Judges covers the time before kings, when Israel had “judges” who rose up to act as leaders in times of crisis. The most famous judge is probably Samson. Another famous judge is Deborah, who serves as a reminder that women are also called to God’s service. In addition to these two are many lesser known judges, who in some cases, don’t fit the stereotype of who would expect to be chosen. An overall theme of this book is that God calls who He calls, regardless of how society might categorize the person.
- Dating the Book and Authorship
- Themes & Ideas
- Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
- Important People
- Lessons Learned: The Rollercoaster of Idolatry
- Other Posts on Judges
Judges is the second of the historical books and the seventh book of the Old Testament. The events of the book pick up where Joshua left off and continue through a series of lows experienced by Israel, covering approximately 300 years. The name of the book is derived from the English translation of the Hebrew name given to the people called upon by God to deliver Israel: shophetim. Shophetim, which is usually translated as judges, could also mean governor. The Hebrew name for the book is also Shoftim (Judges).
Dating the Book and Authorship
Judges was written anonymously, but unlike the Books of Law, there isn't any confirmation as to who the author is anywhere in the Bible. Pinpointing the author would be easier if scholars could pinpoint when the book was written. The events in the book span from approximately 15 century BC to 11 century BC. The final date of editing for Judges has been estimated to 722 BC, 586 BC, and 686-642 BC. Since references are made to the fact that they were in the days when Israel didn't have a king, the book must have been written after the first king of Israel (otherwise, there would be no need to make a distinction). However, the text had to be before King David, since Jerusalem and Gezer still aren't Israelite territories in the text. The Jewish Talmud credits Samuel for writing the book since he was alive and writing during that time period.
Themes & Ideas
Judges is full of unlikely heroes—unlikely in the context of the time period. Left-handed people and who were considered weak or deformed were raised into champions. Women, who were considered a subservient gender were raised into leaders. Judges is the book for underdogs!
Like Joshua, this book is about battles and conquests. However, this time the battles are a consequence of Israel's idolatry. Judges continues the Israelites’ nature of ping-ponging between obedience and idolatry. Each time they fall, they are oppressed by the surrounding nations, and then God sends a deliverer (or judge) to lead them out of oppression. Note that some of the judges must have been raised up during the same time period.
God made sure we would know the trials and tribulations Israel went through for a reason. This book shows the wrath God displays at the failure to obey His commands, but it also shows the mercy He displays in sending a leader to lead them back to Him. Judges can serve as both a warning and a beacon of hope.
Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
When I hear Judges, I automatically think Deborah and Samson; the other judges elude my memory. When I reread this book, I wanted to pay closer attention to their stories. They may not have done something large and memorable, but God thought they were important enough to move someone to record their story in the Bible, so they must be important enough to remember.
Lessons Learned: The Rollercoaster of Idolatry
The book of Judges was more violent than I remembered from previous readings, and definitely more violent than Genesis through Joshua. The last time I'd read Judges was when I was young, so it's possible that I didn't notice because it went over my head, or I simply wasn't paying attention to detail. However, multiple instances of graphic violence occur in Judges. I don't think it's a coincidence that this violence comes into Israelite society during the time when they strayed from God's commandments and partook in idolatry.
There's a saying in which a student is trying to prove God didn't create evil: the student says that just like cold is the absence of heat and dark is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God. In Judges, we witness the Israelites go back and forth in their worship of God versus idols. Thus, it is no surprise that as we witness the absence of God, we also witness the rise of things God has said are evil, such as violence.
An interesting caveat to this book, that applies directly to us today, is how the Israelites handled the cultural clash between them and the Canaanites. God commanded them to get rid of the Canaanites. At the end of the conquest, the land was supposed to be 100% free of Canaanites because God knew that the idolatry of the Canaanites would infect the Israelites. However, the Israelites decided to let them stay. Some of this was likely about greed—it is explicitly stated in Joshua that in cities the Israelites defeated but didn't empty, they required the Canaanites to pay tribute. Yet, over time they began to intermarry pagans (also against God's commandments) and take up their customs. The Israelites essentially assimilated into the Canaanite way of life, but the Canaanites still didn't accept the Israelites. All this did was push the Israelites away from God and allow the Canaanites to rise against them in cycles of oppression.
Today, people often assimilate in to "normal" culture. Whether we're talking about Native Americans or African slaves being forced to assimilate to white culture during the early days of America, or Christians today being tempted to join the culture of the world today in sexual immorality, decadence, greed, etc., this is the same struggle the Israelites felt so long ago. Judges shows that it wasn't simply a matter of them waking up one morning and deciding to stop and let God back in, but after letting evil in the door, violent actions had to be taken to expel it. Perhaps they did fight fire with fire.
Another aspect of Judges that is very prominent is the rapid decline of the society. In the beginning of Judges, we see noble men and women of God called to deliver Israel from their idolatry and oppression. As we dive deeper into the book, the quality of the judges decline to the point that the people discussed don't seem to be led by God at all. This is another parallel we can see in today's society. While the initial leaders of the US (and most other countries) had faults—afterall the US presidents thought it was acceptable to consider blacks 3/5 of a person—they at least gave the appearance of diplomacy and leadership. Today we have two presidential candidates who at one point or another during their campaign were on trial!
As Israel's judges became weaker and less God-fearing, the battles between the Israelites and the Canaanites intensified, causing more deaths. Similarly, in the US we are seeing a rise in violence, or at least a rise in media coverage of violence. Whether the former or the latter, many people are apathetic toward this violence, which says a lot about the moral decay of society. Is this history repeating itself?
It is only after the low point of the Judges era that God allows a monarchy to occur in Israel (we'll see this in 1 & 2 Samuel). As world leaders continue to deteriorate into madness and times worsen in our society today, God is preparing to set up the Earthly kingdom. This time, the throne will go to Jesus and the cycle will be broken.
Other Posts on Judges
- Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 407-410. 2014
- MacDonald, William. Believer's Bible Commentary. pg. 261-265. 1988
- “The Tankah”. Jewish Virtual Library. visited November 2022
- Herszenhorn, David M. "House Benghazi Report Finds No New Evidence of Wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton". NY Times. June 2016
- Eder, Steve. "Federal Judge Allows Suit Against Trump University to Proceed". NY Times. August 2016