When the book of Judges opens, the people of Israel had just come off of the experience of a great victory—they had conquered the land of Canaan and divided the land among themselves. When their leader Joshua died, however, no one stepped in to take his place. And this was the plan of God, to rule His kingdom from heaven, with His people living in humble submission and dependence upon His provision.
The book of Judges shows us the disturbing results of this arrangement; the people ignored the Lord as their king and did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). And the people did this not just once but time after time after time. The cycle of misery spun its way across three hundred years, ever downward, leaving God’s people in greater and greater desperation with leaders who grew increasingly compromised over the course of this period. The downward spiral came to its lowest point in chapter 19 when the men of Benjamin brutalized a defenseless woman, and the people of Israel countered by taking out a bloody revenge on the perpetrators (Judges 20). The time of great unity and victory in the conquest of the land had given way to civil war and defeat as they settled the land. Judges shows us that human depravity had the upper hand among God’s people. It also reveals how eager God was to bless His people if they would only repent and walk in obedience.