The book of Judges has always had a strong attraction to the reader, including me, because of its impressive stories, which are described very realistically. When, in preparation for Bible studies and Bible lectures, I started to occupy myself intensively with this Bible book, I experienced once again the great power and topicality that comes from this part of God’s Word.
In this preparation I have gratefully used what others have already passed on about this book, in word and in writing. This comment does not pretend to be original in everything. I did try to ‘translate’ the events of the book of Judges into our time.
In order to do this in a responsible way, I have tried as much as possible to underpin my comments from the New Testament. Scripture consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament and cannot be broken (Jn 10:35). The interpretation and application of a verse (or section) must be confirmed by another Scripture section (cf. 2Pet 1:20).
I hope that as you read, you will ask the Lord for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and that you will examine whether things are as they are presented in this comment (Acts 17:11). My prayer is that you open yourselves up to the powerful working of this part of God’s Word and that its effect will be visible in your life. All for the glory of God and for the blessing of His people and yourself.
Ger de Koning
Middelburg, January 1997; revised June 2018; translated August 2019
Introduction on Judges
The book of Judges describes the failure of the people of Israel to take possession of the land they received from God, the land of Canaan. But that’s not all. We also read about the intervention of the God of mercies Who stands up for His failing people when they appeal to Him. He does not leave His people with the results of their unfaithfulness.
In short, this Bible book shows us the unfaithfulness of the people of God and the faithfulness of God. The history of professing Christianity, of which we are a part, shows the same thing. Because man has not changed, nor has God, this book appears to be topical for our time.
The importance of this Bible book for the church
The book of Judges describes the failure of God’s earthly people, the people of Israel. What is the meaning and value of the book of Judges for believers of the church? The Bible itself indicates that we may learn lessons from the history of the people of God recorded in the Old Testament. The Bible even calls us to do so. It is written that all that has happened to Israel has happened to them “as examples for us” (1Cor 10:6) and that these things have happened to them “as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1Cor 10:11). In another place it says: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction” (Rom 15:4). “In earlier times” means in the Old Testament.
It is God’s purpose that we, believers of the New Testament, apply the events described in this book to the time in which we live. He even made everything happen to Israel for that purpose. By doing so, He wants to warn us so that we do not fall into the same mistakes as Israel.
The lesson for the church
The fact that it went with the church as a whole the same as with Israel is shown by the history of the church. The church has also received many blessings from God. These are not earthly blessings, as is the case with Israel. Israel has received a piece of land full of treasures (Deu 8:7-10). The blessings received by the church are spiritual, heavenly blessings. We can find them especially in the letter to the Ephesians. In it we read that God predestined the believers “to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph 1:5), and that all believers of the church together with the Lord Jesus are above all things (Eph 1:10), and much more.
These blessings the church has received are on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross and His glorification in heaven. After He had returned to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to earth. As a result, all believers have become a unity, with one another and with the Lord Jesus in heaven. God has given these heavenly blessings to the church from the moment the church came into being through the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4; 1Cor 12:13).
At that time, the church did not yet know how rich she was. Especially the apostle Paul was used by God to make these blessings known to her. Paul wrote about this in several letters, but especially in the one to the church in Ephesus. To learn about these blessings it is therefore important that the believer reads the Bible and arranges his life accordingly. That is, he lives on earth in the consciousness that his real life is above, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
But what has the church done with all these blessings? The church soon forgot that she is connected with the Lord Jesus in heaven and that she has such heavenly blessings. She has become more and more concerned with the things of the world, as if she belongs here on earth and not in heaven. The “first love”, the most important love, the love to the Lord Jesus to Whom she owes everything, is “left” (Rev 2:4). As a result, she has ended up in a downward spiral and so little now goes out from the church.
Yet it is still possible to enjoy the blessings of God. This is the case when there is a confession of unfaithfulness and an appeal to the grace of God. Then He will give a solution, just as He did with Israel at the time. Not that the church as a whole will be restored. That has not been the case in the book of Judges with regard to Israel either. What we see, however, is that God, through the faithfulness of individuals, still gives blessings to all or part of the people. This also applies to the church today. The faithfulness of a few has positive consequences for many.
A brief review
To indicate in which period of the history of God’s people the events take place in the book of Judges, it is good to look back to the book that precedes it, the book of Joshua. It tells how the people entered the land under leadership of Joshua. In Joshua 1-12 we are told about the progress made in taking possession of the land. Many enemies are defeated and a lot of land is captured.
But after Joshua 12, God says to Joshua: “Very much of the land remains to be possessed” (Jos 13:1). From Joshua 13 onward, the land is divided and each tribe is assigned its inheritance. It follows from the above that the people have two tasks:
1. what has already been conquered must be defended and
2. what is still in the hands of the enemy must be captured.
This requires battle, because the enemy does not intend to give up his territory without a blow or punch. The book of Joshua shows us the inheritance and blessing of God’s earthly people, Israel. The book of Judges gives us the history of that people, how they deal with the obtained blessing in practice.
Could not God have made the enemy surrender in advance? Certainly, God could have done that. In Genesis 35 we read: “And the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob” (Gen 35:5 Darby Translation). He could have done something similar here. He could have let fall His terror on the enemies. He could also have simply slain them “with the breath of His mouth” (2Thes 2:8) or by “a sharp sword” coming “from His mouth” (Rev 19:15).
But God has in every time His specific way of acting with the people in general and with His people in particular. His goal is to show man that he needs Him. Only by doing everything with and for God man can be truly happy. Thus God has a special purpose with it that He allows hostile peoples to live in the land: He does so to test His people.
The test is whether they will rely on their own strength in battle or whether they trust Him. The test will show whether they want to make an effort to own what He has given them or whether they are not interested in what God has given them. In the first case, they show that they appreciate His blessings. In the second case, they will allow the enemy to live in their midst, with the result that the enemy will rob them of their blessing. The test shows where their hearts go out to.
The final blessing
If it turns out that the people, through their unfaithfulness, are wasting all their blessings, how will the faithfulness of God turn out in the end? It will become clear that Israel will only be blessed under the rule of their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who by His power will introduce the blessing and by that same power will maintain the blessing. The enemy will have no chance of robbing the people of that blessing.
The book of Ruth, which happens in the time of Judges (Rth 1:1), concludes with the name of “David” (Rth 4:22). When David becomes king, he deals with the enemies and secures the blessing for the people. In David we see a wonderful reference to the Lord Jesus, Who will do the same for His people of Israel when He returns to earth.
The decay in which the people of God have ended up and which is written in the book of Judges, is foretold by Joshua. Joshua warned of this in his farewell speech to Israel, to “their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers”, which are the people with responsibility within the people (Jos 23:2). He says to them: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you” (Jos 23:12-13).
These prophetic words resemble Paul’s words to the elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:29-30). He warns them of the deviations that will come after his passing away. Ephesus is the church to which he has explained the special blessings with which God has blessed the individual believer and the church as a whole.
In the last written letter we have of Paul in the New Testament, his second letter to Timothy, he talks about the same things concerning the decay that will occur after his passing away. It is remarkable that Timothy (possibly) is then in the same Ephesus (1Tim 1:3). We see how always a parallel can be drawn between Israel then and the church now.
A prophetic application
After the period described in the book of Judges, the history of the kings Saul, David and Solomon follows. We find them in the books of Samuel and of Kings. For professing Christianity, the period of the book of Judges can be compared to the period that begins after the apostles’ passing away, the post-apostolic era. This period will end with the rapture of the church.
If we compare the events that take place after the church’s rapture with Saul, David and Solomon we get the following picture. After the church is raptured, the antichrist, of whom Saul is a picture, will reveal himself. The antichrist will ruin the people. But the Lord Jesus, the true David, will appear and bring the long-awaited peace for all who have looked forward to Him. To achieve that, He will judge the enemies. Immediately thereafter He will, as the true Solomon, establish the millennial kingdom of peace. These events, which will therefore take place after the church’s rapture, are described in the book of Revelation from chapter 6 onward.
The history of the church on earth
A description of the history of the church on earth before she is raptured is given to us in Revelation 2 and 3. In the seven letter written in it, we find a prophetic sketch of the history of the church on earth. It becomes clear from this that the church, God’s people of the New Testament, just like Israel, God’s people of the Old Testament, is also departing further and further from its high calling and therefore, deteriorates. Eventually the Lord Jesus spits her out of His mouth as something disgusting (Rev 3:16).
It is striking how the description of the decay in Revelation 2 and 3 begins with the letter to Ephesus – to whom Paul had previously been able to communicate God’s full counsel on the heavenly position of the church – and ends with Laodicea and her condition. In all this, it is important to keep in mind that this is about the church in her responsibility on earth and not about the church according to God’s counsel.
Man spoils everything
What happens to the church is not new. It has happened to everything God has entrusted to man’s responsibility. This shows how unfaithful man is by nature. It is useful and necessary to be aware of this. This will reduce our pride and moderation and increase our humility and dependence.
Everything that is made good by God is corrupted by man. A short summary shows this:
1. Look at Adam. Adam is placed in a beautiful garden, a paradise with wonderful blessings. But Adam sins and the curse comes upon creation.
2. Look at Noah. Noah is saved from the flood and enters a cleansed earth. But Noah drinks himself drunk, making himself unworthy of the authority God has given him.
3. Look at Israel. The people have only just been freed from the Egyptian bondage and they make a golden calf and God’s anger must strike them.
4. With the priesthood it is not different. Almost immediately after God has ordained it, two sons of Aaron come with strange fire and God must kill them.
5. The kingship shows the same picture. The first king, Saul, turns out to be a disobedient king who fails to fulfill his mission and finally commits suicide.
Everything that has been entrusted to man decays because of man’s unfaithfulness. This principle makes clear what is in man, what is in each of us. Fortunately, we always see what is in God, what sources of grace are present in Him. These sources are always available to us and we can always tap into them, especially in times of decay. If we do this, God will glorify Himself in such dark times by people who don’t expect anything of themselves anymore, but everything of Him.
That’s why this book contains an enormous stimulus for people who don’t resign themselves because of the decay, but offer themselves to God to be used by Him. They will be a blessing to His people, and will fight the enemy in His strength.
A spiritual struggle
At the beginning and at the end of this book the same question is asked. This question is who will go first to fight (Jdg 1:1; 20:18). Between these two questions, the book takes place. The first time this question is asked, pertains to fighting against the enemies of the people. The second time this question is asked, pertains to going to fight against a brother of the people. They start by fighting together against a common enemy and end up by fighting each other.
It is a variation of what Paul says to the Galatians: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3). Applied to Israel we can say that Israel begins in the Spirit, but ends up in the flesh. It must be said that Israel’s fight against their brother Benjamin is necessary because of the sin that took place there and how their brother dealt with it.
This brings us in this introduction to another important point in the application of this book in our time. Our struggle is not against enemies of “blood and flesh”, but against invisible, spiritual enemies. Our struggle is a spiritual struggle “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]” (Eph 6:12). Although our enemies are not visible and tangible, they are just as real and much more pernicious than visible and tangible enemies.
The different enemies in the book of Judges represent different forms of the evil, sinful flesh and of the carnal lusts in the believer. We see how satan and his evil angels take advantage of this to persuade the believer to let himself be led by the flesh.
A child of God may know that the Lord Jesus bore the judgment of sin and robbed satan of his power on the cross. Something else is that the believer must live up to this in his life. In faith he must keep himself dead to sin (Rom 6:11).
Whenever satan, the prince of the evil powers in the heavenly places, wants to encourage us to have a sinful way of thinking or living, we must resist him. This can be done by pointing at the Lord Jesus and at the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we do not walk in the Spirit, we will be overcome by these things.
In practice, this works as follows. There may be a desire to enjoy the blessings in Christ. Yet these blessings are not enjoyed when the Christian is held in captivity by sinful desires he has allowed into his life. It is impossible to enjoy the heavenly blessings when worldly or carnal things are pursued. These things make him a prisoner, with the result that he has no eye and time for the things that has to do with God and the Lord Jesus.
What kind of people are the judges, where do they come from, when do they live and how do they become judge? There is a big difference in the personality of the judges we encounter in this book. They come from different tribes: Judah, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan. They all have different social backgrounds: one is a farmer, the other a diplomat, another a vagabond. Some are known, others unknown, some are rich, others poor. One of them is a woman. We will look at her special ministry in Judges 4 and 5.
These differences make it clear that God in His sovereignty determines who can be judge and He gives each one his or her own place in this. He does so according to the way they deal with Him and not on the basis of whether or not a religious education or diploma. The school of God is guaranteed to be the best education there is.
Who today are judges
As we read this book, we see that all the judges are personally raised up by God, with the exception of Abimelech who proclaims himself to be judge (Jdg 9:1-6). They are not appointed by Joshua. Nor do they become so because a committee of judges invites them to join them. Family succession is not an issue either.
Judges are a picture of elders and overseers who in our days perform their task in the local church. The fact that a woman has acted as a judge does not mean that women can also be elders or overseers in the church. God has assigned this task in the church exclusively to men. We will take a closer look at that in the history of Deborah.
These elders or overseers have not been appointed by people, just like the judges. In the Bible, the appointment of elders is done by an apostle or an authorized representative of an apostle (Acts 14:23; 20:28; Tit 1:5). Since there are no apostles anymore and as a result there are no more persons who can act on their behalf, there can be no more appointment of elders. There is no appointment by people and no natural follow-up.
This does not mean, however, that there are no elders anymore. Paul speaks to Timothy about the characteristics to be met by a person who “aspires to the office of overseer” (1Tim 3:1). He shows the ‘profile’ that an overseer should fulfill and by which he can be recognized (1Tim 3:1-7).
Fortunately, there are still people who respond to the desire that the Lord works in them to function as an elder or overseer. They have a special eye for the dangers of the time in which we live. They will work to ensure that the enemy does not have a chance to deprive the believers of their blessings. Their task is to point out to believers areas in their lives where the enemy has made a profit. They also give indications on how the lost ground can be reclaimed.
Decreasing success of the judges
The victories won by judges are not the result of an offensive battle. They fight enemies who, through the unfaithfulness of the people, have managed to rob the people of the inheritance that God has given them. The judges will do their utmost to maintain the national existence and to let God’s people enjoy once again what belongs to them. God wants His people to be a victorious people. But the people turn away from Him again and again and follow the sins and gods of the nations around them, becoming thereby their slaves every time. The result is that all service and witnessing cease.
Judges is a book in which there is always talk of revolt against God. Every time there is a revolt, the people lose a little more of their blessing. This can be seen in the degree of redemption achieved by a judge. Each following salvation is less far-reaching than the previous one. After each domination, the people get less back than they have lost. The last judge in this book, Samson, even leaves the people in captivity. Because of personal unfaithfulness he, despite his great strength, is not able to drive the enemy away permanently. On the contrary, he himself becomes a prisoner.
But despite the increase in loss, God’s grace is so great that even a time of decay can become a time of special blessing for the individual or for a remnant.
Every deliverance is always partial, until the Lord Jesus comes. When He comes, He will bring about complete deliverance.
The period when the judges judge
Between the exodus from Egypt and the building of the temple by Solomon are 480 years (1Kgs 6:1).
According to Acts 13 this period covers about 570 years (Acts 13:17-22). This results in a difference of 90 years. This difference can be explained as follows.
The 570-year period in Acts 13 is the sum of
about 40 years (Acts 13:18)
+about 450 years (Acts 13:20)
+40 years (Acts 13:21)
+40 years reign of David (1Kgs 2:11)
=total 570 years.
The difference of about 90 years is the sum of the five periods of slavery in Judges:
8 years (Jdg 3:8)
+18 years (Jdg 3:14)
+20 years (Jdg 4:3)
+7 years (Jdg 6:1)
+40 years (Jdg 13:1)
=total 93 years.
The spiritual lesson we can learn from this is the following. God does not count the days and hours in which we live in slavery, because this time was not lived for Him. That time has no value to Him. Before Christ’s judgment seat this will be revealed.
Nothing in the Bible is meaningless. God has had everything written down with a special purpose. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17). This also applies to all the names mentioned. These names have a meaning. This does not mean that the meaning of a name is always clear. Sometimes there are also multiple meanings of a name possible. However, the meaning of the name often gives us a clearer insight into the meaning of a certain section.
Many names are mentioned in the book of Judges. I want to try to stay as close as possible to that meaning in my application of the meaning. If there are multiple meanings, I will make an application that appeals to me the most. The danger with such applications is always that fantasy will play a role. It is up to the reader to read critically, in the way of the Jews in Berea of whom is mentioned: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily [to see] whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
An important indication in connection with the meaning of names can be found in the Scriptures themselves. It is in connection with the name ‘Melchizedek’: “For this Melchizedek, …, was first of all, by the translation [of his name], king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace” (Heb 7:1-2). Here the Bible itself gives proof that from the meaning of a person’s name certain conclusions can be drawn that teach us something about that person or about the Person of Whom he is a picture.
There are several books with explanations of the names. I have consulted some of them. I will not go into names of which I do not know the meaning. These names do have a meaning that represents something, but I don’t know what. It is good that we recognize our limitations.
Division of the book
1. Rebellion of the chosen people – Judges 1:1-3:4.
2. Slavery and deliverance – Judges 3:5-16:31.
3. The corrupt heart revealed – Judges 17:1-21:25
The subdivision per main division
1. Judges 1:1-3:4
a. The intermingling with the nations – Judges 1:1-2:5.
b. The open break with the LORD and the fall into idolatry - Judges 2:6-3:4.
About this subdivision it can be said that portion b. results from portion a. If the people of God are no longer separated from the world, the automatic consequence is that there will be a break with God and that they will serve the gods of the world. This is a fulfillment of the above quoted warning of the LORD from the mouth of Joshua (Jos 23:12-13). The fulfillment of these words we see in the book that we are going to take a closer look at. We will see that God is justified in His words.
2. Judges 3:5-16:31
This subdivision consists of thirteen parts, according to the number of judges that appear in it. In it we read the history of Israel’s sins, which enemies are used by God to bring them to repentance, and which judges God raises up to deliver them from their enemies.
3. Judges 17:1-21:25
As in the first main division, we can distinguish two subdivisions here:
a. Judges 17-18 show the religious decay, the abandonment of the bond with God and the filling in of the serving of God according to one’s own ideas.
b. Judges 19-21 show the moral decay, the abandonment of the mutual relationship and acting at one’s own discretion without taking the other into account.
As in the first main part, subdivision b. flows from subdivision a. If the bond with God is abandoned, the bond with each other is abandoned. Where the love to God cools, the brotherly love also cools.