The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Pentateuch and Historical Books course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
In verse 18, the author briefly mentions in passing that God was with the judges. This peculiar phrase is somewhat ambiguous and indefinite and requires further thought and investigation. Initially, this reality would seem to be linked with the judges’ function and success; and therefore, the meaning of this brief phrase likely has significant implications for understanding the office of judge in ancient Israel. What exactly does this phrase mean, and what does this presence indicate about these judges? Although few commentators care to investigate these questions to any significant degree (or at all), I suggest that the exegete does well to sort out the meaning and implications of this phrase.
First, this presence indicates God’s validation of the judges. This is assumed by God being “with” the judges and is explicitly mentioned in the preceding phrase: “YHWH raised up judges for them” (2:18). עִם serves to indicate an accompanying relationship (Arnold and Choi, 124-125), a special or particular (not general or common) relationship between God and His judges. Therefore, primarily, this presence also indicates God’s favor and blessing upon the judges with accompanying real, concrete results in terms of the socio-political and hopefully religious state of Israel. As Block notes, this presence indicates the “secret” to the judges’ success (129). For example, Butler observes, “God’s presence, not the judge’s leadership or military skills, brings victory” (48). This is clearly indicated by the phrase immediately following וְהָיָ֤ה יְהוָה֙ עִם־הַשֹּׁפֵ֔ט. “And He saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge (2:18). “They [the judges] represented agents of the divine presence” (Block, 129). Given this apparent relationship between God’s presence and superhuman victories worked through the judges, this presence likely entails charismata. This is clearly exemplified in the subsequent narratives throughout the book (e.g., Samson’s superhuman strength, etc.) Moreover, this presence also indicates God’s tangible compassion for His people; such victories resulting ultimately from God’s presence with His appointed judges demonstrate His maintained compassion for His people. Finally, that God’s presence is with those whom He appoints indicates that YHWH is fundamentally faithful to His judges despite whether or not Israel herself is (cf. 2:17) (Butler, 48).
In conclusion and summary, this presence seems to indicate, imply, or result in the following realities: (1) God’s appointment, (2) a special, particular relationship, (3) God’s faithfulness to the judges despite Israel’s wavering faithfulness, (4) God’s blessing and favor, (5) God’s compassion, (6) God’s working through these agents, specifically in terms of success in deliverance, (7) and conversely, that these victories are due to God’s power, not the military strength of the judges, and finally (8) a charismatic gifting.