The book of Judges is the second of the history books in the Old Testament. The name of the book comes from 2:18, “…the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them.” The word judge is from the Hebrew jps {shaphat}, which refers to “…a magistrate or ruler, rather than one who judges in the sense of trying a case.”1 The judges served Israel to deliver them from their enemies.

The period of the judges spanned approximately 350 years (from the death of Joshua to the beginning of Saul’s reign as king). The book identifies 14 individual who served as judges (and one man, Abimelech, who declared himself king for a short time). Some of the judges were regional rather than national, and it is possible some were concurrent. There was not always a judge “ruling” in Israel throughout the period of the judges. When a judge was needed, God rose up someone to deliver His people.

Judges 1 & 2 reveal the overwhelming failure of the tribes to drive out the inhabitants of the land. With the pagans still in the land, the Israelites were influenced to serve the Baals, and they forsook the LORD (2:11-13). Thus, God gave them into the hands of their enemies (2:14-15).

For over half of the 14 judges listed in the book, we know little more than their names (Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon). The writer gives various details in narrative form for the other six judges. We’ll mention each briefly.

  • Deborah is the only woman on the list, she is identified as a prophetess. She and Barak (military captain), along with the help of Jael (wife of Heber the Kenite) defeated the army of Jabin king of Canaan. There is a great line in the song of Deborah and Barak, “When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the LORD!” (5:2)
  • Gideon was a skeptical man at first, but he rose to his calling as a judge of Israel. The LORD used Gideon and 300 men to defeat their Midianite enemies. The men of Israel asked for Gideon to rule over them (as king), but he refused, saying, “I shall not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you” (8:23.
  • Jephthah, being the son of a harlot, was an outcast among his brethren. However, when Ammon warred against Israel, his brothers asked him to be their commander in the battle. He is known for the rash oath he made before God. If God would deliver the enemy into his hands, Jephthah vowed to give whatever came out of his house to meet him as a burnt offering (11:30-31). When he returned victorious over the Ammonites, his daughter came out to meet him! Since human sacrifice was an abomination to the LORD, it is likely he devoted her to the LORD.
  • Samson was blessed with exceptional strength by the LORD. He was a Nazirite from birth. He struck several blows against the Philistines during his time, the greatest of them at his death. A blatant weakness Samson had was women.
  • Eli and Samuel also served as judges in Israel. They are in the book of 1 Samuel, not Judges. Both men struggled as fathers to lead their children in the right way. Samuel would be the prophet used by God to anoint the first (Saul) and second (David) kings of Israel.

Judges 17-21 reveal some of the wickedness which was going on in Israel during the days of the judges. The problems are summarized in 17:6, “…everyone did what was right in how own eyes.”

Next week we continue with Ruth…

1 “Judge,” Easton’s Bible Dictionary (via Power BibleCD 4.0a)

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