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Book Of Judges: Summary And Explanation

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The book of Judges describes a period in Israel’s history between Moses and Joshua's prophetic leadership and the establishment of the monarchy. 

Using this short overview of Judges, we learn important lessons about the journeys of the six judges and how power can corrupt even the most valiant of God’s servants.

What is the book of judges about?

The Book of Judges is the seventh book of the Hebrew Bible in the Old Testament. 

As temporary leaders, the biblical judges served between Joshua's conquest and Samuel's establishment of a kingdom. 

The chapters are a tragic account of how God, also known as Yahweh, is taken for granted year after year, century after century, by the tribes of Israel. 

The Book of Judges contrasts with the Book of Joshua, which records the blessings God bestowed on the Israelites after they conquered the land through obedience. 

In the wake of the death of Joshua and his contemporaries, the Israelites turned to Baal and Ashtaroth, whom many ancient Middle Eastern communities worshiped as gods, especially the Canaanites. 

God allowed the Israelites to suffer the consequences of worshiping false gods. After being reproached for the worship of false gods, it was then that the people of God cried out to Yahweh for help. 

a close up of the Book of Judges chapter in the Bible

Samson, the 12th judge under the rule of the ruthless Philistines, was most famous among the judges. He served as judge of Israel for 20 years before he lost his life to the Philistines.

Judges illustrate the people's disobedience and idolatry, leading to their defeat. Yet to this day, God has never failed to welcome His people every time they repent from their wicked ways and call upon Him. 

The 15 judges of Israel helped God fulfill His promises to Abraham to bless and protect his descendants (Genesis 12:2-3).

God sent judges to lead His children in righteous living. However, time and again, they turned their backs on God and continued to live sinful lives.

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What is the main idea of the book of judges?

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Through intensive Bible study, it’s easy to see that the central message of Judges is that God won't let sin go unpunished. Throughout Exodus, God established the Israelites as His people, with Himself as their true king. 

The people abandoned the covenant made at Mount Sinai. Yet because they were His people, He listened to their cries for mercy and raised leaders to deliver them. 

Unfortunately, even these godly individuals that God had chosen didn't wield enough influence to change the nation’s direction. 

a cloud raising over treetops

During the period of the Judges, the Lord disciplined the people for following other gods, disobeying His sacrificial laws, engaging in blatant immorality, and descending into anarchy.

Unable to resist the evil influence in Canaan, God’s people demanded a centralized monarchy led by a king who God determined to be His representative 

It was only then that people began to worship God singularly and became protected. But it wasn’t until Christ died on the cross that the people would truly be saved from their sins.

Who are the six major judges in the Bible?

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The book of Judges highlights six judges during this time and shows their increasing corruption. 

Judge Ehud

In Judges 3:16, we read that Ehud visited the Moabites’ King Eglon under the pretense of paying a tribute. 

Under his clothing, he strapped a small sword to his right thigh. Due to its unexpected position, guards checking him for weapons missed the sword.

While presenting his tribute, Ehud said he had a secret message for the king. Only Ehud and King Eglon remained in the room. He then pulled out his sword and stabbed the king in the stomach.

When Eglon’s servants later found the king dead, Ehud had already escaped and rallied the people of Israel. Going to the town of Seraiah, located in Ephraim, Ehud sounded a horn or shofar. 

Once free from Eglon’s rule, the Israelites enjoyed 80 years of peace, the longest peaceful period recorded during the time of the judges (Judges 3:30).

Judge Deborah

After Deborah received instructions from God, she called Barak, a warrior of the Israelites, to bring 10,000 troops to Mount Tabor to deal with Jabin's commander, Sisera. Barak responded by saying, "If you will go with me, I will go; if not I will not go" (Judges 4:8

In the next verse, Deborah agrees to go to battle with Barak and the troops but shares with him: "However, there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman" (Judges 4:9).

Judge and warrior Deborah went off to battle with Barak, and, as foretold in prophecy, Sisera fell at the hands of a woman—but not Deborah. 

The Israelites were avenged by Jael, the wife of a clan leader, driving a tent stake through Sisera's head by hitting it with a mallet when he begged for water and respite.

Judge Gideon and his son Abimelech

Abimelech was a son of Gideon, the King of Israel. He slew all of Gideon’s other sons to gain control over Shechem, except for Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham. 

Abimelech reigned for three years as King of Shechem before a conspiracy led to his downfall. In contrast to his father, Abimelech focused on personal gain, hurting many in the process.

Civil war broke out, leading to a battle at the site of a town called Thebez, where Abimelech surrounded the city and sought to burn it down. However, a woman in the tower he'd settled in heroically dropped a large rock on Abimelech's head and cracked his skull. 

Being killed by a woman was considered disgraceful, so he pleaded with a comrade to stab him. In the end, Abimelech's evil regime met a fitting end. 

Judge Jephthah

Jephthah was a mighty warrior and the son of a prostitute. His father, Gilead, also had sons through his wife, and Jephthah’s half-brothers drove him away to the land of Tob, where Jephthah led a “gang of scoundrels” (Judges 11:3).

Judges 10:612:7 tells the story of Jephthah, who secured Israel's safety from its enemies, but whose story ends in sad circumstances caused entirely by his own doing.

As Israel fought the Ammonites, knowing Jephthah was a mighty warrior, they sent messengers to Tob to ask for his help, promising to make him the leader of Gilead if he would. The king agreed and began negotiating peacefully with the King of the Ammonites. 

Stories stay that Jephthah offered his daughter as a sacrifice if he was victorious in battle, though this is contested. This vow has inspired an annual tradition in which young Israelite women go out for four days to commemorate his daughter. 

Judge Samson

As Samson came of age, he became impulsive and lustful. He saw a Philistine woman and demanded that his father get her for him. 

Samson said this message was “from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel” (Judges 14:4). He has many stories attached to his name and is probably the most well-known of the judges. 

From his marriage to the woman Timnath to his exploits with Delilah, Samson certainly is one of the more colorful Judges of the bunch. 

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

By studying the Book of Judges, we can see with our own eyes how power can be corrosive to the spirit. It’s only through the mercy of God's redemption, achieved through these judges, who ultimately point us to Christ the deliverer who shall lead us to the promised land. 

For more on the book of Judges, download the app in the iOS App Store or Google Play

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