The following article was found in Progress, the monthly magazine of the Congregational church, Romford. Volume 3, Number 5, May 1947
The Book of Judges
The book commences with a short introduction describing the conflict of the various tribes with the local inhabitants of Palestine. It is interesting to notice that this account tells of a slow and difficult process, with each tribe conducting its private, and not always successful, war. Whereas the book of Joshua contains a description of the conquest as a swift and complete operation, conducted by all the tribes working as a unity under Joshua.
The central core of the book tells of the Hebrew heroes who lived in the period between the conquest of the country and the formation of the monarchy. This part comprises the book itself, for the introduction referred to above, and the appendices contained in the last three chapters, do not strictly belong to the book at all.
The word "Judge" does not, of course, bear the meaning which we attach to it to-day, but refers to the great military leaders who appeared from time to time to deliver the tribes out of dangerous situations.
We are told that after Joshua's death the people "knew not Jaweh, not yet the work which he had wrought in Israel." And as the nation drifted away from God, so calamity overtook them. Whereupon they returned to their faith, and a leader was provided to bring them out of their distress. This process is constantly repeated, and reflects the theory of history which lies behind the book.
The book of Judges has a wild and savage quality in it, but while much of it is crude and even sordid it is not lacking in a dark splendour of its own, as for instance in the drama of Samson. How remote it seems from the New Testament, from the mind of Jesus! But before we dismiss the book as of no value to us to-day, two impressive facts must be borne in mind. First, we must expect stories belonging to such a distant period to contain little more than the movement of elemental forces, untutored and unrestrained. The remarkable thing about the Old Testament, at least about this early part of it, is that it contains any real moral or religious sense at all. Yet behind these strange stories we can already see a great moral law beginning to take shape, wrongly interpreted and inadequately understood, but indisputably there. And secondly, it is a fact that through the dark happenings of these turbulent times God was already preparing the way for the Gospel. There is a real and proven link between the earliest Old Testament stories and the coming of Christ. And who can say, even in out own day, that underneath the prevailing darkness the forces of good are not gaining strength in secret?
I and II Samuel
In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the four books known as I and II Samuel, and I and II Kings, were regarded as a complete history, and appeared under the comprehensive title of "Kingdom:, though they were subdivided into four sections.
This title is much more appropriate than that of Samuel, who occupies a comparatively small part of the narrative, for the book deals with the creation of the monarchy after the period of the Judges. Samuel could not possibly have been the author, for his death is recorded in it, and the period covered is one of 500 years.
It can, I think, be claimed that the nationhood of Israel was implicit as soon as the covenant was established through Moses. But it did not find material expression until Saul became king, when the nation came to political birth.
The manuscript of I and II Samuel contains, as usual, several sources, but this is not the disadvantage which it seems. The earliest sources, which are very ancient, contain an accurate record of events. The later sources contain an equally accurate record of the mind and background of the later writers. So we have many histories intertwined in the one.
The stories contained in the book are extremely vivid, and provide portraits of unmistakably real people. No one with imagination can fail to be moved by the character of Saul, moody, psychic, full of jealous devotion. He is a man torn by conflict, his greatness undermined and destroyed by inner forces which he can neither control nor understand. And it is no wonder that David, with his genius for friendship and leadership, his generosity and his courage, became the idol of his nation. Men looked back to him, because it was in his reign alone that the Kingdom enjoyed its brief period of unity. Yet in him we see a real man, capable of meanness and treachery, as well as actions of remarkable nobility.
I and II Kings
The Book of Kings, which is likewise one book, covers a period of 400 years. The purpose of the historian is religious, for he seeks not only to record facts, but to drive home the moral lesson of those facts. And as he is writing under the influence of Deuteronomic law he is careful to sum up the career of each king in it's light. Hence the frequent references to the "high places", which were shrines considered very sinful by the writer of Deuteronomy. It seems a little unfair to judge these unfortunate monarchs by a law which was written long after they were dead!
The historical books were not called the "Former Prophets" for nothing, for they consisted of history viewed through the eye of the prophet. And the prophet sees a truth which we in our day would do well to recover. Men cannot violate the law of God without injury to themselves and to society. Disobedience is the root of human history, where the judgements of God are writ large.
Unfortunately, this article appears to be Part Four of a series, the rest of which is missing. If you need something to do during lockdown, how about write a brief synopsis for some of the other books of the Bible? We would love to share your ideas on our blog.