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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Judges

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is applied to certain eminent persons chosen by God himself to govern the Jews from the time of Joshua till the establishment of the kings. For the nature and duration of their office, and the powers with which they were invested, see Jews. The judges were not ordinary magistrates, but were appointed by God on extraordinary occasions; as to head the armies, to deliver the people from their enemies, &c. Salian has observed, that they not only presided in courts of justice, but were also at the head of the councils, the armies, and of every thing that concerned the government of the state; though they never assumed the title either of princes, governors, or the like.

Salian remarks seven points wherein they differed from kings,

1. They were not hereditary.

2. They had no absolute power of life and death, but only according to the laws, and dependently upon them.

3. They never undertook war at their own pleasure, but only when they were commanded by God, or called to it by the people.

4. They exacted no tribute.

5. They did not succeed each other immediately, but after the death of one there was frequently an interval of several years before a successor

was appointed.

6. They did not use the ensigns of sovereignty, the sceptre or diadem.

7. They had no authority to make any laws, but were only to take care of the observance of those of Moses.

Godwin, in his "Moses and Aaron," compares them to the Roman dictators, who were appointed only on extraordinary emergencies, as in case of war abroad, or conspiracies at home, and whose power, while they continued in office, was great, and even absolute. Thus the Hebrew judges seem to have been appointed only in cases of national trouble and danger. This was the case particularly with respect to Othniel, Ehud, and Gideon. The power of the judges, while in office, was very great; nor does it seem to have been limited to a certain time, like that of the Roman dictators, which continued for half a year; nevertheless, it is reasonable to suppose, that, when they had performed the business for which they were appointed, they retired to a private life. This Godwin infers from Gideon's refusing to take upon him the perpetual government of Israel, as being inconsistent with the theocracy.

Beside these superior judges, every city in the commonwealth had its elders, who formed a court of judicature, with a power of determining lesser matters in their respective districts. The rabbies say, there were three such elders or judges in each lesser city, and twenty-three in the greater. But Josephus, whose authority has greater weight, speaks of seven judges in each, without any such distinction of greater and less. Sigonius supposes that these elders and judges of cities were the original constitution settled in the wilderness by Moses, upon the advice given him by Jethro, Exodus 18:21-22 , and continued by divine appointment after the settlement in the land of Canaan; whereas others imagine that the Jethronian prefectures were a peculiar constitution, suited to their condition while encamped in the wilderness, but laid aside after they came into Canaan. It is certain, however, that there was a court of judges and officers, appointed in every city, by the law of Moses, Deuteronomy 16:18 . How far, and in what respects, these judges differed from the elders of the city, it is not easy to ascertain; and whether they were the same or different persons. Perhaps the title elders may denote their seniority and dignity; and that of judges, the office they sustained. The lower courts of justice, in their several cities, were held in their gates, Deuteronomy 16:15 . Each tribe had its respective prince, whose office related chiefly, if not altogether, to military affairs. We read also of the princes of the congregation, who presided in judiciary matters. These are called elders, and were seventy in number, Numbers 11:16-17 ; Numbers 11:24-25 . But it does not appear whether or not this consistory of seventy elders was a perpetual, or only a temporary, institution. Some have supposed that it was the same that afterward became famous under the appellation of sanhedrim; but others conceive the institution of the seventy elders to have been only temporary, for the assistance of Moses in the government, before the settlement in the land of Canaan; and that the sanhedrim was first set up in the time of the Maccabees. See SANHEDRIM .

JUDGES, BOOK OF, a canonical book of the Old Testament, containing the history of the Israelitish judges, of whom we have been speaking in the preceding article. The author is not known. It is probable the work did not come from any single hand, being rather a collection of several little histories, which at first were separate, but were afterward collected by Ezra or Samuel into a single volume; and, in all likelihood, were taken from the ancient journals, annals, or memoirs, composed by the several judges. The antiquity of this book is unquestionable, as it must have been written before the time of David, since the description, Judges 1:21 , was no longer true of Jerusalem after he had taken possession of it, and had introduced a third class of inhabitants of the tribe of Judah. Eichorn acknowledges that it does not bear the marks of subsequent interpolation. Dr. Patrick is of opinion that the five last chapters are a distinct history, in which the author gives an account of several memorable transactions, which occurred in or about the time of the judges; whose history he would not interrupt by intermixing these matters with it, and therefore reserved them to be related by themselves in the second part, or appendix.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Judges'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/j/judges.html. 1831-2.

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