After the major campaigns to take the land, Joshua charged each tribe to continue the occupation until they eliminated the enemies from their various lands. The tribes were not uniformly successful in doing this. At the beginning of the book of Judges, this task has yet to be fully dealt with. Just as the book of Joshua begins with the death of Moses, God’s servant, so too does Judges start with the death of Joshua, God’s servant. But God had appointed a leader to succeed Moses and made that appointment clear to the children of Israel. There was no such appointed leader at Joshua’s death. Joshua had divvied the land appropriately to the 12 tribes, but not all the land had been adequately possessed by the tribes.  Joshua charged the tribes to finish the conquest and drive out the remaining enemies. But, Joshua had left no successor to help them complete the task. The book of Judges begins, “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’”

The book begins with the request for a military leader to finish the conquest of the land. Hundreds of years go by with 13 various cycles during which the nation sins against God, God allows them to fall into servitude to the nations around them instead of conquering them. Then the Israelites cry out to God for help. God sends a “judge, “ a military hero, to deliver them from their enemies. Victory ensues, but the cycle starts over. Swindoll summarizes the book well, “The nation underwent political and religious turmoil as the people tried to possess those parts of the land that had not yet been fully conquered. The tribes fought among themselves, as well, nearly wiping out the tribes of Manasseh (Judges 12) and Benjamin (20–21). The pattern of behavior in the book of Judges is clear: the people rebelled through idolatry and disbelief, God brought judgment through foreign oppression, God raised up a deliverer—or judge, and the people repented and turned back to God. When the people fell back into sin, the cycle started over again.”[1]

It appears that Walton is right, “…the aim of this document (Judges) is not to celebrate the achievements of the generation of Israelites that survived Joshua, but to lament their sorry response to the divine mandate to occupy the land and to eliminate the Canaanites…The structure… declares that this military failure accounts for the disastrous history of the nation in the next two or three centuries.”[2] Yet, at the same time, one cannot miss God’s longsuffering with his sinful people. Throughout this book, God’s people are disobedient and idolatrous. Yet when they repented and cried out to God for help, He sent a savior! God never failed to open his arms in love to his people when they turned to Him for salvation. This is the Gospel message for us today. Though we, too, like the children of God in the period of the Judges, have been disobedient and idolatrous in our own ways, God is waiting for us to repent and turn to Him. One blogger says, “God’s compassionate delivery of His people despite their sin and rejection of Him presents a picture of Christ on the cross. Jesus died to deliver His people—all who would ever believe in Him—from their sin.”[3]


[2] Walton, John H. 2009. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.