This study in Judges takes a look at the history and culture of the nation of Israel as they failed to obey Yahweh and live righteously in the Promised Land that Yahweh had given them. This study will look at what it means to be a godly leader and what led the Israelite's failures. This study is 13 hours long (recorded in 2013). This is worth 3 Bible CEUs along with the Ruth study. I will be re-teaching and re-recording this class in October of 2018 with updated information.

 

Judges Notes (1.04 MB)

play-film-icon Judges Overview Video

 

The title of the book in both Hebrew and Greek is Judges, named so from the principal characters in the story. The book of Judges begins with the conjunction and, meaning that it was meant to be read as the sequel to Deuteronomy and Joshua. Deuteronomy is the beginning of what scholars call the Deuteronomic History, which includes the books of Deuteronomy through Kings. Judges continues the history of Israel that began in Deuteronomy of a unified people under the headship of Yahweh who brought them into the Promised Land and delivered the Canaanites into their hands. Unfortunately, the height of Israel’s success and obedience is in the book of Joshua, and Judges begins the downfall of Israel into ever-increasing compromise and idolatry.

The authorship of the book of Judges is anonymous, though some have suggested that Samuel began the compiling and editing of the book. Six times the narrator uses the comment “to this day” (Judg. 1:21, 26; 6:24; 10:4; 15:19; 18:12). Judg. 1:21 gives a clue to the date of the book when it mentions the Jebusites occupying Jerusalem. This points to a date no later than the 1000s BC because the Jebusites were not removed from Jerusalem until David in 1003 BC (2 Sam 5:6-10). The entire book makes references to the fact that there is no king in Israel, which supports a dating before the monarchy of Saul. However, Judg. 18:30 refers to “the exile of the land,” which means that it must be after the exile of the northern kingdom in 734-722 BC. It is clear that the compiling and editing of the book began sometime in the 1000s BC but was later added upon or edited sometime after the exile. Other than this, determining the author and date of the book is not possible at this point.

The first purpose of the book of Judges is a defense for Yahweh’s character and reputation, which had been soiled by Israel’s failures, sin, and rebellion. In the ancient Near East, the power and character of a god were reflected in the nation or people group over which he ruled. If the nation of Israel was continually oppressed by foreign powers, this would communicate that Israel’s God was weaker than the gods of the other nations. On the contrary, Judges explains that the people sinned against Yahweh and went after the pagan gods, so Yahweh gave them over to those pagan gods and their nations. Therefore, the oppression of Israel was a judgment for their sin and reflects more the pagan gods’ character than Yahweh’s (Judg. 11:10-14) since this is how the pagan gods treat their followers, ignoring their cries for help. This contrast is most fully developed in Yahweh’s conflict with the Canaanite storm god Ba’al. Ba’al was the god to which Israel most frequently prostituted themselves, and Judges is the first book that really begins to attack Ba’al (Judg. 2:13; 6:25-32; 8:33; 10:6). The polemic is first seen in the song of Deborah (Judg. 5:4-5) and continues on in the Gideon and Samson stories. It reaches its climax at Mount Carmel with Elijah (1 Kgs. 18). One of the major things that Yahweh emphasizes about Himself is His unwavering faithfulness to Israel despite their sin and rebellion. He is portrayed as a covenantal God who, despite His handing them over to the enemy for discipline, constantly steps in and compassionately delivers His people by raising up judges.

The second purpose of Judges is to warn of the danger of compromise and assimilation with the surrounding cultures. Israel was to be separate and distinct from all other nations (Ex. 19:3-6), but in Judges they choose to violate this distinction by living among the Canaanites and intermarrying with them (Judg. 1:29-32; 3:6). As a result, the enemy turned on them and oppressed them into hard labor (Judg. 1:33, 35). But worse was that Israel began to adopt a Canaanite way of thinking and its practices. This happened slowly over time, each judge looking and acting like the pagans a little bit more than the previous until Samson bears no resemblance to Yahweh in any way (Gen. 1:26-28). Finally, the book ends with Israel as a nation acting the same as, if not worse than, the Canaanites.

The third purpose is to demonstrate the need for godly leadership. The primary focus of the book is not on the people but on the leaders. As the reader watches the decline of leadership in Israel because of their lack of faith and wisdom, one assumes that the people are emulating their leaders as they do in every culture. If the leaders do not reflect the nature of Yahweh and serve Him, then there is no hope for the followers as whole, and then the whole culture will plummet. This corruption is shown in its most horrific sense when the book ends with the morally corrupt Levitical priests (Judg. 17-19). The book ends with the statement “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). The implication is that if Israel had a leader who fit the Deuteronomic ideal (Deut. 17:14-20), then Israel would have reflected Yahweh much better than they did. Though Yahweh accomplished great deeds through flawed human leaders, their lack of faith and wisdom marred Israel’s leaders and kept them from realizing their potential. This all leads to Samuel, a judge and priest who began to turn the nation around because he demonstrated the godly character traits the other judges lacked (1 Sam. 1-8). Judges also prepares the reader for the Davidic dynasty, which would prepare the world for the ultimate godly leader, the Messiah.

Many have misinterpreted the book of Judges, viewing the judges as great men of faith and role models for leadership. This is partly based on a misunderstanding of the culture of the time period, the literary devices of the stories, and Hebrews 11. The first two will be addressed throughout this commentary. Hebrews 11 must not be understood as the “hall of faith,” as many have called it, but rather as examples of what faith can do. The point was not to glorify the people in the chapter as great people of faith whom we should follow. On the contrary, Hebrews 1-10 is all about the supremacy of Christ in the light that all before Him have failed and that He is our great example of faith in Yahweh. The writer, beginning in Hebrews 11, calls us to demonstrate the same faith in Yahweh that Jesus Christ exemplified. Hebrews makes the point that faith can accomplish anything for the kingdom of Yahweh. This point is emphasized by the repetition of the phrase “by faith,” not by the names of the people. The point of mentioning the names of the First Testament figures was to show that if these sinful people were able to do great things with their little faith pre-Christ, how much more can we do by faith with Jesus Christ in our lives? Thus, do not think of the judges, especially Gideon and Samson, as role models but as sinners who were able to do some great things by the little faith they had.