Having brought to completion our treatment of the content of the book of the Judges, there remains to us the task of setting forth the canonical significance of this book. The book of the Judges relates the earliest history of Israel in Canaan. The death of Joshua has deprived the people of their second and last national leader, so that the administration of the affairs of the theocracy mow rests solely on the judges, which according to the command of Moses (), the people were to make them in all their gates which the Lord their God would give them. This is indicated by the very name which the book bears: Shophetim, Judges, and further by its opening verse: “Now it came to pass after the death of Joshua, that the children of Israel asked the Lord . . . Compare with this the first verse of the Book of Joshua, “And after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Joshua.” These judges formed under Jehovah, Israel’s invisible king, the highest civil authority, who watched’ over the observance of the law.. The book of the Judges, accordingly, narrates the history of the times in which the governing authority of Israel was exercised by the judges.
But what is the design, of our book? What is the lesson, its instruction? The book of the Judges is the beginning of the fulfillment of a prophecy first uttered by Moses and repeated by Joshua in his parting discourses, the prophecy to the effect that forsaking and denying the Lord their God and serving the devil- gods of the heathen, the people, by the curse of their God, will fall into discord, want, bondage, and oppression. The first two chapters are an introduction to the book as a whole. They explain why the events about to be related took place. It was in what the tribes did after the death of Joshua that the foundation of their troubles was laid.
The book has still another design which already has been fully explained in a preceding article.
Atwe read, “And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.” According to this Scripture passage, from the commencement of the reign of the first judge—Othniel—to the beginning of the judgeship of Samuel is 450 years. In this writing, we do not attempt to harmonize that count with the Scripture at , according to which the stretch of time from the Exodus to the building of the temple formed a period of 480 years duration, as that would involve us in a reasoning too complex perhaps to hold attention. Both statements must be accepted as true, though the solution may remain beyond our reach, due to a lack of sufficient Scripture data wherewith to work in the search of a solution. In that period of 450 years, there occurred six foreign wars and three civil wars. Though the United States of America has existed 168 years, it has had five foreign wars and one great civil war. This number does not include its minor wars. What these figures tell us is that, in comparison, the age of the judges was not nearly as lawless, bloody, and warlike as rationalism, in the interests of its theories, make it out to be. Yet, that the peace of the Israelitish commonwealth should have been disturbed in that period even by that many conflicts, is to its great shame. For Israel was the church. And these conflicts were wars of deliverances from oppressions worked by God in punishment of the nation’s spiritual whoredoms. That Israel’s troubles were not multiplied in this period, that the nation was not utterly consumed, can only be ascribed to the Lord’s mercy. For the period was lawless throughout, there being no king in Israel, everyone did that which was right in his own eyes, and thus not what was right in the eyes of God.
The aim of our Book, which already has been set forth, is of great importance for establishing the time of its composition. The remark of the sacred writer, “there was no king in Israel,” in explanation of the events as are related in the final five chapters of our Book—the erection of that spurious sanctuary, the migration of Dan, and the civil war between Benjamin and the rest of the tribes—this remark must be taken as a certain indication that the book was written in a time when the people of Israel were still expecting political unity to result from the kingly office. Such confidence in the typical kingly office was strange to the nation after the division of Israel and the institution of Jeroboam’s political idolatry. At least it finds no expression in the discourses of the prophets of the eighth century and the centuries thereafter. After the conflicts narrated in the book of the Kings, the civil war between Israel and Benjamin could not have been ascribed to the lack of a king. On the other hand, the remark, “there was no king in Israel,” also points to a time of composition that was characterized by a want of confidence in the judgeship. There is but one period in Israel’s history when these conditions meet, namely when the people petition Samuel for a king, and he anoints Saul, and the victories of the latter result in peace.
Samuel is judge and prophet. Though no offspring of Aaron, he also performs priestly functions. This had never happened before. Samuel mediates the transition from the judgeship to the kingship. The extreme points of time between which our Book was written may be indicated. They are: the commencement of the reign of David on the one hand and the beginning of Saul’s reign on the other.
Reference was just made to the rationalist and their theory, which is that the period of the judges was excessively lawless, warlike and bloody, the reason being, as they say, that the nation was still without the law of Moses in all the fullness of its instruction. There is just as much sense in ascribing the lawlessness of this modern age to absence of objective law. The law is here, but it is not written on the table of men’s hearts nor enforced on the lawless. This is the explanationof the lawlessness characteristic off the age of the Judges. There was no king in Israel to enforce the law, and the people of Israel were not one by a common faith in the Lord. Hence, sin abounded just because the law had entered in.