The Judges Era
Joshua has died, and God left nobody to be the leader of Israel. The next three hundred years would be a very dark era. Moses had warned Israel that when they arrived in Canaan, the days of each man doing what was right in his own eyes would be over (Deuteronomy 12:8). Twice, Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25, the author of Judges characterized the judges era as “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Is takes just thirteen verses into the book, and Israel is glorying in an incestuous marriage.
The chronicling of the judges themselves concludes with chapter 16. There is more evil than good that is chronicled. Three stories are tacked on that act as appendices to the account of the times. Micah desired to own a priest (Judges 17-18); A Levite takes a concubine (Judges 19-21); and a Moabite woman trusts in God (Ruth 1-4). Appendix A and Appendix B come with child-alert warnings. And the intensity of the evil of the day amplifies the beauty of Appendix C. Maybe that is why Appendix C gets its own book.
The first order of business was to finish the job of driving out the inhabitants of Canaan. Judah and Simeon made a half-hearted effort in Judges 1, but nobody really took the command of God seriously. Israel became far too satisfied far too quickly. Caleb, the co-hero of Kadesh Barnea and the elder of the nation, offered his daughter to anyone who would complete the battle for him. And his brother won the prize. It seems reasonable to speculate that this is the reason the rest of Caleb’s life is not chronicled. The rest of the battle – it just wasn’t the right thing to do in anybody’s eyes.
From a previous comment, I date the book of Judges beginning in the year 1399 BC. By 1099 BC, Jephthah chides Israel for having had 300 years to complete the battles, but they have done nothing (Judges 11:26). But if you add the years of the judges together, there are more than 300 years accounted for. It appears that many of the events are localized and are taking place simultaneously in various areas within Israel. Watch for the specific tribes involved as you read through, and note on your maps where they are. Passages such as Judges 3:11, 30, 5:31 do not say that Israel had rest; they say that “the [affected] land had rest.” Also watch for phrases such as “after that” that suggest that the author is dealing with a consecutive time line as he switches stories.
The chronicling of the Judges begins in Chapter 3. It doesn’t specifically say how much time elapsed during Judges 3:1-6. I place the Mesopotamian invasion (Judges 3:8) about 1364 BC, and Othniel’s judgeship (Judges 3:9) beginning about 1356 BC. I could be wrong:
The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. – Acts 13:17-20
Paul describes a series of events that spanned about 450 years. Included in that span are the stay in Egypt, the Exodus, the wanderings, the initial battles, and the inheritance, up until the time he gave Judges. “Until Samuel the prophet” is a description of the era “after [the 450 years]” and not as part of the 450 years themselves. Placing 1806 BC as the year Joseph was sold into Egypt as the inauguration of the “stay in the land of Egypt,” 450 years later is 1356 BC, the year that God began the judges era. Backdating for eight years of Mesopotamian servitude, brings us to 1364 BC when “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. (Judges 3:8)” But it is impossible to get too precise when Paul himself says “about.”
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