Introduction to Judges
and Study of Judges 1-2

March 12th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Judges (Overview)

The book of Judges describes the history of the Israelites during the first several hundred years in the Promised Land, a period that is estimated to have begun sometime in the 13th century B.C., as shown in the timeline below (1):

This book is the second one of twelve Books of History from the Old Testament. The focal point of the book is the twelve judges who served as national leaders during this period of time. The title of judge does not mean that their primary focus was on adjudicating legal matters between citizens or between the state and the citizens. Instead, in this case, it represents a general leadership role held by a man or woman in the generations following Moses and Joshua and prior to the first king, Saul. However, unlike these other leaders, each judge ruled over one or a number of tribes, not the whole collection of tribes. In fact, there may have been peace among some tribes under the leadership of a divinely selected judge while at the same time there was strife among other tribes. As a further contrast to the stories of the kings of Israel, there was no lineage or continuity from one judge to another as shall see in the days ahead. .

About half of the judges fulfilled their role fairly well. Some of these good judges are commended in Paul's Hall of Fame of the Faithful in Hebrews 11 and also commemorated in popular contemporary songs, stories, and traditions that have persisted through time. However, half of the judges did not fulfill their roles well, and some are only briefly mentioned. The New American Bible notes the following:

As a result of this pattern we shall see that the spiritual and political histories of these people are intertwined. We will see many examples of a phrase like this: "...and the people were evil in the eyes of the LORD so he sent (fill in the blank with an enemy state) to punish them." Eventually the LORD looked upon the people with mercy after each cycle and bestowed his Spirit upon selected judges in order to give them extraordinary strength or leadership skills so that they can serve the community of people. We will read about spiritually solid leaders who put their skills to good use for achieving political and military victories for the people and we shall also come across spiritually weak leaders whose character flaws and actions put the whole group of tribes at risk. More than one of the judges falls into both categories: Strong in some regards, weak in others. At the end of Judges we will see that the people had sunk to new lows in morality and depravity. They were in desperate need of strong leadership, which sets the stage for the next two books of Ruth and 1 Samuel.

The book is generally assumed to have been written by the prophet Samuel, whose personal story we will read about in subsequent books. The pace of events described by the author of Judges is significantly faster than previous books. For example, the four books of Exodus through Deuteronomy span only 40 years. By contrast, this single book of twenty-one chapters encompasses about 300 years of history. The book can be considered as having three major sections, the center of which features the stories of the twelve judges. We will divide up our study accordingly:

References used for the analysis of this book includes the following

Judges 1-2 (Incomplete Conquest)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

God’s angel went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you out of Egypt; I led you to the land that I promised to your fathers; and I said, I’ll never break my covenant with you—never! And you’re never to make a covenant with the people who live in this land. Tear down their altars! But you haven’t obeyed me! What’s this that you’re doing?

Judges 2:1-2 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

The first two chapters have a slight overlap with the end of Joshua, which is helpful in providing continuity. We learn that some of the Israelites were dedicated and successful in driving out the current inhabitants. For instance the tribes of Judah and Simeon and the family of Caleb acted diligently in completing this task. However, others were not as successful. Instead, they ended up living side-by-side with the Canaanites and other people that God had commanded them to displace. They formed covenants with these people and failed to fpull down their symbols of pagan worship, which would eventually become a trap for their souls.

The second chapter of Judges notes the death of Joshua and the infidelities of the people from the subsequent generation, who did not know the LORD or remember what he had done for them. As a result, they were drawn into the pagan world of the earlier inhabitants of the land:

God determined that the people needed spiritual and political leaders to help keep them on the right path, so he decided gave them a series of judges that were blessed with special skills. The author of the book of Judges provides a synopsis of the stories that he is about to share regarding the interaction of the Israelites with the appointed judges:

Because of this stubbornness, the LORD decided to allow the other nations to remain in order to “ ‘test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their ancestors did’ (Judges 2:22 - NIV).”

Reflection and Application

It does not take long for the knowledge of one generation to fade away if its elders are not deliberate in teaching the next ones. This was the mistake of the generation that followed Joshua, and there was a price of immediate suffering. One of the ways to honor God is to ensure that we have done our part to pass on the wisdom that has been given to us from the last several millennia, including the books of the Old and New Testaments.

It had seemed like Joshua and his crew had eradicated Canaanites and other foreigners from the land, as described in the previous book. But this was not the complete story. One of the challenges of defeating the Canaanites is that they were not a single nation under a solitary king who had the authority to surrender all of his people. Instead they were independent city-states that would sometimes form alliances but otherwise acted independently. Citizens of the 21st century are aware of the difficulties of defeating an opponent with such a loosely defined network, so we can relate to the challenge of the Israelites. In our personal lives, we may find that our enemies and obstacles sometimes appear to conspire against us, but we have to defeat them one by one, and there always seems to be another one lurking around the corner. However, the biggest cause for the failure of the Israelites was not their opponents but their own lack of spiritual steadfastness.

We face the same challenge of remaining steadfast in our faith. If we feel we are losing the battle then it’s time to draw nearer to God in order to seek his wisdom and strength, because he has a plan for us to prosper.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Who are some of the people from the previous generations that you learned the most from and what did you learn?
    2. What wisdom do you want to pass on to the next generation?
    3. How can we remain steadfast in our faith?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we recognize that you control our ability to achieve victory. We thank you for the words in the Bible and ask for your wisdom as we seek to teach it to the next generation

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People recovering from natural disasters - some recent, some long ago


    (1) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 p. xiv-xxii; and other sources
    (2)The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970, p.193

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Judges 3-5 (Unlikely Heroes)

    Comments and Questions
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