The book of “Judges” is both a period of time and a book in the Bible. The time of the judges began after the death of Joshua in the early fourteenth century BC (Joshua 24:29). It continued until Saul was crowned king of Israel by the prophet Samuel in 1051 BC (1 Samuel 10:24). Think of the book of Judges as the sequel to the book of Joshua. Each is linked to each other by similar accounts of Joshua’s death (Joshua 24:29–31; Judges 2:6–9). The Old Testament book of Judges still remains important today. It documents a period in the history of the nation of Israel when they abandoned their belief in God. There were many wars and much religious turmoil that seems to cycle over and over. The people would rebel against their God through idolatry and sin. God would then provide them a judge (leader) to lead them back to God through repentance. They would cycle back to sin and more turmoil when death claimed the judge God had provided.
The book of Judges documents 12 leaders called “judges.” Some judges get several chapters and others only a paragraph. There were about 15 judges in total. The Hebrew term shofet, means “judge.” Its meaning is closer to “ruler” than the English meaning we use the word for today. The judges of the nation of Israel were more like a military leader or deliverer. The judge protected people from threats or actual defeat by their enemies. After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua then led them into the promised land. When Joshua died along with his generation, the Israelites’ knowledge of God also died. The Israelites then copied the idolatry and moral corruption of their neighbors.
(Judges 2:10)1NIV New International Version Translations – “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.”
This is a most critical lesson to the Christian church today. Faith, our belief in God, is always but one generation away from extinction. History shows us this. After Joshua’s generation died off, the people began to worship other gods. Because God loves His people, He would test them. God would “hand them over to their enemies” both as a punishment and as a wakeup call. Each time, God then would send a judge from one of the surrounding nations. The new judge would then bring about both deliverance and repentance. After the death of a judge, the tribes of Israel would go back to idolatry and sinful practices. Whenever Israel would rebel against God, God would discipline them. But when Israel repented, God would deliver them. For the 480 years documented by the book of Judges, there would be constant cycles of sin and deliverance.
(Judges 2:11-12) – “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger.”
The contents of the book of Judges were not written chronologically. The final few chapters (Judges 17–21) give us an overview of the issues with morality that were described earlier in the book. It does offer us lessons about living today. Judges 17 opens with almost a comedy of idolatry. A rich man named Micah (not to be confused with Micah the prophet) and his mother use their money to make an idol. Micah then hires a Levite as his personal priest. He creates a home-grown cult.
(Judges 17:13) – “And Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.”
By getting a religious authority to bless his idolatrous enterprise, Micah believes that he can convert God into his own ATM machine. Then God would give him the wealth and power he craves. This is exactly where the idea for the “prosperity Gospel” comes from. Micah’s actions are similar to those of many professing Christians today. Deciding that God’s written Word is outdated or constrictive, they invent a counterfeit Christianity that has “a form of godliness but denies its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). The book of Judges goes on to document sex, rape, abuse, plenty of sins to fill several Hollywood movies. The Israelites would keep forgetting the Truth from their God. They even forgot the miraculous events that brought them to their promised land and the covenant that united them to their God. God, however, never forgot them! What can we learn from the book of Judges?
- People are hopelessly sinful. In the days of the judges, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). This is no difference than today.
- Once everyone defines their own morality and decadence, there will be chaos. Judges 17-21 offers us a conclusion of how bad things became. You can get a good picture of what happens when everyone made up their own rules. Add those verses to your reading list.
- God is patient. He would keep trying to bring His people to repentance, generation after generation. Again and again, God would save His people every time they repented. Once their judge was gone, it was back to their sinful ways. This points to human sinfulness and God’s faithfulness!
- Never underestimate the role of women in society. Judges holds a striking example of a courageous bold woman. Deborah was a judge, prophetess, and a conduit of God’s military might. Her own military leaders desired her presence at their side every time they went into battle. God can use EVERYONE for His purpose!
- God doesn’t let sin continue unabated forever. Joshua would warn the people of Israel that, if they abandoned God, “then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.” (Joshua 23:13). This is a warning for us as well. God is gracious, but God does not leave sin go unpunished.
The text of Judges gives us no sign of who wrote the book. Jewish tradition names the prophet Samuel as the author. The namesake of 1 and 2 Samuel, Samuel was considered the last of the judges. He was one of the special leaders whom God raised up during these times to rescue His people. The book of Judges is a tragic history of how God can be taken for granted by His children year after year, century after century. If we compare Judges to the book of Joshua, the contrast becomes clearer. Joshua writes about the blessings God bestowed on the Israelites for their obedience in conquering His land. In Judges, they were disobedient and idolatrous, leading to their many defeats. Yet God never failed to respond in love to His people whenever they repented and called upon His name.
(Judges 2:18) – “Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.”
Through the judges of Israel, God honored His promise to Abraham to protect and bless his offspring (Genesis 12:2-3). The Israelites of old represent a perfect example of what we should never become. Instead of learning from experience that God will always punish sin, they continued to disobey and suffer God’s displeasure and discipline. Here is the question now: Is this still true today? If we are disobedient to God, are we inviting God’s discipline? Like any good parent, God does not enjoy watching us suffer. “Because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6). The Book of Judges documents God’s faithfulness, even when we are faithless.
(2 Timothy 2:13) – “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
History remains one of God’s greatest gifts. Remembering the past teaches us how to live today as well as prepares us for the future. Every time the Israelites would forget their history, they would forget their God. We also see through the book of Judges the impact that a leader can have on a nation. Leaders can win wars, conquer enemies, and focus the attention of a nation on God. What Israel’s leaders failed to do, was to permanently change the hearts of people. Yet God is telling us not to let difficult circumstances damage our faith. God is not only here for us, He never gives up on us. And to help us permanently, God sent His Son to show us His Truth. This is the salvation that any nation must seek.
- How does leadership within a nation affect the morality of that nation?
- Ideas to Explore: Think about corporations, cities, states, our government, countries – How has the morality of the leaders affected those who live or work in them? Do you believe that the morality of a leader affects who they lead? Why or why not? What does history tell us?
- How do you think we should get our nation to call on the name of God once again for help?
- Ideas to Explore: What is the role of the churches? What should the role of families be in affecting the beliefs of a nation? How can we influence businesses to be more in keeping with God’s Word?
- Do you believe that the people of our nation are idolatrous? Worshiping gods other than the one and only True God?
- Ideas to Explore: What does it mean to be a consumer society? What should the role of the media, entertainment industry, sports industry, even educational institutions be in this issue?
- Do you believe that God is punishing our nation for its lack of faith in Him?
- Ideas to Explore: The Bible has been consistent, God punishes. God gets people’s attention, how? God restores. Have you seen any examples of God involved in our world?
- Read Judges 17-21. Do you think that our world is similar, moving in that direction or there is no applicability?
- Ideas to Explore: Wisdom about God requires open eyes. What can you do?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations