What is Judges All About?

Judges 21:25b – Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Deborah stands as one of the most significant, godly women in all of Scripture. The life of Deborah is recorded in the Old Testament book of Judges (chapters 4-5). The Bible is a library of books organized by genre of literature. Judges is part of the historical books, giving the ancient record of God’s work amongst His people and reports what happened after the death of Joshua. A Bible commentary says, “Judges bridges the important gap between the conquest of the land of Palestine and the formation of what might actually be called the nation of Israel.” (1)

Most Christians have little to no real understanding of the book of Judges outside of a few minor details about the most famous characters – Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. It is, at times, admittedly, a dark, gory, and unsettling series of stories. The book paints the pattern of human sinfulness in earnest terms that sound a lot like our own day – deeply flawed political and spiritual leaders, people seduced into lethargy by a soft life of plenty, and a God who keeps trying to help people who don’t seem to care much for Him. 

In the United States, there is a clear difference between political leaders, military leaders, religious leaders, and the legal system. In the Old Testament, God’s people did not have such clear distinctions. The Bible was their lawbook, the King was supposed to also be their spiritual leader, and some leaders were also warriors like King David who led worship, wrote Scripture, killed men in combat, and judged cases of right and wrong. Regarding Judges, a Bible commentary says, “The Hebrew title of the book is translated as Judges. The name relates to the deliverers of the tribes of Israel following the conquest and until the time that a king ruled in Israel. The book’s name makes one think of a law court with a presiding judge, but legal decision was only a part of what the judges in the book of Judges did. The judges were also military leaders, a fact supported by Judges 2:14 and 4:5. The judges also had a special empowering by God to accomplish their civil and military tasks.” (2)

The author of Judges is uncertain, but some Jewish and Christian scholars have suggested perhaps it was Samuel who wrote or compiled the book. 

Judges is largely a cyclical book showing patterns of behavior between God and people that remains consistent in various times and places during the influence of various leaders. One Bible scholar says, “Judges describes in detail six of the twelve judges (a hundred verses for Gideon), but not the other six (Shamgar gets a single verse). The first group are the “major” and the second the ‘minor’ judges. Part 2 treats all the judges; chapter 10 covers the minor ones as a group.” (3)

What do you know about the book of Judges before getting into this study? 

(1)   Terry L. Brensinger, Judges, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999), 16.

(2)   Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 96.

(3)   George M. Schwab, Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel according to the Book of Judges, ed. Tremper Longman III, The Gospel according to the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011), 39.

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