The book of Judges is set “after the death of Joshua” (Judges 1:1), and, thus, very early in the history of Israel, for Joshua had succeeded Moses to lead the people into the Promised Land following forty years of wilderness wanderings after the Exodus from Egypt. The period chronicled in this book immediately preceded the kingdom era, for God “gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul” (Acts 13:20-21).
Considering the early setting, it is especially interesting to note how late the book was written. The narrator presents a situation that lasted “until the day of the captivity of the land” (Judges 18:30), an event that did not transpire until more than five centuries after the conclusion of the book.
A thoughtful reader is compelled to wonder why this history was recorded so far removed from its subject. To answer that point of curiosity, notice the contents of the book. The conclusion states, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Israel’s lawlessness then is amply demonstrated throughout the book, beginning with this introduction: “They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed.
Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way” (Judges 2:13-19).
Twelve judges are presented in the book: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. In nearly every case, the people would stray into sin, God would punish His wayward children by subduing them under the hand of an enemy nation, the Israelites would cry out to God for deliverance, a judge would smite the oppressors, and the people would remain faithful to the Lord until the judge died, then the cycle would repeat. The message, indelibly stamped on the heart of any observant reader, is that unfaithfulness invariably brings about punishment.
Captivity being the consequence of iniquity seems an apropos theme for a captive to write (18:30). Eventually, all the inhabitants of Israel, both Samaria and Judah, were forcibly removed from the land. The northern tribes fell first, Assyria conquering them in the days of King Hoshea (2nd Kings 17). Later, the tribes in Judah were taken to Babylon for a seventy-year exile (2nd Kings 25).
A Jewish exile, dwelling in Babylonian captivity, would have tremendous motivation to relate the history of the judges, first explaining oppression as punishment, then relating the effectiveness of repentance relative to deliverance.
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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