges?
There’s a summary song that kids use to learn the names of the Judges in their order of appearance in scripture:
God set Judges over Israel,
One Brave woman fourteen men.
They helped Israel fight their battles,
Led them back to God from sin.
Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah,
Gideon, Abimalech, Tolah, Jair,
Jepthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon,
Samson, Eli, Samuel.
As you can see, the Judges of Israel were mostly men, but included a notable female. They were also from extremely disparate backgrounds.
- Othniel – Was Caleb’s (the faithful spy) younger brother who took a particularly difficult region of Canaan for Caleb through military might. He seems the most likely candidate for a Judge. He kept peace in Israel for 40 years.
- Ehud – Assassinated Eglon, the Moabite king. After he did this, he led the people of Israel in battle and killed 10,000 Moabites. Israel had peace for 80 years.
- Shamgar – Interesting, but not much is said about Shamgar. Judges 3:31 “After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.”
- Deborah – Of course, she was the only female Judge of Israel. She had a commander named Barak who might have been more recognized in scripture had he not deferred to Deborah in a particular battle. She effectively led 10,000 men to victory over Sisera, the commander for Jabin, king of Canaan. Israel had peace 40 years under Deborah.
- Gideon – Gideon was probably least likely choice to be a Judge. The angel of God found him hiding in a winepress. Then, Gideon tested God twice with the fleece, even though he had already seen miracles from God and done several things with God’s help. Then, he had an army of 32,000 who were going to fight with him that was reduced to 10,000, then to 300. God used this tiny group to completely destroy the Midianites. The land was at peace for 40 years. Gideon had 70 sons, one of whom was Abimalech.
- Abimalech – Gideon’s son…A bad dude. Killed 68 of his brothers. Missed Jotham because he hid. God took care of Abimalech Himself by having a woman throw a millstone down and crush his head. Interesting because, even though his story is recorded and he is regarded as a Judge, God did not appoint him so. But, God did use Him to teach his people then and today.
- Tolah – All we see of Tolah is in Judges 10:1-2 “After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir.”
- Jair – Jair was about the same: 10:3-5 “After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys (donkeys?), and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. And Jair died and was buried in Kamon.”
- Jepthah – Jepthah started out pretty rocky. He was the illegitimate son of a prostitute and his brothers drove him away when he grew up. He surrounded himself with “worthless fellows” as Abimalech had. Then, trouble came to his old homeplace, against the Gileadites and those who had driven him away begged him to defend them. He agreed to fight the Ammonites for them if they would make him their leader. Of course, he made a foolish vow that ended up in the “sacrifice” of his daughter. He ultimately only judged Israel for 6 years.
- Ibzan – Another Judge about whom not much is written: 12:8-10 “After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. He had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he gave in marriage outside his clan, and thirty daughters he brought in from outside for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.”
- Elon – 12:10-12 “After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years. Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.”
- Abdon – 12:13-15 “After him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, and he judged Israel eight years. Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.” Interesting mention of donkeys again as with Jair. Could it have been hey had great wealth and possibly passed that on to their children? Is this a good thing?
- Samson – Here’s our central hero/judge. Samson, as you saw in the skit, was a real piece of work. He was impatient, impetuous, and inconsistent in just about everything he did. While he was given supernatural strength, he seemed to lack natural intelligence and spiritual understanding. Maybe his story is more about trusting in God than we realize.
- Eli – Eli was the beginning of what I would call the Golden Age of Israelite Judges. He was a prophet, priest, and judge. But, of course his sons were ultimately his downfall. In fact, it seems that many of the judges didn’t have faithful children. Perhaps if they hadn’t been given all those donkeys, they might not have been so spoiled and selfish.
- Samuel – If there is one Judge of Israel who could be deemed the greatest, it would have to be Samuel. He was basically what I think God would have liked Samson to be. He was dedicated to God from before he was born, judged righteously, and never forsook God. He was also a prophet, priest, and judge and a huge transitional figure from the Judges to the Kings of Israel.
As you have probably noticed, each Judge of Israel was completely different from every other Judge. They all had strengths and weaknesses and they were all used by God to bring about His plan and glory and righteousness.