Overview of the Book of Judges


Overview of the Book of Judges


Overview of the Book of Judges

Author: The author is unknown.


To establish Israel's need for a godly king from the line of David.

Date: c. 1000 -538 B.C.

Key Truths:

  • The tribes of Israel failed to complete the conquest of the land and suffered from this failure.
  • God's provision of Judges could at best only temporarily bring blessings to the people of God.
  • God's provision of the Levites also failed to bring effective leadership to God's people.
  • The people of God must have a godly king from Judah, not from Benjamin, to lead them.


The author of the book of Judges is unknown, and attempts to identify his times depend on clues within the book. Opinions range from the view that the book was composed by Samuel to the hypothesis that it was written late in the postexilic period. It is possible that its final form resulted from a compiler or compilers completing an earlier version of the book. See "Introduction to the Historical Books."

Time and Place of Writing:

Much evidence in the book suggests that the original author of Judges lived and wrote in Judah during the early period of David's reign at Hebron. The favor shown toward Judah and the negative characterization of the tribe of Benjamin that permeate the book (see "Purpose and Distinctives") fit best during the period when there was still a debate about whether the house of David or the house of Saul would rule. That tension existed especially when David was king in Hebron and Saul's son Ish-Bosheth was king in the north.

Nevertheless, there are some indications that the book may have come to its final form at a later time. The attention to false worship in Dan (Judges 18:30) reflects interests well-suited to the time after Jeroboam II had established his false worship in the Northern Kingdom (c. 930 B.C.). Some interpreters have also suggested that "until the captivity of the land" (Judes. 18:30) refers to the captivity of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. Although earlier defeats in battle may have been in mind (see note on Judges 18:30), this later possibility cannot be ruled out completely. The patterning of Samuel's birth after Samson's birth in Judges 13:2 (see note on 1 Sam. 1:1) strongly suggests that at least a preliminary form of the book of Judges was completed by the time 1 and 2 Samuel were written.

Original Audience:

See "Time and Place of Writing."

Purpose and Distinctives:

Judges is named for the 12 characters God raised up prior to the time of Samuel to deliver Israel from assorted oppressors. They were designated with the title "judge" in Judges 2:11-19. Apart from this introduction, the judges were called "deliverers," not "judges" (Judges 3:9, 15; note on "he became Israel's judge" at Judges 3:10). The Hebrew word shaphat, "to judge," is also translated "to lead" (see Judges 10:2-3; 12:7-8, 11, 13; 15:20; 16:31). The task of these deliverers was military (Judges 2:16-19; 3:7-16:31) rather than judicial (Deut. 17:8-13). Only Deborah is mentioned as having functioned in an explicitly judicial fashion (Judges 4:5).

The events narrated in the book span the approximately 350 year period from the conquest of Canaan (c. 1400 B.C.) until just prior to the time of Samuel, who anointed Israel's first king (c. 1050 B.C.). Othniel, the first judge, was in the generation after Joshua, and Samson, the final judge, was more or less contemporary with Samuel. During this period the Israelites were oppressed by enemies from within (the Canaanites) and without (the Arameans, Moabites, Midianites, Ammonites, Amalekites, Amorites, and Philistines).

In general terms, the author of Judges evaluated the events of this period in Israel's history by using the theological concerns of Deuteronomy. Time and again, covenant violations highlighted in Deuteronomy were identified and the corresponding covenant judgments were pronounced (see Judes. 2:1-5; 6:7-10; 8:27; 9:56; 10:11-13; 21:25). See "Introduction to the Historical Books."

More specifically, however, the book of Judges established the importance of godly Davidic kingship. This point of view was advanced in the book in a number of ways:

(1) The author pointed out that in the past the people of God had sinned because their appointed leaders had failed. He recorded that parents (Judges 2:6-10; 6:11-32, especially Judges 6:13, 22-25), priests (Judges 17:1-13), judges (Judges 4:9; 8:27; 11:39; 14:3), and Israel's first king (Judges 8:33-9:57) had not led the people of God to faithful observance of God's law. In his view, only a covenant-keeping king from Judah could lead the people into covenant obedience and correlative blessing and prevent new oppression.

(2) Recalling the Lord's saving acts (Judges 2:10; 6:13) and refraining from the worship of false gods were the chief challenges Israel confronted in the book of Judges in keeping covenant. As in Deuteronomy, seeking other gods was the sin synonymous with covenant disobedience (Judges 2:11-12; 3:7, 12; 8:33; 10:6, 10; Deut. 4:23). The repeated cycles with the repeated refrains of "The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD" (e.g., Judges 3:7, 12; 4:1) and "Everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 17:6; 21:25; see also Deut. 12:8; 31:16-17) served as a stiff warning to the Israelites in the early part of David's reign concerning their peril if they failed to choose a covenant-keeping king.

(3) Even though Judges never mentions David's name, it purposefully and prominently plays Judah and Benjamin against one another probably at a time when a debate raged over from which tribe Israel's king would come. The writer of Judges affirmed Judah's leadership (Judges 1:1-2; 1:3-20) and rejected any reliance on leadership from the tribe of Benjamin (see note on Judges 1:21).

Christ in Judges:

The emphasis of the book of Judges on the need for a righteous kingship from the line of David points to the role which Christ fulfilled as king. He was of the family of David and the rightful heir of David's throne (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:1-37). Jesus was David's unique Son in that he never failed to keep the law of God perfectly (Matt 5:17). As a result, God raised Christ from the dead and seated him on his heavenly throne (1 Cor. 15:25); established the kingdom that will never end (Isa. 9:6-9). Although Christ is king already, all will recognized him as king when he returns in glory and rules over the new heavens and earth (Rev. 22:1-3). The success of Jesus' kingship stands in sharp contrast to the failing leadership which others have provided for the people of God. Like the judges and Levites of Israel, sinful leaders cannot fulfill the need for a perfectly righteous king. Only Christ can meet that need.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Historical Books


Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.