Come Follow Me: Judges 2–4; 6–8; 13–16 “The Lord Raised Up a Deliverer”

Deborah, the Prophet

Deborah is the second woman identified as a prophet in the Old Testament. The first was Miriam, whom we discussed in Come Follow Me: Exodus 14–17 “Stand Still, and See the Salvation of the Lord.”

Image courtesy of pcstratman flickr collection of Bible drawings by Otto Semier and others based on engravings by Carolsfeld in the public domain.

¶ And Deborah, a aprophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

And she adwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-el in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

Judges 4:4-5

Deborah may have a more exciting moniker than “wife of somebody.” Her name may have been a commentary on her personality: a fiery or spirited woman.

Judges 4:4 identifies Deborah as an ‘esheth lappidoth, a phrase usually rendered “wife of Lappidoth” but which may be translated “fiery woman” (cf. the NEB footnote, “spirited woman”), a description that fits her admirably. If Lappidoth was her husband, it is interesting to note that the narrative has nothing else to say about him. 

—Dr. J. Cheryl Exum, Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Letty M. Russel

  • Whom do you think of when you think of spirited or fiery women from history or your own life?
  • How have these women impacted you?

Note that the King James translation identifies Deborah as a “prophetess” in keeping with Old English grammar, which assigned a feminine suffix to words when the person so identified happened to be female.  Other translations use modern English grammar and identify Deborah simply as a “prophet,” or as a “woman prophet.”  Prophet and prophetess are the same word and have the same definition. (See Bible Study Tools Exodus 4:4 and CBE International, Who are the woman prophets in the Bible?

When I was a teenager, I was told that God must have resorted to choosing a woman as prophet because their must not have been any available male priesthood holders. However, Judges 2:18 states that  “the Lord raised them up judges.” In other words, the judges, including Deborah, were foreordained by the Lord to their callings, not picked by process of elimination or desperation.

One of the perennial arguments from people who have a problem with Deborah being the judge, or leader, of Israel is that God probably only allowed her to lead because there were no men who were available, willing, or suitable to take the job. Is this a valid argument?

…Being unavailable, unwilling, or even feeling inadequate and ill-equipped, are not impediments to God’s calling. Moses, Gideon, Saul, and other Bible characters were, like Jonah, initially reluctant to do what God was asking of them. But God developed them to be leaders.

Rather than there being a lack of suitably gifted, willing men, it seems the reason God used Deborah was that she was the best person for the task of leading Israel at that time, and so she was raised up to save Israel from its enemies.

The fact that Deborah was a woman is clearly mentioned—the Hebrew word ishshah (“woman”) occurs twice in Judges 4:4—but there is no hint in the text that her gender was in any way a problem. The Israelites recognised her authority as judge. They went to her when they wanted justice and guidance. They went to her seat, the Palm of Deborah, just north of the crossroads of busy trading routes in the centre of Israel (Judg. 4:5).

Unlike many of the other judges, Deborah did a good job as leader and prophet. She was an effective spokesperson for God, and her prophetic leadership extended to commanding Barak, the general of the army (Judg. 4:4-6). Barak respected her, relied on her, and followed her orders (Judg. 4:6, 8). Deborah, herself, did not shy away from entering the war zone (Judg. 4:9-10). And, as a result of her leadership, which may have continued for a generation, Israel had “rest” for 40 years (Judg. 5:31; cf. Judg. 2:18-19).

—Marg Mowczko, Deborah and the “no available men” argument

Read the following passage about Deborah’s leadership in directing Barak, an Israelite military commander, during war with the Canaanites. 

And she sent and called aBarak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?

And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.

And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.

And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

10 ¶ And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.

12 And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.

13 And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.

14 And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the Lord gone out abefore thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.

Judges 4:6-14

  • How did Deborah motivate those she was called to lead? 
  • What words or actions of Deborah show you that she had faith in the Lord?
  • What do you feel Deborah meant by her question in verse 14: “Is not the Lord gone out before thee?”
  • How does the Lord go out before us?

Barak’s army did well in battle, and as predicted by Deborah, the Canaanite general, Sisera, was killed by a woman, Jael (Judges 4:15-24).

in Judges 5, Deborah and Barak sing a victory song, known as the Song of Deborah. Let’s read some excerpts from the Song of Deborah:

Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.

Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.

Judges 5:2-3

  • Why is it important to acknowledge God after a successful undertaking?

The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a amother in Israel.

Judges 5:7

Here Deborah takes credit for her own role in the conquest and calls herself a mother in Israel. 

What does it mean to call Deborah, of whom we do not know that she had children, a “mother in Israel”? …Her accomplishments described in judges 4-5 include counsel, inspiration, and leadership. A mother in Israel is one who brings liberation from oppression, provides protection, and ensures the wellbeing and security of her people.

—Dr. J. Cheryl Exum, Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Letty M. Russel

  • What does the phrase “mother in Israel” mean to you?

31 So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.

Judges 5:31

  • How can we be “like the sun”? What might this  simile mean?

Gideon, the Minimalist

The next judge we will discuss is Gideon, who led the Israelites to battle against the Midianites.  Prior to battle, the Lord told Gideon that the Israelite army was too big.

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.

Judges 7:2

  • According to the Lord’s words, what was the problem with having such a large army?

The Lord gave Gideon a series of instructions to help him drastically reduce the size of his army.

Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is afearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from bmount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too amany; bring them down unto the water, and I will btry them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.

So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.

And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.

And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

Judges 7:3-7

  • Why do you think the Lord chose these three hundred men to stay in the army?  How might they have differed from their peers who were cut?
  • Why do you think God reduced the size of Gideon’s army?
  • When is a smaller force advantageous? 
  • When is it true that less is more in your own life?

The battle strategy was unusual. The 300 men remaining in the Israelite army played trumpets and the Midianites panicked, attacked each other, then fled.

22 And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the Lord set every man’s sword against his afellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Beth-shittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abel-meholah, unto Tabbath.

Judges 7:22

  • How have you seen the Lord work in ways that seem unlikely?

Samson, a Cautionary Tale about Toxic Masculinity

The term toxic masculinity has only come into popular use in recent decades, but the syndrome of toxic masculinity has been around since Old Testament times, as illustrated by the cautionary tale of Samson, a much less effective Israelite judge than Deborah or Gideon.

Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits – which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual – are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.

—Harris O’Malley, The Difference Between Toxic Masculinity and Being A Man, The Good Men Project

Manhood and toxic masculinity are different concepts. It is possible, and infinitely preferable, to be masculine without being toxic. 

What is toxic masculinity?

No, it isn’t just a way of saying men are bad.

…No one is saying that all masculinity or that men themselves are toxic or bad. You are free to like the things that men stereotypically like: sports, cars, the opposite sex, with no judgment. There is nothing wrong with these things.

When does masculinity become toxic? When it derives from a rejection of the perceived opposite, femininity, that is so pervasive as to become unhealthy for both men and those around them.

Women and children are often victimized by toxic masculinity, through domestic violence and other violence, but men are victimized by it as well. Toxic masculinity stunts their cognitive, intellectual, and emotional growth. This damage is part of what fuels the victimization of women.

By rejecting anything stereotypically feminine, men and boys are taught to reject an essential part of themselves, something that is to be valued. What’s more, these allegedly female traits are often ones that help us all get along in society, things like compassion, empathy, even politeness. A man or boy displaying these traits can invite ridicule.

—Michael Carley, What Is Toxic Masculinity? The Good Men Project

Men commit violent crimes at higher rates than women, at least in part due to the social pressures toward toxic masculinity. These social pressures also lead many men to engage in other unhealthy lifestyles.

Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s.

…Traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful. Men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors. For example, a 2011 study led by Kristen Springer, PhD, of Rutgers University, found that men with the strongest beliefs about masculinity were only half as likely as men with more moderate masculine beliefs to get preventive health care ( Journal of Health and Social Behavior , Vol. 52, No. 2 ). And in 2007, researchers led by James Mahalik, PhD, of Boston College, found that the more men conformed to masculine norms, the more likely they were to consider as normal risky health behaviors such as heavy drinking, using tobacco and avoiding vegetables, and to engage in these risky behaviors themselves ( Social Science and Medicine , Vol. 64, No. 11 ).

—Stephanie Pappas, APA issues first-ever guidelines for practice with men and boys, Journal of the American Psychological Association, 2019, Vol. 50, No. 1.

Elder Carlos E. Asay warned Latter-day Saint men about the social pressures toward toxic masculinity in General Conference:

It seems that everyone at some time or another is invited by peers to smoke, drink, steal, or engage in other immoral acts, all under the pretense of manhood. And when someone refuses to participate, he is often ridiculed and called names like pansy, mamma’s boy, idiot, chicken, sissy, and religious fanatic. Such names are used by peers who equate manliness with the ability to drink liquor, blow tobacco smoke out of all the facial cavities, sow one’s wild oats like some animal on the street, and break moral laws without a twinge of conscience.

We see colorful advertisements on billboards, in magazines, and on the television screen promoting cigarettes, beer, and other vices. Those who use cunning tactics to peddle their wares disregard the souls of young people and love only their money. They would have us believe that a person with a cigarette or alcoholic beverage in hand is a man, when in reality he is nothing more than a slave to a destructive substance. They would have us believe that a person who engages in illicit sex is a man, when in reality he is nothing more than an abuser of those who are “tender,” and “chaste,” and “delicate.” (Jacob 2:7.) They would have us believe that brute force, or crude behavior, uncontrolled temper, foul language, and dirty appearance make a man, when in reality these characteristics are animalistic at best and the opposite of manhood at worst.

—Carlos E. Asay, Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Be Men! April 1992

  • How have you witnessed toxic masculinity in our society?
  • How can we resist toxic masculinity and promote healthier behaviors?

Jesus taught us all, male and female, to cultivate the healthy behaviors and emotions that toxic masculinity rejects.

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying

aBlessed are the bpoor in spirit: for theirs is the ckingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that amourn: for they shall be bcomforted.

Blessed are the ameek: for they shall inherit the bearth.

Blessed are they which do ahunger and thirst after brighteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the amerciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the apure in bheart: for they shall csee God.

Blessed are the apeacemakers: for they shall be called the bchildren of God.

Matthew 5:2-9

  • How do Christ-like attributes differ from toxic masculinity?

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin encouraged us to “put off the natural man” and cultivate traits which are the antithesis of toxic masculinity.

19 For the anatural bman is an cenemy to God, and has been from the dfall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he eyields to the enticings of the fHoly Spirit, and gputteth off the hnatural man and becometh a isaint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a jchildksubmissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Mosiah 3:19

Some Israelites would seek to “put off the natural man” through a Nazarite vow. Both men and women could become Nazarites. Just as many modern people of faith occasionally consecrate themselves by fasting, Nazarites would consecrate themselves to God for a certain length of time. During that time, they would follow certain rules, including not cutting their hair. At the end of this designated period of consecration, they would cut their hair during a ceremony at the tabernacle.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a avow of a bNazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord:

He shall separate himself from awine and bstrong cdrink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any dliquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.

All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the avine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.

All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no arazor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.

All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body.

He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head.

All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord

13 ¶ And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of his separation are afulfilled: he shall be brought unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation…

17 And he shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also his meat offering, and his drink offering.

18 And the Nazarite shall ashave the head of his bseparation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.

Numbers 6:1-8, 13, 17-18

Samson’s mother, an Israelite woman whose only name provided is wife of Manoah, had an angelic visitation and was told she would conceive a judge and that she should raise him as a Nazarite.

And the aangel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art bbarren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.

Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and adrink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any bunclean thing:

For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no arazor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to bdeliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.

Judges 7:3-5

On several occasions, Samson demonstrated super-human physical strength (Judges 14:5-6; Judges 15:14; Judges 16:29-30). The manual states:

Samson’s covenants with the Lord gave him strength, just as our covenants give us strength. 

Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families: Old Testament 2022: Judges 2–4; 6–8; 13–16

  • What can we do to become spiritually stronger? 
  • Have you ever felt the need for a period of consecration?  What did you do to consecrate yourself?

However, Samson broke his Nazarite vow to stay away from dead bodies because he wanted honey he found in a dead lion’s carcass (Judges 14:8-9) and Samson’s toxic masculinity interfered with his mission and his relationship with God.

Samson is a man who deliberately seeks out violence, sexual or not. His display of masculinity communicates that he feels sexually and ethnically superior. He is also fascinated with the lure of the “other” and addicted to mixing sex with danger.

—Dr. Susanne Scholz, Judges, Newsom, C. A., Ringe, S. H., & Lapsley, J. E. (2012). Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition

Invite the class to skim Judges 14–16 and find examples of toxic masculinity.

The beginning of the end of Samson’s story comes when he becomes involved with Delilah. Delilah is usually identified as a Philistine, and sometimes as a prostitute, although the text does not specifically say that she is either.

That she lives in the valley of Sorek does not positively identify her as either Israelite or Philistine. Moreover, that she is identified without reference to father or husband does not necessarily relegate her to the status of prostitute. What we do know is that Philistine leaders approach her and offer her money to discover the source of Samson’s strength (16: 5). We also know that she does not give up easily, since she inquires of Samson four times over several days before discovering his secret (16: 6–17). And, of course, we know that Samson loves her (16: 4). …Perhaps it is Samson’s propensity to be attracted to Philistine women (14: 1) and prostitutes (16: 1) that results in Delilah being identified as such.

—Dr. Josey Bridges Snyder, Delilah and Her Interpreters, Newsom, C. A., Ringe, S. H., & Lapsley, J. E. (2012). Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition

Because this is an Israelite story, Delilah is usually portrayed as the villain, but from the Philistine perspective, she would be the hero. Like Esther, she was in a unique position to protect her people (assuming she was a Philistine) because of her relationship with a powerful leader. When the Philistines approached Delilah and asked her to take on a dangerous mission to protect them, like Esther, she accepted. (Judges 16:4-5; Esther 4:8-16) In contrast to the impulsive Samson, Delilah was methodical and persistent in her efforts to protect the Philistines from Samson. Meanwhile, Samson saw many red flags which should have warned him of Delilah’s intentions, but he failed to take the threat seriously.

¶ And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.

And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven agreen withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.

Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.

Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.

10 And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast amocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound.

11 And he said unto her, If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.

12 Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And there were aliers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.

13 And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the aweb.

14 And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web.

15 ¶ And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast amocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.

16 And it came to pass, when she pressed him adaily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was bvexed unto death;

17 That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a arazor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.

18 And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought amoney in their hand.

19 And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.

20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he awist not that the Lord was departed from him.

21 ¶ But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.

Judges 16:6-21

  • Why do you think Samson failed to take precautions after witnessing so many red flags?
  • Why do we sometimes fail to notice or address real threats?

Samson was born with great potential. His mother was promised, ‘He shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines’ [Judges 13:5]. But as Samson grew, he looked more to the world’s temptations than to God’s direction. He made choices because they ‘pleaseth [him] well’ [Judges 14:3] rather than because those choices were right. Repeatedly, the scriptures use the phrase ‘and he went down’ [Judges 14:7] as they tell of Samson’s journeys, actions, and choices. Instead of arising and shining forth to fulfill his great potential, Samson was overcome by the world, lost his God-given power, and died a tragic, early death.

—Sister Ann M. Dibb, Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, Arise and Shine Forth, Ensign/Liahona, May 2012

  • How can we know when we are not meeting our potential?
  • How can we turn things around when we are not meeting our potential?
  • How can we strengthen our commitment to God?

Phew! Those genocides probably didn’t happen!

Let’s take some time to recall this advice from the Come Follow Me manual:

Don’t expect the Old Testament to present a thorough and precise history of humankind. That’s not what the original authors and compilers were trying to create. Their larger concern was to teach something about God—about His plan for His children, about what it means to be His covenant people, and about how to find redemption when we don’t live up to our covenants. 

—Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families: Old Testament 2022: Reading the Old Testament

Chapter 2 of Judges summarizes a cycle which is repeated with numerous examples throughout the rest of the Book of Judges. This cycle may be the “something about God” that the authors hoped to teach.

11 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim:

12 And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to aanger.

13 And they forsook the Lord, and served aBaal and Ashtaroth.

14 ¶ And the aanger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of bspoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.

15 Whithersoever they went out, the ahand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed.

16 ¶ Nevertheless the Lord raised up ajudges, which bdelivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.

17 And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a awhoring after other bgods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned cquickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the Lordbut they did not so.

18 And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: afor it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and bvexed them.

19 And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their afathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their bstubborn way.

Judges 2:11–19

  • What led Israel did to stray from the Lord?
  • How did the Lord deliver them?
  • In what ways do we sometimes “bow down” to “other gods”?
  • How can we step out of negative cycles and change our “stubborn ways”?
  • What are some ways God delivers us from sin and suffering?

The gory details by which this cycle plays out in the book of Judges are often disturbing, so it is a relief to know that most scholars consider the events recorded in Judges to be literary rather than historical. 

The book of Judges, the seventh book in the Hebrew Bible, contains many stories that report various kinds of war crimes, acts of ethnic cleansing, and sexual violence, as well as statements of political chauvinism and explicit preferences for authoritarian rule. …The narrated events are placed into the era of the so-called “judges,” the imagined premonarchical era in ancient Israel’s history of the eleventh century BCE. This is the moment when the Israelites arrived in Canaan, the land in which other peoples already lived. Importantly, none of the stories or characters can be reliably identified as historical. Initially, the narratives were transmitted orally and written down only during the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BCE, perhaps to instruct exilic and postexilic Israelites about their political, cultural, and religious heritage in a foreign country, Babylon.

—Dr. Susanne Scholz, Judges, Women’s Bible Commentary

The reference to the environment in which Judges was written reminds us that it was not originally received as a work of historiography. It acquired the designation “history book” centuries after its composition. …The chronologies it supplies are “impossible;” the numbers it cites, whether they be year attributions or casualty figures, are for the most part determined by the symbolic value of the numbers rather than their literal meaning. It introduces characters whose improbable names suggest them to be figments and whose role is artful – for example, the first of Israel’s foreign oppressors, Cushan-rishathaim (“Cushan the twice wicked”) (Judg 3:8)[10] – and it presents accounts of the same event which are, in certain respects, contradictory – the battle against Sisera (Judg 4 and 5). These are only some of the features of Judges which militate against defining the book as an objective chronicle of an epoch in Israel’s national life. These characteristics, while limiting the value of Judges as a historical record of the Settlement, are entirely consistent with the approach to recording the past in the dominant literary tradition in Syro-Palestine at the time when the work was written, namely, the Mesopotamian tradition. For the Assyrians, as demonstrated in their royal inscriptions and epics, “letters to the god,” and mythological explanatory works, it was not historical verisimilitude in the recording of data, but the theological message conveyed by, and sometimes concealed within, the narrative, which gave such works their purpose and value.

—Dr. Robin Baker, The Book of Judges: A Spiritual History? The Bible and Interpretation, University of Arizona 

April Young-Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Adrienne says:

    So much to think about! Thank you for your effort.

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