Lesson 19: Judges 2; 4; 6-7; 13-16
The translation “judge” is misleading, for it suggests that the person it describes had judgment as his or her primary duty. However, the judges of Israel lived in a time before the powers of government had been separated into anything like legislative, executive, or judicial functions. As a result, “leader” would be a more accurate translation, for the people that the King James translation calls the judges of Israel were leaders more than they were judges.
In addition, the word “judge” is misleading because of the way we think about law and judgment. We understand the rule of law and the function of a judge under that rule; however, the ancients did not see government as a matter of the rule of law. Of course they knew what laws were. But whereas we understand ourselves to be governed by laws that are administered by people, they understood themselves to be governed by people who had the wisdom or the right to make laws, or who had the ability to interpret the previous decisions of other judges and the documents (such as religious texts) that were relevant. In general, the law was what the ruler said, not what he or she administered. For the Israelites, the judge (whether one of the judges in this part of the Old Testament, or a patriarch, such as Abraham, or a prophet, such as Moses, or a king, such as David) was always only a representative of the true ruler, God. The law was that which God decreed. This means that though we think of law in impersonal, even objective terms, the Israelites always thought of it as coming from a person: the judge or God or God through the judge.
Note also that the period between the reign of the judges, with Othniel as the first judge and Samuel as the last, is historically more murky than much of the rest of the Old Testament.
As we will see in probably every lesson from the Old Testament, as Moses had promised, when Israel was faithful to its covenant, it prospered and when it was unfaithful, it was subjected to its enemies.
Judges 2:1-5 and 10-16 is a good synopsis of the material in the reading for this lesson. If you were to write one sentence that encapsulated what you see in those verses, what would it say? See also Judges 6:1-8 for another synopsis.
Letâ€™s look at three of the judges, Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. Doing so will help us understand better the time of the judges.
What does it mean to say that Deborah was a prophetess (Judges 4:4)? The word is used in five other placesâ€”Exodus 15:20, 2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22, Nehemiah 6:14, and Isaiah 8:3. Do any of those help us understand what it means? Read what the Bible Dictionary in the back of the LDS edition of the scriptures says about what the word “prophet” means. Does that description preclude women from being prophets? How does our use of the word today differ from its use in the Old Testament?
What is the point of the story of Deborah?
When the angel of the Lord calls Gideon (Judges 6:11-16), why does he call him a “mighty man of valour”? What is Gideonâ€™s response? Where have we heard this before? Why does the Lord keep calling men who have what we would describe as a poor self-image (such as Enoch and Moses)? How did the Lord reduce the number of Israelites who were to go into battle (Judges 7:3-7)? Why did he do so (Judges 7:2)?
What specific things can we learn from the story of Gideon?
The story of Samson is not an uplifting story. He betrays his covenants, he marries a foreigner, he breaks his Nazarite vow, and finally kills himself in the act of avenging himself by killing 3,000 people. Why does the Bible not only include it, but also give us a great deal of detail about Samsonâ€™s reign?