Author and Date
Although tradition ascribes the book to Samuel, the author is actually unknown. It is possible that Samuel assembled some of the accounts from the period of the judges and that such prophets as Nathan and Gad, both of whom were associated with David's court, had a hand in shaping and editing the material (see )
The date of composition is also unknown, but it was undoubtedly during the monarchy. The frequent expression "In those days Israel had no king" (; ; ;) suggests a date after the establishment of the monarchy. The observation that the Jebusites still controlled Jerusalem () has been taken to indicate a time before David's capture of the city c. 1000 b.c. (). But the new conditions in Israel alluded to in chs. 17-21 suggest a time after the Davidic dynasty had been effectively established (tenth century b.c.).
Theological Theme and Message
The book of Judges depicts the life of Israel in the promised land from the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy. On the one hand, it is an account of frequent apostasy, provoking divine chastening. On the other hand, it tells of urgent appeals to God in times of crisis, moving the Lord to raise up leaders (judges) through whom he throws off foreign oppressors and restores the land to peace.
With Israel's conquest of the promised land through the leadership of Joshua, many of the covenant promises God had made to their ancestors were fulfilled (see ). The Lord's land, where Israel was to enter into rest, lay under their feet; it remained only for them to occupy it, to displace the Canaanites and to cleanse it of paganism. The time had come for Israel to be the kingdom of God in the form of an established commonwealth on earth.
But in Canaan Israel quickly forgot the acts of God that had given them birth and had established them in the land. Consequently they lost sight of their unique identity as God's people, chosen and called to be his army and the loyal citizens of his emerging kingdom. They settled down and attached themselves to Canaan's peoples together with Canaanite morals, gods, and religious beliefs and practices as readily as to Canaan's agriculture and social life.
Throughout Judges the fundamental issue is the lordship of God in Israel, especially Israel's acknowledgment of and loyalty to his rule. His kingship over Israel had been uniquely established by the covenant at Sinai (), which was later renewed by Moses on the plains of Moab () and by Joshua at Shechem (). The author accuses Israel of having rejected the kingship of the Lord again and again. They stopped fighting the Lord's battles, turned to the gods of Canaan to secure the blessings of family, flocks and fields, and abandoned God's laws for daily living. In the very center of the cycle of the judges (see Outline), Gideon had to remind Israel that the Lord was their King (see note on ). The recurring lament, and indictment, of chs. ; is: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (see note on . The primary reference here is doubtless to the earthly mediators of the Lord's rule (i.e., human kings), but the implicit charge is that Israel did not truly acknowledge or obey her heavenly King either.
Only by the Lord's sovereign use of foreign oppression to chasten his people -- thereby implementing the covenant curses (see ; ) -- and by his raising up deliverers when his people cried out to him did he maintain his kingship in Israel and preserve his embryonic kingdom from extinction. Israel's flawed condition was graphically exposed; they continued to need new saving acts by God in order to enter into the promised rest (see .
Out of the recurring cycles of disobedience, foreign oppression, cries of distress, and deliverance (see ; ) emerges another important theme -- the covenant faithfulness of the Lord. The amazing patience and long-suffering of God are no better demonstrated than during this unsettled period.
Remarkably, this age of Israel's failure, following directly on the redemptive events that came through Moses and Joshua, is in a special way the OT age of the Spirit. God's Spirit enabled people to accomplish feats of victory in the Lord's war against the powers that threatened his kingdom (see ; ; ; ; ;; see also ; ). This same Spirit, poured out on the church following the redemptive work of the second Joshua (Jesus), empowered the people of the Lord to begin the task of preaching the gospel to all nations and of advancing the kingdom of God (see ).