How to Read Judges

The Book of Judges


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

Judges tells the story of Israel’s corrupt leaders and complete failure to keep covenant with Yahweh. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Judges, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 




Now that you have an overview of Judges in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Judges. Read about Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh, and the judges He raised up to lead them in Judges 2:11–22. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Judges 2:11–22.    

Judges 2:11-22 (ESV)

Israel’s Unfaithfulness

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals.12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger.13They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.15Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.

The Lord Raises Up Judges

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.17Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.18Whenever 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.19But 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.20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice,21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died,22in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: The people of Israel abandoned Yahweh and went after other gods.  

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Judges 2:11–22? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.


Example: (Observation) The people of Israel abandoned Yahweh and went after other gods. (Interpretation) Yahweh is faithful to keep His covenant, but Israel is incapable of keeping up their end of the covenant. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Judges 2:11–22? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Judges? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Example: God faithfully brings Israel to the land He promised to give them. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. God is repeatedly called a faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love to a thousand generations. No person is righteous, not even one. Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant between us and God. Jesus keeps the covenant on our behalf.  

Contextualize: What themes does Judges 2:11–22 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Judges? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Example: Since Israel (and any person) is unable to keep covenant with God or be acceptable in His sight on their own merit, God acts through Jesus to faithfully uphold both sides of the covenant. This week, I must remember that God is faithful even when I am not. When I sin and turn to other idols, I can remember that Jesus has upheld the covenant perfectly on my behalf. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Because of this, I can trust Christ’s work and God’s faithfulness, confess my sins, and trust God to be faithful to forgive and continue to transform me.


Apply: How does the truth from Judges 2:11–22 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Judges to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Judges, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Judges this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 


To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.