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An Introduction to the Book of Judges

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I. AUTHOR: Possibly the Prophet Samuel

A. The Talmud identifies the author of Judges and Samuel as the prophet Samuel1

B. There are no specific allusions to Samuel in the book

C. There is some evidence which points to a time of writing early in the monarchy, perhaps shortly after Saul’s coronation (e.g. 1051 B.C.)

1. The repeated phrase “in those days Israel had no king” looks backward from a time when Israel did have a king

2. The Jebusites are reported as still living in Jerusalem (1:21); this was not true following David’s conquest of the city in 1004 B.C. (2 Sam 5:6-7)

3. The reference to Canaanites in Gezer suggests a date before the time the Egyptians gave that city to Solomon’s Egyptian wife as a wedding present (1 Ki 9:16)

4. The designation ‘Bethlehem-Judah” occurs only in Judges 17, 19, Ruth 1, and 1 Samuel 17:12.

D. The reference in 18:30 to the continuance of Dan’s idolatry “until the day of the captivity of the land” is probably not a reference to the deportation of Tiglath-pileser III in 733-32 or the final deportation under Sargon in 722-21, but to the Philistine invasion of 1 Samuel 4 which resulted in the capture of the ark (cf. 18:31 where the house of God is at Shiloh). Although the historical books contain no reference to the actual destruction of Shiloh, Jeremiah 7:12, 14; 26:6; Ps. 78:60 note such a destruction. Also Archaeological evidence shows “that the temple there was destroyed about 1050 B.C., which must have been immediately after the events of 1 Samuel 4”2

II. If Samuel was the author, than the audience was either the generation of Saul who wanted a king to rule over them (1 Sam 8), or perhaps king Saul himself.

III. CHRONOLOGY:

A. The Setting for the book is after the death of Joshua (1:1)

B. The Israelites are in the land of promise and are taking possession of the inheritance allotted to each tribe (1:1-36)

C. The author knows about a king in Israel (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25)

D. Some place the time of the conquest early (fifteenth century B.C.) and some date the conquest late (twelfth century B.C.) depending upon their date for the Exodus

E. This writer holds to an early date for the Exodus (1446 B.C.) in accordance with a literal interpretation of the biblical numbers in Exodus 12:40 (“Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years”), Judges 11:26 (“While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?”) and 1 Kings 6:1 (“Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord”)

1. A plausible (and approximate) reconstruction of the Exodus would be as follows:3

a. 966 = 4th full year (actually into the fifth) of Solomon’s reign (971-931) when the Temple was begun

b. +44 yrs = start of David’s reign (1010)

c. +40 yrs = start of Saul’s reign (1050)

d. +40 yrs = the time from Saul to Jephthah’s statement (1050-1090)

e. +300 yrs = the time in the land (Jephthah’s statement) (1390)

f. +16 yrs = Joshua’s leadership (1406)

g. +40 yrs = wilderness wondering (1446)

2. This matches 1 Kings 6:1 where 966 + 480 = 1446!

+430 yrs = the time that Israel lived in Egypt before the Exodus (Ex. 12:40) and therefore Jacob moved to Egypt in 1876 B.C.

F. The beginning of the conquest of the land was in 1406 B.C. forty years after the Exodus (1446)

G. The Actual conquest lasted for seven years or until 1399 B.C.:4

1. Caleb stated that he was forty years old when he went to spy out the land in Joshua 15:7

2. The wilderness wanderings lasted 38 years (from that point)5 which brings Caleb’s age to 78 at the beginning of the conquest (40+38=78)

3. Caleb then stated that he was 89 years old at the end of the conquest (Joshua 15:10). This is confirmed by Caleb’s statement that the Lord provided for grace to the people for 45 years since Kadesh Barnea (38 years of wandering plus seven years of Conquest)

4. Therefore, If the conquest was begun in 1406 B.C. after the wanderings, and it was completed seven years later, then the book of Joshua could have been written any time after 1399 B.C.

H. Therefore, Judges lasts for 300 years from 1390-1090 when Saul began to reign.

A Very Tentative Reconstruction is as Follows:

1. Introduction and background (1:1--3:6) = 20 years

2. The Accounts of the Judges (3:7--16:31) = 260 years

3. The Epilogue on the Judges period = 20 years

IV. Theology:

A. YHWH is the covenant God (2:1 who is delivering his people as He revealed himself in Exodus (10:11-12; 2:16; 3:9, 10). Every deliverance in the book of Judges is specifically attributed to YHWH

B. YHWH is the true Judge of Israel who delivers and whose judgments are right and just (11:27):

1. Note that Deborah is introduced as one judging Israel sitting under a tree and calling Barak to deliver the nation (4:4-7)

2. In the next account of the call of Gideon the angel of the Lord is sitting under a tree (6:11-14)

C. In Judges obedience is not a prerequisite to blessing. Judges shows that God’s covenantal blessings are apart from any human merit, which in turn call for a response of obedience. The judges are weak. God delivers, not on the basis of human merit or might, but according to His choice of covenantal faithfulness to Abraham.

D. The Role of a Judge (tpv):

1. One who delivered the people

2. One who ruled in Israel before the time of deliverance (4:4)

3. One who ruled in Israel after the time of deliverance (8:28; 12:7)

4. He/she had several tasks (Dt 16:18; 25:1):

a. To turn the people back from idolatry and thus restore the authority of the law

b. To vindicate YHWH’s righteousness by proving that He always remained faithful to His covenant with His vassal

c. Since YHWH was the King, He utilized the judge to effect His rulership over His vassal, Israel. The judge was invested with YHWH’s power and authority

The judges did not function properly. YHWH faithfully delivers his people through weak judges.

V. The Bethlehem Trilogy:6

JUDGES 17--18

JUDGES 19--20

RUTH 1--4

A Levite of Bethlehem (17:7)

A Levite of Ephraim who took as his maiden a concubine from Bethlehem

A movement from a Moabite to David in Bethlehem 4:17-22

Left to seek employment (17:7, 9)

Received his concubine from Bethlehem to which she had fled

A Man left Bethlehem, but unlike the other two stories does not ultimately deface the town, but enhances its name

Came to a young man of Ephraim (Micah) (17:1-5, 8)

Returned to Ephraim by way of Gibeah of Benjamin

Bethlehem became the subtle setting for the birthplace of King David

Served as a private chaplain in Micah’s illicit chapel (17:10-13)

Set upon by evil men who brutalized her and left her for dead

 

Hired by the tribe of Dan as a priest and relocated in Laish (N. Galilee)

Her husband related the event to all of Israel (cut up)

 

Established a cult center which continually caused God’s people to stumble

They attacked the tribe of Benjamin almost annihilating it

 

The Levite was Jonathan the son of Gershom and the grandson of Moses (18:30)

Repopulated Benjamin with women from Shiloh and Jabesh Gilead for the 600 surviving men of Benjamin

 
 

Jabesh-Gilead was (probably) the home of Saul’s ancestors [thus his interest in it]7

 
 

Reflects badly on Benjamin and by implication Saul--Saul’s ancestors humiliated and disgraced a Bethlehemite

 
 

Bethlehem suffered at the hands of Benjaminites

 

In Those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in His own eyes
(Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25; cf. Ruth 1:1)

VI. Purposes for Judges:

A. To develop the historical period from the conquest of the land to the time of Israel’s first king

B. Not simply to present history as it was, but to present a theological perspective on the period of the judges (cf. Joshua 24:14-28; Judges 2:6-13)

C. To present YHWH as faithful to His covenant to Abraham even through the people break their covenant with Him and never repent of their evil (cf. Deut 11:26-28; 28:15)

D. To remind the people that YHWH is faithful to His covenant and that He, not a judge or king, is the One ultimately responsible for the welfare of Israel

E. To stress for Saul (?) the obligation of obedience to YHWH with the understanding that blessing ultimately does not depend upon one’s own personal might or worthiness but upon YHWH’s faithfulness (1 Samuel will underscore this theme)

F. If God is raising up someone in every generation to do battle with evil (Gen 3:15) then the number of judges may be equal to the number of generations. This would make the book of Judges a complete list but with a theological theme.

If the book was written for King Saul, then he is one who is being raised up during a particular generation to do battle with evil and is thus being warned about evil battle before him!


1 Baba Bathra, 14b.

2 A.E. Cundall and Leon Morris, Judges and Ruth, 192.

3 Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, 88-90.

4 See Donald K. Campbell, Joshua, in BKC, 1:357.

5 The internal record of the chronology from Egypt to Moab is helpful in a reconstruction of the dates:

(1) The people departed from Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month--March/April [Nisan] 15, 1446 (Num 33:3; cf. Ex. 12:2 ,5)

(2) The people reached the wilderness of Sinai on the first day of the third month--May/June [Sivan] 1, 1446 (Ex 19:1)

(3) The tabernacle was erected on the first day of the first month of the second year--March/April [Nisan] 1, 1445 (Ex. 40:17)

(4) Leviticus is given during the one month interval immediately following the filling of the Tabernacle by the glory of YHWH and before the people prepared to leave Sinai for the promised land--March/April [Nisan] 1-30, 1445 (Num 1:1; cf. Ex 40:17)

(5) Numbers opens with a census taken on the first day of the second month in the second year--April/May [Iyyar or Ziv] 1, 1445 (Num 1:1)

(6) The cloud is taken up to begin to lead the people to the promised land from the wilderness of Sinai on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year--April/May [Iyyar or Ziv] 20, 1445 (Num 10:11)

(7) The people sin at Kadesh=Barnea (Num 13--14) and are sentenced to wander 40 years in the wilderness (Num 14:33). Numbers covers 38 years and nine months (cf. Num 1:1 with Deut 1:3)

(8) Aaron dies on Mount Hor on the first day of the fifth month in the fortieth year--July/August [Ab] 1, 1406 (Num 33:38)

(9) Deuteronomy opens on the Transjordan on the first day or the eleventh month of the fortieth year after what should have been an eleven day journey--January/February [Shebat] 1, 1406 (Deut 1:1-3)

6 This chart is adapted from the contents of the article by Eugene H. Merrill, The Book of Ruth: Narration and Shared Themes, Bibliotheca Sacra 142 (1985): 130-141.

7 See also 1 Samuel 31:11-13.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines