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by Albert Barnes
Introduction to Judges
The Book of Judges, like the other historical books of the Old Testament, takes its name from the subject to which it chiefly relates, namely, the exploits of those JUDGES who ruled Israel in the times between the death of Joshua and the rise of Samuel. The rule of the Judges Ruth 1:1 in this limited sense was a distinct dispensation, distinct from the leadership of Moses and Joshua, distinct from the more regular supremacy of Eli, the High Priest, and from the prophetic dispensation inaugurated by Samuel 1 Samuel 3:19-21; Acts 3:24.
The book consists of three divisions: (1) The PREFACE, which extends to Judges 3:6 (inclusive). (2) the MAIN NARRATIVE, Judges 3:7-31. (3) THE APPENDIX, containing two detached narratives, (a) Judges 17:1-13; (b) Judg. 18–21. To these may be added the Book of Ruth, containing another detached narrative, which anciently was included under the title of JUDGES, to which book the first verse shows that it properly belongs.
(1) the general purpose of the PREFACE is to prepare the ground for the subsequent narrative; to explain how it was that the pagan nations of Canaan were still so powerful, and the Israelites so destitute of Divine aid and protection against their enemies; and to draw out the striking lessons of God’s righteous judgment, which were afforded by the alternate servitudes and deliverances of the Israelites, according as they either forsook God to worship idols, or returned to Him in penitence, faith, and prayer. Throughout there is a reference to the threatenings and promises of the Books of Moses (Judges 2:15, Judges 2:20, etc.), in order both to vindicate the power and faithfulness of Jehovah the God of Israel, and to hold out a warning to the future generations for whose instruction the book was written. In the view which the writer was inspired to present to the Church, never was God’s agency more busy in relation to the affairs of His people, than when, to a superficial observer, that agency had altogether ceased. On the other hand, the writer calls attention to the fact that those heroes, who wrought such wonderful deliverances for Israel, did it not by their own power, but were divinely commissioned, and divinely endowed with courage, strength, and victory. The writer of the preface also directs the minds of the readers of his history to that vital doctrine, which it was one main object of the Old Testament dispensation to keep alive in the world until the coming of Christ, namely,, the unity of God. All the calamities which he was about to narrate, were the fruit and consequence of idolatry. “Keep yourselves from idols,” was the chief lesson which the history of the Judges was intended to inculcate.
The preface consists of two very different portions; the recapitulation of events before, and up to, Joshua’s death Judg. 1–2:9, and the reflections on the history about to be related Judges 2:10-6.
(2) the MAIN NARRATIVE contains, not consecutive annals of Israel as a united people, but a series of brilliant, striking, pictures, now of one portion of the tribes, now of another. Of some epochs minute details are given; other periods of eight or ten years, nay, even of twenty, forty, or eighty years, are disposed of in four or five words. Obviously in those histories in which we find graphic touches and accurate details, we have preserved to us narratives contemporary with the events narrated - the narratives, probably, of eye-witnesses and actors in the events themselves. The histories of Ehud, of Barak and Deborah, of Gideon, of Jephthah, and of Samson, are the product of times when the invasions of Moab, of Jabin, of Midian, of Ammon, and of the Philistines, were living realities in the minds of those who penned those histories. The compiler of the book seems to have inserted bodily in his history the ancient narratives which were extant in his day. As the mind of the reader is led on by successive steps to the various exploits of the twelve Judges, and from them to Samuel, and from Samuel to David, and from David to David’s son, it cannot fail to recognize the working of one divine plan for man’s redemption, and to understand how judges, and prophets, and kings were endowed with some portion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, preparatory to the coming into the world of Him in whom all the fulLness of the Godhead should dwell bodily, and who should save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him.
Some curious analogies have been noted between this, the heroic age of the Israelites, and the heroic ages of Greece and other Gentile countries. Here, as there, it is in the early settlement and taking possession of their new country, and in conflicts with the old races, that the virtues and prowess of the heroes are developed. Here, as there, there is oftentimes a strange mixture of virtue and vice, a blending of great and noble qualities, of most splendid deeds with cruelty and ignorance, licentiousness and barbarism. And yet, in comparing the sacred with the pagan heroes, we find in the former a faith in God and a religious purpose, of which pagandom affords no trace. The exploits of the sacred heroes advanced the highest interests of mankind, and were made subservient to the overthrow of abominable and impure superstitions, and to the preserving a light of true religion in the world until the coming of Christ.
(3) the APPENDIX contains a record of certain events which happened “in the days when the judges ruled,” but are not connected with any exploits of the judges. Though placed at the end of the book, the two histories both manifestly belong chronologically to the beginning of it: the reason for the place selected is perhaps that suggested in the Judges 17:1 note.
Exact chronology forms no part of the plan of the book. The only guide to the chronology is to be found in the genealogies which span the period: and the evidence of these genealogies concurs in assigning an average of between seven and eight generations to the time from the entrance into Canaan to the commencement of David’s reign, which would make up from 240 to 260 years. Deducting 30 years for Joshua, 30 for Samuel, and 40 for the reign of Saul Acts 13:21, in all 100 years, we have from 140 to 160 years left for the events related in the Book of Judges. This is a short time, no doubt, but quite sufficient, when it is remembered that many of the “rests” and “servitudes” (Judges 3:8 note) therein related are not successive, but synchronize; and that no great dependence can be placed on the recurring 80, 40, and 20 years, whenever they are not in harmony with historical probability.
The narratives which have the strongest appearance of synchronizing are those of the Moabite, Ammonite, and Amalekite servitude Judges 3:12-30 which lasted eighteen years, and was closely connected with a Philistine invasion Judges 3:31; of the Ammonite servitude which lasted eighteen years, and was also closely connected with a Philistine invasion Judges 10:7-8; and of the Midianite and Amalekite servitude which lasted seven years Judges 6:1, all three of which terminated in a complete expulsion and destruction of their enemies by the three leaders Ehud, Jephthah, and Gideon, heading respectively the Benjamites, the Manassites and the northern tribes, and the tribes beyond Jordan: the conduct of the Ephraimites as related in Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1, being an additional very strong feature of resemblance in the two histories of Gideon and Jephthah. The 40 years of Philistine servitude mentioned in Judges 13:1, seems to have embraced the last 20 years of Eli’s judgeship, and the first 20 of Samuel’s, and terminated with Samuel’s victory at Eben-ezer: and, if so, Samson’s judgeship of 20 years also coincided in part with Samuel’s. The long rests of 40 and 80 years spoken of as following the victories of Othniel, Barak, and Ehud, may very probably have synchronized in whole or in part. It cannot however be denied that the chronology of this book is still a matter of uncertainty.
The time of the compilation of this book, and the final arrangement of its component parts in their present form and in their present connection in the series of the historical books of Scripture, may with most probability be assigned to the latter times of the Jewish monarchy, included in the same plan. (The Book of Ezra, it may be observed, by the way, is a continuation, not of Kings, but of Chronicles.) There is not the slightest allusion in the Book of Judges, to the Babylonian captivity. Only Judges 3:5-6, as regards the Canaanite races mentioned, and the context, may be compared with Ezra 9:1-2. The language of the Book of Judges points to the same conclusion. It is pure and good Hebrew, untainted with Chaldaisms or Persian forms, as are the later books.
The inference to which these and other such resemblances tends, is that the compilation of the Book of Judges is of about the same age as that of the books of Samuel and Kings, if not actually the work of the same hand. But no absolute certainty can be arrived at.
The chief allusions to it in the New Testament are those in Hebrews 11:32 following, and Acts 13:20. But there are frequent references to the histories contained in it in the Psalms and in the prophets. See Psalms 78:56, etc.; Psalms 83:9-11; Psalms 106:34-45, etc.; Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26; Nehemiah 9:27, etc. See also 1 Samuel 12:9-11; 2 Samuel 11:21. Other books to which it refers are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. See the marginal references to Judges 1:0; Judges 2:1-3, Judges 2:6-10, Judges 2:15, Judges 2:20-23; Judges 4:11; Judges 6:8, Judges 6:13; Judges 10:11; Judges 11:13-26; Judges 13:5; Judges 16:17; Judges 18:30; Judges 19:23-24; Judges 20:26-27, etc.
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