Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of Judges
HOW does Jehovah respond when his own people turn their back on him and begin to worship false gods? What if they repeatedly fall away and call on him for help only when they are in distress? Does Jehovah provide a way of escape for them even then? The book of Judges answers these and other vital questions. Completed by the prophet Samuel about 1100 B.C.E., it covers events that span some 330 years—from the death of Joshua to the enthronement of Israel’s first king.
As a part of God’s dynamic word, or message, the book of Judges is of great value to us. (Hebrews 4:12) The exciting accounts recorded in it give us insight into God’s personality. The lessons that we learn from them strengthen our faith and help us to get a firm hold on “the real life,” everlasting life in God’s promised new world. (1 Timothy 6:12, 19; 2 Peter 3:13) The deeds of salvation that Jehovah performs in behalf of his people provide a foregleam of the greater deliverance by his Son, Jesus Christ, in the future.
WHY WERE JUDGES NEEDED?
After the kings of the land of Canaan are defeated under the leadership of Joshua, the individual tribes of Israel go to their inheritance and take possession of the land. However, the Israelites fail to dispossess the inhabitants of the land. This failure proves to be a real snare for Israel.
The generation that comes after the days of Joshua ‘does not know Jehovah or the work that he has done for Israel.’ (Judges 2:10) Moreover, the people proceed to form marriage alliances with the Canaanites and to serve their gods. So Jehovah gives the Israelites into the hands of their enemies. When oppression becomes severe, though, the sons of Israel call upon the true God for help. In this religious, social, and political climate unfolds the account of a line of judges whom Jehovah raises up to save his people from their enemies.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
1:2, 4—Why is Judah designated to be the first tribe to take possession of the land allotted to it? Normally, this privilege would go to the tribe of Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn. But in his deathbed prophecy, Jacob foretold that Reuben was not to excel, having forfeited his right as the firstborn. Simeon and Levi, who had acted with cruelty, were to be scattered in Israel. (Genesis 49:3-5, 7) Hence, the next in line was Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. Simeon, who went up with Judah, received small areas of land scattered throughout the large territory of Judah.*—Joshua 19:9.
1:6, 7—Why were the thumbs and the big toes of defeated kings cut off? A person who lost his thumbs and big toes apparently was incapacitated for military action. Without the thumbs, how could a soldier handle a sword or a spear? And the loss of the big toes would result in inability to maintain one’s balance properly.
Lessons for Us:
2:10-12. We must have a regular program of Bible study so as ‘not to forget Jehovah’s doings.’ (Psalm 103:2) Parents need to sound down the truth of God’s Word into the hearts of their children.—Deuteronomy 6:6-9.
JEHOVAH RAISES UP JUDGES
The exciting account of the exploits of the judges begins with Othniel’s bringing an end to Israel’s eight-year subjugation to a Mesopotamian king. Using a courageous strategy, Judge Ehud kills Eglon, the fat Moabite king. Valiant Shamgar single-handedly strikes down 600 Philistines using a cattle goad. With encouragement from Deborah, who serves as a prophetess, and with Jehovah’s backing, Barak and his lightly equipped army of ten thousand men rout the powerful army of Sisera. Jehovah raises up Gideon and gives him and his 300 men victory over the Midianites.
Through Jephthah, Jehovah delivers Israel from the Ammonites. Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon are also among the 12 men who judge Israel. The period of the Judges ends with Samson, who fights against the Philistines.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
4:8—Why did Barak insist that the prophetess Deborah go with him to the battlefield? Evidently, Barak felt inadequate to go up against Sisera’s army by himself. Having the prophetess with him would reassure him and his men that they had God’s guidance and would give them confidence. Barak’s insistence that Deborah accompany him, then, was not a sign of weakness but of strong faith.
5:20—How did the stars fight from the heavens in behalf of Barak? The Bible does not say whether this involved angelic assistance, meteorite showers that were interpreted ominously by Sisera’s wise men, or perhaps astrological predictions for Sisera that proved false. Undoubtedly, however, there was some type of divine intervention.
7:1-3; 8:10—Why did Jehovah say that Gideon’s 32,000 men were too many against the enemy force of 135,000? This was because Jehovah was giving Gideon and his men the victory. God did not want them to think that they defeated the Midianites in their own strength.
11:30, 31—When making his vow, did Jephthah have a human sacrifice in mind? Such a thought would be far from Jephthah’s mind, for the Law stipulated: “There should not be found in you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire.” (Deuteronomy 18:10) However, Jephthah did have in mind a person and not an animal. Animals suitable for sacrifice were not likely kept in Israelite homes. And the offering of an animal would be nothing outstanding. Jephthah was aware that the one coming out of his house to meet him might well be his daughter. This one was to be offered up “as a burnt offering” in that the person would be devoted to Jehovah’s exclusive service in connection with the sanctuary.
Lessons for Us:
3:21. Ehud wielded his sword proficiently and with courage. We must acquire skill in using “the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.” This means that we must use the Scriptures courageously in our ministry.—Ephesians 6:17; 2 Timothy 2:15.
6:11-15; 8:1-3, 22, 23. Gideon’s modesty teaches us three important lessons: (1) When a privilege of service is extended to us, we should reflect on the responsibility it entails rather than dwell on the prominence or prestige that may be associated with it. (2) When dealing with those inclined to quarrel, displaying modesty is the course of wisdom. (3) Modesty protects us from being position oriented.
6:17-22, 36-40. We too must be cautious and “not believe every inspired expression.” Instead, we need to “test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (1 John 4:1) To make sure that counsel he plans to give is solidly based on God’s Word, a new Christian elder is wise to consult a more experienced elder.
6:25-27. Gideon used discretion so as not to anger his opposers needlessly. When preaching the good news, we must be careful not to offend others unduly by the way we speak.
7:6. When it comes to serving Jehovah, we should be like Gideon’s 300 men—alert and vigilant.
9:8-15. How foolish to act proudly and harbor ambition for position or power!
11:35-37. The good example of Jephthah was undoubtedly instrumental in helping his daughter develop strong faith and a self-sacrificing spirit. Parents today can set such an example for their children.
11:40. Offering commendation to someone who displays a willing spirit in Jehovah’s service encourages that one.
OTHER OFFENSES IN ISRAEL
The last part of the book of Judges contains two outstanding accounts. The first concerns a man named Micah, who sets up an idol in his house and employs a Levite to act as a priest for him. After destroying the city of Laish, or Leshem, the Danites build their own city and name it Dan. Using Micah’s idol and his priest, they set up another form of worship in Dan. Evidently, Laish is captured before Joshua’s death.—Joshua 19:47.
The second event takes place not long after the death of Joshua. A mass sex crime committed by some men of the Benjamite city of Gibeah leads to the near annihilation of the entire tribe of Benjamin—only 600 men survive. However, an expedient arrangement allows them to get wives, and their number increases to nearly 60,000 warriors by the time of David’s rulership.—1 Chronicles 7:6-11.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
17:6; 21:25—If ‘each one was accustomed to do what was right in his own eyes,’ did this foster anarchy? Not necessarily, for Jehovah made ample provisions to guide his people. He gave them the Law and the priesthood to educate them in his way. By means of the Urim and the Thummim, the high priest could consult God on important matters. (Exodus 28:30) Every city also had older men capable of providing sound counsel. When an Israelite availed himself of these provisions, he had a sound guide for his conscience. His doing “what was right in his own eyes” in this way resulted in good. On the other hand, if a person ignored the Law and made his own decisions about conduct and worship, the result was bad.
20:17-48—Why did Jehovah let the Benjamites defeat the other tribes twice, even though the former needed to be punished? By allowing the faithful tribes to suffer great losses at first, Jehovah tested their determination to root out evil from Israel.
Lessons for Us:
19:14, 15. The unwillingness on the part of the people of Gibeah to extend hospitality was an indication of a moral shortcoming. Christians are admonished to “follow the course of hospitality.”—Romans 12:13.
The Deliverance Ahead
Very soon now, God’s Kingdom in the hands of Christ Jesus will destroy the wicked world and provide a great deliverance for the upright and the blameless. (Proverbs 2:21, 22; Daniel 2:44) ‘All of Jehovah’s enemies will then perish, and his lovers will be as when the sun goes forth in its mightiness.’ (Judges 5:31) Let us prove to be among the lovers of Jehovah by applying what we have learned from the book of Judges.
The fundamental truth demonstrated over and over in the accounts of the Judges is this: Obedience to Jehovah leads to rich blessings, disobedience to dire consequences. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28) How vital that we become “obedient from the heart” to the revealed will of God!—Romans 6:17; 1 John 2:17.
The Levites were not given an inheritance in the Promised Land except for 48 cities scattered throughout Israel.
[Map on page 25]
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“Jehovah would raise up judges, and they would save them out of the hand of their pillagers.”—Judges 2:16
1. Othniel (Tribe of Manasseh)
2. Ehud (Tribe of Judah)
3. Shamgar (Tribe of Judah)
4. Barak (Tribe of Naphtali)
5. Gideon (Tribe of Issachar)
6. Tola (Tribe of Manasseh)
7. Jair (Tribe of Manasseh)
8. Jephthah (Tribe of Gad)
9. Ibzan (Tribe of Asher)
10. Elon (Tribe of Zebulun)
11. Abdon (Tribe of Ephraim)
12. Samson (Tribe of Judah)
[Picture on page 26]
What lesson did you learn from Barak’s insistence that Deborah go to the battlefield?