Judges —

There was an occasion, in Exodus 18, when God spoke to Moses through his father in law Jethro. God ordained, by Moses, to set up this structure of judges that Jethro had described. The purpose of these judges was to hear and settle disputes. That way, Moses no longer needed to do this all himself. In the cases that needed to go to Moses, so he could pray for an answer, God gave laws that would address all such future cases (Exodus 18:16). So, ultimately, we had all of the needed laws. This was God’s providence for the time coming when they would no longer have Moses (Exodus 22:9, Leviticus 19:15).

This system of judges was established extremely early in the time when Moses was leading Israel. By the end of the 40 years, when God was handing leadership over to Joshua, He said, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” Joshua 1:8

Even after Moses and Joshua, there was a time of history when Israel continued to be governed by God, through His Law, and by judges whose basis for judgment was God’s Law. They no longer needed Moses to go to God and ask about the most difficult cases. The Law had already been delivered to Moses, and he wrote it down (Deuteronomy 31:9), so they had this as the basis for their judgments. They did not need to legislate, only judge.

Most of this historical time of judges is covered in the book of Judges in the Holy Bible. When they were living in accord with God’s design, this was the mode of civil government and criminal justice in Israel. When they departed from God, He afflicted them. They eventually repented and re-established the proper system, “and the land had rest.” This cycle repeated several times, over many generations, for more than four centuries.

1 Samuel 2:25 If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him?

1 Samuel 7:15 And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.

The demolition of this system is found in 1 Samuel 8, when the people demanded a king instead. It is extremely important to note that God said, in verse 7, that they were rejecting God as King by ending the time of the judges and starting the time when the king was merely human. This was also emphasized as God described the great problems that would result from their destruction of God’s design for justice and authority.

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