You will find our reading schedule and some “Helpful Hints for Reading the Historical Books” under the “Resources” tab on our home page.
“The book of Judges is one of the most exciting, colorful, and disturbing books of the Bible. It combines stories of political intrigue and assassinations, lies and deception, rape and murder, courage and fear, great faith and idolatry, power and greed, sex and suicide, love and death, military victories and civil war.” (Olson,723)
The book of Judges covers the time period between the occupation of the land led by Joshua and the establishment of the monarchy under Samuel. You will notice in Judges that the former inhabitants of the land, who seem to have been driven out in Joshua, are still present in Judges, and Israel still struggles to secure the land.
Scholars caution against using the book of Judges as an accurate portrayal of the history of ancient Israel. As with other Old Testament books, the stories in Judges,which may reflect actual events, have been edited and reshaped. Significant editing may have taken place during the time of King Hezekiah (8th century BCE), King Josiah (7th century BCE) and after the exile to Babylon (6-5th century BCE).
The editors of Judges worked in the style of Deuteronomistic history and reflect the theological and political issues of their times (rather than of the time where the stories are located).
The word “judge” can mean judge, but also it can mean ruler. Twelve judges are presented in the book but only act as judges. Others are warrior rulers, some were prophets or priests. While the book of Judges makes it seem that there was a series of judges over Israel, actually most judges were leaders during particular crises and did not necessarily rule over the entire nation.
The editors were mostly interested in a theological interpretation of Israel’s history. The stories are told in a cyclic fashion- Israel does evil, God turns them over to oppressors, Israel cries out, God provides a judge/deliverer. Rather than an endless cycle, this cycle spirals downward. Earlier judges are faithful, later judges are not and by the end of the book, there is no ruler and “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6; 21:25).
Notice as you read the book how the book presents different views on the same subject- the monarch, women, relations with other nations, God’s judgement and God’s compassion.
Organizationally, the book divides into three parts, a double introduction, a double ending and a central portion on the judges.
We will follow the outline from Olson, 728-729.
I. Judges 1:1-3:6 Introduction: Judges as an Era of Decline
A. 1:1-2:5 From Success to Failure: The Conquest of Canaan
B. 2:6-3:6 From Faithfulness to Sin: The Covenant with God
II. Judges 3:7-16:31 The Individual Judges: A Downward Spiral
A. 3:7-11 Othniel, the Model Judge
B.3:21-31 Ehud and Shamgar
C. 4:1-5:31 Deborah, Barak, and Jael
D. 6:1-10:5 The Downhill Slide Begins: Gideon and Abimeleich, Tola and Jair
E 10:6-12:15 Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
F. 13:1-16:31 Samson the Last Judge
III. Judges 17:1-21:25 Conclusion: Israel’s Disintegration
A. 17:1-18:31 Idols, Hired Priests, and Unholy Conquests
B.19:1-21:25 The Levite’s Concubine and War Within Israel
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of Joshua.
Amit, Yairah, “Judges” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Aporcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition, Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Dentan, Robert C., Leslie J. Hoppe “Joshua” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Exum, J. Cheryl, “Judges” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Olson, Dennis T. “Judges”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.