Judges of the Old Testament

As we work through the Bible, we come to the Book of Judges. This study of the Judges of the Old Testament is less in-depth than others may be but will give an excellent overview of the book of Judges. At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua dies at 110 years old and is buried in the hill country of Ephraim. The enemy had conquered a few major cities, but not all. In The Book of Judges, we see a different picture of the nation of Israel.

Judges of the Old Testament are a very diverse group. There were 12 – Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephtha, Ebzon, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. You are probably familiar with Deborah, Gideon and Samson because we tell their stories to children and adults alike.

The Price of Disobedience

The Promised Land had been divided between the tribes, but each tribe was responsible for conquering the land they were given. One statement at the beginning of the book reveals how Israel’s problems started. The Judges of the Old Testament were appointed because of the failures of the tribes of Israel to do as they were commanded. Beginning with the Benjamites, the Israelites repeated the same terrible mistakes.

The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites who were living in Jerusalem.” Judges 1:21 CJB

The failure of the Jewish people to completely drive the enemy out of their land caused suffering many generations to come.

Why does this matter? In the New Testament, Paul continually reminds us of the need to ‘put off the old man’ and put on the new one we received in Christ. The Old Man fed us lies, sinned without conscience and kept us in slavery to our enemy, the devil. Jesus came to defeat the enemy and set us free, but it is our choice to do so. Even after salvation, we may still choose to sin. Like the Israelites, we forget that absolute faith in our God will deliver us. Instead, we keep some of the old man in our lives because it seems good to us.

Hebrews 10:19-25 Voice, tells us how to live this new life we’ve been given.

So, my friends, Jesus by His blood gives us courage to enter the most holy place. He has created for us a new and living way through the curtain, that is, through His flesh. Since we have a great High Priest who presides over the house of God, let us draw near with true hearts full of faith, with hearts rinsed clean of any evil conscience, and with bodies cleansed with pure water. Let us hold strong to the confession of our hope, never wavering, since the One who promised it to us is faithful. Let us consider how to inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds, not forgetting to gather as a community, as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other, especially as the day of His return approaches.
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Next, Paul addresses the choice to sin in Hebrews 10:26-29 Voice:

Now if we willfully persist in sin after receiving such knowledge of the truth, then there is no sacrifice left for those sins— only the fearful prospect of judgment and a fierce fire that will consume God’s adversaries. Remember that those who depart from the law of Moses are put to death without mercy based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Just think how much more severe the punishment will be for those who have turned their backs on the Son of God, trampled on the blood of the covenant by which He made them holy, and outraged the Spirit of grace with their contempt.
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Of course, we can repent and be forgiven, but we must understand the necessity of entirely banishing the enemy and his sinful ways from our lives. The Israelites brought misery to themselves when they failed to drive out every enemy. They had been instructed by God Himself but ignored the warning.

To help you in your journey Click Here to download 24 Scripture Cards for Peace. When, like the Israelites, we are tempted to move away from God’s purpose for our life, peace will guard us.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3 NIV
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Not one of the tribes completely banished the inhabitants of the land. Instead, they “did what was evil from God’s perspective” by turning from God and worshipping the various gods the foreign tribes worshipped. They intermarried, adopted the terrible practices of child sacrifice and more. Every time they strayed, God sent a deliverer, but it seemed that no matter how many times God did this, the people abandoned their faith to worship idols. The book of Judges tells us the unfortunate story.

Their disobedience opened them to being attacked and persecuted by those who occupied the land. The Israelites went so far as to intermarry with their enemies.

Choices lead to consequences. God gave humanity the ability to choose good or evil, to sin or not to sin. When we choose to disobey God willfully, we must bear the consequence of our choices.

The freedom to choose is a precious gift that humankind cherishes and abuses. God’s laws are designed to protect us, to keep us from harm and danger we can’t see. By living according to God’s instructions, we can live without fear as we rely on Him. If everyone in the world obeyed the 10 Commandments, this world would be a place of kindness, safety, love and more incredible things than I can explain. But our choices have resulted in a world where the innocent experience the results of the evil that others have chosen to live in.

Judges of The Old Testament

Why were the Judges appointed? As the Israelites experienced the terror of their choices, they cried out to God for help, and He appointed Judges who were faithful and courageous enough to stand for the people. Though they sinned against Him repeatedly, the God of grace and mercy extended mercy to His people. But, the cycle of disobedience, terror, crying out to God, and returning to him repeated itself. It still does. Here are the Judges of Israel who served for over 400 years.

Othniel the First Judge

Othniel, whose name means lion of God or strength of God, saved his people from their ways and from captivity. The Bible says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel. He became Israel’s judge and went to war to set them free. God gave the King of Mesopotamia into Othniel’s hand, and he prevailed, bringing peace to the land for forty years until he died. Here you see why God appointed Judges. The Israelites sinned, were miserable, cried out to God, and He sent judges to save the nation from itself. This action isn’t a one-time thing for God. He’s still doing it today.

Ehud the 2nd Judge

Ehud was a brave and cunning man. The Bible notes that he was left-handed, which gave him an unexpected advantage. His name means” he who praises” or “I will give thanks.” The people had turned against God, who then allowed them to come under the rule of Eglon, King of Moab. Ehud tricked King Eglon and killed him. As a result, Ehud led Israel into battle, and they defeated Moab, killing about 10,000 Moabite men who were stout, men of valor, able-bodied and robust. Peace reigned in the land for 80 years.

Shamgar, whose name means a stranger here, is a mystery, mentioned in only two verses. We know he was a Judge who killed 600 Philistines using only an oxgoad, a strong stick eight to ten feet long and six inches and six inches in diameter. It had a metal tip on one end and a flat, curved blade on the other. His brave victory released Israel from the hands of the enemy. God’s demonstrated His grace once again through a faithful man.

Deborah was a prophet and the first woman to Judge Israel. Her name means ‘bee.” Her story is intriguing, and I encourage you to read it. Deborah heard God’s voice, led worship and preached in addition to being a Judge. The only other person to be a prophet and a Judge was Samuel. She sat under the palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would line up for her to rule on a matter. But Deborah was also a warrior. The Song of Deborah recites her story.

Two women are vital characters in the story – Deborah and Jael. After twenty years of oppression by the King of Canaan and Sisera, the commander of his army, the Israelites cried out again. God provided a wise and brave woman named Deborah. God put Sisera in the hands of the second brave and cunning woman, Jael. She killed Sisera, and the Israelites destroyed the King of Canaan.

Gideon, the fifth Judge, was the first to try to reject his calling. God had sent a Prophet to Israel who exposed their faithlessness. An Angel then came to Gideon to pay him a tremendous complying, saying, “The Eternal One is with you, mighty warrior.” His response was to complain about their oppression, saying God had made them servants. In truth, they did it to themselves. Gideon proclaimed his family to be weak and himself the least among this weak group. The Angel had called him brave! His name means “feller of trees.” 

Gideon gave offerings to God and finally realized he had been speaking to God’s messenger. He asked for forgiveness, was told not to be afraid, and built an altar to God. Following God’s instruction, Gideon destroyed his father’s altar built for Baal, the Israelites turned against him, and then “the Spirit of the Lord touched Gideon.” However, Gideon was still unsure of himself and put out a fleece three nights in a row to confirm that he was hearing God’s voice. There is much more to the story, but Gideon and his people defeated Midian, and 40 years of peace ensued.

Tola becomes a Judge after a terrible series of events caused by a man named Abimelech. These events were so reprehensible that even the enemies of Israel were shocked. Tola was appointed after Abimilech died. He served as a Judge and defender of the nation for 23 years and then died.

Jair followed Tola, but little is said about him in the Bible except that he had 30 sons who rode 30 donkeys and had 30 towns. According to bibilium.com, it was expensive to ride a donkey, and only the wealthier people could. Jair’s name means “God enlightens.” He was a rich man who Judged and benefited Israel.

Jephtha 8th Judge

Jephtha became a Judge after the people had turned to idolatry again and were captives of the Philistines and the Ammonites. Jephtha was an outcast whose mother was a prostitute. His brothers drove him away, and he became a leader of a gang of bandits. When his family came under attack, they asked him to return and lead them in battle. He mocked them but did become their leader. Then the Spirit. of the Lord descended on Jephtha, and his name meant “to open or release.” God gave him victory, and he led as they conquered 20 towns. Jephtha had vowed to kill whatever he saw first when he went home. He saw his daughter, his only child, and killed her. Jephtha was a judge for six years.

Ibzan 9th Judge

Ibzan, like Jair, is a mystery. All we know is that he had 30 sons and 30 daughters who gave him influence as they married people outside their clan. He is another of the minor judges and judged the nation of Israel for seven years. I couldn’t find a clear definition of his name.

Elon judged Israel for ten years. His name means “oak,” which would indicate strength. He was from the tribe of Zebulun and was buried in Aijalon. Some scholars believe Elon was a wise and fair judge who also helped shape the structure and functions of the society of Israel. The Bible tells us nothing else about him.

Abdon the 11th Judge

Abdon, the eleventh Judge, had 40 sons and 30 grandsons who rode 70 donkeys. He, like Ibzan, would likely have held some degree of power due to his children and may have also been wealthy. His name means servant or worshipper. The Bible does not refer to any rebellion against God by the people of Israel prior to Abdon becoming a Judge. Again, the Bible tells us very little of Abdon’s life.

Samson is one of the best-known Judges. Movies were made about his strength, faith, failures, weaknesses and ultimate victory over the enemy. His weakness was women, and one of them, Delilah, was his ultimate downfall. God gave Samson supernatural strength. He vowed never to cut his hair, which was the source of his power. The Spirit of God came upon Samson the day he used the jawbone of a donkey to kill 1,000 Philistines.

During his 20 years as a judge, he fell in love with Delilah. She immediately convinced him to reveal the secret of his strength. He told her, and she arranged for his hair to be cut as he slept on her lap. Samson was taken captive, his eyes were gouged out, and he was chained to a grist mill. But the enemy forgot about him, and his hair grew back. Later, they brought him to a celebration to mock him, and he formed his plan. His strength was back, and he used it to demolish the coliseum, dying as he did so.

The Judges of the Old Testament

Our Lessons from the Judges of the Old Testament

Why do the Judges of the Old Testament matter? These wayward people are an example to us of the tendencies of humanity and the mercy of God, who constantly reaches out to give us protection and hope. The world today is much as it was in the time of the Judges, as war, death, hatred, anger and unfaithfulness abound.

After Samson, there were no judges or Kings for a period of time, and the Book of Judges ends with this statement, “During that period, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right to them.” The same is true today. People forget the King, God, and do what seems right in their own eyes. The Book of Judges shows us humanity at its worst and best, reminding us of our need always to remember our God and Savior, never turn from Him, and diligently maintain our faith in the one true God. We see God’s grace in action in the Book of Judges and throughout the Bible. 5 Reasons God’s Grace is Sufficient will also give you new insight.

Today, most do not carve idols and make sacrifices to them. We build other things – possessions, wealth, relationships, prestige, power and more. We worship them and believe that they came through our great wisdom. But Kingdoms, Kings, Rulers and relationships fail. We gather possessions but are never satisfied, telling ourselves that money can buy happiness. It can’t, and we blame God for the pain and rejection we feel.

The Spirit of God speaks and warns us, but, like Israel, we ignore Him. The Good News is that God never leaves or forsakes us. He is there with forgiveness and mercy, wanting to pour it out on us if only we let him. 18 Signs of the Power of Faithfulness to God will encourage you and help keep your faith strong.

Please read the Book of Judges and use the free Bible Study, 4 W’s and 1 H, by becoming a member. It will help you study in a new way and retain the information to strengthen your faith.

Inspiration For Life Today uses verses from different Bible translations. To see more information about the copyright for each one, please visit this page – Scripture Citations.

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