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Overview of Judges

Updated: Jul 12, 2021


Author: Samuel, the last judge and most prominent spiritual leader of Israel under king Saul’s reign.

Date: Difficult to date, but probably written some time prior to Samuel’s death in 1014 B.C. The span of Judges is also difficult to date, but roughly between 1350-1014 B.C., since Samuel is the last judge.

Audience/Purpose: Samuel wrote to newly established monarchy of Israel under Saul and David to remind them that unfaithfulness leads to oppression so they would remain faithful to the loving and faithful God.


1:1-3:6 - Disobedience and Chaos of Israel Predicted

  • 1:1-36 - Israel defeated and drove out some of the Canaanites but not others

  • 2:1-5 - An angel of the Lord explained to Israel their disobedience is why the Canaanites will remain

  • 2:6-3:6 - The “cycle” of rebellion-retribution-repentance-rest (Norman Geisler) by Israel for rest of book

3:7-16:31 - Seven Cycles of Deterioration and Twelve Judges

  • 3:7-11 - Cycle One - Subjected 8 years to Aram Naharaim; God raised up Othniel (1); peace for 40 years

  • 3:12-31 - Cycle Two - Subjected 18 years to Moab; God raised up Ehud (2), who deceived and killed king of Moab, “passed by the idols and escaped”; peace for 80 years; Ehud’s son, Shamgar (3), also saved Israel

  • 4:1-5:31 - Cycle Three - Subjected 20 years to Canaan; God raised up Deborah (4); she supported and guided Israel’s military leader, Barak, to route Canaan and Sisera their commander, who was killed by Jael, wife of Heber, in her tent; Deborah sang praise to God for victory; peace for 40 years

  • 6:1-8:35 - Cycle Four - Subjected 7 years to Midian; God raised up Gideon (5), who doubted God but confirmed by three miracles (sacrifice consumed on altar, wool fleece made wet then dry, defeat of Midian with only 300); 40 years of peace until he made golden ephod, causing Israel to forsake God

  • 9:1-10:5 - Cycle Five - Gideon’s son, Abimelech, selected as Shechem’s leader; led them to kill his seventy brothers; only Jotham escaped; he ruled 3 years, but God sent evil spirit to cause conflict between Shechem and Abimelech, which resulted in the death of many Shechemites and Abimelech, satisfying God’s vengeance for Gideon’s sons; Tola (6) and Jair (7) arose to save and lead Israel 45 years in peace

  • 10:6-12:15 - Cycle Six - Subjected to Ammonites for 18 years; God raised up Jephthah (8), who rose to lead Israel to defeat Ammonites; made a foolish vow which resulted in the death of his own daughter; after defeating Ephraim in another skirmish, Jephthah died; led Israel 6 years, followed by Ibzan (9) for 7 years, Elon (10) for 10 years, and Abdon (11) for 8 years, but no mention of peace following any of them

  • 13:1-16:31 - Cycle Seven - Subjected to the Philistines for 40 years; God raised up Samson (12), led them 20 years; miraculously born, set apart to the Lord, anointed by the Spirit; great weakness for women, marrying lawlessly a Philistine, slept with a prostitute, fell in love with Delilah, who wore him down to tell the secret of his strength (hair); cut off his hair and he was taken captive by Philistines who displayed him in Dagon’s temple; he prayed and God gave him strength to knock it down, killing Philistines and himself

17:1-21:25 - The Moral and Spiritual Decline of Israel and the End of Repentance

  • 17:1-18:31 - Micah made idols and installed his son as his priest, but also pays traveling Levite to be his priest; some Danite spies come there and steal his idols and other items, forcing Levite to go with them

  • 19:1-20:48 - Levite had concubine who unfaithfully went back home; on way back from getting her, stopped in Gibeah where she was raped and killed by wicked Benjamites; he cuts up concubine’s body into twelve pieces and sent throughout Israel; they all came out together against Benjamin, but suffered defeats until they humbly sought the Lord (20:26-28) and were then able to defeat them

  • 21:1-25 - Israel vowed to let no daughter marry a Benjamite, but were sad Benjamin’s future was cut off from Israel; discovered Jabesh Gilead tribe didn’t show for assembly, so Israel killed them all but virgins who they took as wives for Benjamites; weren’t enough, so led them to steal daughters from Shiloh

  • 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25 - “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Theological Contributions and Applications

  1. God tests the faithfulness of His people (Canaanites) and can use sin to bring His people to repentance.

  2. Sins of unfaithfulness, worshiping other things, and doing our own thing deteriorates apart from God.

  3. No matter how bad it may look, God never abandons His own faithfulness to His people.

  4. When God’s people repent and cry out to Him, He rescues and preserves them.

  5. God calls, equips, and uses imperfect and flawed people to accomplish His purposes.

  6. People flourish under God when His leaders lead with faith and godliness.

  7. God “raised up” the perfect “Judge” and Ruler in His Son, Jesus Christ, who ushered in God’s kingdom.

Mark Dever (The Message of the Old Testament, p. 217): “God would let this sinful people, who were determined not to rely on him, rely on every other possible means, until every other possible means was exhausted. Finally, they would learn that the only one who could save them was God himself, and then they would turn to him. This is what the book of Judges is meant to do for us as well. We are meant to be morally and emotionally tired by the time we finish reading it. And we are meant to despair of trusting in some other judge to save us.”

Discussion Questions

  • How do we respond to God’s blessings with sin or indifference? How can we be more grateful?

  • What “Canaanites” in our day have we allowed to remain? What are most common sins of omission?

  • Where might we see the example of Israel’s deteriorating relationship with God being played out today?

  • How did Jesus Christ solve the problem of “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit”?

Israel tried to worship Yahweh and Canaanite gods at the same time

The gods of travel sports, pleasure, the good life, amenities, comfort and convenience, quick and self-service, leisure,

Are all threats to fidelity to the Lord God, to our Lord Jesus Christ! What are you worshiping and giving more of your time and energy to than Christ?

Israel allowed all the various Canaanites to remain in the land, who become like barbs in their eyes, sinful and ungodly influences. Israel was to be the light of God to the nations, to point the Canaanites and all other nations to the covenant-keeping and only true God. However, it was the situation of who is influencing who? Was Israel strong in their commitment to their covenant with God and therefore an effective witness for Him to Canaan? Or were they weak in their love and commitment to worship and serve Yahweh alone, and therefore vulnerable and susceptible to the ungodly influences of Canaan? The story of Judges shows it was the latter.

In Judges, we also discover a Gospel-pattern of how God works - He is compassionate to His people who cry out to Him when they have been disciplined and brought to judgment, and who repent and humble themselves before Him. He brings about judges or rulers to “save” or “deliver” them from their enemies and plight and restore them back to Himself, to victory and power, and to peace. It sets the stage for our One and Final Ruler, Jesus Christ, to be revealed at the proper time. He is the Deliverer and Savior sent to deliver us from our spiritual bondage to sin and evil, to rescue us from this present evil age.

We also learn a little about the work of God’s Spirit in Judges, in how the Spirit would come upon and anoint His chosen servants, “judges”, to empower them to proclaim His Word and also to lead His people and to defeat their enemies. The Spirit is still anointing His people, those who receive and follow His Son. He empowers us to overcome sin and evil, and to serve His purposes. He gives special anointings to certain servants and leaders for specific purposes and seasons to accomplish His will.

The nature of God’s kingdom is seen in Judges as a spiritual one in which His people were to live under His reign and rule, regardless of human leaders and systems of government we live under. We must submit to Him in our hearts. This is to be the attitude and goal of the Church, the Bride of Christ, to submit to our Head, Jesus Christ, and to do His will. Whenever a church is submitted to God’s will first and foremost, and He is controlling us as believers, that is when His kingdom is at hand. Wherever any individual believer or church is not submitted to God’s will but are dominated by self-will and self-agendas, His kingdom is not at hand, and may actually be opposed to His kingdom.

From Joshua to Judges the mood shifts from victory to defeat. In other words, the four danger zones I preached about from Joshua this past Sunday, we see in Judges that they fell headlong into all of them. And they move from freedom to bondage.

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