The Book of Judges stands in stark contrast to Joshua. In Joshua an obedient people conquered the land through trust in the power of God. In Judges, however, a disobedient and idolatrous people are defeated time and time again because of their rebellion against God. In seven distinct cycles of sin to salvation, Judges shows how Israel had set aside God’s law and in its place substituted "what was right in his own eyes" (21:25). The recurring result of abandonment from God’s law is corruption from within and oppression from without. During the nearly four centuries spanned by this book, God raises up military champions to throw off the yoke of bondage and to restore the nation to pure worship. But all too soon the "sin cycle" begins again as the nation’s spiritual temperature grows steadily colder.

The Author of Judges

The author of Judges is anonymous, but Samuel or one of his prophetic students may have written it. Jewish tradition contained in the Talmud attributes Judges to Samuel, and certainly he was the crucial link between the period of the judges and the period of the kings. It is clear from 18:31 and 20:27 that the book was written after the ark was removed from Shiloh (1 Sam. 4:3-11). The repeated phrase "In those days there was no king of Israel" (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) shows that Judges was also written after the commencement of Saul’s reign but before the divided kingdom. The fact that the Jebusites were dwelling in Jerusalem "to this day" (1:21) means it was written during the time of Samuel; and it is likely that Samuel compiled this book from oral and written source material. His prophetic ministry clearly fits the moral commentary of Judges, and the consistent style and orderly scheme of Judges point to a single compiler.

The Time of Judges

If Judges was not written by Samuel it was at least written by one of his contemporaries between 1043 BC (the beginning of Saul’s reign) and 1004 BC (David’s capture of Jerusalem).

The events covered in Judges range from about 1380 BC to 1045 BC (c. 335 years), but the period of judges extends another thirty years since it includes the life of Samuel (1 Sam. 1:1-25:1). Evidently, the rulerships of some of the judges overlap because not all of them ruled over the entire land. Judges describes the cycles of apostasy, oppression, and deliverance in the southern region (3:7-31), the northern region (4:1-5:31), the central region (6:1-10:5), the eastern region (10:6-12:15) and the western region (13:1-16:31). The spread of apostasy covers the whole land.

About Judges

Following the death of Joshua, Israel plunges into a 350-year Dark Age. After Joshua and the generation of the conquest pass on, "another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel" (2:10; see also 2:7-10; Josh, 24:31). Judges opens with a description of Israel’s deterioration, continues with seven cycles of oppression and deliverance, and concludes with two illustrations of Israel’s depravity. The judges are military and civil leaders during this period of loose confederacy. Thirteen are mentioned in this book, and four more are found in First Samuel (Eli, Samuel, Joel, and Abijah).