Themes & Takeaways from Judges


On Sunday our church finished our expositional series through the book of Judges. The following is an outline of the book along with some big-picture themes and takeaways.

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Outline of the Book of Judges

  1. Double-Intro (1:1-3:6).
    1. Insufficient Conquest (1:1-2:5) [Israel’s “inheritance” jeopardized]
    2. Insufficient Saviors (2:6-3:6) [Israel’s idolatry showcased]
  2. The Judges Cycle (3:7-16:31) [idolatry → oppression → crying out → deliverance →]
    1. The Othniel Cycle (3:7-11)
    2. The Ehud Cycle (3:12-31)
    3. The Barak Cycle (4:1-5:31)
    4. The Gideon Cycle (6:1-8:28)
    5. [The Abimelech Account (8:29-10:5)]
    6. The Jephthah Cycle (10:6-12:15)
    7. The Samson Cycle (13:1-16:31)
  3. The Double-Outro (17:1-21:25)
    1. Religious Anarchy (17:1-18:31) [Israel’s idolatry showcased]
    2. Civil Anarchy (19:1-21:25) [Israel’s “inheritance” jeopardized]

Themes & Takeaways from Judges

A Cycle of Disobedience and Deliverance
  • God’s people repeatedly do evil in God’s eyes/sight (2:11; 3:7; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1; cf. 14:3, 7; 19:24). Said differently, they do right in their own sight/eyes (same word) as a result of there being no king during those days (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). These refrains structure the book.
  • Israel goes through a cycle of (1) committing idolatry, (2) God handing them over to oppression, (3) crying out to God for deliverance, and (4) God raising up a judge to deliver them. This cycle is introduced in 2:6-3:6 and is then carried through the six judges in 3:7-16:31.
  • There are a total of twelve judges in the book, thus representing the twelve tribes. This is the story of all of Israel, in other words. If the Abimelech narrative is counted, there are seven cycles in the book, potentially symbolizing the fullness of Israel’s downward spiral. Alternatively, if Abimelech’s account is not included, that would leave us with six cycles, potentially deliberately one less than seven (six) and thus signifying incompletion and longing for something more (David?)
  • The cycle, among other things, testifies to God’s grace. After hearing of Israel’s idolatry, we expect that God would hand them over to their oppressors. This is what they deserve. What is undeserved (and in this sense unexpected) though is that God would listen to their cries over and over and keep supplying deliverers for them. The book of Judges is a book of God’s grace demonstrated over and over, his longsuffering and patience with his wayward people. God treats us, not on the basis of what we deserve, but with deliverance. God relentlessly pursues his people. And this—God’s relentless grace, not human righteousness—is then, and can be, the only basis for future hope, both for Israel then and for us now.
  • As also demonstrated by the above cycle, our repentance is often quite short-lived, as we frequently go right back to our sin as soon as we get relief from its consequences. We are slow to learn. We often fail to appreciate grace even right after we’ve received it.
  • Thus the book of Judges is a book about “insufficient saviors” (judges). It presents a cycle of saviors (“judges”) who ultimately prove insufficient to secure permanent deliverance and rest for God’s people. The judges only brought temporary deliverance, namely, for as long as they lived. Immediately after they die, the people again rebel and return to idolatry. A more permanent solution is needed. And as they go on, each subsequent judge proves progressively worse and worse. We are meant to despair of the judges as a solution. In this way, the book of Judges anticipates Jesus, who is God’s appointed savior who brings complete and permanent rescue and rest for God’s people. The inadequacy of the judges produces a longing for Christ, the all-sufficient savior-king.
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Doing Right in Our Own Sight, Pt. 1: Religious Anarchy (Judges 17:1-18:31)

Doing Right in Our Own Sight, Pt. 1: Religious Anarchy (Judges 17:1-18:31)
CrossWay Community Church
June 19th, 2022

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The Jephthah Cycle: A Salvation Marred by Tragedy (Judges 11:12-12:15)

The Jephthah Cycle: A Salvation Marred by Tragedy (Judges 11:12-12:15)
CrossWay Community Church
May 8th, 2022

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The Jephthah Cycle: A God Impatient with Misery (Judges 10:6-11:11)

The Jephthah Cycle: A God Impatient with Misery (Judges 10:6-11:11)
CrossWay Community Church
May 1st, 2022

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Did Jephthah Really Kill His Daughter? (Judges 11:29-40)

Introduction to the debate

The passage in view is Judges 11:29-40. It says that “Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (vv.30-31, ESV). Later when his daughter, his only child, is the first one that comes out to meet him upon his return, the passage states that he “did with her according to his vow that he had made” (v.39). Many therefore understandably conclude the Jephthah (wrongly) offered his daughter as a human sacrifice to God. For convenience, here on out, I’ll call this the “sacrifice view,” or SV for short.

However, as clear-cut as that may seem on the surface, some interpreters point to other details in the text that they feel lead in an alternative direction. Over and over the text places an interesting emphasis on Jephthah’s daughter’s virginity as the point of concern. This leads some to assume that, instead, Jephthah gave his daughter as an “offering” to the Lord in the form of dedicating her to the Lord’s service, like at the tabernacle, in a way that precluded marriage (see potentially Ex 38:8; 1 Sam 2:22; Lk 2:36-37; cf. 2 Mac 3:19-20; Pesikta Rabbati 26:6; 2 Baruch 10:19; Mishna Shekalim 8:5-6; Babylonian Talmud Kethuboth 106a). I’ll call this the “dedication view,” or DV for short.

Below I will list some of the reasons I can think of or have discovered for each of the two views, as well as some counterpoints where appropriate.

Not a prescriptive text

One thing first to note at the outset though: We do not find ourselves in a position of needing to defend Jephthah’s actions. So our motivation in asking this question, “Did Jephthah actually kill his daughter?” is not because, if he did, it puts a moral stain on the Bible, as if the Bible is holding Jephthah up as some moral exemplar. Rather, the Bible often records things that happened without necessarily condoning those things. So we don’t need to be motivated towards a particular interpretation because it “cleans things up” for us.

This is the classic difference between descriptive and prescriptive material in the Bible. That is, we should distinguish those times in which the Bible merely describes something that happened, without necessarily commending it or saying we should follow its example, and those times in which it prescribes things, like when it commands us to act a certain way.

The book of Judges, like most narratives, is almost wholly descriptive. Furthermore, the judges are hardly meant to be heroes we emulate. Rather, their imperfections are part of the message of the book. Their unsatisfactory character is meant to get us looking for something better.

The arguments and counterpoints involved

So with that throat-clearing out of the way, here are the arguments organized by the various issues.

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