The Book of Judges

Arend Remmers

21 chapters

1. Author and Time of Writing

As in many other books in the Old Testament the author of the book of Judges is not mentioned either. According to ancient Jewish tradition the author was Samuel the prophet, who lived at the times of Saul and David around the year 1000 BC.

The book of Judges describes the time after the death of Joshua (Judges 1:1; 2:8) up to the end of Samson's life (Judges 16:31).

The following statements in Judges indicate its origin at the beginning of King Saul's reign:

  • We read in chapter 1:21: ". but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day." According to 2 Samuel 5:6-8 only David conquered Jerusalem. Judges 1:21 therefore had to been written before that.
  • The repeated mention of the fact that there was no king in Israel (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) indicates a time of writing during the beginning of the kingdoms in Israel.

2. Purpose of Writing

After Joshua's death the failure of Israel was more and more visible in

  • not obeying the commandments of God
  • not exterminating the Canaanites
  • and the increasing apostasy from Jehovah by even adopting the idol worship of the Canaanites

The unity of the people of Israel suffered much under these circumstances. God punished the tribes by subduing them to their enemies. But in answer to their crying unto Him the Lord sent them twelve judges and liberators. And yet these judges demonstrated their failure more and more.

The book of Judges is a book of human failure but also of God-given revivals and deliverances. We find the blessings of the people of God and their taking possession of them typically in the book of Joshua. In Judges the first decline of the people of Israel is described. Similarly the church (after a short period of blossom) quickly declined by sins and errors although God also sent her "liberators" many a times who produced short spiritual revivals.

3. Peculiarities

a) Seven Times of Decline and of Salvation

Chapter 3:8-11 Oppression by Chushan-rishathaim and Salvation through Othniel

Chapter 3:12-31 Ehud and Shamgar liberate Israel from the Moabites and Philistines

Chapter 4 - 5 Deborah and Barak defeat Jabin

Chapter 6:1-8:32 Gideon defeats Midian

Chapter 8:33-10:5 Tola and Jair

Chapter 10:6-12:15 Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon

Chapter 13-16 Samson and the Philistines

b) Periods of 40 Years (= Times of Trying, Testing)

- 40 years of peace under Othniel (chap. 3:11)

- 80 (2 x 40) years of peace under Ehud (chap. 3:30)

- 40 years of peace under Deborah (chap. 5:31)

- 40 years of peace under Gideon (chap. 8:28)

- 40 years of trouble under the Philistines (chap. 13:1)

- 40 years of decline under Eli (1 Samuel 4:18)

c) Chronology of the Times of the Judges

The various indications of time concerning the periods of the judges are best explained as follows:

  • The indications of time must not simply be added, as various incidents happened at the same time (compare chap. 10:7-9; 13:1).
  • During the time of Jephthah Israel had sojourned around 300 years already on that side of Jordan (chap. 11:26)
  • The indication of time of 480 years in 1 Kings 6:1 begins at the exodus out of Egypt and ends with the fourth year of King Solomon's reign. If one deducts thereof the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the time of Joshua and the times of King Saul and King David's reign (each 40 years) there will remain almost 350 years for the time of the judges.
  • The 450 years in Acts 13:19-20 relate (according to the best manuscripts of the NT) not to the time of the Judges but to the period before that. The Greek NT (Nestle-Aland, 26th Edition) has the following wording: "And after He had exterminated seven nations in Canaan He let them inherit their land in about 450 years. And after that He gave judges up to the time of Samuel the prophet." This indicates that the period of 450 years ended at the beginning of the period of the judges. That means this period began at the time of the patriarchs. Another possibility is that this period of about 450 years began at the Exodus out of Egypt and ended with the life of Samuel.

4. Overview of Contents

I. Judges 1:1 - 3:7 Introduction - The Failure of Israel after Joshua's Death

Chapter 1 Israel's increasing Weakness in Fighting the Canaanites

Chapter 2 - 3:7 Israel's Apostasy after Joshua's Death

II. Judges 3:8 - 16:31 Seven Oppressions and Salvations

Chapter 3:8-11 Oppression by Cushan-rishathaim and Salvation through Othniel

Chapter 3:12-31 Ehud and Shamgar liberate Israel from the Moabites and the Philistines

Chapter 4 - 5 Deborah (with Barak) gains Victory over Jabin

Chapter 6:1-8:32 Gideon defeats the Midianites)

Chapter 8:33-10:5 Abimelech's Tyranny; Tola and Jair

Chapter 10:6-12:15 Jephthah slays the Ammonites; Ibzan, Elon and Abdon

Chapter 13 - 16 Samson and the Philistines

III. Judges 17 - 21 Appendix - Idolatry and Moral Decline in Israel

Chapter 17 - 18 Micah's Idolatry and the Tribe of Dan

Chapter 19 - 21 Immorality in Gibeah and Fratricidal War of Israel against the Tribe of Benjamin