Note: these are unedited notes. My
preference is that we cover this material as a class discussion rather
than as a lecture, and discussion may head off in a very different
direction. When preparing this material for the exam, be sure to
include your own thoughts on each of the figures mentioned. Also
include ideas from other students you thought particularly helpful.
Joshua and Judges
Just about every society treasures the memory great national heroes,
figures like Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Pericles, George Washington,
etc. There is some tendency, of course, to romanticize these
figures, to present them as perhaps greater than they were. But,
curiously, when a society tells the story of great figures of the past,
there's usually also some emphasis on their weaknesses as well.
We get our great national heroes, yes. But we usually see their
flaws as well, "heroes with warts," as some say.
The books of Joshua and Judges focus on some of the great heroes of
Israel, and, while with some of them we see mostly their heroism, we
often get heroes with warts--and, ometimes, warts with heroes!
Figures particularly worth looking at in connection with this themes
include Joshua, Deborah, Ehud, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson--and
the nation of Israel as a whole.
The Book of Joshua covers what is, for the most part, a bright
period in the history of Israel, the period in which Joshua and his
people occupy much of the promised land (roughly 1300-1250 BC).
There are lots of struggles, but, in general, Joshua is a book of
victory. The book of Judges, on the other hand, deals with
some of the bleakest days in Hebrew
history, a time when "there was no king, and every man did that which
right in his own eyes." It covers roughly the period between 1250
B.C. and 1050 B.C., the period of disunity between the death of Joshua
and the rise to leadership of Samuel.
Joshua is an intersting book on many levels. It implies a
philosophy of history well worth examining. It is also
fascinating as a study in leadership. And the attempts to connect
Joshua with archaeological record involve some of the most
facinating discusssions in Biblical history.
Judges is likewise interesting on many levels. It is well
worth studying simply as a first class literary work. It is
also as one of the earliest examples of real biography, an attempt to
beyond the mere recital of great deeds and to delve into the motives
methods of some of the great heroes and leaders of Israel. Judges
is also valuable for its historical and political insights, the kind of
analysis one expects to find only in the greatest historians.
"There's none like good old Joshua," says the song. And, in many
ways, that's right. Moses had laid an excellent foundation for
Joshua, and Joshua himself had been Moses' right hand man.
But the task of continuing Moses' work was not going to be easy.
"Be strong and courageous," God tells Joshua--and keep to the
plan. And that's essentially what Joshua does. Notice that
Joshua begins be gathering the people together and asking for a
commitment to his leadership and to the law of Moses. They cross
Jordan, and Joshua is careful to make sure the people remember: note
the twelve stones left for a monument.
Note that it is twelves stones here, and I suppose one might remember
Joshus be saying "out of twelve, one." Not at all easy to keep
the tribes working together! Joshua handles this exceptionally
well. Each tribe fights alongside the others, winning the land
alotted to each. Only when the work is done, does Joshua send the
transjordan tribes back to the land they had acquired in the time of
Moses. Joshua establishes cities for the Levites and cities of
refuge within each tribal alotment. And when the transjordan tribues
look like they are falling away, he sends a delegation to remonstrate
with them--and they come to a peaceable agreement to maintain their
At the end of his life, Joshua calls the people together once again to
renew their commitment to keep Moses law. He gives them a history
lesson. He then asked
them to reaffirm their covenant, “Choose you this day whom ye will
whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side
of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but
as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Apparently (Joshua 24:26) Joshua adds an account of the events of
life to the book of the law, and sets up another memorial to remind
of the covenant, making sure the law will be remembered.
At the beginning of the book, Joshua had been called the "minister
of God's servant Moses." At the end of the book, it's Joshua who
is called "God's servant." In much of the Bible, we see good men
stumble along the way, falling short of what they could have
achieved. Joshua doesn't seem to have stumbled. And our
great "hero," the nation of Israel as a whole, is doing pretty well too.
In the first chapters of Judges (our next book) Israel seems pretty
well on track.. The people are fairly united: deciding
together on further attacks on the Canaanites. Judah and Simeon
Bezek and capture the king Adoni-Bezek, treating him as he had treated
many others (note cruelty of Adoni-Bezek—10 kings treated like
Caleb and his nephew Othniel do pretty well as well.
But much of Israel not doing what it should. They don’t drive
out those they are supposed to drive out. Worse, they begin to
the gods of the neighboring peoples.
At this point, we get a pattern. Apostasy, an outside
oppressor comes in, Israel cries for deliverence, God sends a
judge/hero, there's a period of rest, and then the cycle begins
again. The cycle is described in Judges 2--a difficult
chapter for the reader since it flashes back briefly to the time
At first, it appears that Israel might learn it's lesson.
After an initial apostasy, Chushan-rithathaim, Mesopotamian
king, dominates Israel for eight years. But Othniel, Caleb's
nephew, delivers them. Scripture
only says he judged Israel and went out to war, and prevailed—giving
land rest forty years. A hero? Certainly. With warts?
Hard to say.
After the next period of apostasty, the Moabites and Amalekites
combine under the Moabite King Eglon
to dominate Israel for eighteen years. Ehud makes himself a
dagger, goes to bring the tribute to Eglon, tells him he has a secret
to the King. “I have a message from God to thee.” He stabs
him in the belly, and that fat gushes out. Eglon's death
disheartened the Moabites, and Ehud could Israel to a victory.
Following this, 80 years of rest.
Apostasy again! Jabin the Canaanite king dominates Israel
along with his captain
Sisera. Deborah and Barak eventually take him out. Barak's
"wart" I suppose is his lack of confidence: he won't go to battle
unless Deborah joins him. I like here Deborah's song, and
particularly the image of Sisera's mother waiting and expecting news of
victory. Forty years of rest--but Israel apostasizes yet again,
and Israel ends up in really bad shape: the Midianites and Amelekites
leave them virtually nothing.
Enter Gideon. Lots of great stories here:
Questions to ask about Gideon:
- The intial call with Gideon called “Thou mighty man of valor”
while he is hiding from the Midianites (6:11)
- Gideons' testing of angel
- Gideons's destruction of altar of Baal
- The "fleeces" story
- Deliverance from Midianite rule--with just 300 men!
- Gideon's ealing with Ephraim (after his victory over
Midianites--a soft answer turns away wrath!
- Gideon's dealings with
the Midianite kings Zeban and Zalmuna and with the elders of Succoth
who had refused to help
- Gideon's response to the offer of kingship
- Gideon and his "ephod
Note that the ephod Gideon makes is a snare to Israel. Note also
that Gideon has lots of wives and lots of sons--a potential
problem. Finally, note that, even though he said he wouldn't be
king, his concubine's son is named Abimelech, "my father is
king." And note that Abimelech asks the question of whether it's
beter to have Gideon's 70 sons reign or better to have one man rule
over them. Gideon behaves like a king--and seems to have usurped
religious leadership as well.
- What’s admirable about this man?
- Anything not so admirable?
- What’s Gideon’s greatest weakness?
- What’s the lesson to be drawn from this story?
Abimelech isn't called a judge, but he does rule over Israel for
serveral years. Questions to ask:
- What’s good about this man?
- What’s not so good?
- Why does he slay his brothers?
- Where does he draw his support?
- How do the men of Shiloh respond to their new king Abimelech
- What’s the lesson to be learned here?
Note that there isn't mention of apostasy prior to the rise of
Abimelech. Instead, the ephod made by Gideon seems to have led to
religious problems. This brings on inner turmoil and an oppressor
from within rather than an outside conquerer. After Abimelech's
death, we get brief mention of several judges who seem to have put
Israel on track. But then we get apostasy again, the Israelits
worshiping gods from all the nations around them. This leads to
external oppression from a new people, the Philistines, in the west and
the Ammonites from the east. This time, when the Iraelites ask
God's help, he initially tells them to go to the gods they've chosen
for themselves. But the people of Israel do turn away from their
idols, and God sends a deliver:, Jepthah.
Jephthah ia an Interesting contrast to Abimelech. Here, it’s the
legitimate sons to
blame; and Jephthah is more admirable. Interesting also the
of 11:15-28. Note the appeal to history and Jephthah’s claim to
Note Jephthah’s vow before going into battle. Why does he make
Should he keep it? Notice the attitude of Jephthah's
daughter. Something of a hero here?
Note also that Ephraim again is making trouble because they don’t
get to take part, and that interesting “Shibboleth” story.
Again, the writer of Judges mentions only briefly several judges
after the time of Jephthah. Then we get apostasy once again--and
the Philistines rising as oppressors.
- What’s good about Samson?
- What’s not so good?
- What’s the lesson here?
Despite Samson's victory, Israel is in very bad shape at the end of
Judges. The final chapters give us some distessing stories:
- The story of Micah’s mother, her curse, the image, the Levite
priest, the tribe of Dan stealing
the priest and the image
- The story of the Levite and his concubine, the war between
Benjamin and the rest of Israel the follows, and the awful way in which
the Israelites get wives for the men of the tribe of Benjamin
Note the final words of Judges, “There was no king in those days,
and every man did that which was right
in his own eyes.”