4.17 Judges -- Change in Leadership
Judges covers the period between the death of Joshua (around 1370 BC) until an unspecified time before the life of the prophet Samuel (born around 1100 BC). The last judge mentioned is Samson. The author of the book is unknown, although tradition has ascribed it to Samuel. However, the frequent phrase "In those days Israel had no king" (Judg 17:6, Judg 21:25) shows that the final version of the book was written in the time of the monarchy.
There was a new relationship in the time of the judges between the leaders and the people. Under Moses, the people continually rebelled despite a godly leader. With Joshua, the people themselves knew the Lord and His commandments. They were enthusiastic and obedient (Josh 1:16-18); almost to a man, they feared rebellion and disobedience (Josh 22). What changed under the judges (and later the kings)? There were two main differences:
(1) The people did not know the word of God. Despite the tabernacle and (presumably) festivals at Shiloh, despite the Levites dispersed throughout the land, there seemed to be widespread religious ignorance in the time of the judges:
Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s commands (Judg 2:17).
(2) The people were surrounded by idolatrous Canaanites, and they intermarried with them (Judg 3:5-6). Idolatry is a terrible leveler; as Isaiah says of idol worshipers:
They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand” (Isa 44:18).
In the absence of effective instruction and organization on the part of the leadership (such as tribal elders), this pagan influence destroyed the fervor of the Israelite communities.
And yet the words of God continued to be heard. He spoke in a remarkable variety of ways in the Book of Judges. Sometimes He responded to a prayer, perhaps through Urim and Thummim (Judg 1:2; Judg 18:5-6). Sometimes circumstances showed that He was with them (Judg 1:19; Judg 6:16; Judg 18:10; Judg 20:9-28). The angel of the Lord spoke directly to the people (Judg 2:1-5), or appeared to individuals (Judg 6:11-22; Judg 13:3-21); at other times, He raised up a prophet (Judg 6:7-10). The Lord encouraged Gideon through an enemy’s dream (Judg 7:13-15). He allowed His words to be tested (Judg 6:36-40). Sometimes, too, we are not told precisely how He spoke (Judg 6:23-25; Judg 7:2-11; Judg 10:11-14). The Spirit of God came upon Othniel (Judg 3:10), Gideon (Judg 6:34), Jephthah (Judg 11:29), and Samson (Judg 13:25; Judg 14:6, Judg 14:19; Judg 15:14). He answered the prayers of Manoah and Samson (Judg 13:9; Judg 15:19; Judg 16:28-30). What is surprisingly rare are words of the covenant, references to the Law of Moses.