Theological Themes of the Book of Judges

1. The sovereignty of God[1]: As the One who empowers both the oppressors and the deliverers, the LORD demonstrates His unquestionable control over human history. The contemporary reader may struggle with the notion that God uses unbelievers to discipline His people or, worse, that He would allow and instruct Israel to go to war against neighboring nations. The Scriptures, however, are clear that no one, no matter how great or small, will thwart God’s plan of redemption. This is evident in the LORD’s use of imperfect deliverers and evil nations to demonstrate that He is the only One who can save rebellious humanity. The bondage of the human will is on full display in the book of Judges as the tribes of Israel and the judges grow increasingly rebellious and sinful. However, not even the worst of humanity can hinder God’s eternal plan to redeem a people for Himself.

2. The depravity of humanity: The depth of human depravity is displayed in the narratives of Judges. The exploits of the deliverers and the behavior of the people provide one of the clearest views of how all of humanity would live if left to themselves. The attitudes and actions of most of the characters in the narrative are presented as being just as wicked as the surrounding nations. Based solely on their behavior, it would be hard to distinguish Israel from the Gentile nations.

3. The justice of God: God’s holiness is His central attribute; from it, all other attributes flow. Thus, when God’s Word is ignored, His laws broken, His character questioned, and His worship contaminated–He must respond. The unbelieving nations are subject to God’s righteous wrath through their defeat at the hands of the deliverers, as well as their judgment in the eternal state. Furthermore, God’s justice is displayed in the discipline of His people, especially at the hands of unbelieving nations. This discipline, far from being cruel, is meant to drive Israel to repent and turn to back to the LORD. Therefore, the discipline of God can be interpreted as an act of grace whereby He brings us back to Himself.

4. The mercy of God: God’s mercy is displayed first in His patience with a rebellious people. He is faithful to His covenantal promise and therefore will not forsake Israel. Second, the calling of deliverers to free the people from foreign bondage is a demonstration of God’s mercy. Finally, God’s mercy is displayed in the preservation of Israel. The people continuously forgot and forsook God; however, He continued to hear their cries, send deliverers, and patiently preserve them until the fullness of time (cf. Galatians 4:4).

judges themes blog5. The coming King: The author’s theological agenda is heard in the implicit call to unite under a righteous king. Four times in the book of Judges the reader is told that there was no king in Israel (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), and subsequently everyone did whatever they pleased. The need for a king may have appeared to the people to be fulfilled in Gideon, but he was not the anointed one. Furthermore, in the following books of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, none of the kings can bring lasting peace and permanent redemption. Although it is tempting to view David as the king to which the author is pointing, he was but a shadow of the true king who would come to save His people. The book of Judges is an intense illustration of how desperately we need to be united under the authority of Christ our king.

WHERE DOES THE BOOK OF JUDGES FIT IN SALVATION HISTORY?

Salvation history is the progressive unfolding of God’s plan to redeem humanity that culminated in the person and work Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 4:4-5). God’s specific and saving activity in human history, which includes His interactions with both believers and unbelievers, is commonly referred to as “salvation history.”  The phrase “salvation history” is meant to draw attention to the primary purpose of God’s activity in history, which is to save (redeem) a people for Himself.  While God’s work in human history has been manifested in a variety of ways, one thing is certain: salvation has always been by faith alone and is made possible by God alone. Without faith in the promise and provision of God in Christ, there is no salvation (Acts 4:12) and no eternal life with the triune God (Revelation 21:1-4). In the Old Testament, people were not saved by works, but by faith (Hebrews 11).

The narrative of Judges is located between the Exodus and the Monarchy. As such, Judges is a theologically-interpreted history of Israel’s transition from strong leadership through a downward spiral of failed leaders and meant to establish a justification for a righteous monarchy. The era of the judges is a bridge between the partial conquest of The Promised Land and the Israelite monarchy. This inspired book illustrates humanity’s universal depravity, need of salvation, as well as God’s grace in both the deliverance and discipline of His people.

 

 

 

[1]The common term in the English-speaking world for deity is “God.” However, for the purposes of this study “God” and “the LORD” are used interchangeably. It is important to note that the divine name used in Judges is YHWH and is translated as “LORD.” Many scholars believe this divine name should be pronounced as “Yahweh,” which is the modern English equivalent of Jehovah.

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