The Book of Judges takes its title from the twelve men and one woman who served as judges during the period from Joshua’s death to the time of Samuel.
This book was written during the period of the monarchy, judging by the phrase which occurs four times, “In those days there was no king in Israel.” It is possible that it was written by Samuel, but the actual writer is unknown.
All the judges were themselves limited in their capabilities. In fact, each one seemed to have some defect and handicap which was not a hindrance but became a positive asset under the sovereign direction of God. None of them were national leaders who appealed to the total nation as Moses and Joshua had done. The record is not continuous but rather a spotty account of a local judge in a limited section of the nation.
Backsliding and the amazing grace of God in recovering and restoring is the theme of Judges. The New Scofield Reference Bible gives the theme of the Book of Judges as “Defeat and Deliverance.” This is unusually appropriate. There is, however, another aspect which this book emphasizes: disappointment.
The children of Israel entered the Land of Promise with high hopes and exuberant expectation. You would expect these people—who were delivered out of Egypt, led through the wilderness for forty years, and brought into the land with such demonstration of God’s power and direction—to attain a high level of living and victory in the land, and in their lives. Such was not the case. They failed ignobly and suffered miserable defeat after defeat.
The Book of Judges is a philosophy of history. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
1. Historically it records the history of the nation from the death of Joshua to Samuel, who was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. It bridges the gap between Joshua and the rise of the monarchy. There was no leader to take Joshua’s place in the way he had taken Moses’ place. This was the trial period of the theocracy after they entered the land.
2. Morally it is the time of the deep declension of the people as they turned from God, the unseen Leader, and descended to the low level of “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (compare Jud. 1:1 with 20:18). This should have been an era of glowing progress, but it was a dark day of repeated failure.
The “hoop” of Israel’s history begins with the nation serving God. Then they take certain steps downward. They did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baalim (see Jud. 2:11). They forsook the Lord, and they served Baal and Ashtaroth. The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of their enemies. Israel entered a time of servitude. Soon Israel cried out to God in their sad plight and distress. They turned to God and repented. God heard their prayers and raised up judges through whom they were delivered. Then again the nation served God.
Soon the same old story repeated itself. The children of Israel did evil, forsook God, followed their own pleasure, were sold into slavery, entered a period of servitude, cried out to God in their distress, turned to Him, judges were raised up, and Israel was delivered. The nation began serving God again, and they were once again at the top of the cycle. My friend, the hoop of history just turns over and over. You can follow that hoop right through the Bible, and it is still turning today. The old bromide “history repeats itself” is absolutely true.
The Book of Isaiah opens with God giving this philosophy of history. Isaiah outlines three steps that cause the downfall of nations: (1) spiritual apostasy; (2) moral awfulness; and (3) political anarchy, which is the final stage of any nation. These steps have destroyed nations down through history.
If you want to know just how up–to–date the Book of Judges is, listen to the words of the late General Douglas MacArthur: “In this day of gathering storms, as moral deterioration of political power spreads its growing infection, it is essential that every spiritual force be mobilized to defend and preserve the religious base upon which this nation is founded; for it has been that base which has been the motivating impulse to our moral and national growth. History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual reawakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 10: Joshua & Judges. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)