Judges 1-12: Whatever you do, don’t get killed by a woman

It’s a new book day! We’re on to book number 7, the book of Judges. I’ll go ahead and clarify something about the use of the word ‘Judges’ right now. In the Hebrew text of the Bible if someone was said to be ‘judging’ Israel it meant that they were leading it, so really ‘Judges’ in this context means leader. As you’re going to see, the book is very very very cyclical. If you don’t like reading (first off, what are you doing here?) here’s a summary of the book of Judges: The Israelites don’t follow God’s laws, God gets pissed and lets them get beaten by their enemies, the Israelites cry, God sends them a champion (a judge), the champion wins everything and everyone’s happy again. And repeat.

Judg. 1, Verse 1: After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”

How can there be any Canaanites left!? And surely at this stage they have suffered enough?

Judg. 1, Verses 4-6: When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.

The good old murder of 10,000 men, banter and all that, but what’s this about thumbs and big toes you might ask. Well:

Judg. 1, Verse 7: Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

So really this was more than an enactment of ‘an eye for an eye’ than random barbarity. If you’re still confused as to why anyone was having their thumbs and big toes cut off, there is actually a real reason for it. If you’ve had your thumb cut off, it’s not overly easy to hold a sword or any other weapon, let alone swing it at someone. As for the toes, your big toe is very important for balance. Also, try running without one, something tells me it’s not easy. Basically, these mutilations are carried out to stop people being effective warriors.

Judg. 1, Verse 8:  The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.

Don’t worry, this was before God decided it was a really holy place, so the mindless destruction is justified.

Judg. 1, Verses 12-13: And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

I don’t even really know what to say about this sorta stuff anymore.

Judg. 1, Verse 17: Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their fellow Israelites and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed the city. Therefore it was called Hormah.

The word ‘Hormah’ means destruction. It’s all well and good calling it that, but think about. How many cities have Israel totally destroyed? HINT: A fuckton.

Judg. 1, Verse 21: The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.

But . . . wasn’t Jerusalem destroyed in verse 8?

Judg. 2, Verses 10-11: After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of theLord and served the Baals.

From my experience, most kids tend to grow up worshiping the Gods of their parents. Isn’t it a bit weird that an entire generation spread across multiple tribes would change in one go?

Judg. 2, Verses 14-15: In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

Given the death and destruction they have inflicted upon the land, how could there possibly be any enemies left!?

So then because they violated the covenant, God decides that he’s not going to win all their battles for them. Tough luck Israel.

Because God was no longer fighting for them, the Israelites got conquered really easily by some other king. But then God raised a champion called Othniel who killed the king, and they were free again. Then when Othniel died, the Israelites were evil again, and got conquered by another king (see how the cycle comes into it?).

God raises up a Judge called Ehud, and he went for an audience with this king. Apparently the King wasn’t overly hot on security.

Judg. 3, Verses 20-21: Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly.

‘What? One of the people I am oppressing has killed me!? The shock!’

Judg. 3, Verse 22: Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.

. . . thank you for that, Bible.

Then Ehud went and gathered the boys:

Judg. 3, Verses 28-30: “Follow me,” he ordered, “for the Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab; they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.

All that’s changed is that the king is dead. And it sounds like he was pretty fat. Just because they killed the king, doesn’t make the armies any easier to defeat. But I guess Ehud is a divinely inspired judge, so he just wins or something.

Judg. 3, Verse 31: After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad (pointed stick used to urge cows on while plowing the fields). He too saved Israel.

Hahahahaha, what? Is this seriously it? You give a whole 20 verse long story to the guy who stabbed a fat king, but Shamgar here who killed 600 people with a pointy stick gets 1 verse? It’s almost as though you’re making it it up, come on, give us more to go on!

Judg. 4, Verses 1-2: Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim.

*yawn* I wonder where this story is going?

Judg. 4, verses 4-5: Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided.

Now that is a breath of fresh air. A woman leading Israel, brilliant, take note America.

Even though they’ve been conquered or whatever, Deborah basically just asks this one guy, Barak, to get 10,000 men and go and fight Sisera. He does, they do, and they win.

Judg. 4, Verses 17-18: Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

Well this seems nice enough for the poor guy who’s army was totally destroyed, the end?

Judg. 4, Verses 20-21: “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’” But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

Woah, ouch. That’s a pretty metal way to kill someone, Jael. Can I just ask, why did you kill him? Aren’t you meant to be allied to that guy?

Chapter 5 is actually just a song, but it’s quite interesting. It’s called the song of Deborah and is actually one of the oldest parts of the Bible. There isn’t much need to quote the song itself, as it basically just a poetic recounting of the small story I just covered, but it’s interesting because of it’s age. If it’s one of the oldest parts (age estimation based off grammar and context) then why is it coming in here, in the 5th chapter of book 7?

And the book of Judges goes on and on and on like this. I’ll not cover the whole stories for some of the judges, but just pick out funny bits.

Judg. 9, Verse 5: He (Abimelek) went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding.

Woah, calm down bro.

Judg. 9, Verse 38: Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your big talk now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelek that we should be subject to him?’ Aren’t these the men you ridiculed? Go out and fight them!”

‘ Not so tough now, are ya? Are ya!?’

Judg. 9, Verses 52-55: Abimelek went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’” So his servant ran him through, and he died. When the Israelites saw that Abimelek was dead, they went home.


Judg. 12, Verses 13-14: After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years.

That’s . . . nice. He sounds like a great man.


If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not really sure what to make of the book of Judges. Sure, it talks about how great all these comic book type heroes are, but for them to appear Israel is always ‘evil’ first, so it’s not as though they are painting themselves all that positively. For anyone who thinks this is evidence for all this being factual, please, take yourself off, because it certainly isn’t. All it means is either there’s something I happen to be missing, or just that the Israelites told really stupid and unbelievable stories.

By Rory McDowell

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