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Jewish tradition holds that Samuel wrote Judges, or Shophetim, but this theory cannot be proven. Whoever authored the book wrote sometime near the beginning of David’s reign, likely between 1045 and 1000 B.C. The book’s name comes from the title of those who ruled Israel after Joshua, though these men served more as deliverers than judges. Some became national heroes; ...

The narrative spans approximately 1400 to 1050 B.C. The Canaanites had lived in the region for centuries. Heavily influenced by Mesopotamia and Egypt, Canaanite civilization had developed highly. From their fortified cities in the hills to their iron chariots in the plains, the Canaanites intimidated the Israelites. The people had often united in their fight against Egypt’s control and had much experience in war. Known throughout the Near East as merchants and traders, the Canaanites also maintained extensive olive groves and vineyards. Consequently, their religion incorporated ceremonies they thought would ensure the soil’s fertility, and celebrations of gratitude to the deities for bountiful harvests.

Israel's Unfaithfulness

Idol worshipping IsraelitesWhen the Israelites finally stopped fighting, the Canaanites still possessed a number of fortified cities, strategically placed so that they separated the Israelite tribes and made communication between them nearly impossible. Occasionally, two or three tribes banded together to fight a common enemy, but the Israelites ultimately failed to eliminate the Canaanites so they settled among them instead.

As they learned agriculture from the Canaanites, the Israelites also gradually absorbed the local heathen religion. Meanwhile, foreign invaders persisted on all sides. The geographical separation, the repeated foreign invasions, and the nation’s apostasy diminished the unity Israel had experienced in worshiping the true God.

If Joshua depicts God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His covenant with Abraham’s descendants, in stark contrast Judges tells of the Israelites’ failure to uphold their side of the covenant by not eliminating the Canaanites. Consequently, they experienced no end of strife. Like an overly-dramatic, manipulative child, Israel called out to God when they had nowhere else to turn, promising faithfulness without giving any thought to the long-term implications of their promise. But time and again, in His characteristic long-suffering way, God raised up a deliverer, only to watch the Israelites turn away from Him again once they felt safe.

Results of Sin

Samson after his enslavement by the PhilistinesSin results in God’s displeasure. Judges reveals how suffering and disaster are sometimes intended to draw people back to God. Viewed from this angle, the book becomes not so much a historical narrative as a theological reflection upon history. The author shows that the Israelites’ lack of trust in God ended up costing them their success. Judges provides a context for the Israelites’ ensuing centuries of political hardships, related in the rest of the OT. Because they failed to drive out the Canaanites, the Israelites were led to be unfaithful.

Today, Judges reminds us that discipline always follows disobedience, especially for the unrepentant. God intends that discipline be educational; He “disciplines those He loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:6) Though this principle may no longer apply on a national level, certainly it applies on an individual level.

Artwork for this article courtesy of Sweet Publishing
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