The Book of Judges

The Pulpit Commentary introduces the book of Judges with the following: “The Book of
Judges, called in Hebrew JUDGES, BOOK OF shopheTim, and in the Vulgate LIBER
JUDICUM, or JUDICES, takes its name, like the other historical books, — the five Books of
Moses, the Book of Joshua, the Book of Ruth, the Books of Samuel and of the Kings, the Books
of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Book of Esther, — from its contents, viz., the history of certain
transactions which took place in Israel under the judges. The judges were those extraordinary
civil and military rulers who governed Israel in the interval between the death of Joshua and the
foundation of the kingdom of Israel; except only that the judgeship of Samuel was a kind of
connecting link between the two — Samuel himself being a judge, though of a different
character from those that preceded him, and his government merging in the latter part of it into
the kingdom of Saul; so that the times of Samuel occupy a middle place between the Judges and
the Kings, belonging partly to both, but wholly to neither.
The age of the world in which the transactions recorded in the Book of Judges occurred
was somewhere between the years B.C. 1500 and 1000. It was one marked by the same peculiar
features in different parts of the earth. It was the dim twilight of history; but, as far as we can
judge from those mythological accounts which precede the existence of true history, it was a
time of much movement, of the birth of heroic characters, and of the incipient formation of those
nations who were destined to be foremost among the nations of the earth. The mythologies of
Greece tell of exploits of heroes which imply unsettled and disturbed times, the clashing of race
with race, fierce struggles for the possession of lands, terrible conflicts for dominion or
existence. And as far as such mythologies contain, as they doubtless do, some shreds of historical
truth, and reflect something of the character of the men of the period, they are in accordance with
the picture contained in the Book of Judges of the times which were more or less contemporary.
Instead of a comparison of the Greek mythologies leading to the conclusion that the
history in the Book of Judges is mythological also, it rather lends a valuable confirmation of that
historical character which the internal evidence of the book so abundantly claims for it. The
features which are common to the Greek mythologies and the Hebrew history, the wars of new
settlers with the old inhabitants, the recklessness of human life, the fierce cruelty under
excitement, the heroic deeds and wild adventures of a few great leaders, the taste for riddles, the
habit of making vows, the interference of gods and angels in human affairs, the frequent
consultations of oracles, and so on, are the products of the same general condition of human
society at the same epoch of the world. The difference between the two is, that the Greek
traditions have passed through the hands of countless poets and storytellers, who in the course of
generations altered, added, embellished, confused, distorted, and invented, according to their
own fertile fancy and their own creative imaginations; while the Hebrew records, by the special
providence of God, have been preserved some 3000 years and upwards uncorrupted and
The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states about the place of the book in the
canon of Scripture: “In the order of the Hebrew Canon the Book of Judges invariably occupies
the 7th place, following immediately upon Joshua and preceding Samuel and Kings. With these
it formed the group of the four ‘earlier prophets’ (nebhi’im ri’shonim), the first moiety of the 2nd
great division of the Hebrew Scriptures. As such the Book of Judges was classified and regarded
as ‘prophetical,’ equally with the other historical books, on the ground of the religious and
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spiritual teaching which its history conveyed In the rearrangement of the books, which was
undertaken for the purposes of the Greek translation and Canon, Judges maintained its position
as 7th in order from the beginning, but the short historical Book of Ruth was removed from the
place which it held among the Rolls (meghilloth) in the 3rd
division of the Jewish Canon, and
attached to Judges as a kind of appendix, probably because the narrative was understood to
presuppose the same conditions and to have reference to the same period of time. The Greek
order was followed in all later VSS, and has maintained itself in modern Bibles.”
Halley’s Bible Handbook introduces the Book of Judges with: “The Hebrew Nation, after
the death of Joshua, had no strong central government. They were a confederacy, of twelve
independent tribes, with no unifying force, except their God. The form of government in the days
of the Judges is spoken of as the ‘Theocracy’; that is, God himself was supposed to be the direct
ruler of the nation. But the people did not take their God very seriously, and were continually
falling away into idolatry. Being in a state of anarchy, more or less, and harassed at times by
civil war among themselves, and surrounded by enemies who made attempt after attempt to
exterminate them, the Hebrew Nation was very slow in its national development, and did not
become a great nation till it was organized into a Kingdom the days of Samuel and David.
The exact duration of the period of the judges is uncertain. The years assigned to
oppression, 111, … and to judges, with the period of rest, 299, total, 410. But some of these
figures may overlap. Jephthah, who lived near the end of the period, spoke of it as 300 years;
roughly about 1400-1100 B C. From Exodus to Solomon, which includes also the periods of the
wilderness, and of Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David is called in I Kings 6:1, 480 yrs.”