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What's the Book of Judges About?

Greg Gilbert

The following is a transcribed Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety. 

"The Book of Judges plays a really pivotal role in the story of the Bible because it moves the reader in the narrative from the conquest of the Promised Land, which happened under Joshua, to the Books of Samuel, where you begin to see King David coming into power and being anointed by God to be king of Israel. What the Book of Judges is doing through its chapters is really ratcheting up the tension and the need for a king to rule over Israel.

At the beginning of the book, what you have is a restatement of the conquest, how it happened, how the land was divided up, et cetera, et cetera... and then you have the beginning of a series of what the book calls judges. That's where the name came from. They're actually sort of military rulers of the nation of Israel whom God raises up to take care of various challenges and various oppressors who have their foot on Israel's neck.

Here's the interesting thing about the book: the very first of those judges is sort of a Golden Boy. He comes from the right family. He's a military leader. He looks the part. He looks like a kind of guy that would rule Israel. His name's Othniel, and he's just kind of a Golden Boy judge. He comes in, and he gathers an army together, and he takes care of the challenge.

From Othniel through the rest of the book, though, what you really see is a descent into chaos. Now, that confuses people because we tend to read the stories of Judges as if they're meant to be heroes of the faith to us. We read the stories of Gideon, and we read the story of Samson, and we think, 'Wow, these guys are in our children's books, and they're in our picture books, and they're supposed to be heroes of faith, and yet look at what these guys are doing.'

In the story of Gideon, even, we stop the story halfway through when we're telling it to our children, and we don't show how Gideon ends up murdering his own people, but each one of those stories in this story of descent from Othniel all the way down to the Civil War at the end of the book is just another reminder to us that Israel is sinful and they need someone to save them. Over and over again, in various ways, God is raising up these judges to show them that, 'Look, this is not going to be enough to save you, and neither is this, and neither is this. You're going to need something greater. You're going to need something more powerful than just the military leader to save you. Even the strongest man in the world, Samson, is not going to be able to save you because he himself in his own life is a wreck.'

By the end of the book, the very last line of the book is, in those days, everyone did what was right in his own eyes because there was no king in Israel. If you're just reading through the Bible and you don't know what's coming, well, what's the thought you're left with, with the Book of Judges? It's Israel needs a king. We need someone to save us. Then low and behold, you have David who comes on the scene within a few chapters of the story of the Bible, and he himself, of course, is pointing forward to Jesus as the great King who would solve all the problems that Israel and all the people of God have."

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