JUDGES. The second historical book, comprising a period of about 300 years (or, according to the LXX. chronology, quoted by Paul, Acts xiii. 20, 450 years), chronicles the gradual decline of Israel, after Joshua’s death, into a state of political anarchy and religious apostasy.
Date and Authorship. Its authorship is uncertain; but Jewish tradition ascribes it to Samuel. The phrase, “up to this day,” is thought by modern critics to signify the time of Solomon, though i. 21 seems to refer to a date prior to David’s capture of Jebus at the beginning of his reign, while xviii. 14 would seem to mark a date posterior to the Assyrian captivity of Israel. There 14 is little doubt that chaps, i. 6—xvi. form an early record, most probably written by Samuel, and which was continued by other annalists; and that these documents were compiled into one harmonious whole (terminating with II Kings), probably by Ezra, or Nehemiah. The text of the whole is, “There was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” The government may be called a republican confederacy. But the want of unity, and irreligion, made them a prey to the heathens around, whom they neglected to extirpate. Seven times Israel became subject to a foreign yoke, while thirteen judges assumed, by God’s command, or the people’s choice (as Abimelech), a temporary dictatorship. Of these some were contemporaries, as Samson and Samuel, and probably Abimelech, Tola, and Jair. This office subsequently became life-long (after Jephthah), and hereditary (in Samuel’s time), gradually preparing the way for a monarchy.
It is notable that, until the days of Eli, the priesthood is never mentioned, and that in him the office had passed from the family of Eleazar to that of Ithamar, on account, as the Jews say, of the sanction given by the former to Jephthah’s unnatural sacrifice. The Books of Joshua and Judges bear the same relation to the books of the Law as the Acts of the Apostles to the Gospels; but the former mark the decline of the Jewish, the latter records the progress of the Christian Church.