As noted in the first Judges post here, the Israelites’ downfall appears to begin in the time of the Judges. The people had not completely driven out the Canaanite inhabitants from the land, instead being assimilated and integrated, to some extent.
Here, we might acknowledge that the politico-military events described in Judges involve what would today be termed “ethnic cleansing.” One people group, the “chosen” ones, wiped out other groups. Some of these realities, as described, are horrific to most 21st-century ears, including mine. What to do with this? Some would say that we have in the Hebrew Bible a manifestation of merciless God; others have asserted that the whole Exodus and Conquest of Canaan scenarios were entirely fabricated. I lean heavily toward affirming historical significance and accepting the events as described, although that inclination is informed by these realizations:
- Ancient writers don’t appear to view historicity and the recording of history in the same way a 20th- or 21-st century journalist would.
- Theologically oriented narrative sequences do not depend on precise dates and time periods. Truth and “accuracy” are not to be seen in our strict terms.
- The God-ordained conquest of Canaan was not to be the end of the story, and ultimate deliverance is not physical.
With the above in mind, I set out to record some anecdotes harvested during my reading of Judges. Please note that I do not present these observations as researched. I hope they will be, at least at points, insightful, but it will be up to the reader to determine accuracy (e.g., of speculation about the meaning of names)—and to discern whether any insights or theories here can hold water.
First, I note that the tribes of Israel ask who will take the lead. God replies (1:2) that Judah—indicating the tribe descended from the fourth son of Jacob—would do so. Is the early, prominent mention of power/leadership indicative of what is to come in the book? It could be signaling something I want to pay attention to, but I shouldn’t allow myself to assume the book is playing into my presuppositions.
Right away in the narrative, we read of violence. Horrific, mean-spirited, gruesome violence. Adoni-bezek (meaning “lord of Bezek”), a Canaanite king, was captured and had his thumbs and big toes cut off. Othniel, the nephew of Caleb (and cohort of Joshua, of conquest fame), arises as a military leader. His name is said to mean “Lion of God” . . . so “Othni” must mean “lion,” because the oft-seen syllable “el” is a shortened form of “Elohim.” Othniel’s battle success earns him a wife; he becomes Caleb’s son-in-law, as well. And isn’t that interesting? For the Hebrew who hears or reads this story, the faith of Caleb and Joshua (the God-oriented two of the twelve spies who had been sent on reconnaissance) becomes linked to the work of God.
The Israelites settled in with existing people groups, e.g., the Amalekites and Jebusites (from what would become Jerusalem). This had not been the plan. God calls the people on the carpet, as it were, in 2:1.
Following the death of Joshua, the deliverer, the new generation is generally unfaithful. More unholy integration is noted in 3:5-6. In the memorable story of Ehud and his brutal slaying of the Moabite King Eglon, there is no mention of God. Only the sword. The land’s “rest time” under Othniel and Ehud is roughly 120 years—a long period, it seems to me.
Shamgar, officially Judge #3, has only one event attributed to him. Perhaps he is particularly strong, or at least driven by adrenaline, foreshadowing Samson: he kills 600 Philistines single-handedly. As with Ehud, God is not mentioned in connection with Shamgar, so I begin to suspect that the narrative is intent on showing a misplaced focus, i.e., on human strength apart from God.
God shakes things up in the person of Deborah. She is the only female judge and is also a prophet.
Next: Deborah, Gideon, and Abimelech