Introduction to the Book
The book of Judges is historical in nature. It relates the history of God’s covenant people from the time of the death of Joshua until the time of the birth of Samuel, who was the last judge, and by whom God anointed the first true king, David.
That the book is historical has implications for how we study it.
First, a historical passage need not be studied word by word and verse by verse. It works best to study historical books by dividing the book into sections, and discussing it section by section. The section might be a whole chapter, a part of a chapter, or several chapters. In order to keep our study of Judges manageable, we will usually discuss it one chapter at a time.
Second, we must know as much as possible about the times in which this history took place. In fact, the book of Judges itself will give us much of this information.
Third, we must realize that the history of God’s covenant people is always the history of God saving sinners through Jesus Christ. So one question which we must ask repeatedly is this: how do the events recorded in this passage speak about the salvation we have in Christ? In fact, we do well to begin asking the question generally, with regard to the book as a whole.
And fourth, the history of God’s covenant people in the Old Testament always has application to our daily lives. I Corinthians 10:11 drives this point home. Having written of the sins of Israel in the wilderness, and the judgment of God upon her for these sins, the apostle Paul says: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” So repeatedly we must ask ourselves, when studying the book of Judges: what application do the events narrated in this book have to us as God’s children? We ought not make the mistake of thinking that this practical question is the only real important question. First let us see that we too have been saved in Christ. Then we can ask how the question applies, reminding ourselves that a holy life shows gratitude for salvation, and that the power to live such a holy life is found in Jesus Christ, our King.
Every student of Scripture does well to use good reference works. These might include commentaries, handbooks, and/or studies of Bible history. I’m sure there are a number of good reference works to help one study the book of Judges.
One which I particularly recommend, however, is Prof. David Engelsma’s book, Unfolding Covenant History, Volume 5: Judges and Ruth, which is published by our Reformed Free Publishing Association.
Why this book? Primarily because Prof. Engelsma deals with the historical events recorded in the book of Judges as the history of God’s covenant as it is realized with Israel. In the light of the covenant, he evaluates the history and the sins of the people recorded in this history.
Is this book suitable for young people to read, in preparing for Bible study? I believe it is. While the book is not written specifically for young people, it certainly is not written “over their heads.” The most important thing to remember about using this book is that reading it will take some time—but we must be ready to set aside some time to prepare for our Bible study.
And, take it from the one who prepared these outlines—if any questions ever have you stumped, read what Prof. Engelsma has to say!
Outline of Judges
We must have an overview of the book’s contents. The outline which I present below is adapted from one prepared by Prof. H. C. Hoeksema, in his syllabus “Old Testament Isagogics.” I’m giving only the main headings. Part of your work in preparing for discussion will be to see how these main headings can be further divided.
- Introductory section, 1:1-3:6.
- Israel’s attitude and relationship with the inhabitants of the land after the death of Joshua, 1:1-2:5.
- Israel’s apostasy after the death of Joshua, and the relation between Israel and the Lord, 2:6-3:6.
- The judges, 3:7-16:31.
- Othniel, 3:7-11.
- Ehud, 3:12-30.
- Shamgar, 3:31.
- Deborah and Barak, 4:1-5:31.
- Gideon, 6:1-9:57.
- Tola and Jair, 10:1-5.
- Jephthah, 10:6-12:7.
- Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, 12:8-12:15.
- Samson, 13:1-16:31.
III. An appendix in which Israel’s apostasy is illustrated, 17:1-21:25.
- The history of Micah and the Danites, 17:1-18:31.
- The history of the Levite, his concubine, and the Benjamites, 19:1-21:25.
Questions for Discussion
- The book’s name is taken from the title of the men whose history it recounts. They were “judges.” Why are they called judges? What was their primary work?
- Christ holds a threefold office. In the Old Testament, all three aspects of His office were manifest by different offices in Israel. What are these three offices? Which office was lacking at the time of the judges? And how does the position of judge relate to that office? In this connection, find the recurring theme in Judges 17-21. And, because the book of Ruth records history that takes place during the time of the judges, briefly explain the importance of Ruth 4:18-22 in light of the history of the judges.
- Try now to state the main message of the book of Judges. What does it teach about Israel, as she is by nature? What does it reveal about her greatest need? What does it reveal about Jehovah in His dealings with Israel? And how do these points apply to us?
Judges 1: Israel’s Failure to Complete the Conquest of Canaan
Although the Israelites had inherited the whole land of Canaan, not all of the Canaanites had been destroyed. When dying, Joshua had reminded the Israelites that they must not join themselves to these nations, but fight them, and that God would drive them out. Failing to do this, Israel would experience God’s judgment on her (Joshua 23).
Judges 1 records Israel making a good beginning at driving out the rest of the nations. But it also indicates that this good beginning was short lived: as was so often true of Israel, she found it easier to disobey, than to obey. How are we like this?
Questions on the various verses
- Why was it significant that Israel wanted to fight the Canaanites, and sought God’s will in this matter, verse 1?
- Why did God say that Judah should go first, verse 2?
- What blessing did God give on this readiness to fight?
- Why, when the chapter speaks of so many other nations being destroyed, do we read in verse 15 of some non-Israelites which joined themselves to Israel?
- We read in verse 19 that the LORD was with Judah—yet Judah could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had instruments of iron. Is this a contradiction? What might have been the reason why the Lord did not want the inhabitants of the valley driven out?
- Why did many of the tribes of Israel not drive out or kill all the Canaanites, but rather cause them to become tributaries?
Questions on the chapter as a whole
- Some who hate Jehovah consider Him to be bloodthirsty and mean, because He permitted Israel to kill so many people. Is this true of Jehovah? Was there something in particular about the Canaanite nations that made them ripe for destruction at this time?
- What does the passage teach us about living the antithesis in our day and age? What is the antithesis? What is the danger of not living the antithesis? How should we manifest this antithesis?
- How does the passage contain a warning against apostasy? What is apostasy? How is it prevalent today? How should we guard against it?
Judges 2:1-3:6: God’s Judgment on Israel for Not Completing the Conquest
Through Joshua, God had promised judgment on Israel if she did not drive out the Canaanites (Joshua 23). Judges 2:1-3:6 reveals that God is faithful in His justice. He judges, as He has promised!
The passage also indicates that God’s justice would be manifest again and again by sending neighboring nations against Israel to oppress her. This would happen repeatedly, each time according to the same cycle of events. The lesson is clear: sin is the cause of misery; loving Jehovah is the way to happiness.
Questions on the verses
- 2:1-3: What do these verses indicate about God? Does He change His mind (notice also verse 18)?
- 2:4-5: Why did the people weep? Why did they not take this rebuke as an incentive to fight the Canaanites? What is the meaning of Bochim?
- 2:10: What factors contributed to a generation arising which knew not the Lord? Is it a danger that your generation in the church knows not the Lord, or the generation you will raise, the Lord willing?
- 2:11-19: What are Baal, Baalim, and Ashtaroth?
Questions on the section as a whole
- Last week we spoke of Israel’s apostasy. This section shows that Israel developed in her apostasy. How did she develop in it? How is this a warning to us? This section also speaks of the root cause of her apostasy—what is it?
- How does Israel further show in these verses her lack of appreciation for the antithesis?
- 2:11-19 records the cycle of events which would happen throughout the time of the judges. What different aspects to this cycle can you find? What is the lesson to us?
- Is there any indication in this section that God’s chastisements on Israel were evidences and instances of His grace and love to her?
- How does this section reveal Christ? Or doesn’t it?
Judges 3:7-31: Judges Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar
We come now to study the history of the judges proper. Chapter 3:7ff records three instances of deliverance from Israel’s oppressors. The repeated cycle of events of which we read in Judges 2:11-19 begins and repeats itself twice within the history of this chapter.
Already one is struck with the evidence of Israel’s stubborn refusal to learn her lesson for good. And one is struck with the fact that the blessedness which Israel enjoyed under the different judges was relatively short lived.
But all this points us to the need for our Judge who is also our King, Jesus Christ. We need a judge and king who will cause us to obey the law inwardly, and not only outwardly. Jeremiah would later prophesy of such a day (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And this day has begun, in the incarnation, death, and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and in the work He does today through His Spirit.
Living in the New Testament, enjoying the fullness of Christ’s work, we have all the more reason to be different from Israel. And yet, we are Israel in the New Testament—at times stubborn in our sins.
May we be instructed and warned from Israel’s history.
Questions on verses 7-11: Judge Othniel
- What does it mean that God “sold” Israel?
- Regarding Cushanrishathaim: What does his name mean? Whose descendant is he? Of whom is he king? Why is this significant for us?
- Regarding Othniel: What does his name mean? From what tribe was he? Whose relative was he? Why is this significant for us?
Questions on verses 12-30: Judge Ehud
- Regarding Eglon: Over which nation did he reign? With which nations did he make a league? Think of the origin of these nations, and consider what point is being made about who are the fiercest enemies of the church.
- Regarding Ehud: Why is it significant that he was a Benjamite, and left-handed? What other gifts does he possess?
- Ehud killed Eglon, the man who was in authority over Israel. Did Ehud violate the fifth and sixth commandments? Why or why not? And what implication does this have for us?
Questions on verse 31: Judge Shamgar
- Who was the enemy at the time of his judgship—and why is this significant?
- About when did Shamgar live? (You will find a hint somewhere else in the book of Judges—you may need to use a concordance).
- What is striking about his victory over the Philistines, and why is it significant for us?
Questions on the chapter as a whole
- What evidence do we have in this chapter that Israel develops in her sin of apostasy?
- What does Israel’s repeated affliction by her enemies teach us regarding the consequences of our sins?
- What blessedness did Israel enjoy under her judges, and of what is it a picture for us?