The Book of Judges
With the death of Joshua, the Jewish nation entered a new era. No longer was there a single national leader, a virtual king of the nation, as Moses and Joshua had been. True, there were courts in every town and city, as commanded by the law, so that there would be a system of justice, but there was no formally constituted national leader.
There should have been a general acknowledgement that, as Samuel had insisted centuries later ‘The Lord your God is your King’, and all questions of law and policy should have been decided by the national or tribal Sanhedrins. Instead, the tribes became involved in settling their respective provinces, setting up homes and farms and, because of their reluctance to eradicated all Canaanite influence from the land, often tended to adopt the corrupt practices of their neighbours.
As the Book of Judges notes all too sadly: <<In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes>> (Judges 17:6 and 21:25). There were episodes of extreme sinfulness that caused God to remove his protective providence from Israel, and foreign oppressors would exercise predatory control over parts of the country. Nevertheless, the masses of the people never lost their faith in God and their basic allegiance to the law.
God would raise up a leader, known as a judge, who would rally the people to repent and thus deserve God’s help once again. Then, generally, the judge would conquer and expel the oppressor and the nation would enjoy a long period of tranquillity, until it slid downward again.
Sometimes the judge would be someone of great renown, such as Deborah or Othniel, who was one of Joshua’s greatest contemporaries. Sometimes he would be a young man of enormous but unknown potential, such as Gideon. There was a time when the nation did not merit a leader as great as these historic figures, so Jephthah became their judge; or a time when they did not deserve to conquer their enemies, so God gave them Samson, whose individual exploits kept the brutal Philistines at bay.
In reading the Book of Judges, it is essential to note that the combined years of peace and righteousness far outnumbered the years of failure and persecution. Always, the judge was chosen by God, and whenever he or she called upon the people to repent, they responded. The nation had shortcomings, but it was essentially righteous and true to the law and the law giver.