JUDGES, BOOK OF
A Bible book that basically covers a period of some 330 years between Israel’s conquest of Canaan and the beginning of the monarchy. Earlier, the Israelites had been forewarned that their failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land, as divinely commanded, would lead to their adopting the debased religious practices of the Canaanites. Finally this would result in Jehovah’s disfavor and his abandoning them to their enemies. (Ex 23:32, 33; 34:11-17; Nu 33:55; De 7:2-5) The historical record found in the book of Judges shows how the warning became a reality. However, rather than deal extensively with Israel’s unfaithfulness and the resultant foreign oppression, the book primarily relates the exploits of the judges and the marvelous deliverances Jehovah performed by means of them. Thus Jehovah’s saving ability and his long-suffering, mercy, undeserved kindness, and justice are highlighted. The judges themselves stand out as sterling examples of faith.—Heb 11:32-34, 39, 40.
Arrangement. Judges is linked with the preceding Bible book by its opening words, “And after the death of Joshua.” However, some of the happenings narrated therein evidently occurred before Joshua died. For example, Judges 2:6 reads: “When Joshua sent the people away, then the sons of Israel went their way, each to his inheritance, to take possession of the land.” So it appears that Judges 1:1–3:6 serves as an introduction, the writer having drawn on events taking place before and after Joshua’s death in order to provide the historical background for the account that follows. The section running from chapter 3, verse 7, to the end of chapter 16 is, basically, in chronological order and relates the activities of 12 judges (not including Deborah), starting with Othniel and concluding with Samson. The last part of the book could be termed an appendix and fits a period much earlier than Samson’s judgeship. The capture of Laish by the Danites could reasonably have taken place before Joshua’s death. (Compare Jos 19:47; Jg 18:27-29.) The mass sex crime of the men of Gibeah and subsequent events resulting in the near extermination of the tribe of Benjamin probably occurred not many years after Joshua’s death. (Jg 19:1–21:25; Jos 24:31) This would allow sufficient time for the Benjamites to have increased from about 600 men (Jg 20:47) to nearly 60,000 warriors by the time of David’s reign.—1Ch 7:6-12.
Writer and Time of Composition. Internal evidence provides a basis for determining when the book of Judges was written. It was compiled while a king ruled over Israel. Otherwise, the writer, when referring to the past, would not have said: “In those days there was no king in Israel.” (Jg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) Yet it was at a time when the Jebusites still inhabited Jerusalem. (Jg 1:21) Since, in 1070 B.C.E., David captured “the stronghold of Zion” (a part of Jerusalem) from the Jebusites and transferred his capital there (2Sa 5:6-9), the book of Judges must have been committed to writing before that date, probably during Saul’s reign. At that time Samuel was the main advocate of true worship and, as Jehovah’s prophet, would have been the logical one to have recorded this book.
Authenticity. That the book of Judges rightly occupies a place in the Bible canon there can be no question. It is frank and honest, and it does not hide Israel’s gross sins. Throughout, the book gives glory and honor, not to the human judges, but to Jehovah God as Israel’s real Deliverer. It shows that God’s spirit empowered the judges (Jg 3:9, 10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:24, 25; 14:6, 19; 15:14, 18; 16:20, 28-30) and they, in turn, recognized Jehovah as Judge (11:27) and King (8:23). Other inspired Bible books refer to events recorded therein.—1Sa 12:9-11; 2Sa 11:21; Ps 83:9-12; Isa 9:4; 10:26; Heb 11:32-34.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF JUDGES
A vigorous account of the deliverances that Jehovah repeatedly performed for Israel through the Judges when Israel abandoned idolatrous practices and earnestly sought his help
Likely written by Samuel, the book covers about 330 years between the conquest of Canaan and the beginning of the monarchy
Background for conditions prevailing during time of the Judges (1:1–3:6)
After Joshua’s death, the tribes of Israel fail to drive the remaining inhabitants of Canaan out of the land
Instead, they intermarry with these pagans and are ensnared by their false religion
Jehovah abandons them to their foes; but from time to time he raises up Judges to deliver them
Deliverances from oppression when Israel abandoned false worship and called out to Jehovah for help (3:7–16:31)
Through Othniel, Israel is delivered from an eight-year subjugation to the Mesopotamian king Cushan-rishathaim
The 18-year domination by Moabite King Eglon ends when he is killed by Ehud, who then assembles an Israelite army and subdues the Moabites
Shamgar single-handedly strikes down 600 Philistines, thus saving Israel
Barak, encouraged by the prophetess Deborah, defeats Jabin, thus ending his 20-year oppression of Israel; Jabin’s army chief, Sisera, is killed by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; Deborah and Barak commemorate this victory in song
Gideon is commissioned to deliver Israel from seven-year harassment by Midianites; Jehovah grants victory after he reduces Gideon’s army to just 300 men; Gideon subsequently refuses kingship
Tola judges Israel for 23 years, and Jair judges for 22 years
Israel suffers at the hands of the Ammonites; Jehovah provides deliverance through Jephthah, who subsequently carries out his vow to surrender his only child, a daughter, to Jehovah’s service
Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon judge Israel a combined total of about 25 years
Jehovah gives Samson enormous strength and uses him to release Israel from a 40-year domination by the Philistines; his betrothal to a Philistine woman from Timnah gives him occasions to act against them; his betrayal by Delilah eventually leads to a situation in which he kills more Philistines at his death than he had killed in his lifetime
Further undesirable situations that developed during the time of the Judges (17:1–21:25)
In Ephraim, Micah sets up an image in his home and employs a young Levite as a priest
Certain Danites come to Micah’s house and later steal his idolatrous objects; they also take the Levite to serve as their priest
Men of the Benjamite city of Gibeah are guilty of a mass sex crime against the concubine of a Levite; failure to hand over the guilty ones for punishment prompts the other tribes to undertake a punitive war against Benjamin; the tribe is almost annihilated