Life Without Law
About this book
The book called Judges was in the *Hebrew *Scriptures. It was in the section called Former (earlier) *Prophets. In Deuteronomy chapters 27 and 28, we can read what would happen in *Israel’s future. If *Israel’s people were loyal to God, God would bless them. If they were not loyal to him, he would *curse them. (Look at Deuteronomy 28:15-26.) And nobody can make God believe anything that is not true. In Judges, we can see examples of how those things happened. Sometimes people obeyed God and sometimes they did not obey him. In this book, we see what happened as a result. We learn more about the *blessings and *curses. We learn how God trains his people.
The *Lord is the chief Judge. He allowed cruel things to happen to *Israel’s people. He punished them. Sometimes you may not like the punishment that God allows! He also sent people to make *Israel’s people free. There were periods when they had peace. However, the writer does not say very much about these periods.
God had promised to give them that country where they were. They had already fought to get it. But the real battle to get the country did not begin until after Joshua’s death. Joshua had often said that they had not *captured it completely. Sometimes they succeeded. However, the people did not always live in the area that they had *conquered. The *tribes (family groups) did not control the whole country. They controlled only a small part. In between the *tribes, there were two powerful groups of towns. All these towns had the same ruler. The *tribes could not always defeat the people in *Canaan. Some *tribes made an agreement with the local people. Then they could live together.
The judges were very wise. They were able to prepare for the future. Many judges had strong beliefs. They very much wanted the *blessings that God promised. They wanted their nation to obey God’s *commandments. So they had authority. But also, many people knew them. People did not choose them for their jobs. God chose them. The jobs did not usually pass from father to son.
The kings of *Canaan had many *weapons that were not just simple ones. With those weapons, they could destroy things more easily and they could kill people more easily. So the *Israelites succeeded only when they all fought together. Usually, *Israel’s *tribes only had an interest in their own affairs. The one thing that brought them together was their belief in God. They also believed that they were a nation. So they could act together to meet a common enemy. But when they stopped trusting God, selfish interests became the most important things. So they could not defeat their enemies.
Maybe a group of *tribes lived round a *religious place. Maybe they came together because they all wanted to praise God. Some Bible students think that those things were true. Here are some things that were perhaps true about these groups:
1 6 or 12 *tribes worked together as a group. Perhaps one *tribe took care of the central place where people praised God.
2 They had a central place where they praised God every year. This was not always in the same place. First, it was in Shechem and then it was in Bethel and Shiloh. Perhaps they learned from this that they could not keep God in one place. They carried the *ark from place to place. When the people saw the *ark, they remembered the agreement between them and God. Perhaps that central place was a place where they organised things. They also had a Book of the *Covenant (Agreement). This contained God’s law, which they should obey.
3 Perhaps they had an annual ceremony. There is not very much evidence for this in *Israel. However, once a year, Samuel’s parents went to Shiloh, where they praised God. (See 1 Samuel 1:3.)
4 They all had the same purpose. They wanted to defend the central place where they praised God. They obeyed common laws. Deborah led 6 *tribes when they fought together against the people in *Canaan. Benjamin’s relatives did not obey a law and 11 *tribes attacked them because of that.
These are only ideas about why *tribes came together as a group. However, all the *tribes believed in God. And this was the main thing that made their friendly relations strong.
Judges emphasises the local activity of groups of people. Other groups did not control them. Sometimes these groups were smaller and sometimes they were larger than a *tribe. *Israel’s people did not usually come together all at the same time. Instead, the judges acted for all the people of *Israel. We learn from this book that the work of local leaders was very important. Its stories include some stories about how people and places got their names. There are people’s names like Jerubbaal and place names like *Jawbone Hill. There are also customs, and here is one example. Women were sad about people that had died. And so every year they did something special to show this. This custom began when Jephthah was the judge.
The writer tells us about how the people gave up their beliefs. They easily agreed with the way that the people in *Canaan lived. And they easily changed to it. He shows us that God’s grace and patience helped *Israel’s people to improve. (Grace is a free gift from God. We cannot do anything to earn it.)
Importance of the book
Judges is about a time when change happened. *Israel’s people had a central place where they praised God. The *tribes lived in some different places that were separate from each other. So the *tribes could not all work together. *Israel’s people had not *conquered the country completely. So they divided the *tribes into 3 groups. When some *tribes fought for their lives, they did not get any help from other *tribes. There was one time when 6 *tribes came together. That was to help Deborah and Barak against the army from *Canaan. Four (4) *tribes did not come and the writer does not tell us anything about the other two *tribes. Finally, the country had a king. The *tribes could not work together without a leader.
Their *religion had two kinds of laws. Some laws were about particular events. (This is an example. ‘You may find your enemy’s animal which he has lost…’) Other laws were useful in all situations. (They were like this, for example. ‘You shall…’ or ‘You shall not…’) God controlled what happened to people. And he controlled what happened at different times. He did not just control the powers of nature. But not all *Israelites believed this. *Israel’s people had big problems. God had told them to kill all the other people who lived in that country. He did not want the *Israelites to imitate these people’s *religions and their evil ways. But the *Israelites did not obey him. The result was that they practised syncretism. (Syncretism is when people mix different *religions together.) They praised the other people’s gods as well as *Yahweh. The leaders were not very good. There was nobody like Moses or Joshua. The structure of the *tribes remained. However, the gap between the northern and the southern *tribes began while the judges were ruling.
Problems about what was right and what was wrong
We can see these problems when we read the story about Samson. Samson did not have much interest in *religion. When God’s Spirit came on him, he was very strong. So he did powerful acts. However, not everything that he did was right or good. Even when God’s Spirit was with a person, his or her character was not always good. But we must remember these things:
1 At the time when Samson lived, moral standards were not generally good. And he often lived by those standards.
2 The book’s editor writes about a lack of goodness. And the stories about Samson clearly show that lack.
3 God was in complete control. He changed the results of Samson’s actions so that they would suit God’s own plans.
4 God chose certain people to do what he wanted. These were often people that we would least expect him to choose. One example was Cyrus in the book of Isaiah. In the *Old Testament, God gave people powerful skills. But those people did not always live good lives.
5 The behaviour of *Israel’s people became worse during this time. But, by the things that happened, God showed his own character and power. In these stories, we can see how he did it. We must remember this when we look at the stories.
*Religious value of the book
1 God is good. God punished people because of the wrong things that they did.
2 God has complete control. He freed the people from all their enemies. He used storm and rain to help them. God, who has power over all, is the most important person. The judge is not the most important.
3 God is kind and he is very patient. Sometimes the people cried for help. And he was always willing to listen to them then.
4 Belief is very important. There is a list of the judges in Hebrews 11. This shows that they trusted God. And it shows that they worked with him. This made it possible for him to show his power.
Structure of the book
There were 12 judges (leaders). Six (6) judges had power that God gave to them. They had a part in important political events. They helped *Israel’s people to make their home in that country. After each judge had ruled, “the country had rest”. Some other judges were less important. They helped to make sure that people obeyed the law.
The book of Judges is like a bridge. The bridge is between the Exodus and the government by a king. The basic structure has 11 sections. We can see these in the story about Othniel (Judges 3:7-11).
1 *Israel’s people do what is wrong.
2 *Israel’s people make the *Lord angry.
3 *Israel’s people suffer great cruelty.
4 *Israel’s people cry to the *Lord.
5 A judge comes to free them.
6 There is a description of the judge.
7 The judge gets power.
8 He or she makes judgements about the disagreements of *Israel’s people.
9 The judge rescues *Israel’s people.
10 The judge gives peace to *Israel’s people.
11 The judge dies.
The writer often repeats this structure in this book. God never makes *Israel’s people completely free from other nations. God gives judgement to his people. He rescues them from their enemies and he rescues them from themselves. Although that is the structure, God does not always work in that same way. We do not think that some things will happen. But God does those things. God is the judge. He is the one who frees his people. He decides what judgement to give to them. And he decides how to free them. During the age that the writers describe in the *Old Testament, God’s people failed a lot. But during that same period, God’s Spirit was working. When the judges were ruling, the people often failed. But God helped people to fight successfully against things that were wrong. With his help, they defeated the powerful people that intended to do bad things to his *kingdom.
Writer of the book
We do not know who wrote the book. And we do not know the date when he wrote it. Many people think that he wrote it while the kings were ruling. He repeats words like these. ‘At that time, *Israel’s people had no king. If a person himself thought that something was right, he did it. Each person did things for that reason’ (Judges 17:6). Judges 1:21 seems to show that the author wrote the book before 1003 B.C. (B.C. means the number of years Before Christ was born.) 1003 B.C. was the date when David *captured Jerusalem city from the *Jebusites.
Plan of the book
Introduction: *Israel’s people did not finish the *conquest and they turned away from God, 1:1–3:6
1:1-21 Enemies *conquered southern *Canaan
1:22-26 Enemies *captured Bethel
1:27-36 *Israel’s people failed to remove their enemies
2:1-5 What happened when *Israel’s people did not obey the agreement
2:6-3:6 What God did when *Israel’s people refused to serve him
Cruel pain and trouble, then freedom, 3:7 – 16:31
4:1-5:31 Deborah and Barak
9:1-57 Abimelech, the bad judge
17:1-18:31 Micah and Dan’s *tribe; Dan’s *tribe went to live in another place
19:1-21:25 The wrong things that the people in Gibeah did and how God punished Benjamin’s *tribe
v1 After Joshua died, the *Israelites asked the *Lord a question. ‘Which *tribe should go first to fight against the people in *Canaan?’ v2 The *Lord replied, ‘Judah’s *tribe must go. I have given the country to them.’ v3 People from Judah’s *tribe spoke to Simeon’s *tribe. ‘Come to our area where we will live in *Canaan. And help us to fight against the *Canaanites there. Then we will help you to *conquer your area. So Simeon’s *tribe went with them.
‘After Joshua died’ is probably a title for the whole book. The events in this section probably happened during his life. They are the same as those in Joshua chapters 15 and 17. (His death is in Judges 2:8.) Here we read about Judah’s *tribe and Simeon’s *tribe. We learn how they *conquered the southern area in *Canaan. In order to ask the *Lord, they probably used the *urim and *thummim. These were two stones with different marks on them. They showed different answers to questions that people asked God. People believed that God controlled these stones. ‘Men throw the stone, but the *Lord controls its decisions’ (Proverbs 16:33).
v4 When Judah’s *tribe attacked, the *Lord helped them to defeat the *Canaanites and the *Perizzites. They killed 10 000 men at Bezek. v5 They fought against Adoni-Bezek and they completely defeated the *Canaanites and the *Perizzites. v6 Adoni-Bezek ran away but they ran after him. They *captured him and they cut off his *thumbs and his big toes. v7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, ‘I cut off the *thumbs and big toes of 70 kings. Then they picked up food under my table. God has done to me what I did to them.’ They took him to Jerusalem and he died there.
The *Lord promised to give success. But the people had to fight against the people in *Canaan. They put the local king Adoni-Bezek in prison. They cut off his big toes and *thumbs. This took away his respect for himself. It stopped him from killing anyone. He did not complain about what they did to him. He had done the same thing to many other people. ‘70’ here probably just means a large number. His friends took him to Jerusalem for safety. And he died there.
v8 The men from Judah’s *tribe attacked Jerusalem and they *captured it. They killed the people and they burnt the town. v9 After that, they went to fight against the *Canaanites. Some *Canaanites lived in the hills. Some lived in the *Negev. And some lived in the lower hills in the west. v10 The men from Judah’s *tribe attacked the *Canaanites that lived in Hebron. (Before that time, this was called Kiriath Arba.) They also defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai.
Judah’s *tribe attacked Jerusalem and they burnt it. They did not live in it. Later, the *Jebusites *captured that city again. We can see this from verse 21. *Israel’s people did not *capture it completely until David was the king. Jerusalem was between the areas where Benjamin’s *tribe and Judah’s *tribe lived. It was on the border between them. So both those *tribes agreed that it should be the capital (the chief city).
The southern area in *Canaan had three parts. Verse 9 refers to these. They are:
1 the hills between Jerusalem and Hebron;
2 the *Negev, an area that was almost a desert, between Jerusalem and Kadesh Barnea;
3 the lower hills in the west; these were between the plain (near the sea) and the central mountain range.
In verse 10, the name ‘Hebron’ means ‘confederation’. (This is a group of towns that joined together to help each other.) The original name, ‘Kiriath Arba’, may mean ‘a group of 4 towns’. Abraham had once stayed there. During the first 7 years when king David ruled, it was the chief town in Judah.
v11 Then they attacked the people in Debir (which was called Kiriath Sepher before). v12 Caleb made this promise. ‘My daughter Acsah can marry the man who *captures Kiriath Sepher.’ v13 Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, *captured the town. Caleb gave Acsah to him as his wife. v14 When she married Othniel, he urged her to ask her father for some land. She got off her *mule. Caleb asked her what she wanted. v15 She said to him, ‘Please give me a present. You gave me land in the *Negev. Now please give me *springs of water also.’ So Caleb gave her the upper and lower *springs.
Caleb got the district called Hebron (verse 20). This was probably the district in which he had travelled before. He had gone there to find out its secrets. Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, *captured Debir. As a reward, he married Caleb’s daughter. Then, after that, she herself asked her father for something. She asked him for land that had *springs of water. These were very important in this dry area.
v16 The *descendants of Moses’ wife’s father, the *Kenite, went with Judah’s *tribe. They left the ‘City with *Palm Trees’ to live in the *Negev. They went to live near Arad, on this city’s south side. v17Then the men from Judah’s *tribe went with Simeon’s *tribe. They attacked Zephath city. And they completely destroyed that city and its people. That is why people called it Hormah. v18 The army of Judah’s *tribe also *captured Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron. And it *captured the areas that surrounded these cities.
Verses 16-18 refer to the people that lived after Jethro (Moses’ wife’s father) lived. He belonged to a *tribe called the *Kenites. They were smiths (people that made things from metal). They travelled all the time from place to place. They went from the ‘City with *Palm Trees’. Although that name usually refers to Jericho, here it refers to Tamar city. This city is south from the Dead Sea and it is 85 miles south from Arad. The *Kenites decided to live near Arad. Judah’s *tribe helped Simeon’s *tribe to *capture Zephath. Later, people called it Hormah. This means ‘a place that people have completely destroyed as an *offering’. Judah’s *tribe also *captured Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron. The *Philistines later *captured these cities. (Look at the story about Samson.)
v19 The *Lord helped the men from Judah’s *tribe to *capture the hilly country. They could not remove the people in the plains because these people had iron chariots. (Chariots were like boxes on wheels. Horses pulled them. In war, soldiers rode in them.) v20 As Moses had promised, Caleb *captured Hebron. He removed the three sons of Anak. v21 Benjamin’s *tribe could not remove the *Jebusites from Jerusalem. Both groups live there today.
The people in *Canaan had iron *chariots. Judah’s *tribe had to move back to the hills because of this. Benjamin’s *tribe could not defeat the *Jebusites. They had to share Jerusalem with the *Jebusites until David removed these people.
v22 Now Joseph’s *tribes attacked Bethel and the *Lord was with them. v23 They sent *spies to Bethel (which people called Luz before). v24 The *spies met a man who was coming out of the city. They said to him, ‘Show us how to get into the city. We will protect you.’ v25 So he showed them. They killed all the people in the city except the man and his family. v26 He then went into the area where the *Hittites lived. There he built a city, which he also called Luz. People still call the city by this name today.
‘Joseph’s *tribes’ means the *tribes that grew from the families of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Bethel means ‘the house of God’. (El is the name that people used for a god. This could be the true God. Or it could be a false god or an image.) Bethel was a very old place where people praised God. Abraham and Jacob went there. The stories about them refer to that place. When the people divided the *kingdom after Solomon’s death, the people in the northern *kingdom *worshipped there. The *spies saved the life of the man who gave them information. Something similar happened when *Israel’s people *conquered Jericho. Bethel and Ai were close to each other. In the book called Joshua, we do not read that *Israel’s people *captured Bethel. But we do read there how they *conquered Ai. We do not know where the new Luz city was. The man that gave the information to them was probably a *Hittite. The *Hittites ruled many countries in Asia Minor and Syria between 1800-1200 *B.C.
v27 Manasseh’s *tribe did not force the local people to leave. The *Canaanites remained there. v28 Later, *Israel’s people became strong. And then they made the *Canaanites work as slaves for them. They never completely forced them to leave.
v29 Ephraim’s *tribe did not force the *Canaanites to leave Gezer. They continued to live with them.
v30 Some people were living in Kitron or Nahalol. Zebulun’s *tribe did not force them to leave. They made those people work as slaves.
v31 Asher’s *tribe did not force the local people to leave. v32 They lived with them.
v33 Naphtali’s *tribe did not force the people in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath to leave. They made those people work as slaves.
v34 The *Amorites made Dan’s *tribe stay in the hills. They would not let them come into the plains. v35 The *Amorites continued to live in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim. Joseph’s *tribes controlled them and they made them work as slaves. v36 Amalek’s people lived in a certain area. Its boundary was from Scorpion Pass to Sela (the Rock) and beyond.
In the area where Manasseh’s *tribe lived, the towns were important. They were important because these towns were on the trade routes. And their people controlled these routes. The *Canaanites with their *chariots controlled this area. The *Israelites had to stay in the hills. The *Canaanites lived between Joseph’s *tribes and the northern *tribes. (‘Joseph’s *tribes’ means the *tribes of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh.) The writer shows how things became worse. In verses 27-30 the *Canaanites lived among the *Israelites and they worked as the *Israelites’ slaves. However, where Asher’s *tribe and Naphtali’s *tribe lived, *Canaan’s people controlled those areas. But the *Israelites still stayed there. Dan’s *tribe did not remove the *Canaanites, nor did they control the *Canaanites. Later, as a result, the northern *kingdom’s people copied the way in which *Canaan’s people praised their own gods. Dan’s *tribe could not even live in their area with the *Canaanites. In chapter 18, the writer tells us that many people from Dan’s *tribe went to live somewhere else. They went to live in the north. The cities where the *Amorites lived (in verses 35‑36) were between Joseph’s sons’ *tribes and Judah’s *tribe. Judah’s *tribe was in the south.