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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF JUDGES
The previous book began with the statement: “Now after the death of Moses, the servant of the LORD, it came to pass”; the book of Joshua is, therefore, closely linked with Deuteronomy. The book of Judges has for its opening word a similar announcement: “Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass.” Judges is, therefore, the book which contains Israel’s history after the occupation of the promised land and the death of Joshua. It covers about 320 years, extending to the judgeship of Samuel. In Acts 13:20 we read: “And after that He gave them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.” This is a general statement and does not claim a chronological character. It is founded on the addition of the numbers mentioned in Judges. Some of these synchronize with others and must be deducted from the total.
“We find one express and clearly fixed chronological point in 1 Kings 6:1, according to which 480 years intervene between the departure out of Egypt, and the building of the temple, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign; after the necessary deductions have been made, about 320 years remain for the age of the judges. The chronological data in the book of Judges agree with this result, if the Ammonite oppression of the east-Jordanic territory (Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon) are assumed as contemporaneous with the Philistine oppression of the west-Jordanic territory (Eli, Samson, Samuel). In this case, Eli’s priesthood preceded the term of Samson’s labors; the first operations of Samuel (merely prophetic in their character), belong to Samson’s term, and it was only after the death of the latter that he assumed the office of a judge. It may, indeed, appear a singular circumstance, that the book of Judges should not refer to Eli and Samuel, and that the two books of Samuel should not mention Samson, but both circumstances are readily and satisfactorily explained by the difference in the objects for which these books respectively were written. The books of Samuel design to relate the history of David, the necessary introduction of which is an account of Saul, Samuel, and Eli, the events of whose lives are interwoven with those which belong to the earlier years of David’s career; and here no reference whatever to Samson was required. The book of Judges, on the other hand, relates nothing concerning Eli, because he was not a judge, in the peculiar sense of that word, but presided over public affairs merely in the capacity of a high-priest; and it related nothing concerning Samuel, since his later acts, when he officiated as a judge, no longer belong to the period of Israel’s repeated apostasy from Jehovah, which it is the design of this book to describe.” (J.H. Kurtz, Sacred History)
The main part of the book of Judges is given to the sad history of Israel’s departure from God, their chastisement and deliverance through the mercy and faithfulness of the Lord. The divinely given predictions through Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy, are now seen passing into history. Joshua’s warning is being fulfilled. “Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of those nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your side, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD our God hath given you” (Joshua 23:13). The whole nation disintegrates. All goes to pieces. The whole sad story of decline is written in two statements, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the book. In the beginning of this book they asked the question of who is first to go up to fight the Canaanites (chapter 1:1). At the end they ask who is to battle against their own, to fight the children of Benjamin (20:18). They began in the Spirit and ended in the flesh. First, they fought the common foe, then they fought each other.
The book of Judges, therefore, records the complete failure of the people of God and the graciousness of the Lord. Perhaps nowhere else in the Word of God do we find the patience and faithfulness of Jehovah towards an unfaithful and backsliding people so fully made known as in Judges. The instruments Jehovah used were the judges. They were raised up by God in the days of declension to bring about deliverances from the enemies, who had been permitted to bring Israel into servitude. They were, therefore, more than what the word judge in our language denotes. They were prophets in action. Their persons show how God has chosen the weak things to accomplish His purposes. One was left-handed. Another used an ox-goad; still another pitchers and trumpets and one had for a weapon the jawbone of an ass. One was a woman. There were thirteen judges. Six declensions are clearly marked by the phrase that the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord (3:7, 12; 4:1; 10:6; 8:1). And these six main declensions resulted in corresponding punishments followed by gracious deliverances through the judges.
What is the value and meaning of this historical book? If it has no other object beyond acquainting us with Israel’s history, a deeper study would indeed be useless.
Again we refer to that familiar New Testament word, which fully authorizes us to read these histories in their typical hearings. “Now all these things happened unto them as types; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “For as many things as have been written before have been written for our instruction, that through endurance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
We have learned from the study of the Pentateuch, especially from the history of Israel in Egypt, her experiences in the wilderness and entrance into the promised land, how indeed all these things are types and what blessed lessons are written everywhere for our instruction. The history of the book of Judges finds also a most interesting and important typical application. The book of Joshua typifies the heavenly blessings of the people of God and the heavenly inheritance (corresponding to Ephesians). The book of Judges unfolds in a typical way the sad story of the decline, apostasy, dissension and corruption of the professing church on earth. The different errors and evils of Christendom may be traced here as well as the different revivals and restorations. The flesh and the world and what allegiance these lead to, slavery and misery with distance from Jehovah, and how the Lord can deliver and bring back His people, are the prominent lessons of this book. Like Joshua and the Pentateuch, Judges is so full and rich in these spiritual types and instructions that they cannot be exhausted. We touch upon these things in the analysis and annotations. May they prove to be helpful hints to a deeper study of this neglected book. And blessed are we if we discover our individual experience, our failures, our need and the faithfulness of our gracious Lord in this book and thus learn more of Him.
The Division of the Book of the Judges
The history of the different declensions in Israel, their oppression by the enemies, and the work wrought by the judges the Lord raised up, begins with chapter 3:5 and is continuously related to the end of chapter 16. The opening chapters of the book are a general introduction, part of which touches upon the contents of the book itself. Chapters 17-21 are an appendix to the main part. The events recorded in these closing chapters must have occurred a little while after the death of Joshua, during the lifetime of Phinehas, the high-priest (20:28). They give a glimpse of the sad internal conditions of the people, how every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Their complete failure towards God and towards themselves as the people of God is clearly seen in these records.
This gives us a threefold division of the book of Judges.
I. THE INTRODUCTION--ISRAEL’S FAILURES AND THE RESULTS
1. Israel’s Failure in mingling with Canaanites ( 1:1-36)
2. The Angel at Bochim and the history of the entire Book ( 2:1-23; 3:1-4)
II. THE DECLENSIONS, PUNISHMENTS AND DELIVERANCES
1. The Sin of Idolatry and Othniel ( 3:5-11)
2. Second Declension: Under Moab--Ehud and Shamgar ( 3:12-31)
3. Third Declension: Under Jabin and Deborah and Barak ( 4:1-24; 5:1-16)
4. Fourth Declension: Under Midian and Gideon, Tola and Jair (Judges 6:1-10:5)
5. Fifth Declension: Under the Philistines and Ammon. Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (Judges 10:6-12:15)
6. Sixth Declension: Under the Philistines and Samson (Judges 13-16)
III. THE APPENDIX: ISRAEL’S INTERNAL CORRUPTION
1. Micah’s idolatry and its punishment (Judges 17-18)
2. Israel’s moral condition and the War on Benjamin (Judges 19-21)
Eve of Ascension