Judges, When Israel Had No King

This period has many more years recorded about it than were lived. The key lives in Solomon’s temple construction were he says when that project was started. The result shows which year intervals are subsumed by the trunk chronology through the period.


The length of time for this period of history is given in a quick reference which establishes the time from the Exodus all the way to Solomon’s reign.

1And it came to pass in the 480th year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Mizraim, in the 4th year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the 2nd month, that he began to build the house of Yahvah. First Kings 6:1

Since we know that the first year of the Exodus was 9501, the 480th year from the Exodus must be 9501 + 479 = 9980. This was the 4th year of Solomon’s reign, so his first year of reign must have been 9980 - 3 = 9977.

This date, 430 years (9977 - 9547 = 430) years past Caleb is what we are now turning our attention to. This period is interesting for several reasons, one, that aside from the math we’ve just given, there is no way to establish this chronology without help from the New Testament. Also, we will hit a passage where the dates are not synchronous with the years moving by on the main biblical calendar.

Can we hit this target, so many years away? Yes, we can, even to the exact month. Here’s how.

The raw data that we must make sense of comes in two forms. First, we have a long period where the history of the Israelites is structured around periods of peace followed by oppression. Once through this part of history Israel is lead by a series of Judges, ending with Samson. After that we cannot just characterize the text, we must follow reference-by-reference until we get to the other end of this period.

Peace and Oppression

The cycle of Peace and Oppression takes place four times in this part of the chronology. The following shows the references.

Oppression from Aram Naharaim 8 yearsJudges 3:8
Rest 40 yearsJudges 3:11
Oppression from Moab 18 yearsJudges 3:14
Peace 80 yearsJudges 3:30
Oppression from Canaan 20 yearsJudges 4:3
Peace 40 yearsJudges 5:31
Oppression from Midianites 7 yearsJudges 6:1
Peace 40 yearsJudges 8:28

This passage of scripture is interesting since a quick first read would suggest that these periods should be chained end-to-end just like we’ve done in so many other places. The problem is that if we also account for the other periods given across this part of the age we will have way to many years, there not being room enough for all of them. We have a total of 53 years of oppression and 200 years of peace or rest in this passage.

It turns out that we can account for a remaining 230 years if we overlap in some way these periods of peace and oppression, leaving the peace time spans as our long distance chronological keys. The full derivation of the remaining years is coming, but what do we do here?

The best answer appears to be that the text means to tell us that there were a series of wars motivated because the Israelites were being oppressed by their neighbors. The specific battles that caused this oppression punctuate a 200 year period of peace.

To confirm we are thinking about this right, we should notice that all of the peace references come after a time in the text where a war is described. This pattern is used again at the time of the Judean kings where the chronological period of the king’s reign is given at the end of the account of the king. The same pattern is being used here. The peace references being the number of years back to the previous war. The oppression passages telling us why there was a war, the number of years of trouble that lead to the war, and how Israel got out of trouble.

So, the proper way to indicate the history across this period is to overlap the period of oppression at the end of the period of peace and then place the war which ends the oppression at the end of the period.

So, the first period, 40 years, ends when Aram is thrown off the backs of the Israelites. The first year of this period is the first year of peace after the war of independence, which we saw already ended in 9547. So, the first year of the 40 is 9548. 39 years later, the last year of this peace period is 9587. This is also the year that the oppression ends because of a war, so that 8 year period began 7 years before, or 9587 - 7 = 9580.

Similarly the next three accounts work the same way. The following table summarizes all four wars and their chronologies.

Event Start End
Oppression from Aram Naharaim 8 yearsJudges 3:8 9580 9587
Rest 40 yearsJudges 3:11 9548 9587
Oppression from Moab 18 yearsJudges 3:14 9650 9667
Peace 80 yearsJudges 3:30 9588 9667
Oppression from Canaan 20 yearsJudges 4:3 9688 9707
Peace 40 yearsJudges 5:31 9668 9707
Oppression from Midianites 7 yearsJudges 6:1 9741 9747
Peace 40 yearsJudges 8:28 9708 9747

Notice how the last year of oppression matches the last year of peace for each pair in the table above. This is what the author of Judges intended for us to see.


Eli was the last of a succession of Judges before the flow of events would lead to a king over Israel. This period is relatively easy to track through the chronology.

Each successive judge, with their time in office is recorded for us. The following table simply give the name of the judge, time span, and the start and stop years for their time.

Judge Start Stop
Abimelech 3 yearsJudges 9:22 9748 9750
Tola 23 yearsJudges 10:2 9751 9773
Jair 22 yearsJudges 10:3 9774 9795
Jephthah 6 yearsJudges 12:7 9796 9801
Ibzan 7 yearsJudges 12:9 9802 9808
Elon 10 yearsJudges 12:11 9809 9818
Abdon 8 yearsJudges 12:14 9819 9826
Samson 20 yearsJudges 15:20Judges 16:31 9827 9846
Eli 40 yearsFirst Samuel 4:18 9847 9886

From here we can see we are approaching the end of our Judges period. At this point Israel will have no judge" verse=" and the chronology will be established through specific references to time. We turn our attention now to the movement of the Ark.


At this point in the chronology things start to get strange. The next reference to time indicates that the Ark spends seven months with the Philistines.First Samuel 6:1

What are we supposed to do with a time reference which is not a full year? There have been none of those so far. The closest we’ve seen is Ishmael’s life being out of synchronization with the main calendar.

So what are we to do?

The answer is this. If God wants to tell us that the Ark spent seven months with the Philistines, then we must track it that way too. What this does is push all other future references out by 7 months.

To cope with this added complexity, we will start to use a notation for indicating months as well as years. Putting years first, all month references will follow their indicated year. This 7 month adventure begins, presumably, in the first month of the next year on our chronology, or 9887/1 and runs through the seventh month or 9887/7.

What ever comes next must start in the eighth month of that same year or 9887/8.

Before we go much further, understand that there were times when the nation of Israel was to assemble each year. The Passover, in the first month, and in the seventh month.

Why would seven months be the indicated month length here? Because the Ark is presumably back when the country gets together and compares notes and news on what has been happening across the land.

The Judean Kings appear to also have reigns which begin at these times of national assembly, which is why they too are nearly always full year intervals.

The next time indication is that the Ark spends 20 years at Kiriath Jearim.First Samuel 7:2 This must mean that the first month there was 9887/8 and it stayed there through 9907/7.

If this wasn’t what was intended, the half-year or so correction would have been given to us, just like the seven months when the Ark was with the Philistines.

Notice what happens to the year numbers when we start using month indications. If the first full year had been 9887, the last full year would be 19 years later, or 9906. When fractional years are used, with the month indication, the year numbers turn out to be the same number of years away as the total years. So, 9887/8 plus 20 years is 9907/7, for a full 20 years.

Also notice that we are out to show the chronology through to Solomon’s reign. Recall that the passage which we are shooting for indicated that the temple was started in 9980/2. Since the end of this interval is month-accurate, we should not be surprised to start seeing month-accurate times starting somewhere.

Phil Stone, Updated 2016-11-04