The Cycle of Judges
From the days of Moses and Joshua until the time of Saul (about 300 years), the Israelites were ruled by judges. In the United States’ judicial system, a judge is someone who is supposed to uphold the judgment of the law in criminal cases. With no sovereign authority, however, the judges of Israel governed the people almost like a king, leading the armies of the people into war and delivering them from oppression from their enemies.
Why were the Israelites oppressed? After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the Israelites were blessed by being allowed to enter the land of Canaan, and they were faithful to the Lord for a full generation. But after a while, “another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). This new generation began to worship idols such as Baal and Ashtaroth. When God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites, He commanded them to destroy the altars and idols that the people of that region used in their worship of false gods. But the Israelites did not obey God. In Judges 2:1-3, we read that God sent an angel to tell the people that they would be punished for their disobedience. God did exactly what He said He would do.
God punished the people by allowing their enemies to invade the Israelites’ land and oppress the people. After a period of time, God would call a judge to deliver the people from their foes and to cleanse Israel of idolatry. There would then be a period of faithfulness and rest until that judge died. But soon the Israelites would become corrupt again. When this happened, God would again deliver them to their enemies for a period of time, until the people cried for help. Then He would call a judge to lead the people from their oppressors. This was the cycle of the judges.
This cycle would not have been necessary if the Israelites had obeyed God. Because of their disobedience, God had to show the people that He always means what He says. The cycle of the judges teaches us that defiance to the will of God ultimately brings punishment, but true repentance always brings blessings.