How the Judges of Israel Overlapped

The history of the Judges bridges the time from the Exodus to the Kingdom of Israel, however, when we sum up the rule of the Judges, a problem arises. Add them all up, plus the times of oppression such as the Midianite period of seven years, then tack on the forty years in the desert plus the reigns of Saul and David, and what do we get? 640! On face value, that’s about 160 years longer than the Exodus to Solomon as stated in the official record of the Kings. (1 Kings 6:1)

There is a reason. The oppressions were regional in nature with the rule of some Judges taking place in tribal areas not affected by the invasions; they were ruling elsewhere during the same period. For example, in Deborah’s victory song she made mention of her predecessor Shamgar being a contemporary of Jael,

“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned, and travellers kept to the byways.” (Judges 5:6)

In other words, Shamgar’s foray with Philistines overlapped with the state of affairs in the north where Jael was living. The oppression of the northern tribes by Jabin of Hazor, was happening at the same time as the Sea Peoples (Philistines) were raiding the southern coast of Israel.

Perhaps the best examples of overlapping leaders and timelines come from the record of the later Judges. In 1122 BC the Ammonites invaded Gilead (the eastern tribes) and in the same year the Philistines began to push from the south-west.

“Because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them.” (Jdg. 10:6-7)

So, the Ammonites ruled for eighteen years in the east, and during that time the Philistines had taken control of large swathes of Dan and Judah in the south-west. They ruled for forty years. (Jdg. 13:1) This left a thin strip of hill country where Eli operated tenuously as a judge at Shiloh. Then Jephthah was bought from Tob to deliver the people of Gilead. His letter of defence is a vital key to the chronology of the Judges era. In writing his argument to the invading king, Jephthah said:

“For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time?” (Judges 11:26)

Sure enough, the deliverance from Ammon in 1105 BC was 300 years after Israel had settled the eastern territories in 1405 BC. Moreover, it confirms the overarching span of 480 years given in the record of the Kings as mentioned. After Jephthah’s death, Ibzan judged from Bethlehem, and Samson from occupied Zorah. These men were contemporaries, as were Elon, Abnon and Samuel whose turns to lead came as shown in the chart below.

For my full Judges chronology,
together with printable charts, maps,
timeline, and commentary, please go here:

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About Christian Gedge

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