There’s a lot of talk these days about bucket lists. Aside from the overt narcissism of it all, I’ll admit that I have found myself thinking along these lines from time to time. One of the things that I’ve always wanted to do is read the O.T. book of The Judges to my sons. Well, it's currently underway. [Another thing recently added to that list is taking my daughter to get her ears pierced … which, Lord-willing, will take place tomorrow. Keep an eye out for the pictures.]
Judges is wonderful because it was written back before society [in its wisdom] decided that the world would be a better place if little boys could just learn to stop using sticks as swords and spend their summer days reading ‘Johnny has Two Daddies’. For some helpful interpretive comments on the book and some more great medieval paintings from stories of the Judges [also painted in a day before the aforementioned societal sensibilities took hold], keep reading below.
To get started the word 'judges' could probably be better rendered as 'chieftains', which would also be a good image as the tribes are loosely organized and often warring against themselves - exactly like we might think about the Americans Indians.
As scholar Gary Rendsburg has pointed out, The Judges was clearly written [by Divine inspiration] as Pro-Davidic, anti-Sauline “propaganda”. I use that term loosely, not intending its negative sense. The two major themes are: 1. unconventional, weak, or small weapons and weak, flawed, or small warriors defeating far-superior, more advanced and sophisticated foes. [Can you find a single instance of a 'normal' weapon being used by a 'judge'?] This is perfectly fitting because David was the small king, the least of his family, while Saul was the tallest guy around and the obvious choice. David was the young shepherd boy who defeated the giant champion of Gath with a sling shot. This is also fitting because David is a type of the Greater Savior to come, Christ, [can anything good come from Nazareth?] Who defeated Satan, sin, and death - in large part - by being crucified. Judah, Bethlehem and other peoples and regions associated w/ David are spoken of approvingly, while the Benjamites and all things-Saulesque are presented as less-than-savory.
And #2: Disjunction, discord, and fragmentation. The book starts and ends with human dismemberment [chiastic structure]. The book refers to isolated body parts idiomatically. The theme/motif verse is: ‘In those days, Israel didn’t yet have a king, so everyone did what was good/right in his own eyes.’ [but the corresponding refrain is … 'And yet again, Israel did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord’.] In other words, the book's original message was: ‘Israel, sure having Saul as king was hard, but David is God’s choice and if you think things are bad now, just think back to the days when there was no king! Sure we're surrounded by threatening nations with more advanced military strength and technology, but God has always been in the business of delivering such enemies into the hand of the underdog who fears Him - men like David! Let's keep the kingdom united and let's keep it united under David!’
A final note – the events in the book of Ruth took place during the time of the judges, so we’re going to be reading it along with the rest of the stories of this book.
The illustrations are illuminations from the Morgan Bible [aka Maciejowski Bible]. From the top: Ehud slaying Eglon, Battling the Benjamites of Gibeah, Gideon cutting down his father's idols, Jael slaying Sisera, and Samson slaying the Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.