The Hebrew title of the Book of Judges is Shophetim, meaning “judges,” “rulers,” “deliverers,” or “saviors.” Shophet suggests not only the idea of maintaining justice and settling disputes, but it also can mean “liberating” and “delivering.” First the judges delivered the people; then they ruled and administered justice.
The Book of Judges records the history of Israel from the death of Joshua, the successor of Moses as leader of the Jewish people, to shortly before the beginning of the monarchy under Saul, Israel’s first king. It records the history of the government of Israel under fourteen judges who ruled Israel before the nation had a king.
The Book of Judges stands in stark contrast to the Book of Joshua. In Joshua, an obedient and faithful people, under the leadership of a godly man, conquered the land through trust in the power of God. In Judges, however, a disobedient and idolatrous people suffer defeat time and again because of their rebellion against God.
In seven distinct cycles of sin to salvation, Judges shows how Israel set aside God’s law and in its place every man did “what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). The result was corruption from within and oppression from without.
During the more than three centuries spanned by this book, God raised up military champions to throw off the yoke of bondage and to restore the nation to pure worship. But all too soon the “sin cycle” repeated itself as the nation’s spiritual temperature grew steadily colder. Yet it also reminds us that our God is a merciful and gracious Lord who is willing to restore us and bless us when we fall.
Themes: God is ever patient and always willing to extend grace and mercy to His people, even when they engage in a centuries-long cycle of apostasy and judgment then repentance. Obedience always brings blessing.
Author: Unknown, but tradition ascribes the book to Samuel.
Time: The period of the judges began after the conquest of Canaan and lasted for a little more than three hundred years, until the establishment of the monarchy under King Saul, which began around 1043 B.C.
Structure: The Book of Judges can be divided into three sections. First, Judges 1–2 chronicles Israel’s increasing difficulty in her battles with the Canaanites, followed by her apostasy subsequent to the death of Joshua. Second, Judges 3–16 records a series of seven apostasies, followed by oppression from outside forces, then national repentance. Third, Judges 17–21 tells us of a terrible time of idolatry and moral decline.
Charles F. Stanley, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005), Jdg.