August 21, 2019 – Fourteen Judges and A Self Identified King on a Roller Coaster Ride

Discussion Wednesday morning began with the Judges 9 story of Abimelech and his son Jotham, the OT Mass reading for the day. The period of Judges was a tumultuous time with lots of ups and downs, war and peace, worship of false gods, and subsequent selfish appeals for mercy. Abimelech will be found in the list below of judges. He is sixth of fifteen.

The Prologue

Just for a little back ground, the story of the Children of Israel began with the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whose rowdy sons sold their young brother, Joseph, into slavery with the interim result that Joseph became powerful in Egypt and was able to save the whole clan from starvation during the next famine.

That positive interim result was followed by generations of Israeli slavery in Egypt after there arose an Egyptian king “who knew not Joseph” and who feared the rapid growth of that alien population in his home country.

Then Moses, their chosen and called leader and Law giver, rescued them from Egyptian slavery and led them across the sea of reeds and through forty years of wilderness wandering and manna consumption.

And, after the death of Moses, Joshua led the people across the Jordan  River and into the “promised land” followed by resounding defeat of Jericho, the first major city west of the river.

The Judges

And so begins the period of the judges when Joshua dies at the age of a hundred and ten and a generation arises that knows not the Lord, does evil, serves the Baals, abandons the God of their ancestors who had brought them out of Egypt, and follows other gods. And the work Joshua began is far from done. The “Promised Land” is only partially occupied, and there are still Mesopotamians, Moabites, Canaanites, Midianites, Ammonites, Philistines, and maybe other unnamed occupiers to be killed or displaced. (Even at the time of Jesus, there would be Romans occupying. Maybe the motto of those centuries was “Occupy Jerusalem!”

Leadership among the twelve Israeli tribes is generally weak with governance not by a king or other “strong man” but by Judges whose primary function seems to be dispute resolution mixed in with some military ventures.

So, the Israelites are punished with defeats until they feel at least regret, if not repentance, and “cry out to the Lord,” and he raises up Othniel, first Judge of Israel, who marches out to military victory against the Mesopotamians. All is well for forty years, until Othniel dies.

Again, the Israelites do evil, serve the Moabites under Eglon for eighteen years, and finally cry out to the Lord. He raises second Judge Ehud, a lefty who makes a two-edged dagger and thrusts it into the very fat belly of Eglon.  The Israelites slay about ten thousand Moabites, and then rest for eighty years.

Israelites again do evil, cry out to the lord, and get third Judge Shamgar who slays six hundred Philistines and is seen as a savior for Israel. The Israelites again do evil and fall under the power of the Canaanite king Jabin who oppresses the Israelites for twenty years.

Deborah becomes the fourth Judge of Israel and sits under a palm tree where the Israelites come to her for judgment. She and Barak and 10,000 men go into victorious battle against Jabin, and Barak kills leader Sisera with a tent peg. Rest for forty years.

As was their custom, Israelites again do what is evil and fall to Midian for seven years. God calls reluctant Gideon who finally agrees to be fifth Judge after the famous signs of wet and dry fleece in generally dry and wet surroundings respectfully. Gideon achieves victory (Great story in Judges 6-8) with an army of only 300, and the people want him to be king and rule over them with his son to follow. Gideon refuses the job. There is rest for 40 years.

So, now we come to the story of Abimelech, sixth judge and son of Gideon and his concubine. After Gideon dies, the Israelites, once again, follow false gods. Abimelech, remembering that his dad had turned down the title of king, apparently self-identifies as king rather than judge so gets himself appointed king, kills his seventy brothers except Jotham, the youngest, and rules over the people. No peace, nothing but problems, cursed by Jotham.

Tola, seventh judge, famous for nothing, judges Israel for 23 years.

Jair, famous for having thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys and possessed thirty cities, serves as eighth judge of Israel for 22 years and dies. (One note says number on donkeys was a measure of wealth.)

Israelites again do evil and are oppressed by the Ammonites. Jephthah becomes ninth judge and vows burnt offering to God of first person who comes out of his house when he returns home victorious in war. He defeats Ammonites and returns home to be greeted by his daughter, a virgin, coming out of the house. She burns and he rules for six years.

Ibzan (tenth) who had thirty sons and thirty daughters judges for thirty years and dies.

Elon (eleventh) judges for ten years, dies, and is buried.

Abdon (twelfth), with forty sons, thirty grandsons, and seventy donkeys, judges for eight years, dies, and is buried. (He is apparently wealthier than Jair.)

Israelites again do what is evil and Manoah and his unnamed barren wife are promised a son, Samson, who is the thirteenth judge, lives a troubled and complicated life of mysterious meaning, lots of violence and killing, marries Delilah who deceives and betrays him, and ends his life as a suicide terrorist. (Read Judges 13 – 16 including the footnotes.)

And here is the last verse of the book of Judges: In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own sight.

And then, in 1st Samuel, the following book, the penultimate Judge, Eli the priest, and his charge Samuel, the last of the Judges come on the scene. (This is a more uplifting story in 1 Samuel 1 – 7.)

The Next Chapter

Samuel is famous for warning the people of how they would suffer under a king and for anointing Israel’s first two Kings, Saul and David. Read his prophetic warning at 1 Samuel 8:4-22.

And then begins the period of the Kings, about thirty different kings over a period of around 400 years. Variations of the phrase, “did evil in the sight of the Lord,” appear 38 times as descriptors of kings in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. There were a couple of good kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, but another 600 years were to pass before the perfect king as prophesied in Psalm 72 would appear and fail to be recognized.


This was an interesting personal study for me. I had no idea there were 15 judges or that the Period of Judges lasted as long as it did, somewhere between 150 and 400 years depending on the expert you ask. I had heard only of Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Eli, and Samuel and didn’t know Gideon and Eli were Judges in addition to being Bible distributor and priest respectively.

And, with respect to current events, if you ever see me standing and cheering any POTUS as if he or she were royalty or expressing hope for a POTUS who will “save” us, you will know senility has set in. All any such leader in our system of government deserves is quiet respect and thanksgiving for humble and faithful service. I do have some hope for such a person, maybe somebody with the character of Gideon (Judges 6, 7, 8)

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