The books of Joshua and Judges tell the story of the early years of Israel as a nation. They describe how the Israelites conquer and occupy the land of Canaan, and then struggle to live up to their covenant with God. The Bible’s drama here moves to an important new stage – God’s people are in God’s land. Yet it becomes clear that the road to reconciliation between God and humanity will not be easy.
The story describes the preparations and battles of Israel’s invasion, as well as how the land was divided among the tribes. Since pockets of resistance remained, Joshua in his final speech urges each tribe to take full possession of its territory. Next he leads the people to renew their commitment to the covenant relationship with God.
Judges then relates the troubling cycle of Israel’s repeated covenant breaking, falling under the rule of other nations, and then crying out to God for help. God responds by raising up ‘judges’ to fight for them and save them. But the relief is temporary as Israel falls back into wrongdoing once again. (‘Judges’ are both military leaders and legal authorities.)
Just as Israel was made up of twelve tribes, so the book tells of twelve judges. But as the people persist in going their own way, we see that they have rejected their true Judge and Ruler. As the anarchy and atrocities increase, Israel’s need for a king becomes more evident. By the end the questions are urgent: Can Israel fulfil its destiny and calling to be God’s light to the nations? Who can rule Israel to help it find its proper role in the drama?