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 was 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 interesting also as one of the earliest examples of real biography, an attempt to go beyond the mere recital of great deeds and to delve into the motives and 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 religious unity.

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 serve; 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 his life to the book of the law, and sets up another memorial to remind people 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 take Bezek and capture the king Adoni-Bezek, treating him as he had treated many others (note cruelty of Adoni-Bezek—10 kings treated like dogs).   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 worship 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 of Joshua

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 the 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 double-edged dagger, goes to bring the tribute to Eglon, tells him he has a secret errand 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:
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.

Abimelech isn't called a judge, but he does rule over Israel for serveral years.  Questions to ask:

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 message of 11:15-28.  Note the appeal to history and Jephthah’s claim to land. 

Note Jephthah’s vow before going into battle.  Why does he make it?  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.

Enter Samson.

Despite Samson's victory, Israel is in very bad shape at the end of Judges.  The final chapters give us some distessing stories:

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.”