The book of Judges records the events in the life of God’s people from when they started taking possession of their allotted promised land. About three hundred years of Israel’s history is accounted for in this book, from the time they entered Canaan to the crowing of its first king. Though the book of Ruth runs in parallel to the period of Judges as it recounts the events in the life of a migrant family from Moab during the same period, we don’t see any crossovers in their respective narrations apart from the opening verse of the latter.
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.Ruth 1:1 (NIV)
When it comes to the authorship of the book of Judges, many attribute it to the Prophet Samuel who became the leader of Israel nearly three centuries later than the start of this narration. It could have just as well been written by one of Samuel’s assistants or the prophets who succeeded him, like Nathan or Gath. What we know for sure is that it was written before king David conquered the city of Jerusalem by defeating the Jebusites as the author specifically mentions the presence of Jebusites in the Benjamites-occupied hill city of Jerusalem.
The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.Judges 1:21 (NIV)
The central theme of the book revolves around God’s grace. Even after the Israelites keep betraying their Creator, God keeps extending His mighty hand to bring out His people from their problems when they cry out to Him. Time and time again the Israelites abandon God only to have the world around them subdue them. When their misery was too much to bear they would inevitably cry out to God for help. It is at this point that God would have mercy on them and raise up mighty Judges among them to guide them back to His path. The Israelites would be grateful to God for a while before finding new perverted ways of betraying Him. This cyclical trend is repeated throughout the book no matter who took charge of God’s people. The second chapter of the book has this vicious cycle called out to help prepare its readers for the continuous disobedience and prostitution of Israelites before other gods (Judges 2:16-19).
The book exposes the downward spiral of the Israelites and paints a picture to its readers of their lives without God. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our surroundings have a lasting effect on our belief system. Israel seamlessly blended in with its neighbours and at every opportunity chose to align itself with the pagan world than associate with the God of Heavens and the Earth. No sooner did they enter the promised land, the people forgot about everything that God had done for them and their ancestors during their journey through the wilderness.
The Bible is full of faithful men and women of God, but we must understand that they are also flawed because of the sin that surrounds us. The Canaanite culture was able to corrupt even the rigorous of Judges as we see one sacrificing his own daughter, replicating the sacrifices of the pagan world around him (Judges 11:28-40). What we can take away after reading these accounts is that we cannot depend on our leaders. Even though they are appointed by God, everyone is dealing with their own demons as they go through the trials and tribulations of this world. Instead, our compass should be guided by God and Him alone. Only then will we not fall into the vicious cycle of sin and redemption that the Israelites found themselves in time and time again.