Prolegomena to Judges

This book contains the various events of the Israelite republic through the space of two hundred and ninety-nine years under thirteen Judges, of which the first was Othniel, and the last was Samson (Lapide,[1] Bonfrerius[2]); to whom Eli and Samuel succeeded; who, nevertheless, are not treated in this book (Lapide).  Question 1:  Who then is the writer of this book?  Response:  It is entirely uncertain (Lapide, Bonfrerius).  Initially it was not a single book, but several histories and registers were composed (Tostatus[3]).  It is likely that Ezra, or rather Samuel, gathered these things from the old journals and annals that one or the other Judge wrote in his time, and by writing reduced them into this book (Lapide, similarly Tostatus, Bonfrerius).  The Hebrews say that Samuel wrote this book[4] (Vatablus[5]).  Question 2:  What then was the office of the Judges?  Responses:  1.  They were generals in war.  2.  Not only that, but they were also put in charge of the administration of justice, and composing the lawsuits of their fellow citizens (Bonfrerius, Lapide).  For some Judges are not found to have conducted any wars, such as Tola,[6] Ibzan, Elon, Abdon[7] (Lapide).  Neither did Eli lead the army, 1 Samuel 4.  Nor did Samuel fight, except with spiritual arms.  Moreover, in Judges 4, Deborah judged the people.  Josephus, in his Antiquities 5:8,[8] testifies to the same (Bonfrerius).  Question 3:  What then was the form of the Republic under the Judges?  Response:  Monarchical (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Serarius[9]).  Nevertheless, Kings were differing from Judges in many things.  For Judges were not able to compose new law (but they were administrating the republic according to the laws of God, and in weightier matters they were bound by the decrees of the Sanhedrin), nor to impose tribute on the people, as Kings are able (Lapide, Bonfrerius).  Kings were Lords; Judges not likewise (Bonfrerius, Tostatus).  And hence in the time of the Judges God called Himself King of the people, but not so in the time of the Kings, 1 Samuel 8:7; 12:12.  And Gideo was refusing the Sovereignty of Kingship, who nevertheless was holding the administration of Judge, or Prince. (Bonfrerius).  A Judge was not a Lord, but only a Caretaker and Conservator of the Republic.  Therefore, the power of the Judges was greatly restricted.  These were dictators, of which sort were those of the Romans, but perpetual.[10]  To the Judges were similar the ἄρχοντες/archons among the Athenians,[11] and now Doges among the Venetians[12] (Lapide).  Now, the right of a King is fuller, 1 Samuel 8, he will take your sons, etc.; all which is done by them, if not rightfully, certainly actually, and with some appearance of right, by reason of the dominion of jurisdiction, which is competent to them with respect to their subjects.  Moreover, Kings were anointed; likewise (as a sign of absolute supremacy) they were using the diadem and Royal insignia, and were surrounded by a guard.  Finally, Kings were coming to power by succession; but Judges by election (Bonfrerius).  Judges were always liberating the people, which Kings often wasted.  The people under the Judges, although repeated oppressed on account of their sins, were never led away into captivity.  And so that age was able to be called golden, as it were.  Few Kings were upright and pious, but almost all the Judges were (Martyr[13]).  Among the Hebrews, Tyrians, and Carthaginians, the highest Magistrates were called שׁוֹפְטִים/Judges κατ᾿ ἐξοχὴν, par excellence (for otherwise the term extends more broadly), whom the Greeks here call κριτὰς/judges, Josephus δικαστὰς/judges in the affairs of the Tyrians, the Latins by the Punic term שפט/Suffetes;[14] αὐτοκράτορες ἡγεμόνες, autocratic leaders, in Josephus.  Concerning these see what things are on Judges 5:13, and on Deuteronomy 17:9.  Now, it appears that in these times through carelessness the creation of the Sanhedrin of seventy-two was neglected, just as also before the times of Jehoshaphat, 2 Chronicles 19:5.  And so, when God did not rouse such men extraordinarily, the body of the republic was dissolved, and nothing was done for the common interests.  The individual Tribes were handling their own affirs.  Such was the state of Greece, with the Achaean Council dissolved by the arts of the Romans;[15] and of Gaul before the times of Cæsar; but also of Germania and Brittania much later (Grotius[16]).

[1] Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637) was a Flemish Jesuit scholar.  His talents were employed in the professorship of Hebrew at Louvain, then at Rome.  Although his commentaries (covering the entire Roman Catholic canon, excepting only Job and the Psalms) develop the four-fold sense of Scripture, he emphasizes the literal.  His commentaries demonstrate a profound knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and the history of interpretation.

[2] Jacobus Bonfrerius (1573-1642) joined the order of the Jesuits in 1592.  He enjoyed a long tenure as a professor of the Scriptures and Hebrew at Douay, France.  Although he is said to have written commentaries on almost all the books of Scripture, only his commentaries on Genesis-Ruth survive.

[3] Alonso Tostado, or Tostatus (c. 1400-1455), also known as Abulensis, was a Spanish, Roman Catholic churchman and scholar.  He was trained in philosophy, theology, civil and canon law, Greek, and Hebrew; and wrote commentaries on Genesis through 2 Chronicles and the Gospel of Matthew, filled, not only with exegetical, but also with dogmatic, material.

[4] Babylonian Talmud Bava Bathra 14b.

[5] Francis Vatablus (c. 1485-1547) was a prominent Hebrew scholar, doing much to stimulate Hebraic studies in France.  He was appointed to the chair of Hebrew in Paris (1531).  Because of some consonance with Lutheran doctrine, his annotations (Annotationes in Vetus et Novum Testamentum), compiled by his auditors, were regarded with the utmost esteem among Protestants, but with a measure of suspicion and concern by Roman Catholics.  Consequently, the theologians of Salamanca produced their own edition of Vatablus’ annotations for their revision of the Latin Bible (1584).

[6] Judges 10:1, 2.

[7] Judges 12:8-15.

[8] Flavius Josephus (37-93) was a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, a Jewish general, and an eyewitness to the final siege of Jerusalem.  Josephus’ works are invaluable to the student of Jewish antiquities and of the history of the fall of Jerusalem.

[9] Nicholas Serarius (1555-1610) was a Jesuit theologian and exegete.  He served as Professor of Theology at the University of Mainz. Commentarius in Librum Josuæ, Judicum, Ruth, Regum, et Paralipomenon.

[10] The Roman Dictator was a magistrate invested with plenary powers in times of emergency.

[11] That is, a governor of a province.

[12] That is, the chief elder and military leader.

[13] Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) began his career as an Augustinian monk, preacher, and lecturer in Italy.  Through personal study of the Scripture and the Reformers, he came to embrace the Protestant doctrines.  He settled in England and served as Professor of Divinity at Oxford and as Canon of Christ Church.  Unhappily, he was forced to flee from England as well, when Mary Tudor took the throne.  He settled in Zurich and became Professor of Divinity there.

[14] That is, the annual chief magistrates at Carthage.

[15] The Achaean League was a confederation of Greek city-states of the northern and central Peloponnese.  Its first manifestation appeared in the fifth century BC.  In the second century, Rome manipulated the League in various ways, and finally defeated and dissolved it in 146 BC.

[16] Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) distinguished himself in the field of international law, but he was interested in many fields of learning, including Christian apologetics, theology, and Biblical criticism and exegesis.  He was a strict practitioner of the historical-contextual method of exegesis, and both his methods and conclusions are on display in his influential Annotationes in Vetus et Novum Testamentum.  He is also remembered for his role in the Arminian controversy, siding with the Remonstrants, and for his governmental theory of atonement.

2 thoughts on “Prolegomena to Judges

  1. John Gill: ‘The title of this book in the Hebrew copies is Sepher Shophetim, the Book of Judges; but the Syriac and Arabic interpreters call it, “the Book of the Judges of the Children of Israel;” and the Septuagint only Judges; so called, not because it was written by them, though some think it was compiled out of annals and diaries kept by them; but it seems to be the work of one person only: the true reason of its name is, because it treats of the judges of Israel, gives an account of their lives and actions, and especially such as concerned their office; which office was different from that of kings, and seems only to have been occasional, and chiefly lay in delivering the people out of the hands of their enemies, when oppressed, distressed, or carried captive by them; in protecting them in the enjoyment of their country, rights, and liberties; in leading out their armies against their enemies when needful; and in settling differences, judging law suits, and administering justice. The government of the nation, during their time, was a theocracy.

    It is not certain who was the penman of this book; some ascribe it to King Hezekiah, others to Ezra; but the Jewish writers are generally of opinion that it was written by Samuel, which is most likely, who was the last of the judges; and it seems plainly to be written before the times of David, us appears from
    a speech of Joab, 2 Samuel 11:21; and from some passages in Psalm 68:8, 9; 97:5, which seem to refer or allude to Judges 5:4, 5; and from Jerusalem being called Jebus, which shows it to be inhabited by the Jebusites in the time of the writer of this book, whereas it was taken out of their hands by David; besides, Samuel himself refers to the annals of this book; 1 Samuel 12:9-11; and from whose testimonies, as well as from others in the New Testament, there is no doubt to be made of its being genuine and authentic, and written by divine inspiration; as is evident from the use the Apostle Paul, and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, have made of it, Acts 13:20; Hebrews 11:32; it is useful as an history, and without which the history of the people of Israel would not be complete; it containing an account of all their judges, excepting the two last, Eli and Samuel, of whom an account is given in the following books, and of some facts incidental to those times, related in an appendix at the end of it, concerning the idol of Micah, and the war of Benjamin; and furnishes out many useful moral observations concerning God’s displeasure at sin in his own people Israel, and his corrections for it; and about his providential care of them in raising up for them deliverers in their time of need, as well as points at various virtues and excellencies in great and good men, worthy of imitation. It contains, according to Piscator, Dr. Lightfoot, and others, an history of two hundred ninety and nine years.’

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