Who were the 12 Judges in the Bible? | A Concise and Informative Overview

The judges in the Bible were not only impressive and skillful administrators but also successful military commanders. God raised them to deliver Israel from its enemies, and they settled disputes and presided over other judicial matters affecting the people. The 12 judges in the Bible were the following: Othniel (1373-1334 B.C.), Ehud (1316-1237 B.C.), Shamgar (1262-1247 B.C.), Deborah (1237-1198 B.C.), Gideon (1191-1151 B.C.), Tola (1149-1126 B.C.), Jair (1126-1105 B.C.), Jephthah (1087-1081 B.C.), Ibzan (1081-1075 B.C.), Elon (1075-1065 B.C.), Abdon (1065-1058 B.C.), and Samson (1069-1049 B.C.).

The Cycle of the Book of Judges

Before we delve into a synopsis of the judges in the Bible, let us comprehend the cycle of the Book of Judges.

judges in the bible, judges of Israel, cycle of judges
Israel falls into sin and idolatry, Israel is enslaved, Israel cries out to the Lord, God raises up a judge, Israel is delivered, Israel serves the Lord

An Overview of the 12 Judges in the Bible

So, who were the judges? In this summary, we will look at each of the judges in the Bible, discovering their role in liberating Israel and also their functions as peacetime leaders.

JudgeTribeTime Period of JudgeshipEnemy Defeated Years of PeaceDescriptionReference
OthnielJudah1373-1334 B.C. Mesopotamians40 yearsOthniel was the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother. He married Caleb’s daughter, Achsah, after he captured the town of Debir from the Canaanites. He was the first warrior-judge of Israel. He delivered the country from the eight-year oppression of the Mesopotamian king, Cushan-Rishathaim.Joshua 15:13-17
Judges 1:9-21; 3:1-11
1 Chronicles 4:13
Ehud Benjamin1316-1237 B.C.Moabites80 yearsEhud was the son of Gera, a Benjamite. He was a left-handed man who killed Eglon, the king of Moab, craftily and ended the Moabite domination of Israel.Judges 3:12-30
Shamgar Tribe Unknown1262-1247 B.C.PhilistinesUnknownShamgar is not a Hebrew name. He was the son of Anath. There are no references to the length of his reign, and there is no introduction or conclusion about his character, unlike the descriptions of other biblical judges. With an oxgoad, he killed 600 Philistines and saved Israel.Judges 3:31; 5:6
DeborahEphraim1237-1198 B.C.Canaanites40 yearsShe is the only female judge mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. She was the wife of Lappidoth and was a prophet, counselor, and warrior. Deborah led a successful counter-offensive (along with Barak from the tribe of Naphtali) against Sisera, the commander of the army of King Jabin of Canaan. The Almighty One vanquished Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword.Judges 4 and 5

GideonManasseh1191-1151 B.C.Midianites40 yearsGideon was the son of Joash the Abiezrite. An angel of the Lord appeared to him when he was winnowing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. The angel asked him to save Israel from the Midianite oppression. The celestial being also promised him that Gideon will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive. He sought confirmation of God’s plan by putting out a woolen fleece twice for a sign. Following God’s direction, Gideon reduced his army from 32,000 to 300 and succeeded in crushing the Midianite army.Judges 6 and 7
TolaIssachar1149-1126 B.C.No Known Enemy23 yearsHe was from one of the leading clans from the tribe of Issachar. However, he lived in the town of Shamir, in the territory of Ephraim. His judgeship followed the three-year tyrannical rule of Abimelech, which threw Israel into mayhem. The Holy Scriptures do not mention what Tola saved the country of Israel from.Judges 10:1-2
Jair
the Gileadite
Manasseh 1126-1105 B.C.No Known Enemy 22 yearsJair or Yair (“he enlightens”), the seventh judge of Israel, ruled the nation for 22 years. He had 30 sons who rode on 30 donkeys or ass colts and controlled 30 cities in Gilead. He was a person of great riches and power.Judges 10:3-5
Jephthah 
the Gileadite
Manasseh 1087-1081 B.C.Ammonites6 yearsJephthah was a mighty warrior whose mother was a prostitute. He was driven by his half-brothers because he was the son of another woman. The Gileadite elders made him their head and commander at Mizpah. He refused to give up the land from the Arnon to the Jabbok to the Ammonite king. He fought the Ammonites and defeated 20 cities, thus subduing Ammon. He made an irrational vow that led to the loss of his daughter’s life.Judges 11 and 12
IbzanJudah1081-1075 B.C.No Known Enemy7 yearsIbzan, the Bethlehemite, was a socially well-known and wealthy judge of Israel who had 30 sons and 30 daughters, which gave him huge influence as he arranged marriages for them outside his clan, creating alliances with other Israelites.Judges 12:8-10
ElonZebulun1075-1065 B.C.No Known Enemy 10 yearsThough very little is known about Elon, the length of his reign, his tribe, and his death are mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. The meaning of the name Elon is “oak tree” or “strong.” There is no record of whether he carried out any military campaigns or defended Israel from its enemies.Judges 12:11-12
Abdon the PirathoniteEphraim 1065-1058 B.C.No Known Enemy 8 yearsAbdon was the 11th judge of Israel. He was the son of Hillel and was very affluent and influential. Abdon had 40 sons and 30 grandsons and they rode on 70 ass colts or donkeys. Some scholars propound that he restored order in Israel after the catastrophic civil war between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites.Judges 12:13-15
Samson Dan1069-1049 B.C. Philistines 20 yearsSamson was from the tribe of Dan. His father was Manoah and his mother’s name was Hazlalphonith. His birth was announced by an angel and he was consecrated as a Nazirite (no razor should come upon his head). The Lord gave him remarkable strength. Samson had a fondness for the daughters of the Philistines. He lost his strength after his lover, Delilah, cut his hair. He was blinded and imprisoned at Gaza, one of the five city-states of the Philistines. He called to God to restore his strength, and he pulled down the Temple of Dagon, killing himself and around 3,000 Philistines.Judges 13:1–16:31

Geographical Location of Judges in the Bible

The below map shows the geographical location of each member of the judges in the Bible.

judges in the bible, judges of israel, 12 tribes of israel map
Map of Locations of the Judges in the Bible

Characteristics of the Judges in the Bible

Some of the characteristics of the judges in the Bible are given here: Othniel (brave), Ehud (crafty operator), Shamgar (fearless), Deborah (supportive), Gideon (valiant), and Samson (strong and weak).

Our series on Bible heroes, who trusted God in the middle of difficult times, were powerfully used by the Almighty despite their faults and failings, will inspire you to believe the Supreme Being for the impossible.

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