Why Study Judges?

by Jan 22, 2024The Bible

This spring, our Women’s Bible Study will be in the book of Judges. This book is familiar to us in parts and pieces; many of us know the stories of Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. But few of us know how those stories fit together in the book of Judges. We rarely stop to read those stories in their context—to see how Deborah’s story leads to Gideon’s or the cycle that unites all three judges. I certainly didn’t have that context before preparing for this study.

I’ve read Judges when a daily Bible reading plan has taken me there, but I confess I’m usually eager to turn the page from the final chapters of Judges to the familiarity of the book of Ruth. Judges isn’t an easy read. It’s dark at times–really, really dark. So why study it?

Judges Shows Our Fallen Condition

In each Women’s Bible Study, we aim to help women study a book of the Bible in light of the larger story of the Bible. Every page of Scripture tells one story—creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. The story begins with creation, with God’s people dwelling in God’s place under his rule and blessing. In the fall, though, God’s people reject his rule and consequently, they’re removed from the place of his blessing. I’m not sure that there’s a book of the Bible that paints a more vivid picture of our fallen condition than Judges. It shows just how far each one of us has fallen.

Judges repeats itself (over and over and over) in a cycle of the people of Israel forgetting the Lord and worshipping other gods. Their faithlessness provokes the Lord to a righteous, jealous anger, and in his justice, he gives his people over to their enemies. Israel, under the weight of oppression, cries out to God, and in his mercy, he hears their cries and responds to their pleas. He raises up judges—deliverers who redeem Israel from their enemies and restore peace in the land. (1)

But the deliverers die. When they die, the cycle begins again. It’s not just an endless loop, though, it’s a downward spiral. And it all begins so simply, with forgetfulness.

Judges also repeats phrases—two in particular: “In those days there was no king in Israel” and “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” What does life look like apart from the rule of King Jesus? Judges shows us. What happens when there is no law, no morality, when everyone does what they think is right? Judges shows us. Spoiler alert: it isn’t pretty.

Judges shows us life in a fallen world. As the cycle spirals downward, the picture grows increasingly grim, showing us what life looks like when we forget the heart of God’s rule: to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The picture is startlingly modern—we see it reflected in our world today.

So…how’re you feeling about Judges? I can picture women stampeding to register for Women’s Bible Study after that overview. 

But the fall isn’t the end of the story.

Judges Shows Our Deliverer

There’s a line in Andrew Peterson’s song, “Is He Worthy?” that never fails to choke me up:

Do you feel the world is broken? (We do.)

Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do.)

But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do.)

It’s what the apostle John wrote in verses we read just a few weeks ago at Advent:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

In the darkness, the light shines brightest. Judges shows the depths of our fallen condition. But the story of the Bible is just getting started with the fall. From Genesis 3 onward, the story points forward to redemption—it points to Jesus! Judges is no exception; we see the character and the mighty works of our deliverer in Judges.

He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7). He responds to the cries of his people for deliverance. He goes before them into battle as a mighty warrior. He is a righteous and perfect judge, “who will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7). 

He is the Prince of Peace, the One who brings a lasting and eternal peace through his death and resurrection. Unlike the deliverers in Judges, whose deaths seemed to kickstart the cycle all over again, in his death, this deliverer breaks the cycle. He breaks the chains of oppression and sets his people free.

He is the eternal King whose kingdom will have no end. Even as Judges repeats, “There was no king in Israel,” we remember the King who has never stepped off his throne. We wait eagerly for the day when we will see him ruling and reigning over all creation, and when we, his people, are in his place under his rule and blessing.

Ladies, I hope you’ll jump into this study with us this semester. Our prayer is that Judges shows us our need for a deliverer with every repetition of the cycle. We pray that as the cycle repeats and the scene grows darker, the light shines a little brighter as we behold the glory of our King.

Vaughan Roberts traces this theme from Genesis to Revelation in his book, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible.

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