O.k. finally … I’m getting to my Judges review. I’ve been really busy lately but I have to admit that I’ve also been slightly putting off this review as well. I think that’s partly because even though this book was not incredibly long (21 chapters), it was extremely dense. There is a LOT that happens in Judges, but at the same time, the story follows a very repetitive pattern for the majority of the book.
Joshua died at the end of the last book, and Judges covers several generations following Joshua’s death. In the first chapter, it mentions that there are several groups of people in the various cities of the Promised Land that the Israelites have failed to drive out, but instead have decided to let them stay in the land as forced labor. God is not happy that the Israelites have let them live, and he curses the Israelites to always have the Canaanites be a thorn in their side, and for the Canaanite gods to always be a snare to the Israelites. And sure enough, this starts to happen once Joshua’s entire generation has died off. What’s left now is a new generation of young whippersnappers, who just traipse around the promised land like it’s their own personal playground, knowing nothing about the history of how they got there, all that God has done for them, all the wars, and all God’s rules. They are just partying and whorin’ it up with all the Canaanites. They are worshiping the gods of the Canaanites as well, just as God predicted.
So, now God needs to figure out how to deal with this. He starts off by punishing the Israelites – He “hands them over to raiders” who plunder them. He makes them weak so that they’ll lose every battle. Then he appoints some “judges” to rise up and help the Israelites defeat their oppressors, and try to teach them the error of their ways. It works for a while, but as soon as each judge dies, the Israelites forget again. So God’s like, o.k. fine. “20. Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, 21. I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did.” (Ch. 2).
So the test has been set, and the Israelites continue to fail it. Therefore, as part of the next phase of punishment, God “sells” the Israelites into slavery under Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, for 8 years. After 8 years, the Israelites cry out to God and beg for his forgiveness and mercy. So God raises up a “deliverer” (which I think is the same thing as a “judge”): Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. Othniel then defeats and kills the king Cushan-Rishathaim, and then the Israelites have peace for 40 years. BUT … as SOON as Othniel dies, the Israelites go straight back to partying and whoring and worshiping other gods again.
So THIS time, God puts them under the reign of Eglon king of Moab for punishment. This goes on for 18 years, until the Israelites cry uncle and beg for mercy again. So God rises
up another deliverer, Ehud, and Ehud kills that king. God then helps the Israelites defeat and kill 10,000 Moabites. The Israelites then have peace again for 80 years. But, after 80 years, Ehud dies. Can you guess what happens next? That’s right, party time for the Israelites. Are you starting to sense a pattern here? Yeah. Take this story, and then rinse and repeat about 9 more times. That is pretty much the gist of Judges.
Then in the last few chapters, we have a couple other really random and incredibly disturbing stories to close it all out with a bang and a “WTF??”, in typical Old Testament fashion. I’ll get to those stories in the “Bad Stuff” section. For now, let’s move into the Good Stuff.
Remember in Joshua, when I said that there was literally not ONE good thing in the entire book? No verses about loving your fellow man/woman, helping out the needy, being honest, etc etc.? Yeah, well, the same goes for Judges. There is not one good thing that happens in this entire book. The only thing that may be worth noting in this section is the fact that I was shocked to see that one of the many “judges”/”deliverers” that God raises up in the book of Judges is actually a WOMAN. Her name is Deborah. I only mention this because of all the misogyny that has occurred up until now … I found this to be kind of a nice change of pace – to see a woman in a powerful role and actually doing something that God considers useful, for once. BUT that pleasant surprise is all quickly negated by how completely and royally screwed up the story of Deborah is. I’ll get to those details in the “Bad Stuff” section and you’ll see what I mean.
Well, as it was in Joshua, the “Bad Stuff” section of Judges could be described very succinctly as: “Everything.” Literally every damn thing that happens is bad, disturbing, strange, and/or seemingly pointless, from what I can tell. As I mentioned before, there are a LOT of things that happen in Judges and all of them are interesting in several respects, but I’m going to try to just hit upon the most notable ones, otherwise this blog entry will wind up being even longer than normal, if that’s even possible. So here are the highlights (or lowlights, if you will):
First off, we have the story of Deborah. As I mentioned earlier, it is kind of a nice change of pace to find out in chapter 4 that a female judge leads Israel during a certain time period. During this timeframe, the Israelites are being cruelly ruled by Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. This, of course, is punishment from God for their disobedience after the previous judge, Ehud, had died. So Deborah summons a dude named Barak (son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali), and tells him that he needs to take 10,000 men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. Deborah says she will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into Barak’s hands.
Barak seems to be kind of a wuss though, because he says that he won’t do this unless Deborah comes with him to help. So she’s like, fine dude, I’ll go with you, but you DO realize that you’re not gonna get credit for this shit then, right? The credit is gonna go to a girl? O.k. fine, let’s go. In the meantime, Sisera gets word that Barak and Co. are coming, so he gathers 900 iron chariots to fight them. But God is with Barak and Deborah, so Barak’s army defeats and kills Sisera’s entire army.
Sisera himself, meanwhile, flees on foot. He goes straight to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. The Kenites are descendents of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and it seems that Jabin king of Hazor is friendly with them, which is why
Sisera decides to hide there. Jael kindly lets him in, and tells him, “Don’t freak out, I’ll take care of you.” She gives him a blanket and he asks for some water. So she goes and gets milk, and he goes to sleep. While he’s sleeping, she picks up a tent peg and a hammer, and sneaks up on him and puts the tent peg against his temple. She then slams the hammer onto the tent peg and smashes/impales the tent peg through his skull. Barak then comes to Jael’s tent and asks if Sisera is in there. Jael is like, don’t worry dude, I took care of that bastard for you.
Chapter 5 of Judges is The Song of Deborah. If you want to read some f*cked up sh*t, read that. Towards the end it rejoices on what a great woman and hero Jael was, because she smashed Sisera’s head … then it recounts how Sisera’s mother must have been just waiting and waiting on him to come home and he never returned. Oh joy!! God was certainly pleased. After Jael kills Sisera, the Isrealites eventually overtake and destroy King Jabin as well, and their full task is complete. The land then has peace for 40 years.
As mentioned before, we go through a lot of “deliverers”/”judges” in the book of Judges. There are several more after Deborah, and then in chapter 11 we come to Jephthah. For me, Jephthah has probably the most demented story arc of them all. Jephthah’s dad Gilead was a mighty warrior, but his mom was a prostitute. Because of this, he is eventually disowned by his brothers (who are the sons of Gilead’s actual wife, not the hooker) and he has to flee from his home. But when the Ammonites start to make war against Israel, the elders of Gilead come running to Jephthah to ask him to lead them in battle to defeat the Ammonites (apparently he is the most capable). Jephthah is skeptical, but the elders promise him that he can lead Gilead if he defeats the Ammonites. So he agrees.
Jephthah starts off by sending a message to the king of the Ammonites to find out why they are attacking … they have a few exchanges and let’s just summarize it by saying that it doesn’t end well. The Israelites stole this land from the Ammonites and now, as one would expect, the Ammonites want it back. Now, here is where it gets weird. Jephthah makes the following vow to the Lord: “30. If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31. whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Mind you, Jephthah has one daughter, an only child. And presumably a wife and maybe some slaves, but they are not mentioned explicitly. The book also doesn’t mention an explicit response from God to Jephthah’s vow, but Jephthah then goes on to defeat he Ammonites, with the Lord’s help. “33. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.”
Now victorious, Jephthah returns home. As he is walking up to his house, guess who is the FIRST one to run out the door to greet him?? Thaaaat’s right! His ONLY daughter!! She runs out, dancing to the sound of tambourines. “D’OH!!” “35. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, ‘Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.'” Once again, these stupid women-folk and girl-folk are f*cking everything up for the men. So Jephthah’s daughter tells him, “You know what dad? It’s ok. I know you made a promise to God. Just do me a solid though – Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.” So off she goes into the hills, she and her girlfriends. They cry together about how she’ll never marry and she’ll die a virgin. Then after two months, she comes back home. Now is the time when Jephthah must carry out his promise. So … he takes her outside … he puts her on the alter … and … surely God will stop him at the last second a la Abraham and Isaac … right? …. right? …. Nope. God doesn’t do shit, and Jephtah kills his daughter.
After Jephthah dies, we cycle through a few more judges in the years following, until we finally get to the judge/deliverer who is by far the most famous of them all: Samson. He is born to a woman who is barron, but the Lord allows her to give birth to Samson. “No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” You know how the story goes. He grows up, God says he is bound to be a “deliverer”. He goes to Timnah and sees a young Philistine woman, and declares that he is going to marry her.
His parents are not happy that he’s wanting to marry a non-Israelite, but what they don’t realize is that God is actually orchestrating this, because he is just looking for a reason to confront the Philistines, as they are ruling over Israel at this time.
The story of Samson is long and involved, so I’m not going to get into all the gory details, but I’ll just summarize the next piece of it by saying that Samson marries the Philistine woman, but it doesn’t end well. It ends with the Philistines burning her and her father to death, and Samson then sets out for revenge. We find out through some clashes with the Philistines and a clash with a random lion earlier in the book that Samson has super powers. He’s like some sort of superman with unlimited strength. He can kill a lion with his bare hands and easily break out of restraints that the Philistines put on him.
At some point after he has been ruling Israel for 20 years, Samson falls in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek, named, you guessed it – Delilah. The leaders of the Philistines bribe Delilah to try to find out the secret of Samson’s strength and to give the secret to them. Delilah seems to have zero problem at all with this bribe, as she goes STRAIGHT to Samson and just asks him straight up, “Hey honey, what’s the secret of your strength, and if one was to want to … you know … find your weak spot … handicap you and block your superpowers, exactly how would they go about doing that, pray tell? I’m just curious … that’s all.” So Samson lies to her and tells her that if one is to tie him up with “seven fresh thongs,” he’ll lose all his superpowers. So Delilah does it, and calls the Philistines over. “Come and get ‘im, boys, he’s all yours!!” But Samson breaks off the bindings and he’s like, “PSYCH!! HA HA you fell for that, you idiots!”
Delilah is pissed, and then begs him again for the REAL secret. So Samson tells her yet another lie, and the same cycle is followed all over again. Then the cycle goes AGAIN yet a third time. So then on the FOURTH try, she prods him day after day for many days … and he finally can’t take it anymore and just breaks down and tells her the truth!! Umm … REALLY, Samson? That’s ALL it takes? WHY, might I ask, did you not just DUMP this crazy bitch the FIRST time she tried to have you kidnapped for money?? Was that not enough to tip you off that this might not be the most healthy relationship for you?? Samson tells Delilah the hair secret, and then, totally logically, decides that his very next move is going to be to FALL ASLEEP IN HER LAP. Makes perfect sense, right? He sets everything up perfectly, just short of telling her that the scissors are in the second drawer down on the left hand side.
Delilah then calls the Philistines back, (shocker!!) and they cut off Samson’s hair, and then all his superpowers go away. They gouge out his eyes and throw him in prison … but they DON’T BOTHER TO KEEP HIS HEAD SHAVED. Uhh … duh? After a while of imprisonment and enslavement, we get to the big finale where one day, the Philistines decide to bring Samson out of his cell for some sort of “show” for the Philistine people, like he’s a dancing bear in their circus apparently. They are somehow forgetting that his hair has been growing back this entire time and therefore, his superpowers would have RETURNED. Samson goes to put on the show, but then he takes the pillars of the temple and pushes them apart with his superstrength so that the whole temple comes crashing down, killing everyone inside, including himself. He is now a hero and a martyr for the Israelites. One last question though – why did he die from the temple falling on him, when he is clearly Superman? Suffice it to say, there are a LOT of plotholes in the Samson story.
The Levite and the Benjamites:
O.k., LAST story. There are a lot more stories I could tell here, but this blog is already a novel. And this one is one of the most demented things I’ve read in the Bible thus far. I keep thinking it cannot physically get ANY worse, and then I’m proven wrong as soon as I get to the next book or chapter. Anyway, so it’s only in the last 5 chapters of Judges that we finally break out of the “cycle of Judges” described thus far. The last 5 chapters instead just give us a couple extra tales, including this one, which starts in chapter 19. It starts off in the “days when Israel had no king,” and follows a Levite who lives in a remote hill country of Ephraim. He takes a concubine, but she is unfaithful to him and returns home to her father in Bethlehem, Judah.
After 4 months, he goes to Bethlehem to try to persuade her to come back to him. Her father welcomes the Levite into his house, and the Levite stays for 5 days, while the father-in-law feeds him and hangs out and drinks with him. On the afternoon of the 5th day, the Levite saddles up his two donkeys and his concubine, and leaves. After a while, they approach Jebus, and the Levite’s servant suggests that they stay there overnight. But the Levite says no, we shouldn’t stay in the land of non-Israelites; you never know what might happen. So they continue on to Gibeah, in the land of Benjamin, and they stop to spend the night there. They go and sit in the city square, but no one takes them in. Then eventually some old dude who is from Ephraim (but lives in Gibeah) walks up to them and asks if they need help. They tell him they are looking for lodging for the night, and he takes them in.
While they are hanging out in the house of the old man from Ephraim … some “wicked” Benjamite men come and start pounding at the door. Now, let’s step back for a sec at this point. Remember the story of Sodom in Genesis, when a bunch of dudes tried to kick in the door of Lot so that they could rape the angels that Lot was keeping in his house overnight?? Well, that very odd theme resurfaces in this story. The Benjamites are pounding at the door of this old guy, telling him that they want to RAPE the Levite. And just like with Lot, the old dude’s perfectly logical solution to this problem is to offer up his VIRGIN DAUGHTER to them instead. Oh, and the Levite’s concubine, too. That’s right, instead of this TOTAL STRANGER that he has only known for a couple hours, he would rather let an angry mob GANG RAPE his DAUGHTER. Cause that’s just how they roll in the Old Testament. Women are so worthless that even your own daughter or your wife or your concubine is worth less to you than some random dude you met 5 minutes ago.
The angry mob of wicked men doesn’t go for this idea, so the Levite decides to just open the front door and SHOVE his concubine out there … ripe for the taking. What a strong and respectable dude he is … throws his concubine straight to the wolves in order to save himself. Awesome. So naturally, the concubine gets gang raped ALL night long. The mob dumps her at the front door when they’re done, and the next morning the Levite finds her laying on the front steps. He tries to revive her, but quickly realizes that she’s dead. What he does next is yet another mindf*ck all its own: He takes her body back home, and chops her up into 12 pieces. He then sends each of these 12 dismembered body parts to each of the 12 areas/tribes of Israel, as a message for the horrible thing that the Benjamites have done.
Oh yeah and sorry, one last thing here, because I almost forgot what happens next after this, but it’s a major doozy too: As mentioned in the above video, the last two chapters of Judges are spent with the 11 non-Benjamite tribes of Israel getting revenge for the rape/murder of the concubine by massacring EVERY LAST ONE of the Benjamites – men, women, children and animals. After this is done, only 600 Benjamite dudes are left (they had fled to the hills during the massacre). The Israelites suddenly feel bad because they realize that the entire tribe of Benjamin will die off for eternity if they kill these last 600 dudes. But if they let them live, the dudes can’t continue their tribe anyway because they don’t have any chicks to make babies with (since the Israelites have already killed them all). And the Israelites have made a vow to never let their daughters marry a Benjamite at this point. So now what?? Their solution: Find the only group of people (the ppl of Jabesh Gilead) who did NOT help them in their revenge slaughter of the Benjamites, and slaughter all THOSE people too. Well, all of them except the female virgins.
So they do that, but that only results in 400 virgins. They still need to find 200 more virgins for the last 200 Benjamites. Next solution from the elders who seem to be on the decision-making board here: Ahhhh HA! The annual festival of the Lord in Shiloh!! There
will be TONS of virgin girls there, and even though they are Israelites, we think we’ve found a loophole!! The last 200 Benjamites will simply go and hide in the vineyards during the party. When the girls of Shiloh come out to dance, the Benjamites will just SNATCH them and kidnap them!! THAT way, when the girls’ fathers and brothers come and complain to us (the elders) about this, we can simply say, “Do us a kindness by helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war, and you are innocent, since you did not give your daughters to them.” DONE!! Whew, those Israelites are nothing if not creative.
Alright so now … FINALLY … we come to the conclusion of my Judges review. This was a novel yet again, even though there were quite a significant number of stories that I didn’t cover. But let’s talk for a bit about the overall lesson that we can take from Judges. The first 16 chapters of the book follows the “cycle of judges” mentioned earlier: Peace in the land, Israelites misbehave, God sells the Israelites to slavery under foreign rule, the Israelites cry out to God for forgiveness, God raises up a deliverer, the deliverer kills and defeats the oppressors, the Israelites now have peace in the land. Rinse and repeat. It also says at the beginning of this book that God purposely starts into this pattern because he wants to “test” the Israelites. Obviously they fail the test every single time. So let’s take a step back for a sec and ponder – what is the point of all this? It seems that God is performing a repetitive social experiment here. But why?? If he’s powerful enough to orchestrate the players on the chess board enough to perform this experiment and continually raise up all these judges each time the people fail … why not just orchestrate it to the point where they DON’T fail? But then again, what would be the fun in that?? The Bible wouldn’t even need to exist in that case, because everyone would just behave perfectly. What a snoozefest that would be for God (and for everyone, really).
I figure that the moral of the story we’re supposed to get from Judges is that you’d better follow God otherwise he’s gonna make your life a living hell on earth. That seems to be the overall point of ALL the books so far. I just personally do not respond to that kind of psychology well. So all things considered, given the fact that we have zero good things in Judges and another ocean’s worth of bad stuff, my score of this book is:
The only reason I gave it 0.1 instead of 0 was because we got two seconds of “girl power” with the only female judge. But the girl power was still used for terrible things, so I can’t give it more than a 0.1.
The next book up is Ruth, and guess what, it only has FOUR CHAPTERS!! WOOT!! I am so happy, but can I still turn that review into a novel too? I seriously hope not.