Thursday, April 5, 2012


The book of Judges summarizes the history of the Israelite nation between the passing of Joshua and the establishment of a monarchy.  At this time, the nation was ostensibly a theocracy; the people were to follow God’s law.  The tribes largely governed themselves, occasionally even breaking into civil war.  As needed, God provided judges to provide civil and military leadership.

The people were supposed to be taking hold of their inheritance from God, both the land and the moral heritage passed down from Moses and Joshua.  However, as they mingled with foreigners and became satisfied with their possessions, they fell to temptations to idolatry and immoral living.  In the absence of powerful human authorities, such as prophets and kings, people did whatever they liked and often they liked sin.  In these times, God would withdraw his blessing from the people and allow foreign nations to overtake them.

This theme recurs throughout Judges.  As generations pass and people became satisfied, they would forget their need for God and fall into seeking to gratify themselves, with few scruples about how they do it.  God would withdraw his blessing from the immoral nation and it would fall into the hands of foreign powers.  When the people were oppressed to the end of their endurance, they would repent and call out to God.  He would send a judge who would rescue the people from their oppressors.  This would seem to be a message on God’s judgment, but it is equally about his mercy.  Suffering that brings us to God, the ultimate good, is better than an easy slide into destruction.

Some of the most famous names and stories of the Bible appear in this book.  Deborah was a prophetess and judge who was a woman leader.  Gideon famously tested God by putting out a fleece and overthrowing the Midian army with just 300 men.  The record of Samson’s feats is here, including his tragic affair with Delilah and his final triumph over the Philistines.  The story of Samson and Delilah was popular enough to be adapted to film, possibly because the suggestion of Biblical imprimatur permitted the depiction of a spicy tale.

Much of the book is devoted to the story of powerful, critical, or interesting judges like Deborah, Gideon and Samson.  The reigns of some judges are summarized in short paragraphs.  We approach history in a similar fashion now.  If some event or person was very important, exciting, interesting, strange or juicy, we might find a dozen books on the subject in the library.  Other things get a brief article in an encyclopedia, or a very short entry that Wikipedia says is inadequately documented.

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