Introduction to Judges
Author and Date
Nowhere in Scripture is an author of this book named. The events in Judges took place in the period between Joshua’s death and the rise of Samuel and Saul. Most of the book was likely written by David’s time (1010–970 b.c.).
The theme of Judges is the downward spiral of Israel’s national and spiritual life into chaos and rebellion against God, showing the need for a godly king (17:6; 21:25).
Purpose and Pattern
The book of Judges was written to show the consequences of religious unfaithfulness and to point the way to a king who, if righteous, would lead the people to God. In the book of Joshua, the people of Israel seemed to want to follow the Lord and obey his commands. The book of Judges reveals, however, that the people had been rebelling even in Joshua’s time. This disobedience continued and grew more serious throughout the period of the judges. As summarized in Judges 2:16–23, time and again Israel turned its back on God and embraced the gods and ways of the Canaanites. Israel’s history unfolds in a repetitive way, with each cycle taking Israel further away from God. By the end of the book, Israel had violated its covenant with God in almost every way imaginable.
- Israel’s existence in the land, which had been promised by God, was threatened by its continuing rebellion. Israel had not conquered the land completely (ch. 1), because of its unfaithfulness (2:1–3, 20–22). Therefore, the day would come when the nation would be taken captive, away from the land (18:30).
- The oppressions, chaos, and generally negative picture in the book are due to Israel’s repeated sin. Time and again the Israelites broke the covenant, turning to the Canaanite gods and “doing evil” (2:3, 11–13, 17, 19; 3:6, 7, 12; 4:1; 6:1, 10; 8:24–27, 33; 10:6; 13:1; 17:6; 21:25), and they repeatedly suffered the consequences.
- Despite Israel’s repeated falling away, God in his faithfulness continually delivered them. This was not due to Israel’s merits or its repentance. Instead it was because of God’s compassion and pity (2:16, 18) and his faithfulness to his promises to Abraham (Deut. 6:10–11; compare Gen. 12:7; 15:7, 18–21; 26:2–3; 35:12).
- The judges were not able to stop the peoples’ unfaithfulness. If anything, they made it worse. Major judges such as Gideon (8:24–27), Jephthah (11:30–31, 34–40), and Samson (chs. 14–16) were guilty of significant sin. The shining exception was Deborah (chs. 4–5).
- Israel needed a godly king to lead it in doing right in the Lord’s eyes rather than a leader who “did what was right in his own eyes” (compare 17:6; 21:25). God had promised from the beginning that there would be kings (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11; 49:10), and had explained what a godly king would look like (Deut. 17:14–20). The book of Judges shows the depths to which the people of Israel descended in the absence of a godly king.
- The Roots of Israel’s Unfaithfulness (1:1–3:6)
- The Downward Spiral of Israel’s Unfaithfulness (3:7–16:31)
- The Depths of Israel’s Unfaithfulness (17:1–21:25)