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Israel to expel the Canaanites, recorded in the first section, is thus explained. The nations, a list of whom is given (3:3), were left to test Israel's loyalty to Jehovah and to teach them war. After this introductory history comes the history of the series of judges who delivered or ruled Israel and from whom this period of Israel's history derives its name. These judges are usually reckoned as twelve, falling into two groups: six great judges, Othniel, Ehud, Barak (with Deborah), Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson; and six minor ones, Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Each of the great judges is introduced with a statement of an apostasy and an oppression, according to the outline of events just mentioned. Then follows a story of length relating deeds of interest and valor connected with the overthrow of Israel's enemies; and each narrative is concluded with the statement of the length either of the judgeship or the period during which the land enjoyed rest. The minor judges, on the other hand, are associated with no apostasies or oppressions and have only the briefest mention. No exploit except in the case of Shamgar is recorded of any of them; and taken as a whole they appear like an afterthought, added to make the number twelve and to give a required number of years (see p. 17). With the great judges for interest and length of narrative is to be classed Abimelech, the king of Shechem, to whom a long chapter (9) is devoted.
Othniel, the first great judge, rescues Israel from the oppression of Cushan-rishathaim, King of Mesopotamia (3:7-11). No particular exploit is recorded of him, but only the bare fact of the deliverance. He thus for treatment stands in a class by himself among the great judges. Ehud, the second great judge, delivers Israel from the oppression of the Moabites. His story is one of romantic exploit. With cunning craft he assassinates the king of Moab, summons his countrymen to arms, and they, taking the fords of the Jordan, slay not less than ten thousand of their enemies (3 : 12–30). Ehud is followed by Shamgar, the first of the so-called minor judges. His record is limited to a single verse (3:31). He was the hero of the exploit of slaying six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad and is said to have saved Israel. Barak, the third great judge, also mentioned as though the follower of Ehud with a period of oppression between them, is associated with Deborah, a prophetess. The oppressor of Israel is the Canaanite king Jabin of Hazor, along with Sisera, the captain of his army. Deborah incites Barak to lead a revolt and to take the field against Sisera, who meets with signal defeat and is treacherously slain by a woman. This story of revolt, victory, and the death of Sisera is twice related, first in prose narrative (4:1-24) and secondly in a poem commemorative of the great victory (5:1-31). The fourth great judge is Gideon, who delivers Israel from the hordes of the Midianites, who are represented as having completely overrun the land. His story is one of considerable length (6:1-8:32). He is called to his work by the angel of Jehovah and granted miraculous signs. He selects his final army of three hundred men on a singular principle, and by the crafty use of torches and war-cries he renders his foes panic-stricken and wins a great victory. Summary vengeance is taken upon men of Israel who refused him succor when in pursuit of the enemy. The people in gratitude for his deliverance are ready to make Gideon king. He refuses, asking only a portion of the spoil from which he made an image which afterwards caused the people to go astray. Two independent narratives appear plainly in this story, most clearly evident in the twofold conclusion of the war (7:23-8:3 and 8:4-21). After the account of the judgeship of Gideon comes the story of the short-lived reign of his bastard son, Abimelech, whom the inhabitants of Shechem made their king. This story, after the introduction and the account of Abimelech's measures to become king (8:29–9:6), presents the parable of Jotham on the appointment of Abimelech as king, likening the choice of him as sovereign to that of a bramble bush to rule over the trees of the forest (9:7-21). Then follows the description of the rebellion against Abimelech and of his ignominious death by the hand of a woman (9:22-57). After the episode of Abimelech two minor judges, Tola and Jair, are mentioned (10:1-5); and then comes the account of the oppression of the Ammonites and the story of the deliverance from them under the leadership of an outcast and freebooter of Gilead, the fourth great judge, Jephthah (10:6–12:7). Three striking features appear in this story: the messages interchanged between Jephthah and the king of Ammon, the vow of Jephthah resulting in the sacrifice of his daughter, and the strife between the men of Gilead and the men of Ephraim. The narrative of Jephthah is followed by a brief record of the minor judges Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15), and then is introduced the sixth great judge, Samson, the hero of Dan and the deliverer from the Philistines. Of him are related seven most graphic stories: that of the annunciation of his birth through the angel of Jehovah, and his birth (13:1-25); that of his wooing and feast at Timnah (14: 1-20); that of the destruction of the Philistines' harvest through fire spread by brands fastened to foxes' tails (15:1-8); that of the slaughter of one thousand men with the jawbone of an ass (15:9-19); that of bearing away the gates of the city Gaza (16:1-3); that of his amour with Delilah, to whom he reveals the secret of his strength and through whom he is shorn of his locks and delivered to his enemies, who put out his eyes and cause him to grind in prison (16:4–22); and finally the story of his triumphant death, destroying a multitude of his Philistine enemies by pulling down upon them and himself a great building (16:23-31).
The first story of the appendix describes the founding of the sanctuary of Dan. A woman of Mt. Ephraim possessed a considerable quantity of silver which her son stole, but the mother forgave him the theft and turned the metal over to him. He made thereof an idol and created a sanctuary in which a wandering Levite was installed as priest (17:1-13). Members of the tribe of Dan on their march through the land to secure a home in Northern Palestine took both idol and priest and established therewith the sanctuary at Dan (18:1-31). The second story, the sin of Gibeah, is a gruesome tale of a Levite whose concubine was so outraged by the men of Gibeah that she died. He, then, severing her body, sent its pieces through Israel (19:1-30). This called the people out to war against the inhabitants of Gibeah, who were defended by their fellow tribesmen of Benjamin. They were defeated and nearly all of the tribe of Benjamin was massacred, six hundred men alone escaping (chap. 20). All the assembled people of Israel had bound themselves by an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites. Hence to provide the survivors with wives, lest a tribe should become extinct, the Israelites sent an expedition against the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, who had not joined with the rest of Israel, and all were put to the sword except four hundred virgins who were spared to become the wives of four hundred Benjamites (21:1-14). The remaining two hundred were allowed to provide themselves with wives by seizing virgins of Shiloh when in attendance at the dances of the annual feast of Jehovah (21:15–25).
The purpose of the Book of Judges has already been indicated in part. It was designed to furnish a history of Israel during the period intervening between the death of Joshua and the birth of Samuel, or, as stated, from the close of the conquest of Canaan to the beginnings of the Hebrew monarchy. But this was not its only purpose. The main portion of the book (2:6–16:31) was clearly designed to teach a great religious lesson, to wit, that departure from the service of Jehovah, especially in the worship of other gods, brought oppression and disaster upon the people of Israel, from which relief might be obtained by crying to Jehovah, who stood ready to raise up a deliverer, under whom rest from foreign oppression might be enjoyed. This is the meaning of the general introduction (2:6–3:6) and the repeated formula with which the story of each great judge is usually opened and closed; i.e. The people sinned and were given by Jehovah