- Bokim The book of Judges opens with the Israelites continuing their conquest of the promised land. Their failure to obey God and destroy all the evil inhabitants soon comes back to haunt them in two ways: (1) the enemies reorganised and counterattacked, and (2) Israel turned away from God, adopting the evil and idolatrous practices of the inhabitants of the land. The angel of the Lord appeared at Bokim to inform the Israelites that their sin and disobedience had broken their agreement with God and would result in punishment through oppression (1:1-3:11).
- Jericho The nation of Moab was one of the first to oppress Israel. Moab’s King Eglon conquered much of Israel – including the city of Jericho (“the City of Palm”) – and forced the people to pay unreasonable taxes. The messenger chosen to deliver this tax money to King Eglon was named Ehud. But he had more than money to deliver, for he drew his hidden sword and killed the Moabite king. Ehud then escaped, only to return with an army that chased out the Moabites and freed Israel from its oppressors (3:12-31).
- Hazor After Ehud’s death, King Jabin of Hazor conquered Israel and oppressed the people for 20 years. Then Deborah became Israel’s leader. She summoned Barak to fight commander Sisera, the leader of King Jabin’s army. Together Deborah and Barak led their army into battle against Jabin’s forces in the land between Mount Tabour and the Kishon River and conquered them (4:1-5:31).
- Hill of Moreh After 40 years of peace, the Midianites began to harass the Israelites by destroying their flock and crops. When the Israelites finally cried out to God, he chose Gideon, a poor and humble farmer, to be their deliverer. After struggling with doubt and feelings of inferiority, Gideon took courage and knocked down his town’s altar to Baal, causing a great uproar among the citizens. Filled with the Spirit of God, he attacked the vast army of Midian, which was camped near the hill of Moreh. With just a handful of men he sent the enemy running away in confusion (6:1-7:25).
- Shechem Even great leaders make mistakes. Gideon’s relations with a concubine in Shechem resulted in the birth of a son named Abimelech. Abimelech turned out to be treacherous and power hungry – stirring up the people to proclaim him. To carry out his plan, he went so far as to kill 69 of his 70 half brothers. Eventually some men of Shechem rebelled against Abimelech, but he gathered together an army and defeated them. His lust for power led him to ransack two other cities, but he was killed by a woman who dropped a millstone onto his head (8:28-9:57).
- Land of Ammon Again Israel turned completely from God; so God turned from them. But when the Ammonites moblished their army to attack, Israel threw away her idols and called upon God once again. Jephthah, a prostitute’s son who had been run out of Israel, was asked to return and lead Israel’s forces against the enemy. After defeating the Ammonites, Jephthah became involved in a war with the tribe of Ephraim over a misunderstanding (10:1-12:15).
- Timnah Israel’s next judge, Samson, was a miracle child promised by God to a barren couple. He was the one who would begin to free Israel from their next and most powerful oppressor, the Philistines. According to God’s command, Samson was to be a Nazirite – one who took a vow to be set apart for special service to God. One of the stipulations of the vow was that Samson’s hair could never be cut. But when Samson grew up, he did not always take his special responsibility to God seriously. He even fell in love with a Philistine girl in Timnah and asked to marry her. Before the wedding, Samson held a party with them. The men, however, forced Samson’s fiancée into giving away the answer. Furious at being tricked, Samson paid his bet with the lives of 30 Philistines who lived in the nearby city of Ashkelon (13:1-14:20).
- Valley of Sorek Samson killed thousands of Philistines with his incredible strength. The nation’s leaders looked for a way to stop him. They got their chance when another Philistine woman stole Samson’s heart. Her name was Delilah, and she lived in the Valley of Sorek. In exchange for a great sum of money, Delilah deceived Samson into confiding in her the secret of his strength. One night while he slept, Delilah cut off his hair. As a result, Samson fell helplessly into the hands of the enemy (15:1-16:20).
- Gaza Samson was blinded and led captive to a prison in Gaza. There his hair began to grow again. After a while, the Philistines held a great festival to celebrate Samson’s imprisonment and to humiliate him before the crowds. When he was brought out as the entertainment, he literally brought down the house when he pushed on the main pillars of the banquet hall and killed the thousands trapped inside. The prophecy that he would begin to free Israel from the Philistines had come true (16:21-31).
- Hill Country of Ephraim In the hill country of Ephraim lived a man named Micah. Micah employed his own priest to perform priestly duties in the shrine which housed his collection of idols. He thought he was pleasing God with all his religiosity! Like many of the Israelites, Micah assumed that his own opinions of what was right would agree with God’s (17:1-13).
- Dan The tribe of Dan migrated north in order to find new territory. They sent spies ahead of them to scout out the land. One night the spies stopped at Micah’s home. Looking for some assurance of victory, the spies stole Micha’s idols and priest. Rejoining the tribe, they came upon the city of Laish and slaughtered the unarmed and innocent citizens, renaming the conquered city Dan. Micah’s idols were then set up in the city and became the focal point of the tribe’s worship for many years (18:1-31).
- Gibeah The extent to which many people had fallen away from God became clear in Gibeah, a village in the territory of Benjamin. A man and his concubine were travelling north towards the hill country of Ephraim. They stopped for the night in Gibeah, thinking they would be safe. But some perverts in the city gathered around the home where they were staying and demanded that the man come out to have sexual relations with them. Instead, the man and his host pushed the concubine out of the door. She was raped and abused all night. When the man found her lifeless body the next morning, he cut in into 12 pieces and sent one part to each of the Tribes of Israel. This tragic event demonstrated that the nation had sunk to its lowest spiritual level (19:1-30).
- Mizpah The leaders of Israel came to Mizpah to decide how to punish the wicked men from the city of Gibeah. When the city leaders refused to turn the criminals over, the whole nation of Israel took vengeance upon both Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin where the city was located. When the battle ended, the entire tribe had been destroyed except for a handful of men who took refuge in the hills. Israel had become morally depraved. The stage was now set for the much-needed spiritual renewal that would come under the prophet Samuel (20:1-21:25).