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The Need for Leadership

The Book of Judges

We now find ourselves in the age of the “judges,” but this has actually been true since the time of Moses. A “judge” was both a spiritual and political leader. The judges did not have the absolute power of a king, including for example conscription and taxation, but they led the people into battle and made basic legal decisions. They were also charged with inspiring the people spiritually, reminding them of their duty to God. Some of the judges did this well, while others were disastrous failures.

The judges who most inspired were Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel. Among the more foolish judges were Jephthah and Samson. And there were many others, of greater or lesser ability.

One theme emerges consistently throughout the book: the lapse of the people’s faith in the absence of strong leadership. The pattern is fairly consistent: a strong leader emerges to unite the people and pacify the area, but after his death the people fall into corruption and idol worship, giving their enemies the upper hand. Only when the next vigorous leader ascends do the people come back to themselves.

Another important development, present since the time of Moses but now reaching a critical point, is tribal fragmentation. Often the people behave more like a fractious group of tribes than a unified nation. The tensions between the tribes surface most at times when no dominant leader is present, usually after one judge has died and before another reaches ascendancy.

During the time of Jephthah, for example, tensions between Ephraim and the other tribes erupted into a civil war in which thousands of Ephraimites were killed. And later on, a particularly brutal incident that occurred in a city of Benjamin led to war with the other tribes. The tribe of Benjamin was nearly wiped out.

There seems to be nothing left of the spirituality that motivated the people’s ancestors. Now they are as violent and lawless as all the nations that surround them. There is no civil order, and repeatedly we hear the refrain: “In those days there was no king in Israel.”

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