The Incomplete Victory of Judah & The Judges Period

Now that Moses and Joshua are gone, who’s gonna lead them, Caleb?

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The Judges and Locations

The Book of Judges is named from the people God selected to provide leader­ship for His people.

Jdg 2:16 says that God “raised up judges who saved them.”

Twelve names are normally included in the group.

To this list sometimes Abimelech, Eli, and Samuel are added.

– Abime­lech, son of Gideon, was more a renegade king than a judge.

– Eli and Samuel, though spoken of as “judging” Israel (1 Sam. 4:18; 7:15-17), were more high priest and prophet.

“Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? 

And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.

And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites” (Jdg 1:1-3).

Judah and the Israelites slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  Adoni-bezek fled, but they caught him and 70 kings.  With them they cut off their thumbs and big toes.

The children of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went with Israel and lived with the people in the south of Arad. 

Judah and Simeon then went and slew the Canaanites that were in Zephath.  They also destroyed Gaza, Askelon, and Ekron which were all on the coast.

Yet, they were unable to drive off those that lived in the valley.  They gave Hebron to Caleb, expelling the three sons of Anak. 

The children of Benjamin couldn’t drive out the Jebusites that lived in Jerusalem, so they lived with them.

The house of Joseph went up against Beth-el, and God was with them.  They sent spies to Beth-el and a man told them how to enter the city secretly and they conquered it.

Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor Dor and her towns, nor Ibleam and her towns, nor Megiddo and her towns.  The Canaanites dwelled in those towns.

Israel was strong, but didn’t drive the Canaanites out, neither did Ephraim drive the Canaanites out of Gezer, neither Zebulun drive the inhabitants out of Kitron, nor out of Nahalol.  Neither did Asher drive them out of Accho, Zidon, Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob.

Merneptah Stela
The most important mention of Israel outside of the Bible is found in the Merneptah Stela.

Discovered in 1896 in Merneptah’s mortuary temple in Thebes.

The stela is a eulogy to pharaoh Merneptah, who ruled Egypt after Rameses the Great, c. 1236-1223 B.C.

– Of significance to Biblical studies is a short section at the end of the poem describing a campaign to Canaan by Merneptah in the first few years of his reign.

One line mentions Israel: “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.”

Here we have the earliest mention of Israel outside the Bible and the only mention of Israel in Egyptian records.

– Also mentioned is “Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer; Yanoam is made as that which does not exist.”

– This puts Israel as a nation right after the conquest of Canaan by Joshua (1406 BC).

– The alignment of these three cities implies that the confrontation with Israel took place in northern Palestine. Gezer was a key access point into the Hill country of Palestine where the tribes of Israel were located.

It could be here that Israel clashed with Merneptah.

Naphtali also didn’t drive them out of Beth-shemesh or Beth-anath.  And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain.

“And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. 

And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served 1 Baalim” (Jdg 2:10-11).

“And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.

Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had 2 sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed.

Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. 

And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so” (Jdg 2:14-17).

God is longsuffering, continuing to give Israel time and time again to get right, which He still does today with everyone, but the time will come to an end. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23).

The names Baalim, Baal, Baalam, and Ashtaroth are false gods.  There are only two powers in this world, and they are Obama and Oprah, but God and Satan.  Any false god represents the devil. 

Baalim is the Hebrew plural for Baal.

Baal was Lord of Canaanite religion and seen in the thunderstorms, Baal was worshiped as the god who provided fertility.

Balaam was a very influential sorcerer who, although aware of the true God, made his services available on a freelance basis.

Ashtaroth was a Canaanite goddess of fertility, love, and war and the daughter of the god El and the goddess Asherah.

Deut 28:15-68

An exact chronology of Judges can’t be established.  If we add up all the years of oppression and rest recorded in the book we get a total of 410 years. 

The book of Acts gives a total of 450 years for the period from Joshua to Sam (Act 13:20).  Apparently that difference is to be accounted for by the 40 years of Eli’s ministry (1 Sam 4:18). 

There isn’t room for 450 years, plus 30 for Joshua’s leadership, 40 years for wandering in the wilderness, and some decades for Samuel’s ministry between the time when Saul became king (c 1050 B.C.) and an early date for the Exodus (c 1440). 

The usual conclusion is that some of the judges were contemporary (e.g., Samson in the southwest and Jephthah in the east) and that the period of the judges lasted some 300 years.

The Judges Period

Gideon Defeats the Midianites
The Temple of Baal/El-Berith
The eve of the battle found the enemy encamped in the Esdraelon Valley between Mount Gilboa on the south and Mount Moreh on the north.

Gideon’s men were gathered near the well of Harod at the foot of Gilboa.

At Gideon’s death peace was broken by three years of treachery and bloodshed at the hand of Abimelech, the renegade Israelite who had himself proclaimed king (Jdg 7-9).

Evidence

The east gate of Shechem where Gaal and Zebul watched the forces of Abimelech approach the city (Jdg 9:34-38) has been discovered by archaeologists in Shechem.

– Part of the city’s fortifications throughout the second millennium, the gate is typical for the Middle Bronze period with three piers and two chambers.

– This gate would have been the main gate of the city in the days of Abimelech.

The Temple of Baal/El-Berith in Shechem, where funds were obtained to finance Abimelech’s kingship and where the citizens of Shechem took refuge when Abimelech attacked the city (Jdg 9:4, 46-49) has also been found.

– Shechem is identified with Tel/Tell Balatah.

This fortified temple dates to the period of the judges and has walls 17 feet thick.

– Archaeologists have identified this building with the Temple of Baal Berith mentioned in Jdg 9.

The period of the judges ex­tended from the end of the conquest, around 1400 B.C., until Saul was anointed king of Israel in approximately 1050 B.C.

An Egyptian docu­ment, Papyrus Anastasi I, describes Canaan at that time as something like the American “Wild West,” with roads nearly impassable by chariot and boding ever-present dangers from wild animals and robbers.

During this era Israel functioned as a tribal society led by leaders called judges, and its religious center was at Shiloh.

By the late 13th century B.C. the Israelites were the major political power in the region.

That changed, however, with the invasion of the Philistines in the early 12th century B.C. The Israelites were almost continuously at war with the Philistines for the next two centuries, until David finally sub­dued this troublesome adversary once and for all.

A major socioeconomic change took place in the eastern Mediterranean region during the period of the judges.

The city-states that had predominated in the Late Bronze Age were destroyed in the late 13th and early 12th centuries B.C., ushering in the Iron Age.

Rural shepherds like the Israelites could no longer depend upon the city-states for produce and were forced to settle down and become agricul­turists in order to survive.

Thus, while the Israelites were pastoralists, dependent large­ly upon flocks and herds for their economic security and dwelling in tents at the beginning of the Judges period, by the time of Gideon, around 1190 B.C., at least some of them had become farmers living in villages.

Many scholars claim that the record of the conquest in Joshua is idealistic, with a more realistic account detailed in Judges 1.

However, the two books identify the same list of cities that could not be conquered.

The focus in Joshua is not on those failures but rather on the victories resulting from remaining true to the Lord.

Judges, on the other hand, emphasizes Israel’s failings during a period when the people of God fol­lowed the pagan ways of the nations around them.