18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel… (Judges 2:18-20)
If you are new to the Bible, fasten your seat belts. The book of Judges is one of the most action packed and exciting books of the Bible. But it is also one of the most tragic and depressing, because it records the downward spiral of God’s people once they entered the Promised Land.
Judges is the perfect book for people who like to see patterns in history. It proves the cliché about what happens when you don’t learn from the past.
A helpful tool for understanding the repeated cycle of Judges is the acronym SWORD:
- S tability
- W ickedness
- O ppression
- R epentance
- D eliverance
So there are six major SWORDs in Judges, with some minor variations. Pay attention to the phrases “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” That will be your sign that a period of stability is ending, and a new cycle of Wickedness is beginning.
Here are some other patterns to take note of:
- The periods of oppression trend longer as you go through the book: 8 years before the first judge, 40 before the last judge.
- For the first five judges, the periods of stability last about 40 years each. Then they take a downward turn: The four judges after Gideon combine for 31 years of stability. The period of stability before Samson, the last judge, was only twenty years.
- Over the period of the judges, the size of the army raised up against the enemy shrinks. Early in the book, Deborah and Barak have a normal-sized army. Later, Gideon is instructed by God to reduce his army to 300 men. And Samson is an army of one against the Philistines. Some commentators have seen in this a foreshadowing of the Messiah, who would redeem Israel not with a mighty army but with His own sacrificial death.
- Significantly, there isn’t any repentance before Samson. In every other cycle, the people cry out, and God raises up a deliverer. So Samson is literally the judge nobody asks for. And he is the worst.
All of this leads up to God doing a new thing in the books of Samuel. The period of Judges is perhaps the darkest in Israel’s history. But it gives way to Israel’s Golden Age, the United Kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon. God allowed His people to hit rock bottom before He ushered in a new kingdom.
Which is another pattern to pay attention to as we journey through Scripture. Keep reading!