Listers, the Historical Books are paramount in understanding salvation history. The Historical Books of the Old Testament are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, and I & II Maccabees. The Historical Books capture the story of how Israel gains the Promise Land through obedience to the covenant but also how they eventually lose the Promise Land through their disobedience. There are seven major dates within the narrative of the Historical Books.
- c. 1200 BC – Conquest, then Judge’s Period
- c. 1030 BC – The United Kingdom: Saul, David, & Solomon
- 931 BC – Divided Kingdom: Northern Kingdom of Israel & Southern Kingdom of Judah
- 722 BC – Assyrian Exile of the Northern Kingdom
- 586 BC – First Temple Destroyed as Babylon Conquers the Southern Kingdom
- 516 BC – The Dedication of the Second Temple
- 165 BC – The Rededication of the Second Template under the Maccabees
The theological significance of the Historical Books is exemplified by their alternative title: theFormer Prophets. While the Latter Prophets represent the minor and major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc.), the Former Prophets mark the beginning of the prophets appearing in the history of Israel. Furthermore, they record a prophetic history insofar as they point toward the coming of Jesus Christ. The internal text of the Historical Books or Former Prophets testifies to the distinction between prophetic history and general history when it utilizes the phrase are not the other works of the King written in the books of… and similar statements denoting that certain historical narratives belong in the records of prophetic history and some do not. A foundational understanding of the theological significance of the Former Prophets as a whole is found in the book of Deuteronomy. The seminal chapter is chapter twenty-eight, which records the blessings of following the covenant and the curses of breaking the covenant. Arguably the entire theme of the Historical Books is the unfolding of Deuteronomy twenty-eight: whether or not Israel is faithful to the covenant.
For a discussion of the first Historical Book, please visit The Conquest: 9 Catholic Lessons from the Book of Joshua. The list contains short discussions on the morality of the military conquest of the Promise Land, the Hexateuch, typological scenes of Mary, and much more.
The Book of Judges
1. Judges as a Downward Spiral
The Book of Judges should have been a continuation of the success of Joshua. Instead, Israel suffered a series of cycles from fidelity to failure.1
1. Sin—People did what was evil in the sight of the Lord
2. Suffering—God sends suffering, e.g., defeated by enemies, etc.
3. Supplication to God—apologies
4. Salvation—God sends a savior
5. Shalom—a period of peace
6. Repeat (repeated a cycle of seven times)
The cycles actually represent a downward spiral – each cycle being progressively worse than the one before. Note also that the text echoes a threefold repetition: at that time, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was good in his or her own eyes, i.e., massive confusion and evil; note that it is connected to there being no king. The author or editor wants it to be known that they need a king to keep them faithful to the covenant.2
2. The Prophecy of Eve & the Serpent
In Genesis, our first parents suffered a curse due to their fall into sin. One condition of the Fall was that God would place enmity between the woman and the serpent – but the phrase explaining the enmity and what will happen due to that enmity has been a matter of much debate. To wit, should it read he shall crush thy head or she shall crush thy head or even they shall crush thy head? Notice older translation below from the Douay-Rheims Bible:
And the Lord God said to the woman: Why hast thou done this? And she answered: The serpent deceived me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. Douay-Rheims Bible3
Modern Catholic texts read he shall crush your head:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. RSV-CE
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel. NAB4
Proponents of the prophecy reading and she shall crush often cite the strong biblical typology of women killing men by “crushing” their head. The debate is pertinent to the Book of Judges due to the story of Jael as a type cast of the woman “crushing” the head:
Sisera, in the meantime, had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, wife of the Kenite Heber, since Jabin, king of Hazor, and the family of the Kenite Heber were at peace with one another. Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord, come in with me; do not be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a rug.
He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink. I am thirsty.” But she opened a jug of milk for him to drink, and then covered him over. “Stand at the entrance of the tent,” he said to her. “If anyone comes and asks, ‘Is there someone here?’ say, ‘No!'”
Instead Jael, wife of Heber, got a tent peg and took a mallet in her hand. While Sisera was sound asleep, she stealthily approached him and drove the peg through his temple down into the ground, so that he perished in death. Then when Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man you seek.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg through his temple.5
The typological pattern of a woman killing a man via “crushing” their head occurs three times in the Historical Books and five times overall in the Old Testament. The fulfillment of the prophecy comes with Mother Mary standing on Golgotha – the mount Christ was crucified upon named the skull.6 Thus, you have a woman crushing the head of the serpent through the victory of Christ.7
3. The Story of Gideon
Chapter seven contains the famous narrative of Gideon leading the army of the Lord. First, Gideon is commanded to tell all the soldiers in the army that if they are afraid they can go home. As a result, twenty-two thousand left and ten thousand remained. Second, the army is led to water and some drank by lapping up the water like dogs and others knelt and drank by cupping the water in their hand. The Lord commands Gideon to only keep those men who lapped the water – 300 soldiers. Third, the army of three hundred win a military victory by holding trumpets in one hand and lamps in the other (no weapons in hand). The principle here is that the victory belonged to the Lord. The victory came through obedience and liturgy.8
In chapter eight, Gideon is asked to rule as King and he declines and says the Lord should rule; however, Gideon uses his clout to ask for the spoils of war – especially gold. He then makes a golden ephod – a priestly garment – and leads the people of God into idolatry. Once again, Israel plays the harlot and there is liturgical confusion.
4. Jephthah’s Vow
During the sixth cycle, Jephthah makes a vow to sacrifice to God the first thing that exits his house. His vow is the first of two brash and ill fated vows in the Book of Judges. As the story goes, Jepthah’s daughter is the first thing to exit the house. Holy Scripture does not record whether or not the sacrifice was ever carried out; however, scripture does record his daughter taking a time to mourn she will die a virgin. The pericope of Jephthah’s vow serves as another example of liturgical confusion during the Judges period.9
5. Samson & Sight
In chapter thirteen the seventh cycle in Judges contains the Samson narrative. The story of Samson has a subtle motif of “sight.” In chapter fourteen, Samson desires a Philistine woman over any woman in Israel. He tells his parents, “Get her for me, for she pleases me” or literally, “she is good in my eyes.”10 The attitude of Samson serves as a microcosm of the current idolatrous disposition of Israel. The motif of sight characterizes the entire Judges narrative: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”11 The motif continues with Samson’s demise as Samson’s eyes are plucked out after he submits to Delilah the secret to his strength.
6. The Concubine Raped, Cut Up, & Mailed
Judges ends with a narrative that shows exactly how deep Israel has spiraled. In chapter nineteen, a Levite and his concubine (the first clue something is wrong) go to a town within the tribe of Benjamin. Despite being among his kin, no one in the town is hospitable save one old man. The man takes the Levite and the concubine into his home for the night. During the night, the men of the city demand that the Levite priest come out so they can rape him. Instead, the old man offers his virgin daughters and the priest’s concubine. Ultimately, the concubine is thrown out to the men and she is raped throughout the night and dies.
Upon finding her dead outside, the Levite priest cuts the concubine into pieces and sends one piece to each tribe to show the wickedness that has manifested in the tribe of Benjamin. The other tribes turn against the Benjaminites and war against them. The other tribes then make the second ill fated vow of the Book of Judges – they make a covenant not to give their daughters to Benjaminite men in marriage. The error here is that this means the tribe of Benjamin will either die out or have to seek pagan wives. The narrative shows the depravity and confusion found at the bottom of the spiral.
The most telling sign of how far the tribes have fallen is comparing how the book begins to how the book ends. The first verse of the book states, “After the death of Joshua the Israelites consulted the LORD, asking, “Who shall be first among us to attack the Canaanites and to do battle with them?”12 Yet, at the end of the book the tribes of Israel are asking, “who will go with us against the tribe of Benjamin?” The People of God have gone from warring for the Promise Land to civil war – the bottom of the downward spiral of the Book of Judges.
- Cycle: See 2:11-17 as an example. [↩]
- King David and the Jebusites: Notice in 1:19 the Jebusites are still present in the Promise Land. The Jebusites occupy what will later become Jerusalem. It is King David that will conquer the Jebusites and raise Jerusalem to the center of political and spiritual power in the Kingdom. Interestingly, after a young David slew Goliath, he places Goliath’s head outside of the Jebusite controlled Jerusalem – a foreshadowing of the coming conquest. [↩]
- Note on v. 15 from DRB commentary –  She shall crush: Ipsa, the woman; so divers of the fathers read this place, conformably to the Latin: others read it ipsum, viz., the seed. The sense is the same: for it is by her seed, Jesus Christ, that the woman crushes the serpent’s head. [↩]
- Notes on v. 15 NAB – “He will strike . . . at his heel: since the antecedent for he and his is the collective noun offspring, i.e., all the descendants of the woman, a more exact rendering of the sacred writer’s words would be, “They will strike . . . at their heels.” However, later theology saw in this passage more than unending hostility between snakes and men. The serpent was regarded as the devil (⇒ Wisdom 2:24; ⇒ John 8:44; ⇒ Rev 12:9; ⇒ 20:2), whose eventual defeat seems implied in the contrast between head and heel. Because “the Son of God appeared that he might destroy the works of the devil” (⇒ 1 John 3:8), the passage can be understood as the first promise of a Redeemer for fallen mankind. The woman’s offspring then is primarily Jesus Christ.” [↩]
- 4:17-22 [↩]
- Golgotha: ORIGIN from late Latin, via Greek from an Aramaic form of Hebrew gulgoleth ‘skull’ (see Matt. 27:33). [↩]
- Women of the Gen. 3:15 Prophecy: in Judges you have Jael and the woman who drops the millstone on Abimelech in chapter nine; the head of Seba in II Samuel 20:16; it occurs again with Judith and in the book of Esther. [↩]
- Gideon: Gideon’s victory shows that victory belongs to the Lord and the glory belongs to him, which will later serve as a comparison to King Saul. It also adds to a motif of proper liturgy. [↩]
- Jephthah’s Vow see chapter eleven. [↩]
- 14:2-3. [↩]
- 21:25. [↩]
- NAB. [↩]