“Let’s Play The Bible: Judges 1-21”
This book will extend our knowledge of the history of the Israelite people, as they wonder and wander onward from the times and revolutions of Moses’ age. Here we will witness a sequence of redemptive arcs amidst a swathe of unfortunate circumstances and turns for the people - this book is quite upsetting. Perhaps less directly violent in some ways than the [former book], it is more upsetting in the realm of the spirit than the corporeal.
For the first time we do not have a clear author. Moses authoured the first big-five, and many consider Joshua as being at the very least partially authoured by the eponymous. The book will catalog many instances where people who sin will suffer for that sin, and in being allowed to sin, suffer and fail, there is learning and growth to be had.
The book chronicles the time after Joshua’s death, and ends some centuries later. How would I break it down? Honestly this book feels a bit nebulous, not to say their isn’t proper flow of events, but I am myself a little unsure of how to weight the happenings. It feels like a greater whole with only some notable exceptions. However, thank you for asking yourself, I will break it like this:
Foundations - The land of Canaan, after much effort, has been colonized partially, but there are enough peoples and cultures that allied with Israelites and unconquered lands beyond, that leave our friends in a heterogenous and entropic pond rather than a fully realized divine state. With the strength of Joshua gone, we prepare to see things play out without a leading man.
Structural Analysis: Ductility, Creep and Tensile Stressors - The greater structure of the Israelites bears its share of weak points, and in this long temporal plateau we observe deformation, sometimes bordering on brittle fracture, of the community and spirit of Israel. In the body of the book here a sequence of judges (leaders/prophets) rise up, such as Deborah and Gideon, to re-galvanize in cycles.
Yielding - The tribe appears yielding. In many ways you could be surprised the story does not end here, fizzling out. Without a strong leader and servant, the people of Israel are turning to their own impulses, wilting under the influences of the various other tribes of the land, and we leave things in a very saddening state - though not without great redemptive reinforcement
A Few Good Men
The book is named for the various quasi-leaders it chronicles. In this centuries-long period of Israelite history, there is no superlative leader who might get a book named after him, but there are “Judges” - who render judgements, lead the tribe in war and remain very notable, some more-so than others. Let me consider some of them.
Jephthah has an interestingly tragic story, relative to other judges, and conjures thoughts of a prior story where Abraham’s faith was tested - by being told to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Mr. Jephthah decided that in order to secure the extra divine aid from God that he needed in a coming battle, he would offer an ambiguous sacrifice. This sacrifice would be comprised of whichever was the first thing he saw departing his home, upon return from the war.
What did Mr. Jephthah see upon return from the successful battle? Indeed it was his daughter, his only child. Poor luck or intentional test? Either way he kept his vow, and continued to see success on the battlefield as leader of the Israelites. Was his reckless and potentially unnecessary vow made due to the scattered mentality he must have accrued by being accused of being the son of a prostitute? Maybe.
Next we have Ehud the assassin. He was “a man left-handed”, and his born dextrous tendencies are what enabled him to make a divine kill. On a mission to assassinate a Moabite king he was subject to a routine disarmament/search by guards. They wrongly assumed he was right-handed, and as such failed to detect and confiscate the knife which was primed on the opposite side for usage with his dominant hand, and it was indeed used. Very interesting.
Deborah the prophetess, notably a female judge, delivers opposing commander Sisera and his army into the hands of Israel. After his army is defeated, he escapes and eventually has to rest before making his next move. Unfortunately for him, he chose the wrong place - Jael answers his desperate request for a drink with a tent peg, which she hammers into his temple.
The arc of judge Gideon is an especially exciting story. Principally, in doubt of prior calling and lacking self-confidence, he obtains divine signs through his humble fleece. On two occasions he lays out the fleece at night and returns to inspect it in the morning. The results of both events - the fleece wet, surrounding ground dry and then vice versa - offers a sign of reinforcement, and his call to lead takes.
Gideon will now take charge against the then-attacking Midianites. After assembling a sizable army, God instructs the sending away of those afraid and those who demonstrate spiritual and possibly mental handicaps by kneeling to drink water. Left with an army of 300 (they were not spartans) they toot their trumpets and use other subversive tactics to frighten the enemy into disarray. As with the other Judges, after Gideon’s death we see the children of Israel once again turning their backs and swayed by the ways and gods of others.
There are more yet. Including the man Samson, but I have planned to describe some of this guys antics in a later section, conglomerated with a close tangential topic.
At the start of the book we see the tribe Judah rise up and enlist help to take on remaining Canaanites in battle. They successfully expand their domain, taking Gaza and Jerusalem amongst others. While they experience success on the mountains/hills, they are unable to take the valley/plains due to the apparent armour supremacy of their enemies in their “chariots of iron”.
While reference to chariots occurs from the very first book of the bible, and I’ve likely made note of the subject before, reading about the faithful encountering and acknowledging the power of these mechanized tools utilized for the militaristic must always leave an impression. One has to wonder if our friends, now in some level of disarray without a superlative leader enforcing a will to tackle and destroy these equipments, were especially wary knowing these were notably instruments of material superiority employed by their former oppressors to attempt to corral the people even as they are taking their last steps to freedom.
Tangential to this, there is a fresh reference. We hear, and thus here, talk of “highways” - a word that, at least to me, offers distinctly modern and American connotation. Seek more knowledge of this word and we can discover it is much older and more ambiguous, and is practically as vague a term as “road” and can even encompass footpaths. The “high” might offer a little specification however, whereby it is an old-fashioned way of meaning “main”.
With no previous mention of “highways” that I can find or recollect, this perhaps indicates to us how developed and un-wild parts of these lands are - or conversely, as it’s mentioned people avoid highways for safer routes. Otherwise the concept seems to mostly be referred to in a tactical/logistical sense, including an instance of espionage.
Let’s return to the judge Mr. Ehud for a moment. We recall he was an assassin, and through clever trickery he managed to execute a king. Well, that King was Eglon. The description of him and his death is very vivid and interesting. You see, Eglon, who ruled over the Israelites for a time, was “a very fat man”. Those of middling intellect amongst us will be thinking moves ahead now, anticipating that his noted obesity will play into his downfall in a predictable George Lucas-ian poetic turn. The truth is, contrary to my sub-middling prospective of a middlings prediction, it seems to if anything have hindered Ehud’s presumably lithe bladesmanship.
And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat. And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly: And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.
While, like future enhanced-blading survivors, this isn’t the most damning story for the overweight people out there - it is pretty funny and alongside the descriptions of his parlour adds to the gluttonous aura of the King. The whole sequence reminds me of a mission from Hitman: Contracts.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
In this book we are treated to a warning, potentially further to previous instances I have forgotten, against drinking while pregnant. Seems like there is a paper written concerning this apparent (very) early recognition of fetal alcohol syndrome and other such complications.
But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
I’ll not pretend to have any knowledge of historical medicinal documentation and beyond-early research and awareness of now well-discerned disorders and illnesses, but it is quite interesting that these predate anything resembling modern (maybe we could even be more liberal with this bound) awareness and combat against this peculiar problem by thousands of years. Very cool. One might parlay this with the various medical advice and procedure offered in earlier books into an interesting Biblical medical thought realm worth exploring in its own right. Now everyone make sure to step outside of your four-roomers at the sun’s setting and clap for our early carers.
Much of the book deals with issues pertaining to dilution of a people, their culture and becoming strangers. A generation arises after the fathers, and appear to stray from God and the Israel he had worked with and toward. They serve “Baal” and “Ashtoreth” - forsaking the Lord, who brought them out of Egypt. We also make note of prominent depiction, discussion and dissection of the Philistines. Today this is a fairly popular colloquial term, re-minted by famous learned Kraut Götze a few centuries back, that is a derogatory to someone who is perceived of as low-class, a cultural outsider or lacking values and virtues.
Samson, the very fascinating and final Judge, has an interesting love story involving an “uncircumcised” Philistine girl. While courting her, he is accosted by and kills with bare-hand a Lion, the Spirit-strength that allows him to do this indicates that Samson and his blossoming relationship are an immutable and necessary part of what God has planned. Interesting, the lion carcass, left to decompose, eventually becomes filled with bees and honey, which he feels compelled to eat. Frankly, that’s a bit strange and disgusting, but to each his own.
Later on Mr. Samson has some Philistine guests at his wedding. During the feast, we see Samson pose a very puzzling riddle to these guests as part of a wager:
“Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
Like me, the guests could not for the life of them come up with an answer. Though a discerning reader might make the connection to Samson’s earlier encounter with a lion. Knowing the connection, I’m still not able to understand exactly what’s going on here. This seems to be by design, however, as after they eventually provide the correct answer (“What’s sweeter than honey? What’s stronger than a lion?”), Samson knows they have extorted it from the only other person who knows the answer, his wife. As such he claims victory in the attached wager of 30 shirts (one for each guest), and he kills 30 (other) Philistines to obtain his winnings. Very interesting, probably the strangest sequence I’ve yet come across in the Bible.
There’s many more details I am going to skip over here, but I’m not looking to regurgitate all of the Philistine culture exposited in the Book. Some quick picks include their god “Dagon”, who is referred to in later media of all types, including an elder scrolls computer game. Another interesting event is when a Levite tosses out a concubine, who he was involved with, as chaff for an angry mob looking for him. His plan worked, and as he departed he collected her dead body and slices it into twelve pieces to deposit throughout the land.
Closing the Book
This was probably the most interesting book thus far, in terms of the quantity of peculiarly vivid depictions, cryptic passages and oddly convoluted event sequences. Some have said this book was authored in retrospect, after the centuries of disarray it encompasses had been weathered. Perhaps the past it tells of was delicately recombined with metaphorical flairs and so on.
I very much enjoyed this book. Some say it is particularly and intentionally littered with humour. The next one is very short, we’ll see. What more is there to say? We can view the time of Moses and even Joshua as rock solid and graceful compared to these here Judges temporal and societal domain. It makes for an entertaining set of writings, and knowing the Israelites survive and continue albeit in a weakened state excites us to continue reading.