James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
The story of Judges is something like this: While Joshua and the elders of his generation lived those who had personally known the wonders of Jehovah the people continued in measurable obedience to the divine law. But when these died and another generation came on the scene there began a decline.
The way had been made easy for this by their failure through unbelief to drive out all the Canaanites from amongst them, as related in Joshua.
The proximity of these heathen acted like leaven in the dough. Israel intermarried with them contrary to the divine decree, and was led into idolatry thereby. This weakened their power so that from conquerors they were changed into the conquered, turning their back upon God, He, in a sense, turned His back upon them, and allowed them to be taken captive and sorely oppressed.
In their distress they would repent and cry for mercy, when He would deliver them through a leader miraculously endued, and called a judge. As long as this judge lived they would be held in obedience again, but on his decease a relapse into sin followed and the same round of experience was repeated.
AN INSPIRED SUMMARY
The story of the book is practically outlined for us in Jdg 2:6-19, which takes the place of a summary, and suggests as the spiritual outline of its contents these four words:
GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PERIOD
There are twelve judges named in the book unless we count Abimelech and Barak in the number, which would make fourteen. Abimelech was a conspirator and usurper (chap. 9) and is not usually counted a judge, as he was not of divine appointment. Barak was associated with Deborah and the honor of the judgeship is assigned to her rather than him.
It will stimulate interest in the book to read it through in advance, and if possible at a single reading, as far as the close of chapter 16, where the real history of the judges concludes. Use a sheet of paper and record the name of each judge and that of the nation from which he delivered Israel. You will find these nations were Mesopotamia, Moab, Philistia, Canaan, Midian and Ammon.
Now examine the map, or a Bible dictionary, and see where these nations were located on the north, east, south and west of Israel. This will raise the question as to whether the whole of Israel was in captivity to each of these nations at different times, or only those tribes which were in closest proximity to each.
If the latter be our conclusion, as seems likely, a second question arises as to whether each judge ruled over the whole of Israel at any time, or only so many of the tribes as he delivered from bondage? The latter seems the more probable, and gives a different conception of the history of the period from that commonly understood. It indicates that the periods of these judges were not necessarily successive, and that two or more may have been ruling at the same time in different parts of the land. It was this unsatisfactory state of things that was instrumental in moving the people to demand a king.
THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE BOOK
As was stated above, the history of the judges so far as this book is concerned ends at chapter 16, the remaining chapters being supplementary. The dates given at the beginning of the book and at chapter 16 indicate the period covered to be about 300 years, to which might be added the time of Eli, if not Samuel, both of whom judged Israel, and whose story is found in the next book but one.
But even with these additions the period does not approximate that named in Acts 13:20, “about the space of 450 years until Samuel the prophet.”
A perfectly satisfactory explanation of this disagreement cannot as yet be given, but a suggestion is that there is a divine chronology distinct from the human, whose center seems to be Israel. It is important to note, that God does not count time in the history of Israel while she is absent from her own land, or dominated by, or in captivity to, other nations.
The most striking illustration of this is in the present age. Nineteen hundred years in round numbers have elapsed since Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus and the Jews became scattered among the Gentiles, but the briefest mention is made of them in prophecy in all this time. When we reach the prophets we shall see that they break off their references to Israel at the time of this dispersion, and take it up again at their restoration at the end of this age, just as though no time had intervened. It is on this principle only that one can understand the meaning of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9.
Many minor illustrations of this are found in the Old Testament. Of Israel’s thirty-eight years in the wilderness, when they were out of touch with God through disobedience, we are told almost nothing: Abram listened to Sarah concerning Hagar, which was a suggestion of the flesh, and we find a blank in his life of thirteen years (see Genesis 16:16; Genesis 17:1). In the same way we may be able to explain this apparent discrepancy between the chronology in Judges and that in the Acts.
For example, during the captivities in Judges, the nation lost successively, 8, 18, 20, 7, 18 and 40 years, a total of 111 years (see Jdg 3:8; Jdg 3:14; Jdg 4:3; Jdg 6:1; Jdg 10:8; Jdg 13:1). Add to these 111 years 200 during which they were said to have had rest, 136 during which they were ruled by judges, and you have precisely 450.
In the same way some would explain the seeming discrepancy between 1 Kings 6:1 and this passage in Acts. All of this is interesting and will be found more so as we come to other illustrations of the principle in later books.
1. Give in a sentence or two the story of Judges.
2. How do you explain the spiritual decline of Israel during this period?
3. Give from memory a spiritual outline of the book.
4. How many judges are named in the book?
5. What reason is there to believe that the servitudes mentioned did not always extend over the whole of Israel at one time?
6. How does divine chronology seem to differ from the human?
7. On what principle only can we understand the meaning of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9?
8. Apply this principle to the apparent discrepancy between the chronology in Judges and Paul’s reference to the period.