Judges 1–21

Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual, (2003), 112–16


The book of Judges contains stories from Israel’s history dating from Joshua’s death to the rise of the monarchy under King Saul (see 1 Samuel 8:1–9). Although it is difficult to precisely date this era of the judges, it is estimated that it extended from about 1250 to 1050 B.C. One reason it is difficult to make a chronology of the book of Judges is that after the tribes were dispersed to possess their lands (see Joshua 13–17), tribal loyalty replaced national unity. Each judge written about generally represented only one tribe or region of the promised land. As such, some of them could have ruled simultaneously. These judges were chosen by either God or the people they were to lead. They were more like military generals than legal experts because of their responsibility to deliver their people from their enemies. The following chart contains an overview of the judges in Israel during this time period.

Judge and Tribe

Israel’s Oppressor

Othniel of Judah (see Judges 3:9)

Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia

Ehud of Benjamin (see 3:15)

Eglon, king of Moab

Shamgar (see 3:31 ; tribe unknown)


Deborah of Ephraim, the only known female judge, and Barak of Naphtali (see 4:4–6)

Jabin, king of Canaan, and Sisera, Jabin’s captain

Gideon of Manasseh (see 6:11)

Midianites and Amalekites

Abimelech, Gideon’s son, called himself a king and ruled for a short time in Shechem (see chapter 9).

Tola of Issachar (see 10:1)


Jair of Manasseh (see 10:3)


Jephthah of Manasseh (see 11:11)


Ibzan of Judah (see 12:8)


Elon of Zebulun (see 12:11)


Abdon of Ephraim (see 12:13)


Samson of Dan (see 15:20)


Two more judges, Eli and Samuel, are identified in 1 Samuel. Samuel was the last judge before the reign of King Saul.

Disunity in Israel left the people more vulnerable to their enemies. However, more damaging than their disunity was their failure to consistently keep their covenants with the Lord, which led to a continuous cycle of apostasy and repentance (see the teaching suggestion for Judges 1–3, p. 113). Judges 1–16 tells the story of that cycle in the lives of the various judges who delivered Israel. Chapters 17–21 contain several stories that illustrate the depravity of apostate Israel when “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

The book of Judges, like the book of Joshua, also shows that the Lord has power to deliver His people. This is especially evident in the stories of the different judges.

  • Ehud was from Benjamin, the smallest tribe in Israel.

  • Deborah was the first woman to lead Israel in battle, and perhaps equally heroic in that story was Jael, a woman who killed the leader of Israel’s enemy.

  • Gideon had his army reduced to three hundred men before defeating a Midianite army of thousands.

  • Jephthah was the son of a harlot.

  • Samson was miraculously born of a woman previously barren.

In each case, it was obvious that the hand of the Lord was in the delivering of His people through these leaders. Thus we see that even in that generally lamentable period of Israelite history there were some remarkable men and women. We can learn important lessons from those who exercised faith and courage. We can also learn by observing the bad examples of those who forsook the Lord and experienced disastrous consequences.

For more information about the book of Judges, see Bible Dictionary, (p. 719), and the introduction to Judges 1–12 in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel (p. 251).

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

  • Failure to keep the covenants we make with the Lord results in suffering, sorrow, and the loss of promised blessings (see Judges 1:18–3:7; 8:32–35; 10:6–9).

  • When people repent and call upon God, He will deliver them from their troubles when the time is right (Judges 3:9, 15; 10:10–16; 11:32–33).

  • Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they follow the directions of the Lord and receive His strength (see Judges 4:1–16; 6:11–16; 7:1–22).

  • Being born into a righteous family or even being foreordained to a great mission does not guarantee personal righteousness. Obedience to the Lord is more important than the talents or other advantages we may have (see Judges 13–16; see also Alma 2:26–31; Mormon 5:16–18).

  • Pride and selfishness can result in personal tragedy and keep us from fulfilling the callings we receive from the Lord (see Judges 16).

Suggestions for Teaching

Judges 1–3. Failure to obey the Lord results in sorrow. (25–30 minutes)

Ask students the following questions:

  • If you saw a small child playing in the middle of a busy road, what would be the right thing for you to do?

  • Why do you think children sometimes do such dangerous things even after their parents have warned them not to?

  • What could happen if they continued to ignore the counsel of parents and others who know what is best for them?

Tell students that this was a lesson that the children of Israel had a difficult time learning.

Have students read Judges 2:1–3 and discuss what the angel said the Israelites should have done but did not. Have them read Judges 1:18–19 and find one reason given for Judah’s failure to capture all their allotted territory. Ask: What other reasons could there be for not capturing their territory? (Disobedience and lack of faith.)

You might also have the students look at Judges 1:27–33 and note that other tribes did no better. Draw or show a chariot like the one in the following picture and ask students why chariots of any kind should not have been a problem (see Exodus 14:23–31). Ask them to list some of the problems young people face today that are like “chariots of iron.” Have them read Ether 12:27 and look for what evidence we have that Heavenly Father has the power to help us overcome what we fear or struggle with the most.

Draw the following chart on the board, leaving the boxes blank for the students to fill in:

Have students read Judges 1:27, 29–33 and fill in the first box under “Ancient Israel” with how the tribes were disobedient and what they allowed. Have them read Judges 1:28 and 2:1–2 and fill in the second box with what those verses show the Israelites did. Ask what the word tribute means and why the Israelites might want to collect those payments more than they wanted to keep their covenant to destroy the Canaanites. Have them read Judges 3:5–7 and fill in the next two boxes with what the Israelites did next.

Refer to Judges 2:3 again and ask students what the Lord said were the consequences of Israel’s disobedience. Have them read verses 18–19, which are almost a summary of the book of Judges, and tell what happened in later generations.

Ask students what people do or fail to do today that is similar to what ancient Israel did. Have them make comparisons and fill in the corresponding boxes under “Modern Israel” on the chart. Read the following statement by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

“All are free to choose, of course, and we would not have it otherwise. Unfortunately, however, when some choose slackness, they are choosing not only for themselves, but for the next generation and the next. Small equivocations in parents can produce large deviations in their children! Earlier generations in a family may have reflected dedication, while some in the current generation evidence equivocation. Sadly, in the next, some may choose dissension as erosion takes its toll” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1992, 89; or Ensign, Nov. 1992, 65–66).

Ask students what the world offers that can become traps to those who do not keep their covenants. Read with them 1 Nephi 17:45; 3 Nephi 6:17; 4 Nephi 1:38; and Mormon 2:13–15. Have them suggest answers to the following questions:

  • What must we do to avoid falling into the same traps as the Israelites?

  • How can we live in a wicked world and still live righteously and keep our covenants?

Judges 1–21. Because the Israelites failed to consistently keep their covenants with God, they repeatedly went through a cycle of bondage and deliverance. (20–30 minutes)

On the board or a handout, draw the following chart. Consider leaving the boxes blank and filling them in as you study Judges 2–4.

Have students read Judges 2:11–19 and 3:5–11 and discuss how the failure to keep covenants led to a continued cycle of suffering. Help them find the verses in Judges 3:5–11 that match the boxes on the chart and fill in the boxes as those phrases are mentioned.

Read Judges 3:12–15; 4:1–6; and 6:1, 11 with your students and ask them why they think each new generation had to go through suffering and oppression before they turned to the Lord for help. Tell them that this cycle is the pattern for much of the book of Judges. Have them read Judges 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; and 13:1 and mark the phrase stating that “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Have students read 1 Nephi 2:16–17; 15:21–25; Helaman 3:27–30, 35; 5:12 and look for ways we can avoid mistakes similar to those of the Israelites.

weekly icon Judges 3–16. The Lord can use the “weak things of the earth” to accomplish His mighty works among His people. (35–50 minutes)

Show a picture of some young missionaries of the Church. Ask students what opinion many of the people in the world have of these young people. President Gordon B. Hinckley noted how our missionaries are often seen by the world:

“I had been interviewed by a representative of the BBC Radio Worldwide Service. He had seen the missionaries and noted their youthful appearance. He asked me, ‘How do you expect people to listen to these callow youth?’

“In case some of you do not know the meaning of callow, it means immature, inexperienced, lacking sophistication.”

Read Doctrine and Covenants 1:17–20 and 35:13–15 with the class. Ask students to identify the words and phrases that describe who the Lord said He would call to do His work. Ask:

  • Why do you think He chooses these “weak” ones?

  • What does it teach us about the power of the Lord?

  • What might people be tempted to do if the Lord chose the strongest, the most intelligent, or the richest?

  • Could the strongest, the most intelligent, or the richest also be the most righteous?

  • What problems could we experience if we follow someone for the wrong reasons?

Read President Hinckley’s response to the reporter:

“I replied to the reporter with a smile, ‘Callow youth? It is with these missionaries today as it was with Timothy in the days of Paul [see 1 Timothy 4:12]. …

“‘The remarkable thing is that people do receive them and listen to them. They are wholesome. They are bright, they are alert, they are upstanding. They are clean looking, and people quickly develop confidence in them.’ …

“‘Callow youth?’ Yes, they are lacking in sophistication. What a great blessing this is. They carry no element of deception. They speak with no element of sophistry. They speak out of their hearts with personal conviction. Each is a servant of the living God, an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their power comes not of their learning in the things of the world. Their power comes of faith and prayer and humility” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1995, 69; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 51).

Assign students to report on the following leaders and describe how they were unlikely heroes:

Read together Judges 4:23 and 7:7, noting what happened when the people followed these leaders. In the days of Gideon the people still did not understand what the Lord was trying to teach them. They wanted Gideon to be their king. Read Gideon’s response in Judges 8:23.

Invite students to share ways they could be better instruments in the Lord’s hand to do His work and be living testimonies of His power. You may want to discuss other examples from the scriptures, such as Moses, Enoch, and the Prophet Joseph Smith, and point out what they did so that the Lord could use them (see Moses 1:3–8; 6:31–37; Joseph Smith—History 1:14–20).

Judges 7–8. We should have faith in and depend on the Lord, not ourselves. (15–20 minutes)

Put two treats on a table about three meters (ten feet) from a wall in your room. Tell a student who wants one of the treats that he or she can have one as long as one hand is kept on the wall. When it is clear that the student cannot reach the treat, tell the student that a friend could have been invited to hold his or her hand and form a chain from the wall to reach the treat.

Ask students if there are times in mortality when we are unable to do some things on our own. Read Matthew 5:48 and look for the commandment we are given there that is unreachable on our own. Read Moroni 10:32–33 and have them find how we can attain that perfection.

Duplicate the following chart on a chalkboard, leaving the second column blank. Ask students to read the verses written in the first column and list in the second column the numbers of soldiers stated in each verse. Ask them what the Lord was showing the Israelites and why.

Judges 7

Number of Soldiers Mentioned

v. 2

Too many (32,000)

v. 3

22,000 went back; 10,000 remained

v. 7


v. 12


v. 16

3 companies of 100

Have students read Judges 7:17–23 and list the four shocking sights and sounds Israel’s enemy awoke to. Ask them what lesson they think the Lord was trying to teach the Israelites in this incident (see Judges 7:2). Have them read Judges 8:22–23 and ask:

  • Did the Israelites learn that lesson?

  • Did Gideon learn the lesson?

  • How can this story help us in our attempts to build the kingdom of God today?

Share the following statement by President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency:

“The Lord has a great work for each of us to do. You may wonder how this can be. You may feel that there is nothing special or superior about you or your ability. Perhaps you feel or have been told that you are stupid. Many of us have felt that, and some of us have been told that. Gideon felt this when the Lord asked him to save Israel from the Midianites. Gideon said, ‘My family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ He had only three hundred men, but with the help of the Lord, Gideon defeated the armies of the Midianites.

“The Lord can do remarkable miracles with a person of ordinary ability who is humble, faithful, and diligent in serving the Lord and seeks to improve himself. This is because God is the ultimate source of power” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1995; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 47).

Judges 13:1–8. Bringing children into a righteous family is an important part of the plan of happiness. (15–20 minutes)

Show the class some pictures of babies. Point out how beautiful and innocent they are and the joy they bring to their parents. Ask students to name the first commandment given to mankind (see Genesis 1:28). Explain that this commandment is still in effect.

Ask students how the plan of happiness would be affected if Satan could influence people to stop having children. Tell or invite students to tell about how someone who desires to have children but cannot might feel. Read Judges 13:1–8 and have students identify who was childless. Ask them what Samson’s parents asked for in verse 8 and what it teaches us about them.

Ask students the following questions:

  • Why do parents need divine help in raising their children?

  • When might parents pray for divine guidance in raising their children?

  • What expectations do parents have for their children?

  • What do our heavenly parents desire for us?

Judges 13–16. Pride and selfishness can result in personal tragedy and keep us from fulfilling our callings. (35–40 minutes)

Write the following questions on the board before class:

  • How did Samson use his God-given abilities?

  • How was Samson’s motivation for fighting Israel’s enemies different from Gideon’s? (You may want to duplicate the chart in activity A for Judges 14–15 in the student study guide [p. 87] to help with this question.)

  • How did Samson’s success at delivering Israel compare with Gideon’s?

  • Why did Samson succumb to Delilah’s trick?

  • Why did the Lord strengthen Samson again?

After the students have read the questions, read together Judges 13–16. Ask them to look for answers to the questions on the board as they read. When they think they have an answer to one of the questions, have them stop reading or raise their hands and bring it to the attention of the rest of the class. If all of the questions have not been answered by the end of the reading, discuss the remaining questions as a class.

Use the commentary for Judges 13–16 in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel (pp. 259–61) for help if needed. Consider also using the activities for Judges 16 in the student study guide (p. 88).