An Introduction to Judges

On Sunday September 13 we will begin a new sermon series on the book of Judges (an ‘interlude’ to our Luke series). The following is a paper I have written in preparation for the series. Enjoy.

THE BOOK OF JUDGES: Sermon Series Preparation

The book of Judges covers a period of approximately three hundred years[1], which begins at the death of Joshua (1:1) and ends somewhere during the service of Samuel the prophet[2] or, more specifically, at the commencement of the age of the monarchy.

This time was one of chaos and disruption in the life of Israel. God’s covenant people have been safely led to the promised land but they had no king. The promises of God to their forefathers seemed distant and unfulfilled for they had not yet taken full possession of Canaan since numerous of their enemies still lived there. As a result the false gods of those nations seduced many Israelites into blatant idolatry. Indeed we are told that the enemy nations were left in the land to “test” God’s people (3:1-4).

If you read this book carefully you will note that there is a repeated cycle[3] in each period of the different judges:

  1. Sin (on the part of God’s people; cf. 2:11-13)
  2. Judgment (against God’s people as they are plundered and persecuted by foreigners; cf. 2:14-15)
  3. Deliverance (at the hand of various judges & usually prompted by the cries of the people for salvation; cf. 2:16-18) and then the cycle starts again (cf. 2:19).

This is why the refrain that “every man did what was right in his own eyes” is frequently cited throughout the book. We see the disastrous results of a lack of godly leadership and a lackluster pursuit of pure devotion to the LORD. Indeed the depth of sin revealed in this book has prompted one author to write that “perhaps no book in the Bible witnesses so clearly to our human frailty”.

The only reason Israel is not totally wiped off the face of the earth (as those nations around them were) was because God remembered his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had sworn that there would always be a people and a land in which to serve Him. So God delivers the Israelites time and time again though they only deserve a final and full judgment. The judges that God sends, therefore, should not be viewed so much as arbitrators or those who apply the divine law to the situation at hand, but saviors and of God’s people.

So the failure of Israel to obey God’s laws highlights man’s inability to serve Him as He desires and the absolute need for divine grace. We must then look for someone who always obeyed his Father’s will and thus saves us from our iniquities. (Matthew 3:15 & Matthew 1:21) Jesus is truly the Deliverer that Israel needed; one who does not fail to rescue and save us from the condemnation, bondage and corruption of sin.

Finally, we should point out that our position in this world is not much different than Israel at this time. We too are surrounded by those who don’t serve God. Thus we are challenged to live holy lives in an unholy culture as strangers and pilgrims, being witnesses to God’s holiness and righteousness in this present evil age. (cf. 1 Peter 1:1, 2:9-12; 4:1-4)


[1] Some estimates are as little as 200+years to as much as 400+ years.
[2] Jewish tradition teaches that Samuel was the author of the book.
[3] In their “Introduction to the Old Testament” Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman call this a “downward spiral” indicating that the cycle demonstrates a greater apostasy over time for the sin’full’ nation. This is not only expressed in her sins as a people but in the gradual degeneracy of her judges, culminating in (the stories of) Samson.

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One thought on “An Introduction to Judges

  1. This will be a much needed and enlightening series….
    I just finished listening to a series on Judges by a Rev. Tom Reid, with Free Church of Scotland.

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