The book of Judges tells the story of Israel's total failure after the death of Joshua. Judges were tribal chieftains, and their story can be quite disturbing. It serves as a tragic tale of how Israel's leaders became increasingly corrupt and no better than the Canaanite tribes they had overthrown. Though sad, this is also a story of hope for the future.
Judges illustrates the vicious cycle of apostasy, oppression, and deliverance. Yahweh repeatedly raises up “judges” (rulers who were military and judicial leaders) to deliver the people following a period of foreign oppression. However, the increasing corrupt leadership and populace led to some of the most violent events recounted in the Bible. The theme of this book is summarized in Judges 21:25, "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."
Judges in Brief
Many of the corrupt Canaanite tribes had been allowed to remain; by extension, Israel adopted their cultural and religious practices. A lengthy passage describes the future history of Israel which is a series of cycles that move in a downward spiral due to this corrupt influence. There would be a repetitive cycle of the people sinning against God, God allowing them to be conquered, the people seeing their error, God raising up a judge to deliver them, and a brief era of peace.
The story of the first three judges in this passage (Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah) is epic but violent and bloody. Each of these judges delivers their people. The next three judges (Gideon, Jephtah, and Samson) focus on the character flaws of the judges. The actions of the last three judges show that the leaders of Israel don't even know the character of their God. In each of these judges, we see that they all did what was right in their own eyes. God used them in spite of their sin.
The next three judges (Gideon, Jephtah, and Samson) focus on the character flaws of the judges. The actions of the last three judges show that the leaders of Israel don't even know the character of their God. Gideon is given the courage to defeat the dreaded Midianites but quickly slips into moral decay himself.
Samson is likely the most well-known judge but is by no means a role-model. He was sexually immoral and ultra-violent. Samson did battle with the Philistines several times, ultimately killing a number of their wealthy class in a fateful story.
As go the leaders so go the people. A key line that is repeated four times in this section shows how far the entire nation of Israel fell: In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Judges sets the stage for King David. Even in tragedy, there is hope."