The book of Judges is the Bible is named after the military leaderswho ruled over Israel between the conquest of Canaan by Joshua andthe formation of the first Kingdom of Israel and Judah (ca. 1150–1025BC). The book examines the behavior of Israelites regardingleadership and spirituality. Instead of remaining loyal to God whohad delivered them from the Egyptians, the Israelites turned to falsegods and idols on several occasions (Judges2:11-13). In retaliation, God punished them bysubjecting them to their enemies. Thus, the book of Judges is adepiction of God`s demands for loyalty from his children through areward and punishment system that formed a unique cycle that existedbetween the death of Joshua and the formation of a united Israelitekingdom.
During the time of enslavement in Egypt, the Israelites had expresseda huge desire for a country they could call theirs. God had promisedthem the land of Canaan through Moses. The land was to provide themwith a chance to prosper and rise above other nations to manifest Hisname (Lifeway Christian Resources, 2016). Furthermore, it would givethem political legitimacy over other countries (Faley, 2016). Afterthe death of Moses, God used Joshua to lead the Israelites to thePromised Land. However, this area was occupied by several communitiesthat had built big cities including Jerusalem, Jericho, Hebron,Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon (Judges 3:17). Thus, the Israelites hadto fight for it.
Therefore, with the Lord`s blessing, Joshua led the Israelites inconquering Canaan. He performed several miracles that assured thepeople that indeed Joshua was anointed by God to lead them (Faley,2016). God also used the ensuing war to show his power and set theterms of engagement with the Israelites. One core requirement wasthat they would remain faithful to Yahweh and follow the Covenantmade by Moses on behalf of the Israelites at Mt. Sinai (Roskoski,n.d.). Failure to do so attracted severe punishment. For instance,the Israelites lost the battle against Ai, and many men died afterone soldier had defied God by taking possession of the enemy`sproperty (Lifeway Christian Resources, 2016). The Israelitesresponded by stoning him to death together with his family andlivestock. Thus, their settlement in Palestine was based on thesimple understanding that disobeying God would lead to punishment.
Accordingly, Joshua regularly reminded his people to be faithful toGod to avoid false gods worshiped by their neighbors. He led them inworship and assisted in resolving disputes among the people. ThroughYahweh`s guidance, Joshua divided the land among the twelve tribes ofIsrael. However, the Levi did not get farmland as they were assignedthe task of offering sacrifices to God as per the laws of Moses (Deut18.1). Upon Joshua`s death, the people did not heed his advice, andthey interacted freely with the natives who introduced them to thefalse gods. Soon, the Israelites "abandoned the Lord, the God oftheir fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. Theywent after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who werearound them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord toanger" (Judges 2:11-12). God allowed the Arameans to invade anddefeat the Israelites as punishment for worshipping false gods. TheIsraelites would be enslaved by the Arameans for eight years untilGod sent them a savior in Othniel (Lion of God), to deliver them andlead them in worshipping Jehovah (Joshua 15:17 Judges 1:13 3:9).
However, the Israelites would forget their place and go back toworshipping false gods. Just like in the earlier case, God punishedthem by empowering their enemies. For many years, this process ofidolatry followed by suffering/punishment, prayer and repentance andforgiveness would be repeated in six episodes. In every episode, theIsraelites would grow disillusioned and abandon the true God and theMosaic covenant. As punishment, God unleashed disasters in the formof invasions, oppression, and enslavement by the neighboring nations.In their suffering the Israelites would remember God and cry out toHim, repent, and ask for deliverance (Roskoski, n.d.). Just like inthe case of Othniel, the merciful God would appoint a judge todeliver them from their sinful ways and enemies. For the Israelites,only pain and suffering would remind them of the true God as thefalse gods would not solve their problems.
Consequently, for 400 years, Israel lived through a cycle of sixjudges. Each cycle seemed to get more pronounced with greater sin andharsher punishment and repentance until God sent a deliverer(Chaffin, 2014). In total, there were six major judges includingOthniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. The minorjudges are Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, and Elon (Sicker, 2013). Thelast person to act as a judge partially was Samuel. Samuel was ayoung boy brought up in the house of the Lord and grew up to be aprophet. The Israelites loved him as he brought the people closer toGod and led them well. In such times of obedience, the nation ofIsrael prospered and expanded.
However, with time, the people became envious of the surroundingkingdoms and requested Samuel to appoint a King to rule over them.Initially, Samuel was opposed to the idea of a king citing that sucha powerful ruler would mistreat the people and even disobey God. Whenthe people insisted, Samuel sought help from God who approved thepeople`s request. Although God initially opposed the idea of a king,He chose a young man called Saul that Samuel anointed. Saul`sanointment as the King brought to an end the era of the judges (1Samuel 10 1). The reign of kings would see another phase of thesin-punishment-repentance cycle as witnessed during the judges`period.
With King Saul on the throne, the Israelites continued to prosperover their enemies. Saul successfully defended the country frominvasions from King Nahash of Ammon and others. His success in thebattlefield endeared him to the people. Some were quick to praise himfor the victory instead of God. Samuel cautioned the people againstsuch habits and even reiterated that it was not God`s will for Israelto be ruled by a king (Sicker, 2013). Nevertheless, God did notabandon the Israelites as they fought and won many wars against theirenemies including the Amalekites, and Philistines. As time went by,Saul became boastful and disobeyed some of the Lord`s commands. Hebelieved that his skills in the battlefront contributed to thesuccess of the country. The king even disregarded the role of Samuelas the priest in offering sacrifices to Jehovah. Again, when heattacked his enemies such as the Kenites and the Amalekites, he choseto spare some of them and keep their animals, which was against God`swill (Lifeway Christian Resources, 2016). Such disobedience angeredthe Lord, and He sent a message to Saul through Samuel to tell himthat he had lost God`s favor. God commanded Samuel to anoint anotheryoung man named David to be the next king of Israel.
In line with the cycle of sin-punishment-repentance, God subjectedKing Saul to penance for his disobedience. Unlike other situationswhere the whole nation was involved, the case of Saul was different.God chose to punish Saul alone by placing upon him a spirit ofpsychological suffering and sadness. This spirit caused him a lot ofdepression, and he spent many hours in the high court pleading withGod. In contrast, Saul`s suffering was a blessing to the young Davidas per God`s plans. King Saul sent his aides out to seek a lyreplayer to entertain and comfort him. Coincidentally, the men landedon David who was an accomplished harp player, and they took him tothe king`s court. Saul loved David and took him to live with hissons. With that proximity to power, David learned a lot of leadershipand military skills. Through his music, David managed to please Godand the king (Sicker, 2013). When he attained maturity, he joined thearmy and rose to the position of a commander. He performedexceptionally, and the people praised him. David’s success underthe Lord’s guidance was not welcomed by some.
Consequently, KingSaul was jealous and plotted to kill him on several occasions.Although David had numerous chances to kill King Saul and ascend tothe throne, he spared him keeping in mind that God had anointed theman. In the end, David was forced to flee and live in exile as theleader of the tribe of Judah. After the death of King Saul, his son,Ishbosheth, was crowned the king but was assassinated by his men. Forthe next five years, Israel remained leaderless before David wasinstalled as the king thereby uniting Judah and Israel. From hisyouth to his ascension to the throne, David remained faithful to God.In awareness of God`s ability to punish the kings and judges whodisobeyed Him, David led his people in revering Yahweh (Sicker,2013). God rewarded his faithfulness with many favors includingconquering Jerusalem, which David made the capital of Israel
However, just like other leaders before him, King David becameboastful and disobeyed God. Although he had many wives, King Davidlusted for someone`s wife. He organized for the death of Uriah theHittite so that he could inherit his wife, Bathsheba. Furthermore, heconducted a census of his people against God`s will (1 Chronicles21:6). These acts angered God who sent a messenger to the king totell him of impending punishment. God gave David the chance to choosehis punishment among three options (1) three years of famine, (2)three months of devastation by the sword of his enemies, or (3) threedays of a plague on the land. David chose the third option. KingDavid pleaded with God to spare the people of Israel from punishmentfor his transgressions. Accordingly, God forced some of David’swives into adultery and also killed the child born to him by Uriah`swife (2 Samuel 12:14). God also cast disharmony in David`s familythat saw his favorite son, Absolom, killed by the army. Again,Adonijah would declare himself King before David installed his otherson, Solomon, to the throne. These events brought to an end thiscycle before it would start all over again.
Similar to other leaders, King Solomon began as a God-fearing leaderwho was rewarded with wealth, wisdom, and a prosperous nation.Solomon managed to build the Lord`s first Temple in Jerusalem. Hemarried 700 wives and had 300 concubines, which made him createnetworks and gain influence (Sicker, 2013). However, in keeping withthe cycle, King Solomon disobeyed God by marrying foreign women whoturned him towards other gods. He also amassed excessive wealth andmarried too many wives beyond what God required (Deuteronomy17:16–17). As punishment, God promised to take away the Kingdom ofIsrael from him. However, it is his son, Rehoboam, who endured thispunishment as Israel split into two when he ascended to the throne.The division fulfilled God`s punishment to King Solomon and broughtto an end a united kingdom of Israel and also completed thesin-punishment-repentance cycle.
In summation, it is evident that there is a repeated cycle during thereign of the Judges and the united monarchy in Israel. Starting fromthe period of Joshua to the reign of King Solomon, individual men andthe nation of Israel disobeyed the Mosaic covenant, and God respondedwith different forms of punishments designed to remind them about thetrue God. The sanctions lasted for a period until the peoplerepented. As a merciful and loving God, He would send a savior todeliver them. However, the restoration of the faith was lethargic,and soon enough, individuals and the nation of Israel would break thecovenant again until the monarchy ended.
Chaffin, C. (2014).Meditations on the Glory of Christ: Genesis through 2 Chronicles.New
Faley, R. (2016).Joshua, Judges. New York Liturgical Press.
Lifeway ChristianResources (2016). The Judges cycle. Retrieved from
Sicker, M. (2013).The second book of Samuel: a study in prophetic history.Chicago: Author
The Bible.Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 2015.
Roskoski, J. (n.d.).The theological significance of judges 13:1. St. Peter’sUniversity. Middlesex
County College. Retrieved fromhttp://www.biblicaltheology.com/Research/RoskoskiJ04.pdf