The history of the Hebrew people from the death of Joshua, c. 1375 b.c., to the establishment of the monarchy, c. 1050 b.c., a period of approximately 300 years. The book takes its name from the title by which the men who governed Israel during this period were known. These judges were appointed by God (Jgs 3:15; 4:6; 6:12; etc.). Civil and military authority centred in the office of judge, though the book of Judges stresses principally the military leadership of the judges in delivering Israel from foreign bondage. Since their exploits were largely military in character, the term "chieftain" would seem to describe their function more accurately. The need for such leaders arose out of the prevailing apostasy, anarchy, and foreign oppression. The more illustrious of the judges, such as Gideon, Deborah, and Samson, became national heroes.
Ancient Jewish tradition makes Samuel the author of the book (see Babylonian Talmud Baba Bathra 14b, 15a). The recurring expression, "In those days there was no king in Israel" (Jgs 17:6), indicates that the book was written after the establishment of the monarchy under Saul. However, it must have been written before David's victory over the Jebusites and his capture of Jerusalem early in his reign (2 Sa 5:6 9; cf. Jgs 19:10, 11).
The occupation of Canaan by the Hebrews was a gradual process (see Jgs 2:3). The preliminary conquest, which was completed in 6 or 7 years after the crossing of the Jordan, brought sufficient land under Hebrew control to provide permanent homes for all and to make possible the tribal apportionment of the land (Jos 7:16, 23). But even after "Joshua took the whole land," and "the land rested from war" (ch 11:23), he told the people that "there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed" (ch 13:1). At first the Hebrews occupied chiefly the mountainous region in the centre of the country, while the various Canaanite tribes continued to live in the valleys.
"Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua" (Jos 24:31), but after the passing of the generation that had witnessed the power of God in the crossing of the Jordan and the preliminary conquest of the land, the people adopted the religious customs and practices of the Canaanites. Increasing apostasy was accompanied by a deterioration of civil and social life, to the point where the Hebrews were unable to defend themselves against the surrounding Canaanite tribes, much less extend their conquest. There was no permanent, central government, and except for the guidance of judges who arose from time to time "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Jgs 17:6; 21:25; etc.). Alternate apostasy and servitude, repentance and deliverance, characterise the period of the judges. After suffering for a time at the hands of their heathen neighbours, the Hebrew people would return to the Lord, and He would send someone to deliver them from the foreign yoke. A period of revival would follow, but the pattern of apostasy, decline, and oppression would be repeated.
Some of the judges seem to have ruled the entire nation, whereas others served only one tribe or a group of tribes. The record in the book of Judges is largely one of military operations. Separated as the Hebrew tribes were from one another by fortified Canaanite towns, they were exposed to attack, and it was only with difficulty that they could unite their efforts to hold onto the land they had already wrested from the hostile population. Apostasy and idolatry still further weakened the bonds of national unity. The great lesson of the book is that sin and apostasy result in the withdrawal of God's protecting hand, but that true repentance brings deliverance and that righteousness exalts a nation.
The book of Judges falls into 3 main sections. In the 1st (chs 1:1 to 3:6) the author describes the situation at the beginning of the period. He relates the endeavour of the tribes to consolidate their several allotments in Palestine, summarises the history of the period, and interprets the lessons to be learned from it. In the 2nd section the author deals with the period in chronological order (chs 3:7 to 16:3), taking up the successive periods of oppression and the rise of judge after judge to deliver Israel. The more noteworthy of these national heroes were Deborah and Barak, who defeated a northern Canaanite coalition; Gideon, who repelled a Midianite invasion; Jephthah, who defeated the Ammonites; and Samson, who had various adventures with the Philistines. The 3rd section (chs 17:1 to 21:25) narrates 2 incidents of the period, doubtless to illustrate what life was like in this period of Hebrew history.
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.