The Book of Judges in the Bible reveals the role of judges during Biblical times. And unlike our modern definition of a judge, judges in Israel functioned in a much more dynamic way.
Judges in Israel
Judges today are usually found in courtrooms, determining the guilty from the innocent. But, Israel’s judges were considered rulers and military leaders.
In Hebrew, ‘judge’ is called ‘shofet’, which can also be translated as ‘governors’. Walter C. Kaiser from The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary explained it. He said, “The Hebrew root of špṭ (shofet) had a much wider meaning than the idea of simply “administering justice to,” or “to pass sentence,” “settle a case,” “do justice,” and “mete out justice.” Based on the usages of this same root in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and texts at Mari, the basic meaning could now successfully be established as meaning “to rule,” or “to command.” Especially significant was the Ugaritic cognate root tpṭ, with its meanings of “to do justice” and “to rule.’”
So, the judges’ main task was to obtain justice for the tribes of Israel in the face of their enemies. And to annihilate or drive out their oppressors, bring salvation and peace throughout the land.
Deliverance from oppression
Judges were first recognized shortly after Joshua’s death. After he led them i into the promised land, the work was not yet done. When Joshua and his generation died, so did the Israelites’ knowledge of God. The remaining Israelites lived along with the Canaanites and adapted their culture and false worship. This was a time of social and religious anarchy, characterized by the refrain, “In those days, there was no king in Israel and everyone did whatever seemed right to him.” (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25)
Ultimately, God sent the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, to redeem the world from sin.