The Hebrew title is ‘Shopetim’ meaning Judges, rulers, saviours or deliverers, it is not the same as our understanding of the name Judges, ‘shopet’ means also liberating or delivering. First, the judges deliver the people and then they rule, oversee and administer justice. The book is a tragedy in comparison to the previous book of Joshua, wherein obedience to God helped the people conquer the lands putting their trust in the power of God to be with them.
Here in the book of Judges the people have become disobedient and engage in all sorts of idolatry and are defeated time after time because of their rebellion against God. In 7 distinct cycles of sin to salvation, Judges shows how Israel had set aside God’s law and in its place had substituted “what was right in his own eyes”. The recurring result from abandonment from God’s law is corruption from within and oppression from without. During the nearly four centuries covered by this book, God raises up military champions to throw off the yoke of bondage and to restore the nation to pure worship. But all too soon the Sin cycle begins again as the nation’s spiritual temperature grows steadily colder.
From the start in 1: 21, we read “The children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem”, this was characteristic of many of the tribes which allowed pagan worshippers to stay in their midst, with tragic results. “Ye have not obeyed My voice,” says the Lord to His people. “They shall be as thorns to your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” That’s exactly what happens, as the Israelites begin a cycle of worshipping idols, suffering punishment by their attackers, then crying to God for help, and receiving God’s help in the form of a human ‘Judge’ whom then restores the order.
There were quite a few instances of 40-year periods, Barak, Deborah, Gideon, Othniel all judged for 40 years and Ehud twice. Deborah who was the only female judge led a military victory against the Canaanites. Her faith and courage put Barak’s to shame. Gideonod, who tested God’s will with a fleece, then with the direct help of God, and a depleted number of men armed with torches hidden in pitchers, gave the Midianites and the Amalekites such a beating that they never returned. Then came the brutal Abimelech, next Tola and Jair, then Jephthah was given a great victory by God over the Ammonites. Ibzan, Elon then Abdon followed before Samson of the tribe of Dan, who was appointed before his birth by God to deliver Israel from the Philistines. Samson was empowered by God with superhuman strength and, under God, his exploits were amazing. But like many other men in this time, their heads and minds were turned by pleasures of the flesh and his love for unsavoury women became his downfall. Samson is the last of the Judges mentioned in the book of judges and it may be worth pointing out that like Samson’s superhuman strength, the holy spirit ‘came down on’ some people from the Old Testament and ‘the spirit left’ them, shows that the presence was definitely there, however it wasn’t the same as in the New Testament where the holy spirit doesn’t leave us, as it is now ‘an indwelling of the spirit.’
Judges’ picture of life in Israel is not glorious, but it encourages us not to write off any situation as being beyond God’s help or any believer, including ourselves, as being too stupid or lacking in faith. Even a little faith with very little understanding enables God to work. Many of the ancient Israelites did “what they thought was right in their own eyes,” if we learn one thing from this book of not what to do, should it be this?