God is following through with his promised consequences for disobedience from Deuteronomy (e.g. Ch 28-33). However he is also following through with his covenant promises originally made to Abraham, and so God continues to graciously raise up deliverers to save his people when they cry out for help. The main character and hero of the story is God.
Warning against disobedience and unfaithfulness. And an encouragement to trust in the loving, faithful, promise-keeping God who wins each victory.
The book of Judges is a theological text. Despite it’s concern with Israel’s history in the promised land, it is God’s imperatives that direct the action as God orders the activities of the nations, and initiates the testing of the Israelites faithfulness (2:21-23). Judges clearly connects to the biblical narrative of what has gone before, with Judges 1:1 looking back to Joshua’s faithful conquest of the land and the period of obedience (Judges 2:7), and the final verse of Judges (21:25) looking forward to the impending period of the Israelite kings. In this way, Judges is an important connecting book showing the development of God’s salvation history, continuing the tensions from the patriarchal period of seeing the promises of God under threat in the promised land, and showing the link between God’s Abrahamic promises of people, place and blessing finding their fulfillment in the establishment of the physical kingdom of Israel in the promised land (1 Kgs. 4:20-25). (2)
Judges is to be read in the context of knowing that Israel has already failed to live up to it’s covenant promises. Ch 2 outlines the failure of the Israelites and how God is going to respond in judgment and testing. It is God who chooses to not drive out the people, and to use the nations that remain as a test (2:22-23). But the test is not for God’s sake, but for the people, to reveal to them the extent of their fidelity to God (1). There are real consequences for the Israelites failures. Their evil actions really result in divine curses. However Judges is not the story of Israel’s failure (their failure is already made clear to the reader in Ch 2), but the story of God’s continued faithfulness, grace and deliverance.
Ch 3 contains 3 of the Judge stories that continue through most of the rest of the book. Each story generally follows a pattern of “apostasy, subjugation, appeal, the raising up of a deliverer, peace”. (2) From Othniel, a well credentialed, proven military leader from the tribe of Judah; to Ehud the left-hand deceitful assassin from the tribe of Benjamin; to Shamgar, an ox driver (?), possibly not even an Israelite. God’s means of deliverance varies as he works through unexpected people, making the point that it is God’s work of deliverance. Even Othniel, the judge with the strongest pedigree, gets no credit himself but his credentials are that God raised him up and gave him his spirit (3:9-10).
A few of the judges are mentioned in Hebrews 11 as part of the summary of faithful biblical characters who have played a part in God’s salvation history. Again though, the point of these characters is not that they are exemplary examples to follow, but that the one in whom they put their faith is faithful. God works through flawed individual characters and an entire nation of disobedient unworthy recipients of grace to bring about the ultimate expression of salvation and blessing to all people through Christ (Heb 11:39-40, 12:2).
(1) Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth (vol. 6; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 139-147.
(2) Barry G. Webb, The Book of Judges, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 156–178.
(3) Andrew E. Hill, A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.