Date: c. Eleventh Century B.C.
After the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites divided up the land into sections and settled there tribe by tribe. They faced numerous problems: building houses, plowing the land, planting vineyards and trees, digging wells, and generally getting established as a nation. It was not easy, for the new settlers were attacked by invaders. To protect his people, God sent judges to lead them. These judges were not legal experts, but military leaders. They were especially empowered by God to gather an army, defeat the enemy, and rule over their district until things quieted down.
There are about fourteen episodes mentioned in the Book of Judges. One man, Abimelech, may not have been a judge, but his story is given anyway, probably to show what a disgrace he was. The book closes with two particularly grisly stories, one involving religious deceit and the other murder. They show what happens when people forget the Lord and rely on their own strength.
Theological Themes in the Book of Judges
The Book of Judges has a carefully followed pattern that is used to show how God works in history. Israel serves the Lord, then turns from God and falls away from his favor. To bring his people back, God allows them to suffer the consequences of their sin by punishing them through a foreign invader. Israel cries out to God, who sends them a judge or deliverer. Israel is then serving the Lord again.
A great deal can be learned from looking thoughtfully at this cycle of events. There is the fact of God’s involvement in our lives as well as the fact of our own actions. When we do God’s will, all is well; when we sin, we bring disaster on ourselves. Notice the mercy of God. No matter when the people cried out to him, he answered them. It is comforting to know that God is always there to hear our prayers.
Finally, notice the awful results of sin. When we choose to reject God’s ways, terrible things result. The stories told are object lessons for us. It does not make sense to rebel against God. In the end, no one benefits from wrongdoing. This holds true even for God’s people. After all, Samson was not a pagan, but an Israelite, and sin destroyed his life, too.
Outline for the Book of Judges
- The conquest retold Judges 1:1-3:6
- The stories of the judges Judges 3:7-16:31
- The religious evil of the times Judges 17:1-18:31
- The moral evil of the times Judges 19:1-21:25