Reading 1,34 - 21 chapters - 618 verses - 18,976 words



Vital Statistics

 Purpose:  To show that God's judgment against sin is certain, and his forgiveness of sin and restoration to relationship are just as certain for those who repent  
 Author:  Possibly Samuel 
 Original audience:  The people of Israel 
 Setting:  The land of Canaan, later called Israel. God had helped the Israelites conquer Canaan, which had been inhabited by a host of wicked nations. But they were in danger of losing this Promised Land because they compromised their conviction and disobeyed God.  
 Key verse:   In those days Israel had no king;everyone did as they saw fit. (17:6)
 Key people:  Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson, Delilah  
 Special feature:  Records Israel's first civil war 


    The title refers to the leaders Israel had from the time of the elders who outlived Joshua until the time of the monarchy. Their principal purpose is best expressed in 2:16: "Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of ... raiders." Since it was God who permitted the oppressions and raised up deliverers, he himself was Israel's ultimate Judge and Deliverer (11:27; 8:23, where Gideon, a judge, insists that the Lord is Israel's true ruler). 

Author and Date

    Although tradition ascribes the book to Samuel, the author is actually unknow. It is possible that Samuel assembled some of the accounts from the period of the judges and that such prophets as Nathan and Gad, both of whom were associated with David's court, had a hand in shaping and editing the material (1Ch 29:29).

    The date of composition is also unknown, but it was undoubtedly during the monarchy. The frequente expression "In those days Israel had no king" (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) suggests a date after the establishment of the monarchy. The observation that the Jebusites still controlled Jerusalem (1:21) has been taken to indicate a time before David's capture of the city c. 1000 B.C. (2Sa 5:6-10). But the new conditions in Israel alluded to in chs. 17-21 suggest a time after the Davidic dynasty had been effectively established (tenth century B.C.).      

Theme and Theology

     The book of Judges depicts the life of Israel in the promised land from the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy. On the one hand, it is an account of frequent apostasy, provoking divine chastening. On the other hand, it tells of urgent appeals to God in times of Crisis, moving the Lord to raise up leaders (Judges) through whom he throws off foreign oppressors and restores the land to peace. 

    With Israel's conquest of  the promised land though the leadership of Joshua, many of the covenant promises God had made to their ancestors were fulfilled (Jos 21:43-45). The Lord's land, where Israel was to enter into rest, lay under their feet; it remained only for them to occupy it, to displace the Canaanites and to cleanse it of paganism. The time had come for ISrael to be the kingdom of God in the form of an established commonwealth on earth. 

    But  in Canaan Israel quickly forgot the acts of God that had given them birth and had established them in the land. Consequently they lost sight of their unique identity as God's people, chosen and called to be his army and the royal citizens of his emerging kingdom. They settled down and attached themselves to Canaan's peoples together with Canaanite morals, gods, and religious beliefs and practices as readily as to Canaan's agriculture and social life.

    Throughout Judges the fundamental issue is the lordship of God in Israel, especially Israel's acknowledgment  of and loyalty to his rule. His kingship over Israel had been uniquely established by the covenant at Sinai (Ex 19-24), which was later renewed by Moses on the plains of Moab (Dt 29) and by Joshua at Shechem (Jos 24). The author accuses Israel of having rejected the kingship of the Lord again and again. They stopped fighting the Lord's battles, turned to the gods of Canaan to secure the blessings of family, flocks and fields, and abandoned God's laws for daily living. In the very center of the cycle of the judges (see Outline), Gideon had to remind Israel that the Lord was their King (see note on 8:23). The recurring lament, and indictment, of chs. 17-21 (see Outline) is: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (see note on 17:6).The primary reference here is doubtless to the earthly mediators of the Lord's rule (i.e., human kings), but the implicit charge is that Israel did not truly acknowledge or obey her heavenly King either. 

    Only by the Lord's sovereign use of foreign oppression to chasten his people—thereby implementing the covenant curses (see Lev 26:14-45; Dt 28:15-68)—and by his raising up deliverers when his people cried out to him did he maintain his kingship in israel and preserve his embryonic kingdom from extinction. Israel's flawed condition was graphically exposed; they continued to need new saving acts by God in order to enter into the promised rest (see note on Jos 1:13). 

    Out of the recurring cycles of disobedience, foreign oppression, cries of distress, and deliverance (see 2:11-19; Ne 9:26-31) emerges another important theme—the covenant faithfulness of the Lord. The amazing patience and longsuffering of God are no better demonstrated than during this unsettled period. 

    Remarkably, this age of Israel's failure, following directly on the redemptive events that came through Moses and Joshua, is in a special way the OT age of the Spirit. God's Spirit enabled people to accomplish feats of victory in the Lord's war against the powers that threatened his kingdom (see 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6,19; 15:14; see also 1Sa 10:6,10; 11:6; 16:13). This same Spirit, poured out on the church following the redemptive work of the second Joshua (Jesus), empowered the people of the Lord to begin the task of preaching the gospel to all nations and of advancing the kingdom of God (see notes on Ac 1:2,8). 


    Fixing precise dates for the judges is difficult and complex. The dating system followed here is based primarily on 1 Ki 6:1, which speaks of an interval of 480 years between the exodus and the fourth year of Solomon's reign. This would place the exodus c. 1446 ac. and the period of the judges between c. 1380 and the rise of Saul, c. 1050. Jephthah's statement that Israel had occupied Heshbon for 300 years (11:26) generally agrees with these dates. And the references to "Israel" in the Merneptah Stele demonstrates that Israel was established in Canaan before 1210 B.C. 

    Some maintain, however, that the number 480 in 1 Ki 6:1 is somewhat artificial, arrived at, by multiplying 12 (perhaps in reference to the 12 judges) by 40 (a conventional number o years for a generation). They point out the frequent use of the round numbers 10, 20, 40 and f 0 in the book of Judges itself. A later date for the exodus would of course require a much shorter period of time for the judges (see Introduction to Exodus: Chronology; see also note t1 on 1Ki 6:1). 

Judges Interpretive Challenges

The most stimulating challenges are:

  1. How to view men’s violent acts against enemies or fellow countrymen, whether with God’s approval or without it.

  2. God’s use of leaders who at times do His will and a times follows their own sinful impulses (Gideon, Eli, Jephthah, Samson).

  3. How to view Jephthah’s vow and offering of his daughter (11:30-40)

  4. How to resolve God’s sovereign will  with His providential working in spite of human sin (c.f. 14:4).

The chronology of the various judges in different sectors of the Land raises questions about  how much time passed and how the time totals can fit into the entire time span from the Exodus (ca. 1445 B.C.) to Solomon’s fourth year, ca. 967/966 B.C., which is said to be 480 years (1Ki 6:1; Jdg 11:26). A reasonable explanation is that the deliverances and years of rest under the judges in distinct parts of the Land included overlaps, so that some of them did not run consecutively but rather concurrently during 480 years. Paul’s estimate of “about 450” years in Ac 13:20 is an approximation.


I. Prologue Incomplete Conquest and Apostasy (1:1-3:6)

A. First Episode: Israel’s Failure to Purge the Land (1:1-2:5)

B. Second Episode: God’s Dealings with Israel’s REbellion (2:6-3:6)

II. Oppression and Deliverance (3:7-16:31)

Major Judges                                                         Minor Judges

A. Othniel Defeats Aram Naharaim (3:7-11)

B. Ehud Defeats Moab (3:12-30)                          1. Shangar (3:31)

C. Deborah Defeats Canaan (chs.4-5)

D. Gideon Defeats Midian (chs.6-8)

                         (Abimelech, the anti-judge, ch.9)

                                                                             2. Tola (10:1-2)

                                                                             3. Jair (10:3-5)

E. Jephthah Defeats Ammon (10:6-12:7)

                                                                             4. Idzan (12:8-10)

                                                                             5. Elon (12:11-12)

                                                                             6. Abdon (12:13-15)

F. Samson Checks Philistia (chs.13-16)

III. Epilogue: Religious and Moral Disorder (chs.17-21)

A. First Episode (chs.17-18; see 17:6; 18:1)

  1. Micha’s corruption of religion (ch.17)

  2. The Danites’ departure from their tribal territory (ch.18)

B. Second Episode (chs.19-21;see 19:1; 21:25)

  1. Gibeah’s corruption of morals (ch.19)

  2. The Benjamites; near removal from their tribal territory (chs.20-21)

Judges Horizontal

1:1 - Did not drive out nations

Why they

were in trouble

2:6 - Cycles of obedience

3:7 - Othniel

Mesopotamia and

3:12 - Ehud


3:31 - Shamgar


4:1 - Deborah

Jabin of

5:1 - Song of Victory


6:1 - Gideon

7:1 - In war with Midianites


8:1 - Pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna

8:33 - Abimelech made king


10:1 - Tola

King 3 years


10:3 - Jair


10:6 - Jephthah

11:1 - Deliverance by Jophthan


12:8 - Ibzan


12:11 - Elon

12:13 - Abdon

13:1 - Birth of Samson

14:1 - Samson’s wedding


15:1 - He took foxy revenge

16:1 - Delilah

17:1 - Micah and the Levite

Failure through

18:1 - Danites seek territory

Idolatry / Danites


19:1 - A Levite and his concubine

20:1 - War with the Benjaminites

War within

21:1 - Benjamites gets wifes

God's character in Judges

  1. God is righteous - 5:11
  2. God is wrathful - 9:56

Christ in Judges

    The book of Judges traces the people of Israel through seven periods of complete rebellion against God. During each period, specific judges are brought forth as deliverers and saviors for the fallen people. These judges illustrate Christ as the final Savior and King of His people (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Mark 15:2).