It took me six days, but I did it. I had told myself I was going to sit down and read the Hebrew Bible book of Judges in a sitting. It’s only 21 chapters and should have taken 2-3 hours, I figured. I was pre-motivated by the redemptive and historiographical “kingdom” significance I perceived, but it still took me six days. Pathetic, I know.
I did learn a few things. Or, more accurately, I observed a few things that might or might not be valid. (You’ll have to be the judge.) For instance, the duration of the period of the Judges seems to have been between 300-400 years. Early on in reading, I also recalled that the people of Israel sometimes eliminated the existing inhabitants of a region, and sometimes, they didn’t.
The book of Judges begins by telling us that Israel hasn’t completely driven out the Canaanites from the land. Instead, Israel follows their corruption and child sacrifice, becoming just as bad or worse. – The Bible Project
This seems to be the beginning of the Israelites’ downfall.
Out of the gate, I will admit to having prejudged Judges: I’ve begun to see it as (1) a historical theology book (2) in which Israel’s stark slide toward ignoring God’s kingship could be plainly seen. My premise, in other words, is that we find a significant era in the time of Israelite Judges. The Bible Project’s video introduction bears this out, referring to the “tragic downward spiral of Israel’s leaders and people” and to a “descent into madness.” Of course, there had been numerous departures from God in the past, but once the people had been finally delivered from the Egyptian oppression and enslavement, had suffered, wandered, and finally been given their promised inheritance in the new land, it would seem that God’s reign would be clear to them—and honored by them. This was not to be the case.
I judge that I have more to learn about the word “judge” (Heb. shophet). I have come to suspect that the English word does not do justice to the original role, as conceived and lived out among the ancients. The role also seems to have shifted with the time, personality, and need. One source¹ frames the scene well, I suspect: the Hebrew judges were people “who served roles as military leaders in times of crisis, in the period before an Israelite monarchy was established.” It’s important to recognize that there was no “nation of Israel” per se at this point in history. The judges, therefore, were not national leaders; they were “unelected non-hereditary leaders”¹—more like regional/tribal lords who arose, or who were elevated, based on military need and proven might.
Some judges failed miserably at points, but they also had many impressive successes. In general, we see in the book of Judges that it is God’s power that provides victory. On the contrary, when God is forgotten or ignored, bad things happen.
The number of Judges counted in this time period varies from 13-16, upward to 19 or 20 if others are counted that are not mentioned in Judges or 1Samuel. The events of Eli’s and Samuel’s lives, for example, seem to be in the line of Judges.
Next: the first three Judges