Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Judges: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Judges is the seventh book of the Bible.

The book of Judges is about what happened to Israel after they had taken possession of the Promised Land.  Basically, they fell into this pattern of serving other gods, getting conquered, and then being delivered by a “Judge,” a kind of holy hero.

When Israel began serving the local Canaanite god Baal, God allowed them to be conquered by Mesopotamia (a kingdom to the north), and Israel became their servants for eight years.  Then God raised up the first judge, Othniel, the younger brother of Caleb, and he delivered Israel from the Mesopotamians.

Israel was obedient for forty years, but then they began to disobey God, so they were conquered by Moab, and became servants for eighteen years.  Then God raised up the second judge, Ehud, who was left-handed.  Ehud visited the king of Moab (who was very fat) and said, “I have a message from God for you,” and then he plunged his sword deep into the fat belly of the king of Moab, spilling guts and shit everywhere.  Then Ehud led Israel, and they defeated Moab, and had peace for eighty years.

"Ehud Kills Eglon (King of Moab)" by Ford Madox Brown

The Philistines then conquered Israel, and God raised up the next judge, Shamgar, who single-handedly killed six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad, and delivered his people.

Israel again began to disobey God, so they were conquered by a Canaanite king called Jabin.  At this time, there was a female judge/prophetess in Israel named Deborah.  She was very wise, and people would visit her for counsel.  Deborah and a guy named Barak led an attack on Jabin’s forces, and defeated them.  The commander of Jabin’s army was a guy named Sisera.  He fled the battle and took refuge in the tent of a woman named Jael.  While Sisera was sleeping, Jael drove a tent peg into his temple, killing him.  Thus, Israel was delivered from Jabin, king of Canaan.  After their victory, Deborah and Barak sang a song.

"Jael Killing Sisera" by Felice Ficherelli

The land of Israel had peace for forty years, but then (surprise, surprise) Israel began to disobey God, and the Midianites began to oppress them by destroying their crops and livestock.  The Israelites were so destitute and desperate that they started living in caves.  So God raised up the next judge, whose name was Gideon.  Gideon was an unlikely hero, from a small tribe, and the youngest of his family.  One day, while he was working, an angel visited him, saying, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”  This caught Gideon off guard.  He was not a valiant warrior.  God gave Gideon a few signs that He was for real, and told Gideon to destroy the altar to Baal in his town, so Gideon did.  This pissed off the people of the town, who wanted to kill Gideon.  But Gideon’s father stood up for his son, basically saying, “If Baal is really God, can’t he fend for himself?”  Then Gideon raised a small force of 300 warriors, and they attacked the Midianites, and won!

"Battle of Gideon Against the Midianites" by Nicolas Poussin

The Israelites were so happy with Gideon that they wanted to make him king, but he refused, saying, “The Lord shall rule over you.”  Instead, Gideon asked for a bunch of earrings, which he melted down and made an idol, which made no sense.  Israel had peace for forty years.  

After Gideon’s death, his son Abimelech conspired to make himself king of Israel.  He killed all his brothers, and basically proclaimed himself king, but his reign only lasted three years.  He was killed suddenly when a woman dropped a millstone on his head.  Good riddance.

After Abimelech’s death, there was intermittent peace in Israel, occasionally interrupted by war against the Philistines.  One significant judge during this time was Jephthah, who was the son of a prostitute, and consequently people looked down on him.  However, he was such a valiant warrior that he delivered Israel from their oppressors.  Before one battle, Jephthah made a tragic vow to the Lord.  He said, “If You will let me win this battle, then, when I get home, I will sacrifice whatever comes out of the house to greet me.”  He won the battle, returned home, and it was his only daughter who came out to greet him.  He wept, she wept, and then he sacrificed her.

"Jepththah's Sacrifice" (artist unknown)

After that, there was a brief civil war in Israel, followed by intermittent periods of war and peace.

Years later, when the Philistines were again oppressing Israel, an angel appeared to a barren woman and said that she was going to give birth to a very special child, who was to be dedicated to the Lord.  The boy’s name was Samson.  He never cut his hair, and he never drank alcohol.  He grew up to be super strong.  One time, Samson killed a lion with his bare hands, for example.

Samson tended to be attracted to Philistine women, which made his life complicated.  His wives were always tricking him into revealing secrets, and then passing those secrets along to Philistine leaders.  Meanwhile, Samson was wreaking havoc on the land of the Philistines, burning their crops, killing their warriors.  Once, he killed a thousand men with just a ram’s jaw bone.  Samson was badass.

Once, a Philistine woman named Delilah tricked him, and cut his hair while he was sleeping.  Consequently, Samson lost his strength (his hair being the source of his strength), and the Philistines captured him and gouged his eyes out and put him in prison.  But Samson’s hair slowly grew back, and he got his revenge by destroying a Philistine temple, killing 3,000 people.  Samson, the last judge of Israel, went out with a bang.

"Samson Destroys the Temple" by Marc Chagall

The book of Judges ends with a civil war between several tribes of Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin.  The war was sparked when some Benjamites raped and killed the concubine of a priest.  The priest was so outraged, that he cut up the woman’s body into twelve pieces, and sent the pieces to each tribe, as a witness against Benjamin.  So there was a massive, and bloody civil war, and the tribe of Benjamin was mostly destroyed, except for a few survivors.  

Judges ends with this quote: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  This suggests that, given the volatile place Israel had become, perhaps they needed a king to provide a sense of unity.

Stay tuned to find out if Israel gets a king…

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