Judges is the fifth book of the English Bible and the second of the inspired historical books. It finds itself after Joshua because it is a near seamless continuation of the story of the Israelites. Picking up where Joshua left off, Judges records the day-to-day lives of the Israelites in the promised land. It is not always a happy story.
Much like our Judges today, the ancient Israelite Judge would hear cases between people and decide, in a binding fashion, what should be the outcome. For example, Deborah held court under a palm tree (Judges 4:5). Judges would also speak the Lord’s word and serve like prophets to warn the people of the errors (Judges 2:17).
But Judges were also military leaders. They would arise during times of crisis and lead the people in victory against their foes. They were servants of God who led His people at His direction.
Sadly, the Book of Judges is marked by a repeating cycle of disobedience.
- The people would become disobedient, often through idolatry.
- God would punish the people by the end of a nearby kingdom. This typically resulted in oppression through high taxation or even imprisonment of the people.
- The Israelites would leave their idols and cry to Jehovah God for deliverance.
- God would raise up a judge and he would lead the people in victory against the oppressing power. Peace and prosperity would then return.
- The cycle would repeat.
The decline of Israel is summed well in Judges 2:6-10:
“When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”
This was a difficult time in the life of Israel. They remained on a spiritual rollercoaster. A short verse, repeated twice, succinctly states the problem:
We would do well to learn from the problems of Israel. What a difference consistent spiritual faithfulness will bring!
12 Judges are mentioned in the book. There could have been others but these are specifically noted. They are listed here in order.
One name not mentioned but who did in fact rule over the Israelites was Abimelech. Recounted in the ninth chapter of Judges, this is a tragic story of ruthlessness and arrogance. Abimelech’s father was the fifth judge, Gideon (Jerubbaal). Following his death Abimelech connived with his mother’s family to destroy the other children of Gideon. With support from idolatrous house of Baal-berith Abimelech killed seventy of his half brothers; one escaped alive. After this coup, Abimelech ruled Israel three years (Judges 9:22). He was defeated when a woman dropped a millstone on his head (Judges 9:53-57). Because he was not chosen by God but was instead an interloper Abimelech is not listed among the Judges.
Another name not mentioned is Samuel. After the period of time covered in Judges, there was a ministry of the priest Eli. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Eli was the corruption of his two sons Hopni and Phinehas. Samuel arises after Eli and leads the people as priest, prophet and judge until Saul is named King of Israel. Two books of the Bible are attributed to Samuel and since he is well covered therein and since his work was many decades after the time period of Judges, there is no need to mention him in the book of Judges.
“Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
When one considers the present spiritual state of humanity it is easy to think of this charge. In our day men live by their own rules. They do business by the rules of corporate concerns; they marry by the rules of the society; they play by the rules of the drunkard; they worship by the rules of men. It is rare to see someone true bowing to the Lord and living by his guidance and his ways.
Authorship, Dating and Technical Details of Judges
The book names no certain author. We may deduce that he was well acquainted with Israel and with God’s law and guidance for the nation. He is a Godly man for he constantly points to the God of Heaven as one to be obeyed and glorified.
Some have suggested Samuel as the author. This may be true and we can say nothing against the idea. However we can really say little for it. In the end it is speculation.
Dating proves a challenge too. The phrase “there was, at that time, no king in Israel” (Judges 18:1 and Judges 19:1) hints that this is a history written some years after the period described and perhaps even into the united monarchy of Saul, David and Solomon. However there is no hint at a divided kingdom. Judges 1:21 says, “But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.” This would suggest a time before David took the city and made it is capital.
One must not be dogmatic but a time frame of the early 10th century BC seems most appropriate.
Judges is quite unified in its approach to the Judges time period. The goal is consistent which is to show God’s blessing in obedience and his displeasure in disobedience. While the author almost certainly made use of sources, although always guided by the Holy Spirit, it seems that there was but one writer who penned this important volume.