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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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JUDGES. An examination of Exodus 18:1-27 shows that the Hebrew word for to ‘judge’ means originally to pronounce the oracle; thus, when we read of Moses sitting to ‘judge the people’ ( Exodus 18:13 ), a reference to Exodus 18:15-16 shows that what is meant is the giving of Divine decisions: ‘… the people come unto me to inquire of God: when they have a matter they come unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbour, and I make them know the statutes of God, and his laws’ (cf. Exodus 18:19-20 ). In the next place, the same chapter shows the word in process of receiving a wider application; owing to the increasing number of those who come to seek counsel, only specially difficult cases are dealt with by Moses, while the ordinary ones are deputed to the heads of the families, etc., to settle ( Exodus 18:25-26 ). A ‘judge’ was therefore originally a priest who pronounced oracles; then the elders of the people became judges. But at an early period the functions of the ‘judges,’ at any rate the more important of them, were exercised by a chief, chosen from among the elders probably on account of superior skill in warfare, an hereditary succession would, however, naturally tend to arise who was to all intents and purposes a king. So the probability is that those who are known as the ‘judges’ in popular parlance were in reality kings in the ordinary sense of the word. In connexion with this it is interesting to note that in somewhat later times than those of the ‘judges’ one of the main duties of the king was to judge, see e.g. 2 Samuel 15:1-6 , ‘… there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee. Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land.… And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment’ (cf., further, 1 Kings 3:9 , 2 Kings 15:5 ); moreover, ‘judge’ and ‘king’ seem to be used synonymously in Amos 2:3 , Hosea 7:7 , Psalms 2:10 . The offer of the kingship (hereditary) to the ‘judge’ Gideon ( Judges 8:22 ff.) fully bears out what has been said. The fact probably is that the Deuteronomic legislators, on theocratic grounds, called those rulers ‘judges’ who were actually kings in the same sense as Saul was; fundamentally there was no difference between the two, but nominally a difference was implied.

W. O. E. Oesterley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Judges'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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