This month's "Bible Characters?" focuses
on four of the Judges. Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot
researched and compiled the information on
Deborah, Jael, and Samson. Joan K. Snipes researched
and wrote the section on Gideon.
- The name Deborah means "bee," but
it also has the same consonants as the Hebrew
root for "speak" or "word."
- This was also the name of Rachel's nurse.
(See Gen. 35:8)
- Some scholars define Deborah in relation to
the significant man in her life. (She is the
"wife of Lappidoth", though absolutely
nothing is ever said about him). Other scholars
translate this same phrase as "woman of
torches." (And she certainly lit a fire
- Deborah is called a prophet, i.e., someone
who speaks for God (i.e., inherent in her name).
- Though she was a professional prophet, she
spent her days "judging" Israel. (All
Israel came to her for guidance and decisions.)
- She is the only one acting in this legal capacity
- She sat outside the town (under the Palm of
Deborah), thereby making her accessible to everyone.
[The Palm of Deborah was named after Rachel's
nurse.] (This brings to mind memories of Moses
"judging" the people in the wilderness.)
- The fact that the people came to Deborah and
not to the priests suggests a breakdown of the
- There is no explicit directive from God to
go into battle.
- Deborah uses the prophetic formula anyway.
- She tells Barak to "go" and "get"
- 10,000 Troops answered the call, no doubt
because of Deborah.
- Barak refuses to go into battle without her
-- maybe out of fear, maybe out of respect for
the stature of Deborah.
- She agreed to go along, but then said the
glory will go to a woman.
- Her commitment to be present is seen as a
symbol of God's presence.
- Despite all these signs of God's approval,
the battle was long and difficult.
- Ultimately, the Lord routed Sisera and his
men with a flash flood whereby their chariots
got stuck and they were swept away (Echoes of
- Deborah announced when Sisera would be delivered
into Barak's hand.
- Her prophecy was fulfilled.
- The Song of Deborah (5:1-31) is probably older
than the narrative.
- The Song of Deborah tells what life was like
before Deborah and how the Lord delivered them.
- In the poem, Deborah is called a "mother
of Israel." (5:7)
- Because of Deborah, Israel was given new life
- The name Jael means "mountain goat."
- Jael is a woman of action - she goes out to
meet Sisera, initiates conversation with him,
invites him into her tent, and covers him up.
- When Sisera asked for water, she gave him
- She disarmed him with her words of reassurance.
- Sisera determined his own fate by ordering
her to stand in the doorway and tell any man
that asked, "There is no man in the tent!"
- Once he was asleep, she killed him with a
- Next Jael went out to meet Barak.
- She knew who he was looking for and she led
Barak to the dead Sisera, thereby robbing Barak
of the glory of victory.
- When Deborah predicted Sisera would be sold
into the hands of a woman, most readers thought
she was referring to herself. Jael was not yet
on the scene.
- Most scholars see Jael as a heroine, not a
- She was the instrument of divine deliverance.
- She was not an Israelite.
- Jael's husband was a Kenite, a friend (ally)
of Sisera's "boss", King Jabin.
- Moses' father-in-law was a Kenite.
- Those critical of Jael claim she violated
customs of hospitality.
- Perhaps Sisera should have gone to her husband's
tent instead - generally hospitality was a man's
- But Sisera violated the rules, too.
- Good guests don't make demands (Sisera made
two, one of which was to ask her to lie on his
- In light of his transgressions against rules
of hospitality, scholars suggest that Jael was
justified in killing him to restore honor to
herself and her household.
- Sisera was a great warrior, who generally
used and abused women.
- Jael might have believed he meant to do her
- This, then, is not murder, but a clear case
- This is made credible by the three-fold repetition
of "he fell" at her feet (5:27). Oftentimes
this expression references sexual abuse.
- She defeated the man who had oppressed the
Israelites for 20 years.
- Deborah's Song says that Jael is "blessed
above women." (5:24)
- In Judges, Jael is a heroine, one who did
the very work of God.
- Ultimately, credit for the deliverance is
given to God.
- Gideon is mentioned in two books of the Bible
- Judges and Hebrews. (Judges, chapters 6 to
8; Hebrews 11:32)
- Gideon was one of fourteen judges, including
Eli and Samuel, in ancient
- Gideon is the fifth of the judges described
in the book. The others are: Othniel, Ehud,
Shamgar, Deborah, Jephthah, Samson, Tola, Jair,
Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. The last five listed
are minor judges whose battles are not recorded
in the Bible.
- The story of Gideon opens with an account
of "an angel of the Lord" appearing
to him. Gideon asks the angel some agonizing
questions. "Oh my Lord, if the Lord be
with us, why then is all this befallen us? and
where be all his miracles which our fathers
told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us
up from Egypt?" Gideon glumly concludes
that God has forsaken him and his people and
delivered them into the hands of the Midianites.
- Gideon is the son of Joash, and the family
is of the tribe of Manasseh. They live at Ophrah,
and Gideon is busy threshing wheat when the
angel first appears. (Threshing is the process
of separating grain from the straw.) God instructs
Gideon to throw down the altar of Baal that
his father had. Gideon is also told to cut down
the grove next to the altar.
- When the men of the city, idolaters, demand
that Joash should surrender his son to be put
to death for the sacrilege, Joash shrewdly responds,
"If he [Baal] be a god, let him plead for
himself." Judges 6:31
- Fleece is the coat of wool covering a sheep.
When God tells Gideon to deliver Israel from
the hand of the Midianites, Gideon tests Him.
Gideon puts fleece on the floor. Gideon says,
"If the dew be on the fleece only, and
it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall
I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand,
as thou hast said." When "it was so,"
Gideon asked God to keep the fleece dry, even
when there was "dew on all the ground."
Once again, God did what Gideon asked. Judges
- When Gideon prepared to attack the Midianites,
the Lord directed him to reduce the number of
troops to 300 men. Gideon did this by requesting
those who were afraid to return home. Since
the number of troops was still too large, the
Lord instructed Gideon to bring them down to
the water. Those who bowed down upon their knees
to drink were sent home. Those who brought the
water to their mouths to drink were kept. Some
have interpreted this event as God's way of
finding those who were most alert to the enemy.
If they brought the water to their mouths in
their hands, their eyes could continue checking
the area for enemies.
- Gideon's small force surprised the Midianites
encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. Each of Gideon's
men was given a trumpet and a pitcher. The loud
sound of the breaking pitchers and trumpets
frightened and confused the enemy. Following
the initial night attack, the Midianites fled.
Gideon and his men subsequently captured their
kings. This victory "was a vivid illustration
to Israel of God's power to save His people."
(Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts,
- Chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews is sometimes
called the Honor Roll of
the faithful. Mentioned in this passage are
three judges as well as Deborah's military leader,
Barak. Thus, we are reminded of the contributions
of Gideon and the other judges who ruled in
Israel for about 300 years until the monarchy
was established under King Saul.
- The Samson story has all the makings of an
R-rated movie -- sex, violence, romance.
- Samson's story comes at a time in Judges (13:1-16:31)
when society is already in sad shape. Afterwards,
it degenerates into chaos. So while Samson did
some heroic deeds, he was also one of the worst
- The Philistines had oppressed Israel for 40
years prior to the birth of Samson, but there
was no "cry to the Lord" for deliverance.
The Israelites had learned to live with it.
- The Samson story is an example of God's graciousness,
where God acts on His own initiative.
- Samson's parents were of the tribe of Dan
in the town of Zorah.
- His father's name was Manoah; his mother,
who was barren, was not named.
- One day an angel of the Lord appeared to his
mother and announced she would give birth to
- She was instructed not to eat anything unclean
or drink any fermented drink - puts a new spin
on prenatal care.
- Generally during a birth announcement, the
angel would name the child (compare Ishmael
and Isaac). Here, however, the angel told her
the child would be a Nazirite, set apart to
God from birth and that he would begin to deliver
Israel from the Philistines.
- Instead of expressing joy or praise, she ran
to tell her husband what happened.
- Her husband immediately gets into the act,
praying that the messenger would be sent back
- ostensibly to give them guidance on raising
the boy, but, more likely, he didn't believe
his wife's report.
- God responds to Manoah's request - by sending
the messenger back to his wife!
- Manoah does have an opportunity to talk with
the messenger and is also told about preparing
the child for divine service.
- Manoah offers to host a meal for the messenger
- perhaps an expression of Eastern hospitality
- The messenger defers, suggesting that Manoah
offer the goat as a burnt offering.
- The messenger disappears in the flames.
- Manoah was afraid, saying, "We shall
die for we have seen God."
- Samson's mother calmed him down by pointing
out that they could not die for they had a purpose
- Though unnamed, Samson's mother plays a key
role throughout Chapter 13.
- Samson's mother named him.
- The name Samson means "little sun",
"sun - boy", perhaps "Sunny-boy!"
(Or - his name reflected a ray of light in the
dark days of the judges.) (Or, given the nature
of this society, it is possible she named him
after the local sun god.)
- Timnah was about six miles from Zorah.
- Samson appears to have no qualms about going
into pagan communities on his own.
- One day he saw a lovely Philistine woman,
went home, and demanded that his parents "get
her" for him.
- At this point, his "seeing" is for
personal reasons only; he seems to have no sense
re: his larger purpose.
- Some scholars call him an insolent, spoiled
- His father and mother are not happy with his
choice - "Must you take a daughter from
among the uncircumcised?" (14:3)
- At this point Samson is callous and disrespectful
towards his parents.
- The narrator's aside tips the reader that
this is all part of God's plan - though it appears
that Samson is acting out of his own selfish
interests. This is not to exonerate Samson's
behavior, but is rather a testament to God's
graciousness. God is able to redeem the most
sinful of acts.
- The lion which jumps out at him is also part
of God's design.
- The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him and
he vanquishes the lion, but it is not clear
whether Samson thinks of it this way.
- The next time he saw the lion's carcass, bees
were making honey in it - a most unlikely sight.
One might expect flies or maggots, but not bees.
- Upon seeing the honey, he grabs some and eats
it on his way - thereby coming into contact
with an unclean corpse and eating unclean food
(which breaks two of his Nazirite vows).
- In sharing it with his parents, he also defiled
them - he didn't tell them its source.
- The word for "feast" really means
a 7-day drinking party (14:11).
- The drinking that ensued during the wedding
broke another Nazirite vow.
- Scholars don't know the purpose of providing
"thirty" companions - maybe it was
a Philistine custom, or maybe they were afraid
- Samson's wager and the resulting riddle is
patently unfair since no one but himself could
figure it out, but it sets up the story for
the revenge to follow.
- After three days of struggling to figure it
out, the Philistines threaten Samson's new wife
- they'll burn her and her family if she doesn't
get the answer from Samson.
- Using all of her feminine wiles, she finally
gets the answer from Samson - and promptly shares
it with her people.
- At the last minute, they tell Samson the answer
to his riddle.
- He now owes them each a new outfit.
- Angry and embarrassed, Samson goes to the
city of Ashkelon, kills thirty men, and takes
their clothes. He uses this to pay his wager,
and leaves the wedding.
- This would have been very shameful for the
bride and her family, so she is immediately
given to someone else - one of Samson's thirty
- In a sense then, Samson kept his word and
paid his debt. The circumstances, however, leave
much to be desired. This is hardly the divine
service that the reader has come to expect.
- It is not known how much time has elapsed
before Samson changes his mind and wants to
reclaim his bride.
- He even takes along a goat for a peace offering.
- The woman's dad, in trying to placate him,
offers his younger (more beautiful) daughter
- doesn't say much for a woman's prerogative.
- Samson's reprisal - burning their crops by
tying torches to the tails of foxes - only escalates
the tension and furthers the cycle of revenge.
- By hiding in Judah, Samson's personal feud
becomes a national issue.
- When the Philistines demand that they turn
Samson over to them ("so that we may do
unto him what he has done unto us"), the
Judahites do not rally the troops. They are
paralyzed by fear and try to negotiate a surrender
with Samson - with 3000 troops in attendance!
(The irony couldn't be more pointed - in the
olden days, those troops would have been used
to wage a holy war; now they are standing by
to hand over one of their own.)
- Despite the ropes being new, they fell like
charred flax when the Spirit of the Lord came
upon Samson in power.
- If Samson really did use the "fresh jawbone"
of a donkey, he defiled himself once again by
touching a corpse. And a fresh jawbone makes
a most unlikely weapon.
- This time, however, he attributed the victory
to the Lord through praise and prayer.
- But Samson's prayer has limitations. He demands
refreshment, and suddenly has misgivings about
falling into the hands of the uncircumcised.
- Nonetheless, God responds to his prayer -
in a very miraculous way.
- This prayer reminds us of Moses, who also
got water from a rock.
- Then Samson judged Israel for 20 years.
- Unfortunately, Samson was still a slave to
- The story about his being with a prostitute
serves two purposes. It indicates the Philistines
were still trying to kill him. (Even in a town
60 miles away, there was a price on his head.)
Secondly, it indicates his amazing strength.
- Carrying the city gates uphill for forty
miles is a huge endeavor -to say nothing of
his ability to do this undetected.
- Delilah probably was a prostitute as well;
it is not clear whether she was a Philistine
or an Israelite. Money was her main motivation.
- Delilah is one of the few women who is not
defined by a male relationship.
- Delilah is independent, without any family
ties, and named!
- From the very beginning, the Philistines worked
on Delilah to find out the source of Samson's
- 1100 shekels per governor (five governors)
was a lot of money. (Compare: Abraham paid 400
for the burial plot for Sarah. Gideon only had
1/3 of this amount after routing the Midianite
- Delilah's wiles and pleadings were almost
identical to those of the Timnite wife.
- Samson lied to Delilah three times before
telling her, "It's in the hair."
- The seven "green withs" (KJV) could
mean either bowstrings or tendons from a freshly
slaughtered animal (again breaking another Nazirite
- There is great irony in Samson's true confession
to Delilah. He has always been aware of his
Nazirite vow -- he just hasn't taken it seriously.
- Samson's sleep (much like the guards who slept
through his carrying off the city gates) must
have been divinely induced. How else could Delilah
have his head shaved without him waking up?
- Samson finally realized he had frittered away
his God-given talent. "The Lord had departed
- Capturing Samson was a great coup for the
- At the very end, Samson acknowledged the role
of the Lord in his life. Still, his call for
help is very self-centered - "Remember
me; strengthen me, let me get revenge for my
two eyes, and let me die."
- Three thousand Philistines were killed that
- Though Samson wasted his life, he began to
deliver Israel from the Philistines.
Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, Dancer, Seductress,
Queen. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
Auld, A. Graeme. "Joshua, Judges, and Ruth."
The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia,
PA: Westminster Press, 1984.
Block, Daniel. "Judges, Ruth." The
New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman
& Holman Publishers, 1999.
Gehman, Henry Snyder, ed. The New Westminster
Dictionary of the Bible. Philadelphia:
The Westminster Press, 1974.
Hamlin, E. John. "Judges, At Risk in the
Promised Land." The International Theological
Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans,
Harris, J. Gordon. "Joshua, Judges, Ruth."
New International Biblical Commentary.
Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.
McCann, J. Clinton. "Judges." Interpretation.
Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox
Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts.
Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,
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