Book of Judges
|Light iron-age reading|
|Gabbin' with God|
“”And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
|—Judges 9:13 (KJV, bold by RW's alcohol appreciation club)|
Judges claims to document events in Israelite history after the entry into the promised land, but before the establishment of the monarchy. Despite the strong anti-monarchical stand of the next two books (1 and 2 Samuel), this book stands as the strongest piece of pro-monarchical propaganda in the Bible. (A common refrain in the book is "In the time before the kings, when each did as he saw right…" suggesting that a stronger state would keep the Israelites on the straight and narrow.) It is arguably the most violent book of the Bible, along with Book of Joshua.
When Joshua went the way of all flesh, Judah was appointed to replace him as Commander-in-Chief of the Israelites. Even with the power of God behind him, his success was mixed:
Judges 1:19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.
Caleb offered his own daughter as the prize in the "Smite Kirjathsepher Contest". His nephew Othniel won, and took his cousin as his wife.
But the lucky stars weren't enough. Sisera died peacefully in his sleep when the woman Jael drove a tent peg through his temple (Judges 5:26). After that episode, to be killed by a woman was so shameful that men wounded by women in battle begged to be finished off by a man, because otherwise what would people say?
Judges 9:53-54 And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A women slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.
Wait, it gets better. Jephthah vowed to offer the first thing that came out of the doors of his house to God as a burnt offering if only he delivered the Ammonites. So God delivered the Ammonites, and the first thing to come out of the doors of Jephthah's house was… his daughter!
Judges 11:35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
It seems this time God wanted a sacrifice instead of mercy. So Jephthah made a burnt offering of his only child, like Abraham was supposed to do with Isaac, but since she was just a girl the bible doesn't even record her name.
A cyclical pattern of events in Judges is readily apparent, and it goes something like this:
- Israelites screw up, make God angry. Most of the evilness has to do with giving too much attention to those pesky other
demonsgods like Baal and Asherah.
- In retribution, God unleashes his wrath and allows foreign invaders to conquer and enslave Israelites.
- Israelites say they're sorry, plead with God for help.
- God sends
Voltrona hero (a "judge") to lead the Israelites in crushing their oppressors. Usually the hero is an outcast, wimp, or just plain weirdo that God gives elevated status.
- Hero initiates a glorious bloodbath; Israelites are freed in dramatic fashion.
- Israelites ignore or forget their miraculous redemption, irritate God again. You get the idea.
The end of Judges is quite sick. When a priest and his concubine are traveling, a wandering gang of apparently gay men want to have sex with the priest. The owner of the house he is staying at offers them his daughter and the concubine. They take the concubine, and rape her to death. The priest takes her body to his house, and then cuts her body into 12 pieces and mails them throughout Israel.
Notable Judges and their matchups
Ehud vs. Moabites
Ehud was left-handed, and therefore considered weird by the standards of the day. In one of the more (possibly intentionally!) humorous stories in the Bible, Ehud defeats the Moabites by assassinating Eglon, the King of Moab. Ehud's method? Conceal a short sword on his right inner thigh, stab the hyper-obese king in the gut such that the king's, um, poop leaks out of the wound, then get away easily because the guards think that the king isn't actually dead, but taking a gigantic dump. Classy. James Bond has nothing on this guy.
Ehud's left-handedness was useful because the guards, operating in a right-handed world, expected largely defensive weapons of sword to be worn on the left side of the body, where they could be drawn with the right hand. Being left-handed, Ehud could both sneak a sword in on his right side and also draw it easily.
This story incorporates some pretty glaring juvenile humor. If you're wondering where fat jokes and poop jokes occur in the Bible, this is a good place to start.
Deborah vs. Canaanites
Deborah was a woman, and therefore not up to snuff by the standards of the day. However, despite having the wrong gender, she was apparently a decent prophetess and had regular sit-downs with God.
Having a vagina, Deborah was of course incapable of direct military leadership in the campaign against the Canaanites and their all-star general, Sisera. Instead, Deborah acted as a sort of commander-in-chief while the Israelite general Barak dealt with the situation on the ground. However, Barak made a boo-boo, and because of it, he was denied the delicious task of giving Sisera a grisly end. Instead, as Deborah prophesied, a lowly female tent-dweller stole the glory by driving a stake through Sisera's head as he slept (are the writers and producers of Saw 17 reading this and salivating yet?).
Gideon vs. Midianites and Amalekites
Gideon was a huge dork who constantly hid from the oppressors, and it proved difficult for God to persuade him that yes, he actually was destined to become a great leader. However, Gideon was eventually convinced by some magic tricks involving dew and wool. Pretty lame, really — Gideon couldn't think of anything cooler than that? He had his choice of miracle, and he picks frickin' dew?! But then again, he was a huge dork, so maybe that really was the best he could do.
Gideon manages to raise a fairly large army, but God decides that the revolt must be accomplished with only a meager force to discourage the Israelites from deceitfully taking all the credit for the victory, leaving none for God (God has evidently wised up to these kinds of tactics, or maybe he's just feeling like flexing his muscles a bit). God then winnows the force down to 300 men.
Gideon arms his troops with trumpets, torches, and pots, and surrounds the opposing army camp. After nightfall, he launches a surprise attack, instructing his men to make tons of noise in the process, while God confuses the Midianites so that they attack each other in the confusion. The strategy of "surprise the other guys and make them kill each other" proves effective, and Gideon mops up the survivors.
Gideon, like any protagonist in a nerd-to-hero story, goes a tad over the top, scoring big with lots of ladies, naming his son Abimelech (which effectively means "my dad is awesome") and casting an idol for the Israelites to worship. Oops.
Jephthah vs. Ammonites
The bold-but-not-too-bright Jephthah was the embarrassing relative nobody wanted around, having been tossed out by his half-brothers. He was eventually selected to be Israel's Top Gun against the Ammonites, but before the decisive battle he foolishly swore that if God made him victorious (which presumably would have happened anyway), he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house to greet him. Perhaps Jephthah was used to pigs and goats running to congratulate him on his military prowess, but, unfortunately, the first thing that came to greet him upon his return was his daughter. Wouldn't ya know it, God plays for keeps in these situations, so Jephthah carried out his oath—his daughter was a little upset, but she agreed that yep, stupid me for being your daughter and happily greeting you after you made a dumbass oath. So, if you're paying attention at home, the lesson here is that you shouldn't be related to a guy who likes to play fast and loose with his oaths because you could die. He'll be fine though. See Jephthah's return
Another interesting addendum to Jephthah's legacy is his slaughter of the Ephraimites, who refused to recognize his legitimacy as ruler. The Ephraimites were identified by their accents and killed. It seems that armed men actually grabbed people and demanded "Say 'Shibboleth'![note 1] Say it! NOW!" and killed them if they didn't pronounce the word correctly. So early forms of racial profiling were pretty widespread even in the pre-Christian era.
Samson vs. Philistines
Samson might be the weirdest and most psychotic of the Judges. That leads to an action-packed highlight reel, since Samson is endowed with super-strength by God. Here's his rap sheet:
- Gets pissed off at his 30 groomsmen at his wedding for cheating in a wager, robs and kills 30 other Philistines to pay them.
- Gets pissed off at his father-in-law-to-be for marrying off Samson's wife-to-be to another dude (gee, I wonder why?), attaches torches to the tails of foxes and lets them run through Philistine crops, destroying them.
- Slaughters many Philistines as payback for the deaths of his family, who were killed by the Philistines as payback for Samson's pyrotechnic experiments on their crops.
- Smites 1,000 Philistines with a donkey jawbone.
- After some special time with a hooker, rips out one of the gates of the city of Gaza and carries it off.
Eventually, Samson marries a Philistine woman named Delilah. Naturally, Delilah also has a vagina; as such, she lacks combat leadership skills, but enjoyed an automatic +10 in deception (see, for example, Eve in Guide to Genesis). Delilah tricks Samson into revealing the secret of his strength—his flowing Fabio-like hair. Delilah orders a servant to cut off Samson's hair while he sleeps and causes him to be captured by the Philistines, who blind and enslave him.
Like any group of bad-guy henchmen, the idiot Philistine jailers don't pay attention to Samson's hair, and it grows back. At a Philistine temple gathering, Samson becomes a God-endorsed "suicide collapser" by using his renewed strength to push over the main temple pillars, demolishing the building and killing everyone inside, including himself. Delilah disappears from the narrative as women tend to do in the Bible, with the idea she died in the collapsing temple an assumption made afterwards. Presumably she moved to somewhere more glamorous or headed back to her father's place with her sweet loot.