Sunday School Bible Survey:      JUDGES

Theme: Apostasy and judgment

Key verses: "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6; 21:25)

WRITER: Although the book of Judges is anonymous, Hebrew and Christian tradition says Samuel is the author, but we cannot know for sure.


The book of Judges is a sad sequel to the book of Joshua. Joshua rings with the shout of victory, but Judges echoes with the sobs of defeat. In fact, five times in the book of Judges we read these words, "The children of Israel cried unto the LORD" (3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:7; 10:10).

The book of Judges illustrates the principle of divine retribution (1:5-7). This is one of the major themes of the book of Judges — retribution. The book of Judges takes its name from the thirteen men raised up to deliver Israel in the days of declension and disunion following the days of Joshua. This period lasted up to the time of Samuel, the last and the greatest of the judges. The book of Judges covers a period of approximately 300 years. In the book of Judges, the word "judge" has a wider connotation than what we are accustomed. It included military matters in the conquest of enemies (cf. Judges 3:9-11).

In Judges we go round and round in circles — rebellion, retribution, repentance, and restoration (cf. 2:11-23). "The book records seven apostasies, seven servitudes to seven heathen nations, seven deliverances" (Scofield Study Bible introduction to Judges, p. 287).

Its New Testament counterpart is the book of Jude. Someone has said that the book of Judges deals with the character of apostasy, whereas the book of Jude deals with the curse of apostasy (Ian Paisley, Divine Intervention in the Days of Declension, p. 9).

Purpose: The Book of Judges bridges the gap between Joshua and the rise of the monarchy. There was no leader to take Joshua's place in the way he had taken Moses' place. "This was the trial period of the theocracy after they entered the land. Morally it is the time of the deep declension of the people as they turned from the Unseen Leader and descended to the low level of 'In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes' (Judges 17:6; also compare Judges 1:1 with 20:18). This should have been an era of glowing progress, but it was a dark day of repeated failure" — J. Vernon McGee.

Israel's enemies and the judges who defeated them:

  1. The Mesopotamians subjected Israel for 8 years. Othniel, a nephew of Caleb, delivered Israel. "And the land had rest forty years" (3:11).
  2. The Moabites, Ammonites, and Amalekites subjected Israel for 18 years. Ehud and Shamgar were the judges who delivered Israel. "And the land had rest fourscore years" (3:20).
  3. The Canaanites oppressed Israel for 20 years. Deborah and Barak were the judges who delivered Israel. "And the land had rest forty years" (5:31).
  4. The Midianites vexed Israel for 8 years. Gideon, Tola, and Jair were the judges who delivered Israel. "And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon" (8:28).
  5. Gideon had a son with a concubine whose name he called Abimelech. Abimelech killed seventy of Gideon's sons. Only Jotham, Gideon's youngest son, survived the massacre, "for he hid himself" (9:5).
  6. "And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola...and he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir. And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years" (10:1-3).
  7. The Ammonites subjected Israel for 18 years. Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon were the judges who delivered Israel. Jephthah judged Israel 6 years (12:7), Ibzan 7 years (12:9), Elon 10 years (12:11), and Abdon 8 years (12:14).
  8. The Philistines vexed Israel for 40 years. Samson judged Israel 20 years (15:20). Back in 1939, Winston Churchill described the actions of the Russians as, "a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma." He could have been describing the life of Samson. Samson is the most famous of all the judges. He is mentioned as a man of faith in Hebrews 11:32, yet he is one of the most carnal men in the Bible. And yet, despite his sins of the flesh, the Spirit of God is mentioned more in connection with Samson than any of the other judges.

FINAL CHAPTERS: the last five chapters of the book of Judges (17-21) give a vivid description of the prevailing apostasy of the days of the judges, a sort of appendix to the book to show how wicked the people had become.

These are simple Sunday School survey notes. They are not for sale. The author used many outlines from popular Bible teachers such as C.I. Scofield and J. Vernon McGee, and he has tried to give credit when using their material.

—  Pastor James J. Barker  —