The twelve tribes of Israel contribute to David’s army (1 Chr 12:23-12:37)

“These are the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops, who came to David in Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of Yahweh. The people of Judah bearing shield and spear were six thousand eight hundred armed troops. Of the Simeonites, mighty warriors, there were seven thousand one hundred. Of the Levites, there were four thousand six hundred. The prince Jehoiada, of the house of Aaron, had with him three thousand seven hundred. Zadok, a young man mighty in valor, had twenty-two commanders from his own father’s house. Of the Benjaminites, the kindred of Saul, there were three thousand, of whom the majority had hitherto kept their allegiance to the house of Saul. Of the Ephraimites there were twenty thousand eight hundred, mighty men of valor famous men in their fathers’ houses. Of the half-tribe of Manasseh there were eighteen thousand, who were expressly named to come and make David king. Of Issachar men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, there were two hundred chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command. Of Zebulun fifty thousand seasoned troops came, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David with singleness of purpose. Of Naphtali there were a thousand commanders with whom were thirty-seven thousand men armed with shield and spear. Of the Danites there were twenty-eight thousand six hundred men equipped for battle. Of Asher there were forty thousand seasoned troops ready for battle. Of the Reubenites and Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh from beyond the Jordan, there were one hundred and twenty thousand men armed with all the weapons of war.”

Up to now, there was a lot about the leaders and officer, here there is remarkable gathering of ground troops. The numbers from the northern tribes and the east Jordan tribes are staggering unrealistic, equaling over 300,000 troops, while the southern tribes are small in comparison, around 20,000. In fact, it would have been difficult to sustain this large gathering of troops. Each tribe, including the Levites, contributed to the army of Israel with ground troops. Here are the numbers:

  • Judah = 6,800 troops
  • Simeonites = 7,100 troops
  • Levites = 4,600 troops
  • Benjaminites = 3,000 troops
  • Ephraimites = 20,800 troops
  • Half tribe of Manasseh = 18,000 troops
  • Issachar = 200 chiefs and their men
  • Zebulun = 50,000 troops
  • Naphtali = 1.000 commanders and 37,000 troops
  • Danites = 28,000 troops
  • Asher = 40,000 troops
  • Reubenites, Gadites, half tribe of Manasseh = 120,000 troops.

My Understanding of Judges

The Book of Judges is a series of odd stories about the twelve judges in Israel. Some judges seem important and others do not. There was no set pattern of how the judges came to be judges. However, all of them receive ‘the Spirit of Yahweh.’ These judges seem more like military leaders who are then somehow put in charge to keep peace.

However, there is a practical mini-play within each judge story. The Israelites do evil or bad things that displease Yahweh. They usually turn away from Yahweh to Baals or other gods. Then the enemies of Israel get an upper hand. So then the people cry to Yahweh for a leader. Yahweh then sends his ‘Spirit’ on this new leader. The new leader or judge defeats the enemy. Peace is then restored temporarily or for a period of time, until the next incident occurs.

The basic structure is simple. There are two introductions summarizing what had happened to Canaan and what was going on there. Then the stories of the twelve judges unfolded. Finally there is an appendix about the Danites and Benjaminites and what happened to them.

Judges seems to have two sources. One seems to be a collection of oral stories about local tribal heroes. The second source might be a lost book about the wars of Israel. It is not clear whether this was a compilation of stories or the work of one individual putting them together. Clearly there was a monarchist tendency with a pro-Judah stance that would date it to the time of the kings or later. Judges talks about this period being a time without kings so that everyone did what they thought was right. It definitely is in the Deuteronomytradition, following up on Joshua. Once again, this would put the final redaction and writing of this book in the sixth or seventh century BCE around the time of the Exile. In fact, in the appendix there is a mention of ‘up to the time of the captivity.’

The six major judges are Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, a female judge, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson, a real super hero. The six lesser judges are Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. The last six are barely mentioned with just a sentence or two about them. On the other hand, the major judges have wonderful stories or incidents around their lives. The four major ones, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson have longer more elaborate stories, while Othniel and Ehud have only one simple story about them.

Each judge had an enemy. Othniel fought the King of Aram. Ehud killed the fat King Eglon the Moabite in his chamber. Deborah with Barak the field general fought Sisera, the captain of King Jabin at Hazor. Judges then has a beautiful canticle where Deborah empathizes with Sisera’s mother. Gideon fought against the gods of Baal. He was involved in a lot of battles with the people on the east side of the Jordan, particularly the Midianites and the Amalekites. Abimelech, the bastard son of Gideon, killed his seventy brothers. He was like the first king, at least of a certain area around Shechem. Jephthah fought against the Ammonites. Then, of course, super hero strong Samson fought against the Philistines. There are some fantastic stories about Samson, his riddles, his super strength, Delilah and the cutting his hair, with his final suicide destruction of the Philistine temple.

The Appendix at the end of this book has two stories without judges, about the Danites and Benjaminites. Both stories are quirky. Somehow this guy Micah had his own little shrine. However, the Danites took his Levite priest and his idol. They then attacked the northern town of Laish and established themselves in northern Israel.

The other story took place at Gibeah, where there was this terrible incident that almost led to the extinction of the Benjaminites. Some townspeople raped and killed the concubine of a Levite, who got everyone relied up against the people of Gibeah. The Benjaminites took issue and were nearly wiped out in a battle with the rest of Israel. Then they find a strange way to help the Benjamin tribe survive.

So the period of time when everyone did what they wanted was slowing coming to an end. Judges is a fairly good example of the various tribal skirmishes that took place in the Promised Land. Sometimes, it was tribe against tribe, while other times, there was a common enemy. Each one of the judges had a call from Yahweh. They were not kings, but more like fighting prophets filled with the ‘Spirit of Yahweh.’

The taking and establishment of Laish (Judg 18:27-18:31)

“The Danites, having taken what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting. They put them to the sword. They burned down the city. There was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city. They lived in it. They named the city Dan, after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel. But the name of the city was formerly Laish. Then the Danites set up the idol for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity. So they maintained as their own Micah’s idol that he had made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.”

This land of Laish was on the border of the Jordan River in the territory of the tribe of Naphtali. They were too far away from Sidon and the Aram area on the north side. The Danites took and burned the city of Laish. They definitely were in Aramean territory in Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city, lived in it, and renamed it Dan. They also set up the Micah’s idol for themselves. Now the worship there is complicated. Suddenly, they have a whole Levite clan from Jonathan, grandson of Moses in charge, not a runaway Levite. Micah’s idol had an important role to play in this far northern place of worship. Notice that there is a mention of a worship house at Shiloh, not Jerusalem. Also the writer talked about a time of captivity indicating the time of this writing was after the captivity.