Cover image: Illustration of Deborah leading Israel’s armies, © Lifeway Collection/licensed from for Come, Follow Me manual.

Although Joshua’s generation remained faithful to the Lord (see Joshua 24:31), the following generation soon fell into spiritual apostasy. When the leaders of Israel who served under Joshua died, so did their national spirit. Influenced by the beliefs and worship practices of the Canaanites—whom they were supposed to drive out of the land—the Israelites broke their covenants with the Lord and began worshipping other gods. Consequently, they lost God’s protection and fell into captivity. The nation of Israel became tribalized and factionalized. Tribal loyalty replaced national unity. Each tribe began to look to its own resources without giving help or asking aid from their fellow Israelites. This statement reminded me of 3 Nephi 7 when the government broke down and people organized themselves into various tribes.

A good legacy is not necessarily passed on. Every generation learns the hard way. (see Judges 2:10, 12)  This apostasy did not need to happen. The Lord had brought Israel into the promised land and he was to be their divine ruler. Their political leaders were to be ruling judges, under whom the people retained religious and political liberties, similar to the form of government advocated by King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. Under the rule of the judges, the people had to show they were loyal to the Lord in order for this ideal form of government to function properly. Since Israel repeatedly broke their covenant with God during this time, this governmental system did not function properly, and Israel fell out of God’s favor.

The reign of the judges, lasting some 340 years, is similar in many ways to the history of the Nephites prior to the coming of Christ. It is a story of one continuous cycle of apostasy and repentance. When the Israelites turned from the Lord, their enemies began to prevail (see Judges 2:14-15). Suffering under oppression and war, the people would cry unto God and he would raise up a Deborah or a Gideon to deliver them. But once peace and security were reestablished, the people turned again to their former ways (see Judges 2:16-19).[i]

In the book of Judges we see three principles illustrated:

1.  If we serve the gods of this land, we will find ourselves in captivity to them.
2.  Each generation must learn for itself to love and serve the Lord.
3.  “As often as my people repent, I will forgive them and deliver them.”

The campaigns of Israel in the first chapter of Judges seem to be a repetition of the story found in the last half of the book of Joshua.  Judah was able to control the inland hill country of southern Canaan but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley and the coastal plain (the Philistines), apparently because of the chariots of iron which the Philistines introduced (see Judges 1:19). They had forgotten Pharaoh’s chariots and their miraculous deliverance. The real reason for their failure, however, was that they had lost the power of the Lord through their lack of faith and by their disobedience.

Even though the Israelites were supposed to drive out all the heathen inhabitants of their promised land, they failed to do so. Numerous unconquered cities remained (Judges 1:21,27-33). The parents failed to control the environment, and the presence of these people and their gods proved to be a “thorn in the side” of the children for centuries to come. (see Judges 2:2-3)

In Joshua 23:13, the Lord prophesied that “these nations shall be snares and traps unto you, and thorns in your eyes.”  The world can become a thorn in your eyes to keep you from seeing clearly! The first generation made it through, although they lived with the Canaanites, but the next could not handle it and did not. “There arose another generation which knew not the Lord.” (Judges 2:7, 10)  With each generation comes the need to communicate faith and commitment. Each generation needs to become committed themselves. As they became influenced by the nations around them, they soon “forsook the GOD of their fathers” (Judges 2:12), the WAY of their fathers (Judges 2:17), the COVENANT of their fathers (Judges 2:20), and  the WALK of their fathers (Judges 2:22). Perhaps the people did not think they were forsaking God and were just adding  a few gods alongside of the God of their fathers. But our relationship with God can be described as a marriage relationship, and he demands exclusive loyalty.  

We are told repeatedly that in those days “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, see also Doctrine and Covenants 1:16). Doesn’t this describe today’s attitudes of “doing your own thing” and “you be you” perfectly? All of this seems to have taken place because Israel did not drive the Canaanites out completely. “They forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtoreth” (Judges 2:13). Baal was an attractive rival to Jehovah because he was thought to be the god over the weather and responsible for agricultural success. In an agricultural society, people served Baal because they wanted good weather for abundant crops and flocks. Ashtoreth, the consort of Baal, was thought to be the goddess of sensual love and fertility who had power to increase the fruitfulness of plants, animals, and man. Because they forsook their God “the hand of the Lord was against them” and “he sold them into the hand of their enemies” that they could no longer stand before them, and they were greatly distressed.” (see Judges 2:14-15)

“Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges” who delivered them out of the hands of their enemies. (see Judges 2:16)  These so-called “judges,” according to the record, appear to be more military heroes rather than officers of the judiciary. The English word judge doesn’t really describe the role of these leaders. Although the Hebrew root of the word judges means primarily “to judge,” it is also used in the extended meaning to govern or to put right. Most of the “judging” done in this period was a matter of giving advice and rendering decisions. These judges did not reign over all of unified Israel during their period of leadership. For the most part, these judges rose up to perform a task, and then he or she returned to their obscurity. The chronicler of these stories likely took the choicest of the heroes from each of the tribes during this generally apostate period and combined their righteous achievements and their moral lessons for Israel into one book.

The reign of the judges is similar in many ways to the history of the Nephites prior to the coming of Christ. It is a story of one continuous cycle of apostasy and repentance. We see this pride cycle occurring several times during the period of the judges. (Judges 2:14-23)  

(1) apostasy: “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.”
(2) oppression: “And he sold them into the hands of their enemies.”
(3) repentance: “And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord.”
(4) deliverance: “And the Lord raised up a deliverer.”

We can learn valuable principles illustrated in the second chapter of Judges:

1.  Judges 2:14 The world will SPOIL us if we give in to it.
2.  Judges 2:17 Falling into apostasy is a QUICK process.
3.  Judges 2:19 Each generation will prove itself worse than the previous one. “They ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.”

Any tiny exceptions made by the previous generation will become a monstrous excess in the following one. Each generation will widen the gap. The “exception” will become the “rule.” 

The Canaanite culture had a great effect on the lifestyle of the Israelites. Perhaps inevitably, the Israelites, who had no distinct culture or knowledge of settled life, gradually absorbed many aspects of Canaan’s sophisticated culture. The architectural style, pottery, furniture, and literature of later Israel were all borrowed from those of Canaan. In many ways, this borrowing was beneficial. The Israelites were able to profit from the techniques of construction, farming, and craftsmanship which had taken the Canaanites centuries to develop. However, these nations posed a continual threat to the integrity of the nation. The Israelites’ only strength lay in their common covenant, and when the people strayed from it, the individual tribes were left without the strength that comes from unity.

In the first two verses of Judges 3, we learn that the Lord left these nations “to prove Israel” and to “teach them war.” It was within Jehovah’s power to eliminate these nations without any help from Israel. But God allowed them to remain to “prove” their faithfulness to him, and to encourage their reliance on him. One commentator proposes that God wanted these people to become warriors and teach the future generations to know war. “Israel was to be in a hostile environment for the major part of her history … due to her strategic position between the successive world powers of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Greece on the one hand and Egypt on the other. Military prowess was a necessary accomplishment … if she was to survive.”[ii]

Intermarriage with the heathen nations was a natural result of serving their gods and worshipping in “the groves.” (See Judges 3:4, 6-7) These groves were local worship centers for heathen gods and included a tree or pole and altar often among groves of trees. The Israelites had received many warnings about intermarrying with those out of the covenant, because God knew that only he could provide them with true deliverance. Serving false gods would not provide them with the protection and salvation God so wanted to give them. God again restates his reason for allowing these nations to remain. He wanted to prove Israel’s commitment to him and his teachings. If they were obedient, they would grow strong and be able to drive them out completely. Meanwhile, he sent judges from time to time to deliver them from their oppression.

The Judges of Israel

Deborah [iii]

Deborah, the fourth judge, is unique among Old Testament figures. No one else possesses such a distinct combination of leadership qualities. Deborah is at once a military leader, a mother in Israel, a prophetess, a poetess, and even a judge. She is the ultimate multi-tasker and supermom.  As a prophetess, she sees the hand of God in all events, relationships, and conditions.  As a woman of insight, her words are followed without question. The people of Israel come to her for legal counsel and leadership in a time when “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

In his version of the story the pseudepigrapha, Pseudo-Philo[iv] elaborates on the theme of this crisis of leadership.  In Biblical Antiquities, he says, “the sons of Israel did not have anyone to appoint for themselves as judge” (Bib. Ant. 31.1). Because they do not have anyone to lead them in  heeding God’s commandments and statutes, they suffer the consequences of their disobedience—the loss of God’s protection from oppression by their enemies.  Therefore, “the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judges 4:1). Pseudo-Philo expands this statement to say “their heart fell away, they forgot the promise and transgressed the ways that Moses and Joshua . . . had commanded them, and they were led astray after the daughters of the Amorites and served their gods” (Bib. Ant. 30.1). It seems you just can’t leave children unattended for long periods of time!

God responds to this betrayal by his chosen people by getting angry, but then provides the people a chance to reclaim their covenant relationship with him. Pseudo-Philo’s narrative includes the dramatic appearance of an angel to the people to communicate this message.  The angel says that because of their transgressions, God “will arouse their enemies and they will rule over them” (Bib. Ant. 30.2). The messenger announces, “Then all the people will say, ‘Because we have transgressed the ways of God and of our fathers, on account of this these things have come upon us’” (Bib. Ant. 30.2). After this announcement that the people will repent, the angel makes a pledge to send them a leader who will rule over them and enlighten them forty years. The effect on the people is striking because what the angel actually says is, “A woman will ‘rule over’ and ‘enlighten’ them forty years” (Bib. Ant. 30.2). Both of these responsibilities were extremely unconventional roles for a Jewish woman in the ancient Near East.  In The Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginsberg renders this line as “Then I will send a woman unto them and she will shine for them as a light for forty years.”[v] It seems it took the angel’s endorsement for the people to consider such a departure from the norm.

Another Jewish legend holds that Deborah’s husband has not been schooled in Torah.  We know that behind every good man is a good woman, so his wife tells him, “Come, I will make wicks for you; take them to the Holy Place in Shiloh. Your portion will then be with men of worth in Israel [who will be studying by the light of your wicks], and you will be worthy of life in the world-to-come.”[vi]  He carries lamps into the sanctuary where he is called Lapidoth, “Flames.” Deborah makes the wicks for these oil lamps very thick, so that they might burn a long time. Therefore, God glorifies her saying, “Thou takest pains to shed light in My house, and I will let thy light, thy fame, shine abroad in the whole land.”[vii]

Bible scholar Cheryl Brown asserts that Pseudo-Philo describes Deborah as one who “enlightens” on at least two bases.  First, he obviously interprets ešeth lapidoth, translated in KJV Judges 4:4 as “wife of Lapidoth” in a literal way.  The Hebrew word ešeth can mean both “woman” or “wife” and lapidoth means “torches” or can perhaps be a proper name. Pseudo-Philo clearly interprets it to mean Deborah herself, a “woman of fire or light,” who will “enlighten” the people, rather than stating the name of her husband.  Secondly, Pseudo-Philo associates Deborah with Moses, whom he also portrays as “enlightening” the people (Bib. Ant. 11.2)  God directed Moses to deliver his law to the children of Israel, and now a woman, Deborah will “enlighten them forty years” (Bib. Ant. 30.2).  Like Moses, Deborah bids Israel to observe God’s commandments, leads them in their miraculous deliverance (Bib. Ant. 32.17), and serves them for forty years.[viii]

The text of Biblical Antiquities is similar to Judges 4:2 in describing the Lord’s punishment of his wayward people. “And after this the LORD aroused against them Jabin the king of Hazor, and he began to attack them.  And he had Sisera as the commander of his army, who had eight thousand iron chariots. . . And Israel feared him very much, and the people could not resist all the days of Sisera” (Bib. Ant.30.3).  In the Judges account, Sisera only has nine hundred chariots, but the number is still formidable because the Israelites have none. 

Ginsberg recorded that Jewish tradition passed on many legends about Sisera’s prowess:

When he was thirty years old, he had conquered the whole world.  At the sound of his voice, the strongest of walls fell in a heap, and the wild animals in the woods were chained to the spot by fear.  The proportions of his body were vast beyond description.  If he took a bath in the river, and dived beneath the surface, enough fish were caught in his beard to feed a multitude, and it required nine hundred horses to draw the chariot in which he rode.[ix]

And this was before computer animation and special effects!

Pseudo-Philo expands the Bible’s verse “And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD” (Judges 4:3) into a stirring scene of contrition.  After the sons of Israel have been badly humiliated they gather together to the mountain of Judah and lament:

We say that we are more blessed than other nations, and behold now we have been humiliated more than all peoples so that we cannot dwell in our own land and our enemies have power over us.  And now who has done all these things to us?  Is it not our own wicked deeds, because we have forsaken the LORD of our fathers and have walked in these ways that have not profited us?  And now come, let us fast for seven days . . . And who knows perhaps God will be reconciled with his inheritance so as not to destroy the plant of his vineyard.  (Bib. Ant. 30.4)

Unlike Judges 4:6-7, where the people gather to prepare for combat, the purpose of this gathering is to fast and pray for deliverance. The repentance of the people is an important precursor to their liberation.  The author seems to want to emphasize that Israel is engaged in more than a military battle. They must win the spiritual battle before they can begin the military one.

Pseudo-Philo has created a great sense of anticipation in these initial scenes of his narrative.   The people want to believe in God’s promised deliverer, but they don’t know who she will be or when she will come.  Only after such heightened suspense is Deborah introduced. Movie trailers accomplish the same result today. In Judges 4:3-4, it is implied that the Lord sends Deborah as a result of the people crying to the Lord. Pseudo-Philo elevates Deborah’s importance to the people by relating that “when the people had fasted seven days and sat in sackcloth, the LORD sent to them on the seventh day Deborah” (Bib. Ant. 30.5). 

Deborah establishes the fact that she has been called to do more than bring political deliverance by acting in her role as a prophetess in her first dealings with the Israelites.  She first speaks words of reproof to the people, comparing them to a sheep that is about to be slaughtered. Both the sheep (Israel) and the slaughterer (God) are silent, even though the slaughterer is sorrowful over what he must do.  She then tells Israel that they are like a flock before the LORD that had been carefully shepherded and given many blessings—the Law to protect them, and prophets to correct them.  He has “commanded the luminaries” and “they stood still in their assigned places.”  She says that “when your enemies came against you, [God] rained down hailstones on them and destroyed them” (Bib. Ant. 30.5, Joshua 10:11).  Even after doing all this, they did not obey Moses and Joshua.  She compares them to iron which is pliant while in the flame, or when chastened, but “reverts to its original hardness” when it is removed from the fire, thus implying that the people are obedient to their leader while he is among them, but quickly turn from their righteousness after the leader’s death.  She even predicts that “after my departure you will start sinning again” (Bib. Ant. 30.7) . This calls to mind the last speech of Moses when he prophesies the fall of the people into apostasy: “For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you” (Deuteronomy 31:29). Again, the similarity of these two phrases is another example of Deborah’s association with Moses and elevates her as his feminine counterpart.[x]

After Deborah predicts that the people will sin after her death, she offers them words of hope: “And behold now the LORD will take pity on you today, not because of you but because of his covenant that he established with your fathers and the oath that he has sworn not to abandon you forever” (Bib. Ant. 30.7).  Her declaration—“Our fathers are dead, but the God who established the covenant with them is life” —  mimics Deuteronomy 30:20: “for he [the Lord] is thy life.”[xi]

In recounting the story of the liberation of Israel from the domination of Jabin, king of the Canaanites, Pseudo-Philo adheres to the biblical account quite closely, but he still fashions the narrative in order to emphasize the points he wishes to make. In Judges 4:6, Deborah orders Barak,[xii] the general over the armies of Israel, to ready his forces and prepare for battle, but he hesitates. His reply to her is quite astounding, taking into account the times and the culture of the Israelites. He says, “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go” (Judges 4:8).  Deborah answers in effect, “I will go with you, but if you do it that way, the honor of the victory will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hand of a woman” (see Judges 4:9).[xiii]

In Biblical Antiquities, Pseudo-Philo fairly accurately reflects the essence of Judges 4:6 where Deborah calls Barak to prepare for battle, but then eliminates Barak’s refusal to go unless accompanied by Deborah and her ensuing censure.  He moves the prediction that Sisera would be delivered into the hand of a woman into another setting in order to emphasize the points he wants to bring out.

Ginsberg explains why the challenge allotted to Deborah and Barak, to lead the attack upon Sisera, was no small task.  “It is comparable with nothing less than Joshua’s undertaking to conquer Canaan. Joshua had triumphed over only thirty-one of the sixty-two kings of Palestine, leaving at large as many as he had subdued.  Under the leadership of Sisera these thirty-one unconquered kings opposed Israel.”[xiv]

In Biblical Antiquities, Deborah next speaks lines that give the amazing victory over Sisera’s forces almost cosmic proportions. She prophesies, “I see the stars moved from their course and ready for battle on your side.  Also I see the lightning that cannot be moved from its course going forth to hinder the works of the chariots of those who glory in the might of Sisera” (Bib. Ant. 31.1).  The thunderstorm is not just a fortuitous event that aids the Israelites in winning the battle over their assailants, but the stars and the lightning are personified and enter the conflict, enabling Israel to prevail. 

And when Deborah and the people and Barak went down to meet the enemies, immediately the LORD disturbed the movement of his stars.  And he said to them, “Hurry and go, for your enemies fall upon you; and confound their arms and crush the power of their heart, because I have come that my people may prevail.  For even if my people have sinned, nevertheless I will have mercy on them” (Bib. Ant.31.2).

Before the battle begins, Deborah presents the three things Sisera has boasted he will do and contrasts them with the three ways he will be punished. He had boasted that he would come down and attack Israel with his mighty arm, and she counters with the prediction that “the arm of a weak woman would attack him.” He had boasted that he would divide their spoils among his servants, when in actuality “maidens would take his spoils.” He had bragged that he would take for himself many beautiful women as concubines, when, she prophesied, “even he would fall into the hands of a woman” (Bib. Ant. 31.1). 

In the rest of the narrative, Pseudo-Philo emphasizes the fact that God can bring victory to the weak if he is on their side.  He does not need might and power to triumph, but only righteousness.  He will fight battles for his people, if they are holy.  Pseudo-Philo makes the comment that Sisera does not escape because of his own cunning, but only because it is divinely decreed. He records that the stars “did not destroy Sisera, because so it had been commanded them.(Bib. Ant. 31.2)

In the Judges version of the story, Sisera lights down from his chariot, and flees on his feet (Judges 4:15).  Conversely, in the Biblical Antiquities account, Sisera flees the battle scene on horseback “to save his life” (31.3), displaying that even in flight, he is still a man of power.  Pseudo-Philo does this to heighten his sense of paradox, because although Sisera seems strong, appearances are sometimes deceiving. Jael, the wife of his friend Heber the Kenite, comes out to meet him.  Pseudo-Philo adds that Jael had “adorned herself” and “was very beautiful in appearance” (Bib. Ant. 31.3).  Jewish tradition adds that besides wearing “rich garments and jewels, she was unusually beautiful, and her voice was the most seductive ever a woman possessed.”[xv]

In the tradition of Judith, Jael uses the assets she has in her arsenal in order to accomplish her desires.  She is a beautiful woman. Sisera is exhausted and battle-weary. She tells him to take some food and rest until evening. She offers him respite, refreshment, and protection.  As he approaches his resting place, he fantasizes that he will take this beautiful woman home to his mother to be his wife.  When he sees the roses scattered on the bed, he says, “If I am saved, I will go to my mother and Jael will be my wife” (Bib. Ant. 31.3). He asks for water.  She offers him milk, seeming to be the perfect host.  Yet Sisera is in her power, although he feels safe and secure. He is weak, and she is strong.

Pseudo-Philo adds an angle that is absent in the biblical account. In the Judges narrative, Jael acts of her own accord.  In Biblical Antiquities, Jael is portrayed as being divinely directed.  While Sisera is sleeping, Jael goes out to the flock to get milk.  As she milks she prays, saying: “Did you not choose Israel alone and liken it to no animal except to the ram that goes before and leads the flock?  And so look and see that Sisera has made a plan and said, ‘I will go and punish the flock of the Most Powerful One.’ And I will take from the milk of these animals to which you have likened your people, and I will go and give him a drink.  And when he will have drunk, he will be off guard, and afterward I will kill him” (Bib. Ant. 31.5). We do not know if Sisera will be off guard because he is sexually aroused, courtesy of the beautifully adorned Jael, or because the warm milk has had a soporific effect on him.

As she milks and prays, she expresses her inner musing to God. “But this will be the sign that you act along with me, LORD, that, when I enter while Sisera is asleep, he will raise up again and ask me again and again saying, ‘Give me water to drink,’ then I know that my prayer has been heard” (Bib. Ant. 31.5).  She knows that the Lord has destined Israel to be the eminent nation in the world, but yet she finds herself enslaved to Sisera and Jabin, the Canaanite king.  She decides to become an instrument in the hands of God to overthrow this tyrant, who has been delivered into her hands. She pleads for a sign from God to give her assurance that her actions are sanctioned by the divine. Although she is a weak woman, with the Lord’s help she can bring down the mighty Sisera.

When Jael returns to the tent, Sisera wakes up and asks for the specified drink. Jael takes wine and mixes it with milk and gives it to Sisera. He drinks and falls asleep, and Jael takes a stake in her left hand and approaches him saying, “If God will work this sign with me, I know that Sisera will fall into my hands. Behold, I will throw him down on the ground from the bed on which he sleeps; and if he does not feel it, I know that he has been handed over” (Bib. Ant. 31.7). She pushes Sisera onto the ground from the bed, but he does not feel it because he is so groggy.  Jael again prays, “Strengthen me today, Lord, my arm on account of you and your people and those who hope in you” (Bib. Ant. 31.7).

Jael then takes the stake and puts it on his temple and strikes it with a wooden hammer.  As he is dying, he has strength enough to utter his last words: “Behold pain has taken hold of me, Jael, and I die like a woman” (Bib. Ant. 31.7).  Jael wishes to emphasize the demeaning nature of his death and adds, “Go boast before your father in hell and tell him that you have fallen into the hands of a woman” (Bib. Ant. 31.7). Thus, Jael became the first woman to do temple work— stake temple work. In the King James Version of the song of Deborah in Judges 5, she praises Jael saying, “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Hebert the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent” (Judges 5:24). One additional grisly detail is provided in this account, that is: “She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples” (Judges 5:26). I can imagine the strength it would take to drive a tent stake through a man’s skull.  It must have been like driving a stake through a volleyball. Just to make sure the deed is done completely, she cuts his head off. In the New International Version of the verse she “crushes” his head.  She must have really been motivated to go to all that extra effort.  The Hebrew text literally says, “between her feet he bowed.” I wonder if there is more to the story here than we are being told.

Barak soon arrives on the scene, very disappointed that he has not found Sisera. Jael goes out to meet him and invites him in saying, “Come, enter in, and I will hand over to you your enemy whom you pursued but did not find” (Bib. Ant. 31.9).  Barak, seeing Sisera dead says, “Blessed be the LORD, who sent his spirit and said, ‘Into the hand of a woman Sisera will be handed over’” (Bib. Ant. 31.9).

The song of Deborah continues with a taunt song.  Deborah envisions Sisera’s mother anxiously awaiting his return from battle.  When he is slow in returning, she speculates as to the cause of his tardiness.  “The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots” (Judges 5:28)?  She conjectures that they have been so successful in battle that dividing up the spoils of war is taking longer than necessary.  “Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil” (Judges 5:30)?  The irony of her statement cannot be missed.  Yes, Sisera has indeed encountered a damsel (or two) and he has perished at her hands.  Sisera’s mother pictures the beautiful needlework that her son would take as spoil after the battle, and how wonderful it will look adorning his victorious neck.  Little does she know that that neck is missing its head because it has encountered the woman Jael with something larger than a needle in her hands.  The “needle” that she wields is a tent stake that leaves Sisera far from the picture of the victorious warrior his mother envisions.

It is hard to miss the point that Pseudo-Philo hammers home through the words of all his major characters—the angel, Deborah, Jael, Sisera, and finally Barak. A weak woman can defeat the mightiest warrior.  Those who boast in their own strength, although they may appear powerful, are not as strong as those who in their weakness trust in God to bring about the victory. At the time that Pseudo-Philo wrote in the first century, the Jewish people had lost hope of ever being able to return to their native land again, having seen Jerusalem and their beloved temple destroyed. He wants them to know that God can strengthen them to overcome their enemies.

There are two notable ironies evident in this episode. First, the battle is won by nature itself, so that the Israelites do not even have to fight the enemy in order to defeat them. Sisera departs the scene at the flash-flooded Kishon River, where all his chariots are mired and rendered useless.  Second, the great general is defeated by an ally, and a woman at that. All his might and prowess and reputation have come to naught because the God of Israel is not with him.[xvi]

After this miraculous deliverance, Deborah and Barak and all the people sing a hymn.  In another allusion to Moses, who sang a hymn to the Lord with Miriam after he delivered the children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians at the Red Sea (see Exodus 15:1), the victory over Sisera is linked to the victory over the Egyptians. Instead of Moses and Miriam, now it is Deborah and Barak who sing the hymn, with the gender roles reversed in the distinct leader who is clearly Deborah in Moses’ place. The hymn chronicles the mighty works of God among the patriarchs, beginning with the delivery of Abraham from the fire, as well as his son Isaac from being sacrificed (Bib. Ant.32.1-4). It describes the children of Jacob and their sojourn in Egypt, and of their delivery from the hands of their wicked taskmasters there.  It speaks of the establishment of the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, with Moses as God’s “beloved witness” (Bib. Ant. 32.8). It tells of Moses’ vision of the future of Israel and Joshua’s victory over the Canaanites. (Bib. Ant. 32.9-10) Finally, it describes Deborah’s victory over the forces of Sisera, although the only name mentioned specifically is Jael’s.  “Jael is glorified among women, because she alone has made straight the way to success by killing Sisera with her own hands.” (Bib. Ant. 32.12) 

The message of the hymn is clear—“he [God] has remembered both his recent and ancient promises and shown his saving power to us” (Bib. Ant. 32.12).

Deborah entreats all the hosts of heaven to tell these ancient fathers in the resting place of souls awaiting judgment day that “the Most Powerful has not forgotten the least of the promises that he established with us saying, ‘Many wonders will I do for your sons’” (Bib. Ant. 32.13). This promise alludes back to the encouragement Deborah gave to the people when she was first sent to them: “The Lord will work wonders among you and hand over your enemies into your hands” (Bib. Ant. 30.7).  At that time, she said that God would do this “because of the covenant that he established with your fathers” (Bib. Ant. 30.7). Deborah testifies to Israel that God is faithful to his covenant promises. She speaks of the stars fighting for Israel because they had been so commanded by God. Just as God had marshaled the stars to fight against the Sisera’s armies, so would he come to their aid in the future: “If Israel falls into distress, it will call upon those witnesses along with these servants [the stars], and they will form a delegation to the Most High, and he will remember that day and send the saving power of his covenant” (Bib. Ant. 32.14). After Deborah has made an end to her words, she and the people go to Shiloh and offer sacrifices to the Lord. Pseudo-Philo concludes by saying, “And Deborah came down from there and judged Israel forty years” (Bib. Ant. 32.18).

The New International Version of Judges 4:5 records that “she held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.”[xvii]  Ginsberg discloses that “she dispensed judgment in the open air, for it was not becoming that men should visit a woman in her house.”[xviii]

As her final days draw near, Deborah gathers the people together and says to them, “Listen now my people. Behold I am warning you as a woman of God and am enlightening you as one from the female race; and obey me like a mother and heed my words” (Bib. Ant. 33.1). Pseudo-Philo accentuates Deborah’s role as a mother, which perhaps indicates that he regards her role as a mother as equal in importance to her role as a judge and prophet. According to this author, the title of mother is an important symbol for both the political and military roles that Deborah filled.[xix]  Pseudo-Philo would no doubt subscribe to the aphorism, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Deborah is speaking her final words to the people, exhorting them to make straight [their] ways, they raise their voices together and weep, saying, “Behold now, Mother, you die, and to whom do you commend your sons whom you are leaving?  Pray therefore for us, and after your departure your soul will be mindful of us forever” (Bib. Ant. 33.4). The people are extremely concerned about who will lead them when she is gone.  Who would enlighten them in the future?  Lying behind these questions is the certainty that she has been of such eminence and has such a powerful influence on the people that she cannot be replaced.

Pseudo-Philo records similar feelings and concerns of the people when Moses bids them farewell: “Who will give us another shepherd like Moses or such a judge for the sons of Israel to pray always for our sins and to be heard for our iniquities?” (Bib. Ant. 19.3) The words “judge” and “shepherd” are used in Biblical Antiquities as having equivalent meanings, and both act chiefly as mediators, which function is vastly different from the way the word “judge” is used in Judges, where a “judge” is fundamentally a liberator. According to Pseudo-Philo, Deborah and Moses are counterparts, both fulfilling the masculine and feminine roles of leading, delivering, encouraging, teaching, and shepherding.[xx]

Deborah dies and is buried in the city of her fathers and astoundingly, the people mourn for her seventy days. It was customary for a person to be mourned not more than thirty days,[xxi] although the patriarch Jacob was mourned for seventy days (Genesis 50:3). No doubt, this extended period of mourning demonstrated the extent to which Deborah was esteemed and loved by her people. The people sing this lament:

Behold there has perished a mother from Israel,
and the holy one who exercised leadership in the house of Jacob.
She firmed up the fence about her generation,
and her generation will grieve over her. (Bib. Ant. 33.6)

The first statement, that Deborah is a “mother from Israel,” bespeaks the qualities of nurturing, admonishing, instructing, guiding, and protecting that are a part of this all-important role.  She is called a “holy one,” a title reserved for those with special spiritual acuity and piety, those who work miracles, or have visions, or stand as mediators between the people and God.  She is called a “leader in the house of Jacob,” assuredly fulfilling the angel’s prediction that “a woman [would] rule over them and enlighten them for forty years” (Bib. Ant. 30.2). Lastly, she has “firmed up the fence about her generation.”  Perhaps this sentiment comes from the Judges 5 account which describes the civilization that existed before Deborah started to rule over the people.  People were afraid to travel on the highways and travelers “walked through byways” (Judges 5:6).  They lived scattered about the country and without the protection of fences or walls around their environs. This statement perhaps depicts the lawlessness and anarchy that ruled the society before Deborah arrived with her “enlightened” leadership. Or perhaps the word “fence” could be interpreted more metaphorically, referring to the Law of Moses that kept the Israelites separate from their Canaanite neighbors and from being defiled by gods other than Yahweh.[xxii]  

There are many reasons why Deborah stands out as a unique figure in the history of Israel. She inspires strength in Barak to lead his ten thousand men against the forces of Sisera. Her support enables him to believe he could obey the call of the Lord and emerge victorious.  Without her, the Israelites would not have been delivered from the oppression of the king of the Canaanites. The Lord works through her to inspire the people to repent so that the Lord can manifest his power in rescuing them from their enemies. There cannot be a doubt in their minds that he is fighting their battles for them. Deborah sings the Lord’s praises and assures them that just as he had kept his covenant with their fathers in the past and delivered them from their enemies, so too will he uphold the covenant with them in the future if they will only trust in him. 


After the defeat of Sisera, The Israelites had rest for forty years. (Judges 5:31) In their prosperity, they became complacent and as Judges 6 opens, we see that “Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Midianites for seven years.” This was an act of mercy, because their oppression would cause them to return to God.

Israel is in bondage to the Midianites, who are desert dwellers who plunder all their harvest and livestock.  During these years, they went to great lengths to conceal their property from the Midianites, even making caverns in the earth which can still be seen today. They and their camels were as numerous as “grasshoppers“ when they came at harvest time to steal what the Israelites had grown. “They left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.” The Israelites were greatly impoverished because of the Midianites,” and they cried unto Jehovah for deliverance, the God whom they had forsaken. (see Judges 6:4-7)

Because of their prayers, “the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel” (Judges 6:8). The delivering judge will appear later, but first the people of Israel had to be prepared by this unnamed prophet. He reminded them of what God had done for them in the past by delivering them from Egypt. He told them not to fear the Amorites, because he still loved them, “but ye have not obeyed my voice.” He reminded them of what the real problem was. It wasn’t that the Midianites were so strong, it was that Israel was so disobedient. It is human nature to blame others for problems that we have caused ourselves. We can only hope that when Israel cried out to the Lord, they understood that they were the problem. Calling out for help did not necessarily mean that they recognized or repented of their sins. Would that we all understood this distinction.

“And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak” which was near the winepress where Gideon’s father threshed wheat to hide it from the Midianites. Wheat was not normally threshed in a sunken place like a winepress. This angel appeared unto Gideon and said, “The Lord  is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” Gideon asks him why the Lord has forsaken them and delivered them into the hand of the Midianites. “The Lord looked on him and said, Go in this thy might and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of Midianites.” Gideon protests that he is inadequate, saying, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” The Lord assures him, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” (see Judges 6:12, 14-16) 

The Lord told Gideon to “go in thy might,” but we may well wonder what “might” he had. He had the might of the humble, threshing wheat on the floor of the winepress. He had the might of the teachable, because he hearkened to the words of the angel. He had the might of the faithful, because he believed that God had done mighty things in the past.[xxiii] Gideon was correct in saying that he could not save Israel. But a great God could use a small and weak Gideon to rescue Israel.

Gideon asks the angel for a sign, seeming to want assurance that this was indeed a bona fide emissary of the Lord. (See Judges 6:17)  Since the Lord condemns sign seeking, how do we explain Gideon’s request? Is it acceptable to want reassurances?  Is it all right to ask God for a confirmation if we are intending to act on it? A sign asked for to challenge belief or create belief is not righteous.  To ask for a confirmation to increase belief is good if we are already intending to act on it.  In Mark 9:22-24, the father of a child possessed with an evil spirit asks the Savior to heal him. He tells the man that all things are possible to him that believes. The man says, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Note the ; “help thou mine unbelief.” This is such a human cry! Perhaps Gideon feels like this.

Gideon gets four signs. First,  the angel invites Gideon to offer flesh and cakes and lay them on a rock and pour broth upon it. (see Judges 6:20-21) The angel then sets fire to the offering and accepts it.  Gideon perceived that it was an angel of God, and fears he will die, but he is reassured by the angel, and he consecrates the place by building an altar to Jehovah.

Next, Gideon gets an assignment to cut down his father’s idolatrous groves and tear down the altar to Baal. Gideon obeys, but he fears his father’s anger and so cuts the groves down by night. He tears down Baal’s altar and builds an altar to Jehovah, and sacrifices a bullock upon it.  (see Judges 6:27)  In the morning, the townspeople discover what has happened and want Gideon killed. Joash defends his son by saying, “Let Baal fight his own battles!” (See Judges 6:31)

Gideon is now asked to conquer the Midianites, who have assembled in the valley of Jezreel. “The spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he blew the trumpet” and calls for men to help him fight the armies who are assembling against them. He says, “I believe; help thou my unbelief.” He asks the Lord for an assurance that God will save Israel by his hand. He said unto the Lord, “Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and 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.”  In the morning, it was so. He wrung water from the fleece. (see Judges 6:36-38)  

But Gideon is young and inexperienced and there are so many Midianites. Gideon needs another reassurance. He asks for the miracle to be reversed. In the morning, the ground is wet, but the fleece is completely dry. (Judges 6:39-40) These are signs two and three. Sign seeking is wrong, but fleece-wringing is acceptable. The difference is attitude. “Help thou my unbelief.” Not “I don’t believe. Make me.” We all need a fleece occasionally.  An “I love you.”  Or “It’s true.” Things challenge our faith! There are so many Midianites! Occasionally there are “little fleeces” in our lives. 

Judges 7 teaches us that God doesn’t like even odds. He loves it when the underdog comes out on top. We rarely think that bigness can be a hindrance to the work of God, but he likes the little guy to beat the big guy so it is obvious that God is the author of the victory. Thirty-two thousand men have answered the call to battle. They were already overmatched by the 135,000 Midianites but the Lord tells Gideon that there are too many people. He tells him to get rid of some, “lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” (Judges 7:2)  The army of Gideon assembled in a place where they could see the 135,000 Midianite troops.  The sight of this huge opposing army made many Israelite soldiers afraid. Gideon tells them to go home if they are afraid, which is a lawful reason not to go to war,[xxiv]  but there are still 10,000 who choose to stay. The Lord devises another scheme to thin down the number of troops and there are only three hundred who remain after he sends the rest back. The Lord tells Gideon, “I will save you with three hundred,” (Judges 7:5-7) .These are unbelievable odds.  

God tells Gideon to go down to meet the host of the enemy, and he will deliver them into his hands.  Gideon NEEDS a sign but won’t ask God. The Lord anticipates this, and tells him that if he is frightened, he should take his servant and go down into the camp of the opposing army and find encouragement. (Judges 7:9-12)  The Midianites and the Amalekites were as numerous as grasshoppers, and there were so many camels, as many as the sands of the sea. However, Gideon hears a man tell of his dream about a barley cake tumbling into the host of Midian, and knocking a tent down flat. The fellow hearing the dream gave the interpretation that the Lord had delivered the host of Midian into the hand of Gideon. (Judges 7:13-14)  It was no accident that the man dreamed the dream that very night, and it was no accident that he told his friend about it at just that moment. It was no accident that Gideon came to the exact place where he overheard the man telling the dream. God used this situation to build the faith of Gideon and let him see the confirmation of his future work. This is his fourth sign. 

When Gideon heard the telling of the dream, “he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian” (Judges 7:15). Gideon’s newfound encouragement was contagious, he could not help but spread that encouragement to others. Now Gideon IS a mighty man of valor.

He announces a strange battle plan. He divides his three hundred men into three companies, and puts a trumpet into every man’s hand, along with an empty pitcher with a torch inside the pitcher. (Judges 7:16) Usually there is a company of fifty for every trumpet and one torch per fifty. Gideon is setting up a surprise attack on the army of Midian. He tells them to follow his lead and do as he does.

“So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers; they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing; and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” (Judges 7:19-20)

When the Midianite soldiers who have just come on watch see this they think there is a great army. They wake up to an explosion of noise, light, and movement coming down on them from all directions. No wonder they thought they were being attacked by an army even bigger than they were.  Clearly, the Midianites are already afraid of the sword of Gideon, and the shouting helped send them into a panic. The first phase of the battle wasn’t between Israel and Midian, because the Lord caused them to fight amongst themselves and flee. (Judges 7:22) The Lord taught a great lesson with this story. They could not doubt but that God was the author of such a victory.

The people want Gideon to be their king because of this great victory, but he refuses. He tells them, “The Lord shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23) His refusal reminded them who they should serve as their king.

Gideon wanted to honor the Lord by making a new ephod, part of the garment of the High Priest, out of some of the precious things gathered from the conquered enemy soldiers and placed it in Ophrah, his city. After Gideon is gone, the people return to their old pattern. Every generation has to learn for themselves. What was intended as a recognition of God’s part in the victory had an unfortunate result, “all Israel went thither a whoring after it.” (Judges 8:24-28) The Hebrew idiom “went a whoring after it” means they looked upon it as if it were an idol. They reverted to their “golden calf” tendencies. They were their own greatest enemies. Their inability to fully follow the God who had delivered them from Egyptian bondage resulted in them being besieged by their pagan neighbors. This was because they did not turn to the Lord. Their outward enemies raged through them constantly only because their inward weaknesses raged unchecked.

These false gods are gone today. But have they not taken modern forms?  What do we put ahead of devotion to God in our own lives?  Are we more concerned with our social media accounts than we are with searching the scriptures? Golden calves and golden ephods take different forms for each individual. We can still learn from the good “bad examples” of the people in the times of the judges.


Even those with little knowledge of the Bible have heard of Samson. He was the strongest man with the greatest potential for saving his people.  Samson could have been one of the greatest leaders in Israel since Joshua if he had been true to his Nazarite vows and the Lord. In his preface to Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis said, “Those who refuse to become God’s sons, will become his tools.” Samson’s problem is that he sees no big picture—only his personal vendettas. He is a prime example of wasted potential. 

Judges 13 begins with the statement that “the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.”  Israel badly needed a deliverer. The next two verses report that an angel of the Lord appeared to the barren wife of Manoah and told her that she would indeed conceive and bear a son. (Judges 13:2-3) Who else’s birth was announced by an angel? The list is short—Jesus and his cousin John.

The angel tells this woman that her son will be “a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5) What exactly is a Nazarite? One who lives in Nazareth? No, that person is a Nazarene. The primary meaning of the Hebrew verb nazar is to separate. Therefore, a nazir or Nazarite is separated, consecrated, and devoted. A Nazarite, therefore, was one who was separated from unbelievers and others by a special vow of self-dedication to Jehovah. Numbers 6 gives the details of this vow.  A Nazarite was to drink no wine or products from grapes, even raisins, and allow no razor to touch his hair. You could tell how long a person had made a vow by the length of his hair—it  was a symbol of his devotion.  

Samson’s mother was told, “You too must be pure because your child will be holy.”(Judges 13:4)  When the wife sees the angel again, she says, “Wait here! I want my husband to see this.” (Judges 13:8-12) When he comes, they ask what they should do to raise Samson correctly.  These are wonderful questions which every parent should ask about their children before they are born. We have received counsel in these latter days to raise our children in light and truth. (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:39,40,42)

Certainly the experience of Manoah and his wife is one of the most remarkable instances of angelic visitation recorded in scripture, and that fact amplifies the tragedy of Samson’s life. Although his birth was announced by an angel and he was born to a previously barren woman, he did not live up to the tremendous gifts given him by the Lord. Instead, his life was one of self-indulgence, immorality, selfish seeking for revenge, and violation of the covenant he had made.

InJudges 14we begin to see the downfall of the character of Samson. He repeatedly breaks his Nazarite vow and problems begin.  First, he marries outside of the covenant. (Judges 14:2-3) Second, he only thinks about himself and his desires of the moment. Although he is not supposed to even touch anything that is dead, he eats honey out of the dead carcass of a lion. (Judges 14:8-9)  To make matters worse, he gives some of the honey to his unsuspecting parents. He indulges his momentary whims, and takes no thought for the long-range consequences. Recklessly, he breaks his covenants and renders himself unclean. 

He does not learn from his mistakes. He  composes a clever riddle, and makes a wager with the guests at the wedding to come up with the answer. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14). They cannot solve it and threaten his wife with severe consequences if she does not “entice” him to reveal the answer. They do not want to lose the wager, and threaten to burn her and her father’s house if she does not do so. Samson’s wife pouts as she asks him over and over to reveal the answer to the riddle. She weeps before him seven days until he finally gives in and tells her because “she lay sore upon him.” (see Judges 14:15-17) Samson does not possess the fortitude to resist the daily repetition of these entreaties from his wife, or any woman, as we soon learn.

He encounters the same scenario with Delilah, and he again gives in to her pleas to reveal the secret of his strength. He succumbs to the manipulative line, “If you loved me, you would…” It is true that Delilah “pressed him daily with her words, and urged him” (Judges 16:16). But Potiphar’s wife “spake to Joseph day by day” (Genesis 39:10), but he refused even to be near her and fled rather than violate God’s commandments. Samson gives in to enticement and falls into both physical and spiritual tragedy. His actions cost him his eyes and his freedom. He is taken captive and locked away in a prison.  Looking at the big picture, who else seeks to “blind and take captive?”  “The father of all lies” seeks to “deceive and blind men, and to lead them captive at his will” (Moses 4:4).

Samson is self-centered. When he loses the wager because the men have “plowed with [his] heifer,” he fights the Philistines for selfish motives. When he kills thirty Philistines to get their garments needed to pay his wager, he is motivated by revenge, not from a righteous motive to deliver Israel. (Judges 14:18-20) He is no better than the Philistines. Rather than stay with his wife, he returns to his father’s house, and her father gives her to another man, the best man from his wedding. 

He is lustful. He comes to get his wife in her chamber after the harvest, and when he finds out what her father has done, he again acts from revenge. (Judges 15:1-2) Samson sets fire to the crops of the Philistines,  and they take revenge by burning his wife and her father with fire. (Judges 15:4-6, 10)  Samson is living the law of revenge, the same law the Philistines are living. When he smites the Philistines, he is thinking only of himself, not Israel’s freedom. This is a great literary foil to the next story of Ruth, who is just the opposite, always thinking of others.

Here, as in the Book of Mormon, the wicked destroy the wicked. He and the Philistines deserve each other.

In chapter 16, Samson visits a harlot. We see him forsake the last symbol of the covenant. We see the men of Gaza hatch a plot to capture Samson in the company of the harlot. He gets up at midnight and takes the massive city gates away with his amazing strength as if to say, “in your face!” (Judges 16:3)

The Israelites liked to fight in the mountains because they wouldn’t have to fight chariots. However, Samson leaves the mountains and goes to the valley of Sorek where he loves a woman named Delilah. The valley of Sorek is a no man’s land and is in the control of the Philistines. The lords of the Philistines come to Delilah and offer a treasure of eleven hundred pieces of silver to find out the source of Samson’s strength. This offer is equivalent to 140 pounds of silver, an immense sum of money.  This was a striking indication of the desperate state in which the Philistines found themselves after the losses wrought by Samson. (Judges 16:5-16)

These lords were the rulers of the five major cities of the Philistines. Samson loves Delilah, but in her he meets his match. She is also deeply in love, but she is in love with money. She is a business woman. Notice that the word “entice” used in Judges 16:5 is the same word used in Judges 14:15 by Samson’s wife. He tells Delilah three different stories about the source of his strength, but never the true reason. My favorite story is the one where he tells her that weaving the seven locks of his hair into a loom will cause him to lose his strength. When the Philistines come upon him, he wakes up and takes the whole loom with him as he escapes. (Judges 16:14) Finally, Delilah accuses him of not loving her. This should have been a red flag for Samson, but he totally misses it. (Judges 16:15)  It is ironic that we accuse others of the things that we ourselves are guilty of.

After “pressing him daily with her words,” Samson has finally had it. “His soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). He tells her the source of his strength is in his hair and in his Nazarite vow. She makes him “sleep upon her knees” and calls for the lords of the Philistines to bring their money, because she knows his secret at last.  She calls for a man to cut his hair while he is asleep, and he has no idea that his strength is gone. (Judges 16:19-20) He said, “I will go out as before, and shake myself free,” but he did not know the Lord had departed from him. He no longer blessed him with superhuman strength. Samson had lived in compromise for so long that he thought it would never make a difference.

When we break the last of our covenants, we become as any other man. These verses remind us of Doctrine and Covenants 121:38, which uses the words “ere he is aware.” Samson’s strength is gone and he doesn’t even know it. His wandering eyes are put out, and he becomes a prisoner. (Judges 16:21) Samson’s problems started when his confidence in God turned to conceit and pride. His superhuman strength did not reside in his hair but in his confidence in God and in the Nazarite oath, his hair was only the outward symbol.

I wonder why the Philistines did not take care to keep Samson’s hair short when he was in prison, as they knew it was the source of his strength. “Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven” (Judges 16:22).  He knows that he will never get his eyes back, but perhaps he has hope that his strength will return.

The claim of the Philistines that “our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy” (Judges 16:23-24) referred to their belief that their success in capturing Samson proved the Philistine deity Dagon was greater than Jehovah. While they were inside the temple of their god Dagon, the people did not fear to make sport of Samson, the champion of Jehovah. Samson asked the lad that held his hand to make sure that he could feel the two pillars on which the temple rested. All the lords of the Philistines were there in the temple, and there were three thousand men and women on its roof. Samson called unto the Lord, and said, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).

In this setting, Samson once again exercised the kind of courage through which God could have used him as a tool to deliver Israel. But here again, the self-centeredness of Samson is evident. Even in his final opportunity, when Samson used his restored strength to destroy the temple of Dagon and the Philistines who were there, he thought only of getting revenge for what had been done to him. What better proof could there be that the power of Dagon was nothing than in the destruction of the temple erected to him? ? How tragic that this superhuman God-given power was not used by Samson as a witness to the power of Jehovah if he had fulfilled his calling to overthrow the power of the Philistines. It is appropriate that he dies with the Philistines, because he is a Philistine at heart.  

And yet, all things are a type of Christ and God can turn tragedies into victories. In a way, Samson is a type of Christ. His birth was announced by  an angel. He was born in a miraculous way. And through his death, his people were delivered.


The book of Judges can teach us many lessons. It can serve as a warning to us that even after we experience the Lord’s power in our lives, it is always possible to fall away. These chapters can also provide encouragement to those who do fall away, for the Lord offers a way back. We see a pattern of rebelliousness, sorrow, and deliverance repeated throughout the book of Judges, similar to the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon. As we read these verses, we should “liken them unto” ourselves. What lessons can we learn from the book of Judges? Hang on to the religion of your fathers. Hang on to the “Deborahs” in your life. Hang on to the commandments, as Gideon did. Hang on to your covenants. Samson is a good “bad example” of this as he breaks every one of his vows.  Samson’s covenants with the Lord gave him strength, just as our covenants give us strength.

President Nelson used the story of Gideon in his 1988 General Conference address, “With God, Nothing Shall Be Impossible” (Luke 1:37)

The Lord has often chosen to instruct His people in their times of trial. Scriptures show that some of His lasting lessons have been taught with examples terrible as war, commonplace as childbearing, or obvious as hazards of deep water. His teachings are frequently based on common understanding, but with uncommon results. Indeed, one might say that to teach His people, the Lord employs the unlikely. Warfare, for example, has been known since time began. Even in that ugly circumstance, the Lord has helped those obedient to His counsel. Going into battle, all would assume the obvious advantage of outnumbering an enemy. 

He then related the story of Gideon and how the Lord directed him to reduce his troops from twenty-two thousand to ten thousand, and then to only three hundred.” Then the Lord delivered the victory to the outnumbered.” He continued:

To teach His people, the Lord employs the unlikely. We are children of the noble birthright, who must carry on in spite of our foredetermined status to be broadly outnumbered and widely opposed. Challenges lie ahead for the Church and for each member divinely charged toward self-improvement and service.  How is it possible to achieve the “impossible”? Learn and obey the teachings of God. From the holy scriptures, heaven-sent lift will be found for heaven-sent duties. 

He then focused on three scriptural themes that enable us to gain this “heaven-sent lift” necessary to achieve the impossible. Faith, focus, and strength of courage. He concludes:

Foster your faith. Fuse your focus with an eye single to the glory of God. “Be strong and courageous” (2 Chr. 32:7), and you will be given power and protection from on high. “For I will go before your face,” the Lord declared. “I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).

[i] Old Testament Student Manual, chapter 22.

[ii] Insights from Bible commentary on this verse.

[iii]  The comments on Deborah are from the author’s book, Forgotten Women of God.

[iv] Pseudo-Philo — The author of the pseudepigraphical work Biblical Antiquities.  It is a retelling of the stories in the Old Testament that reflects Jewish legend and tradition as they existed in the first century.  The author probably lived in Palestine and wrote in Hebrew.

[v].  Louis Ginsberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 4 (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1913, 1941), 35.

[vi].  See Megan McKenna, Leave Her Alone (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000), 143.


[viii].  See Cheryl Anne Brown,  No Longer Be Silent: First Century Jewish Portraits of Biblical Women (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 43-44.

[ix].  Ginsberg, 35.

[x].  See Brown, 49

[xi].  Brown, 43-44.

[xii].  Jewish tradition held that Barak was Deborah’s husband.  See Ginsberg, 35.

[xiii].  See McKenna, 141

[xiv].  Ginsberg, 36.

[xv]Ibid., 37.

[xvi].  See McKenna, 141.

[xvii]The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984)

[xviii].  Ginsberg, 35-36.

[xix].  See Leila Leah Bronner,  Stories of Biblical Mothers: Maternal Power in the Hebrew Bible (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc, 2004), 81.

16.  See Brown, 68-69.

[xxi]Ibid., 69.

[xxii].  See Ibid., 69-71 and McKenna, 145.

[xxiii]  Ideas from Enduring Word Bible commentary on these verses.

[xxiv] Deuteronomy 20:8  “What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house.”