The good life the people of Israel enjoyed in the land did not last long. The reason for this was because of their sinfulness. The time period we cover in this part of our journey though the Bible is the period of cycles the nation experienced. This is recorded in the book of Judges and these are the events that followed Israel’s conquest of the Land recorded in the book of Joshua. The message of the book of Judges is: Israel did right in their sight rather than that what was right in the Lord’s sight. This behaviour led to a downward spiral of corruption in the nation. The book of Judges can be divided into three major sections: The cause of corruption (1:1-3:6), the cycles of corruption (3:7-16:31), and the consequences of corruption (17:1-21:25).
The Cause of Corruption (Judges 1:1-3:6)
After the death of Joshua, no individual was appointed to be the nation’s leader. During this time period the people failed to complete the conquest they were commanded to. By not driving out all their enemies from the land, the evil influences of these people brought corruption into the life of the people of Israel (1:27-36). The Lord reminded and warned them,
“I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:1-3).
Sadly the repeated actions of disobedience and compromise characterized the people, and this led the nation into deeper defiance. The people abandoned the Lord and did what was evil in His sight (2:11-13). Their defiance included the worshipping of false gods. The Lord was angry at this behaviour and handed them over to their enemies and they experienced great distress (2:14-15). This resulted in the people crying out to the Lord for deliverance. God in His mercy and grace would send judges to rescue the people. We are told “whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them form the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” (2:18).
The Cycles of Corruption (Judges 3:7-16:31)
This section contains the cycles of corruption that took place in the nation of Israel. During this time God had raised up twelve different judges used to deliver Israel from their enemies: Othniel (3:7-11), Ehud (3:12-30), Shamgar (3:31), Deborah (4:1-5:31), Gideon (6:1-8:35), Tolah (10:1-2), Jair (10:3-4), Jepthah (10:6-12:7), Ibzan (12:8-9), Elon (12:11-12), Abdon (12:13-15), and Samson (13:1-16:31). The word “judge” in the context of this book is not to be understood as a judicial judge; rather it is referring to a deliver or saviour. The reoccurring theme is that Israel becomes corrupt, is conquered by an enemy, cries out to the Lord, and then God raises up a judge and delivers them.
Though all twelve judges are mentioned, the primary focus in this section is on the six cycles of the six “major judges”. The six are Othniel (3:7-11), Ehud (3:12-30), Deborah (4:1-5:31), Gideon (6:1-8:35), Jepthah (10:6-12:7), and Samson (13:1-16:31). Though each of these judges was used by the Lord to bring deliverance to His people, they had their flaws and some of them engaged in wicked practices. A notable exception among them is Deborah. She was the only female judge and would be considered the most honourable. What becomes clear from most of these Judges is that they were unlikely heroes. In some cases God used those who were despised and lowly to accomplish His purposes.
The Consequences of Corruption (Judges 17:1-21:25)
The corruption that plagued the land for all these years produced depraved and devastating consequences. The final section of the book of Judges shows how deep this disobedience had become. This section begins and ends with the words “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6 and 21:24). The events recorded in these final chapters are the darkest of all found in this book and ought to leave the reader sickened and saddened by how bad things have got. Three examples are given of the people doing right in their own eyes. An individual does what was right in their own eyes (17:1-7), a tribe does what was right in their own eyes (18:1-31), a town does what was right in their own eyes (19:1-30). Sins of idolatry, rape, murder, and indifference characterise the depths of depravity in this section.
A recurring phrase that appears in these final chapters is that there was “no king in the land (17:7; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). It is clear that the people have no restraint, so the stage is now set for the rise of a king that will lead the people according to the Law of Moses (cf. Deut. 17:14-20).