The era of the Judges of the children of Israel spans the period from the
Exodus to the crowning of Saul.
The central verse which defines this period of time is;
1King 6:1 And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth
year after the children of Israel had come out of the
land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign
over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second
month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.
[ NB: The period of 480 years in Hebrew is presented as,
"in the eightieth year and four hundred year".
Implying the 80th year of the kings, after 400 years of the judges.]
This 480 years can be further subdivided as follows,
Exodus to Promised Land 40 yrs Exod 16:35
Promised Land to Saul 360 yrs
Reign of King Saul 40 yrs Acts 13:21
Reign of King David 40 yrs 1King 2:11
[ NB: The reigns of David and his son Solomon overlapped. Solomon was
crowned early because of the threat of David's son Adonijah,
1Kings 1:5-48. The 4th year of Solomon's reign mentioned in
1Kings 6:1 marked the completion of the 40 years of King David. ]
The period of the Judges therefore spanned 400 years (40 + 360 yrs).
This period started with the leadership of Moses and finished with Samuel
officiating over the crowning of Saul.
[ NB: The 450 years of Acts 13:20 is often discussed in relation to
the Judges period, the KJV & NKJV versions deeming this period
to pertain to the time between the allotment of Canaanite land
and the start of the leadership of Samuel. Other versions, such
as the NIV & NASB, correct this obvious chronological inaccuracy
and accurately link the 450 years to the preceding text which
discusses the period between the choosing of the fathers (ie,
Abraham, Isaac & Jacob) and the allotment of Canaanite land. ]
Scripture provides the following chronological information.
** Judge / Enemy ** ** Years ** ** Reference **
Moses 40 Deut 34:7, Exod 7:7
Joshua ? Josh 23:1
Elders ? Judg 2:7
Cushan-Mesopotamia 8 Judg 3:8
Othniel 40 Judg 3:11
Eglon - Moab 18 Judg 3:14
Ehud 80 Judg 3:30
Philistines ? Judg 3:31
Shamgar ? Judg 3:31
Jabin - Canaan 20 Judg 4:3
Deborah (and Barak) 40 Judg 5:31
Midianites 7 Judg 6:1
Gideon 40 Judg 8:28
- (spiritual harlotry) ? Judg 8:33
Abimelech 3 Judg 9:22
- (before Tola saved Israel) ? Judg 10:1
Tola 23 Judg 10:2
- (before Jair arose) ? Judg 10:3
Jair 22 Judg 10:3
Philistines/Ammon 18 Judg 10:8
Jephthah 6 Judg 12:7
Ibzan 7 Judg 12:9
Elon 10 Judg 12:11
Abdon 8 Judg 12:14
Philistines 40 Judg 13:1
Samson 20 Judg 15:20, 16:31
Eli 40 1 Sam 4:18
Samuel / Israel laments 20 1 Sam 7:2
510+ years (399+ yrs & 111+ yrs)
The total number years, even without the inclusion of the missing years,
significantly exceeds the expected value of 400 years.
Fortunately the Judges period can be better understood by considering
the period of 300 years mentioned in the following verse;
Judg 11:26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages,
in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities
along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred
years, why did you not recover them within that
These words were spoken by Jephthah to the king of Ammon, soon after
Jephthah was appointed commander of his people.
[ NB: The cities of Heshbon and Aroer were taken by the children of
Israel after they crossed over the river Arnon (Deut 2:24-36).
This happened 38 years after the spies were initially sent to
spy out the Promised Land (Deut 2:14). ]
This 300 year division of the Judges period provides us with the
** Judge / Enemy ** ** Total ** ** Should Be **
Moses 40 40
Joshua to Jephthah 320+ 300
Jephthah to Saul 150 60
510+ yrs 400 yrs
Therefore, Judges 11:26 enables us to subdivide the 360 years of the
Joshua to Saul period into 2 periods.
1ST - JOSHUA TO JEPHTHAH
** Judge / Enemy ** ** Years **
Eglon - Moab 18
Jabin - Canaan 20
Deborah (and Barak) 40
- (spiritual harlotry) ?
- (before Tola saved Israel) ?
- (before Jair arose) ?
1st year of Jephthah 1
320+ (should be 300 yrs)
Apart from the duration of the leadership of Joshua, this period in the
biblical chronology is marked by many missing shorter periods of time.
This suggests the actual chronology of this period is to be determined
not by adding up the years, but by matching to a common recurring theme.
A critical question to be answered for this period is the duration of
the leadership of Joshua.
To answer this question one must take note of the age of Joshua when
he died 110 years (Josh 24:29 & Judg 2:8) and that at the time of the
Exodus he was described as a young man (Exod 33:11). Although a young
man, ie no older than 30 years of age, he was at the time mature enough
to lead the children of Israel into battle (Exod 17:9,13).
These facts advise us that Joshua, after serving under Moses for 40
years, must have led the children of Israel for at least another 40
This means that now we are trying to reduce a total of 320+40+? years
to a total of 300 years.
To reduce the total several views have in the past been proposed.
- Reduce the 80 years of leadership indicated for Ehud.
(There is a lack of a valid reason to do so.)
- Include the counts for the oppression brought by Israel's
enemies within the periods of leadership of the Judges.
(The text does not imply this is to be done and Judg 2:18-19
strongly indicates the periods of oppression followed the
death of each judge.)
- Overlap the leaderships of the judges.
(Although some judges appear to have been raised up from
certain regions, eg Jephthah from Gilead, there is no
indication of any overlapping leaderships. Even the briefly
discussed judges Tola and Jair are implied to have saved
To reduce the total it is proposed that the following verses have been
incorrectly rendered and understood.
Othniel Judg 3:11 So the land had rest for forty years. ...
Ehud :30 ... And the land had rest for eighty years.
Deborah 5:31 ... So the land had rest for forty years.
Gideon 8:28 ... And the country was quiet for forty
years in the days of Gideon.
That these verses are referring to a 'fortieth year', or in the case
of Ehud an 'eightieth year', rather than to the length of the leadership
of these judges. So that these verses refer to an occasion observed
every forty years! An occasion, which to be properly observed, would
require peace in the land of Israel.
Since Joshua was a judge for at least 40 years, we would expect to see
this occasion being celebrated at least once during his leadership. In
reality we twice see Joshua connected to its observance.
Prior to the death of Joshua the people were gathered at Shechem,
Josh 24:1. There they made a covenant to obey God and setup a large
stone as a witness under the oak. (It should be noted that the normal
resting place of the ark of God at that time was not Shechem, but
Shiloh, refer Josh 18:1.)
This observance was a repeat of events which had occurred shortly after
the children of Israel first entered the Promised Land, Josh 8:30-35.
Josh 24:1,25 mention the city of Shechem because this was the city
adjacent to Mounts Ebal and Gerizim.
The initial instructions for the observance are found in Deut 11:29-30
and Deut 27:1-26. These instructions do not state that the ceremony was
to be repeated every forty years, this can only be inferred from the
examples provided in Scripture.
It is noteworthy that this observance required the attendance of the
entire congregation; including women, children and strangers (Josh 8:35).
This is why it was so important for Israel not to be at war every fortieth
Apart from the example of Joshua and the repetitious reference to forty in
the account of several of the judges, we also find Shechem and Mt Gerizim
mentioned in reference to the judge Abimelech, Judg 9:1,7. Even further
along in time we find that after the destruction of Shechem (Judg 9:45)
there is a gathering at Gilgal to "renew the kingdom", 1Sam 11:14. This
being the 400th year after the Exodus at the crowning of Israel's first
human king, Saul, previously God had been Israel's king. Therefore this
occasion was the 10th re-confirmation of the covenant with God.
[ NB: Gilgal is a city commonly located adjacent to the Jordan and the
city of Jericho. However, it seems from 2Kings 2:1-5 that there
was also a city by the same name located North of the city of
Bethel. This second Gilgal appears to have been the city located
near Mts Ebal and Gerizim (Deut 11:29-30). The city could have
been the Gilgal which was one of the three cities which Samuel
regularly visited, 1Sam 7:15-16. ]
In summary the 'Joshua to Philistines/Ammon' period has a number of
short time periods missing. On the surface it presents too many years
to enable easy matching to the 480 years of 1Kings 6:1 or the 300 years
of Judg 11:26. It even has one judge, Ehud, leading Israel for an
unbelievable 80 years, much longer than any other leader in the history
If it was not for the awareness of a 40 year cycle of covenant renewal
it would be impossible to arrange this period. This cycle enables the
period after Moses, the first 300 years, to be arranged.
0 - Joshua enters Promised Land
40 - Joshua at Shechem
| Elders ? yrs
| Cushan-Mesopotamia 8 yrs
80 - Othniel
| Eglon - Moab 18 yrs
120 - Ehud (80th yr observance after Joshua)
| Philistines ? yrs
| Shamgar ? yrs
| Jabin - Canaan 20 yrs
160 - Deborah (and Barak)
| Midianites 7 yrs
200 - Gideon
| - (spiritual harlotry) ? yrs
240 - Abimelech
| - (before Tola) ? yrs
| Tola 23 yrs
| - (before Jair) ? yrs
280 - Jair
| Philistines/Ammon 18 yrs
300 - start of Jephthah's judgement
[ NB: This chart shows who was judge when it was time to
re-confirm the covenant. It does not necessarily
mean that person became the judge in the year
2ND - JEPHTHAH TO SAUL
** Judge / Enemy ** ** Years **
Jephthah (6 yrs - 1 yr) 5
Samson 20 (Jug 15:20, days of the Philistines)
Samuel / Israel laments 20
150 (should be 60 yrs)
For this period it is obvious a high degree of overlap exists.
The judges Jephthah to Samson obviously overlapped with the 40 years
of Philistine oppression and the years of priestly service of Eli and
The 40 years during which the Israelites were delivered into the hands
of the Philistines (Judg 13:1) ended when God delivered them through
Samuel, "they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel",
1Sam 7:13. (Thereafter, God continued to keep the Philistines subdued
all the days of Samuel.)