The Failure of the Family in Judges, Part 1: Jephthah -- By: Michael J. Smith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 162:647 (Jul 2005)
Article: The Failure of the Family in Judges, Part 1: Jephthah
Author: Michael J. Smith


The Failure of the Family in Judges, Part 1: Jephthah

Michael J. Smith

Michael J. Smith is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.

While “the literature on Judges is voluminous,”1 one theme scarcely touched on in studies on this book is the role of the family. Women in Judges are often examined in relative isolation. These women need to be studied, however, not as stand-alone characters, but within the social context of their families. Also male characters in Judges should not be studied in isolation, but should be seen in the cultural setting as husbands, fathers, and leaders at various levels who are responsible to prepare the way for the future of Israel in successive generations.

A serious problem in Israel can be seen in the statement in Judges 2:10 that the generation after Joshua “did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” As a result of military compromises this new generation “played the harlot after other gods” (v. 17). They lived among the pagan nations “and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods” (3:5–6). The tragic events that followed in the book demonstrate that the absence of godly leadership in the family as well as in the nation resulted in everyone doing what was right in his own eyes (17:6; 21:25). Throughout the Book of Judges marriage and the family is a theme that needs to be examined.

The Literary Structure of the Book

Various explanations have been given for the presence of both major and minor judges within the Book of Judges. Many commentators treat the minor judges as insignificant in the total picture, with some even suggesting that they are included only because a redactor wanted to bring the total number of judges to twelve. More recent work on the “minor judges,” however, has found that no difference exists between the “minor” and “major” judges.2 Hauser concludes that “the categories ‘major judge’ and ‘minor judge’ serve no useful function other than to indicate the length and style of the literary traditions in which the memory of these pre-monarchial figures has been preserved.”3 Mullen concurs that the “minor” judges filled the same ...

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