The Israelites arrived in the promised land of Canaan in 1406BC and for the next 350 years their leaders were the “judges”. There was no central government and the judges arose as local ad hoc leaders during times of crisis.
Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. (Judges 2:18-19)
Their functions appear to have been primarily associated with leading an army in war and making some legal decisions. At times, there was more than one judge, each in a different region of the land of Canaan; at other times it seems there was no judge in the land.
There are 12 people identified as judges in the Book of Judges:
- Othniel, the son of Kenaz from the tribe of Judah (Judges 3:7-11)
- Ehud, the son of Gerah from the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 3:12-30)
- Shamgar, the son of Anath from the tribe of Levi (Judges 3:31)
- Deborah, from the tribe of Ephraim with Barak, her general (Judges 4:1-5:31)
- Gideon (also named Jerubbaal), the son of Joash from the tribe of Manasseh (Judges 6:1-8:35)
- Tola, the son of Puah from the tribe of Issachar (Judges 10:1-2)
- Jair, from Gilead (Judges 10:3-5)
- Jephthah, the son of Gilead from Gilead (Judges 10:6-12:7)
- Ibzan, from the tribe of Judah (Judges 12:8-10)
- Elon, from the tribe of Zebulun (Judges 12:11-12)
- Abdon, the son of Hillel, the Piratoni, from the tribe of Ephraim (Judges 12:13-15)
- Samson, the son of Manoah, from the tribe of Dan (Judges 13:1-16:31)
1 Samuel also describes Eli (1 Samuel 4:18) and Samuel (1 Samuel 7:15) as judges.