By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: The Book of Judges
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the book of Judges in conjunction with this article.
The Book of Judges
We will be using the book of Judges for our study this month. The English Bible has Judges following Joshua in the historical section of the Old Testament. It is interesting to learn that in the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, within the Prophets section, Judges also follows Joshua. Judges reveals an important time in Israelite history where spirituality took a major downturn.
It is interesting that in the closing verses of Joshua, it is stated that “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of LORD, that he had done for Israel.”1 First, there is a lesson here regarding these men and women who conquered Canaan. It seems that they somehow failed in influencing and developing the spirituality of their descendents who lived during the time period of the book of Judges, events tragically months and years following Joshua’s death. Second, based on this previous quote from Joshua, it seems that Judges is eerily reminiscent of Exodus2 meaning that there came to be a time when leaders failed to see the qualities and importance of what came before them.
The book of Judges is filled with many lessons. But perhaps the greatest lesson is that a society without Jehovah as her standard, her people will resort to all kinds of brutality and evilness. Yet, even in these dire and dark days, Jehovah will provide enlightenment and hope. The journey from goodness to evil seems to take less effort, than from evil to goodness. May the book of Judges serve as a grim reminder of this truism.
The tragedy of Judges goes beyond just recorded facts. When one sees the length of the sordid affair, one begins to have a new appreciation for the depravity of Judges. But to see the terrible length several calculations must be done. While the recounting of numerical history can be dry, the impact of the knowledge far surpasses the tediousness of the process. It simply is amazing to learn how long Israel suffered during the Judges.
From Judges 1.1 we know that Judges contains historical events that followed the death of Joshua, recorded back in Joshua 24.29. From Numbers 14.33-34 we know that Israel was in the Wilderness guided by Moses 40 years, and it has been calculated that it took Israel about sixteen years to accomplish the events in the book of Joshua.3 Together that is roughly 56 years, all of which took place to the events in Judges. So while the lessons were many in those 56 years, it could be said that Israel experienced good days. So how long was the period of Judges?
From I Kings 6.1 we learn that it was 480 years from the Exodus of Egypt to the beginning of the initial construction of Solomon’s Temple. While this same verse gives a total of 480 years, with 56 of those years prior to the Judges, let us calculate the time from the Temple backwards through Israel’s Kings.
Using the same verse from I Kings we see that Solomon was in his fourth year. From II Samuel 5.4 and I Kings 2.11, we confirm that David reigned 40 years. And from Acts 13.21 we can see that Saul reigned 40 years. Israel lived under the reign of these three kings 84 years as Temple construction started. As we will see, combined, Israel lived less time under the guidance of Moses and Joshua and the rule of Saul, David and Solomon than under the time of the Judges.
Here is the end result of all our work. Israel lived 56 years under Moses and Joshua and 84 years under Kings Saul, David, Solomon, which total 140 years. When we take 140 from 480 we get 340 years. That is an astounding 2.43:1 ratio. This means that Israel lived almost 2 ½ times as long in spiritual depravity that in spiritual enlightenment under the early leadership of Moses and Joshua and the rebuilding through the Kings of Saul, David and Solomon.
While not as lengthy as the Egyptian Enslavement, one has to ask which situation was worse? From the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 12.43-45 and applying Peter’s thought of “it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them”4 one would almost have to conclude that the moral depravity of Judges was far worse than the unrighteousness under the Egyptians. Perhaps, this may add validity to the earlier stated truism: “the journey from goodness to evil seems to take less effort, than from evil to goodness”. Despair wears on a person and a people emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically; as followers of Jehovah today, let us not only learn to trust him, but also learn from him so that we might never experience such dark days.
Let us briefly examine the name Judges. The Hebrew word Shophetim serves as the title for the book of Judges and is the source for the word judges. This word Shophetim carries an idea far exceeding simply judges and justice; it also contains the idea of liberation and deliverance. From this we can see that “the Judges [would] deliver the people, then they [would] rule and administer justice.”5
As we close, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible.6 These provide additional points of interest which can enrich one’s reading of Judges. Here they are:
- It was common practice in the ancient Near East to physically mutilate prisoners of war, thereby rendering them unfit for future military service (1:6).
- Any distinct ethnicity of the Israelites is almost impossible to determine from archaeological records from the period 1200-1000 B.C. (2:6-3:6).
- At the heart of the idolatry practiced by the ancient fertility cults was the idea that the deity magically took up residence within the man-made idol (3:7).
- Many Benjamite soldiers were left-handed or ambidextrous. Left-handedness may have been artificially induced by binding the right arms of young boys to produce superior warriors (3:15-23).
- “Curdled milk” was artificially soured by being shaken in a skin-bottle and then allowed to ferment due to bacteria that remained in the skin from previous use (5:25).
- The use of riddles at feasts and on special occasions was popular in the ancient world (14:12).
- Joshua 24.31, KJV
- Exodus 1.8
- Time calculation based on Time Line provided by Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Joshua, p. 67, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.
- II Peter 2.21, KJV
- Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Judges, p. 74, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.
- Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 343, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.