“Introduction to Judges,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“Judges,” Old Testament Study Guide
The book of Judges is named for the various rulers, called “judges” (Judges 2:16–19), who are the book’s central figures. These judges were generally military leaders and fighters more than preachers of righteousness (see Bible Dictionary, “Judges, the”). The book describes the deeds of many of these leaders, some of whom helped deliver the Israelites from the effects of their sinful behavior. As you study the book of Judges, you can learn that the Lord allows His people to suffer the negative consequences of being unfaithful to Him. Students will also see that the Lord is willing to deliver His people as often as they repent of their sins.
We do not know who wrote the book of Judges. One Jewish tradition states that Samuel wrote or compiled the book. However, the book reflects the perspective of a much later time, after the northern tribes of Israel had been conquered by Assyria around 721 B.C. (see Judges 18:30). This perspective suggests that the author or authors lived long after the time of Samuel.
We do not know when the book of Judges was written, but most Bible scholars believe that Judges, along with other historical books in the Old Testament, was compiled in its current form sometime in the late 7th or early 6th century B.C. We also do not know where this book was written.
The book of Judges recounts the history of the children of Israel from the time they settled in the land of Canaan after Joshua’s death to the birth of Samuel (approximately 1400–1000 B.C.). Besides the short narrative of the book of Ruth, Judges provides the only biblical account of this time period.
The book of Judges describes a cycle that repeated itself multiple times during the reign of the judges. Because the Israelites failed to remove wicked influences from the promised land, they became entangled in sin and were conquered and afflicted by their enemies. After the Israelites cried unto the Lord for help, He sent judges to deliver them from their enemies. However, the Israelites soon returned to their sins, and this cycle was repeated. (See Judges 2:11–19.)
The book mentions the names of 12 judges who ruled with various degrees of effectiveness. The account of Deborah as a judge of Israel is unique considering the patriarchal society in which she served (see Judges 4–5). Gideon, like many who are called and chosen by the Lord, felt he was an unlikely leader (see Judges 6:15), but because the Israelites trusted in the Lord, he and 300 soldiers achieved victory over an immense Midianite army (see Judges 7–8).
Samson is another notable figure in the book of Judges (see Judges 13–16). The distinctive story of the events leading up to his birth “parallels the accounts of other important figures in the Bible (e.g., Moses, Samuel, John, Jesus), whose births are reported to emphasize divine involvement in and the significance of their life’s mission” (Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Dana M. Pike, and David Rolph Seely, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament , 179). Despite this promising beginning and the great physical strength the Lord had given him, Samson ultimately failed to help the Israelites turn to the Lord and forsake their sins, which they needed to do before the Lord would deliver them from their enemies.
In Judges 17–21 we read about the lawlessness and disorder among the tribes of Israel under the judges as they placed their trust in the wisdom of men and chose to disobey the commandments of the Lord. In the closing sentence of the book, the writer says, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Judges 1–2. Many of the tribes of Israel fail to remove all the inhabitants of Canaan from their lands. The Israelites forget the Lord, and they worship false gods. The Lord removes His protection and blessings from the Israelites. They are oppressed by their enemies and cry to the Lord for deliverance. The Lord raises up judges to deliver the Israelites.
Judges 3–16. The Lord calls 12 judges to help deliver the Israelite tribes from the consequences of their unfaithfulness to the Lord. Among them are Deborah, who delivers Israel from Canaanite oppression, and Gideon, who destroys the altar of Baal and delivers Israel from the Midianties. One of the judges, Samson, fights the Philistines but is captured as a result of his poor choices. He dies by causing a building to collapse on himself and many Philistines.
Judges 17–21. Micah and the Danites create sanctuaries dedicated to idol worship, and a Levite concubine is abused and killed. Eleven Israelite tribes unite to fight against the tribe of Benjamin and almost completely destroy them.