The Book of Judges

“The Book of Judges,” Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide (2002), 84–88

The book of Judges tells the history of Israel between the death of Joshua and the selection of Samuel as a prophet. While the book of Judges contains stories from Israelite history, these stories do not necessarily appear in historical order and are certainly not complete in relating Israelite history. Judges contains stories of idolatry and lawlessness that have parallels to our society today. Some of the stories are strange, tragic, or contain disgusting elements, and we wonder how the Israelites could be so wicked. But we also see the hand of the Lord as He helped Israel—even though they were mostly a spiritually weak people during these times. The book of Judges is a testimony that the Lord can help us in our weakness if we will turn to Him.

Who Were the “Judges”?

“Judges” refers to leaders in the tribes of Israel who were chosen by God or the people to deliver the Israelites from their enemies. The judges were more like military leaders than actual judges who deal with issues of law. The people made them heroes, although the righteous judges tried to teach that the Lord is the real leader of Israel (see Judges 8:23; 11:27). Following is a list of some of the judges:


What Did They Do?


Killed the enemy’s king


A prophetess who inspired the armies of Israel


Relied on the Lord to lead Israel to victory with a very small army


Chosen by the people to lead Israel to victory, but made a foolish promise


Foreordained for a great work, but wasted his gifts

A Main Theme

After the Lord led the Israelites into their promised land with miraculous power, they did not continue to progress in their faith and commitment. They did not drive out all of the Canaanites and even began to adopt some of the Canaanites’ evil practices. Consequently, the children of Israel lost their unity and broke up into tribes and families. A cycle of apostasy and deliverance occurred over and over in the book of Judges (see the illustration below). This cycle began when people blessed by God forgot Him and became involved in practices He forbids, such as the religions of the Canaanites. The resulting sin and wickedness had consequences. One important consequence was that the Israelites lost the Lord’s protection against their enemies and were taken into bondage. Finally, after their sincere humility and repentance, the Lord delivered His people and prospered them again.

What Can We Learn from the Book of Judges

Why would the Israelites let themselves go through this cycle over and over again—twelve times in the book of Judges alone? Individuals and groups of people in our day get caught in this cycle as well. President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Few men have ever knowingly and deliberately chosen to reject God and his blessings. Rather, we learn from the scriptures that because the exercise of faith has always appeared to be more difficult than relying on things more immediately at hand, carnal man has tended to transfer his trust in God to material things. Therefore, in all ages when men have fallen under the power of Satan and lost the faith, they have put in its place a hope in the ‘arm of flesh’ and in ‘gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know’ (Dan. 5:23)—that is, in idols” (“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976, 4). Look for this cycle as you read the book of Judges.

Cycle of Apostasy

Faithfulness and obedience


Peace and prosperity



Destruction and oppression