A Literature Study of the Book of Judges

Speaker: Matthew McClure


As readers often observe, the events of Judges follow a pattern generally

summarised as:

  •  sin

  •  suffering

  •  seeking God, and

  •  salvation.

Indeed, the author gives a similar overview in chapter 2:11-23. However, our class explores two additional details regarding Judges’ structure:


(a) These cycles are “organised to show a degenerative progression”; meaning the behaviour within each cycle becomes more extreme and immoral as the book progresses (Schneider, ‘Judges’, 2000). The author admits as much in their introduction; stating in 2:19, “Whenever the judge died, Israel turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers…”


(b) Secondly, at a point (in 10:10-14), these cycles collapse completely and the book ends in total chaos. The author is clear about this in 2:19 and 10:13 where Israel’s God states he will no longer save his people.


Themes


Our observations about Judges’ structure are reflected in its themes. A steady decline followed by total collapse is evident when examining the treatment of women, and tribal divisions among the Israelites.


Take women for example:

  • Judges starts with a (seemingly pointless) tale of a daughter asking for – and receiving – a favour from her father (1:14-15). However, Judges ends with fathers advising other men to kidnap daughters to help the fathers ‘dodge’ a promise they had previously made (see 21:17-22).

  •  Likewise, women lead and fight at the book’s opening (e.g., Deborah and Jael, Judges 4-5; Abimelech’s killer, 9:53-55). In the end, women are victims, repeatedly abused in the most extreme fashion (Judges 19-21).

A similar trajectory is to be found when we examine the unity of the Jewish people throughout Judges: a strong start ends in ruin.


Lastly, Judges serves to promote King David’s significance in Israel’s history. David grew up at a time of corrupt leaders with crime rampant. At one point, David almost gives into this too (see 1 Sam 25: 21-34); however, he follows the advice of a woman and resists. Ultimately, Israel’s leaders implore him to “shepherd” the people as king (2 Samuel 5:1-3). Thus, by appreciating the negative background of Judges, we can gain a deeper understanding of David’s significance and value.

Virtual study conducted last Saturday, October 28th entitled: "A Literature Study of the Book of Judges", drew about 30 participant.