What does Judge 1 9



The book of judges describes the situation of the twelve tribes of Israel after the conquest and before the beginning of a royal rule in Israel. It is the pre-state period, which is often referred to as the "judge period". The land grab phase is now over, and the land must now be secured against external enemies. That’s why the narrative progressesJudge, שֹׁפְטִים, šofetîm responsible, hence the name of the book, which is identical in Jewish and Christian tradition. In the case of judges, research distinguishes the small from the great judges. This does not indicate the significantly different scope of the reports with which the various groups or individuals report. It seems as if the great judges fought as charismatic military leaders against Israel's enemies, while the small judges are considered actual judges or local princes. Occasionally Shamgar is also rated as a minor judge, because he is only told in two verses (3.31 and 5.6); but his act of fame is comparable to that of Samson.

Historical image

The presentation of the story follows the certainly Deuteronomistic scheme (cf. 2.6ff.) That the people apostate from God, whereupon YHWH punishes Israel through a strange people. Israel cries out to God in need and a judge arises who brings the people back to rest (usually for 40 years, cf. 3:11).


Overview of the judges' book

The first section of the book, 1.1-2.5, still belongs to the book of Joshua in theme. It describes the conquest of the southern tribes and offers the so-called negative inventory, a list of places and areas that could not be conquered during the conquest. In 1.8 there is the hardly credible note that Jerusalem was conquered even then; on the other hand, see 2.Sam 5. Section 2.1-5 reports a Deuteronomistically revised, old legend about the angel of the Lord who reproaches the people at Bochim (= weeping).


In 2: 6-3: 6 the death of Joshua is reported a second time (cf. Jos 24: 29f.). Then the Israelites are released to their tribes, then the deuteronomistic evaluation of the judges' time follows as an introduction to the following individual narratives.

Judge story

Ri 3,7-31 deal with the judges Otniël, Ehud and Shamgar, whereby only the story of Ehud's murder of the Moabite king Eglon ("Murder in the toilet") is somewhat elaborated. The reference to the spirit endowment of the judges through God is already characteristic here (cf. 3,10).

Debor song

Ri 4 tells the fight of the prophetess (v. 4) and judge Debora and her agent Barak against Sisera, the captain of the king Jabin of Hazor. Sisera is killed by a woman, Jaël (v. 21). The victory is celebrated in a great victory song Ri 5 ("Deboralied"), which is possibly partly one of the oldest pieces of the OT.

Yahweh Wars

The wars that are described in the book of judges are considered YHWH wars or holy wars. Ultimately, it is God himself who wages and wins the war, as it says for example 4:15: "The Lord brought confusion before Barak (the Israelite) about Sisera (the enemy) ...".


Judges 6-8 deal with Gideon from Manasseh and his fight against the Midianites. (6.32: Renamed Jerubbaal because Gideon had torn down the altar of Baal.) This judge shows in a special way the signs of God's gift of the spirit. This goes so far that he can demand a sign from God for his commissioning (6.36ff.). In Ri 8.22ff. Gideon rejects the kingship offered to him by the Israelites. The theme of the Samuelis books, the establishment of the state and the emergence of kingship, is already hinted at here.


Judge 9, Gideon's son Abimelech (= my father is king!) Wants to become king, but he fails. The aim is to contrast the right behavior of the father in Ri 8 and the arrogance of the son in Ri 9. This tendency critical of the king is supported by the so-called Jotam fable V.7-15. With this fable about the thorn bush who wanted to become king, Jotam, the youngest son of Gideon, goes against his brother's claims to power.

Little judges

Judges 10: 1-5 deal with the little judges Tola and Jaïr; 10.6-12.7 tell of the charismatic Jiftach, who fights against Moab and Ammon. Important individual stories: 11.30-40: Jiftach and his daughter, 12.1-7: Shibbolet and Sibbolet (שִׁ / שִׂבֹּלֶת was Ear of wheat or flood means) as a distinguishing mark between Gileadites and Efraimites. 12: 8-15 tell of the little judges Ibzan, Elon and Abdon. Originally pieces 10.1-5 and 12.8-15 certainly belonged together, so that there was a list of small judges, to which Jiftach possibly also belonged.


Cape. 13-16 report of Samson the Nazarite (13,5); cf. Num 6), who, according to his spirit endowment 13.25, fights against the Philistines. (With the Philistines, the enemies are now addressed, who play a role in the book of 1 Samuel, and whose strengthening led to the rise of kingship, see the topic chapter). 14.14 has one of the rare riddles of the Bible ("Food went out from the eater and sweet things went out from the strong"), formulated in the parallelism membrorum. Samson is a special figure for the OT, his birth is announced by an angel, his life was consecrated to God, and it is told from birth to death. It is possible that the story also wants to polemicize foreign women, because Samson's downfall is attributed to the Philistine woman. The book of Ruth would then correct this negative picture through the loyalty of the Moabite woman it tells.


The addenda 17 + 18 and 19-21 have the terrible events of the kings-less time in mind. Atrocities are reported that could only have happened because there was no king (cf. 21:25). In the first story, the Danites steal the image of God (including Levite / priest) from the Ephraimite Micha and found the city of Dan. In the second account, the Benjaminites commit an atrocity, but their tribe then refuses to hand over the guilty. Thereupon the tribe is almost exterminated in a punitive action. The remaining tribes later worry about Benjamin again and procure women from Shiloh for the remaining men so that the tribe does not perish (motif: The robbery of the Sabine women).

“To the next chapter

List of great and minor judges of Israel

Great judgesLittle judges
Otniël, 3.7-11Tola, 3.7-11
Ehud, 3:12-30Jaïr, 10.3-5
Shamgar, 3.31Ibzan, 12.8-10
Debora and Barak, chap. 4 + 5Elon, 12.11f.
Gideon, chap. 6-8Abdon, 12: 13-15
Jiftach, 10.17-12.7 
Simson, chap. 13-16 

Overview of the judges' book

1,1-2,5Overview about the situation after the conquest
2,6-3,6introduction : Conditions in the time of the judges
3,7-16,31Judges' narratives
17+18Addendum I: The trunkDan
19-21Addendum II: punitive action againstBenjamin

Electronic Bible Studies

The texts on this page are taken from:

Old testament

Rösel, Martin: Biblical studies of the Old Testament. The canonical and apocryphal scriptures. With learning overviews by Dirk Schwiderski, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 10., veränd. Edition 2018.