Additional Information about Judges
Dates of the judges
- The era that falls between the period of conquest from the death of Joshua (1:1), often dated from about 1390 B.C. to the coronation of Saul around 1050 B.C. This time frame involves overlapping dates for some of the judges who lived in different areas of the land, so the initial date is uncertain.
- The judges include Eli and Samuel whose stories are recorded in 1 Samuel.
- This era lasted approximately 1/3 of the entire Old Testament history of Israel.19
The author is unnamed in the book but is likely an editor of previously written materials from various sources. Traditionally the Jewish rabbis leaned toward Samuel as the possible writer.
Three sections of the book
- Double introduction (1:1-2:5 and 2:6-3:6).
- Cycles section (3:7-16:31). This section includes 6 cycles of apostasy-punishment-cry of pain-deliverance.
- Double conclusion (17:1-18:31 and 19:1-21:25).
Theme of the book
Seven times this idea is repeated: “The descendants of Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1).
A good summary of Judges is found twice in the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25, ESV).
Four times in the last five chapters this is repeated: “There was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25, NASB). These statements describe the leadership problem, not the overall theme.
The true hero in the book is God and God alone, not the judges.
Purposes of the book
Dr. Robert Chisholm finds three purposes for the book of Judges:1
- To defend God’s reputation which was at risk because of the failure of the Israelites.
- To warn against assimilation.
- To show the need for godly leadership.
What was a judge?
Hebrew word “judge”: “sā pât: broader than our term judge, meaning to govern, administer, exercise leadership.”20 The position may best be understood as a tribal leader.21 To clarify it in your mind, think deliverer rather than legal functionary, although some, like Deborah, served as both warrior and applier of the law.
NOTE of (3): The term “cried to God” doesn’t necessarily include repentance; however, Samuel, the final judge, provides a historical overview of this period of history in 1 Samuel 12:6-13 (ESV) where he describes repentance as normative of the cycles: “And they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’”
Who were these idolatrous gods mentioned in Judges? Dr. Block provides help:
El . . . is familiar from authentic Hebrew traditions; but in Canaanite mythology El was the head of the pantheon, the father of the gods and creator of the world. In comparison with Baal, El appeared as a tired old deity. Baal, the storm god, appears to have been the most popular divinity among the Canaanites, being recognized as the power behind the life-giving rain that fertilizes the ground and causes vegetation to grow.2
Judges alludes to more than one goddess with similarly spelled names; the spelling below is from the NET Bible:
- “Ashtaroth is the plural form of Ashtoreth (Gk. Astarte) a goddess of fertility, love, and war who was closely associated with Baal (Judges 10:6; 1 Sam. 7:4; 12:10). Canaanite texts seldom mention Ashtoreth, but she appears in Mesopotamian texts by the name ‘Ishtar’ and in Egyptian representations of Canaanite religion.”3
- Asherah (plural Asheroth) is mentioned in Judges 3:7 and 6:25-26. “Asherah was a popular Canaanite goddess, a consort of El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, who may have been displaced at some point by Baal.”4
Using plural forms of a deity’s name “shows that each was worshiped in many locales, and their local manifestations took on the character of independent gods. . . .”5
K. Lawson Younger, Jr. gives us some vital insight into idolatry:
The presence of the deity in the statue was then maintained magically through offerings and the proper care of the statue. If improper attention was given to the cult image, the deity could withdraw of its own free will. . . . In the production of the idol, in the idol’s embodiment by the deity, and in the maintenance of deity’s indwelling of the idol, there was a significant degree of control exercised by the human manufactures and worshipers through magical means. The second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) addresses especially the issue of the cult image since this is a human manipulative attempt that inverts the created order. Consequently, any human attempt to manipulate God, whether in thought, intent, or action, is a serious breech of the second commandment.6
List of the judges
The category for a judge’s listings depends solely on the amount of space given to the story.
The primary or major judges.
Recorded in Judges
Recorded in 1 Samuel
The secondary or minor judges
Resources on Injustice
- Brave NoiseCat, Julian. “13 Issues Facing Native People Beyond Mascots And Casinos,” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/13-native-american-issues_n_55b7d801e4b0074ba5a6869c). Huffington Post, Aug. 21, 2015.
- Fattal, Isabel. “Brief History of Anti-Semitic Violence in America,” (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/10/brief-history-anti-semitic-violence-america/574228/). The Atlantic, Oct. 28, 2018.
- Kopetman, Roxana and Angela Naso. “After Serving in the Military, Immigrants Now Face Deportation,” (https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/04/06/after-serving-military-these-immigrants-are-now-facing-deportation.html). Orange County Register, Apr. 6, 2019.
- Korver, Kyle. “Privileged,” (https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/kyle-korver-utah-jazz-nba). The Players Tribune. April 8, 2019.
- Lopez, German. “There are Huge Racial Disparities in How US Police Use Force,” (https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/8/13/17938186/police-shootings-killings-racism-racial-disparities). Vox, Nov. 14, 2018.
- Lowrey, Lindy. “Christian Persecution by the Numbers,” (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/christian-persecution-by-the-numbers/). Open Doors, Jan. 26, 2019.
- Regan, Shawn. “5 Ways The Government Keeps Native Americans In Poverty,” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/03/13/5-ways-the-government-keeps-native-americans-in-poverty/#4ad42d732c27). Forbes, March 13, 2014.
- Rhor, Monica. “Pushed Out and Punished: One woman’s story shows how systems are failing black girls,” (https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2019/05/13/racism-black-girls-school-discipline-juvenile-court-system-child-abuse-incarceration/3434742002/). USA Today. May 15, 2019.
- “Slavery Today,” (https://www.ijm.org/slavery). IJM.org
- “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” six episodes from PBS. Search on YouTube.
- Cequea, Alex. “Systemic Racism Explained,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ). YouTube, April 16, 2019.
- Mathew, Sissy. “The Day of Pentecost,” (www.irvingbible.org/sermons/09-26-2017/the-day-of-pentecost). Irving Bible Church Women.
- Biewen, John. “White Affirmative Action” Episode 44: Seeing White, Part 13.” (www.sceneonradio.org/episode-44-white-affirmative-action-seeing-white-part-13/). Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Scene On Radio, August 9, 2017.
What does it mean to journal?
It’s NOT drawing and coloring. (I call that drawing and coloring.) Journaling is recording your thoughts. That’s it. Nothing special or difficult. When we journal, we simply write down how we interacted with God’s Word. We pen our thoughts and impressions as we read and ask God for insights. (See p. 65 for a sample journal entry.)
I learned late to journal. I began because I had a hard time concentrating during what was supposed to be my time with God. Do you relate? Instead of focusing on the verses that I was reading or the prayers that I needed to say, my mind was wandering to my to-do list, my conversation with a friend, a problem I had to handle, or any number of other things. Once I lost focus, it was difficult to get it back.
My goals were worthy, but I was struggling with how to get there.
So I began writing out my prayers. I wrote out word for word what I wanted to pray, as well as the thoughts that came to me while I wrote, believing that it was highly possible that God was guiding those. I began my time with God by reading some scriptures and usually a short devotional, and then I began to write.
The term Bible study can be scary. We often think that God’s Word is hard to understand, requiring a great deal of intelligence and/or education to navigate, so we stay away from anything other than a favorite verse or two scattered throughout its pages.
We forget that God wants us to know him. We do that through the pages of his Word, his revelation of himself to ordinary people like you and me. Remember this is his story, not the story of people. God is the main character. People are in the story as they interact with him and his work on earth in reconciling them to himself and restoring creation to its perfection.
If we replace time listening and seeking God with a “study” that tells us what to think and believe (true of some but not all studies), we bypass the relationship and knowledge that God gives us directly when we go to his Word instead of to other people for spiritual nourishment.
Imagine sitting down with the author of a book you love rather than reading a book review. That’s the opportunity you have with God. He has made himself available to those who seek him through the Scriptures. But there’s a caution here—he doesn’t tell us everything because he is so beyond us—incomprehensible. But he does unfold truth, insight, encouragement, challenge, and conviction into our hearts when we seek him. In the end there is a certain amount of mystery that we must learn to live with in knowing God. We are mere humans after all.
Journaling with only general questions to guide you allows your study to be what you make it.
This is your study. Your time. Your relationship with God. Your journal is your own. Use it in your own way that works for you.
How much time do I need to spend journaling?
Is your time scattered and often absent? Read the story once in the morning, maybe to your kids, with your roommate or husband during breakfast, or alone as you enjoy an early cup of coffee before work. Think about it as you drive carpool, eat lunch at work, or make your commute. Write in your journal at lunch or before you head to bed in the evening, noting the insights that occurred to you during the day.
Do you want a deep study? Spend time every day reading and rereading the stories of the week. Ask God for insights and applications. Since each week’s study has three sections, spend two days on each section. Read the verses again the second day, and ask God for new insights. Read some of the cross references in the margins of your Bible. With your journal beside you, note all of your thoughts as they come. You may be very surprised at how often your mind goes in a new direction.
Make the schedule your own. Spend little or much time on it. It is your record of how you and God interact as you read his Word.
Do I have to use the questions in the lesson?
Absolutely not. They are merely there to launch your thinking, not to determine the path of your thoughts. The questions are to help, not hinder. If something else is on your mind when you begin journaling, skip them entirely. Listen to God’s Spirit as he gives you insight into the scriptures you read.
What if I am stuck and can’t think of anything to write?
Here are some general questions that you can use with any passage as you begin to journal:
- What do I like about this story? Why?
- What do I not like about this story? Why?
- What do I learn about God and his purposes in this section of Scripture?
- What do I learn about people in general from the story? In other words, what lessons about people do I learn?
- What is God telling me to do from what he revealed? How and when will I do it?
If you are a seasoned student of the Bible, you may want to look for other stories or verses that relate to what you read and journal about how they connect to each other and to you. Use the cross-references in your Bible to help you.
What kinds of things should I write?
What follows is a journal entry that I wrote from a Bible story that is not part of this study. Just so you don’t think this is too hard, you need to know that I added paragraphs so it would be easier for you to read. I don’t write in my journal that way. Because I write only for me, not an audience, I normally abbreviate a number of words and phrases that are common in my journal, but I have written them out for you so they make sense.
I also deleted the names of people that I am praying for, but I left the prayer itself so you could see how the story became the basis of my prayer, which included confession and intercession. I don’t normally pray through a format like PRAY (praise, repent, ask, and yield), but over a few days of journaling as I read the Word, God leads me to all kinds of prayers. You can journal with that kind of format for your prayers if you prefer.
Although I’ve heard, read, and taught this story many times, it still overwhelms me. God, you are so great and powerful! Why do I doubt that you can handle my small problems when Jesus speaks and immediately the wind and the waves obey? Why do I make you too small to handle problems faced by people I love? Why do I wonder deep in my heart if you care when I’m struggling? I’m just like the disciples, ridiculously asking, “Don’t you care?”
I am amazed that as the boat was filling with water and winds were whipping around, Jesus was lying in the boat asleep with his head on a cushion, perfectly at peace. They had to wake him up! That’s a deep and restful sleep! You know how storms wake me up pretty quickly.
Jesus pointed to the disciples’ fear, suggesting it was caused by lack of faith. Father God, forgive me for making you too small in my imagination, so small that you lack the power to keep me despite the storms that swirl around me. Forgive my fear that comes from lack of faith. Forgive me for fearing that you won’t take care of those whom I love. Forgive me for fearing for my grandchildren’s future. Forgive my lack of faith.
You sent your followers straight into the storm, and they learned about your great power. I know your power and protection because of previous storms. Help me remember them when I’m caught up in a new sudden storm.
I lift up my friends and family who are now in storms . . . . Give them grace and faith. Make them stronger in faith. Help them persevere and bring you glory. Bring comfort to . . . . In the storms’ wake, I pray they all know your power and grace in a deeper way. Amen.
You can do it!
Let me simply encourage you—you can do this. It allows God to move in your heart and mind in a way that specific questions may not allow for. Just read the verses, and write down what God brings to your mind. Refer back to the questions in the study, answering those that you want to answer and thinking about the others. Some wonderful insight may come to mind if you do.
I am praying that God will so encourage and speak to you through this format that you will continue to journal, never settling for fill-in-the blank Bible studies. (And I know God uses them in a mighty way sometimes, but consider journaling through the verses instead.)
Tips for Leaders
Browse our BOW videos or listen to the podcasts for small group leaders at https://beyondordinarywomen.org/leading-small-groups/.
1. Listen to God
It seems simple, but it can be oh, so difficult, to listen to God as you lead a group. Our fears tell us not to sit in silence. Our hearts suggest that we should give solutions or even verses to fix problems or questions. The clock indicates that we should cut others off as quickly as possible. And I have been there and done them all!
If we as leaders come to the group time doing what feels comfortable, we may miss the fullness of what God wants to do. So pray well before you go. Pray as you lead the group time. Don’t speak in response to the comments of others until you are sensitive to the movement of the Spirit as to what to say, if anything.
And what may be even more difficult is to encourage the same kinds of listening skills with the others in the group. Listening to God before answering someone’s comments or intervening in what God may want to say to her about her problems is very difficult. I feel that way and likely you do too:) Many in the group will struggle, but we can all improve if you remind yourself and the group each week to pause and listen to God before speaking.
2. Keep Discipleship Goals in Mind
Goal #1: encourage the group in personal study
If you want the group to be in the Word for themselves, start the discussion by letting them share what excited them. Stay away from your own thoughts and listen to them. To involve them, ask very general open questions, such as those in the lesson. Choose questions from the lesson; use some from the list given on p. 69 (under #3 Ask Open Questions), or write your own questions.
Because the group will journal as they study, see which way the discussion goes before inserting your own direction to the lesson. That said, don’t let it linger on speculation about things the Bible doesn’t reveal. It’s okay for a few minutes, but refocus the conversation to what God has made clear, not what he chose not to tell us.
Goal #2: SET discipleship goals FOR EACH LESSON
What do you want to accomplish in your discussion? If you randomly ask questions, you may enjoy a good discussion, but it may not move the group closer to Jesus. Your goal should not be simply getting people to talk but to encourage spiritual growth in the group.
See yourself as the leader, not a teacher or a facilitator. What is your goal? What do you want the group to leave with that will help them grow as believers? It could be a deeper faith through a better understanding of who God is and how he works. It could be a principle that helps them live out genuine faith in a culture that is looking for what is real.
For most lessons, consider these questions as you review the lesson:
- What do those in your group need to know about God from this story?
- What does the story reveal about real faith?
- How does the story and/or verses fit with the big story gospel of Paradise, Ruin, Reconciliation, and Consummation?
- What principles from the story need to be obeyed? What application do you want them to prayerfully consider—a way of believing about God that intersects with real life or types of actions to take?
Wait to discuss these areas by providing opportunity for the group to bring up the topic before you simply move toward your goals. Make sure you listen first. Many of the questions you want to ask will come up more naturally from within the group. If no one brings it up, then do so with a question to the group.
You don’t necessarily have to write your own questions. Use those within the lesson to launch into an area you want to cover. The lesson questions are open-ended and broad. You can have a great discussion using them. If you listen well, you can follow up with a question that clarifies or expands on their comments to move them further toward your goals.
If you want to write a few questions to summarize the material covered rather than going through those in the lesson, write open questions from the material they studied and read. Or use some of the questions in the next section.
3. Ask open questions
You may be used to reading a set of questions to the group and having them read back their answers. I have written many Bible studies that have that type of structure. It’s easy for the leader to follow and makes it simple for the group to provide answers.
Instead, this study is based on journaling, which isn’t comprised of answers to a number of very specific questions but rather uses open questions, meaning not yes/no or narrow answers. (See BOW’s free downloadable resource at http://beyondordinarywomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Asking-Open-Questions.pdf.)
When the lesson is comprised of one long story or section, it will likely work best to let the group know that they can talk about any part of the lesson instead of a specific section of the story. Your questions should allow a response on anything they want to discuss from the lesson. It’s all right if no one brings up a certain section of the story at all.
Allow the Holy Spirit to use the discussion to take the group where he wants it to go, but also keep in mind your goals and move them into those topics if they don’t go there themselves.
Here are examples of open questions that you might use:
- What in the story was most significant to you and why?
- How did God surprise you through the story?
- How did you relate to any of the people in the story and why?
- What feelings did you have about the judge?
- How did God reveal himself to you through your reading?
- How do you see the story intersect with God’s big gospel story of Paradise, Ruin, Reconciliation, & Consummation? (If you aren’t familiar with the overall big story of the Bible, work through The ONE Story at https://beyondordinarywomen.org/the-one-story/ which is BOW’s study on the meta-narrative that pulls the entire Bible together.)
- What excites you about this story?
- Was there anything in this story that seemed new to you?
- What confused you about this story?
- What did God say to you this week about yourself?
- What is God asking you to do in response to this week’s study?
These questions are all very general and open. As you work toward your goals, your questions may be more specific. What often happens, however, is that some of the questions you have prepared will be answered before you ask them. So be aware enough to skip as needed.
A quiet group or a group that is new to one another may not talk quite as readily. Allow them a time of silence to consider their answers before rewording it or sharing your own answer. The Holy Spirit will lead you.
We love your questions or feedback. Contact me at [email protected] For additional help go to beyondordinarywomen.org at http://beyondordinarywomen.org/leading-small-groups/ and watch our free short 5-10 minute training videos or podcasts for small group leaders.
Block, Daniel I. New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth, Vol. 6. E. Ray Clendenen, Ed. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.
Chisholm, Jr., Robert B. Kregel Exegetical Library: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013.
ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.
Fretheim, Terence. Deuteronomic History. Nashville: Abingdon, 1984.
Inrig, Gary. Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay. Chicago: Moody Press, 1979.
Keller, Timothy. Judges for You (Edited from the study by Timothy Keller). UK: Thegoodbook Company, 2013.
Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Pierce, Ron. “Deborah: Only When a Good Man is Hard to Find?” Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, Ed. Sandra Glahn. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017.
Strong’s Concordance, accessed via netbible.org.
Winner, Lauren F. The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018.
Wood, Leon. Distressing Days of the Judges. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1975.
Younger, Jr., K. Lawson, “Judges/Ruth,” NIV Application Commentary. Terry Muck, Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
19 Wood, 2.
1 Chisholm Jr., 58-62.
20 Block, 23.
21 Younger, Jr., 21-22.
2 Block, 41-42.
4 Note on Judges 3:7 in ESV Study Bible.
6 Younger, Jr., 47.