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Judges: A Call for a King

What is the book of Judges really about?

On the surface, Judges appears to be a simple and straightforward account of Israel’s dark history between Joshua’s conquest of Canaan and the rise of David. As a matter of fact, apart from the brief story of Ruth, Judges provides the only existing account of this particular time period. And yet, as Bible scholar J. Alan Groves points out, “the recounting of that history was not its primary purpose.”[1] Indeed, composed sometime after David had become king, Judges was written to the Israelites to address the difficulty that their leaders (the judges) had had in leading God’s people to fear the Lord and keep covenant. “Failure to follow the Lord by fearing him and keeping his covenant threatened Israel’s continued peace and presence in the [promised] land. [Thus,] Judges calls the Israelites to consider [carefully] whom they would follow…More particularly, Judges’ purpose is (1) to demonstrate the failure of Israel’s leadership to pass on the knowledge of God to the next generation or to lead them in covenant-keeping…and (2) to argue for a better leader: a covenant-keeping king, not a judge; from Judah, not Benjamin; David not Saul.”[2]

“The writer of Judges was encouraging his fellow Israelites to choose and follow King David.

J. Alan Groves

Though David and Saul are never mentioned by name in Judges, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin are contrasted many times. In fact, the book “opens by noting the crisis in leadership created by Joshua’s death and God’s answer that Judah would lead Israel in completing the conquest (1:1-2). Judges continues by outlining the general success of the tribe of Judah in taking their allotted inheritance (1:2-20) and the almost universal failure of the other tribes to do likewise (1:26-36)”[3] with the tribe of Benjamin being first on that list (1:21). Benjamin also instigated a civil war in Israel (Judges 20), causing all the other tribes to war against him.

Interestingly, while scholars have only been able to roughly date the book of Judges to sometime after David rose to power, this anti-Benjamite and pro-Judahite narrative has led some to suspect that it was probably “written in the period when there were two viable candidates for the throne—one from the house of David and the other from the house of Saul. That is the period when David was king in the south in Hebron, and Ish-Bosheth, the son of Saul, was king of the ten northern tribes in Ephraim (2 Sam. 2:8-5:10).” If this is correct, then “the writer of Judges was encouraging his fellow Israelites to choose and follow King David.” [4]

Unfortunately, David’s godly leadership died with him and most of his heirs proved to be complete moral failures, which once again sent the nation into a downward spiral culminating in God’s judgement upon them. And so, as Groves rightly concludes, the whole OT story still cries out, like the book of Judges does, for a leader who would be faithful to God and lead his people in keeping covenant. Significantly, that cry is answered in Christ Jesus, who of course was also from the tribe of Judah, and descended from David.  Therefore, the book of Judges called its original audience to follow a king who would lead them in knowing and fearing the Lord. And now, it issues the same call to us, except that the king to follow is no longer David but Jesus.[5]

 

Ryan Hembree | March 4, 2022 – 3:00 PM EST


[1] J. Alan Groves, Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament, Chapter 7, Judges, P.95, Kevin J. Vanhoozer general editor.
[2] Ibid., P.95-96.
[3] Ibid., P.96.
[4] Ibid., P.98.
[5] Ibid., P.100-1.