The book of judges (Judges 1)

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The author of the book of Judges is unknown. The Jewish Talmud states not only that Samuel wrote this book but also that he authored the books of Samuel – most of the events of which occurred after his death. It is conceivable that Samuel complied some accounts from the period of the judges and that afterwards such prophets as Gad and Nathan helped to edit the material (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:29).

The frequently repeated phrase “in those days Israel had no king” (e.g. Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1) does suggest a date fater the monarchy had been established. Some scholars believe that this book was written before David had captured Jerusalem (ca. 1000 B.C.) because the Jebusites still controlled that city (1:21). Yet Judges 17-21 alludes to a time after the Davidic dynasty had been established (tenth century B.C.).

Generations of Israelites after the time of the judges who read this book were reminded of their ancestors’ rebellion against God and of their own need of His divine deliverance.

During this dark time in Israel’s history the nation experienced repeated periods of chaos: political disunity, infighting, invasions from other nations, spiritual and moral depravity. Repeatedly the Israelites broke their covenant with God, lost sight of their identity as His people and experienced punishment. Yet again and again God raised up deliverers when they cried out for relief.

As you read, notice how far Israel had fallen since entering Canaan. Listen as the people admitted their sins and then fell back into the old, familiar patterns. Yet God remained patient and faithful to His promises, using selected individuals to deliver Israel from foreign oppressors. Pay attention to the rhythm of these up-and-down cycles.

Explore the lives of the judges God raised up to deliver His people. Some, like Ehud, stepped into the picture for only a short time. Others, like Deborah, demonstrated that God overrides cultural norms. Listen to Gideon’s fears and note his need to test God’s faithfulness. Then reflect upon how deeply his idolatrous example later influenced the people. Note how God used Samson, despite his character flaws, but then allowed that mighty man to reap the consequences of his actions.

Reflect on the implications of the repeated declaration “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did a he saw fit” (21:25), both for the days of the judges and for your own culture.

Did you know that it was a common practice in the ancient Near East to physically mutilate prisoners of war, thereby rendering them unfit for future military service (1:6)? Did you know that any distinction ethnicity of the Israelites is almost impossible to determine from archaeological records from the period 1200-1000 B.C. (2:6-3:6)? Did you know that at the heart of the idolatry practiced by the ancient fertility cults was the idea that the deity magically took up residence within the man-made idol (3:7)? Did you know that Many Benjamite soldiers were left-handed or ambidextrous? Left-handedness may have been artificially induced by binding the right arms of young boys to produce superior warriors (3:15-23). Did you know that “curdled milk” was artificially soured by being shaken in a skin-bottle and then allowed to ferment due to bacteria that remained in the skin from previous use (5:25)? Did you know that the use of riddles at feasts and on special occasions was popular in the ancient world (14:12)?


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