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There Was No King in Israel: Why Study the Book of Judges?



It was the best of times and the worst of times. The children of Israel, liberated from Egyptian bondage and dwelling in the land of promise, should have been enjoying the blessings of God, living under their own vines and fig trees. Instead, they faced cycles of backsliding, carnality, followed by repressive foreign occupation.

When they woke up to their sin, Israel called out to God, who sent them a human deliverer called a ‘judge.’ Once the judge delivered the nation from their oppressors, Israel remained faithful to the LORD as long as the judge lived. Once he or she passed away, then they returned to their old worldly ways.

This pattern, which occurred with nauseating regularity, is the story of the Book of Judges. This book covers a period of over 350 years from the time of Joshua the conqueror until the coming of Samuel, the final judge (who is first mentioned in I Samuel, not Judges).

There are some great stories of deliverance in it, like that of Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Samson, and Jephthah. Some of these judges are so noteworthy that they merit a mention in the ‘hall of faith’ in Hebrews Chapter 11. Yet there are some real scandals, like the Danites stealing Micah’s idols and priest and setting up the northern city of Dan on a foundation of idolatry. Years later, Jeroboam’s golden calf was installed here, the altar platform is still present until today. Even worse was the brutal rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine which led to civil war and the near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin.

Great insights and lessons await you as you study the Book of Judges.

Hebrew Name

It is easy to confuse the heroes of this book with men and women, wearing long black robes and white whigs while pounding a gavel in a courtroom. The Hebrew name for judges is shophetim which translated means rulers, saviours, and deliverers. The judge can settle disputes, win battles, liberate and deliver people. After their military victory, they settle down to to civilian leadership, where they rule and judge.

Author

Anonymous, though tradition nominates Samuel as the author.

Date

Probably after Saul became king. The reason is that the Book of Judges uses the phrase ‘There was no king in Israel,’ implying that Israel had a king at the time of writing.

Theme

Cycles of reprobation and revival. The pattern was one of:

The Descent

Service (of God),
Seduction,
Sin,
Scandal,
Servitude (to foreign occupiers) - this is where they hit rock bottom

The Ascent

Seeking God,
Sanctification, and
Salvation.

This pattern is what happened again and again and again.

Portrait of Christ in Judges

In Judges we learn about Christ as Saviour-Ruler. As long as the judge lived, Israel served the LORD. Since Christ rose from the dead and lives forevermore, His people will remain eternally faithful to God.

Like the rest of the Bible, Judges does not do a whitewash of the main characters. It tells their story just as it was, warts and all: Gideon made an ephod in Oprah, Samson had ‘women problems,’ and Jephthah uttered a rash vow. Yet all of this helps to highlight to glory of Christ, who never sinned and is able to save us to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).

Judges serves as a reminder, if one was needed, how humanity stands in desperate need for a Saviour.

Key Verses in Judges

Judges 2:20-21: And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice; 21 I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died:

Judges 21:25: In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

Distinctives

Judges is a real object lesson of ‘comparison and contrast.’ We see good and evil, light and darkness, faithfulness and debauchery, living side-by-side. While this may seem like deep dark ancient history, it helps illustrate the ‘last days,’ which Scripture teaches is a time of ‘contrasts,’ just like Judges.

   Contrast: God’s faithfulness to Israel’s backsliding.

   Contrast: A penitent Israel to a hedonistic Israel.

   Contrast: The faith of the judges to the faithlessness of the people.

   Contrast: The perfection of Christ to the flaws of the judges.

Outline of Judges

1.       Failure of Israel to Conquer all the Land (1:1-3:34): Failure of Judah, Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulon, Asher, Naphtali, Dan. Angel makes announcement.
2.       Southern Campaign: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar (3:5-31)
3.       Northern Campaign: Deborah/Barak (4:1-5:31)
4.       Central Campaign: Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair (6:1-10:5)
5.       Eastern Campaign: Jephthah (10:6-12:7)
6.       Second Northern Campaign: (12:8-15)
7.       Western Campaign: Samson (13-16)
8.       Israel’s Idolatry (17:1-18:31)
9.       Israel’s Immorality (19:1-30)
10.   Israel’s Civil War (20:1-21:25)


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