As the Israelites entered the promised land, they ordered the land given to them by God to the worship of God. They were His people and He was their God. As long as they stayed faithful to Him, He would be their protector in one of the most covetous lands in the ancient world. The promised land was on fertile ground situated in the land that connects present day Europe, Africa, Asia. In addition, it had access to the Mediterranean Sea. The advantage for having this land could not be understated. This also meant the danger was great.
God set up Israel as a nation without a king. They governed themselves within their own tribes which had their own regions, and they worshiped through the priestly tribe of Levi scattered throughout the twelve tribes. Without a king (or centralized military leader), the small nation of Israel needed to rely on God if they wanted to keep their land, because it was only through His protection that they would be able to fend off the empires of the day. In addition, being in the center of many trade routes would have opened them up to the influence of many foreign and un-holy religions. The Israelites worship of God was not only to protect them from physical enemies, but spiritual enemies as well.
Unfortunately, after the time of Joshua, we see many times that the Israelites fall into idol worship because of the influence of the pagans they had failed to completely drive out of the promised land. Because they abandon God many times, they find themselves conquered by neighboring nations. When they would repent, God raised up Judges to lead Israel in battle and free them from their captivity. As a result after the death of Joshua, Israel begins the cycle of rejecting God, repenting, being redeemed by God, relapsing into idol worship and being reconquered.
Two judges of note from this time period are Deborah and Sampson. After twenty years of oppression from the Canaanites, Deborah instructed Barak of the tribe of Naphtali to raise up an army and defeat Sisera, the general of the Canaanites. She tells him that the glory of his victory will be through the hand of a woman. While Barak annihilated the Canaanite army at Mount Tabor, Sisera escaped and hid in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite under her rug. When Sisera was asleep, Jael took a tent peg and crushed Sisera’s head. As a result, Israel was freed through the leadership and bravery of two women. This story also has typological significance connected to the Protoevangelium in Genesis 3 and Mary because we see the woman crushing the head of the enemy.
Sampson is perhaps the most famous judge. He was born of a woman who was previously infertile. As the angel announcing his birth had instructed, Sampson was a Nazarite which meant he did not drink wine or cut his hair. Born with incredible strength, Sampson would retain his strength as long as he abstained from wine and did not cut his hair. Sampson’s youth was very troublesome for a child of Israel. He did unclean things and acted out of anger. However, he continued to be a nazarite and was able to be Israel’s defense against the Philistines.
Perhaps Sampson’s biggest vices were his rash actions and how he related to his wives. His first wife was a Philistine who double crossed him after Sampson made a rash bet. This resulted in her eventual death at the hand of the Philistines and Sampson killed many Philistines and destroyed their food supply. Sampson’s second wife, Delilah, learns the secret of his strength and cuts his hair for the Philistines. The Spirit of the Lord leaves Him, and he is captured by the Philistines. Sampson, who was blinded in captivity, begged God for one last bit of strength and pulled down the pillars of the building that housed 3,000 Philistines worshiping their God for their capture of Sampson. In the process, Sampson himself is killed.
We can learn two things from Sampson. First, despite all of his flaws, God works through Sampson to protect Israel from the Philistines. God stayed true to His promise despite Sampson’s lack of virtue. Second, is that Sampson is a typological figure for Jesus. Sampson’s infidelity causes him to be captured by the enemy, yet Sampson conquers the enemy through his death. Jesus takes on our infidelity which causes Him to be captured, and it is in Jesus’ death that He conquers the enemy.
The period of judges is a great testament to the faithfulness of God. He proves that He truly cares for His people even if they sin against Him. While the repetition of rebellion, repentance, and repetition will continue throughout Israel’s history, the judges of Israel will come to an end with Israel’s ultimate rebellion of asking for a king to rule over them.