Series: Best Book In the BibleEvery Christian knows the importance of reading their Bible, but many are overwhelmed with the task of devouring such a monstrous book! Often times, when Christians lose steam in their yearly reading plans, they can become frustrated and feel defeated. It is for this reason that individual book studies can be a lifesaver. In the Best Book in the Bible series, we will provide entry points into faithful study through “selling” you on why you should fall in love with the various books of the Bible.
Many of us remember reading William Golding’s classic book Lord of the Flies— a tale of a group of children marooned on a desert island without adult supervision that ends disastrously. The Book of Judges is eerily similar as God’s children cast off His Law and “do what is right in their own eyes” (17:6; 21:25), leading to ruin. For students of Judges exploring this cautionary tale, it’s like watching a car wreck in slow motion. But for those who are willing to humbly examine themselves and seek the wisdom of the Lord, Judges has much to teach about the disastrous effects of rebellion and the need for godly obedience.
Main themes: The lawlessness and judgment of Israel, the power of God
“Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you,” (Judges 2:1)
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
Israel is coming off the extreme high of Joshua’s conquests but, in the wake of victory, they begin to stray from God. With no distinct leader in Israel to shepherd them, God appoints a series of “judges”— military and civil leaders to govern the people. The book itself spans more than 300 years of Hebrew history, from the death of Joshua to the advent of the first king of Israel.
1:1—3:6. Historical Background. The opening verses of Judges chronicle the period in which the Israelites are living. Their leader, Joshua, has died (1:1) and the people are in a bit of disarray. Tasked with expelling the remaining Canaanites, the twelve tribes of Israel fail to complete their task and settle into lethargy.
@NatePickowicz Judges - it was where I first saw the holiness, judgment & mercy of God and the depravity of man.— John Chester (@PastorJChester) July 14, 2015
Chapter 2 introduces us to the spiritual underpinnings of Israel; a sort-of commentary on the condition of their collective hearts. God has declared His commitment to His covenant with Israel (2:1) but proves determined to chasten the people in their sin. And so begins “the sin cycle” as spelled out in the chapter. Also known as “the cycle of apostasy”, Israel enters into this cycle marked by four stages: 1. sin against God (2:11-13), 2. oppression (2:14-17), 3. groaning and repentance (2:18b), and 4. deliverance. However, as soon as Israel is delivered from their bondage to a wicked despot, they “would turn back and act more corruptly… following other gods to serve them” (2:19). This cycle would continue for generations.
Finally, in chapter 3, we see the key offending players; nations who oppose and oppress Israel: the five lords of the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites— enemies that the Lord uses to test and chasten Israel (3:1), that they might repent of their sin and obey Him.
3:7—16:31. The next section brings us through the twelve judges appointed over Israel. While there are certainly notable names, many are only given a short treatment. Starting in chapter 3 verse 7, we are introduced to Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. We meet Deborah and her assistant Barak in chapter 4. The next three chapters bring us through the story of Gideon (chs. 6-8), followed by the oppression by Gideon’s son Abimelech in chapter 9. We then read about Tola and Jair in chapter 10, followed by Jephthah (ch. 11), Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (ch. 12).
Chapters 13 through 16 bring us through the amazing story of Samson. Under intense Philistine oppression, the mighty Samson comes on the scene. We read early on of his miraculous conception, by which his mother is visited by the angel of the Lord and Samson is consecrated to the Lord’s service from the womb. Several times, we see that the Spirit of the Lord empowers him with great strength (13:25; 14:6; 15:14) and Samson is able to defend Israel. However, Samson is plagued with rebellion and pride, as he becomes overconfident in his abilities. He is lured into divulging the secret of his strength—his hair—to Delilah, a harlot. Quickly, he his attacked, his hair cut off, and he is paraded around in front of the Philistines, weak and defeated. In a final plea to God, he cries out for strength and the Lord grants it; he collapses the building, killing the Philistines along with himself.
17:1—21:25. The end of the book rounds out the period of Israel’s apostasy, as we are introduced to a wayward man named Micah who exploits a Levite priest for his own personal gain (ch. 17). We then see the Danite migration (ch. 18) followed by the Benjamite war (chs. 19-21). In the end of the three hundred years of apostasy, Israel is a mess. There is no king, and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). While the conclusion of the book leaves us feeling rather hopeless, the stage is set for Israel to receive her first king— King Saul.
@NatePickowicz Judges - and where I first realized I was lied to about the content of the bible.— John Chester (@PastorJChester) July 14, 2015
What Makes This Book So Great:
The story of the days of the Judges is somber, yet encouraging if the reader knows what’s coming. We learn many spiritual lessons: the power of God to defend His people, His judgment of sin and rebellion, the mighty work of the Spirit in the Lord’s servants. In the end, we see that all of God’s leaders, although great in their own way, are still flawed. As Tim Keller writes, “[Jesus is] the ultimate judge—the perfect and unflawed Gideon and Samson.” The vacuum of godliness displayed in Judges creates an expectation for true godliness that will be displayed later by David, and ultimately in Jesus Christ.
It may prove helpful to break up the reading into manageable sections. As with all Bible books, it’s best to read the text many times. Whenever we encounter many persons in a narrative text, it’s easy to get confused and forget names and places. In Judges, however, it helps to know that there are “major” judges and “minor” judges. These aren’t noted by importance but by the amount of written content. Othniel, Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon are considered “minor”—little written, while Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson are “major”— much written.
While there is much to explore in Judges, focus your attention on various lessons, such as “the sin cycle” in chapter 2. Examine your own heart: Are you prone to this same cycle? If so, devote yourself to repentance and obedience. Study the various judges; What makes them great? What are their flaws? Conduct character studies of Gideon and Samson; they are some of the most fascinating men in Scripture!
- John J. Davis John Whitcomb, Israel from Conquest to Exile: A Commentary on Joshua – 2 Kings. B&H, 1994.
This is a great commentary on these historical books.
- Arthur E. Cundall and Leon Morris, Judges and Ruth. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008)
A great scholarly commentary.
- Dale Ralph Davis, Judges: Such a Great Salvation. (Christian Focus, 2006)
A wise and readable commentary.
Note: Find the rest of the Best Book in the Bible series here: EntreatingFavor.com/BestBookSeries