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Judges, book of

This book and Ruth contain all the Jewish history that has been preserved to us of the times between the death of Joshua and the birth of Samuel. Judges consists of three parts: (1) an introduction (Judg. 1:1–3:6); (2) the history of the Twelve Judges, which falls into a succession of periods of rebellion against God, and the oppressions and deliverances by which they were followed (3:7–16:31); (3) two narratives, which specially show the tendency to idolatry and lawlessness (Judg. 17–21).

The book was compiled long after the events it records; in 18:30 there is a reference to the captivity of the ten tribes. The compiler would have had available earlier writings that he worked into his book, such as the Song of Deborah, the parable of Jotham, and some of the utterances of Samson. There is much difficulty in deciding the chronology of the period, as the compiler generally gives his figures in round numbers. In some cases the influence of a judge only extended over part of the land, so that two judges might hold office at the same time. The following table will indicate roughly the succession of events during the period of the Twelve Judges:

Years

Oppression by Cushanrishathaim (3:8)

8

Rest under Othniel (3:11)

40

Oppression by Eglon, king of Moab (3:14)

18

Rest under and after Ehud (3:30)

80

Shamgar overcomes the Philistines (3:31)

Oppression by Jabin, king of Canaan (4:3)

20

Rest after Deborah and Barak’s victory (5:31)

40

Midianite oppression (6:1)

7

Quietness under Gideon (8:28)

40

Abimelech’s rule (9:22)

3

Tola’s judgeship (10:2)

23

Jair’s judgeship (10:3)

22

Oppression by the Ammonites and Philistines (10:8)

18

Judgeship of Jephthah (12:7)

6

Judgeship of Ibzan (12:9)

7

Judgeship of Elon (12:11)

10

Judgeship of Abdon (12:13)

8

Philistine oppression (13:1)

40

Judgeship of Samson (15:20; 16:31)

20

The book of Judges helps us to understand the development of the house of Israel after the settlement in Canaan. During the period that the book covers, the Israelites formed a confederation of tribes rather than a compact nation. The tribes were united by their recognition of a common descent and still more by their common worship of Jehovah; but, except when the approach of a formidable enemy compelled them to act together, their unity seldom found practical expression and was often overborne by local jealousies. It was only in time of war that a single leader became indispensable and was invested by general consent with something of kingly authority. At the beginning of this period the Ark seems to have been at Bethel, while at its close it was at Shiloh (1 Sam. 4:3), but it is only mentioned expressly in Judg. 20:27. The worship of Jehovah was in no way restricted to the precincts of the sanctuary of the Ark. There were various local sanctuaries, sometimes in private hands, as in the case of Micah, sometimes common to a whole family or community, as in the case of Ophrah. Their furniture consisted of a sacred pillar (9:6) and an ephod or some sacred image (8:27). Much importance was attached to the presence of a duly qualified priest, familiar with the traditions of the priestly order (17:9–10). The lack of unity is vividly called to the reader’s attention in the closing sentence of the book (Judg. 21:25): “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”