November 6, 2019
The judges of Israel were God’s chosen representatives to arbitrate legal matters among His people. They were also given the responsibility to administer social affairs and to lead in military campaigns against Israel’s enemies. God Himself was the supreme Judge of the judges over Israel.
Authorship and Date
It’s likely the book of Judges was written during the reign of Saul, Israel’s first king. There are several references in the book of Judges which state “in those days there was no king in Israel” (Jud. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). This seems to imply that at the time of the writing there was a king in Israel.
Though he is never named within the book, Samuel the prophet is regarded as the author of the book of Judges. If Samuel is accepted as the author, this would place the writing sometime around 1040 B.C.
Chronology of Judges
The book of Judges records the period of time between the end of the leadership of Joshua (Judg. 1:1; 2:6-9) and the appointment of Saul as Israel’s first king (ca. 1350 to 1050 B.C.). Some judges served consecutively and others ruled concurrently.
The people of Israel rejected God as their king and the judges He’d appointed over them and they requested a human king (1 Sam. 8:7; 12:12). The period of the Judges ends when Samuel anoints Saul as the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 10:1).
The Function of the Judges
The term Judge (שָׁפַט shaphat – judge or deliverer) refers to God’s judicial and military leader who protected Israel from enemies. “It was a general term for leadership combining the executive (including military) and judicial aspects of governing. Thus the judges of Israel were primarily military and civil leaders, with strictly judicial functions included as appropriate (cf. 4:5).” The judges themselves were sinful men, who had their own failings, yet their faith in God makes them usable to the Lord to accomplish His will.
The Theme of Judges
Judges demonstrates Israel’s repeated failure to follow God as king. The nation repeatedly allowed itself to be influenced by the surrounding culture and turned away from God and worshipped idols (see pattern in Judges 2:1-23). The pattern throughout the book is:
- Israel turns away from the Lord and worships idols (sin)
- God sends discipline that results in their slavery (slavery)
- Israel cries out to the Lord from their oppression (supplication)
- God raises up a judge to rescue them (salvation)
The above pattern is repeated six times throughout the book of Judges. Israel’s spiritual condition—either in obedience or disobedience—determined their political and physical success or failure (Deut. 28). Not only did Israel fail to obey God and drive out the Canaanites, but they even befriended them, intermarrying, adopting their culture, and eventually worshipping their gods. When Israel was faithful to the Lord, God strengthened them to defeat their enemies, but when Israel was disobedient, God strengthened their enemies. The faith of one generation did not guarantee the faith of the next, so a legacy could not be guaranteed. The period was marked by general rebellion, in which “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17:6; 21:25). Israel’s failure to take the land of Canaan resulted in long term problems for many years.
The events of the judges are preceded by an introductory section (1:1–3:6) which reveals Israel’s disobedience to God and subsequent military failure to take the land of Canaan. In Judges 2:6-10 the writer briefly recounts the death of Joshua which had already been reported in the book of Joshua (Josh. 24:29-30; Judg. 1:1). Judges 3:7-16:31 is the repeated cycle of disobedience toward God. And Judges 17:1-21:25 reveals the continuation of Israel’s disobedience.
- Israel’s disobedience subsequent to the death of Joshua (1:1-3:6)
- Israel’s repeated cycle of disobedience (3:7-16:31)
- Israel’s disobedience – religious and moral apostasy (17:1-21:25)
 F. Duane Lindsey, “Judges,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 374.