This book is filled of epic tales of heroes who rise up to deliver Israel from oppressors. The land was untamed, much like the American Frontier. We have Paul Bunyan, but they have Samson. We have Anne Oakley, but they have Just Deborah and skull crushing Jael. While this book may be compared to tall tales of the west or a graphic novel, the even greater epic message is about a God who forgives the rebellious people and delivers them again and again and again.
How should I read it?
Imagine having been removed from your home, a home God promised to you, and being relocated to a foreign land where you are powerless. The people of Israel needed a morale booster as they lived in exile in Babylon. Have you heard the one about Samson's hair? Or how about the one about Gideon's small army? Read judges with an ear for exaggeration and be inspired by the empowerment of God's Spirit.
Look for the pattern in Israel's relationship with God:
Israel sins and does what is evil, turning from God
God gives them over to their ways and into the hands of their enemies
The people are oppressed and they cry to God for help
God raises up a Judge (charismatic leader) who delivers them
if you want a teenage boy to read the Bible... give him Judges.
Part I: The Context (Judg. 1-3)
A. Enemies Remain in the Land
B. The Pattern of the Story Emerges
Part II: Stories about the Judges (Judg. 3-16)
A. Othneil, Ehud, Shamgar
D. Tola and Jair
F. Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
Part III: Descent into Chaos
A. Idol Worship
B. Abuse, Murder, Fire, and Chaos
Professor of Old Testament, Mark Throntveit notes that "judge" (both the noun and the verb) is more complex in the the original Hebrew than in our English translation. "The Hebrew shophet means something like ;one who brings vindication, who sets things right' and can be applied to military deliverers as well as magistrates."* Most leaders in the book of judges are military deliverers, with the exception of Deborah, who actually judged and settled legal disputes.
The leaders of judges were awful role models! Ehud was a king-slayer (aka. Jamie Baratheon?) Gideon tested God not once but over and over again. Samson broke EVERY Nazirite code. Jephthah made a horrible vow that cost the life of his only daughter...need I say more? These deliverers of Israel were far from ideal and yet God chose them to deliver Israel. Perhaps their raw edges further highlights the state of tribal Israel at that time.
God's Off-Again, On-Again Relationship
Despite Israel's constant return to evil and idolatry, God's grace and forgiveness outlasts their apostasy every time. BUT God's love of his people is not mushy and gushy, but real and demanding. The people are to remain obedient to God and faithful to the covenant. If they choose not to abide by the covenant, God doesn't force them into it, but instead lets them have what they want which only leads to oppression, misery and death. God's anger never lasts as compassion, pity and mercy move God to raise up a leader. The charismatic leader delivers Israel and they have rest...for a while...until they turn back to their evil ways. Around and around they go.
* Throntveit, Mark. “Judges.” Enter the Bible, http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=27, Accessed 21, March 2017.