The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
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Bible Study

    "Judges" is a translation of the Hebrew name Shophetim, which is derived from shahphdt, meaning "to judge, to vindicate, to punish, to govern". It is applied to the visible governors or judges in the typical Theocracy from the time of Moses to the reign of Saul. They were not elected to office, but were Jehovah's appointees. The office was not passed on to descendants, as was kingship later on. The judges drew no salary, neither did they live in pomp. They were the servants of Jehovah and administered in the in-terests of the people.

    Who was the writer of the book? The answer cannot be given with certainty, but the weight of evidence points to Samuel. Some ascribe the book to Hezekiah, others credit Ezra, and still others claim it was the work of Phinehas. The time of the composition of the book seems to narrow the field of possibilities down to just one man, namely, Samuel. The repeated phrase that such and such events occurred in the time when "there was no king in Israel" clearly indicates that there was a king when the record was written. (17: 6; 18:1; 19:1; 21: 25) Furthermore, at the time of writing the Jebusites were still in Jerusalem: "The children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day [of the writing of the record]." (1: 21) But early in the reign of King David the Jebusites were subjugated. (2 Samuel 5: 6, 7) Hence the record must have been written during the reign of Israel's first king, Saul. Phinehas lived long before this time, and Hezekiah and Ezra long after. Circumstantial evidence indicates Samuel was the writer.

    The total years that judges ruled in Israel cannot be ascertained with sureness because the time in office of some of the judges overlapped, and other chronological difficulties complicate the time features of this period. But it seems fairly certain that the time of the judges from Joshua's taking office to the enthronement of the first Israelite king was about 356 years. This figure is arrived at as follows: According to 1 Kings 6:1, Solomon started to build the temple in the four hundred and eightieth years after the exodus. That was in the fourth year of his reign. David had reigned before him for 40 years, and Saul before David for another 40 years. Adding to these 84 years the 40 years spent in the wilderness, which ended with Joshua's taking office, we get 124 years. Subtracting this from 480, there remains 356. To thus assign the round figure of 350 years to the period of judges does no violence to the statement at Acts 13:19, 20, as would seem to be the case when one reads that reference in the King James Version. Translations making use of the best manuscript data available at this time dissolve the difficulty raised by the King James Version of 1611. (See American Standard Version, Rotherham, Weymouth, and An American Translation.)

    The period of judges was a turbulent time in Israel's history. It was marked by ups and downs, ups and downs in proportion to their obediences and disobediences. By pressing the warfare against the heathen trespassers of the Promised Land the Israelites came into full power. But they did not drive out the demon-worshipers; instead they put them under slavery. True to God's warning, this course led the Israelites into the snare of religion. (Deut. 7:16) They compromised and made leagues with the inhabitants of the land, and failed to root out and utterly destroy demon religion; rather they came under bondage to it. Therefore Jehovah said, "I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you." (2:3) Permitting themselves to be ensnared by religion, "the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. . . . Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. . . . And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves." (2:14-19) The Lord left those heathen nations in the land to prove whether Israel would walk in the way of true worship or in demon religion.—2: 20-23.

    The first two chapters of Judges having set the stage, with a rush the ups and downs of those centuries race before the reader's eyes. The Israelites sink into Baal-worship, suffer under Mesopotamia's king, cry unto the Lord, and are delivered by him through Judge Othniel and rise to true worship. (3:5-11) Forty years pass, and they take another downward plunge into religion. This time it is the piercing blade of Judge Ehud's dagger in fatty Eglon's midriff that is used to bring deliverance. (3:12-30) But after each deliverance and upswing to the high plane of Jehovah's true worship, the Israelites soon start to hobnob with the demon-worshiping worldlings of Canaan land. These evil companionships corrupt good morals and right worship, and once again the unstable Israelites succumb to religion and reap its crop of divine woes. In regular cycles this sequence of events recurs again and again as history repeats itself in the book of Judges.

    It is as a God of justice that Jehovah causes them to pay for their backslidings into religion, but as a God of mercy his ears are ever open unto their sincere cries of repentance. Then deliverance comes, and with it a show of divine power and an act of vindication. Miraculous was the deliverance in the time of Judge Barak, when Jabin's hosts under Captain Sisera flaunted its mechanized might before Barak's little band, just prior to what seemed sure and easy victory. At the crucial time the windows of heaven seemed to open, and the unseasonable electrical storm that flashed and thundered and downpoured broke the power of the Canaanite oppressors. (4:1-5: 31) Then there was the time farmer Gideon was made judge and with a picked band of 300 completely routed the sprawling encampment of marauding Midianites, by divinely directed generalship. (6:1-8:35) And remember how that fighter Jephthah led his warriors in an unstoppable victory sweep against the Ammonites and riddled their power over Israel, and how his desire for divine aid was emphasized by a well-considered vow that was duly fulfilled by his virgin daughter's service at the tabernacle at Shiloh. (11:1-40) But best known of the judges, perhaps, was strong Samson. He it was that killed a lion with his bare hands, fired the fields of the Philistines by turning tail to tail 150 pairs of jackals and loosing them into the grain after lighting each firebrand between each pair of tails, slew a thousand demon-worshipers with the new jawbone of an ass, carried off the ponderous gates of Gaza, and in death killed more heathen enemies than in life by pulling down upon his own head the temple of Dagon when it was packed with demon-worshipers.—13:1-16: 31.

    Chapters 17 and 18 recount the idolatry of a man of Ephraim, Micah by name, who tried to set up his own form of worship and by-pass the Lord's established worship at the tabernacle at Shiloh. The disastrous outcome of matters stands as a warning against religious short-cuts. The three closing chapters of Judges contain the horrifying experience of a Levite of Ephraim. After patching up a domestic quarrel, he is on his return journey home when the men of Gibeah (a Benjamite city) so basely and bestially use his concubine that she dies. He carves her body into twelve pieces, sends a piece to each tribe, and later describes the horrible deeds of the Gibeathites to the tribes that subsequently assemble. The Benjamites refuse to deliver up the offending men of Gibeah, and as a result their tribe is nearly cut off from Israel. The closing chapter shows how a vow is kept and a stratagem executed to preserve the tribe of Benjamin. These last five chapters are not in their chronological order. Their events actually occurred toward the beginning of the period of judges, but they are tacked on at the end of the book as a sort of appendix.

    That the book of Judges is authentic is shown by the numerous quotations from and references to it made in other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures and also in the Greek Scriptures. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is an example. The book does not honor men, not even the judges used as deliverers. Their prowess was from God. The things exalted are Jehovah's justice and mercy and long-suffering.