Unwilling Leaders: No One Wants to Go First
“Who shall go up first…?” (1:1)
Barak tells Deborah that he will only go into battle if she goes with him. (4:4-10)
In ch. 5, the song of Deborah and Barak celebrates willing fighters like Jael (v. 2, 9, 24) but curses draft-dodgers like Meroz (v. 23).
Jotham’s parable: righteous leaders are unwilling, so the wicked take the reins. (9:7-15)
“Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (10:18)
“Come and be our leader” (11:6)
“There was no king” (17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25)
“There were no rulers in the land who might put them to shame” (18:7, NKJV)
“Who shall go up first for us to fight…?” (20:18)
Ehud’s left-handedness, considered a bad omen in many cultures, was also the reason he could sneak a weapon into the king’s chamber (see 3:16).
Barak requests the help of Deborah, a prophetess and judge. Then another woman, Jael, defeats the enemy commander (ch. 4)
An unnamed prophet reminds Israel of the Exodus while they are oppressed by Midian. (6:1-10)
Gideon fears Midian (6:11), fears his neighbors (6:27), doubts his own valor (6:12), doubts his pedigree (6:15), and requires several assurances from God (6:17, 6:36-40).
“Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute.” (11:1) He is a tragic figure, rejected by his half-brothers. Like David at Adullam, “worthless fellows collected around Jephthah” (11:3). He delivers Israel, but ends up killing his own daughter to fulfill a vow. (In his culture this was more honorable than breaking his vow.) (11:29-40)
Four obscure judges from small towns. We know almost nothing about them.
Tola from Shamir, judge for 23 years. (10:1-2)
Ibzan of Bethlehem, judge for 7 years. (12:8-10)
Elon of Aijalon, judge for 10 years. (12:11-12)
Abdon from Pirathon, judge for 8 years. (12:13-15)
Samson is a strange and angry man, whose wife marries his best friend (14:20). Among other aberrant behaviors, he poses riddles and kills animals bare-handed. He is eventually entrapped by his girlfriend; the reader thinks he would have seen it coming. (ch. 16)
Left-handed Ehud subverts the king’s guards and kills him in his own palace. (3:15-30)
Shamgar saves Israel and wields an ox-goad. (3:31)
Jael lulls Sisera to sleep with milk, and afterwards kills him with a tent stake. (ch. 4)
Gideon thins his fighting forces instead of expanding them. Even his methods for choosing men are strange. (ch. 7)
Gideon gives his warriors trumpets and lanterns, using innovative smoke-and-mirror techniques against Midian. (ch. 7)
“A certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head…” (10:53)
Jephthah commits linguistic genocide by killing everyone with an Ephraimite accent. (12:1-6)
Samson ties torches to foxes’ tails to destroy Philistine crops. (15:4-5)
Samson uses a donkey’s jawbone to kill 1000 Philistines. (15:14-17)
Samson pulls down two load-bearing columns, destroying many Philistines and himself with them. (ch. 16)
Benjamin’s army includes 700 left-handed stone-slingers (20:16).