The Book of Judges
The Book of Judges is the second book in Nevi’im (Prophets). It comes from a time of political turmoil when there was a new conqueror of the land of Canaan every few years. The Jewish people had established themselves in the land but were often conquered by opposing forces bringing their own, very persuasive, systems of worship.
The Israelites would inevitably start to sin, and follow in the worship patterns of their oppressors. They would erect temples, build idols, and generally forget all the stuff that happened mere decades before.
In their misery they would cry out to God who would appoint someone to judge or deliver the Israelites from the oppressor. Each of the stories of the five major judges, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Yiftach, and Samson, and the minor judges, adhere to this cycle of Rebellion, Retribution, Repentance, Redemption, and Peace.
If you’re teaching a unit on Judges, we created an in depth lesson plan to make your job teaching it as fun and simple as possible.
Before we meet Ehud, the Israelites have been behaving rather poorly, again. They are worshipping other gods and generally forgetting how to behave appropriately. G-d had just helped a judge named Othniel defend the Israelites against Cushan-Rishathaim, King of Aram, and they enjoyed forty years of peace.Ehud was called upon to help defeat Moabite King Eglon.
Ehud was appointed by the people to take the Israelites’ tribute directly to the king.
Ehud made himself a double edged sword and strapped it to his leg under his clothes. He delivered the tribute to the rotund king, who was pleased and let Ehud go home. Before Ehud left, he asked for a moment alone to deliver a secret message.
King Eglon and Ehud went up to the king’s room where Ehud whipped out his sword with his left hand, as he was left-handed, and ran it into the fat king. In fact, the king was so fat that his stomach wrapped around the hilt of the sword so that Ehud couldn’t pull it out. Ehud locked the king’s door and snuck out via the porch. The king’s guards figured the king was using the bathroom so they waited.
After a respectable amount of time they opened the doors to find the king lying dead on the ground and raised a shout.
It was too late. Ehud had escaped.
Ehud climbed to the top of a hill and blew a shofar.
He rallied the troops and defeated the Moabites. There was peace and quiet for the next 80 years.
Deborah was a judge whose “office” was under a palm tree between Ramah and Bet El. It was dubbed “Deborah’s Tree.” She prophesied that a general named Barak would be able to defeat Sisera, the commander of the occupying army de jour. Barak agreed to attack, but only if Deborah came with.She agreed, but told him that since this was not God’s original plan, he will receive no glory from the battle. Instead Sisera will be defeated by a woman.
His attack was successful, but Sisera got away. Sisera ran to the tent of the Israelite woman, Yael, who lured him in with food and drink. Yael was married to a man name Haber who was a Kenite and was at peace with King Jabin (the guys Sisera worked for). Feeling safe, Sisera fell asleep. While he rested, Yael drove a tent peg through his head, fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy.
There was peace in the land for the next 40 years.
Gideon was a farmer during a particularly brutal oppression by an occupying force, Midian. The Midianites had previously attacked during harvesting season and destroyed the Israelites’ produce. Gideon was trying to process the wheat in secrecy when an angel appeared, and told Gideon that he was to be a hero and that G-d had his back. Gideon disagreed, mentioning all the horrible things that G-d had allowed to happen. Also, Gideon pointed out that he was young and poor. He asked for a sign that this really was God’s will, so he prepared a sacrifice which God took with a flash of fire.It was only then that Gideon really believed he was talking to G-d and would do what he asked.
G-d tasked Gideon with destroying his father’s altar to the false god Ba’al. Gideon destroyed the altar at night, while everyone was sleeping. The next morning Gideon’s father demanded that Gideon be put to death for disrespecting the phonygGod. Gideon answered back, “Ba’al is a god. Let him defend himself.” This retort earned him great respect with the Hebrews.
On the other side of the Jordan River a great army was amassing, ready to storm through Canaan. Gideon raised an army to fight the people of Midian but God decided the army was too big. He didn’t want the Israelites to think that they had defeated Midian on their own. So God whittled the army down from 32,000 to 300 men. Gideon took his 300 men and surrounded the enemy camp. In the middle of the night each of the 300 broke an empty jar and blew their shofar, making a terrible racket. The people in the camp freaked out and turned against each other. Gideon took his army out and routed a few more cities, who didn’t respect the Israelites.
When he returned back, the Israelites asked him to be their new ruler. He demurred, insisting they follow Adonai again.
Gideon had many wives and 70 sons, and lived for another 40 years of peace. After he died the Israelites went right back to worshiping idols again.
Samson’s parents were childless, so they prayed to G-d, who sent an angel to visit them. The angel told his parents that they would have a baby, but the baby must never have his hair cut and would spend his life in service of God. The parents agreed and they did indeed have a baby they named Samson.Samson grew into a very strong young man. He took the vow of a Nazrite, one who abstained from eating and drinking certain things and who never cut his hair. One day he spotted a beautiful woman from the Philistine people. When his parents couldn’t convince him to marry a nice Jewish girl, he went to go see the object of his affection. On the way, he killed a lion with his bare hands. He chatted with the woman and while returning to his parent’s house went to look at the lion carcass. The carcass was filled with honey, which Samson scooped up to bring back to his parents. Samson and the woman were married.
At his wedding he told a riddle about the honey coming from the lion, but told nobody the solution. He gave the Philistines seven days to solve the riddle. They had no idea so they convinced his wife to find out the answer. Samson told his wife the answer and she relayed it to the Philistine.
When Samson discovered her betrayal he left her and killed the men who had convinced her to discover the secret.
Samson went back to his parent’s house to cool his heels, but when he learned his wife was married off to the best man at his wedding, he caught 300 foxes, lit their tails on fire and set them loose in the fields of the Philistines, burning their wheat crop to the ground.
The Philistines came to find Samson and he killed many of them. He hid in a cave until the Philistines started terrorizing the Jews for Samson’s actions. Samson allowed himself to be captured, but once back at the Philistine camp, he picked up a donkey’s jawbone and used it to kill 1,000 people.
Samson hid where nobody would find him.
Eventually, he ventured out and fell in love with a woman named Delilah. She was convinced by the Philistines to discover the source of his amazing power. Samson tested her by telling her a lie about tying him up with string. She tied him up in his sleep, but when she woke him, he easily broke through the strings.
She knew she had been lied to so she tried again. He lied to her again and she became frustrated with his mockery. She gave him the old “if you really love me, you’ll tell me” line. He told her the truth, which is that his hair had never been cut. This is where his great strength came from.
She lulled him to sleep and had his hair cut off. When he woke up, he was weak. She turned him over to the Philistines who poked out his eyeballs and made him work as a slave.
Blind and in chains he was taken to a temple for the Philistines to laugh at him. He asked to be rested against a column of the temple, since he was weak. He prayed for G-d’s strength one more time. He pushed the columns down, collapsing the temple, killing himself and “more people than he had in his life,” and for the final time, solving his problems with violence.