Story of the Old Testament - Lesson 7

By Glen Pemberton

Title: The Heroes of Israel

Text: Judges 1-16

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. To help the student grasp the basic story line of the Old Testament as it develops in Judges 1-21.
  2. To warn students of the danger of the “cycle of desertion” in their lives and urge them to commit themselves completely to the Lord.
  3. To open the student’s eyes to the possibility that God might use them for a significant role of service or leadership.


  1. A Bible for each student.
  2. A chalkboard or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #7 (“The Heroes of Israel”)


After the death of Joshua and his generation, the Israelites slip into a cycle of deserting God, facing punishment, crying to God, and then after God sends a deliverer - deserting God again. These stories warn us of the danger of this cycle in our own lives and alert us to the unusual ways of God in this world. Rather than choosing people to lead that we would expect, God chooses the “least likely to succeed” in order to deliver his people. This lesson focuses on two these people: Deborah and Samson.

Special Note to the Teacher: This lesson includes material for both the story of Deborah and Samson. Depending on the nature of your class (e.g., time and amount of discussion), you may one to focus on only one of these stories. Both stories lead to the same applications. In any event, however, be sure to cover numbers I and II in the Learning experiences.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class:

Introduction: (about 5 minutes)

  1. Welcome visitors, make any necessary announcements.
  2. Spend time taking prayer requests & leading the class in prayer. Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)

  3. Review and set the stage for today’s study.

    1. Last week, the Israelites finally entered the promised land.
    2. As we turn from the book of Joshua to the book of Judges, many years elapse. (Joshua and his generation have died, Josh 2:10)
    3. The opening chapters of Judges inform us of the new situation:
      1. The Political Situation (1:1-2:5) - 4 observations
        1. The conquest is not yet complete! Battles for the land continue to be fought (1:1-2).
        2. The tribes are no longer united in their battles
          1. The tribe (family group) of Judah persuades the tribe of Simeon to help in a battle (1:3- 18).
          2. Other battles of chapter 1 involve the efforts of individual tribes working alone (1:19ff).
        3. Despite continued victories, the tribes of Israel fail to eradicate the Canaanites (see 1:19-21, 27- 36).
        4. Finally, the tribe of Dan is pushed out of their allotted land and must migrate to the far north (1:34; 18:1ff).
      2. The Moral situation (2:6-3:6)
        1. To begin, the new generation “did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (2:6-10). Q. What do you think it means “not to know the Lord”? A. “To know the Lord” denotes an intimate relationship with God.
        2. The failure of the people to “know the Lord” leads to a recurring pattern of behavior in the book of Judges. This pattern is sketched out in 2:11-19 (Read). Q. What is the recurring pattern?
          1. Desertion. The people abandon the Lord & worship other gods (2:11-13).
          2. Punishment. God becomes angry & “hands them over” to people who cause them misery (2:14-15).
          3. Groaning. The people groan or cry out because of their troubles (2:18).
          4. A “Judge.” God sends a “judge” or deliverer to save the people (2:16,18).
          5. Relapse. The people abandon the Lord and begin the cycle all over again (2:17,19).
  4. Survey of the Book of Judges:
    1. The book of Judges contains stories about the men and women God used to save or deliver his people from their self-inflicted troubles. These men and women have traditionally been called “Judges” ? although this terminology is somewhat misleading.
      1. Only a few were “court room” judges (e.g., Deborah).
      2. Most of the judges were military leaders or warriors.
      3. Thus, a better designation for these people and their stories is “deliverers” or, even more simply, the “heroes of Israel.”
    2. Six of these stories are told in some detail (frequently called “Major Judges”): Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson.
    3. Six other Judges are briefly mentioned in the book (sometimes called “Minor Judges”): Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon
    4. Today we will focus on just two of these heroes and their stories: Deborah and Samson.
  5. Deborah’s Story (Judg 4:1-5:31)
    1. Read Judg 4:1-3 and have the class identify the pattern of behavior (cf. Judg 2:11-19)
      1. Desertion. Israel did what was evil (4:1).
      2. Punishment. The Lord sold them to King Jabin of Hazor who oppresses Israel for 20 years (4:2-3).
      3. Groaning. Israel cried out to the Lord (4:3).
    2. Read or summarize Judg 4:4-22
      1. The Lord tells Barak to lead Naphtali & Zebulun in battle against Jabin (4:4-10)
      2. Barak and Deborah lead the army to a victory over Jabin and Sisera (4:11-16)
      3. Jael kills Sisera in her tent (4:17-22)
      4. Summary (4:23-24)
    3. Q. How does Deborah fit into this story? A. The Lord speaks to Barak through her and when Barak hesitates, Deborah leads him into battle.
    4. Q. Who or what was Deborah? How does the text describe her?
      1. Prophetess (4:4; in 4:6,14 she speaks for the Lord.)
      2. Court Judge (4:4)
      3. “Mother in Israel” (5:7; this title recognizes the authority and leadership of Deborah)
    5. This particular story places great emphasis on the actions of women:
      1. Deborah. Q. What does Deborah do in this story?
        1. The Lord summons Barak through Deborah (4:4- 7)
        2. She goes into battle (4:11)
        3. She commands the military leader of Israel (4:14)
      2. Jael. Q. Who is Jael? A. A woman who finds herself caught in the conflict. Q. What does she do in the story?
        1. She goes out to meet Sisera and invites him into her tent (4:18).
        2. She “mothers” him by giving him milk & cover (4:19)
        3. She pretends to post guard for Sisera and then “nails” him with a tent peg (4:20)
      3. Q. What do you think about these women?
    6. This story also emphasizes the ineptness of the men.
      1. Barak. Q. Who is Barak? A. The commander of the Israelite forces. Q. What does he do?
        1. Refuses to go into battle without Deborah (4:8- 10) Q. Why? A. He seems to be frightened.
        2. He goes to battle, but Deborah is the one who really commands the army (4:14).
      2. Sisera. Q. Who is Sisera? A. Commander of the opposing forces. Q. What does he do?
        1. Foolishly trusts Jael
        2. Dies at the hands of a woman (a terrible shame in ancient Israel).
    7. Q. What do we learn from the story of Deborah?
      1. The people continue to repeat the vicious cycle of leaving the Lord.
      2. The Lord continues to love and be faithful to his people by raising up people to lead them to victory.
      3. The Lord does not limit his choice of prophets or leaders to a single gender (i.e., only males).
  6. The story of Samson (Judges 13-16)
    1. Read 13:1 and notice the pattern of behavior:
      1. Desertion: Israel did what was evil
      2. Punishment: The Lord gave them to the Philistines ? 40 years!
    2. Samson’s story revolves around 4 women!
      1. Samson’s Mother (13:2-23). Read 13:2-5. What does the “angel of the Lord” tell Manoah’s wife? (13:2-5)
        1. She will have a son
        2. He is to be a Nazarite:
          1. Must not: shave head, drink wine, eat anything unclean
          2. Q. What is the significance of being a Nazarite? A. According to Numbers 6:2, a Nazarite is a person who is especially devoted to the Lord and his service. Here, the Lord’s service is to “begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines” (6:5).
      2. Samson and the woman of Timnah (14:1-15:20).
        1. Note to the Teacher: Summarize the story & make the following points.
          1. Samson wants to marry a Philistine woman. Of course, this presents a slight problem. Samson is supposed to deliver his people from the Philistines, not marry the Philistines!
          2. Nonetheless, the Lord uses this desire to strike out against the Philistines.
            1. First, Samson becomes enraged at his marriage ceremony and strikes out against the Philistine city of Ashkelon (14:19-20)
            2. Next, Samson’s wife is given to the best man (15:1-3) which further angers him and leads to more action against the Philistines. Samson ties 150 pairs of foxes together & sets torches between their tails. They, naturally, go crazy & set fire to the Philistine fields (15:3-5)
            3. When the Philistines kill Samson’s new wife & her family as retaliation for his actions, he slaughters more Philistines (15:6-7).
            4. Finally, when Samson is turned over to the Philistines by some of his own people, he kills 1,000 Philistines with the Jaw bone of a donkey (15:14-20)
      3. Samson and the prostitute (16:1-3)
      4. Samson and Delilah (16:4-31)
        1. Samson falls in love with Delilah (16:4)
        2. The Philistines concoct a plan to capture Samson. Read 16:5. Delilah makes four attempts to discover Samson’s secret.
          1. Attempt #1: Samson tells her to tie him with seven fresh bowstrings (16:6-9)
          2. Attempt #2: Samson tells her to tie him with new ropes (16:10-12)
          3. Attempt #3: Samson tells her to weave the seven locks of his hair into the weaving loom (16:13-14)
            1. Q. What happens every time he tells Delilah what to do? A. She does it!
            2. Read 16:15-16. Q. What does Delilah say? Do?
            3. Q. So, naturally, what does Samson do? A. Read 16:17. Q. How stupid can he be? Is he just “blinded” by love?
          4. Attempt #4: Samson tells her the truth and she shaves his head. He loses his strength and the Philistines capture him (16:17-21).
            1. Q. Why did Samson lose his strength?
              1. He shaved his head and violated the Nazarite vow.
            2. More: Read 16:19 ? the Lord left him!
        3. In time, Samson will take his revenge & die in the process of killing even more Philistines (16:22-31)


(about 5 minutes; discuss one or more of the following topics)

  1. What kind of people does God call to his service? Does God only call those we would expect or does his call include the unusual and unlikely? Why do you think this is the case? (In Judges, God calls the most unlikely people to demonstrate that the power for deliverance resides in him, not humans.) Do you think God might “call” you to some special service? What? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think the Israelites kept repeating the same pattern of behavior? Do you ever find yourself in a similar pattern? Why? What can we do to stop the cycle of desertion in our own lives?
  3. How does the story of the Judges fit within the story of the Old Testament? What does God’s commitment to his people, especially in view of their continual failures, teac h you about God? How does that make you feel about God in your own life? Explain.

Assignment: Read I Samuel 1-4 and 8-15.


Prayer that:

  1. Thanks God for his commitment to his people in the past and in the present.
  2. Asks God to help us break the cycles of desertion in our own lives and give our lives completely to him.
  3. Asks God to help us be open to the special roles of leadership and service he may plan for our lives.

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