When you’re young, stories are simple. There are good guys and bad guys, and it seems easy to divide everyone into one of those two groups. Even some of the characters we’ll read about in Judges may be easily deemed “good guys.” You have Gideon putting out the fleece as an act of faith. You have Samson with his unmatched strength pulling down a pagan temple with his own two hands. You have the left-handed Ehud getting the drop on the evil King Eglon.
As an adult, however, you might find yourself shifting uncomfortably as you read through these stories that once seemed so simple. The book of Judges is complicated. People often perceived as heroes might start to seem downright villainous. That’s because they often are.
Judges is not a collection of heroic tales. It is a tragedy, in both the literal and literary senses of the word. Judges recounts the true and tragic unraveling of the people of Israel as they chose to abandon God and live like their pagan neighbors. Like Macbeth or The Great Gatsby, Judges is told as a tragedy, where the arc of the story lands with a thud rather than a victory parade. Forgetting the one true God—both His goodness and His holiness—is a tragedy.
In Judges, Israel experiences a downward spiral of rebellion and rescue with each new judge. We witness their fall from obedience into desolation. We long for the seed of hope that rises from the books (like Ruth and Samuel) that follow to take root. But this book does not resolve. It just ends with everyone doing whatever seems right to them.
God is the hero of Scripture, and Judges demonstrates this in a pronounced way. We can draw hope from the fact that God works through broken, morally compromised, deeply flawed people to bring about His perfect will. We draw hope because that perfect will is ultimately fulfilled in the finished work of our perfect Savior, Jesus Christ, who is also our righteous Judge. And His story does not end in ruin, but in peace and glory forever.