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The 12 Judges of the Bible: Overview, Facts and Lessons

In this article, we will explore the 12 judges of the Bible from the book of Judges. We will take a broad overview, look at key facts, and life lessons we can learn from each judge in the Bible! So, grab your Bible and let’s get started…

The Bible is filled with so many individuals and their stories. Some are heroic, while others are tragic. The book of Judges is filled with these kinds of stories. These men and women helped lead Israel into seasons of peace when no one else could. They were called by God and did amazing feats.

Most of us know the major judges like Deborah, Samson, and Gideon, but in this study we will take a look at both major and minor judges in the book of Judges. But before we dig in let’s take a look at what is the book of Judges and who were the Judges of the Bible!

Judges of the Bible

What is the Book of Judges?

In the Christian Bible the book of Judges is the 7th book in the Old Testament. It is found right after the book of Joshua and before 1 Samuel. It is considered one of the 16 historical book of the Bible. The author of the book of Judges is unknown, but many the traditional view of the Talmud believes that the prophet Samuel wrote the book.

The whole book spans a period of over 325 years of Jewish history before they had kings. And also includes nations who were against God’s people. These included:

  • Moabites
  • Ammonites
  • Midianites
  • Canaanites
  • Philistines
  • Mesopotamians

What is the Main Purpose of the Book of Judges?

The main purpose of the book of Judges is to show God’s faithfulness to deliver His people when they turn to Him. But there is more than just that it shows how sin and evil can bring bondage into your life. It reveals truths throughout it’s stories how God can use the unlikely to bring forth amazing things when the submit themselves to God.

The Constant Cycle of Disobedience and Rebellion

The book of Judges has an interesting pattern throughout it’s stories. Many historians and theologians call it a cycle or a pattern.

It goes like this…

Israel does evil in the sight of God and forsake Him. They sin and pursue other gods

Israel goes into war and/or bondage. Many times they became slaves to other nations.

Israel finally hits a breaking point and cries out to the Lord.

Israel turns to God and Repents. God then raises up a Judge to deliver His people.

Israel experiences peace as they serve God for a portion of time.

This is when it repeats….Israel does evil in the sight of God and forsake Him. They sin and pursue other gods

To make it a little easier for you visualize I created an image below. You can also download it for free on PDF here: The Book of Judges Cycle PDF

Biblical Cycle of the Book of Judges

It always blows my mind when I read about each judges story and how Israel once again falls into sin. You would think they would have learned from their folly and sin, but they don’t. They fall right back into the same trap. It reminds me of the scripture in Genesis…

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” – Genesis 4:7

Who Were the Judges of the Bible?

There are 12 judges listed. Below is a list:

  1. Othniel
  2. Ehud
  3. Shamgar
  4. Deborah
  5. Gideon
  6. Tola
  1. Jair
  2. Jephthah
  3. Ibzan
  4. Elon
  5. Abdon
  6. Samson

I like how the Life Application Bible commentary says about these judges… “These judges were not perfect; in fact, they included an assassin, a sexually promiscuous man, and a person who broke all the laws of hospitality. But they were submissive to God, and God used them.”

It’s a reminder to us that God isn’t looking for perfection, but a heart that can be used. King David is another prime example. Alright now let’s start digging into each judge!

Judges in the Bible

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. – Judges 21:25

These are quick overviews of each Judge in the Book of Judges. As I develop this study you will be able to click on each judge and read more on their life.

Judges in the Bible

Othniel

What does the name Othniel mean?

It means Strength of God or Lion of God.

עׇתְנִיאֵל ʻOthnîyʼêl, oth-nee-ale’; from the same as H6273 and H410; force of God; Othniel, an Israelite:—Othniel.

Othniel = “lion of God”

son of Kenaz, younger brother of Caleb, and husband of Achsah the daughter of Caleb and his own niece; first judge of Israel, who after the death of Joshua, delivered the Israelites from the oppression of Chushanrishathaim.

Where can I read his story?

You can read the story of Othniel in Joshua 15:13-17; Judges 1:9-21; 3:1-11; 1 Chron 4:13

How long did they judge for?

Othniel judged Israel for 8 years and brought 40 years of peace.

Key Achievements of Judge Othniel

  • He captured a powerful Canaanite city.
  • He won the hand of Caleb’s daughter Achsah by attacking and capturing Kiriath-sepher.

>> READ MORE ON THE LIFE OF OTHNIEL

Ehud

What does the name Ehud mean?

It means, I will give thanks.

אֵהוּד ʼÊhûwd, ay-hood’; from the same as H161; united; Ehud, the name of two or three Israelites:—Ehud.

  1. Ehud = “I will give thanks: I will be praised”
    1. or “undivided, union” in (1Ch. 8:6) only

Where can I read his story?

You can read Ehud’s story in Judges 3:12–4:1.

How long did they judge for?

Scripture doesn’t state how long Ehud was judge.

Key Achievements of Judge Ehud

  • Ehud was left handed, and because of this he tricked King Elgon. He was able to kill him and set Israel free from slavery. They had been serving Elgon and the Moabites for 18 years.
  • He brought forth 80 years of rest for Israel.

>> READ MORE ON THE LIFE OF EHUD

Shamgar

What does the name Shamgar mean?

His name means, Sword.

שַׁמְגַּר Shamgar, sham-gar’; of uncertain derivation; Shamgar, an Israelite judge:—Shamgar.

  1. Shamgar = “sword”
    1. son of Anath and a judge of Israel; with an ox-goad he slew 600 Philistines and delivered Israel

Where can I read his story?

You can read Shamgar’s story in Judges 3:31 and Judges 5:6

How long did they judge for?

It is unknown how long Shamgar lead.

Key Achievements of Judge Shamgar

  • He killed 600 Philistines with only an ox goad.
  • Shamgar is said to not be an Israelite since his name isn’t Hebrew and mentions no tribe.
  • Shamgar is said to be the son of Anath. Anath was not a person but a false deity. She was a Semitic goddess of love and war, the sister and helpmate of the god Baal. This helps solidify the notion that Shamgar was not an Israelite.

Deborah

What does the name Deborah mean?

It means, bee.

דְּבּוֹרָה Dᵉbôwrâh, deb-o-raw’; or (shortened) דְּבֹרָה Dᵉbôrâh; the same as H1682; Deborah, the name of two Hebrewesses:—Deborah.

  1. Deborah = “bee”
    1. the nurse of Rebekah who accompanied her from the house of Bethuel
    2. a prophetess who judged Israel

Where can I read her story?

You can read Deborah’s story in Judges 4-5.

How long did they judge for?

It doesn’t state how long Deborah judged, but she did bring peace to Israel of 40 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Deborah

  • Deborah is the first and only female judge.
  • She was not just judge but also a prophetess.
  • She worked with Barak to defeat Sisera and the Canaanites and later sang a victory song with Barak.

Gideon

Gideon Judge of the Bible

What does the name Gideon mean?

It means, hewer.

גִּדְעוֹן Gidʻôwn, ghid-ohn’; from H1438; feller (i.e. warrior); Gidon, an Israelite:—Gideon.

  1. Gideon = “hewer”
    1. youngest son of Joash of the Abiezrites, fifth judge of Israel who led the Israelites against the Midianites

Where can I read his story?

You can read about his life in Judges 6-8.

How long did they judge for?

It is said that Gideon brought 40 years of peace.

Key Achievements of Judge Gideon

  • Was visited by the angel of the Lord.
  • Gideon destroyed his family idols.
  • Gideon used a fleece to determine God’s will.
  • He raised an army of 10,000, and defeated 135,000 Midianites with only 300 soldiers

Tola

What does the name Tola mean?

It means, worm.

תּוֹלָע Tôwlâʻ, to-law’; the same as H8438; worm; Tola, the name of two Israelites:—Tola.

  1. Tola = “worm”
    1. the 1st born of Issachar and progenitor of the family of Tolaites
    2. a man of Issachar, son of Puah and judge of Israel after Abimelech

Where can I read his story?

You can read about Tola in Judges 10:1-2.

How long did they judge for?

He judged Israel 23 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Tola

  • He rose up to save Israel.

Jair

What does the name Jair mean?

It means, enlightener.

יָאִיר Yâʼîyr, yaw-ere’; from H215; enlightener; Jair, the name of four Israelites:—Jair.

  1. Jair = “he enlightens”
    1. a descendant of Manasseh who conquered many towns during the time of the conquest
    2. the Gileadite, a judge of Israel for 22 years during the time of the judges; father of 30 sons
    3. a Benjamite, son of Kish, and father of Mordecai
    4. father of Elhanan, one of David’s mighty warriors

Where can I read his story?

You can read his storey in Judges 10:3-5.

How long did they judge for?

He judged Israel for 22 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Jair

  • “He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys* and possessed thirty cities in the land of Gilead”

Jephthah

What does the name Jephthah mean? He Opens

יִפְתָּח Yiphtâch, yif-tawkh’; from H6605; he will open; Jiphtach, an Israelite; also a place in Palestine:—Jephthah, Jiphtah.

  1. Jephthah or Jiphtah = “he opens”proper masculine noun
    1. a son of Gilead and a concubine and the judge who defeated the Ammonites; after the victory because of a vow taken before the battle he sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering proper locative noun
    2. a city in Judah

Where can I read his story? Judges 11–12

You can read his story in Judges 11-12

How long did they judge for?

He judged 6 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Jephthah

  • Not really an achievement but Jephthah wanted to honor God by doing a vow, but it was a rash vow which costed his daughter.
  • He battled the Ammonites and conquered around 20 cities.
  • He brought forth a civil war with the tribe of Ephraim. Once again not a real achievement to be proud of.
  • He is mentioned in Hebrews 11:32 as a “hero of faith”

Ibzan

What does the name Ibzan mean?

It means, splendid.

אִבְצָן ʼIbtsân, ib-tsawn’; from the same as H76; splendid; Ibtsan, an Israelite:—Ibzan.

  1. Ibzan, “their whiteness (literally their tin — as white”
    1. a Bethlehemite judge in time of the judges

Where can I read his story?

You can read his story in Judges 12:8-10

How long did they judge for?

He judged Israel for 7 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Ibzan

  • “He had thirty sons and thirty daughters whom he gave in marriage outside the family, while bringing in thirty wives for his sons from outside the family. ” – Judges 12:9

Elon

What does the name Elon mean?

His name means, Oak Tree.

אֵילוֹן ʼÊylôwn, ay-lone’; or (shortened) אֵלוֹן ʼÊlôwn ; or אֵילֹן ʼÊylôn ; from H352; oak-grove; Elon, the name of a place in Palestine, and also of one Hittite, two Israelites:—Elon.

  1. Elon = “terebinth, mighty”
    1. Hittite, father-in-law of Esau
    2. second son of Zebulun
    3. Zebulonite judge of Israel
    4. town in Dan

Where can I read his story?

You can read his story in Judges 12:11-12.

How long did they judge for?

Elon judged Israel for 10 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Elon

  • Not much is said about Elon except he was a judge.

Abdon

What does the name Abdon mean?

His name means, Servant.

עַבְדוֹן ʻAbdôwn, ab-dohn’; from H5647; servitude; Abdon, the name of a place in Palestine and of four Israelites:—Abdon. Compare H5683.

Abdon = “servile”

proper masculine noun

  1. a judge of Israel in the time of the judges; perhaps the same as ‘Bedan’
  2. a Benjamite, son of Shashak
  3. a Gibeonite, son of Jehiel and a grandson of Gideon
  4. son of Micah in the time of king Josiah of Judah; also ‘Achbor’

Where can I read his story?

You can read his story in Judges 12:13–15.

How long did they judge for?

He judged Israel for 8 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Abdon

  • He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys.

Samson

judge of the Bible Samson pulling

What does the name Samon mean? Like the sun

שִׁמְשׁוֹן Shimshôwn, shim-shone’; from H8121; sunlight; Shimshon, an Israelite:—Samson.

  1. Samson = “like the sun”
    1. a Danite, son of Manoah, a Nazarite for life, and a judge of Israel for 20 years

Where can I read his story?

You can read the story of Samson in Judges chapters 13–16.

How long did they judge for?

He judged for 20 years.

Key Achievements of Judge Samson

  • An angel announced Samson’s birth
  • He was a Nazarene
  • Samson had an incredible amount of strength. His strength came from God. The Bible says he killed a lion with his bare hands; he killed 30 Philistines, and another 1000 with a jawbone of a donkey. These are just a few of his exploits.
  • He had an incredible weakness for foreign women. This led to his fall, and being captured. But even when he was at his weakest state he called on God and God restored his strength.
  • Samson pulled down the columns in the temple of Dagon sacrificing himself and around 3,000 Philistines.
  • He is mentioned among the “heroes of the faith” in Hebrews 11.

>> Read More on the life of Samson and Delilah

Judges of Israel Chart

I thought it might be nice to have a quick chart of the Judges of Israel. I find charts an easy way to gather information and see things all in one place. I hope you find it helpful as well.

JudgeScripture ReferenceYears of BondageYears of Peace/Rest
Othniel – Tribe of JudahJoshua 15:13-17;
Judges 1:9-21; 3:1-11;
1 Chronicles 4:13
8 Years40 Years
Ehud – Tribe of BenjaminJudges 3:12-3018 Years80 Years
Shamgar – Not an Israelite Judges 3:31-5:6UnknownUnknown
Deborah – Tribe of EphraimJudges 4:1-5:31;
1 Samual 12:11;
Hebrews 11:32
20 Years40 Years
Gideon – Tribe of ManassehJudges 6:1-8:32
Hebrews 11:32
7 Years40 Years
Tola – Tribe of IssacharJudges 10:1-2Unknown 23 years
Jair – Tribe of ManassehJudges 10:3-5Unknown 22 Years
Jephthah – Tribe of Manasseh Judges 10:6-12:7;
Hebrews 11:32
18 Years6 Years
Ibzan – Tribe of JudahJoshua 19:15
Judges 12:8-10
Unknown7 Years
Elon – Tribe of ZebulunJudges 12:11-12Unknown10 Years
Abdon – Tribe of EphraimJudges 12:13-158 Years
Samson – Tribe of DanJudges 13:1-16:31;
Hebrews 11:32
40 Years20 Years
Judges of Israel Chart

Was Abimelech A Judge in Israel?

The Israelites then said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son, and your son’s son—for you saved us from the power of Midian.” But Gideon answered them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you. The LORD must rule over you.” – Judges 8:22-23

There is a debate by many if Abimelech was a judge. I personally don’t believe he was a judge and here is why. He was one of the many sons of Gideon (the Judge). He basically had a power trip, killed 70 of his brothers and made himself king. He even caused a a civil war within the tribes of Israel. He was not called by God, nor did he do right before the Lord. And scripture never calls him a judge. He may have lead Israel but he was no judge.


I hope you have enjoyed this study and overviews of the Judges of the Bible. Now remember this is only looking at the judges in the book of Judges so we didn’t touch on Samuel. My hope is in the near future to write more on each judge. If you would like to leave me a comment you can do so below. I would love to hear what God is doing in your life and what you are studying in His Word.

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