From the Editor’s Notebook
Highlights on the Historical Books of the Bible
Judges: The Book of Rebellion And Restoration
Key Word: Declension.
Message: God’s favor and faithfulness midst failure and faithlessness.
Key Verse: 21:25 — “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The book of Judges has been referred to as “a philosophy of history” (see Prov. 14:34), one of its chief lessons being “the folly of forsaking God.” Sin, sorrow, suffering and salvation are key words which sum up the years covered by the book, 300 to 450 years embracing the various estimates of the time period covered. Judges takes its name from the history of the 15 (some say 13, others 14 — the difference being whether or not Shamgar and Eli are counted) judges raised up to rescue and rule Israel, the book serving to record not only the various judges (“saviours,” RV), but the details of seven apostasies, seven servitudes, seven cries to God, and seven deliverances. The book is like a “Dark Ages” of the Old Testament, yet there are many bright spots in it, and it is well to remember that of the time period covered only 100 years were spent in unfaithfulness to God — and that’s 100 too many, of course!
The individual judges were Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah-Barak, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson, Eli and Samuel. W. Graham Scroggie has pointed out that there were three leading types: the Warrior-Judge, as Gideon and Samson; the Priest-Judge, as Eli; and the Prophet-Judge, as Samuel. He has estimated the dates of the book to be 1426-1096 B.C., a period of 330 years.1 It covers the period from Joshua’s death to Israel’s first king, the main narrative running from 3:7-16:31, 1 Samuel 1-7 and 17-25, with the book of Ruth, being undated episodes of the early days of the judges, inserted between the histories of Samson and Samuel. The human author of the book is uncertain, tradition naming Samuel.
Scroggie has aptly said: “JUDGES is one of the saddest books in the Bible, telling, as it does, of repeated apostasy, chastisement, and mercy. Rebellion, retribution, repentance, and rest, are the dominating notes in this minor music. JOSHUA treats of the heavenlies, but JUDGES of the earthlies; the one is of the Spirit, and the other is of the flesh. In the one is progress, and in the other, decline: in the one, faith, and in the other, unbelief: in the one freedom, and in the other bondage. JUDGES teaches us, on the one hand, not to presume, and on the other hand, not to despair.”2
The book itself is not a connected history, but a collection of outstanding incidents, recording outstanding examples of the power of faith in God.
1. Partial Victory (1:1-3:4)
2. Periodic Victory (3:5-16:31)
3. Prevented Victory (17:1-21:25)
Or, as John Phillips has outlined the major thrusts of Judges:3
1. Israel’s Wars (1:1-2:5)
2. Israel’s Woes (2:6-16:31)
3. Israel’s Ways (17-21)
Alvin E. Bell has given the gist of the book of Judges as follows:
1. “And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord” (2:11; 3:7, 12; etc.)
2. “And the Lord sold them into the hands of their enemies round about” (2:14; 3:8; 4:2; 10:7).
3. “And when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer who delivered them” (3:9, 15).4
Israel failed to exterminate her enemies in the land, the result being that as a nation she degenerated to the level of the heathen around them. The same thing may be traced in the life of Lot, but as God was gracious to Lot, so also was He gracious to Israel in the days of the Judges.
There are a number of notable points worthy of special attention in Judges:
1. Unlike other books, Judges had a double commencement (cf. 1:1-2 with 2:6-9). God’s people are first seen in dependence and then in declension.
2. It records one of the greatest battle songs in the world (5).
3. It contains the first record in history of the emergence of a woman as the leader of a nation (4).
4. It contains the oldest known parable in the world (9:8-15).
5. There are seven apostasies —seven servitudes — seven cries to God — and seven deliverances.
6. The book has historical value in its link with Joshua (1:1-3:6), its history of the Judges (3:7-16:31), and its appendix which reveals the terrible spiritual condition and declension of the times (17-21).
7. It is a revelation of the perpetual proneness of the human heart to wander away from God, yet at the same time manifesting God’s grace in pursuing and restoring His backslidden people.
In the book of Judges we see the “cause, course and curse” (G. Campbell Morgan) of spiritual deterioration.
How did Israel’s spiritual deterioration begin? In all probability it began with one man, or a small group of men, Eric W. Hayden having made the following pertinent observation:
“It is astonishing to study the history of the church and to see how nearly all errors and heresies began with one person, then the rest followed. One man, ‘Judge’ Rutherford—result: the Jehovah’s Witnesses; one man, William Miller—result: Seventh Day Adventism; one man, Joseph Smith — result: Mormonism; one woman, Mary Baker Eddy — result: Christian Science; one man, Austin Sparkes result: the Honor Oak Fellowship; one man, Frank Buchman — result: the Oxford Group or Moral Rearmament. And to a lesser degree we can see this in some of our churches. One man or woman becomes so keen (almost fanatical) about a certain subsidiary society of the church and immediately a group attach themselves about this person and a whole number are missing from the important services of the church. Sometimes there is a real gain from closing down all church organizations except the prayer meeting and the Bible school and making a fresh start. Anarchy is so contagious.”5
In the book of Judges the LORD JESUS CHRIST is seen as the “MESSENGER OF JEHOVAH.”
1 W. Graham Scroggie, Know Your Bible, I, P54.
2 Ibid., p. 55.
3 John Phillips, Exploring the Scriptures, pp. 55-56.
4 Alvin E. Bell, The Gist of the Bible, p. 27.
5 Eric W. Hayden, Preaching Through the Bible, p. 43.