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A Judge (Hebrew: שפט, shāphāt, pl. שפטים, shāphātīm) was a special leader of the people of Israel, who appeared at a time of great national distress to convict the people of their sin, deliver them from oppression or other external threat, and, while he lived, administer justice according to God's law. (Judges 2:16-23 )
The line of the Judges begins with Moses and his immediate successor Joshua, because both men performed all three functions of biblical Judges. The careers of the remaining Judges are described in the Book of Judges, except for Eli and Samuel, whose careers are described in I Samuel.
Functions and duties
A biblical Judge had duties beyond those of a modern judge, and even beyond those of a national chief justice. The careers of the judges of the Bible had three phases, and in each phase the judge discharged one of his three primary duties.
The first task that a Biblical judge had to perform was to convict the people of their sins. The sin in question here was a national or collective sin: turning away from God and worshiping other gods. These other gods were usually the local agricultural and fertility cults that were rife in Canaan, and included Baal and Asherah, aka Ashtoreth, aka Astarte. The modern equivalent of this sin would be the elevation in the individual or public consciousness of any God-substitute, or the elevation of man as his own god, as the "captain of his soul," as a notorious mass murderer described himself before he suffered execution.
A judge would measure his success by the genuine repentance of the people, and the demonstration of that repentance by their actions in putting away all their foreign gods and God-substitutes and serving the True God alone.
Once the judge had accomplished the first task, he could usually be sure of achieving the second. God always returned to deliver His people when they returned to Him. The deliverance, or liberation, was usually from a threat from a foreign power. The threat varied from raiding and pillaging to the exacting of tribute to actual invasion and occupation or, in the original case, slavery.
Once the judge had achieved deliverance, he would administer justice and keep the people focused on serving God alone for as long as he lived. This was a very difficult task, and not all of the celebrated Biblical judges performed this to Divine satisfaction. To be effective, the judge had to set a good example in his personal conduct in addition to judging cases fairly and honestly and in a Godly fashion.
The period of the Judges begins properly with the Exodus of Israel in 15 Abib 2513 AM (15 Abib 2513 AM30 March 1490 BC
16 Nisan 2270 He
15 Abib 2513 AM), because Moses, and not Othniel as most Bible readers suppose, is actually the first judge. It ends with the death of Samuel in 2944 AM (1060 BC). Samuel was the last of the judges. He introduced the United Kingdom of Israel and anointed its first two kings, Saul and David.
Floyd Nolen Jones, in The Chronology of the Old Testament, has determined that the lengths of the careers of the Judges are the same as the lengths that most people suppose that "the land had rest." James Ussher (The Annals of the World) worked out a somewhat different chronology, but did not adequately account for one key fact: that Jephthah's great battle against the Ammonites occurred exactly three hundred years after the conquest of Heshbon from Sihon the Amorite in the fall of 2553 AM (1452 BC), as Jephthah specifically stated in his communiqué to the Ammonites. (Judges 11:12-28 ) Jones also points out that Samson's awesome revenge against the Philistines must have occurred near the end of the Philistines' forty-year dominion over Israel, and that the Battle of Mizpah, in which Samuel rallied the Israelites to annihilate a Philistine force sent against them, must have occurred immediately after that event and twenty years after the ark of the covenant was returned to Israel after the Philistines had captured it.
Book of Judges
The book begins where the earlier book, Joshua, ends. At first the Israelites are still willing to conquer their Promised Land for themselves, and enjoy some success. But gradually they grow weary of war and start to live with the Canaanites as neighbors. In consequence, they frequently intermarry with them and follow their religious customs, including the worship of Baal and Asherah, the carving of Asherah poles, and the erection of high places.
As a punishment, God allows foreign rulers to oppress the people. This oppression can take many forms, varying from a simple demand for tribute to outright invasion and occupation. At such times, the people cry out for deliverance, and God raises up judges to convict the people of their sin, deliver them from their enemies, and administer justice. Sadly, when a judge dies, and if no judge is ready to succeed him, the people slide back into sin once more, and the cycle repeats itself.
- Judges 1 : the enthusiasm that still remains after the death of Joshua.
- Judges 2 : the tendency of the people of Israel to sin and "do that which is evil in the sight of God," and the appearance and function of judges.
- Judges 3:1-6 : the list of the nations that remained to test national Israel.
- Judges 3:7-13 : the oppression by the Aramaeans and the career of Othniel
- Judges 3:14-30 : the oppression by the Moabites and the career of Ehud
- Judges 3:31 : the brief career of Shamgar against the Philistines
- Judges 4 : the oppression by the Canaanites and the careers of Deborah and Barak, with the assistance of Jael
- Judges 5 : the song of Deborah and Barak
- Judges 6 : the oppression by the Midianites and the beginning of the career of Gideon, showing in detail how he discharged the first function of a biblical judge: convicting the people of their sin. In this case, Gideon throws down an altar to Baal, cuts down an Asherah pole, builds another altar to God on the site, and sacrifices a bull on it, using the pieces of the Asherah pole for fuel. Later he asks for two miraculous signs from God before he goes out to recruit an army.
- Judges 7 : how Gideon, with a battalion of 300 men in three companies, defeats a much larger Midianite force by inducing them to kill one another in the night.
- Judges 8 : how Gideon completes his warfare, but after he dies, Israel falls into sin yet again.
- Judges 9 : the rise and fall of Abimelech, an Israelite who oppresses his own people for three years.
- Judges 10 : the careers of Tola and Jair, and renewed oppression by the Philistines and the Ammonites.
- Judges 11 : the career of Jephthah and his disastrous vow.
- Judges 12 : the continued career of Jephthah, and the successive careers of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
- Judges 13 : the forty-year oppression by the Philistines begins, and Samson is born and consecrated as a Nazirite.
- Judges 14 : Samson's marriage and the affair of the riddle.
- Judges 15 : The disastrous end of Samson's marriage, his capture, his escape, and his slaying of a thousand with the jawbone of a donkey.
- Judges 16 : Samson and Delilah. Samson is captured and blinded and then takes an awesome revenge.
- Judges 17 : Micah the idolator, and Jonathan the Levite who founded an illicit line of priests.
- Judges 18 : Danites appropriate the cult of Micah for themselves.
- Judges 19 : the slaying of the Levite's concubine and the Levite's demand for justice.
- Judges 20 : the civil war between Israel and the Benjamites.
- Judges 21 : how the Israelites procure wives for the Benjamites in an absurdly wicked manner.
- Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, pp. 71-104 and Charts 4, 4A, and 4B.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pghh. 342-391