OLD TESTAMENT TIMES
the focus for a mighty nation, with a pure "theocracy," that is, a government by God himself. But the people did not remain faithful. They fell away in this time of the Judges.
The Book of Judges, which tells the story of this period, records a long list of names, each one connected with some particular enemy of Israel, some tribe or group of tribes delivered, and some definite term of years during which the deliverer "judged" the people. On this list the most conspicuous names are those of Deborah and of Gideon in the north, of Jephthah east of the Jordan (Gilead), and of Samson in the south. Most of the other judges are httle more than names to us. Deborah stands out, not only because she was a woman, but also for her wonderful "song" preserved in the fifth chapter, celebrating Barak's victory over the Canaanites near Mount Carmel. Gideon is memorable for his strategems and his persistence, and for his near approach to a real kingship, which was offered to him and his house after his victory, but which he declined, saying, "Jehovah shall rule over you." Ch. 8:23. His son Abimelech was actually termed king in and around the city of Shechem for a few years, but perished miserably for his sins. Ch. 9: 6, 56. Jephthah's career was mainly concerned with the region east of the Jordan, but his admirable "apology" for Israel showed his sense of Hebrew solidarity. Samson's picturesque story, with its petty loves and hates, its riddles and its practical jokes, ended in a sacrificial death which in part redeems its meanness. But neither Samson nor any of his predecessors accomplished anything permanent.
Two words of caution belong to the study of this book and of these times. First, we must not suppose that one judge necessarily follows another in point of time because his story follows the other's story in the book. Judges 10: 7 shows that oppressions of different sections of the land by different enemies might be taking place at the same time, and suggests that the figures assigned to each judge at the close of his story cannot safely be added together to find the total length of this period. And second, those figures themselves (nearly always forty or eighty) are to be taken as "round numbers," rather than as precise data such as we look for to-day to make out a table of chronology. In the same way the four hundred and eighty years of I Kings 6: 1 is evidently intended as twelve times forty years, to represent the whole time from the Exodus to Solomon. For when we have subtracted from the beginning of it one forty-year term for the wanderings, and from