Judges :: Catholic News Agency

Author: Unknown

Date Written: 1050-517 BC


Judges covers the period from Joshua's conquest of the promised land to the life of Samuel.  The "judges" are leaders that God raised up in Israel to defeat the nation's enemies and bring about God's righteous rule.


The book describes a cycle of sin and deliverance which the people of Israel fell into during this period of their history.  The cycle begins with sinful idolatry followed by the Lord's judgment at the hands of the nations.  Then the people repent and the Lord sends a judge who establishes peace for a period of years.  Finally, the cycle restarts: sin to judgment to repentance to deliverance.


There are six major judges about whom we know details: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.  Deborah initiates the defeat of Sisera and his Canaanite armies.  The Song of Deborah follows the story of the battle.  Gideon is the ideal judge of Israel.  The angel of the Lord calls him to attack the vast armies of Midian with a mere 300 men and Gideon prevails.  Unfortunately, Gideon falls into idolatrous worship in his old age (8:27).  Samson is dedicated to the Lord from birth to be a Nazirite (Num 6).  Yet an unholy rage accompanies his legendary strength and brings him to do some cruel deeds.  Eventually Delilah deceives him and gives him up to the Philistines.  Samson is the tragic hero of the book of Judges.  Though he has God-given strength, he yields to his weaknesses.


There is one "anti-judge" character in Judges: Abimelech.  He is one of the many sons of Gideon.  In an attempt to empower himself, he executes almost all of the sons of Gideon.  But the people who supported him eventually turn on him and he dies a violent death.  There are six minor judges who are merely mentioned in the book: Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon.  Each of them rules Israel for a period of time, but we have no particulars about their lives.


During the period of the judges, Israel does not have a king and everyone does "what is right in his own eyes" (21:25).  Some of the men in the town of Gibeah in Benjamin become so evil that they abuse and kill a woman.  Her husband asks Israel to war against the Benjamites because of their wickedness.  All the tribes gather together and attack Benjamin.  Before the battle, the tribes vow not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites.  But after Benjamin sorely loses the battle, the few remaining men have no women to marry.  The other Israelites then devise a plan for the Benjamites to gain wives without breaking the vow they had made (21).


The point of Judges is that God rescues his people when they repent and executes his judgment on them when they rebel.  It also shows us that righteous behavior is really important for the proper functioning of society.  The Israelites should have conquered the whole land.  They should have listened to the judges.  They should have avoided idol worship.  And they should have stayed away from infighting.  We can also learn from the mistakes of the judges themselves: strength and power should be used for good and not for selfish or evil purposes. 


By Mark Giszczak


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