The book of Judges takes its name from chapter 2:16. In fact, Judges 2:16-19 sets the theme for the entire book,
16 Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.
17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as their fathers.
18 When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.
19 But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.
Though Judges is a book recording the apostasy and rebellion of Israel, it is also a book recording God’s grace, mercy, and loving kindness. His loving kindness is expressed throughout Judges even though Israel deserved what they were getting.
The word Judge is translated from the Hebrew shaphat. A judge was originally a specially appointed individual who decided between disputes and acted as some judicial arbitrator invested with authority to make final decisions. Exodus 18:13 is a classic description of a judge. In that case, Moses interacting and leading the people who gathered around him.
But in the book of Judges, the word take on an additional, broader meaning. A judge becomes known as an individual who exercises leadership to deliver. They were in essence saviors or deliverers. The book of Judges, then, could be called Deliverers.
There was certainly some uniqueness to these Judges. Allow me to highlight three areas:
They were Divinely Called. In other words, they were divinely commissioned by the LORD Himself. He raises them up specifically for the purposes of delivering His people during their time of distress. In a way, they are ministers and agents of God’s grace.
There was nothing particularly special about them that earned them this temporary office. In fact, a number of the judges did not possess qualities that reflect. Many of them were chosen in spite of their immoral character. Samson, as we will see. That only goes to show the certainty of God’s graciousness.
They were Divinely Empowered. The reader will note in 2:18 that it says “the LORD was with the judge.” Again, it wasn’t the godly character or the military prowess that gave the judge his abilities, but it was the fact that God was with the judge.
The judge was given a special anointing that is described as the Spirit coming upon the judge. That is not regeneration as we know it as regarding salvation, but a special anointing of God that empowers the person with special abilities they did not previously possess.
For instance, Exodus 35:30ff tells how the spirit came upon a group of men anointing them with the ability as craftsman for the tabernacle. In Numbers 11:16-17 seventy men are anointed with the spirit to help Moses in his leadership of the nation. And Deuteronomy 34:9 describes how Joshua was filled with the spirit so as to have wisdom in leading the people like Moses had.
Relating to the men who would be judges, Alva McClain writes that “the anointing by the Spirit was seen in its outstanding effects in the realm of the purely physical.” The judge took on regal functions as mediators of the divine government of Israel utilizing physical abilities and leadership qualities unnatural to him. The judges were divinely empowered to lead and deliver Israel from their enemies.
Samson, once again as an example, was empowered to do mighty physical feats. His physical strength was not in him (he was more than likely an average built man physically), but it was direct from God. In like manner, the other judges who are strengthened by God demonstrate God’s power to deliver, because unless the LORD moved, the judge had no ability on his own to act.
They were Divinely Directed. Their direction was two-fold. First, the judge had a specific task. That being, to deliver Israel out of the hands of their enemies. Secondly, the judge seems have this appointment for a predetermined amount of time. In other words, it was temporary. Generally ending when the judge died or perhaps when he fulfilled his usefulness for God.
Ultimately, the judges were an instrument of God’s loving kindness to His people. Though God would uphold His end of the covenant by giving the people over to their enemies when they broke their agreement with the LORD. But when they groaned, broken by their sin, God moved pm their behalf by raising up a judge for deliverance.