The Central section of the book of Judges (chapters 3-17) focuses upon the varied ministries of the Judges.  Some of these judges are mentioned only in passing.

Only a few are described in detail.









Judges 3:8




Judges 3:9-30




Judges 3:31




Judges 4-5




Judges 6-8




Judges 9




Judges 10:1-2




Judges 10:3-6




Judges 10:10-12:7




Judges 12:8-10




Judges 12:11-12




Judges 12:13-15




Judges 13-16


It should not be assumed that this is necessarily a chronologically progressive account.  There seem to be places where the ministry of the judges had a certain amount of overlap.





            Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly.

            These nations are: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath.

            And they were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses. (Judges 3:1-4).


The nations which were left in the land of Canaan were left for a purpose.  Chapter 2 gives one such purpose.  They were to be a thorn and a snare to Israel (Judges 2:3).  But that is not all.  Two other reasons are mentioned in this passage.


1.         They were to give the Israelite militia “battle experience” (that they might be “taught war” - Judges 3:2).


2.         They were for “testing Israel” to determine if they would obey the Lord or not (Judges 3:4).





            Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia, and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. (Judges 3:8).


The word translated "Mesopotamia" is the Hebrew (ARAM NAHARIM) - "Aram between the rivers."  Indeed, our word "Mesopotamia" is derived from the Greek term meaning "between two rivers."  The rivers in view here were the Tigris and the Euphrates.  During this period, northern Mesopotamia was ruled by the Kingdom of Mitanni.


There is now archaeological evidence that at the close of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt, Mitanni forces were strong enough not only to enter Canaan, but to go all the way to Egypt.


For eight years, the Israelites found themselves under the shadow of these oppressors from the north.


            And when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. (JUDGES 3:9).


Othniel had been introduced in chapter one.  He was not only the nephew of Caleb, he had become his son-in-law as well.


Note:    The Hebrew word translated "deliverer" and "deliver" come from the root YASHA, "to save."  It is from this root that we obtain the name YASHUA - "Yahweh saves" - its English form being "Jesus."


            And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel.  When he went to war, the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.  Then the land had rest fort years.  And Othniel the son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:10-11).


This is the first of seven times where we read in the book of Judges that the Spirit of the Lord comes upon someone.  It will happen on a number of other occasions.


m Othniel (3:10).

m Gideon (6:34).

m Jephthah (11:29).

m Samson (13:25; 14:6; 14:19; 15:14).


The Lord gave His Spirit in these instances to enable His people to accomplish special tasks.  He does the same thing today.





1.         The Oppression of Moab.


            Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.  So the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.

            And he gathered to himself the sons of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and defeated Israel, and they possessed the city of the palm trees.

            And the sons of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. (Judges 3:12-14).


The Moabites and the Ammonites were descendants of Lot.  The Israelites had in the past deliberately avoided military conflict with Moab and Ammon for this reason.  But this did not stop these two kingdoms from invading Israel.


Eglon, the king of Moab, formed an alliance in order to invade Israel.  It involved three kingdoms:


a.         Moab.


The kingdom of Moab was located on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea between the Zered and the Arnon Rivers.


b.         Ammon.


The Ammonites lived to the north east of Moab.  In past years, they had been pushed eastward off their homeland along the eastern bank of the Jordan by the Amorites.  Their new home was located to the east of the Amorites on the border of the desert and east of the headwaters of the Jabbok River.


Their capital city, Rabbath-ammon, still stands today as the capital city of Jordan.  It is known simply as Ammon.


c.         Amalekites.


The Amalekites lived in the Negev to the south of Canaan.  They were descendants of Esau and were initially one of the desert tribes of Edom.


The “city of the palm trees” is a designation for Jericho (Deuteronomy 34:3).  Though the city had been destroyed by Joshua and remained uninhabited, the site remained an important one due to its control of the important trade route through the center of Canaan.


The site of the Old Testament city is a mound rising up 50 feet above the surrounding bedrock of the southern Jordan valley (Jericho is 825 feet below sea level).  It is located about 10 miles to the NNW of the mouth of the Dead Sea and directly west of fords which make it possible to cross the Jordan except during the rainy season.


There is a natural spring known as Ain es-Sultan which originally attracted settlers to this site.  This oasis gave the city its nickname, "City of Palm Trees."

The site held a strategic position at the hub of four major roads radiating outward to Gerazim, Jerusalem, Hebron, and westward to the fords across the Jordan.


2.         Ehud the Man.


Judges 3:15‑26 tells the story of Ehud and his premeditated murder of Eglon, king of Moab (perhaps "assassination" is a better word).


Ehud is the hero of the story.  It was the Lord who raised him up to be a deliverer for the Israelites (3:15).  This act would serve as an impetus for an uprising against Moab.


            But when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man.  And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. (Judges 3:15).


Ehud was a “left-handed man”, literally, “a man bound in his right hand.”  There is a play on words here.  He was a “left handed man” but he was also a Benjamite -- a “son of the right hand.”  The fact that Ehud was left-handed was significant.


In that culture, a left-handed man was considered something of a social misfit.  You see, the right hand was normally the social hand (we still speak of extending the “right hand of fellowship”).  The left hand was used solely for matters of personal hygiene.  It was considered the unclean hand.  That is why in matters of judgment, the condemned would be placed at the left hand of the king (remember this the next time you look at the judgment of the sheep and the goats and see what happens to those whom Christ places at His left hand).


And yet, it was this social misfit that God chose to deliver the Israelites from their oppressors.

There is a lesson here.  It is that God uses the unusable.  Even Jesus was described as “the stone that the builders rejected.”


3.         The Assassination of Eglon.


            And Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length; and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak.

            And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab.  Now Eglon was a very fat man.

            And it came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute.

            But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilead, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.”  And he said, “Keep silence.”  And all who attended him left him.

            And Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber, And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.”  And he arose from his seat.

            And Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.

            The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out.

            Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them. (Judges 3:16-23).


It is not only mentioned that Eglon was fat (3:17), but we are given graphic details of his fat closing in over the haft of the assassin's blade (3:22).
Furthermore, we are given a glimpse of the embarrassment of the servants as we view their thoughts of their master (3:24‑25).

The very thing that made him a social outcast was utilized by Ehud in carrying out his execution of the king.


Ehud makes his escape while the servants wait outside the king’s room, thinking that he is merely taking his time in matters of personal hygiene (“he is only relieving himself in the cool room” - 3:24).


4.         Military Deliverance.


            Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.

            And it came about when he had arrived, the he blew the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was in front of them.

            And he said to them, “Pursue them, for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hands,” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan opposite Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross.

            And they struck down at that time about ten thousand Moabites, all robust and valiant men; and no one escaped.

            So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel.  And the land was undisturbed for eighty years. (Judges 3:26-30).

Ehud did not stop with the assassination of the Moabite king.  In this, he was not like the Israelites who had taken the land but who had failed to take the opportunity to completely drive out the Canaanites.  He escaped only to rally the Israelites.  While he had previously gone against the enemy alone, now he walked at their head.


Perhaps there is a principle here.  It is a principle of leadership.  It is that if you will do the right thing when you are alone, then when you are not alone, others will follow.  Ehud’s military strategy was as cunning as his assassination ploy had been.  He first marched to the fords of the Jordan on the east side of Jericho, captured these, and thereby cut off the retreat of the enemy.  By doing so, he denied them any attempt to rally and return.


The period of peace that ensued was 80 years - the longest of any period during the days of the judges.





            And after him came Shamgar the son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad and he also saved Israel. (Judges 3:31).


This is all we are told about Shamgar.  It isn’t much.  But it does remind us of one important truth regarding historical narrative.

Shamgar isn’t a Hebrew name.  It seems to be of Mitanni origins.  Anath is the name of the Canaanite goddess of sex and war.

It is that not all of the details are provided.  The Bible isn’t meant to be a history book.  There are a lot of things about which it is silent.  Its purpose is to provide a history of redemption - of how God has saved His people.  One such instrument that was used is Shamgar and his oxgoad.


If Ehud was an example of how God can use the unusable, Shamgar is an example of how God can use the mundane.  You don’t normally think of an oxgoad as an instrument of salvation.  Or a feeding trough for animals as the cradle of a King.  Or a fisherman’s boat as a pulpit.  Or a crucified carpenter as the Savior of the World.




1.         The Oppression of Hazor.


            Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died.

            And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim.

            And the sons of Israel cried to the Lord; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years. (Judges 4:1-3).


Ancient Hazor has been identified with Tell el-Qeday.  It is located nine miles north of the Sea of Galilee.


The site is made up of an oval-shaped tell of about 25 acres and a much larger plateau covering an area of 175 acres.  This made Hazor one of the largest cities in Canaan.


Excavations begun on this site in 1955 under Yigael Yadin.







Destruction by Deborah



City was not as strong as Stratum 3 - the plateau was not rebuilt.



Destruction by Joshua.

Archaeology shows massive burning on the plateau.


What made Hazor so formidable was the fact that it boasted a chariot corps numbering 900 chariots.  It must be remembered that chariots were to the ancient world what the armored tank has been to the modern world.


2.         The Ministry of Deborah.


            Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.

            And she used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5).

Throughout most of antiquity, women had a fairly low standing in society.  And yet, this woman was known as a prophetess and a judge.  She was a housewife and a mother (Judges 5:7 mentions that she was a mother in Israel).  But that did not stop the Lord from speaking through her.


Here is the principle.  Women are not excluded from ministry.  I am not advocating that women should hold offices within the church (though Deborah certainly did hold an exalted office in the nation of Israel).  But I am saying that women have an important ministry within the church.


3.         Deborah and Barak.


            Now she sent and summoned Barak, the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, "Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, `Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun, 7 and I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon; and I will give him into your hand.'"

            Then Barak said to her, "If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go." (Judges 4:6-8).


Barak said that he would go, but only on one condition.  He would only go if Deborah would come along.  He believed that the Lord was with Deborah.  He wasn't so certain that the Lord was with him.  And so, he wanted to bring someone along who would guarantee the presence of the Lord.  By insisting that Deborah come, Barak was showing true faith.  But he was also showing weak faith.


            And she said, "I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman."  Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:9).


If I gave a quiz in the average Sunday school class, quite a few would recognize the name of Deborah.  But not that many would remember the name of Barak.


4.         The Battle.

As the battle commenced, the forces of Sisera consisted of a large chariot corps mobilized "from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon" (Judges 4:13).


We know the location of the river Kishon - it runs in a northwesterly direction along the southern part of the Valley of Jezreel, emptying out into the Mediterranean just north of Mount Carmel.


What is interesting is the other plan-name mentioned.  It is Harosheth-hagoyim.  As near as I can make out, it seems to mean "the cutting of the nations."  The key city of this valley, although not mentioned in this text, is the ancient walled city of Megiddo.  It is from this that we get the Hebrew "Armageddon" (HAR-MEGIDDO - "Mount of Megiddo" - the problem being is that Megiddo is not on a mountain, it is in the middle of the valley).


In the historical account of the passage, we read that "the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army" (4:15).  The passage makes it quite clear that the instrument which the Lord used to accomplish this was Barak and the Israelites.


Judges 5 follows up the battle with a song of victory.


In this song, Deborah says that "the torrent of Kishon swept them away" (5:21) - seemingly a reference to the Kishon River overflowing its banks, although whether this is simply poetic imagery or whether it actually happened in the course of the battle is difficult to tell.


As I read this account, I am struck by the "coincidence" of its echoing repetition in the book of Revelation.


a.         The kings of the nations (HA-GOYIM) are described as being gathered together to the place known as Har-Megiddo (Armageddon).


b.         It is the Lord who goes and fights for His people.


c.         There is a “torrent” in Judges while Revelation describes blood “to the horse’s bridle.”


It seems as though the imagery for the spiritual battle of Armageddon is drawn from this historical battle.


4.         Sisera’s Defeat:  And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army, with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. (Judges 4:15).


How did Barak and his 10,000 under-equipped foot soldiers manage to defeat a chariot corps of 900 war chariots?  This was like having a bunch of Indians defeat a modern mechanized armor division.  And what is more, they did it in open terrain.  They were on the valley of Megiddo.  This was perfect territory for chariot warfare.  The Israelites had no right to win.


But God was bigger than Sisera's chariot corps.  In her song of victory, Deborah says that "the earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, even the clouds dripped water" (Judges 5:4).  Furthermore, she says that "the torrent of Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent of Kishon" (Judges 5:21 - this torrent of Kishon is also mentioned in Psalm 83:9).


If this is not merely figurative language, then it is possible that the Lord brought about a rainstorm and a flooding of the Kishon River to turn the valley floor into mud, thereby immobilizing Sisera's chariot force.  The Israelites were unaffected by this adverse weather and attacked their enemies, routing them.


5.         Jael - a Faithful Wife with a Faithless Husband.


As Sisera flees on foot, he will come into contact with another woman who will be used of the Lord.  It is noteworthy that this woman was married to a man who had rejected the Lord.


            Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. (Judges 4:11).


Heber had come from a distinguished family.  He was a descendant of the father-in-law of Moses.  But he had long since disassociated himself from his fellow Israelites.  Instead of living with them, he had parted from their company and had pitched his tent in the area of Kedesh Naphtali on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.


He had also made an alliance with the Canaanite city of Hazor and the enemies of the people of God.


            Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. (Judges 4:17).


This man had made peace at a time where there ought to have been no peace.  Is there a lesson here?  Perhaps there is.  Perhaps it is that there are certain alliances into which we ought not enter.  Though I believe in the unity of the church, there are certain people with whom we should NOT be united.


Discussion Question:  Did Jael do wrong by offering hospitality and then murdering her guest?

Apparently, the wife of Heber understood this principle.  When Sisera sought refuge within her tent, she at first acquiesced, feeding him and hiding him under a rug within her tent.


            But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted.  So he died. (Judges 4:21).


In such a way, the prophecy was fulfilled.  It was by the hand of a woman that Sisera met his end.


6.         The Song of Deborah (Judges 5).


Chapter 5 contains the “song of Deborah.”  It is a song of victory, praising the Lord for what He had accomplished.


a.         Deborah opens with a refrain which blesses the Lord for the fact that "the leaders led" and that "the people volunteered" (5:2).  This refrain is repeated again with a slight variation in verse 9.


b.         Verse 12 calls Barak to "take away your captives" - literally "to lead captivity captive."


The Hebrew of this passage corresponds to the Greek of Ephesians 4:8 which describes how Jesus "led captive a host of captives."


c.         Verses 12-15 praises the victory of the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun and Issachar.


Then in verses 16-17 the other tribes are questioned and castigated for their lack of involvement in this battle.


Verse 18 comes back with more praise for Zebulun and Issachar.


Survivors came down to the nobles (5:13).


The kings came and fought (5:19).






The People of the Lord came...

   - Ephraim - Benjamin  - Zebulun – Issachar  - Reuben


Zebulun despised their lives even to death

And Naphtali on the high places of the field (5:18).






“Why did you sit among the sheepfolds?

Reuben - Gilead - Dan (5:16-17)


d.         This was the original battle of Armageddon.


"The kings came and fought;

Then fought the kings of Canaan

At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo;

They took no plunder in silver. (Judges 5:19).


This battle was to become the pattern for the victory of the Lord against the powers of darkness.  The church (the new Deborah) is still called to a battle.  And the good news is that the Lord still promises the victory.


e.         As Deborah describes the slaying of Sisera (5:23-27), there is a picture of the spiritual war that was introduced in Genesis 3:15.


Genesis 3:15

Deborah's Song

The woman.

"Most blessed of women is Jael"

The wife of Adam who had fallen into sin.

"The wife of Heber the Kenite"

He shall bruise you on the head.

"She struck Sisera, she smashed his head; and she shattered and pierced his temple"


As a result of this victory, there are 40 years of peace in the land (Judges 5:31).  It is a peace that is broken again by invaders.





Gideon is the lesson of what God can do with a man who will simply say, “Yes” to God.  The interesting thing about him is that he initially seems to have been inclined to say, “No.”

What is it that scares you to death?  Is the Lord calling you to face that fear today?


It wasn’t that he was a fearless man.  Indeed, there are several evidences that he dealt with real fear.  It was that he overcame that fear to obey the Lord.


Only a fool is without fear.  Indeed, the Bible speaks of the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom.  The brave man is one who faces his fear and does what needs doing in spite of that fear.


Here’s the point.  You are to be afraid of that which is worthy of your fear.  And in the long run, only God is worthy of your fear.


            “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).



Gideon’s Call

Oppression at the hands of Midian


A Prophet


Angel of the Lord


Gideon’s Commitment

Pull down Altar to Baal



Call to Arms



Laying out the Fleece


Gideon’s Conquest

Reduction of his Forces


Spying out the Enemy


Sharing the Strategy


The Battle




Their Involvement



Their Contention


Gideon’s Conquest

Rejection by Succoth & Penuel


Victory at Karkor


Accounting at Succoth & Penuel


Death of Zebah & Zalmunna


Gideon’s Culpability

Offer of Kingship


The Ephod at Ophrah


Many wives




1.         Oppression at the hands of Midian.


            Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. (Judges 6:1).


The Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4).  They settled in the lands of Arabia to the east of the Gulf of Aqabah where they adopted a nomadic lifestyle.


In Judges 3:8 and 4:2 we read that the Lord SOLD the Israelites into the hands of their enemies.  This time He gave them away.


This period lasted for seven years.  For seven years, the Midianites made successive raids into Canaan.  They always came at the time of the harvest.  They would wait until the Israelites had done all the work of planting and cultivating, and then they would swarm over the land, taking the crops at will.  Their invasion of the land at such a time was likened unto a plague of locusts (Judges 6:5).


2.         Gideon’s Call.


            Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. (Judges 6:11).


In verses 11 and 12 He is called the “angel of the Lord.”  When we come to verse 14 He is simply called “the Lord.”  This should not confuse us.  The angel of the Lord always represents the very presence and message of God.


Gideon wasn’t expecting such an angelic visitor.  He was expecting Midianites.  That is why he was beating wheat in a place where you didn’t normally beat wheat.  He was in hiding.


            And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” (Judges 6:12).


Gideon didn’t look much like a valiant warrior.  He looked more like the “before” picture on a “before & after” poster.  He was here in hiding doing “woman’s work” (the grinding of grain was considered to be the work of women - Exodus 11:5).  But God declared him to be a “valiant warrior.”


That is what God does with us, too.  He JUSTIFIES us.  He declares us to be righteous, not because we ARE righteous, but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ which has been reckoned to us.  He says, “I have declared you to be righteous - now BE righteous.”


3.         Gideon’s Requests for a Sign.


Gideon didn’t make only one request for a sign.  He made three such requests (though he acted in faith and obedience prior to making the last two requests).


Request #1

“Show me a sign” (Fire springs from the rock and consumes the offering).

Judges 6:17-22

Request #2

Let dew be on the fleece while the ground remains dry.

Judges 6:36-38

Request #3

Let the fleece be dry while dew is on the ground.

Judges 6:39-40


Was Gideon wrong to ask for a sign?  It should be noted that the reason he asked for a sign was to make certain that he had not misunderstood the Word of the Lord (Judges 6:36).


The first sign involved Gideon preparing an offering of meat and bread and broth and bringing it to the angel of the Lord.  These were placed on a rock.


            Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread, and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread.  Then the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. (Judges 6:21).


I can’t help but wonder if the charred surface of that rock was to serve as a constant reminder that the Lord had been there.  Indeed, Gideon chose to immortalize that place be building an altar there.


            Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it The Lord is Peace.  To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezites. (Judges 6:24).


If I had been there, I might have named it “the place of the burning rock.”  But I wasn’t.  And perhaps Gideon realized something that is all too easily missed.  He named it, “The Lord is Peace.”  He understood that the fact that a sacrifice had been accepted by God was a sign of peace between God and men.


4.         Gideon Destroys the Altar of Baal.


            Now the same night it came about that the Lord said to him, "Take your father's bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down." (Judges 6:25-26).

Baal was the storm god of the Canaanites.  The word “Baal” (   ) means “lord” or “master.”  It is used in modern Hebrew to describe a “husband.”  Baal was the god who was said to produce rain which was so necessary to the raising of crops and cattle.  He was also the god of reproduction and produce.


The Israelites had begun to worship this false god.  As a sign of their worship, they had built an altar to Baal.


            Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had spoken to him; and it came about, because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, that he did it by night. (Judges 6:27).


The tearing down of this altar was no simple affair.  A Baal altar found at Megiddo measured 26 feet across and 4 feet high.  It was made of stones cemented together with dried mud.  Next to it would be an “Asherah” - a fertility symbol.


So loyal were the Israelites to the worship of Baal that Gideon feared to destroy the altar by day.  The account goes on to show that his fear was not misplaced, for the Israelites respond by demanding his death and it is only when his father intercedes for him that he is allowed to live.


            Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.”

            But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him?  Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning.  If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.”

            Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he had torn down his altar. (Judges 6:30-32).


There is a play on words here.  Gideon is given the nickname “Jerubbaal” because it was suggested by his father that they should “let Baal contend against him.”


5.         The Reduction of Gideon’s Forces.


            Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley (Judges 7:1).


The last chapter mentioned that the Midianites had a camel corps.  These would have been the desert version of cavalry and, as such, would be more suited to warfare on the open plains as opposed to mountain terrain.


With this in mind, they had moved their forces into the Valley of Jezreel and had encamped near the village of Endor on the north side of the Hill of Moreh.


Gideon and his forces encamped to the south of the Midianites with only the ridge of Moreh separating the two forces.  It was a time of tension with battle in the air.  And it was now that the Lord instructed Gideon to whittle down his forces.


When we get to Judges 8:10, we shall see that the entire force of the Midianites numbered 135,000 men.  The Israelites at the outset were outnumbered nearly four to one.


32,000 men

Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him depart”

22,000 leave

10,000 men

“Separate everyone who laps like a dog”

9,700 sent home

300 men

“I will deliver you with the 300 men.”


It is not that these 300 were so great.  It is that God is very big.  It isn’t the size of the army that counts; it’s the size of the God in the army.


6.         The Battle.


            And he divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers.

            And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise.  And behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow the trumpet, then you also blow the trumpets all around the camp, and say, `For the Lord and for Gideon.’” (Judges 7:16-18).


This isn’t much of a battle strategy.  In one hand they would hold a trumpet.  In the other hand they would hold a pitcher and a torch.  What’s wrong with this picture?  They had no weapons!  But that is okay, because the Lord would be their sword.


            And when they blew 300 trumpets, the Lord set the sword of one against the other even throughout the whole army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the edge of Abel-melolah, by Tabbath. (Judges 7:22).


The attack was set for the “middle watch.”  This was in the dead of night when the camp would be filled with slumber.  Suddenly there was a clattering of shattered pottery and 300 swirling lights around the camp.


The battle quickly turned into a rout.  The army of the Midianites fled back the way they had come.  As they retreated, the other tribes of Israel were called to join in.


Lessons Learned
  1.       God’s battles can be won by the few as well as by the many.
  2.       The quality of the soldier is more important than the quantity.

            Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. (Judges 8:4).


Gideon knew that victory would not be complete without destroying the military might of the Midianites.  With this in mind, he began a chase of the Midianites that was to take him 150 miles.


            And he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who are following me, for they are weary, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”

            The leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give bread to your army.?”

            And Gideon said, “All right, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hands, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briars.” (Judges 8:5-7).


As we read a bit further, we find that Gideon received this same repulse from the town of Penuel.  These were Israelite towns.  They were inhabited by those two and a half tribes which had elected to remain on the east bank of the Jordan River.



Declined to assist Gideon through the sharing of provisions.

“I will thrash your bodies with thorns & briars”


“I will tear down this tower”


Do you see what has happened?  They are no longer identifying themselves with the covenant people of God.  They want to “play it safe.”  They have not yet chosen sides in the conflict.  I wonder if there are not those today who are similar.  “Fence-sitters” in the cause of Christ.  Not against the Lord, but not with Him, either.  The Lord allows no such “fence-sitting.”


            “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30).


We are involved in a great spiritual war.  The weapons of our warfare are not spears or arrows - or even torches and pots.  They are spiritual weapons.  But the battle is no less real.  And you are called to choose sides.  If you are not on a side, then you have already chosen.


7.         Offer of Kingship.


            Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.”

            But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23).


Gideon did not let his victory go to his head.  In this he is to be commended.  He gave the glory and the credit of his victory to the Lord.


8.         The Ephod at Ophrah.


            Yet Gideon said to them, “I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil.”  For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites. (Judges 8:24).


The people agree to this request and a total of 1700 shekels (about 42 pounds) of gold along with other ornaments are gathered and given to Gideon.


            And Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. (Judges 8:27).


An “Ephod” was an apron-looking garment.  It was worn by the high priest.  It was the badge of priesthood (Judges 17:5).  It was held in place by a waistband and associated with the urim and thummim which were kept within a breastplate.


What caused Gideon to do such a thing?  Was it pride?  Or the sudden wealth that was awarded him?  He had faced the hoards of Midian and won.  He faced the temptation of sudden wealth and lost.





Gideon’s closing years were a time of great prosperity.  A part of this prosperity was in the fact that he had no less than 70 sons.  One of these sons was by a concubine from Shechem.  His name was Abimelech - “My father the king.”


Often when a ruler dies, his son succeeds him.  But what happens when that ruler has 70 sons?  The answer is - TROUBLE!


1.         King at Shechem.


Following the death of his father, Abimelech goes to Shechem and raises support to build for himself a throne and to establish himself as king.


They supply him with funds by which he hires a band of “worthless and reckless fellows” - bad and wanton men.  70 pieces of silver are used to hire these men who help to murder  70 brothers.


            Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah, and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone.  But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.

            And all the men of Shechem and all Beth-millo assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar which was at Shechem. (Judges 9:5-6).


There is an interesting play on words as the men of Shechem “made king Abimelech as king.”  Shechem was a Canaanite city.  It had been there in the days of Jacob (see Genesis 34 for the story of Dinah and the people of Shechem).  They were used to the idea of a king and were especially prone to accept a man whose mother came from their city.  Thus, the advent of Abimelech was as an anti-Israelite king.


2.         Curse of Jotham.


Jotham, the youngest and only surviving son of Gideon, goes to Mount Gerazim and pronounces a curse upon the city of Shechem.


It begins with a parable in which the trees embark upon a quest for a king.  Nobler trees refuse such a position.  But the bramble bush agrees.


            “And the bramble said to the trees, `If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come out from the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’” (Judges 9:15).


There is a motif established here of a false anointed one.

The picture is obvious.  The bramble bush has no shade by which it is able to shade the mighty cedars.


Shechem lies on the saddle ridge between the twin peaks of Gerizim and Ebal.  This is significant as these were the two mountains upon which Joshua had all of the Israelites stand and recite the blessings and the cursings of the law.


            “...let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech.” (Judges 9:20).


The curse is pronounced as a chiasm, reflecting both upon the king and the cities who had determined to follow him.


Let fire come out...





from Abimelech...


and consume Abimelech.






and consume Shechem & Beth-millo...


from Shechem & Beth-millo...






and let fire come out...


The rest of this chapter deals with the fulfillment of this curse.  Following a three year reign, “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem” (Judges 9:23).


Abimelech captures a rebellious Shechem and burns its tower fortress to the ground, sowing the city with salt.  This is possibly related to the concept of a “covenant of salt.”  The idea was that salt would preclude anything from growing in that location in the future.


Abimelech then goes on to attack Thebez.  This is another city within the realm of Manasseh and located some 6 miles to the northeast of Shechem.  It is here that Abimelech is killed.


            So Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and approached the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire.

            But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull.

            Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest it be said of me, `A woman slew him.’” So the young man pierced him through, and he died. (Judges 9:52-54).


Abimelech’s death is an ignoble one - he is killed by a lowly weapon (the millstone) and at the hands of a woman.  This is reminiscent of the death of Sisera.



Killed by a woman

Tent peg through the Head


A Millstone crushed his Head


This motif of the crushed head of the enemy of God harkens back to the prophecy of the seed of the serpent from Genesis 3:15.  It is a continuation of that motif.  Once again we see the enemy of God being crushed by the seed of the woman.





1.         Tola.


            Now after Abimelech died, Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, arose to save Israel; and he lived in Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim.

            And he judged Israel twenty-three years.  Then he died and was buried in Shamir. (Judges 10:1-2).


Though Tola was from the tribe of Issachar, his ministry was based at Shamir within the area belonging to Ephraim.  “Shamir” might be an early form of “Samaria.”


Why didn’t he live in the land allotted to Issachar?  Perhaps it was because that particular land lay in the Valley of Jezreel where the Canaanites were at their strongest.


Tola is said to have arisen “to save Israel.”  The area of his ministry is within the same area which Abimelech had ruled.  Perhaps he was involved in restoring order after the death of Abimelech.


2.         Jair.


            And after him, Jair the Gileadite arose, and judged Israel twenty-two years.

            And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities in the land of Gilead that are called Havvoth-jair to this day. (Judges 10:3-4).


Jair is described as a resident of Gilead.  Gilead was the name of the region on the east bank of the Jordan River.  While Tola was ministering on the west bank of the Jordan, Jair was ministering on the east bank.  His legacy is the cities which were the birthrights of his sons.  They became known as Havvoth-jair - “the Encampments of Jair.”


We know very little about the judgeship of Jair except that he seems to have exercised significant political control over this area - controlling 30 cities of Gilead.





1.         The Judgment of God.


            Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him.

            And the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the sons of Ammmon. (Judges 10:6-7).


Once again the Israelites turned away from the Lord and indulged in the pagan practices of the nations around them.  This time, judgment came from two separate directions.


a.         The Philistines.


These were a group of warriors known as the “Sea Peoples.”  They had attempted an invasion of Egypt and had only barely been repulsed in the days of Rameses 3rd.  They had subsequently founded five cities on the seacoast area of southwestern Canaan.


b.         The Ammonites.


These were the descendants of Lot through his incestuous relationship with his daughter.  They were located to the southeast of Gilead.


It is the second of these two groups that is of foremost interest in this passage.  The Philistines become a major concern as we examine Samson.  Thus, Jephthah will be to the eastern tribes what Samson will be to the tribes of the west.


2.         Jephthah - A Man Rejected.


            Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valient warrior, but he was the son of a harlot.  And Gilead was the father of Jephthah.

            And Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”

            So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him. (Judges 11:1-3).


Jephthah was illegitimate.  As such, he was a social outcast and was stripped of any rights to inheritance.  This was no fault of his own.  He was being persecuted for the sins of his parents.


Those who speak of sexual sins as merely “a matter between consenting adults” normally forget the reprecussions that such activities have upon the children.


Jephthah was forced to live in exile in “the land of Tob.”  This was the area to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee.


Here he became the leader of a group who are described as “worthless fellows” (“empty men”).  The same term was used of the men who followed Abimelech (Judges 9:4).


2.         An Invitation to Leadership.


            And it happened when the sons of Ammon fought against Israel that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; 6  and they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.” (Judges 11:5-6).


It must have taken a great deal for the elders of Gilead to swallow their pride and come to Jephthah.  They ask that he come and be their “chief”.  In verse 11 they make him “head and chief” over them.  It is interesting that Jephthah makes the elders repeat the promise before he finally accepts their offer.


3.         Initial Negotiations.


Before seeking a military resolve, Jephthah sends messengers to the king of the Ammonites in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful resolve.  Several arguments are given.


a.         Israel took only the land of the Amorites and then only after being attacked when they sought safe passage through that land (Judges 11:15-22).


b.         It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites, something that Chemosh, the god of the Ammonites had failed to do (Judges 11:23-24).


c.         This land had now been the uncontested property of the Israelites for the past 300 years (Judges 11:26).


4.         Victory of Jephthah.


            Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mispah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon. (Judges 11:29).


This is only the second time up to this point that it had been said of one of the judges that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon” him.  It is an indication that Jephthah was trusting in the Lord for this victory.  Indeed, Hebrews 11:32 lists Jephthah as one of those who “by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33-34).


            So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand.

            And he struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim.  So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel. (Judges 11:12-13).


We are not told the specific strategy used - only that it was the Lord who gave the victory.  The result was not only that the Ammonites were pushed back into their own land, but that the entire line of fortresses which divided the lands of Israel from those of Ammon now fell to the Israelites.


5.         Jephthah’s Vow (Judges 11:30-31; 11:34-40).


Prior to the battle, Jephthah made a vow to the Lord that if he was victorious then upon his return “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:31).


Upon his victorious return, the first one to come out of the door of his house was his daughter.  He responds in sorrow.


            And it came about when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, m daughter!  You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” (Judges 11:35).


She asks for a two month respite to mourn “because of my virginity” (Judges 11:37).


            And it came about at the end of two months that she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man.  Thus it became a custom in Israel, 40  that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. (Judges 11:39-40).


This passage has led to some difficult questions since the natural reading seems to indicate that Jephthah engaged in human sacrifice, putting his own daughter to death in order to fulfill his foolish vow.


There are two possibilities:


a.         Jephthah did not actually have her put to death, but only sacrificed her in the sense of wholely dedicating her to the service of the Lord.


b.         Jephthah actually performed a human sacrifice, putting his daughter to death as a sacrifice to God.


Evidences have been offered for both of these interpretations.


Dedicated to God

Human Sacrifice

Being a Judge, Jephthah must have been Good-fearing and so would not have violated the Law

The promise of a simple animal sacrifice would hardly be a convincing vow in this situation

The Spirit of the Lord comes on Jephthah and he is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as being one of faith

This does not take place while the Spirit of the Lord is on him and he is not commended for this action

Daughter bewails her virginity and Judges 11:29 makes comment that “she knew not a man”

The burnt offering involves death in all 286 Old Testament occurrences

Exodus 38:8 and 1 Samuel 2:22 speak of women in service of the Tabernacle

If it was a frequent practice for women to serve in the Tabernacle, then why would this be a case for mourning?

Human sacrifice would have been clearly understood as a violation of God’s Law; public opinion would have disallowed it

Human sacrifice was viewed as a last ditch effort in battle (2 Kings 3:27).

Leviticus 27:1-8 allows for redemption of humans vowed for sacrifice

There is little evidence of Jephthah’s knowledge of the Law


Deuteronomy 12:31 warns that the Israelites were NOT to engage in the pagan practices of the Canaanites, “for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”


Discussion Question:  Obviously, a man in ancient Israel who swore an oath to the Lord was duty‑bound to keep it (Numbers 30:2;  Deuteronomy 23:21‑23).  But God's Law also forbids human sacrifice via the Sixth Commandment against killing.  Are we obligated to keep oaths, even if it leads to the breaking of the Law?  Or does an oath which leads to the breaking of the Law automatically render itself null and void, leaving us free to disregard the oath?


Matthew 14:1-12 presents another such case of a foolishly given oath.  It is the story of Herod Antipas who gave a carte blanche oath to Salome and as a result murdered John the Baptist.


In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus told a parable of two sons who were asked to go and work in their father’s vineyard.  The first refused and then changed his mind.  He was commended, even though he acted contrary to what he said he would do - because he acted in keeping with his father’s will.


6.         The Ephraim Incident.


            Then the men of Ephraim were summoned, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the sons of Ammon without calling us to go with you?  We will burn your house down on you.” (Judges 12:1).


This is the second time that the tribe of Ephraim had brought a complaint against one of the Judges.  They had spoken in a similar manner to Gideon for not having been invited to the battle against Midian (Judges 8:1).  The difference is that this time the complaint led to an armed conflict.


            Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugatives of Ephraim, O Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh.”

            And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim.  And it happened when any of the fugatives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?”  If he said, “No,” 6  then they would say to him, “Say now, `Shibboleth.’” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly.  Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan.  Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim. (Judges 12:4-6).


In the battle which followed, Jephthah was successful in capturing the vital fords across the Jordan, thus cutting off the escape route of the men of Ephraim (Ehud had done the same thing in his battle against Moab).


As Ephraimite refugees attempted to escape back into their own territories, they were put to a language test.  It is apparent from this that the tribes on the eastern and western banks had become so distant that even their accents were different from one another.





Three Judges are now mentioned in rapid succession.  Very little is said of them aside from their name, place of ministry and the duration of their tenure.






Place of Ministry




Length of Ministry

Seven years

Ten Years

Eight Years


30 sons

30 daughters given in marriage


40 sons

30 grandsons

70 donkeys


The significance of the number of sons, daughters, grandsons and donkeys is seen in that these were signs of their prosperity and of their influence in the land.





1.         The Philistines.


            Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, so that the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years. (Judges 13:1).


We have already made mention of the advent of the five cities of the Philistines upon the shores of southwest Canaan.


a.         Their name.


The word “Philistine” is transliterated from the Hebrew Peleseti.  However, it is not a Hebrew or even a Semitic word.  It seems to be Indo-European in origin.  It is from this name that we derive the term “Palestine.”


b.         Their origins.


Genesis 10:14 identifies the tribal origins of the Philistines as a Hamitic people coming from the Casluhim (See also Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7; Deuteronomy 2:23 and 1 Chronicles 1:12).  The most plausible theory is that these were related either to the Minoans of Crete or to the Mycenaeans of early Greece.


Egyptian records speak of an invading group of “Sea Peoples” who were barely repulsed by Rameses 3rd in 1188 B.C.  It is probable that the Philistines were among these Sea Peoples.


c.         Their cities.


With the exception of Ekron, the five major cities of the Philistines were all originally Canaanite cities which were taken over by the Philistines.


From their position on the coast, they controlled the major trade route into Egypt.


(1)        Ashkelon was the only city to have its own harbor and so it was the major seaport for the Philistines.

The Scallion Onion derives its name from Ashkelon.

Letters from Ashkelon appear among the Amarna Tablets in Egypt.


(2)        Gaza was located 3 miles inland from the coast of the Mediterranean.  The city was situated on a hight hill 100 feet over the surrounding plain.  It boasted 15 fresh water wells.


(3)        Ashdod was originally inhabited by the Anakim.  The city boasted a temple to their god Dagon.  It would be here that the Philistines would bring the captured Ark in the days of Samuel.


(4)        Ekron is the only city to have been built by the Philistines and not merely taken over.


(5)        Gath ( “Winepress”) was the home of the Anakim, a race of giants, one of whom was Goliath.  As there were several towns by the name of Gath, the exact location of this city has not yet been determined.


2.         Promise of His Birth.


The parents of Samson were of the tribe of Dan.  The woman of this marriage was barren.  This was the worst possible condition that anyone in the ancient world could face.  In a day when there was no social security, it meant that there would be no one to care for them in their old age.


a.         Agent of the promise.


Judges 13:3 says that “the angel of the Lord” appeared to the wife of Manoah and promised that a son would be born who would begin to deliver Israel (reminicent of the “seed motif”).


In verse 6 we read her description of him - she calls him “a man of God” whose appearance “was like the appearance of the angel of God.”


When Manoah requests the name of the angel, he is asked, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” (Judges 13:18).  The noun form of this word is seen in Isaiah 9:6 where we read that the name of the Promised Son shall be called “WONDERFUL Counselor.”


b.         Instructions and a promise.


            “For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5).


The requirements of the Nazarite Vow had been set forth in Numbers 6:2-5.  It was a “vow of dedication.”  Indeed, the word “Nazarite” comes from the Hebrew word natzer, “to separate.”


Samson was to be separated unto God from the womb.  While those who partook of the Nazarite Vow generally only did so for a limited time, Samson was to be a permanent Nazarite.


3.         Birth and Early Life.


            Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the Lord blessed him.

            And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahanch-Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:24-25).


The name “Samson” seems to be taken from the Hebrew word for the “sun.”  Perhaps this was because he was born only a few miles away from Beth-Shemesh (“House of the Sun”).  As such, it was a Canaanite name, for they worshipped the sun.


At some point in his life, the Spirit of God “began to stir” within Samson.  Perhaps this stirring was with reference to his great strength.  We should not think of Samson as a great muscleman.  Rather, he seems to have been an ordinary man gifted with extraordinary strength.


4.         His Desire for a Philistine Woman.


            Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. (Judges 14:1).


Samson lived in a cross-cultural community.  The Sorek Valley hosted both Israelite, Canaanite and Philistine towns.  And as Samson came of marital age, his eye fell upon a Philistine woman.


In verse 3 he says to his father, “Get her for me, for she LOOKS GOOD TO ME.”  Again in verse 7 we read that “she LOOKED GOOD to Samson.”  In both these cases, the Hebrew says literally, “She is RIGHT IN MY EYES.”   This is a refrain which we will see throughout the closing chapters of the book of Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).


Samson was a He-Man with a "she-weakness."  He had a tendency toward lust that was to conquer him.  But the real point of this story is how God used Samson in spite of his failures.  It is a story of the sovereignty of God.


Judges 14:4 says that all of his troubled relationships were "of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines."


The judges had two different types of ministry.  Some were called to judge.  Others were called to deliver Israel from her enemies (The best of the judges did BOTH, like Deborah).


This brings up a question.  Why is his name mentioned in Heb 11:32 as an example of a man of faith?  It certainly isn't because Samson was faithful to God.  He broke every one of the requirements of the Nazarite Vow.  He wasn’t faithful.  But he DID believe God and call upon the Lord (Judges 16:28). He wasn't afraid to ask God for big things, even when he knew that he did not deserve them.


Perhaps we can learn something from this.  I know that I do not deserve to expect a positive answer from God when I pray.  If Samson teaches me anything, he teaches me about the GRACE of God.


5.         The Wedding Incident.


Wedding feasts were no short affair.  They customarily lasted as long as a week (14:17).  The groom would throw a great party to which he would invite all of his friends.  Since the wedding was taking place in a Philistine town, it was a group of Philistines who came to attend the feast.


Normally, custom mandated that the wedding feast be at the house of the groom.  But this was not the case here.  Instead of this Philistine girl associating herself with the people of God, Samson was associating himself with the Philistines.


In the midst of the feast, Samson proposes a riddle and a very expensive wager.


            So he said to them, “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” (Judges 14:14).


After three days, the Philistine guests have not discovered the answer, so they threaten his bride with death and with the destruction of her father’s home.  She, in turn, solicites the answer from Samson and betrays him.


            Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil, and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle.  And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. (Judges 14:19).


Samson’s attack on the Philistines was motivated, not from spiritual reasons, but merely of revenge.  Revenge is one of the most natural human responses.  And also one of the most destructive.


            Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repau,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19).


The lesson will be illustrated in the case of Samson as his conflict with the Philistines escalates to the point where he is ultimately defeated.


Remember that the Lord was using his strength in spite of his impure motivations.  This is the first of several escalating conflicts with the Philistines.




Number Killed


Samson kills men of Ashkelon to take their clothes in payment

30 men


Samson burns farmlands of Philistines



Samson strikes with a great slaughter



Samson breaks ropes that bind him and fights with the jawbone of an ass

1000 men


Samson pushes down the house of Dagon, killing all within

More than he had killed in his life


6.         In the Time of Wheat Harvest - An Escalating Vengeance.


The anger of his vengeance temporarily cooled, Samson returns to take his wife, only to find that she has been given to another man.  Samson takes this as a further insult and takes up a career as an arsonist, burning up a great number of the fields of the Philistines.  The Philistines respond by burning the home of his would-be bride and her father.  They die in the flames, she suffering the very death she had sought to avoid in initially betraying Samson.  The escalation contines as Samson “struck them ruthlessly with a great slaughter” (Judges 15:8).


Following this, Samson escapes to a refuge in a cave near the town of Etam (a mere 2 miles from Bethlehem) in the territory of Judah.


7.         The Lehi Incident - the Jawbone of an Ass.


Samson’s actions had already brought retribution upon his bride and father-in-law.  Now the Philistines invade the territory of Judah, putting pressure upon the Israelites to turn Samson over to them.  They agree and Samson is bound and made a captive of the Philistines.


            When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him.  And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands.

            And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. (Judges 15:14-15).


The name “Lehi” (   ) means “jawbone.”  It seems likely that it was given this designation following this event.  This was Samson’s greatest victory to date.

It can only be attributed to the working of God through him.  When the killing was completed, Samson became aware of a great thirst.  He asks the Lord for water and the Lord answers his prayer, making water to come from the “hollow place.”


8.         The Gates of Gaza.


            Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.

            When it was told to the Gazites, saying, “Samson has come here,” they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city.  And they kept silent all night, saying, “Let us wait until the morning light, then we wil kill him.”

            Now Samson lay until midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts and pulled them up along with the bars; then he put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron. (Judges 16:1-3).


This is the second time a woman became the source of trouble for Samson.  Perhaps as many as 20 years had passed since his last encounter with the Philistines (Judges 15:20).


While they lie in wait for him, he literally breaks out of the city, carrying the city gates with him.


This had a special significance in the ancient world.  A city was considered to be no stronger than its gates.  To have the gates carried off was the height of humiliation for this city.


Hebron is located nearly 40 miles to the east of Gaza.  Furthermore, it is uphill all the way, rising to a height of 3000 feet above sea level.  Apparently, Samson took these gates there as a trophy of the strength of the God of Israel.


9.         Samson and Delilah.


            After this it came about that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. (Judges 16:4).


Though Delilah is not described as a Philistine, her name does not seem to be Semitic in origin and so it is likely that she was a Philistine.


The lords of the Philistines offer her a large bribe if she will discover the secret of Samson’s great strength.  Samson is at first evasive, telling her lie after lie.  But ultimately he relents.


            And it came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death.

            So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, “A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mother’s womb.  If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” (Judges 16:16-17).


Delilah is quick to make use of this information and, while he is sleeping, she has his head shaved.


            And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”  And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.”  But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. (Judges 16:20).


Samson had become so self-sufficient in his thinking that he no longer realized the presence of the Lord.  He was completely unaware that the “Lord had departed from him.”


How would your life be different if the Lord departed from you?  Have you been trying to live the Christian life without the power of the Holy Spirit?  If so, then perhaps you can identify with Samson.


            Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison

            However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off. (Judges 16:21-22).


The gouging of the eyes of a hated prisoner was common in the ancient world.  It assured him a fate of servitude.


He is brought to Gaza, the city which he had humiliated by carrying away the gates.  Thrown into prison, he is assigned the duty of grinding mill by hand (the large animal-powered mills were not yet in use).


10.       Samson’s Death.


            Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.” (Judges 16:23).


“Dagon” was the god of the Philistines.  Though the name is similar to dag, the Hebrew word for “fish,” more recent archaeological studies have identified Dagon as a Canaanite deity which had been borrowed by the Philistines.  In Ugaritic literature he is the father of Baal.  Dagon was the god of grain.  Perhaps this was why Samson had been given the task of grinding grain in the prison.


They attributed this victory, not to Samson’s disobedience, but to the power of their own god.  In the midst of their celebration, they have Samson brought out for their amusement.  In the midst of this entertainment, Samson prays one last time to the Lord.


            Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”

            And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left.

            And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!”  And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it.  So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. (Judges 16:28-30).


Samson’s last act was one which was designed both to avenge his treatment at the hands of the Philistines as well as to deliver a blow against the false god that was being proclaimed in place of the Lord.


His is the story of a man with great strength and great weakness.  In one sense, it is a tragedy, for his personal life was his undoing.  In another sense, the Lord took this tragic life and brought about a victory for the people of God.  What made the difference?  How can we see Samson as the victor instead of Samson the blind suicide bomber?  It is by recognizing that, in spite of all his failings, Samson had FAITH.  It is for this reason he is listed in Hebrews 11 in that great hall of faith.  He bears witness to us that God is able to take a sinful man and through such a tool do great things.

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