Scripture Notes: Judges

Scripture Notes: Judges

5 min read



  • Judges
    • Word “Judge” comes from Hebrew word “shaphat” (“to judge”) from “shophet” (“a judge”); adjudicate, rule, or vindicate or provide justice for
    • Named after variety of principle rulers (2:16-19).
    • 12 judges of Israel: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah (only female), Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson.
    • Various forms of leadership between Joshua and kingship in 1 Samuel
  • Foreign Gods mentioned
    • Ashtaroth - Canaanite female goddess of fertility and creation
    • Baal - title meaning “Lord” which could refer to a variety of gods - or even a master of a household (depending on context)


Geography of areas depicted and how region is situated alongside other regions is helpful to understand:

  • Small area of Canaan (size of Rhode Island), lies on the way to anywhere in the Middle East
    • Egypt
    • Mesopotamia
    • Syria to East (Royal road)
    • Phonician sea trade routes in Mediterranean
  • Great geographical divisions (run north/south) - going west-east
    • West - coastal plain (main highway) controlled by Egypt at time of exodus
    • Low mountains - very fertile
    • Great Jordan Rift Valley (Jordan river flows through this)
      • Northern extreme is Mt Hermon (highest point)
      • Lush vegetation in north
      • But no life by dead sea
  • Unity was difficult because of diversity of geography
    • Small village farmers, nomadic shepherds, city dwellers, merchants
  • Out of this diversity arises this variety of Judges

Influence and History


  • Shows influence from both pre and post Deuteronomistic era
    • Pre: local “judges” didn’t worry about centralized temple/religion
    • Post: Told in framework that leads up to centralized nationalization
  • Influences of post-exile lamentation (18:30)
  • Many of the judges are from northern kingdoms (in contrast with later monarchy from Judah)
  • Negative portrayal of northern tribes plus (18:30) indicates southern tribe influence
    • 1:1-20 southern propaganda
      • Mt. Ephraim and shrine of Dan as sinful
    • North failed to drive out inhabitants (1:21-36)
    • Negative casting of north throughout book
    • Anti-Saul, pro-David
  • Text builds up to benefits of unified monarchy but warning that king can be villain (Abimelech and bramble in ch 9)

Historical Setting

  • Prior to Josian reform, polytheism was more a norm even within Israel and something the Israelites constantly struggled with. It wasn’t a question of if there were other gods/goddesses, it was a question of which one (or ones) to worship.
  • Prior the Israelite monarchy (in the book of Kings) Israel was more of a loose collection of diverse tribes amidst strong, conquering, foreign influences
  • Different Israelites often worshipped Yahweh alongside a variety of Canaanite gods and goddesses, including El, Asherah and Baal which set a stage of conflict
  • As Israelite monarchy strengthened and they experienced exile and return, their theology and worship developed and solidified


  • Three main parts:
    • Intro explaining rise of Judges (1-3:6)
    • Activities of Judges (3:7-16:31)
    • Conclusion showing instability w/o monarchy:
      • Micah and conquest of Dan
      • Rape in Gibeah and civil war
  • Note, text does not present events in chronological order
  • Text ends with individuals also in 1 Samuel (Samuel and Eli) - connecting Joshua era to Samuel era

Cyclic pattern

Look for cyclic pattern across the different Judges:

  • Cries for salvation
  • “Judge” arises and liberates locally
  • People relapse after “judge” dies

Types of Judges

Some Judges have more than one persona. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Militaristic: Othniel, Ehud, (Barak w/ Deborah), Gideon, Jephthah
  • Lone warriors: Shamgar and Samson
  • Religious:
    • Prophetic: Deborah and Samuel
    • Nazirite: Samson
    • Priestly: Eli and Samuel
  • Legal/political judges: Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon


Samson & Covenants

  • “Nazarite” comes from the Hebrew word “nazir” meaning “consecrated” or “separated”
  • Nazarite vow described in Numbers 6:1-21 which included
    • Abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, intoxicating liquors, vinegar made from such substances, and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes
    • Refrain from cutting the hair on one’s head; allow the locks of the head’s hair to grow
    • Not to become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members
    • Length of time of vow could vary from 1 hour to lifetime (usually 30 days)
      • Samson’s vow was for life
  • The text presents three examples of him breaking covenant vows
    • He married outside the covenant house of Israel (Judges 14:1–3) - outside Deuteronomisitc covenant
    • He was immoral with a harlot (Judges 16:1) - hearkening back to 10 commandments
    • He had his hair cut (Judges 16:4–20) - Nazarite oath

Parallels in Book of Mormon

Similar to pre-centralized Israelite worship, there are parallels with how early Mormonism developed:

  • Many early Mormons brought with them theological ideas or traditions from prior or surrounding faiths - including Joseph Smith
  • Early Mormons were greatly influenced by their surrounding politics, economics, and religious revivalisms
  • Prior to establishment, centralization, and strengthening in Salt Lake, different stakes would sometimes diverge and conflict with each other (falling in and out of apostasy)
  • Highly recommend reading Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling” to get insight on this - see Book Reviews page

Also, note similar types of “Judges” personas exist in the Book of Mormon (again, some having multiple personas):

  • Militaristic: Moroni, Mormon, Helaman
  • Lone warriors: Teancum
  • Religious:
    • Prophetic: Lehi, Nephi, Mosiah, Samuel
    • Priestly: Alma, Ammon
    • Missionary: Alma, Cezoram, Amulek, Ammon
  • Legal/political: Alma, Pahoran, Pacumeni, Cezoram, Lachoneous