The book of Judges is meant to show the failure of the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant. The Hebrew people insisted that they would forever remain faithful to Yahweh after Joshua renewed the covenant at Shechem, however, pagan practices were commonplace among the Israelites. In the days of Judges, the Hebrew apostasy prevented traditional monotheism. Judges 21:25 says, “in those days there was no king; everyone did as they saw fit”. Thus, the predominate practices in the ANE centered on pagan rituals, meaning, monotheism would have required a significant philosophical shift. People worshiped Yahweh in conjunction with other pagan deities.
The reader’s view of when the exodus occurred directly impacts their dating of the book of Judges. Scholars cannot precisely date the work with confidence. The book of Judges does not concern itself with the major struggles for power at the time, but instead focuses on the theological implications of history, allowing [the author] to ignore important international events as being superfluous to his purpose. When the Israelites made their way into the land of Canaan, they found numerous city-states. This was in direct contrast to the tribal structure of the Israelites.
Through their unbelief and propensity to worship pagan gods, the Hebrew people entered a time of cyclical events. Judges 2:11 says “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” It is important to highlight that even in the times of apostasy and unbelief, the grace and mercy of the Lord shone through. Yahweh proves himself to possess longsuffering grace in the face of continual and rampant apostasy and injustice among his people. The Lord is faithful to His covenant.
Through this cycle, the people of Israel would forsake Yahweh through the worship of pagan deities. Next, the Lord would become angry and punish them, sending foreigners to oppress the Hebrew people. Yahweh would call a charismatic leader who would rally the tribes of Israel to defeat the oppressing force, and there would be a time of rest. However, the cycle was soon to begin again. Despite this cycle, there was no consistent basis for ethics and morality. Ultimately, the Israelites were unable to create righteous social order.
The role of a judge, or deliverer, had more to do with one’s charismatic ability to lead rather than their ability to function in a civil capacity. The book describes the judges in their entirety, detailing major blemishes of each. The judges were not intended to be spiritual role models, nor were their spirituality necessarily a criterion for God’s raising them up. Instead, the judges accomplished their tasks through the power of the Spirit of the Lord. This is the same spirit that empowered and authorized the prophets. The Spirit was viewed as something like the hand of the LORD. Ultimately, the Israelites’ propensity to have their religion influenced by the predominate pagan deities required the Lord to deliver them from their idolatry.
A modern reader of the book of Judges should realize that life is cyclical in nature. The world revolved on its axis, rotating around the sun. This rotation creates the seasons. Life, much like the examples set in nature, goes through periods of spiritual highs and lows. Each person has forsaken Yahweh in their lives, for one reason or another. Though humanity is in the Age of Grace, the Lord still hates sin. Sin can establish strongholds in the lives of those who are overcome by it. Yahweh, however, has the capability of breaking those strongholds and bringing forth victory in the lives of those who are oppressed. Only He can bring them peace. The Lord is capable and willing to redeem every situation, whether it be through a ‘judge’ figure or through grace. Ultimately, there are consequences for living in chaos and darkness, but the Lord’s Word, as stated in Psalm 119:105, is a “lamp for my feet and a light unto my path”. That path, however cyclical in nature, can always lead back to redemption.