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Judges: The Twelve Heroes of Israel

The following is a presentation from Council 5207 Lecturer, John F. Meyer:

  • Judges in the Old Testament were not magistrates, but military leaders chosen by God to aid the Israelites in times of external danger. However, these Judges described in Judges exercised their authority over one or other tribe but, never the entire nation.

  • The Book of Judges describes the activities of these twelve judges

  • The Judges protected and defended Israel from the death of Joshua until the institution of the monarchy in Israel

  • Six of the Judges are described in some detail: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah/Barak (her general), Gideon, Jephtah, and Samson. They are considered the Major Judges. Gideon and Samson are probably the most familiar of these six.

  • The Minor Judges are: Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon.

  • In chronological order: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah/Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan , Elon, Abdon , and Samson.

  • There were two other Judges, Eli and Samuel whose judgeships are described in 1 Samuel. They exercised their authority over the entire nation until the institution of the monarchy.


1. Othniel (Judah)

  • Son of Kenza, a Gentile Kenizzite convert of the Exodus generation and younger brother of Caleb.

  • Othniel was the nephew and son-in-law of Caleb, and the son of Kenaz, Gentile Kenizzite converts who joined the tribe of Judah.

  • Israelites forgot God and worshiped the Baals and Asherahs. God allowed them to fall to Aram Naharaim

  • In the conquest of Canaan, Othniel captured Debir. He became the first warrior-Judge of Israel and delivered Israel from the oppression of the Edomites. His family is listed among the clans of Judah.

  • Enemy: Cushan-Rishathaim, King of Mesopotamia

  • Period of oppression: 8 Years

  • Period of quiet: 40 years

  • Scriptures: Josh 15:13-17; Judges 1:9-21; 3:1-11; 1Chron 4:13

2. Ehud (Benjamin)

  • Son of Gera.

  • Again the Israelites offended the Lord and they fell to the Moabites

  • Ehud was a left-handed Benjaminite who personally killed Eglon king of Moab and ended Moabite domination of Israel.

  • Enemy: Eglon king of Moab, Ammonites and Amalekites

  • Period of oppression: 18 years

  • Period of quiet: 80 years

  • Scripture: Judges 3:12-30

3. Deborah/Barak (Deborah = Ephraim and Barak = Naphtali)

  • Deborah the wife of Lappidoth was a prophetess and a judge. She would sit under Deborah’s palm tree between Bethel and Ramah.

  • Once again, the Israelites offended God and He allowed the Israelites to fall under the power of Jabin, the Canaanite king

  • Deborah and her general, Barak (Naphtali), defeated Sisera, the general of the army of Canaanite King Jabin of Hazor at the Battle of Kishon near Mt Tabor.

  • Sisera fled from Deborah and Barak to the tent of Jeal, the wife of the Kenite Heber. The Kenites and Jabin were at peace.

  • Sisera was slain by Jael driving a tent peg into his head. Thus God humbled the Canaanite king Jabin until the Israelites destroyed him.

  • The Song of Deborah (Judges chapter 15) recounts the great victory.

  • Barak is listed among the "Heroes of the Faith" in Heb 11:32.

  • Enemies: Jabin, Canaanite king of Hazor Sisera, general and vassal of Jabin; may have been a Hittite.

  • Period of oppression: 20 years

  • Period of quiet: 40 years

  • Scriptures: Judges 4:1-5:31; 1 Sam 12:11; Heb 11:32

4. Gideon (Manasseh)

  • Son of Joash of Abiezer

  • The Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon at Ophrah.

  • Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal. Seeking confirmation of God's will, Gideon put out a fleece twice for a sign.

  • On God's command he reduced the size of his army from 32,000 to 300 and successfully routed the Midianite army.

  • He took revenge on the men of Succoth and Penuel for not giving his army bread.

  • He killed the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna in revenge for the killing of his brothers at the battle of Mt. Tabor.

  • Later, he made a gold ephod and placed it into his city, Ophrah. Unfortunately, the Israelites worshiped the ephod and thus Gideon and his family were ruined. He was mentioned among the "heroes of the faith" in Heb 11:32.

  • Enemies: Midianites; Amalekites "People of the East"

  • Period of oppression: 7 years

  • Period of quiet: 40 years

  • Scriptures: Judges 6:1-8:32; Heb 11:32

5. Jephthah (Gilead-Manasseh in Transjordan)

  • Jephthah was the son of Gilead by a harlot and was driven away by his half-brothers.

  • The elders of Gilead brought him back and made him their chief at Mizpah.

  • Jephthah refused to give up Gilead to the Ammonites. He fought the Ammonites and conquered some 20 cities.

  • The swearing of a foolish vow cost him his daughter's life. He vowed that if the Lord delivered the Ammonites to me, he will offer up the first person to come out of the door of his house when he returned in triumph. It was his only child, his daughter.

  • He initiated a civil war with the Israelite tribe of Ephraim.

  • Mentioned among the "heroes of the faith" in Heb 11:32.

  • Enemies: Philistines; Ammonites; Civil war with the tribe of Ephraim

  • Period of oppression: 18 years; (Judges 10:8)

  • Period of quiet: 6 years

  • Scripture: Judges 10-11; Heb 11:32

6. Samson (Dan) Son of Manoah

  • An angel announced Samson's birth.

  • He was consecrated as a Nazarate from birth (Num chapter 6).

  • He had a fatal fondness for Philistine women.

  • Samson was a man of immense strength: he killed a lion with his hands; he killed 30 Philistines at Ashkelon, and a "thousand" with a jawbone of an ass.

  • Other amazing deeds included using 300 foxes to burn the gain fields of the Philistines and carrying off the city gate of Gaza.

  • Samson was conquered by a Philistine woman, Delilah, who discovered that his uncut hair was the source of his strength.

  • He was blinded and imprisoned at Gaza.

  • He called out to God who allowed his strength to return. He pulled down the Temple of Dagon killing himself and about 3,000 Philistines.

  • Mentioned among the "heroes of the faith" in Heb 11:32.

  • Enemies: Philistines

  • Period of oppression: 40 years

  • Period of quiet: 20 years

  • Scriptures: Judges 13:1-16:31;Heb 11:32


1. Shamgar (tribe unknown)

  • His name is not Hebrew. He was the son of Anath

  • He killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad.

  • A contemporary of the Judge Deborah: the "Song of Deborah refers to "in the days of Shamgar ben Anath" (Judges 5:6);

  • possibly the son of a mixed marriage.

  • Enemies: Philistines

  • Scripture: Judges 3:31-5:6

2. Tola (Issachar)

  • Son of Puah; grandson of Dodo

  • Tola was probably from one of the leading clans of Issachar (Gen 46:13; Num 26:23)

  • Lived at Shamir in the territory of Ephraim.

  • He judged Israel 23 years and was buried in Shamir

  • Scripture: Judges 10:1, 2

3. Jair (Gilead-Manasseh)

  • Jair may have been a descendant of the same Jair who distinguished himself during the days of Moses and Joshua (see Num 32:41; Dt 3:14; Josh 13:30; 1 King 4:13; 1Chr 2:21).

  • He had 30 sons who were itinerant judges. They possessed 30 cities

  • Jair Judged Israel for 22 years

  • Scripture: Judges 10:3-5

4. Ibzan (Judah)

  • Ibzan was a socially prominent man who had 30 sons and 30 daughters for whom he arranged marriages.

  • Jewish tradition identifies him with Boaz of Bethlehem-Judah.

  • Judged Israel for 7 years

  • Scripture: Joshua 19:15; Judges 12:8-10

5. Elon (Zebulun)

  • He was buried at Aijalon in Zebulun.

  • Judged Israel for 10 years

  • Scripture: Judges 12:11, 12

6. Abdon (Ephraim)

  • Abdon, the son of Hillel was a man of wealth and prominence.

  • He had 40 sons and 30 grandsons.

  • He was a native of Pirathon (near Shechem) and was buried there.

  • Judged Israel for 8 years

  • Scripture: Judges 12:13-15

Addendum: The Canticle of Deborah (NIV Judges Chap: 5)

…Deborah and Barak, (son of Abinoam) sang this song

“When the princes in Israel take the lead,

when the people willingly offer themselves—

praise the Lord!

“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!

I, even I, will sing to[a] the Lord;

I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

“When you, Lord, went out from Seir,

when you marched from the land of Edom,

the earth shook, the heavens poured,

the clouds poured down water.

The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,

before the Lord, the God of Israel.

“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,

in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;

travelers took to winding paths.

Villagers in Israel would not fight;

they held back until I, Deborah, arose,

until I arose, a mother in Israel.

God chose new leaders

when war came to the city gates,

but not a shield or spear was seen

among forty thousand in Israel.

My heart is with Israel’s princes,

with the willing volunteers among the people.

Praise the Lord!

“You who ride on white donkeys,

sitting on your saddle blankets,

and you who walk along the road,


the voice of the singers[b] at the watering places.

They recite the victories of the Lord,

the victories of his villagers in Israel.

“Then the people of the Lord

went down to the city gates.

‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah!

Wake up, wake up, break out in song!

Arise, Barak!

Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.’

“The remnant of the nobles came down;

the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty.

Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;

Benjamin was with the people who followed you.

From Makir captains came down,

from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s[c] staff.

The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;

yes, Issachar was with Barak,

sent under his command into the valley.

In the districts of Reuben

there was much searching of heart.

Why did you stay among the sheep pens[d]

to hear the whistling for the flocks?

In the districts of Reuben

there was much searching of heart.

Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.

And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?

Asher remained on the coast

and stayed in his coves.

The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;

so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.

“Kings came, they fought,

the kings of Canaan fought.

At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,

they took no plunder of silver.

From the heavens the stars fought,

from their courses they fought against Sisera.

The river Kishon swept them away,

the age-old river, the river Kishon.

March on, my soul; be strong!

Then thundered the horses’ hooves—

galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.

‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord.

‘Curse its people bitterly,

because they did not come to help the Lord,

to help the Lord against the mighty.’

“Most blessed of women be Jael,

the wife of Heber the Kenite,

most blessed of tent-dwelling women.

He asked for water, and she gave him milk;

in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.

Her hand reached for the tent peg,

her right hand for the workman’s hammer.

She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

At her feet he sank,

he fell; there he lay.

At her feet he sank, he fell;

where he sank, there he fell—dead.

“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;

behind the lattice she cried out,

‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?

Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’

The wisest of her ladies answer her;

indeed, she keeps saying to herself,

‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:

a woman or two for each man,

colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,

colorful garments embroidered,

highly embroidered garments for my neck—

all this as plunder?’

“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!

But may all who love you be like the sun

when it rises in its strength.”

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