In this essay we conclude our study of the book of Judges. To begin, I would like to make some preliminary remarks on the date of the events in these chapters. The evidence is mixed. For example, scholars point out that chapter 20, verse one, says that the Israelites came out to fight “from Dan to Beer-sheba,” which implies that the events took place after the migration of the Danites to the north. But chapter 20, verses 26-28, tell us that Israel wept before the ark of the covenant at Bethel, where “Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered . . .” Phinehas was a contemporary of Joshua, so that would suggest that these events took place shortly after the death of Joshua and before the events of chapters 17 and 18. There is no way to establish which implication is correct. Therefore for our purposes, we will leave the matter as an open question.

In 19:1-4 we are introduced to a Levite who took a concubine. But she was unfaithful to him, and then she left him to return to her father’s house. He decided to go there to sweet talk her back, which he succeeded in doing.

As we read on in verses 5-9, the woman’s father sought to keep them there by friendly persuasion; and he succeeded for a few days. But on the fifth day, the Levite insisted on leaving (v. 10). As they passed by Jebus, the forerunner of Jerusalem, which at that time was occupied by Jebusites, the Levite’s servant suggested that they seek hospitality there; but the Levite refused. He wanted to go on to an Israelite town (vv. 11-12). So they came to the Benjaminite town of Gibeah; but no one offered him hospitality (v. 15). Finally, in verses 16-21, an old man who was living in Gibeah, but who was not a Benjaminite, took them in for the night.

In verses 22-30 we see a gruesome story. You will immediately recognize some similarities between this narrative and the story about Lot in the city of Sodom in Gen. 19:1-11. Certain perverse men of the city came to the host’s house and demanded that his guests be given to them for sexual purposes. He refused, offering instead his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine. The men refused that offer; but when the host and the Levite put the concubine outside, they decided to settle for her; and they abused her all night long. She fell dead on the threshold at dawn.

The Levite took her dead body home; and then he cut it into twelve pieces. Next, he sent one piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel with a message of outrage at what had been done. This was a well-known symbolic act. It placed the crime before the eyes of the entire nation, and summoned them to punish the crime. Saul later did a very similar thing with an ox, as recorded in 1 Sam. 11:7.

The Levite’s action received an overwhelming response. In chapter 20 we are told that all of the tribes, even those on the eastern side of the Jordan, gathered at Mizpah, 400,000 armed men altogether, to deal with the issue, verses 1-2. Mizpah is located on the northern border of what later was the kingdom of Judah. It was west of Jericho, and somewhat northwest of Jerusalem. Bethel is a few miles to the north of it, and Gibeah is a few miles to the south. The tribes of Israel reviewed the situation, and decided not to rest until the crime had been punished. Then they decided to choose 10 percent of their force by lot for the purpose of providing provisions for the rest of the army (vv. 3-11).

Next, in verses 12-17, we see an incredible blunder on the part of the tribe of Benjamin. The massed army of Israel sent messengers throughout Benjamin asking them to turn over the Gibeanites for punishment. But the Benjaminites, who apparently were feeling their oats, refused to do it, taking the side of the Gibeanites instead. The Benjaminites raised an army of 26,000 in addition to 700 left-handed sling specialists who could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.

I must insert here something I learned on a trip to Israel. The reference to 700 men who could hit a hair with a sling stone was significant. Those men were serious warriors. When I was in Israel, I saw a display of sling stones at the National Museum. They were quite round and the size of baseballs. That really made the account of David and Goliath and this story come alive for me. I could finally understand how David killed Goliath with a single stone. This passage confirms that. I have since learned that these skilled sling men, and David was one, could hurl stones up to a pound in weight with uncanny accuracy at upwards of 90 mph. They were a serious threat in battle.

But in this situation, even with 700 sling specialists, the Benjaminites were greatly outnumbered. According to the account they numbered 26,700 against 400,000. That is not the best of odds. However one has to be wary of the numbers in this story. The numbers throughout the account are confusing and do not add up no matter what one does with them. First, the text can be read that there were 700 Gibeanites in addition to the 700 sling specialists. Then verse 35 says 25,100 were killed, whereas the numbers given in verses 44-46 add up to 25,000. And then verse 47 says that 600 survived. There is no way to make all of those figures harmonize. It is easy enough to suppose that the 25,000 killed number in verse 46 was a round number and the 25,100 total of verse 35 was a specific number. But there still are numerical problems that cannot be resolved.

Before opening the campaign, the Israelites went to Bethel to consult the Lord about which tribe should take the lead at the beginning of the war (v. 18). Verses 26-28 tell us that the Ark of the Covenant was at Bethel, and that Phinehas was ministering before it there. The Lord told Israel, through Phinehas, that the tribe of Judah should lead.

The next day the forces of Israel attacked Gibeah. But for whatever reason, despite their great numerical advantage, they suffered a terrible defeat. It may have been that they were overconfident because of their vastly superior numbers. The fact that they were on the Benjaminites’ home turf may have been a factor. The Benjaminites would have been more familiar with the lay of the land. Moreover, the specific location of the battle may have not been suitable for the effective use of superior numbers. In any case, Israel lost 22,000 men early in the day and withdrew to Bethel to weep before the Lord, from whom they received instructions to attack again, which they did the next day (vv. 19-23).

But the second day’s engagement went just as badly for Israel. They suffered a second humiliating defeat, this time losing 18,000 men early in the day. Thus they went back to Bethel with deep humility, to implore before the Lord again. This time they added to their tears fasting and the offering of sacrifices. When they inquired of the Lord, he told them to attack a third time, but this time he gave them an assurance of victory (vv. 24-28).

The next day Israel attacked, but this time they used different tactics. The story is in verses 29-48. As Israel began the attack, they gave the appearance of fighting the same way as on the first two days (v. 30). But they had 10,000 specially chosen men lying in ambush near Gibeah (v. 34). And when the Benjaminites came out to fight, the Israelites fell back as though they were fleeing (v. 31).

This drew the Benjaminites away from the city. That gave the ambush force the space needed to attack the city (vv. 33-34). They quickly “put the whole city to the sword” and set it on fire (v. 37). When the main force saw the smoke rising from the city, they stopped retreating and turned on the Benjaminites. The Benjaminites also saw the smoke, and that appears to have taken the fight out of them (v. 40-41). They were slaughtered by the Israelites. Only 600 survived (v. 44-47). Following that, Israel attacked the other towns of Benjamin (v. 48).

The last chapter, chapter 21, is an account of the preservation of the Benjaminites as a tribe in Israel. The Benjaminite tribe was nearly wiped out in the war; and the other tribes began to mourn, because they did not want to have Israel as a nation reduced by a tribe. But there was a problem to be solved, because as the tribes had prepared for war with Benjamin, they had sworn never to give any of their daughters in marriage to Benjamin (v. 1).

However a partial solution presented itself when the assembly began to deal with one group in Israel that had not answered the call to arms against Benjamin. All the tribes had sworn an oath, on penalty of death for non-compliance, to support the war against Benjamin (v. 5). Now that the war was over, it was discovered that no one had come from the city of Jabesh-gilead (vv. 8-9). That city was located just across the Jordan about 20 miles north of the Jabbok River. The transgression of not sending troops had to be punished, so 12,000 men were sent to Jabesh-gilead to kill the inhabitants (vv. 10-11), which they did. Everyone was killed except 400 young virgins (v. 12).

Those virgins then became part of the solution to the problem of the surviving Benjaminites. The rest of Israel made peace with the remaining 600 Benjaminites and gave them the 400 virgins from Jabesh-gilead as wives so that they could re-populate their tribe (vv. 13-14). But since the Benjaminites needed more wives than the 400 virgins, Israel resorted to a kind of subterfuge. They still would not give the Benjaminites any of their daughters in marriage because of their vow. But they told the Benjaminites they would look the other way if the Benjaminites came and stole some of their daughters (vv. 15-22). And that is what happened (v. 23). Then the Israelites returned to their homes (v. 24).

The chapter, and thus the book, ends with an appropriate refrain: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”


In the last two essays we studied the adventures of Samson found in chapters 13-16. We surveyed the four chapters in the next to last essay; and in the last essay, we analyzed the life of Samson from two perspectives. We assessed the meaning of his life as a judge over Israel and his character.

Now then, we turn to the story of Micah and the priest in chapters 17. The story begins with a confession of a man named Micah to his mother that he had stolen eleven hundred pieces of silver from her (vv. 1-2). Notice that no background information is given. There is no explanation of how or why he stole the money, nor is any other information provided. He may have made the confession out of fear of his mother’s curse which he mentioned in verse two; but we have no way of knowing. In any case he returned the money to his mother (v. 3).

Interestingly, the mother’s reaction to the confession was to pronounce a blessing on her son (v. 2). And then she announced that she was dedicating the money to the Lord (v. 3). That means that it could not be used for any human purpose. Unfortunately, her good intentions were lost in the heavy influence of paganism on her life. The way she chose to honor the Lord with the money was by having a silver idol made, which is forbidden in the Law (Ex. 20:4, 23; Deut. 4:16). She gave 200 pieces of the money to the silversmith to cast an idol, which was then taken to Micah’s house (v. 4). Nothing is said about how the rest of the money was used.

Micah may have used some of the money to have the ephod and teraphim mentioned in verse five made. Some of it may have been set aside to pay for and maintain the shrine. The ephod apparently was an imitation of the shoulder dress of the high priest of Israel (Ex. 39:1-26). And the teraphim were images of household gods, probably small pottery figurines, which were common in that pagan culture. Micah’s final strange religious action was to install one of his sons as family priest. And then verse six summarizes the political situation in Israel that allowed this sort of thing to happen: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

Beginning at verse seven we are told about a Levite who had been living in Bethlehem. This young Levite had no home, and so he was wondering through the countryside looking for a place to serve as a priest (v. 6). He came to Micah’s house and got a job there as the family priest. I suppose that meant that Micah’s son was now out of a job. But nothing is said about that.

That brings us to chapter 18. The statement in verse one easily could be misunderstood. It was not that the tribe of Dan had not been given an inheritance. You may recall that they had been given an inheritance, as recorded in Josh. 19:41-48. They were living in some of the towns of that inheritance. The problem was that they had not been able to conquer the best portion of the land. They had been unable to take the plain, because they couldn’t handle chariots; and all 64,000 plus of the tribe were crammed into the hill country, mostly in the territory of Judah. So it was more a matter of not having enough space than not having any space.

That was the situation that led part of the tribe of Dan to look for another place to live. They sent out five men as spies to look for a likely spot. In their travels the men came by Micah’s house and were given hospitality there (v. 2).

While at Micah’s they heard the Levite speaking, and immediately recognized his accent as being from somewhere other than the mountains. So they entered into conversation with him and learned his story (vv. 3-4). Once they discovered that he was a priest, they asked him to ask God whether or not their mission would be a success. He told them it would (vv. 5-6).

So the men moved on to a place called Laish. As you see, the spies deemed Laish the perfect place for the Danites to go. The people of Laish were wealthy, but not warlike. The city was not well fortified; and thus it was potentially “easy pickings.” The people of Laish were Sidonian in background, but Laish was far enough from Sidon that they could expect no real help from that quarter. In addition they, literally, “had nothing to do with other men” [NRSV, following a non-Hebrew reading, renders it “Aram” instead of “other men] (v. 7). The statement means that they did not live in close association with any other towns. And so the spies returned home very enthusiastic about the area of Laish as a potential new home.

In verses 11 and following we see that 600 Danites, accompanied by the five original spies (v. 17), were sent to take Laish. On the way they stopped over at Micah’s house, verse 13. By a show of force they went in and took the idol, the ephod, and the teraphim, verses 14-18. And they persuaded the Levite to go with them to be their priest, verses 19-20. That he accepted is not surprising. He was out of a job at Micah’s house with the shrine stripped of everything.

We learn in verse 21 that the 600 Danites had all of their families and possessions with them. They weren’t just a war party. They were making a permanent move.

Micah made an attempt to challenge the Danites (vv. 22-25). But they were too strong for him; and so there was nothing he could do (v. 26).

As we read on, we see that the Danites easily took Laish (vv. 27-28). It appears that the Danites destroyed the city, and then rebuilt it for their own use (v. 28). They renamed it Dan (v. 29), and made a man named Jonathan their priest. Some interpret this to mean that Jonathan was Micah’s Levite whom the Danites had taken with them. It is not possible to know.

Turning to application, one obvious point is the necessity of avoiding idolatry. Micah and his mother made a major mistake in seeking to worship the Lord by idolatrous means. In our case, we do not cast silver idols; but we have our ways of setting up other kinds of “idols.” You might take a moment to ponder some of the ways.

We also can learn something from the Levite. He didn’t seem to have much character. In his own way he was like Samson in that regard. He was a servant of God, supposedly, but he was willing to be whatever anyone wanted him to be in that service. Micah was willing to pay him, so he served the Lord as Micah’s priest even though it was an idolatrous shrine. Then when the Danites destroyed Micah’s shrine, the Levite simply shifted his loyalty to them. Can you think of any ways that we can be like the Levite?

The Danites are not a good religious model either. Notice in verse 31 the way the account of their settling in Dan ends: “So they maintained as their own Micah’s idol that he had made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh. That would be around the time of the death of Eli in 1 Samuel chapter four. In other words the Danites were as tied into idolatry as Micah and the Levite. God forbid that any of us, like Micah, the Levite, or the Danites seek to serve God in idolatrous ways.

SAMSON: THE MAN: 13:1-16:31

In our last study we surveyed chapters 13-16 of Judges in order to get the entire adventures of Samson before us. In this essay we will do an analysis of Samson based on the four chapters. I want to assess the meaning of his life as a judge in Israel, and I want to look at his character.

Samson’s life as a judge. The first point to be made is that Samson was a real judge. The angel of the Lord personally involved himself with Samson’s parents so that they would prepare him properly for the task (ch. 13). The Spirit of the Lord came on Samson on several occasions to empower him for the task (14:6, 19; 15:19). And the author of Judges tells us that Samson judged Israel for 20 years (15:20).

But second, Samson was a unique judge. He never led Israel’s armies in battle. And he never governed Israel. Rather he simply carried out certain exploits against the Philistines, which usually included killing many of them. So Samson, though a real judge, was quite unique as a judge.

Third, Samson accomplished very little with his supernatural power; and thus he accomplished little as a judge. Look at his deeds! He killed a lion with his bare hands (14:6). He killed 30 Philistines at Ashkelon to get the garments he needed to pay off a wager he made at his wedding feast (14:19). He captured a bunch of jackals and used them to burn the crops and groves of the Philistines (15:4-5). He slaughtered an unknown number of Philistines after they killed the woman he almost married and her father (15:6-8). He killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass when they came to get him (15:14-17). And he killed perhaps several thousand Philistines along with himself when he pulled down the temple on them (16:23-30).

These are rather small results considering the supernatural power that Samson was given. Indeed it seems that Samson may have wasted his divine gift. In the end his accomplishments as a judge in Israel amounted to the killing of several thousand Philistines. That was it. He didn’t seem to do anything else well. And all of that killing added up to essentially nothing. Israel remained under Philistine domination, and no one was helped. Although Samson had the strength to lead his people to victory over the Philistines, it didn’t happen.

Samson’s character. The second thing we want to look at is Sampson’s character. And as soon as we begin to observe it, we begin to see why he failed as a judge.

We can approach Samson’s main character failing from more than one angle. So let’s begin by listing surface things. First, Samson was captive to his testosterone. He liked the ladies, and he always seemed to gravitate to inappropriate women. Even the woman he chose to marry was a Philistine rather than a woman from Israel. And that led to a whole series of conflicts during which Samson killed many Philistines to no good end. When Samson did the feat of carrying off the city gates at Gaza, he was in the city to visit a prostitute. And then the Philistines finally were able to gain control of Samson because of his love for another Philistine woman, Delilah. The text does not identify her as a Philistine, but the details of the story indicate that she was. So Samson spent much of his energy in liaisons with, and conflicts resulting from, inappropriate women.

Second, Samson was a murderer. In the series of exploits recorded in these chapters, he killed a lion and thousands of Philistines during his life, and an unknown number when he pulled down the pillars of the Philistines’ temple. Samson was a killing machine! Apart from the carrying away of the gates of Gaza, we have no record of Samson’s ever doing anything with his supernatural power except kill. And the feat of carrying away the gates had no noble end.

Third, Samson was a fool. He showed no wisdom whatsoever. He foolishly rejected the advice of his parents in the matter of his wedding. He foolishly revealed the secret of his riddle to his bride, even though he hardly knew her. He foolhardily murdered 30 Philistines just to pay a gambling debt. He recklessly began a minor war with the Philistines with no one to battle them but himself. And he foolishly revealed the secret of his strength to Delilah. Samson was a fool.

All right, on the surface of things, Samson was lustful, a killer, and a fool. But all of those things are symptoms of a larger, more serious problem. Samson’s main character failing was his failure to obey the Lord. The Lord chose Sampson for special ministry as a judge; but he never fulfilled that role in any consequential way, because of his rebellion against the Lord. Samson was to be a Nazirite from birth. And the Holy Spirit came upon him. That meant he was given the potential to lead the people of Israel to deliverance. But he made gods of things other than the Lord. And he ended up wasting his gift and forfeiting his calling

What about us? How do we avoid the mistakes of Samson?

SAMSON: HIS STORY: 13:1-16:31

In this study we take up the adventures of Samson. I say “the adventures of Samson,” because his story is like that. It is a series of adventures, all having to do with the Philistines. But Sampson’s story is not like the adventures of Superman. Samson’s adventures are not noble. Indeed he is not a noble character. So studying his life is not an easy business.

The story is told in chapters 13 through 16 in the Book of Judges. I believe two sessions are sufficient to deal with the adventures of Samson; but I want to do it a bit differently. Instead of doing two chapters in each essay, I want to survey all four chapters in this study; and then in the next study I will do an analysis of Samson based on all four chapters.

In 13:1 we once again see typical apostasy by Israel with resulting oppression by a foreign nation. This time the oppressor is Philistia. Then the rest of the chapter tells how the angel of the Lord twice appeared to Samson’s parents before he was born (vv. 2-20), which visits set the course of Samson’s entire life.

In verses 2-7 we learn that Samson’s parents were a childless couple from the tribe of Dan. One day the angel of the Lord appeared to the wife and told her that she would have a son, who would be a Nazirite from his birth. Then she relayed the information to her husband, Manoah. In verses 8-20 Manoah met the angel of the Lord at his second visit; some instructions were repeated; and they made a sacrifice to God. There are two points of discussion here.

The first is the identification of “the angel of the Lord.” The angel of the Lord sometimes is described as the Lord himself (Ex. 2:2-6; Jud. 6:11-18). So some scholars suggest that the angel of the Lord is God himself in physical manifestation. But in other places the angel of the Lord is spoken of as distinct from God (Zech. 1:12). Therefore we can only be sure that this figure acts as God, or on behalf of God, at important moments.

The second point of discussion is the matter of Nazirite vows. Nazirite vows are explained in Num. 6:1-21. If you turn there, you will notice several things. For example, the purpose of Nazirite vows is given. One took the vows in order to separate oneself to the Lord for a certain period of time (vv. 1-2). The word “Nazirite” literally means, “separated one,” or “consecrated one.” Thus the vows were a way provided by the Law to enable a member of God’s covenant people to set aside, ceremonially, a period of time for complete dedication to God’s purposes.

You will notice in addition that the person who took Nazirite vows was forbidden to drink wine or strong drink, or to ingest any product of the vine (vv. 3-4). Further, they had to abstain from cutting their hair while under the vow (v. 5). And in addition to that, they had to avoid contact with corpses (vv. 6-7). If you read on in the chapter, you will find proscribed sacrifices to be made if one accidentally came in contact with something dead, and sacrifices to make when one ended the period of the vow.

Now then, coming back to Judges 13, we find some differences from what we saw in Numbers six. First, notice that Samson was to be a Nazirite from birth (v. 5). The classic Nazirite vows were voluntary. That is, one freely chose to take the vows. But Samson did not have a choice, because the condition existed from his birth. Then second, the classic vows were for a limited period of time. But Samson’s situation was permanent. And third, notice that the angel of the Lord said nothing about avoiding corpses as part of Samson’s condition. As it turned out, that was a good thing, because Samson frequently came in contact with dead bodies. Fourth, the angel of the Lord gave Samson’s mother a reason for his being a Nazirite from birth. He was “to begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (v. 5). Notice that word “begin.” Samson never did deliver Israel. That deliverance finally came much later during the days of David the king. Discussion?

Chapter 13 ends with the birth of Samson. Verse 24 tells us, “And the woman bore a son, and called his name Sampson; and the boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.”

In 14:1-9 we see the first recorded incident between Samson and the Philistines. The first thing I want you to take note of here is the interaction between the Israelites and Philistines. We have been told that the Philistines had been oppressing Israel for years. But we see here that there is travel back and forth between the two groups, and even intermarriage is tolerated. Samson’s parents objected to his marrying a Philistine, but not severely enough to put a stop to it. And fathers had that kind of authority in Israel. And it is obvious that the Philistines did not object.

There are two reasons for the story about Samson’s killing the lion in verses 5-9. One is that it demonstrates that Samson’s strength was supernatural. He was able to tear the lion apart barehanded because the Holy Spirit rushed upon him (v. 6). And two, it sets up the next story, which involved a riddle that had to do with the lion.

In verse eight the phrase “after a while,” when Samson returned to marry the Philistine girl, means some time later, because the carcass of the lion had to have time to dry out in the heat in a way that would have made it suitable for bees to make a hive in it. And the reason Samson didn’t tell his parents where the honey came from (v. 9) presumably was because it came from a dead body, and eating it would have made them ceremonially unclean, a matter about which Samson seems to have had no concern whatsoever.

In verses 10-20 we read about Samson’s wedding and riddle. There are three things of importance to observe here. First, the custom of entertaining guests at weddings with riddles was not uncommon. However, second, I suspect that the huge wager that Samson and the Philistines made in connection with it was unusual. “Linen garments” would have been every-day clothing, but the “festal garments,” literally “change of garments” would have been the equivalent of our “Sunday best.” And in that culture, the people would have had only one set each. So this was an expensive wager.

Third, an insoluble chronological problem is created by the phrase “on the seventh day” in verse 15, unless something is changed. The Hebrew of verse 15 does read, “On the seventh day;” but that is impossible in the context. It probably originally read “On the fourth day,” as the Greek Syriac version reads. If you have a New Revised Standard Version, it uses the Greek Syriac reading so that the paragraph will make sense.

As the seven days of the wedding feast passed, the Philistines began to feel the pressure of not being able to solve the riddle. They did not want to pay off the wager, so they harassed Samson’s fiancé to get him to reveal the secret to her so she could tell them. And finally on the last day she succeeded.

Then in verse 19 we see another incident of the Spirit of the Lord coming on Samson. This time Samson went to the city of Ashkelon on the coast of the Mediterranean; and in the supernatural power of the Spirit, he killed 30 Philistines and took their clothing to pay his debt from the riddle. In addition, instead of going back to his bride to claim her, he and went home in a huff. And his wife’s father gave her to Sampson’s best man. As we shall see in the next essay, this kind usage of the power of the Hoy Spirit indicates that Samson wasted his gifts.

In chapter 15 we see further acts of Samson. In verses 1-3 we see that some time after the incidents just related, during the wheat harvest, Samson went back to Timnah with the intention of consummating his marriage. He had not done that at the time of the wedding feast because of the fiasco over the riddle. But when he arrived, he learned that the girl’s father had given her to his “companion,” is the way the NRSV translates it. It is a reference to Samson’s best man at the wedding.

Samson was enraged, and he decided to take revenge, not just against his father-in-law, but in a much more general way. And so as you read on down the chapter you see what he did. He captured 300 foxes. Actually I believe “jackals” would be a better translation. Jackals are relatives of the fox; and they sometimes are confused with the fox; but they run in packs, rather than alone, and they are easier to capture. In any case, with an act of terrible animal cruelty, he tied the tails of the foxes together in pairs, with a torch tied in with the tails. He then set the torches on fire and set the jackals loose in the fields of the Philistines, destroying their grain, vineyards and groves (vv. 4-5).

Of course that angered the Philistines. They apparently didn’t think they could take revenge on Samson, so they took it out on his father in law and her daughter, by burning them to death (v. 6). Of course Samson took offense at that and slaughtered more Philistines, though it doesn’t say how many (vv. 7-8). There is no doubt that if this were made into a movie today, it would have to have an R-rating for violence.

Most of the remainder of the chapter is devoted to another violent story of how Samson permitted himself to be captured by the Philistines and then killed a thousand of them with the fresh jawbone of an ass (vv. 9-17). Near the end of the chapter the Lord performed a miracle for Samson in order to provide water for him (vv. 18-19); and then it ends with the statement, “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.”

At the beginning of chapter 16, we find another bizarre adventure of Samson. He went to the city of Gaza to visit a prostitute. And then in the middle of the night, he tore the city gates from their place and carried them away (vv. 1-3). Then comes the famous story of Samson and Delilah (vv. 4-22), which is followed by an account of Samson’s final revenge on the Philistines and his death (vv. 23-31).

You are familiar with the account of Samson and Delilah. Once more his love life did him in. After Samson fell in love with Delilah and established a relationship with her (v. 4), the Philistines bribed Delilah to discover the secret of Samson’s great strength (v. 5). Samson took the whole matter as a kind of game; and three times he lied about it. He told her that if he was bound with fresh bowstrings it would weaken him, but of course that didn’t work (vv. 6-9). So then he told her new ropes would do it; but that didn’t work either (vv. 10-12). Then he suggested that she weave his hair into the cloth on a loom in some fashion; and of course, that also didn’t do the trick (vv. 13-14). But then finally, Samson foolishly told her the truth; and while he slept, Delilah had a man cut off Samson’s hair.

The key sentence in these verses is the last one in verse 20: “But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” Samson’s strength did not reside in his hair. Rather it was due to the presence of the Lord. The Holy Spirit gave Samson his physical power. And the condition for maintaining the presence of the Lord, laid down before Samson’s birth, was his condition as a Nazirite. The removal of Samson’s hair broke his status as a Nazirite and the Holy Spirit left him. That enabled the Philistines to capture Samson. And they quickly tortured him by gouging out his eyes and putting him to the task of grinding grain at the prison mill. But we are told in verse 22 that his hair grew back.

In verses 23-31 we see Sampson’s dramatic death. The account speaks for itself. The re-growth of Samson’s hair re-established him as a Nazirite, and the Hoy Spirit returned to him. Then Sampson won a kind of final victory over the Philistines in his death. As verse 30 says, “those he killed at his death were more than he had killed during his life.”

Well, that is the basic content of the adventures of Samson. In the next essay we will attempt to deal with his character and what meaning his life had as a rather unique judge in Israel’s history.


The last essay in the series completed the portion of the Book of Judges on Gideon’s family. Having finished the period of Midianite oppression, in this essay we are taking up the next period, that of Ammonite and Philistine oppression. Although the eighteen-year Ammonite oppression is dealt with first, and then that of the forty-years of Philistine pressures, they actually overlapped considerably. The Ammonite attacks fell on Gilead on the eastern side of the Jordan, with some forays into the territory of the west bank tribes. The pressure from the Philistines on the other hand, came from the west. So the Israelite tribes were being pinched in between.

The two judges who are the focus of attention in this section are Jephthah whom God raised up against the Ammonites, and Sampson who waged a 30-year war against the Philistines. The story of Jephthah and the three minor judges who followed him, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, is recorded in 10:6-12:15. And that is our study for today.

In 10:6 you will recognize the typical slide into apostasy of the period. Notice that seven false gods are named. Seven is the number of completion or perfection. The point is that the apostasy of Israel was complete.

In verses 7-9 we see the typical reaction by the Lord to the apostasy. And then in verses 10-12 the Lord names seven nations from which had delivered Israel in the past. Once again the number seven is significant. The point is that the past deliverances of God were as complete and perfect as Israel’s present apostasy. In addition, in verses 13-14 the Lord tells Israel to seek help from the foreign gods they had been worshipping.

Then in verses 15 and 16 we see the genuine repentance that was typical of the period. And as in the past, things began to turn around with the call of a judge. This one was named Jephthah.

In 11:1-11 we see the story of Jephthah. He began his career on a rather sour note. His mother was a prostitute; and his brothers, whose mother was a legitimate wife, drove Jephthah from the family home. So he became a kind of outlaw leader who made a reputation as a warrior in the region of Tob (vv. 1-3)

But that became his ticket to leadership, because when the Ammonites set up for a new attack, the elders of Gilead called on Jephthah to lead them in battle (vv. 5-6). But Jephthah was unwilling to be just a military leader. He negotiated a deal whereby, if they won, he would rule over the tribes after the war was over (vv. 7-9). The elders agreed (v. 10), and Jephthah became judge over that portion of Israel (v. 11).

Once Jephthah was in power, he immediately began negotiations with the Ammonites. In 11:12-28, we see that Jephthah began the negotiations by accusing the Ammonites of invading his land (v. 12). The Ammonite king replied that Israel originally had taken the land from his ancestors (v. 13). Then Jephthah sent to the Ammonites a detailed account of the history as recorded in the Pentateuch (Num. 20-21), which indicates that Israel only took the land in question after she was attacked. But that wasn’t the main point. Jepthah’s main point was that Israel got the land from Sihon and the Amorites, not from the Ammonites (vv. 19-22). The Ammonites dwelled southeast from the Amorites.

Thus the bottom line for Jephthah was that the land never belonged to the Ammonites; and the bottom line for the king of the Ammonites was that it did. So the negotiations came to nothing (v. 25).

In the next paragraph, verses 29-33, we find a series of fast-moving events. First, in verse 29 the Holy Spirit came upon Jephthah (v. 29). Of course that is a positive thing; and it made him a true judge. Then in verse 30 we are told that Jephthah raised an army from among the eastern tribes. Now that must have been an additional army, because an army already had been gathered, and some fighting had taken place, even before the elders of Gilead called on Jephthah to be their leader (10:17; 11:4-5).

Then Jephthah, perhaps because of a weakness of faith or character, made a rash vow. He vowed to the Lord, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering” (vv. 30-31). And then Jephthah proceeded to win the war (vv. 32-33).

In verses 34-40 we see the fulfillment of Jephthah’s vow. Scholars have discussed and cussed this vow of Jephthah’s time and time again. What was he thinking when he made the vow? Was he thinking of an animal sacrifice, or a human sacrifice? If it was not an animal sacrifice, was he thinking of a literal human sacrifice, or a symbolic sacrifice of some sort? Obviously it is impossible to know what he was thinking.

A few have argued for an animal sacrifice, but not many. There has been general agreement through the centuries by both Jews and Christians that Jephthah did not mean an animal sacrifice. And it is only since the Middle Ages that scholars have argued for a symbolic, rather than literal, sacrifice. Nevertheless the theory is attractive. This theory argues that the “sacrifice” was to submit to perpetual virginity. The reason the prospect upset Jephthah was because she was Jephthah’s only child; and her perpetual virginity meant that he would have no grandchildren, and his particular family line would come to an end.

The Rabbis and the Christians of the first several centuries assumed that it involved a literal human sacrifice. The two main reasons for a literal interpretation are, first, they say that the two-month period of the daughter’s bewailing her virginity (vv. 37-38) makes no sense unless she was being killed. Otherwise she would have had the rest of his life to bewail her virginity. Second, those arguing this position say that the tradition that arose of an annual four-day lamentation of Jephthah’s daughter makes no sense unless she was sacrificed. And third, they point out that there is no other place in the Old Testament where the language “offer as a burnt offering” is not intended literally.

On the other hand, those who believe the perpetual virginity theory set forth some strong arguments. First, they point out that child sacrifice was forbidden by the Law (Lev. 18:21; Deut. 12:21); and unless this incident is an exception, there is no record of child sacrifice in Israel prior to the godless kings Ahaz and Manassah who came much later. They would answer the argument about the daughter’s lamentation of her virginity with the statement that mourning one’s virginity did not mean to mourn because one has to die a virgin, but because one has to live and remain a virgin. Moreover, they argue, why would the daughter have left the company of her parents for two months, if she were facing death? Presumably, she would have wanted to spend as much time as possible with her family before she died. And finally, if a literal human sacrifice were done, why would the author of the book not have condemned the action? And where would the sacrifice have taken place. It surely would not have been approved at any lawful altar in the land, because the law demanded the punishment of death for child sacrifice.

Well, you will have to make up your own mind about all of that. Whatever the character of the sacrifice, Jephthah seems to have made the vow rashly; and he carried it out to his regret.

Chapter 12 is not of major consequence. In verses 1-7 the Ephraimites came to Jephthah with a false complaint and threatened to burn his house down (v. 1). Jephthah replied with an accusation that he had asked them for help and didn’t receive it (v. 2), which sparked an insult from the Ephraimites. In effect they called Jephthah and his men renegades (v. 4). So Jephthah rounded up his army and defeated Ephraim in battle (v. 4). In verses five and six, we see that Jephthah’s army took the fords of the Jordan River and slaughtered the men of Ephraim as they sought to cross the river. They could identify the Ephrainites, because the Ephraimites couldn’t pronounce the word “Shibboleth.”

The meaning of the word “Shibboleth” is disputed. But it doesn’t really matter what the word meant. The important thing was the pronunciation. The Ephraimites could not pronounce a “sh” sound. When they pronounced the word, it came out Sibboleth instead of Shibboleth. This story led to the entry of the word “shibboleth” into our English language with the meaning of a watchword or catchphrase of a particular group or sect.

Verses 8-13 mention the three judges who followed Jephthah. But we learn nothing significant about them.

Turning to application, we learn once again that service for God requires the power of the Holy Spirit. Jephthah accomplished what he did because the Holy Spirit came upon him (11:29).

Second, we learn that we must watch what we say. Jephthah ruined both his daughter’s life and his own life by making a foolish vow (11:30-31). Those of us who are filled with the Spirit have the ability to control our tongues and thus to refrain from unnecessarily hurting people.