Authorship and Audience

The name of the author is not given in the text, but Talmudic tradition holds that Samuel the prophet wrote this book. This book was undoubtedly written to a Jewish audience, given the specificity of the geography and tribal details given.

Date and Historical Context

Based on Judges 1:21, this book must have been written before David had taken Jerusalem. As such, it was likely written before 1003 BC.

Literary Context

Judges is fascinating in its literary context because it picks up where Joshua left off with the people in the land having been tasked with serving God and Him alone (Joshua 22:5 and 24:14) so that God will continue to drive out the other nations in the land (Joshua 24:3-13). Judges documents their failures to be faithful to God and graphically demonstrates the need for a Godly king. Judges presents the lack of a king as a problem and the next book, Ruth, provides the solution (David). Looking further downstream in the Bible, the need for a Godly king established in Judges becomes one of the central themes in the historical narratives (Samuel through Chronicles), some of the psalms (e.g. Psalm 2 and 110), the gospel of Matthew, and Revelation. Israel needs a Godly King and He came as the man Jesus Christ.


0. Prologues [1 - 3:6]

A. Prologue A: Physical Point of View [1 - 2:5]

B. Prologue B: Theological Point of View [2:6 - 3:6]

I. The Judges [3:7 - 16:31]

A. Othniel [3:7-11]

B. Ehud [3:12-30]

(Shamgar [3:31])

C. Deborah and Barak [4 - 5]

D. Gideon [6 - 8]

E. Abimelech [9]

F. Misc. Minor Judges: Tola and Jair [10]

G: Jephthah [11 - 12:7]

(Ibzan [12:8-10])

(Elon [12:11-12])

(Abdon [12:13-15])

H. Samson [13 - 16]

II. Epilogue: Two Horror Stories Related to Bethlehem [17 - 21]

A. The Idolatry of Micah, a Levite, and the Danites [17 - 18]

B. Benjamin's Sexual Immorality and Civil War Against Benjamin [19 - 21]

NOTE: The book of Ruth continues the book of Judges in a sense by providing a third story related to Bethlehem (see Ruth 1:1).

Theological Theme

  • The Need for a Godly King. Introduced in the epilogue of this book, the refrain "there was no king in Israel" is repeated in 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25. This phrase is introduced not only to diagnose the cause of the two stories in the epilogue, but also to describe the problem underlying all of Israel's history as recorded in the book of Judges and to present the need for a Godly king who is ultimately found in Jesus Christ.


  • Prologue B describes a process that is foundational to the central part of the book of Judges. The process (described in Judges 2:11-19) contains four steps in the text:

    1. Israel rejects Yahweh and serves Baal and other gods (2:11-13)
    2. God gives them "into the hands of plunderers" (2:14-15)
    3. God raises up judges to deliver "them from the hands of those who plundered them" (2:16). Sin continues even through the lifetime of the judge (2:17-18).
    4. Once the judge dies, Israel goes back to serving other gods and sins worse than before (2:19)

    This process is reiterated throughout the central portion of the book and the ultimate results is that God will stop driving out the nations before Israel (2:20-23). This cycle is not purely two dimensional in that it is a circle, but it takes on a third dimension in that it is a downward spiral as the people sin worse and worse. Notice also the chiastic structure of this cycle. It begins and ends with Israel's sin. In the middle, we see a demonstration of God's sovereignty in raising up a nation to oppress Israel and His compassion in relenting and raising up a judge to deliver Israel.

  • There is a chiastic structure of the Judges presented in the main section of the book (chapters 3:7 - 16):

      A: Othniel: Marriage closely related to the story (1:13-15)
        B: Ehud: Story involves the fords of the Jordan (3:28)
          C: Deborah and Barak: Antagonist killed by a woman (4:21)
            D: Gideon: The people want him to be king (8:22-23)
          C`: Abimelech: Antagonist 'killed' by a woman (9:53-54)
        B`: Jephthah: Story involves the fords of the Jordan (12:5)
      A`: Samson: Marriage closely related to the story (14:1-4)

    This structure creates parallels between characters which helps to demonstrate the deterioration that occurs throughout the book.

  • If not read carefully, the book of Judges can be confusing because "Judges is thematic rather than chronological".1 The author is not concerned with the chronological order of the events he/she describes, but is more focused on the theological significance. This is evidenced by the fact that Prologue A (1:1 - 2:5) starts after Joshua's life while Prologue B (Judges 2:6 - 3:6) goes back in time and begins at a point in time when Joshua is still alive (see 2:6-9 versus 1:1). Additionally, the last story in the book (chapters 19 - 21) was likely one of the first events to occur chronologically because we find that Phineas (famous for his behavior in Numbers 25) is still alive (20:28). The author is more concerned with making a theological point than a historical one.

  • Some scholars and commentators believe there is only one prologue to the book of Judges (Judges 1:1 - 2:5).2 There are three observations which lead me to think there are two prologues. Initially, the first story involving a judge does not start until 3:7. Second, 2:6 through 3:6 provides the "paradigm by which the religious-historical events presented in the deliverer accounts of 3:7-16:31 are to be measured".3 Thus, I view it as a prologue to the central section of the book rather than part of that section. Third, and least compelling, two prologues at the beginning form symmetry with the two epilogues at the end of the book. Given the chiastic structure of the central section, it makes sense that the prologues and epilogues would balance one another out as well.
  • The book of Judges is designed to trap readers. The theological purpose of the book is not exposed until the epilogues, so the reader must read through almost the entire book before they are struck with the author's principle argument. One scholar goes so far as to say that the book of Judges "entangles the reader with the need to make a reassessment of first impressions and binds upon the reader the conviction that he or she has been subjected to a rhetorical strategy of entrapment. Thus, as for the book's characters so for its readers: things are not as right as they at first appear".4 Similar methods of entrapment are used in 2 Samuel 12:1-10, 14:4-17, and Isaiah 5:1-7.
  • Each of the two epilogues share some common characteristics. In both stories, a Levite traveling from Bethlehem becomes the "catalyst". Both involve armies of six hundred men (Judges 18:11 and Judges 20:47) and end with references to Shiloh (18:31 and 20:19-21).5
  • The meaning of the refrain "there was no king in Israel" in the epilogue is the subject of much debate but is beyond the scope of this overview.6


1. "Judges." Grace to You. February 12, 2010. Accessed November 7, 2017. https://www.gty.org/library/bible-introductions/MSB07/.

2. Gregory T. K. Wong, Compositional Strategy of the Book of Judges: an Inductive, Rhetorical Study (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 23.

3. Robert H. OConnell, The Rhetoric of the Book of Judges (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 3.

4. Ibid., 6.

5. Ibid., 264-5.

6. Wong, Compositional Strategy of Judges, 191-223.

results matching ""

    No results matching ""