Yahweh had protected them in the past (Isa 10:25-10:27)

“In a very little while,

My indignation

Will come to an end.

My anger will be directed

To their destruction.

Yahweh of hosts

Will wield a whip against them,

As when he smote Midian

At the rock of Oreb.

His staff will be over the sea.

He will lift it

As he did in Egypt.

In that day,

His burden will be removed

From your shoulder.

His yoke will be destroyed

From your neck.’”

Yahweh speaks directly via Isaiah about his love for Israel. His indignation at them will be short lived. In his anger, he will destroy the Assyrians with a whip. He will do this, just as he had helped the Israelites under Gideon against Oreb and the Midian people at the rock of Oreb in Judges, chapters 6-7. Then there is also an allusion to Yahweh’s staff at the parting of the Red Sea when the Israelites escaped from Egypt in Exodus, chapter 14. At that point, the burden on their shoulders and the yoke on their necks will be lifted.

From darkness to light (Isa 9:2-9:5)

“The people who walked in darkness

Have seen a great light.

Those who lived

In a land of deep darkness,

Light has shined on them.

You have multiplied the nation.

You have increased its joy.

They rejoice before you,

As with joy

At the harvest,

As people exalt

When dividing plunder.

You have broken

The yoke of their burden,

The bar across their shoulders,

The rod of their oppressor,

As on the day of Midian.

All the boots

Of the tramping warriors,

With all the garments

Rolled in blood,

Will be burned

As fuel for the fire.”

Isaiah predicts that the time of darkness will turn to light. Light will shine on them. Their nation will increase with joy just like at harvest time or the splitting up of plunder. Their yoke and the bar across their shoulders will have been broken. The oppressor’s rod will have been laid aside just like at Midian. Could this be a reference to Midianites in Judges, chapter 7, when Gideon attacked them? Anyway, all the boots of the trampling warriors and their bloody garments will be used as fuel to be burned in a fire.

You defeated our enemies in the past (Ps 83:9-83:12)

“Do to them as you did to Midian.

Do as you did to Sisera.

Do as you did to Jabin at the river Kishon.

You destroyed them at En-dor.

They became dung for the ground.

Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb.

Make all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna.

They said.

‘Let us take the pastures of God

For our own possession.’”

The psalmist recounted the times in the past when Yahweh had helped them against enemies. He was calling on Yahweh to act now as he had in the past. Gideon defeated the Midianites in Judges, chapter 7. Deborah defeated General Sisera and King Jabin in Judges, chapter 4. En-dor was a Canaanite city. Gideon defeated Oreb and Zeeb, 2 captains of the Midianites, in Judges, chapter 7. Gideon also defeated Zebah and Zalmunna in Judges, chapter 8. Obviously this psalmist had the Book of Judges or something similar at his disposal, as he recounted the deeds of Deborah and Gideon before the time of King Saul and King David.

Judith (Jdt 8:1-8:8)

“Now in those days, Judith heard about these things. She was the daughter of Merari son of Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel, son of Elkiah, son of Ananias, son of Gideon, son of Raphaim, son of Ahitub, son of Elijah, son of Hilkiah, son of Eliab, son of Nathanael, son of Salamiel, son of Sarasadai, son of Israel. Her husband Manasseh, who belonged to her tribe and family, had died during the barley harvest. As he stood overseeing those who were binding sheaves in the field, he was overcome by the burning heat. He took to his bed and died in his town Bethulia. So they buried him with his ancestors in the field between Dothan and Balamon. Judith had remained as a widow for three years and four months at home where she set up a tent for herself on the roof of her house. She put sackcloth about her waist and dressed in widow’s clothing. She fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the day before the Sabbath and the Sabbath itself, the day before the new moon and the day of the new moon, and the festivals and days of rejoicing of the house of Israel. She was beautiful in appearance. She was very lovely to behold. Her husband Manasseh had left her gold and silver, men and women slaves, livestock, and fields. She maintained this estate. No one spoke ill of her. She feared God with great devotion.”

Now the main protagonist of this book appears on the scene, almost half way through this book. We learn about Judith’s rich genealogical background that includes many important people. What can we tell from her genealogy? She was the daughter of Merari, which is a Levite name. Joseph was a common name also. The names of Oziel and Elkiah are unique to her. The other names associated with famous people were Gideon, Elijah, and Hilkiah, but there was no attempt to associate those men with these men mentioned here. Many of the other names are hard to connect with anyone. Her husband, of the same tribe and family, died of sunstroke overseeing his workers. I wonder what happened to the workers. She was a well to do widow for over 3 years. She was very upright in all that she did.   Her name, Judith, literally means female Jew. She had a tent on her roof and wore sackcloth. She fasted all the time except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath, the new moons, and the other Jewish festivals. New moons keep appearing as a day to celebrate. She was beautiful, of course. On top of that, she was rich, inheriting her husband’s estate of gold, silver, slaves, livestock, and fields. There is no mention of her children if there were any. No one spoke ill of her because she feared God with a great devotion. This is the kind of description that many medieval female Christian saints enjoyed. She heard about what was going on in town.

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 defeat of Zebah and Zalmunna (Judg 8:10-8:12)

“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about fifteen thousand men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East. For one hundred twenty thousand men bearing arms had fallen. So Gideon went up by the caravan route east of Nobah and Jogbehah. He attacked the army. For the army was off its guard. Zebah and Zalmunna fled. He pursued them. He took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna. Then he threw all the army into a panic.”

Wow! Gideon’s 300 men had already defeated 120,000 men so that only about 15,000 were left. These are amazing incredible numbers. Once again, Gideon used a surprise attack. This is the only mention of Karkor. The whole Midianite army was in panic as it lost its 2 leaders. It is not clear how these 300 men through 15,000 into a panic, but that is the mode of operation of Gideon.

The pursuit of the Midianites (Judg 7:23-7:25)

“The men of Israel were called out from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh. They pursued after the Midianites. Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim. ‘Come down against the Midianites. Seize the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.’ All the men of Ephraim were called out. They seized the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. They captured the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb. They killed Zeeb at the wine press of Zeeb, as they pursued the Midianites. They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan.”

Now that the Midianites were fleeing, more troops were needed. The men of Ephraim were called to protect the ‘waters.’ I assume that means the various wells or the streams or springs where people could get water. Beth-barah is only mentioned here and nowhere else. Oreb and Zeeb get special mention as places that got named after them. Their heads were given to Gideon.