Study Guide

Book of Judges The Judges

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The Judges

The Judges, from Othniel to Samson, are an interesting breed. Ever since Israel's creation way, way back in Abraham's heyday (see Genesis 17:7), God had been sending prophets (Jacob, Moses, Joshua, etc.) to give Israel his law and his help. These guys always served as sort of spokesman for God, and although he wasn't usually physically there to teach/scold/pump up Israel, prophets, their words, and their miracles symbolized God's presence and involvement in the Israelites's lives (see Exodus 4:12-17). But all of a sudden when we get to Judges, prophets are out and judges are in. Why the change, and what does it mean as far as the symbolism goes?

One reason that God wanted a different kind of leader during Judges was that Israel's needs had shifted. They already had the law, and they'd found Canaan, the Promised Land, but now they were under attack. Part of that attack was a theological onslaught of idolatry coming from all sides. In this arena, judges were sort of like prophets in that they sometimes taught Israel God's will and they "judged" the people (3:10; 4:4; 10:2-3, 7-9; 12:11-14; 15:20; 16:31) as religious and governmental officers. But mainly the judges's job was to overcome literal, military attacks against Israel, so most of the time they traded their sermons for swords. Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and the other judges are all primarily warriors, not priests.

Any theological symbolism there? You betcha, because as warm and fuzzy as God can sometimes be, "The Lord is a warrior" (Exodus 15:3) who fiercely fights Israel's battles (see Exodus 14:14). The judges personify God's destructive, violent side (see Deuteronomy 7:21-24). Although God is the Creator in the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament) (see Genesis 1:1), he's also often in the demolition business (see, for example, Genesis 7:21-23, when he floods the entire earth). When you look at it that way, Samson's carnage is just a small sampling of what the God who sent him can and does do when the gloves come off.

It's also worth noting that one of the Lord's names is Judge (see Psalms 50:6), making each judge even more explicitly a symbolic stand-in for God.

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