Book Background: Judges

Written by Will Johnston | June 27, 2010 |

I’m sorry.  I just couldn’t help myself.  Okay, I’m not that sorry, and I could have helped myself.  But I didn’t want to.

The judges in the Book of Judges weren’t exactly like the ones in Judge Dredd, although they did share some similarities.  The Biblical judges were warriors who rose up to save and rule Israel.  But they were flawed heroes.  Far from perfect, their shortcomings are vividly portrayed.

The Book of Judges recounts the time between the death of Joshua (12th or 14th Centuries BC, depending on when you date the Exodus) and the appointment of Saul as King of Israel (11th Century BC).  It’s authorship and precise date of writing are difficult to determine, but it was likely written over hundreds of years as the events recorded in it transpired.  However, final edits were likely made later.

Judges opens with some historical context on what is happening in Israel, and chapter two explains the cycle that is the key to most of the book: “They abandoned the Lord. … So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers. … Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. … Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. … But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers.”

So it went: the people would run from God; He would allow them to be punished; and they would cry out.  God sent a judge to save them, but they failed to repent.  Once the judge was gone, they were back where they started.

The last five chapters break from this cycle of oppression and salvation and instead explore the depth of Israel’s sin.  They also serve to foreshadow God’s appointment of a king to lead Israel.  The last verse in the book of Judges reads, “In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

In other words, everyone was of the opinion that:

ESV Study Bible
A Survey of the Old Testament
Boston College Iron Age Article