THE BOOK OF JUDGES
The Book of Judges covers a period of some three hundred and fifty years, from approximately 1440 to 1090 B. C. It is named from the heroes who were appointed by God as leaders of Israel in the period succeeding Joshua and ending with the rise of Samuel. The exploits of these champions of Israel, whom the Lord endowed with miraculous power in conquering their heathen enemies, form the central and principal part of the book, They are called Judges because they held the highest civil authority in the nation, and they are called Saviors because they repeatedly delivered Israel from its enemies.
The author, after characterizing the political condition and the religious life of Israel during the time of the Judges, gives a brief account of the Judges themselves. The following Judges are named in the book: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, the woman Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson, The deeds of Deborah and Barak, of Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson against the Canaanites, Midianites, Ammonites, and Philistines are treated in greater detail than the others.
Of the general character of the period the following may be said. In his farewell address Joshua had earnestly warned the people against idolatry and solemnly exhorted them to remain faithful to Jehovah, the God of their fathers. They gave their solemn promise, which was kept for that one generation. But their children and descendants turned from the Lord to idolatry and provoked Him to anger. When the Lord thereupon punished them by giving them into the hands of their enemies to spoil them, they repented and walked in the ways of Jehovah until they had been delivered. But the lesson was invariably soon forgotten; the people relapsed into idolatry, and thus sin, punishment, repentance, and deliverance followed in succession through those centuries. The purpose of the book is to offer a history of Israel from the death of Joshua to the days of Samuel in an account of the chief events and thus to demonstrate the working of the divine justice and mercy as a lesson for all future generations.
Regarding the authorship of the Book of Judges, no definite statement can be made. It was not written before the time of Samuel and probably at a time when Israel already had a king. The ancient tradition which names Samuel as the author may well be correct. The Jewish Talmud makes this assertion with great emphasis, and the vivid presentation seems to point to this prophet, for which reason modern critics have rarely called the statement into question. It may be added that the activity of the Judges is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testament, and that they have always been regarded as types of Christ, the eternal Redeemer of His people.1)