Thus Deborah, the fourth Judge freed the Jews from the clutches of the Canaanite king Jabin and the cruel Sisera, his commander. What is noteworthy here is that all are equal before God; He makes no distinction between the rich and the poor, the man and the woman, etc. It was Deborah, a woman, whom God chose as means to salvage thousands of Israelites from grave calamities. Also, the one to finally kill the brawny and oppressive Sisera too, was a woman (Yael). The fact that she was a woman did not stand in the way of God selecting a man over her for after all it was a question of executing an arduous and exigent mission. Besides, in any case the person He chooses is but a medium and He, God, the Doer, the One who actually causes and brings about the execution of a mission. So it hardly matters who the medium is; God ensures the success of His mission.
Over the 120 years that followed, 7 judges led the Israelites whenever they were faced with any small or great adversities of which most were foreign invasions. Some of the Judges led the Jews for about six to eight years; some led them for about twenty two-twenty three years while some led the Israelites for about forty odd years.
Gideon followed Deborah as the fifth Judge. He led the Israelites for forty years and saved them from about 125 thousand Midianite invaders with a meagre 300 soldiers at his disposal, so says the story. The act was so extraordinary that the Israelites honoured him with a crown. The happening was the first of its kind in the Jewish history. Moreover, the Israelites also passed a legislation that the right to leadership would remain with Gideon’s descendants and would be carried forward down the family line. But he humbly turned it down and so the proposed legislation had to be aborted. Historic references point to Gideon having led the Israelites for thirty three years and having fathered seventy children.
Whether Abimelech, who succeeded Gideon ought to be regarded as a judge at all, is a matter that has divided scholars. The Judges were sent by God to lead the rescue of the Israelites out of a particular adversity or crisis. But this was not the case with Abimelech. In fact, Abimelech who was one of Gideon’s seventy children deceitfully murdered all his siblings to capture ‘power’. Of these, only Jotham, Abimelech’s half-brother could manage to escape and save his life. Abimelech did not save the Israelites from any of the invaders; in addition, he oppressed and exploited them. Soon discontent spread against him among the Israelites and Jotham directed it in the right direction. And a mere three years later a woman murdered him during a military expedition; he was struck on the head by a mill-stone thrown by the woman from the wall above.
Later, the sixth and the seventh Judges – Tola and Jair reigned for 23 and 22 years respectively. Beyond this, there is not much information available about them. But there are references in the story which describe that during the reigns of Tola and Jair the Israelites practiced their religious principles and duties very strictly and with consistency.
However after the death of Jair the Israelites went back to committing the same mistakes again which resulted in their weakening due to which they were attacked and enslaved first by the Philistines and later by the Ammonites. Both extensively exploited them. For the next eighteen years they had to bear insufferable tyranny. All over again, they found themselves praying to God for help and freedom.
And God did help. This time He sent the brave ‘Jephthah’ to free the Israelites from adversity. He was the eighth Judge!
It is said that in spite of being brave, Jephthah had a carefree attitude towards life and spent most of his time among idle and irresponsible wastrels. The wise elderly among the Israelites requested him to assume leadership and Jephthah honoured their request and led them. Subsequently, exhibiting matchless valour and might, he rescued the Israelites from the Ammonite invaders. Jephthah led the Israelites for seven years.
Ibzan, Elon, Abdon who succeeded Jephthah to become the ninth, tenth and eleventh Judges, led the Israelites for seven, ten and eight years respectively. But not much information is available about them.
Of these, Ibzan, who was from Bethlehem, married ‘Ruth’, a Moabite widow, who went on to accept the religion of Israel. It was a few generations later that David – the famous and the mighty King of Israel took birth in their bloodline.
Following Abdon’s death the Israelites once again strayed from their path. It was then that the Philistines, who had earlier faced defeat at the hands of the Israelites, invaded again and this time with greater force and numbers. The Israelites were enslaved and exploited by the Philistines for the next forty years and again prayed to God for mercy.
This time God sent ‘Samson’, the twelfth and one of the most important Judges!
It was in the region of Zorah that an Angel appeared to the Israelite couple of Manoah and his wife. They both were from the Dan tribe. The Angel proclaimed that the couple would soon have a brave and courageous son who would deliver the Israelites from the Philistine slavery. But as the child was to be dedicated to God right from the time he was in his mother’s womb, the Angel told Manoah’s wife to abstain from all alcoholic drinks adding that the child was also not to cut or shave his hair in his entire life.
Subsequently, Manoah’s wife gave birth to a child who was named Samson (Shimshon). All witnessed his divine, superhuman strength right from his childhood. But from the moment Samson realized his own extraordinary strength he began looking for an opportunity to destroy the enemy of the Jews.
Once when he was in the Philistine city of Timnah, he fell in love with a Philistine woman. He brought her home and told his parents that he had found the ideal match in her. She being a non-Israelite, Samson’s parents were naturally opposed to their union but Samson assured them that he would marry her only after she embraced the religion of Israel. How come Samson, who was dedicated to God right from the time he was in his mother’s womb, chose a bride who belonged to the enemy camp, one may well ask! But one must know that from time to time Samson received directions from God and his decisions were based on the guidance thus received. Hence the marriage to a Philistine, a people who had sway over the Israelites then, was part of God’s plan, so says the story.
Samson, along with his parents, left for Timnah to meet his bride-to-be. Samson left home before his parents did and was to reach before them. While on the way, Samson was suddenly attacked by a lion. This was when Samson, divinely empowered with the spirit of God and totally unarmed, used his superhuman power to grab the lion and rip its jaw apart with his bare hands, so says the story.
Thus the story of Samson killing a lion with his bare hands always receives special and prominent mention in his life story. (To be continued…)