The book of Judges stands in stark contrast to Joshua. In Joshua an obedient people conquered the land through trust in the power of God. In Judges, however, a disobedient and idolatrous people are repeatedly oppressed by their enemies.

The Hebrew title of the book is Shophetim, meaning "judges." The word not only carries the idea of maintaining justice and settling disputes but can also have the meaning "liberate" and "deliver." First the judges deliver the people, then they rule and administer justice.


The author of Judges is anonymous, but Samuel or one of his prophetic students may have written it. Jewish tradition contained in the Talmud attributes Judges to Samuel, and certainly he was the crucial link between the period of the judges and the period of the kings. It is likely that Samuel or one of his contemporaries compiled the book from oral and written sources.


The approximate date of composition may be fixed by a number of statements in the book itself. The passages Jdg_18:31 and Jdg_20:27 show that Judges was written after the ark of the covenant was removed from Shiloh (cf. 1Sa_4:3-11). The repeated phrase "In those days there was no king in Israel" (Jdg_17:6; Jdg_18:1; Jdg_19:1; Jdg_21:25) indicates that Judges was written after the commencement of the monarchy. The fact that the Jebusites were dwelling in Jerusalem "to this day" (Jdg_1:21) means that it was written before 1004 B.C. when David took control of the city (2Sa_5:5-9).

The events covered in Judges range from c. 1380 B.C. to 1045 B.C. Evidently, the rulerships of some of the judges overlap because not all of them ruled over the entire land. Judges describes cycles of apostasy, oppression, and deliverance in the southern region (Jdg_3:7-31), the central region (Jdg. 6:1-10:5), the eastern region (Jdg. 10:6-12:15), and the western region (Jdg. 13:1-16:31).

Themes and Literary Structure

The book of Judges is organized primarily along thematic rather than chronological lines. The book opens with a description of Israel's deterioration, continues with seven cycles of oppression and deliverance, and concludes with two vivid examples of Israel's depravity.

The theme of deterioration is highlighted as Judges begins with short-lived military successes after the death of Joshua but quickly turns to the repeated failure of the people to drive out their enemies. The primary reasons for their failure are a lack of faith and a lack of obedience to God (Jdg_2:1-3).

Repeated deliverances by God are described in the middle section of the book (Jdg. 3:5-16:31) which presents seven cycles of apostasy, oppression, cry for deliverance, salvation, and rest. Israel vacillates between obedience and apostasy as the people continually fail to learn from their mistakes. Nevertheless, the times of rest and peace are longer than the times of bondage, and the monotony of Israel's sins can be contrasted with the creativity of God's methods of deliverance.

The depravity characteristic of the time of the judges is illustrated in chapters 17-21 with vivid examples of personal and tribal idolatry and immorality. The book as a whole illustrates the sad results of Israel's disobedience as summarized in Jdg_21:25: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."