A major reason for the spiritual quagmire into which Israel falls during the Judges Era is lack of godly leadership. Israel did right as long as Joshua and his generation were alive, but when that generation died out, Israel turned to the worship of Baal and forsook Yahweh, their God, who had brought them out of Egypt (Judges 2:7-13). Now to be honest, Israel had sown the seeds for future idolatry by their failure to fully drive out the Canaanites (as Judges 1 recounts), but it was after the death of Joshua and his fellow leaders that they reaped the disastrous harvest of apostasy.
Apostasy led to chastisement, chastisement to repentance and cries for help, and cries for help to judges given by God to deliver them from the enemy nations God had used as an instrument of chastisement. These judges then led Israel out of their apostasy, only to have Israel fall back into it when the judge died. Thus, the cycle repeats itself six times in the book of Judges—and perhaps twelve times, if we include the six “minor judges.” Each of the six cycles is introduced by a phrase something like what we find in Judges 2:11: “And the children of Israel did what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh and served the Baals” (see 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1).
But the judges themselves growingly evidenced spiritual problems. Israel’s fifth judge, Gideon, makes a golden ephod that trips up Israel spiritually (8:27), and his son by a concubine incites a civil war (ch. 9). Jephthah is a great warrior and exhibits tremendous courage but comes across as rash both in his vow and in the way he created conflict with the Ephraimites after his victory over Ammon (11:31; 12:2-4). Samson, the final judge mentioned in Judges, is the worst of all—super strong in body but terribly weak in his flesh! You can outline his life in terms of his various women!
When we reach the final two stories in Judges (chs. 17-21), we are ready for the assessment given by the author four times that “there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). All four times—twice explicitly and twice implicitly—he links the lack of a king with the spiritual condition of the times. The author’s point? Israel needs a king—a godly king—to lift Israel out of its spiritual morass and national chaos. Is there any such king in the works?
Genesis 49:10 reveals that God’s design was for Israel’s kings to come from Judah. We see glimpses, even in Judges, that God intended Judah to lead the nation of Israel (see 1:1-2; 20:18). Caleb, for example, was an outstanding early Judahite whose courage was contagious (1:12-20). But where is the king of Judah who will deliver Israel from her enemies and, most importantly, turn her to the Lord her God? Enter the book of Ruth, which depicts how God is working behind the scenes, even in a climate of apostasy, to bring forth His king. Remarkably, the very last word of Ruth is David (4:22). In providing for Naomi, God is actually providing for the entire nation. Much as David is the last word of Ruth, David is God’s “decisive word” for Israel’s apostasy during the Judges Era.
His grace, not Israel’s apostasy, has the final say.