Book of Judges Summary
Israel continues to conquer Canaan after the death of Joshua, but fails to completely drive out the Canaanites as God commanded. Those that remain behind turn Israel toward the worship of their idol gods (not those gods!), especially Baal and Ashteroth. That breaks Israel's covenant (not to mention hurts God's feelings), but God steps back and lets Israel learn from its mistakes, leaving them with no divine leader. Take that, Israel.
The last five chapters of Judges actually take place during one of these times, and they're not pretty. Israel becomes a barbaric nation ruled by whomever the biggest bully on the playground happens to be. There's rape, murder, genocide, and mass kidnappings aplenty in these chapters. Once God allows Israel to be conquered by oppressors, they realize how much they need him, so they turn from their idols and ask for his help again. He sends it in the form of warriors and champions called judges.
Each time God sends a judge, he or she leads Israel to battle against its enemies, and with heavenly help they restore peace and prosperity. But like clockwork, as soon as that judge dies, Israel turns to idolatry again. This happens with a few minor judges—Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar—before the first heavy-hitter steps up to the plate.
Deborah, the only female judge, is a prophetess who, along with her general Barak (not that Barack), defeats a Canaanite king and his general, Sisera (with a little help from Jael and her handy-dandy hammer). She and Barak are so happy about this that they sing a victory song that lasts a whole chapter. Then they die, and the people fall to pieces again, worship other gods, get conquered, and come crawling back to God for help.
This time, he calls a man named Gideon to deliver Israel. Gideon rallies Israel around him and leads them to battle against Midian. But God decides that he wants everyone to know that it was he, and not some big army, that saved Israel, so he instructs Gideon to whittle away his army to just 300 men. With God's help, and a little band-geek ingenuity, Gideon's army defeats the Midianites and brings peace to Israel once again… until their next stumble.
Israel continues the vicious cycle through several more judges (most notably Jephthah, whose honor-bound sacrifice of his only daughter is one of the more depressing episodes in Judges, which is saying a lot) until we arrive at the main attraction: the story of Samson and Delilah. Passion! Deceit! Animal abuse! Samson's superhuman strength, fierce temper, and weakness for women build up to a fateful liaison with the duplicitous Delilah and a tragic, redemptive climax unlike anything else in the entire Bible—and maybe in all of literature. It's definitely the coolest of many cool stories in Judges, and is both the chronological and narrative climax of the book.
Note: As we mentioned, the last five chapters (17-21) occur chronologically sometime during the first chapter. We suggest you read them between chapters one and two so that the story of Samson and Delilah is the last thing you read. Judges is way more cinematic that way—and way less of a downer (more on that later).
Let's Fight, Canaanite
- Just because Israel's fearless leader Joshua is dead doesn't mean they're gonna let those Canaanites off the hook. Those guys have got to go. Otherwise Israel might be tempted by their sparkly idol gods.
- God tells the tribe of Judah to lead the attack on the Canaanites. The tribe of Simeon comes along, too.
- They go totally berserk in Bezek and kill 10,000 men.
- They also capture the king of Bezek. And cut off his thumbs and big toes (ouch).
- He'd done the same thing to 70 other kings so, y'know, karma.
- The other tribes (you remember: Reuben, Joseph, Huey, Dewey, Louie, etc.) likewise continue the conquest of Canaan.
- Caleb offers his daughter Achsah's hand in marriage to whoever captures the city of Kirjath-sepher.
- A guy named Othniel is the lucky winner (and by "guy" we totally mean Caleb's nephew). Sure beats online dating!
- Spies from the tribe of Joseph convince a Canaanite man to show them the entrance to the city of Beth-el. For that, they leave his family alone when they successfully overrun the place.
- Some tribes kick the old inhabitants out completely, like God commanded, but some don't. That's gonna come back and haunt them…
The Judges Teaser Trailer
- This chapter (especially 2:14-19) is a sneak peek of the pattern followed throughout Judges, so pay careful attention—basically every other chapter in the book just fills in the juicy details (and trust us—we mean really juicy):
- God says, "Israel, you done me wrong."
- An angel scolds Israel for "making league" with the inhabitants of Canaan—i.e., not running 'em straight outta town (2:2).
- Because of that, God promises, "I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare [trap] unto you" (KJV 2:3).
- As we'll see, that idol threat is no idle threat.
- The older people feel bad and cry about it for a bit (2:4), but the rising generation not so much. Their Canaanite neighbors' shiny new gods start looking pretty good…
- Sure enough, Israel "forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashteroth" (KJV 2:13).
- Needless to say, God wasn't pleased.
- But you know he can't stay mad at Israel forever, so "the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them" (KJV 2:16).
- Israel just can't resist worshiping other gods, though: "And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring [whoa, whoa, settle down everyone] after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them" (KJV 2:17). Burn…
- This cycle repeats itself seven times in Judges: Israel worships other gods; God is upset and lets Israel's enemies beat up on them for a while; God sends a judge to deliver them; Israel worships God; Israel forgets God; and so it goes around and around and around.
- In Judges, Israel is officially stuck on a spiritual rollercoaster.
The Left-Handed Assassination Of A Very Fat King
- The Lord left the five lords of the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites in Canaan to test Israel's devotion to him. Let's hope he grades on a curve, because…
- Israel forgets God, worships Baal, and gets taken over by Mesopotamia, whom they have to serve for 8 years.
- Israel cries unto the Lord, so he raises up the first judge: Othniel, Caleb's nephew.
- Under Othniel, Israel enjoys 40 years of peace. But then he dies, and you know what happens next: Israel forgets God again, this time serving Moab for 18 years.
- As you might have guessed, Israel then cries unto the Lord (again), who raises them up another judge to deliver them: Ehud, son of Gera, who hatches a plan to take out Eglon. Remember those juicy details we promised? Read on, Shmoop-ites!
- Israel sends Ehud to give Eglon a present.
- Ehud is left-handed (or, according to some translations, ambidextrous), like many of his fellow Benjamites (20:16), which is important because this allows him to wear his dagger hidden on the right side of his body, where Eglon wouldn't expect it to be.
- When Ehud arrives, he tells the king he has a secret to tell him, so "all that stood by him went out from him" (KJV 3:19).
- Alone with Eglon in his summer parlor, Ehud says, "I have a message from God unto thee" (KJV 3:20). Then he stabs Eglon in the belly. The dagger gets stuck in the king's fat, so Ehud just leaves it, locks the parlor doors, and walks out like he owns the place.
- Eglon's servants don't notice he's dead until Ehud is long gone.
- Ehud rallies Israel to battle against Moab, and they kill 10,000 lusty men, which ushers in 80 years of peace.
Girl Power: Deborah The Prophetess, Meet Jael The Head-Smasher
- Ehud dies and—yep, you guessed it—Israel turns away from God again.
- This time they're conquered by Jabin, the king of Canaan.
- Israel cries unto the Lord. Wait—haven't we seen this episode before?
- Luckily for them, God raises up an awesome judge: Deborah, a prophetess and the only female judge in the book. Girl power!
- Deborah tells Barak, an Israelite general, that God commands him to take 10,000 soldiers from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and attack Jabin's army. She promises that God will give them victory.
- Barak says he'll only go to battle if Deborah comes, and she does, but lets him know that it won't be him who kills Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army—it'll be a woman!
- Barak leads his 10,000 men against Sisera's army, including 900 chariots of iron.
- Barak's army kills every last one of Sisera's men—except for Sisera. He's hiding at his friend Heber's tent. Looks like things are about to get really in-tents.
- Heber's wife, Jael, goes out to meet Sisera, "and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not" (KJV 4:18). If your friend's wife ever says these words to you, run away.
- Sisera tells Jael not to tell anyone he's in the tent. "Sure, Siss. No problem," she says, tucking him into bed with some milk.
- After he drifts off to sleep, Jael "took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground" (KJV 4:21).
- And with that, Jabin was defeated. Ladies for the win!
Deborah And Barak's Victory Mixtape
- Nothin' like a good skull-crushing to make you burst into song, and that's exactly what Deborah and Barak do here. This whole chapter is a victory ballad about what they accomplished with the Lord's help.
- Try reading along to the tune of "We are the Champions."
- Key take-aways: When God is on your side, the earth trembles and mountains melt out of your way (so you probably want to keep him in your corner); Deborah is awesome (duh); and Jael really nailed the whole Sisera debacle (no, really).
- After this little hoe-down, Israel enjoys 40 years of peace.
God: "Go Get 'Em, Gideon"
- And then Israel disobeys God again. Shocking.
- This time, the Midianites invade. So who does Israel ask to save them? You got it: God.
- The Lord sends a prophet to have a little chat with Israel. The prophet says, "Look, Israel, the Lord told you not to worship other gods, but you didn't obey. And now you want him to bail you out again?"
- Well of course they do… and of course he does.
- And so God sends an angel to our next judge, Gideon.
- Gideon has a few questions, though. He wants to know why things are so hard for the Israelites if God is with them (God's like I'm working on it… you're the solution), and he also wants to make sure God knows that he isn't exactly some rich, strong warrior (God's like I know, I'm God—that's where I come in, dude).
- Gideon is convinced, and under God's instruction, he pulls off an Israelite senior prank:
- With the help of 10 of his buddies, he sneaks over to the altar of Baal at night.
- They knock it over, chop down the grove next to it, build a new altar to God in its place, and use the wood to offer a sacrifice to him. Oh, snap!
- The Midianites and the Amalekites aren't having it and gather for war against Israel. God lets Gideon know, though, and he blows his trumpet to gather Israel for battle.
- Gideon then asks for—and receives—a sign that God will save Israel by Gideon's hand.
Gideon's 300-Man Stealth Marching Band Takes Midian By Storm!
- Gideon's huge army gathers for battle, but God tells him he's got too many people.
- Wouldn't want it to be too easy, would we?
- So Gideon tells everyone who's afraid that they can leave, and 22,000 take him up on the offer, leaving 10,000 soldiers still with Gideon.
- But the Lord says it's still too many, so he tells Gideon to weed them out using a special test:
- They army goes down to a river for a water break. The Lord tells Gideon to watch carefully how each man drinks.
- 9,700 of them drink from it by getting down on their knees and slurping from the river. These guys get sent home. The other 300 drink by cupping their hands to their mouths, and these are the ones Gideon takes with him to deliver Israel. Oh, okay…
- They take their victuals and their trumpets Gideon loves trumpets), and march off to battle against "the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east [who were] like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number as the sand by the sea side for multitude" (KJV 7:12). Good thing Gideon's army is officially not huge anymore.
- But God is cool as a cucumber about the whole thing.
- Gideon's not convinced, though, so God tells him to take a servant and go spy on the enemy camp to hear what they're saying.
- He does, and overhears some soldiers talking about a dream one of them had about a piece of bread tumbling into their camp and knocking over a tent.
- Another soldier says, "Well, I think that obviously means that Gideon's army is going to destroy us" (see KJV 7:13-14).
- That's apparently good enough for Gideon, because he returns to his 300 men and says, "Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian" (KJV 7:16).
- He hands everyone a trumpet and an empty water pitcher with a lamp inside it, and says, "Just do what I do. C'mon!" (see KJV 7:16-17).
- He tells them to surround the enemy camp, wait for his signal, then blow their trumpets and shout, "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon" (KJV 7:18).
- Once in position, Gideon gives the signal and the men break their pitchers, revealing their lamps, and start shouting and tooting their own horns.
- This startles the Midianites. Chaos ensues, with Midianites fleeing and killing each other.
- Israel pursues Midian & Co., and captures two of their princes, chopping off their heads as gifts for Gideon. Gee thanks, guys!
Gideon Ushers In A Golden Age
- Gideon's army continues to pursue the fleeing Midianites, led by their kings Zebah and Zalmunna.
- They pass through the towns of Succoth and Penuel, and both refuse to give food to Gideon's army. This is rude, and Gideon promises he'll make them pay when he's done with Zebah and Zalmunna.
- His army defeats Midian and captures Z&Z.
- On their way back, Gideon captures a young man from Succoth, who identifies the elders and princes of the city that were so inhospitable before.
- Gideon beats them with thorns and briars. That'll teach them!
- He also returns to Penuel and breaks down their tower and kills the men of the city. Seriously—don't mess with Gideon.
- While interrogating Z&Z, Gideon finds out that they killed his brethren in Tabor. Their life expectancy suddenly plummets dramatically.
- Gideon tells his oldest son, Jether, to kill these fools. Jether is still just a boy, though, and he doesn't want to.
- Z&Z say, "You know what, Gid? Why don't you do the honors? You're stronger anyway" (see KJV 8:21).
- So he does, and he takes the ornaments from their camels' necks because, hey, free camel jewelry.
- Israel asks Gideon to be their king, and his sons after him, because he's delivered them from Midian.
- Gideon refuses, and tells them that the Lord will be their king.
- He asks his men to give him all of the gold they've captured from the Midianites, which they willingly do.
- With all that gold, Gideon makes an ephod, which is basically the ultimate in high-priestly bling.
- However, scholars think there must have been tons of gold left over after that, and Gideon may have made a golden monument, too, which Israel would later worship.
- After this, Israel enjoyed peace for—yup, you guessed it—40 years.
- Those years were good to Gideon. He had many wives and concubines, who gave him 70-some-odd sons, including Abimelech (more on him later).
- Gideon "died in a good old age, and was buried" (KJV 8:32). You know what that means…
- It's time for Israel to forget about God again. Heck—after he dies—they're not even very nice to Gideon's family anymore. The Israelites are pretty big on the whole out-of-sight-out-of-mind way of doing things.
The Homicidal Rise And Fall Of Abimelech
- Abimelech, son of Gideon, goes to his hometown of Shechem and convinces his mom's family that he ought to be king of Israel.
- The only people standing in his way are his 70 brothers. No biggie.
- He gathers campaign contributions from the men of Shechem and hires "vain and light persons, which followed him" (KJV 9:4). Politics, baby.
- Abimelech goes to his father's house and massacres his 70 brothers.
- But one brother escapes! Jotham, the youngest, hides himself and avoids the slaughter.
- With his brothers out of the picture (or so he thinks), Abimelech is made king of Israel.
- When Jotham hears about this, he goes and stands atop a mountain, where the men of Shechem can hear him. He tells them a story (see KJV 9:8-15):
Once upon a time, the trees wanted a king.
They asked the olive tree, but he preferred to continue giving olive oil to God and man.
So they asked the fig tree, but he preferred to keep giving fruit.
So they asked the grape vine, but he preferred to keep giving wine.
Finally, the trees asked the lowly bramble to be king. He agrees, but warns:
If we do this and it turns out I'm not the rightful king, a fire will come from me and burn down all of the trees.
- Jotham then gives the interpretation of his story: You men of Shechem have destroyed Gideon's family, even after all he did for you. Abimelech is not the rightful king, and a fire will come out from him to destroy you (see KJV 9:16-20).
- Jotham decides storytime's over and does what Jotham does best: Hides from Abimelech, who never finds him.
- After 3 years, the men of Shechem are sick of Abimelech, and hatch a plan to get rid of him.
- After failing to get him killed by robbers in the mountains, they team up with Gaal, who gathers an army in Shechem and challenges Abimelech to come and get 'em.
- But Zebul, the ruler of Shechem, doesn't like Gaal, so he secretly tells Abimelech to come and hide his armies in the fields surrounding the city until morning.
- Abimelech does just that, and in the morning Gaal looks out of the city gates and thinks he sees them hiding.
- But Zebul convinces him that he's just seeing things, allowing Abimelech to stage a surprise attack against Gaal's army.
- Abimelech chases them until they retreat back into Shechem.
- Zebul throws Gaal out of the city, but his army remains there.
- The next day, Abimelech overruns Shechem, destroys their crops, and kills everyone except those that barricade themselves inside a temple of the god Baal-berith.
- Abimelech and his men go to the mountains and chop down a bunch of tree branches, which they use to set the temple on fire, killing 1,000 men and women (this might be a good time to remember Jotham's tree story).
- Next, Abimelech takes his army to another city, Thebez, and captures it like he did Shechem.
- This time, the survivors shut themselves in a tall tower in the city.
- Abimelech prepares to burn the tower, just like in Shechem, but as he does, a woman drops a heavy stone off of the tower right onto his head! Girls rule, boys drool.
- His skull crushed, Abimelech knows he's about to die, but he can't bear the embarrassment of being killed by a woman, so he has his servant stab him.
- Everyone gets their come-uppance, and Abimelech's army goes home.
Israel And God Are Having Some Relationship Issues
- Tola, son of Puah and grandson of Dodo, judged Israel for 23 years.
- After him, Jair judges Israel for 22 years.
- When he dies, you can bet your bottom dollar that Israel starts worshiping the gods of Syria, and of Zidon, and Moab, and the Philistines.
- Israel spends 18 years under the oppression of the Philistines and the Ammonites, after which they cry unto the Lord for help.
- But whoa, wait a second, God says, "I delivered you from everyone and their grandma, and you still forgot about me. Well, this time you're on your own" (see KJV 10:11-13).
- In fact, he says, "Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation" (KJV 10:14). It sounds like God's pretty serious this time.
- Israel says, "We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day" (KJV 10:15).
- "And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel" (KJV 10:16).
- Meanwhile, the Ammonites are gathering an army to attack Israel.
Japhthah's Depressing Family Life
- Who's going to lead Israel this time? We're so glad you asked…
- There was this guy in Israel named Gilead, and he had a son with a harlot and named him Jephthah.
- When Jephthah grew up, his half-brothers ran him out of town so he wouldn't take any of their inheritance because, after all, he was "the son of a strange woman [a.k.a. a harlot]" (KJV 11:2).
- Years later, the Ammonites are about to attack Israel, and because Jephthah is "a mighty man of valour" (KJV 11:1), his brothers ask him to come be their captain.
- But Jephthah's like, "Oh, now you want to be friends?" And they're all, "Please? You'll be our leader after it's all through." So Jephthah agrees, and becomes the leader of Israel's army.
- Jephthah sends a messenger to see the king of the Ammonites and ask why he's attacking.
- The king responds, "Because Israel stole my land."
- Jephthah says, "Nuh-uh. God gave us this land. It wasn't even yours to begin with."
- The king says, "I don't think so, buckaroo. Prepare for war."
- "Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he […] vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering" (KJV 11:29-31). Promises, promises, Jeph…
- The Lord does deliver the Ammonites into Jephthah's hands, and he "smote them […] with a very great slaughter. And the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel" (KJV 11:33). Guess that settles that.
- So Jephthah heads home, triumphant. He remembers the vow he made to God, so he's watching for some kind of animal to come running (a goat, a lamb, a dog, an armadillo, etc.).
- But to his horror, as he approaches his house, who should come out to meet him—with timbrels (like tambourines) and dances, no less—but his daughter (who's an only child, by the way).
- Jephthah despairs when he sees her, remembering the promise he made to God. Jeph meant what he said, and he said what he meant, so it's not looking good for his daughter.
- She takes the news of her father's promise to God surprisingly well, and agrees to submit. She only asks that he give her two months to "go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows" (KJV 11:37).
- What father could deny his daughter one last virginity pity-party with her friends?
- After her two months are up, Jephthah's daughter returns, and he offers her as a sacrifice to God.
- The daughters of Israel commemorate this sad, sad event each year by lamenting Jephthah's daughter for four days.
Actually, It's Pronounced "Shibboleth"
- As if Jephthah didn't have enough on his mind, the tribe of Ephraim, which hadn't participated in the battle against the Ammonites, gets mad at him for not including them in the fight against Ammon.
- Jephthah's like, "You gotta be kidding me! I did call you, and you refused to come!" So he gathers his army of Gileadites and gives Ephraim a whoopin'.
- For the defeated Ephraimites to escape back to their own lands, they must use a river-crossing controlled by Jephthah's men, so they need to try to pass themselves off as non-Ephraimites.
- The Gileadites come up with a test for anyone who wants to cross: They ask them to say "shibboleth" (meaning "stream" in Hebrew), because the Ephraimites can't make the "shh" sound (they speak a different dialect of Hebrew).
- Thousands of Ephraimites die trying to cross over Jordan as their speech impediment gives them away.
- Jephthah judges Israel for six more years without incident, and dies. For the next 24 years, nothing happens—at least nothing important enough for the Bible to tell us about:
- Ibzan judges Israel for 7 more years without incident, and dies.
- Elon (not that Elon) judges Israel for 10 years without incident, and dies.
- Abdon judges Israel for 8 years without incident, and dies.
- Ok, enough of that. Coming up next: the blockbuster star of Judges is born!
Birth Of A Superman
- You know the drill: Israel does evil, so boom—40 years of Philistine captivity.
- "And there was a certain man […] whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not" (KJV 13:2).
- "And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, […] thou shalt conceive, and bear a son" (KJV 13:3). Sound familiar?
- The angel continues, "[A]nd no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines" (KJV 13:5). You might want to note this no-haircuts policy. It comes up later on.
- Manoah's wife tells her husband what the "man of God" said to her (KJV 13:6-7).
- Manoah entreats the Lord, "O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born" (KJV 13:8).
- He can't really order any parenting books, so naturally he wants some coaching.
- The Lord sends the angel again, who reiterates what he already said.
- Manoah offers him some food. This isn't just a man of God he's dealing with, though, but a straight-up angel. The angel's like, "Dude, I'm an angel. I can't eat your bread. Why don't you offer the Lord a burnt offering?"
- Manoah's like, "Oh, sorry," and asks him his name, but the angel's like, "Man, why are you asking me to reveal my secret name, bro?"
- Things are getting awkward, so Manoah burnt-offers a baby goat on an altar, and as it burns the angel ascends up in the flame toward heaven.
- Manoah finally realizes what this guy was, and he's really worried that they'll have to die now that they've seen him.
- His wife tells him to settle down, because why would God have sent an angel to tell them about their son if he was just going to kill them?
- She has her baby, and names him Samson.
- "[A]nd the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times" (KJV 13:24-25).
Lions And Honey And Riddles, Oh My!
- Samson sees a Philistine woman and tells his parents he wants to marry her, which is a no-no in Israel. Ahh, forbidden love!
- His parents are disappointed that he doesn't want to marry an Israelite, but he insists, so they head toward her house to negotiate the marriage.
- On his way there, a young lion attacks Samson.
- The Spirit of the Lord comes to Samson just in time, though, and he shows that lion who's boss.
- The Spirit of the Lord, we'll see, is to Samson what anger is to the Incredible Hulk. Anytime you see the Spirit of the Lord coming, stay tuned for carnage.
- Samson tells no one about his lion-wrestling, and continues to his future Philistine in-laws' house.
- Samson's parents negotiate with his dream-girl's parents, who agree to the marriage.
- While he's on his way to pick up his new bride, he passes the carcass of the lion he killed. "[A]nd, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcasse of the lion" (KJV 14:8).
- He eats some of the honey, and gives some to his parents without telling them where he got it.
- As was the custom, Samson throws a wedding feast at his Philistine phiancée's house.
- Samson challenges 30 Philistines at the feast to solve a riddle within seven days. If they can guess the answer, he'll give them 30 sheets and 30 changes of garments; if they can't, they each have to give him a sheet and a change of garments.
- They accept the challenge, and Samson riddles them this: "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness" (KJV 14:14).
- They can't figure it out, so they go to Samson's wife with an ultimatum: Tell us the answer to your husband's riddle, or we'll "burn thee and thy father's house with fire" (KJV 14:15). Sheesh!
- So she tries to convince Samson to tell her the riddle, but he refuses until she weeps and harasses him for 7 days.
- She tells the Philistines the answer, and they say to Samson, "What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?" (KJV 14:18)
- "If ye had not plowed with my heifer," Samson says, "ye had not found out my riddle" (KJV 14:18). He seems upset. We're going to suggest he refrain from comparing his wife to a cow anyway, though.
- "And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him [here it comes!] and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house" (KJV 14:19).
- Unbeknownst to him, Samson's new wife is given to a Philistine friend of his. This is going to get ugly…
Well, I'll Be A Donkey's Jawbone! Samson Slays A Thousand Philistines
- After his temper's cooled a little bit, Samson returns to see his wife, but her father won't let him in, saying, "I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion" (KJV 15:2). Maybe she told him about the heifer comment?
- At this point it seems like Samson gets that "Spirit of the Lord" look in his eye, because his ex-wife's father says, perhaps in panicked desperation, "[I]s not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her" (KJV 15:2). Gee thanks, Pops.
- Samson says thanks-but-no-thanks, and feels justified in exacting vengeance on the Philistines.
- Just picture this: "And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives" (KJV 15:4-5). That's how Samson rolls, Philistines.
- The Philistines blame Samson's erstwhile-wife's family for his shenanigans, and they burn her and her father.
- Samson vows vengeance again, and slaughters tons of Philistines.
- When he returns to the land of Judah, the Philistines follow him with an army.
- This worries the tribe of Judah, and they tell the Philistines that they'll arrest Samson themselves and bring him to them.
- They send 3,000 men up to the top of the rock of Etam, who tell Samson, "Look man, you can't do that to the Philistines. You're going to get us into trouble. We gotta take you in."
- Samson agrees to let them bring him bound to the Philistines, which they do.
- But as soon as they get to a place called Lehi (meaning "jawbone"), the Philistines see him and start shouting at him.
- And boom goes the dynamite.
- The Spirit of the Lord comes to Samson, he breaks the ropes with which he's bound, and he pherociously phights the Philistines.
- He finds a donkey's jawbone lying around (gotta use what you've got) and, wielding it like a club, kills 1,000 men.
- Then he utters perhaps the first ever post-kill one-liner: "With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men" (KJV 15:16). It has a certain rhythm to it, don't you think?
- As if he weren't hardcore enough right now, he tells God he's thirsty, so God opens up a spring of water for him right there.
- And Samson judged Israel for 20 years after that.
Boy Meets Girl, Girl Cuts Boy's Hair, Boy Destroys The Temple Of Dagon
- Samson goes to Gaza, a Philistine city, and spends some time with a harlot there.
- The Philistines find out he's there, and hide outside the city gates that night, hoping to attack and kill him when he leaves in the morning.
- But Samson wakes up at midnight, tears the gates out of the city wall (Hulk smash), and carries them on his shoulders like it ain't no thang to the top of a hill outside the city.
- Rather than getting squashed like bugs, the Philistines leave him alone. Good thinking, you guys.
- Afterward, Samson falls in love with a lady names Delilah.
- Cue the theme music. This will do. Or this. Or this. Not this.
- "And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him […] and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver" (KJV 16:5). Hmm… Betrayed for silver. Sound familiar?
- For love of money, or love of country, or both, Delilah agrees to betray her lover.
- She tells him, in her seductive Philistine accent, "Sammy-poo, you're so strong. I love that about you. How did you get that way? If I—hypothetically—wanted to, I dunno, afflict you, or like, y'know, imprison you or something—hypothetically—how would I do that?"
- Well, our guy Sam wasn't born yesterday. He makes up several fake sources of his strength.
- Delilah uncovers Samson's fibs one-by-one until she finally ratchets up the romantic manipulation and gets some results.
- "And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth" (KJV 16:15).
- Well played, Delilah. Her ploy works and Samson reveals to her the true source of his strength: his flowing locks.
- Delilah tells the Philistines everything. They give her the silver, and she has Samson fall asleep on her lap.
- While he sleeps, Delilah has a servant cut his hair.
- Delilah wakes Samson up and, before he knows what's happening, the Philistines take him away. Love stinks.
- They "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" (KJV 16:21).
- After a while, "the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us" (KJV 16:23-24).
- The Philistines are so excited to have captured Samson that they bring him out of prison to entertain them.
- He does so, but he's not happy about it. Afterward, he rests between two pillars, with thousands of Philistines seated above him after watching his show. Rookie mistake, you guys.
- Samson appeals to God for a final burst of strength to avenge himself of the Philistines.
- "And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life" (KJV 16:30).
- Then his brethren came and brought Samson's body back for a hero's burial near his family.
Micah Makes Some Silver Gods And Hires Some Priests
- Note: The next four chapters are not in chronological order. They probably occurred at the same time as Judges chapter 1, and they show that when Israel didn't have judges or kings, their land became a sort of Wild West where the biggest and baddest could push everyone else around with impunity.
- There's this guy named Micah. He steals a bunch of silver from his mom, but later gives it back to her.
- She's very happy about that, and she uses the silver to make a graven image for her son so he can worship God in his own house.
- Micah throws a few other valuable idols into his house, too.
- Micah decides that with all these images in his house, he might as well make his son a priest and turn his house into a temple. This is a no-no, but he can't resist the chance to worship in his PJs.
- In these days, there's no king (or judge) to tell Israel what to do. It's anarchy!
- A Levite's passing through town, and Micah convinces him to be a priest in his house.
- Micah's feeling pretty good right about now. "Now I know that the Lord will do me good," he says, "seeing I have a Levite […] priest" (KJV 17:13).
The Danites Steal Micah's Silver Gods And His Levite Priest
- In these lawless circumstances, a group of Danites are looking for a place to settle down with their families.
- They send out 5 strong men to find a suitable spot.
- While they're in Micah's town, they recognize his Levite priest, whom they'd bumped into before.
- When they see that he's become a priest, they ask him to counsel with God to see where they should go to find a home.
- The Levite tells them that God will help them.
- They find a really nice, spacious, secure city called Laish whose people don't guard it very well.
- The spies decide that this is the place for them, and they return to their families and gather 600 warriors.
- On their way to conquer Laish, they pass near Micah's house.
- The 5 spies go with their army to say hi to their Levite friend.
- While they're there, they decide to steal Micah's idols.
- They also convince their pal to leave Micah's house and be their priest instead.
- As they're making off like bandits, Micah and his pals chase them.
- But "Micah saw that they were too strong for him," so he went back home (KJV 18:26).
- The Danites conquer Laish and move in. With no king or judges, there's no one to stop them.
The Most Disgusting Chapter In The Bible
- Warning: We're not kidding… This chapter is ugly. Really ugly.
- Again, it shows the awful things that occurred during the chaos in Israel after Joshua and before the arrival of the replacement judges.
- So this concubine (which in this case is just another word for wife) leaves her Levite husband. Some experts think that she had committed adultery against him; others think she left him because he was a bad husband.
- At any rate, she goes to her father's house, and her husband follows her there to try and win her back.
- He speaks "friendly unto her" (KJV 19:3), and convinces her to come back with him.
- On their way home, they come to a Benjamite city called Gibeah. It's getting late, but they can't find a place to spend the night, so they just sit down on the side of the street.
- An old man sees them and graciously invites them to stay the night in his house.
- He feeds them and their donkeys, and they're having a grand ole' time, until…
- …They hear a pounding at the door. It's a group of Benjamite locals, demanding that the old man let them, ahem, "know" his handsome Levite guest.
- The old man says, "No way! What's the matter with you guys? This guy's my guest, fer cryin' out loud. Tell you what: Here's his concubine. Do whatever you want to her. Here, I'll even throw in my daughter."
- We're thinking that this guy probably never won the Father-of-the-Year award.
- This sounds an awful lot like Genesis 19… What's with these guys?
- "No deal," say the door-to-door rapists. But the Levite brings out his concubine anyway, and the men of the city take her away and rape her all night.
- They finally let her go when the sun begins to rise.
- She makes it back to the old man's house where her husband spent the night and collapses in front of the door.
- Her husband finds her when he opens the door, and says, "Good morning, sunshine! Ready to go home?" What planet was this guy living on?
- She doesn't answer.
- So he loads her onto his donkey and returns home.
- When he arrives, he chops her into twelve pieces and mails one piece to every tribe of Israel.
- Remember, in those days "there was no king in Israel" (KJV 19:1). Anything goes!
- Nevertheless, word of this atrocity spreads across Israel, and the people are outraged.
- We'd like to take a moment to reiterate that this chapter is really, really awful.
Israel Destroys Benjamin For That Awful Business Back In Chapter 19
- All of Israel (except the Benjamites) gathers to discuss this horrific affair.
- The Levite husband tells his story, and Israel decides to kill the men of Gibeah who did the deed.
- They demand that the tribe of Benjamin give up the guilty men in Gibeah, but Benjamin refuses.
- This means war.
- Israel gathers a huge posse, including 700 left-handed soldiers who could sling stones with devastating accuracy. If Judges teaches us anything, it's don't mess with lefties.
- But Benjamin defeats Israel in their first huge battle.
- Israel's worried, so they ask the Lord if they should continue the war.
- The Lord promises that tomorrow he'll deliver Benjamin into Israel's hands.
- In the next battle, Israel hides part of their army around Gibeah.
- Other soldiers draw Benjamin's army out of the city, and Benjamin chases them into the highways and fields outside the city.
- Meanwhile, the hidden warriors around Gibeah come out and ransack the city.
- When the Benjamites catch up to the Israelites, they fight hard, but get driven back by Israel.
- The Israelites in Gibeah start a huge fire to signal to their army that they've taken the city.
- The Benjamites realize that they've been duped, and try to run into the wilderness, but the Israelites slaughter them.
- Only 600 Benjamites escape into the wilderness to a place called the rock of Rimmon.
- Israel's army continues its war against Benjamin, killing every man and beast and burning every Benjamite city.
Their Dating Options Exhausted, The Benjamites Kidnap Some Wives
- Now that they've all but destroyed Benjamin, the Israelites vow to put to death anyone that refused to go to war against Benjamin.
- As they're tracking down draft-dodgers, their tempers cool down and Israel starts to feel badly about their genocidal anti-Benjamite campaign.
- On second thought, they don't want to wipe an entire tribe off the face of the earth.
- Unfortunately, they've all sworn an unbreakable oath to never allow any Benjamites to marry their daughters, dooming that tribe to eventually die out.
- While they're puzzling over this, they discover that the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead didn't send any soldiers to the war, so they (somewhat ironically, given their regret over the whole "kill all the Benjamites" thing) send an army to kill every male and every non-virgin woman.
- The army brings back 400 virgin captives from Jabesh-Gilead.
- "Hey," someone must have said, "These virgins… They're not our daughters, right? So they can marry the Benjamites, right?" Right.
- So they send an ambassador to the rock of Rimmon, where the last surviving Benjamite men live, and before you can say "that blessed arrangement," 400 of them get married.
- Unfortunately, that still leaves a lot of guys without a wife. What to do for them?
- The elders of Israel have an idea: They tell the Benjamites to go to Shiloh.
- What's in Shiloh? Babes.
- Each year, the people of Shiloh have a feast unto the Lord. During the feast, the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance.
- "So here's the plan," say the elders, "You'll hide in the vineyards during the feast. As soon as the girls come out to dance, grab as many of them as you can carry, and bring them back to the land of Benjamin to wife them up."
- A fine solution: elegantly simple, yet shamelessly chauvinistic. And it works!
- When the girls' dads come to the elders to complain about their kidnapped daughters, the elders say, "Can't you just let it slide? These guys need wives, and you weren't about to give 'em any, right? Please?"
- The dads consent, and they all live wickedly ever after, because lest we forget, "In those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (KJV 21:25).
- And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the rape and murder of one woman was "resolved" with the forced marriage and rape of hundreds of women.
- It's also where the Book of Judges ends. Some books end on a high note. Not this one.