Introduction to Judges
The book of Judges is the second in order of what are called the historical books of the Bible, following chronologically immediately after Joshua. The name, of course, refers to the gifted men (plus one woman, Deborah) whom God raised up to lead and govern Israel between the times of Joshua and Samuel. Altogether, fourteen of these judges were named in the book, including Deborah and Barak, who served as sort of co-judges, but not including Eli and Samuel, who judged Israel later.
The authorship of Judges is unknown, although the most likely candidate is believed to be Samuel. Since the period involved is at least three hundred years, it is probable that records were kept by a number of writers, then later compiled and edited by Samuel or someone else after the period of the judges had passed. That eventual editor/writer was, of course, guided by the Holy Spirit in such a way that the book that resulted was divinely inspired and inerrantly correct.
The chronology of the book of Judges has been very controversial. The total length of both the judges’ rules and the intermittent periods of alien rule as recorded was about 410 years, but this turns out to be too great to accord with other chronological data (I Kings 6:1). Many writers, therefore, assume that some of the listed judges may have governed different regions of Israel at the same time. A few writers, however, believe that there may be significant gaps in the records and the total period may have been much longer. The archaeological evidence is also equivocal, but it should be remembered that methods of dating ancient events (pottery dating, radiocarbon dating, tree-ring dating, and so on) are often contradictory and are based on very questionable assumptions. Furthermore, even though the numbers in the original writings of Scripture were inerrantly correct as divinely inspired, transitional scribal errors in copying older manuscripts possibly occurred in some instances. Thus one should be very cautious in ascribing specific dates to the various incidents, not only in Judges but also in the earlier books of the Old Testament.
The main characteristic of this segment of Israel’s history seems to have been the cyclic repetition of national fellowship with God, then apostasy, followed by captivity, and finally repentance, deliverance and restored fellowship. One of the saddest indictments of the people during such periods of apostasy is that contained in the very last verse of Judges: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25; see also 17:6; Deuteronomy 12:8).
Nevertheless, despite uncertainties of authorship and chronology, as well as the frequent periods of apostasy and servitude, the historicity of the records in Judges has been confirmed in the New Testament. See especially Acts 13:19-21 and Hebrews 11:32.