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May 2, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“The Book of Judges shows us the Bible is not a ‘Book of Virtues’ . . . It is about a God of mercy and longsuffering, who continually works in and through us despite our constant resistance to His purposes.”—Tim Keller
As a parent, I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to restate directions and rules to my kids. And each time I do, I find that a few days later—and sometimes just a few short hours later—they are breaking them again. And I ask them, “Jude, you know the rule. Why did go on YouTube again even though you know you’re not allowed?” And he’ll say, “I forgot.” Really? You forgot? You forgot what I just told you yesterday? You forgot how much trouble you got in the last time for using YouTube behind my back?
Maybe you’re not a parent yet and you can’t relate to my struggle . . . One day, if you do become a parent, you will. Why? Because every kid is the same. I’m sure your parents have some stories about you, just like my parents have stories about me making the same mistakes over and over again.
But the question I always wonder is why! Why don’t my kids learn already? Why do they keep doing the same things over and over again? Did they forget how unpleasant the consequences were? Why don’t they appreciate the moments of grace that I show them? Why haven’t they learned from their mistakes? And the crazy thing is that we can ask ourselves the same questions as adults, and as believers!
I find that when you strip away all the craziest elements, all the war and battles, all the hair cutting, and all the wet fleeces, the Book of Judges is all about a faithful Father and His forgetful children. It’s the story of a Father who loves His children and fight for them, a Father who is patient and shows such lavish grace to His rebellious and disobedient kids who do not deserve it, seek it, or even appreciate it after they’ve been saved by it time after time.
So, as we get ready to start our study of Judges, this article will provide you with some context for this powerful Old Testament book. Why was it written? Who is the audience? What are some of the key themes in this book? These are all questions we’ll address here to help you get a full picture of one an often overlooked but extremely relevant and pivotal story in the Bible. So, let’s dive right in!
A Brief Overview
The Book of Judges covers a little over 300 years of Israel’s history! It basically picks up right where the Book of Joshua ends—if you want to dive deeper into Joshua, check out Calvary’s Taking Ground series and all the great content and resources available by clicking here—and acts as a segue way into the era of the kings of Israel.
On the whole, this book demonstrates God’s continued faithfulness and love to His consistently, persistently, stubbornly wayward people. Often, this love and faithfulness is demonstrated through judgment and consequence, as He allowed certain things to take place in order to purge the filth of sin from amongst the people and to teach them to worship, fear, and trust in Him alone.
As you read through its 21 chapters, you will no doubt pick up on a cyclical pattern of the people’s sin and God’s rescue through the judges—ordinary men and women whom God empowered to remind the people of God’s ways and to call them to repentance and obedience.
Author and Date
While a specific author is not named or credited, scholars have long believed that this book, along with the Book of Ruth and parts of 1 Samuel, was written by the prophet Samuel. Why Samuel? Based on the text itself, it seems clear that the author of Judges lived in the early days of Israel’s monarchy. The recurring statement, “in those days there was no king in Israel” (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25) points out a contrast between the events happening in the book and the time of its writing.
Clues within Judges also suggest it was written before David established his throne in Jerusalem (1004 B.C.) but after Saul was anointed king (1051 BC), placing it somewhere in that 50-year range.
Who Was the Audience?
The Book of Judges was written to God’s people, the Israelites. As with so much of the Old Testament, these stories were recorded to remind the people of who God is and what God has done for them, so that they wouldn’t forget, so that they wouldn’t find themselves stuck in a continual cycle of spiritual amnesia!
Why It’s Important
Where do we even start?! The time of the judges brought about great rebellion in Israel. This was a nation that was in every sense of the word one people under God, and yet despite this, they saw the cultural pendulum swing away from Him and towards the things of the world, away from biblical values and lifestyle to following the trends, habits, and practices of pagan people groups who worshiped false gods. It was a time of political and religious turmoil. Sound familiar? There was infighting between the different tribes of Israel, even nearly wiping two entire tribes—Manasseh and Benjamin.
I hope you’re seeing what I’m seeing! This book is important because it’s not just the story of Israel over 3,000 years ago, it’s the story of us today! It’s our story here in America right now. Rebellion, compromise in the face of a sinful culture, and idolatry (except that we traded golden statues and a pantheon of gods for smartphones, social media fame, and a pantheon of celebrities and influencers) . . . political and religious turmoil . . . infighting between the people of God. Have you ever heard the expression “The more things change the more they stay the same?” The names may have changed in 3,000 years, but the struggle remains the same.
That’s why this book is so important, it shows us that then and now, people are hopeless and helpless on their own to do right and walk faithfully. It shows us our utter need for a true deliverer, the One whom the judges were broken shadows of.
Did You Know?
As far as timeline, Judges and Ruth actually overlap, with the events of Ruth taking place around the same time as the events of Deborah’s time as a judge.
God’s faithfulness is not dependent on our performance. The Book of Judges makes it crystal clear that God relentlessly and generously offers His grace to people who don’t deserve it, who constantly take it granted, and who habitually reject it. Through the repeated cycle of disobedience, consequence, repentance, and deliverance, this story shows that
Compromise with the world is always a recipe for disaster. This is why God wants lordship over every area of our lives, not just a few areas. God wanted Israel to take possession of the entire land of Canaan, but instead they only cleared out some areas and then learned to live with idols in their midst. To put it plainly, they neither fully accepted nor fully rejected God. Their devotion to Him was half-hearted, which opens the door to compromise. And compromise always leaves devastation in its wake.
We need continual spiritual renewal in our lives. The Book of Judges shows us that spiritual backsliding, drift, and decline are inevitable because we are human, imperfect, and living in a fallen world. As believers, we may be redeemed by the blood of Jesus and saved by the grace of God, but we still struggle; we still have the capacity and propensity to become distracted, to grow complacent, to fall for temptation. Similar to the Israelites, we will all, no matter how long we’ve been walking with Jesus, experience this cycle of decline and renewal, of disobedience, disappointment, repentance, and revival. Judges is arguably the most profoundly honest book of the Old Testament when it comes to understanding and conveying this cycle and the steps that need to be taken to grow, to come to the place where our cycles are fewer and further between.
It’s important to have godly leadership in our lives. The judges were leaders called and equipped by God to deliver His people from oppression and disobedience, to break the cycle and bring the people back to Him. This book makes it evident that we need to have godly leaders, mentors, disciplers, and role models to help us stay on track and challenge us to grow in our faith and devotion to the Lord. They were not perfect, though, which leads us to . . .
We need a true Deliverer, not a broken savior. At the end of the day, even the most successful, dynamic human leader is still just that: human. They are still imperfect, living in a fallen world, sinners in need of a true, unbroken, perfect, holy Savior. The Book of Judges shows us that the God is the only true and sufficient deliverer. Broken and battered by sin, all people, whether they know it or admit it, desperately need to be rescued, restored, and led. Jesus—the Son of God, the Redeemer, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Good Shepherd who leads His people—has provided this deliverance and salvation by taking upon Himself God’s judgment and offering us His salvation. And now, because of Him, we can enjoy and walk in all of God’s promises and dwell with Him forever.
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.