This is a very sad book. It is about a period in the history of God's people. It is a collection of stories. The stories are about the 12 Jewish tribes. The author is a skilful writer. He did not like the Jews’ behaviour. And he was able to make this clear. He also explained the book in a statement. The author even repeated it (17:6; 21:25). ‘Each person did what he thought was right’.

Some leaders of the tribes were good. But we learn most about three of the 12 tribes. They were Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. But the nation easily sinned. They worshipped idols. And they practised terrible things.

We can divide the book into three parts.

The Condition of God's People (Chapters 1-2)

This section starts with an awful story about a king. His name was Adoni-Bezek (1:5-7). The whole book has one main subject. And this story introduces it to us. It is this. Punishment must come. It is a certain fact. There is no escape from it. Sin against other people always has a result. It comes back upon us in the end.

The book has a clear order. There are a series of continuous events. And they happen in the same order each time. The events show us what God's people, the Jews, were like.

  • They obeyed, but they did not obey completely. (Read 1:21, 27, 29, 30, 31. Compare Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:13; Judges 2:1-3.)
  • Their worship was evil (2:11-13).
  • They received God's punishment, which they deserved (2:14-15).
  • They received God's mercy, which they did not deserve (2:16).
  • They went away from God again (2:17).
  • They received further punishment.

The entire book repeats this order.

The Victories of God's People (Chapters 3-16)

There are now several stories. They are about 13 people. They were all very brave. These people were judges. They were leaders of tribes. And they rescued the people. Dr Graham Scroggie (1901–1958) was a famous Bible teacher. He wrote about these judges. He said that they probably did not all follow each other in time. Some judges would be ruling at the same time. He thought that this was almost certain.

In this section, there are many adventures. Here is a list of the judges. They led the people in these adventures. There was Othniel (3:7-11); Ehud (3:12-30); Shamgar (3:31); Deborah and Barak (4:1-5:31); Gideon (6:1-8:35); Abimelech (9:1-57); Tola (10:1); Jair (10:3-5); Jephthah (11:1-12:7); Ibzan (12:8-10); Elon (12:11); Abdon (12:13-15); and Samson (13:1-16:31).

We can learn from what happened to them. There are important spiritual truths. Here are seven of them:

God appointed them. Chapter 3:10 gives a brief explanation. It explains about the judges’ life and work. They had spiritual equipment (3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25). And they seemed to have two main duties. There were legal duties (‘to judge’). There were military duties (‘and go to war’).

Heroes were the result. There is the story of Jael (4:18-21). She was a very brave woman. There is the story of Ehud. He was a very brave man. He killed the king of Moab. And the place where Ehud killed the king is important. It was very close to the king's special guard (3:15-23).

God completely changed a person. Gideon was afraid (6:27). Then the Holy Spirit came upon him (6:34). Gideon had no power of his own. But when he had the Spirit's power, he was not afraid. And he could do great things.

Clever temptations. We can admire most of Gideon's life. So it is sad that he spoiled it. He wanted things for himself (8:24-27. Compare 1 Samuel 22:18 and Exodus 28:6-35). He made an ephod. (This was a coat without sleeves. Only priests should wear it. The High Priest's ephod was special. And Gideon made this special one for himself.) There are two possible reasons for this action. There could have been spiritual pride. He might also have been greedy for possessions. Even religious things can become like a trap. Do not forget 1 Timothy 6:10 and 2 Timothy 3:2. This is a common danger.

Struggles to be first. Chapter 9:1-21 shows a sad fact. Members of families can want to be the most important. So they compete with each other. This causes trouble in the family. Gideon was a judge. (He had another name. It was Jerub-Baal. Read 8:35.) His two sons both wanted to be the leader. So they fought each other. The story is a sad lesson. They disagreed. And there was bitter anger as a result. These things are serious for families and communities. They cause families to become weak. But they cause communities to become weak too.

Careless decisions. The story of Jephthah continues to warn people today. His story warns us about careless remarks. A person might speak, but he might not think first. A certain promise might seem to be easy. It was like this with Jephthah. He promised something. He thought that it would be easy. A servant would probably meet him. There was another possibility too. It was a custom then. Soldiers would return after a successful war. And a singer would often meet them. There would be musicians too. (Compare 1 Samuel 18:6.) But something else could happen. Jephthah only had one child. And she might rush out to meet him. But Jephthah never even thought about that (11:34).

Unnecessary failure. Jephthah's story is very sad. But Samson's story is worse. It was so unnecessary. Samson had special talents or abilities. Nobody else had them. He had great chances too. But he was very selfish. And this attitude controlled him. Chapters 13-16 tell us about his actions.

Samson had successes. But he also had three love affairs. And they are all sad (14:1, 7, 20; 16:1, 4). The three women were Philistines. Their people were the Jews’ enemies. (Compare Exodus 34:12-17; Deuteronomy 7:3-6; Joshua 23:12 and 2 Corinthians 6:14.)

Samson's name means ‘sunlight’! His experience was the opposite. Near the end of his life, something terrible happened. His enemies took out his eyes. And they put him in prison (16:21). So he was blind and he was lonely. Then, he did something good. He chose death, so that he could help his people. It meant final success for them.

The Serious Sin of God's People (Chapters 17-21)

The writer's purpose seems to change in this section. He makes us think about people more than about leaders. They were the ordinary people in Israel at that time. Everything had become evil. And now the people were evil too. The writer gives the reason. It was selfish attitudes. This was the rulers’ fault. And it was the people's fault too. All of them were to blame (21:25). They refused to do the things that God wanted. Their behaviour was bad too. And this did not matter to them. They did not care about other people. These attitudes were serious. Their actions were serious too. They caused three bad things to happen:

Religion became less important (17-18). There was a man who did not love the Law (17:1-6. See Exodus 20:1-6 and Leviticus 19:4.) He appointed a Levite as his house priest. He thought that this would make him rich. He would succeed in everything too (17:12-13). Then, the priest became like the man. He wanted to be rich and successful too (18:19). Remember that the priest was a Levite. He should have been against the worship of idols (18:20, 31). True religion seemed to have disappeared.

There was moral failure (19). This is a terrible story. It shows very evil sex. There was an old man. He was a Jew who came from Ephraim. But he now lived in Gibeah. At first, he was a good host. He seemed to be better than his neighbours were. But notice something. One horrible sin led to another sin. And this awful incident had a bad result:

The tribes fought (20-21). Benjamin was one of the 12 tribes of God's people, the Jews. The evil men belonged to this tribe. And the other tribes made a decision. They would punish these men (19:16; 20:12). So they demanded to have the evil men. But the tribe of Benjamin refused to send them. The struggle about this matter continued for a long time. And it made all the tribes weak. It also led to war between the tribes (21:8-10).

A Warning

The book of Judges is a warning. People hurt each other. They caused trouble. They caused despair. But this was not necessary. Things could have been different. It was a very serious matter. It was important too. People might behave in three ways. And all of them are foolish. They might forget God. They might be selfish. Or they might determine to get what they want. Two things would always follow. They are shame and despair.

Christians should realize something. It is this. We must keep close to God. God loves his people. But he asks something too. Christians must be loyal. And they must obey him completely. God demands this. He also deserves it.