Violence in Judges

Jeff Munroe

READ : Judges 9:1-6, 22-25, 42-57

A certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head. (v. 53)

Sin can be generational, and Abimelech is the rotten fruit of his father Gideon. As one commentator puts it, “Abimelech is Gideon’s sad legacy.”

The tale of Abimelech, which so abruptly and ingloriously ends with a well-aimed millstone dropped from a tower, gives us a chance to consider the enormous amount of violence in Judges. From Eglon’s sword to Jael’s tent peg to this millstone, the level of violence in Judges should give Christians pause. (And we haven’t even considered Samson yet!) It can be hard to warm to Judges as Christian Scripture.

Three things can be said. First, every era, including ours, is violent. Second, Judges gives us purposeful violence. The writer is using these stories to tell us how God is working his purposes out. The point of the stories is never the violence; the point is always the theology. Third, the overarching message of the book is “do not capitulate to the surrounding culture.” That message is always true. Although we’re tempted to make Judges softer and kinder, the book is intended to be startling. As the Old Testament scholar Barry Webb writes, “It is not the task of the Christian scholar to tame the Bible, but to play his or her part in helping the church listen to it” (The Book of Judges, p. 67.) The violence of Judges is not a guide for Christian living. But the message of obedience is.


May we obey you, O Lord.