Judges - Introduction




Their Links with the Seven Churches of Asia

Joel Portman

Cedar Rapids, IA


Ch. 1    Introduction. Dispensational Order
Ch. 2    Similarities between Judges and the Church Age              
Ch. 3    Brief Summary of Major Periods of Judges
Ch. 4    Early Departure and Reproof by Angel
Ephesus and Leaving First Love    
First Enemy: Mesopotamia  
Ch. 5    First Recovery under Othniel
    Smyrna and Persecution
    Second Enemy: Moab     
Ch. 6    Second Recovery under Ehud
    Pergamos and Compromise
    Third Enemy: Canaan     
Ch. 7    Third Recovery under
Deborah & Barak
    Thyatira and Man’s Weakness
    Fourth Enemy: Midian & Amalek  
Ch. 8    Fourth Recovery under Gideon
    Sardis and Partial Restoration
    Fifth Enemy: Ammon       
Ch. 9    Events Following. Abimelech
    The Man who would be King
    Ambition, Contention and its Results
Ch.10    Fifth Recovery under Jephthah
    Philadelphia and More Weakness
Disunity.  Sixth Enemy:  Philistines  
Ch.11 Sixth Recovery under Samson
    Laodicea and People’s Rights
    Spiritual and Moral Depravity Ensue            
Ch.12    “Right in His Own Eyes”
        Spiritual Departure       
Ch.13    “Right in His Own Eyes”
        Moral Degeneration      
Ch. 14 Conclusion          

Appendix I
    A Suggested Chronology of Judges  




“No King in Israel” will take the average person five hours to read. Years ago an older preacher remarked that some younger preachers had “bushels of words, but only spoonfuls of thought.” However, in this book’s pages you will find the very opposite, for it is pregnant with valuable thoughts. Mr. Portman commences his book with a general disposition of the scriptures, giving us a spiritual x-ray of the divine structure of the Holy Writings. Not many books can be commended for this masterly approach. He then proceeds to descend to a lower altitude to have a closer look at prevailing conditions in the land during the era of the judges. Even delicate events, such as the Levite and his unfaithful concubine are meticulously investigated, followed by scriptural solutions that could have avoided that particular error. Not only this, but the many events related in this book are masterfully traced out and skillfully applied to relative conditions today. Even though the events exposed are ancient, yet the author applies the lessons that they afford to the assemblies of God’s people today. This alone makes this publication exceedingly valuable. Linking the seven churches of Asia with people and events of the judges era is not only unique, but also a valuable lesson for us in this day of departure. This book is not “light reading,” but is geared for the thoughtful and studious mind of a God-fearing saint. We highly commend the author for his skillful handling of divine truths, and recommend this book to all that Love our Lord Jesus Christ.
Robert E. Surgenor, brother and co-laborer.  


Theme and Pattern of the book of Judges

The history of God’s people, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, should always hold intense interest to us, upon whom “the ends of the ages are come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11, JND). God has given us this history so that we might learn from the examples of His dealings with Israel, His ancient people. His purpose is to cause us to heed and learn from their failures, so that their history will preserve us in our lives and service for Him. Neglecting to learn from their example and from God’s way of bringing discipline against their sinful and rebellious failure will inevitably cause us to fall into the same trap and drift in the same direction. God’s principles are unchanged and unchanging; therefore, it represents serious failure on our part to think that in this present day, often termed the “day of grace,” He will wink at, or overlook, sin and departure. The reverse is more true to the Scripture. Since we possess more light and knowledge in this present dispensation, we also have greater responsibility and thus are more accountable for the character of our lives and service for Him.

We must approach a study of God’s Word, or of any portion of it, in a manner that gives due seriousness to the text and teaching of Holy Scripture. We dare not force it into a mold formed from our own thinking or imaginative interpretation, but must consider it in its immediate context and in the light of all the revealed Word of God. Since Holy Scripture has come to us through “holy men of God” who wrote what the Holy Spirit originated and gave to them (2 Peter 1:20), we recognize the solemnity of handling God’s truth correctly.  We purpose that our approach to this study of the book of Judges will take into account the literal truth that lies on the surface as it applies to the people of that period of time. We also desire to consider its typical interpretation in a way that ties it to other passages of God’s Word. We believe that Old Testament passages and experiences also typically portray other periods of God’s dealings, particularly the period of responsibility in which we live as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ during this “church age.”

It is the author’s contention (along with that of other respected commentators) that the events of this book of Judges typically  and suggestively portray those different periods and conditions of the church age that are developed for us prophetically in Revelation 2-3. In saying that, it is obvious that the author takes the view that those chapters in Revelation give a historic outline of the church period. That is not to say that there are not other ways to study those chapters and apply their truths! We believe that they also contain practical teaching that applies to any assembly, even as the Lord of the churches directed those letters to existing assemblies of believers in John’s day.

In this book, we will attempt to show the sequence in which these early books of our Bible develop and portray divine truth and how this remarkable book of history meshes with the books that precede and succeed it. We desire that all of us will appreciate the flow of God’s Word, realizing that we should never separate any word, paragraph, chapter or book that God has given us from that which goes before and which comes after.

This book does not attempt to unravel the difficult historic chronology of Judges nor does it try to reconcile the differing accounting of the time periods that elapsed during this era. We refer to the statement in 1 Kings 6:1 and to Paul’s mention of years in Acts 13:20. The issue of trying to decipher this chronology is very difficult when we consider the recorded periods during which each judge ruled Israel coupled with the fact that likely some of them were contemporaneous and ruled Israel in different parts of the country. For example, it seems clear from Judges 10:7 and 13:1, that Jephthah and Samson were contemporaries in their efforts against the foes of Israel. Jephthah opposed the Ammonites on the east of Jordan while Samson fought against the Philistines to the southwest.

If this is true, then it may also indicate that other judges were effectively delivering and leading God’s people coincidentally, but in different areas of Israel. Other writers have written on this aspect of the book, and there are many and differing conclusions. Various attempts have been made to solve this puzzle. Some of the names of those books are listed in the bibliography at the end of this book along with references that any interested student can examine for himself. We have found Dr. Leon Wood’s book, Distressing Days of the Judges,” (Zondervan, 1975) particularly valuable to understand the order of events. It is mainly from that book that we have tried to give some helpful information and have constructed the chart in the appendix that illustrates these events graphically.  Dr. Woods also discusses the historical origins and characteristics of the oppressing and surrounding nations. The reader can examine those aspects of Judges from that book and others. However, for the most part, we will leave that aspect of the book to the “experts” and simply try to gain some spiritual insights through this study that apply to our needs regarding our service for the Lord today.

    The subject of Judges is the theme of recurring periods of apostasy, or spiritual unfaithfulness and departure from the Lord, followed by a period of servitude to their enemies. This eventually caused their repentance and confession to the Lord. Upon this, God mercifully raised a deliverer and saved them. During the lifetime of the judge, they were maintained in a proper relationship with God and a period of peace ensued until his death. This cycle of departure-repentance-confession-deliverance-peace is not unusual; we see the same pattern in the history of the church period. We also acknowledge a similar cycle in our relationship with the Lord oftentimes. For this reason, the story of Israel in this case is intended to be a lesson for us so that we might be preserved by heeding their example.

    We notice that the pattern of Judges is a sharp contrast with the events of Joshua. In the earlier book, Israel faithfully adheres to their God and is led in constant victory under their leader while in Judges, there is no constant leader and failure is more often the case. “Joshua is a picture of the potential of total victory that is available to every child of God, while Judges is a picture of potential defeat which will be experienced every time one fails to totally drive out the enemy” (King James Bible Commentary). This pattern would substantiate the correspondence of these books with the events of Acts, in which the Spirit of God victoriously led His people to possess spiritual territory, but followed by subsequent history of failure in the church age.

It does seem significant that the spiritual history of Israel anticipates and mirrors the spiritual history of the church. One can trace a coincidence between them starting with good beginnings based on the redemptive power of God to deliver. The pathway then continues by way of God’s personal revelation of Himself, giving His Word to guide and control, and leading by His own power and wisdom. There is progress that results in possession of the inheritance that has been secured by God’s power on their behalf. Other writers have noted this correspondence as well.

But we can also trace a corresponding decline in the response of the people. This decline in Israel and in the church is interrupted by times of revival and restoration, but it, in both cases, ultimately ends in degeneration, departure, and judgment from God. Along the way, God intervenes in discipline as He seeks to assert His control and to draw His people by His love. It is not without knowledge that the people of God degenerate; it is usually against knowledge and through expressing their self-will and rebellion against their God. This should make us fearful and concerned; it should move us to greater care and exercise, especially as we believe that we are moving toward the end of the present age during which God’s dealings center on the church.

If Israel’s history is any mirror of our own, it only indicates that the professing people of God increasingly wax colder and harder so that ultimately God’s hand of discipline must fall on them. Paul reminds us, and we apply his words, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall,” (1 Corinthians 10:12). We also note that in the last letter of the Lord to the seven churches, Laodicea displays a spirit of self-satisfaction; even more, it shows an attitude of ignorance with regard to their true condition as the Lord sees and reveals it to be.

In sending this book out, we trust that the reader will receive spiritual help from the suggestions we have made in this book that are designed to guide, instruct and preserve each one of us from the same character of departure that was so manifestly seen in the history of Israel. Even though we have been regenerated and are indwelt by the Spirit of God, the human heart is still the same today, unchanged in us as well as in them. We do well to heed in our hearts the admonition of the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 3:12, that we take heed “lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” May God preserve us in fervent love for our blessed Lord, in fidelity to His glorious Person, and in faithfulness to His holy Word until the moment comes when He shall appear and we enter His presence for eternity!

In writing this book on Judges, the author has read every book he has had available in order to consider the views of other authors as much as possible. Every book has been examined with appreciation, for it is not the purpose of this book to negate the teaching that has gone before. The book on Judges by A. M. S. Gooding contains much valuable material and help as also have the books by F. C. Jennings and by Samuel Ridout. Dr. Woods’ book on Judges has been mentioned already and its helpful material has been taken into consideration. Reading these authors helps to balance and correct any mistakes that one might make in writing. However, as a result, it is possible that some authors have been quoted directly or indirectly without being acknowledged. Sometimes it seems impossible to sort out what might be original material and what has been “begged, borrowed, or stolen.” Any direct or indirect quotation from another that has not been noted has not been done deliberately, and we sincerely apologize for such omissions. We would like to give all credit to other brethren who have written excellent books on this same portion of God’s Word.

Appreciation is due those who gave help in making this book possible. Two good brethren, Mr. Jim Brown of Minneapolis, MN and Mr. Mark VanDerHart of Omaha, NE, both elders in their respective assemblies, have been especially helpful. They have carefully read the manuscript of the book as it was being written and have given me their thoughts, corrections and criticisms. Assistance like this is invaluable and essential, and their help has been appreciated greatly. Others have also given help, including Dana Gratton, who helped with the cover design through her expertise, and our brother Robert Surgenor, who has encouraged and given comments along the way, and who has kindly consented to write a forward to the book. All these, as well as my patient wife, Janet, are very dear to me and important to the accomplishment of this work. May they receive their well-deserved reward from the Lord’s hands!

Joel Portman
February 2008