After Joshua dies, the book of Judges takes up the narrative of the nation of Israel now in the promised land. We see a sad cycle stated in Judges 2:11-19 [shown in the figure below] and repeated throughout the book. The people fall away and embrace the idolatry and the practices of the surrounding people-groups; God brings them into servitude to those peoples; the people cry out for forgiveness and deliverance; God raises up a “judge” (more like a military leader) to deliver the people; the people do well as long as the particular judge is alive and leading the tribes in the ways of the Lord; and finally, the judge dies and people relapse into compromise and idolatry again. [Repeat…] Note that even the judges themselves have moral flaws. The judges are raised up by God and then in time die without establishing any kingly lineage.
The summary at the end of Judges is this… “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 ESV) […which sounds a little like today!]
God’s goal in raising up leaders was never, in the first place, to lead the people into prosperity, to provide them with what they want, to get along with other nations, to be popular, etc. It was always about leading the people of God into his ways of righteousness.
The following book, Ruth, provides us with a beautiful story of Ruth and Boaz, two people who truly embrace their covenant relationship with God in the midst of a dark age, and who seek to do what is good, right, and just. They demonstrate kindness (hesed in 2:20; 3:10) and faithfulness to God’s covenant. It is from this that love and beauty, childbirth and prosperity, redemption, peace and joy all flow into their lives and community. Boaz says to Ruth,
“The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (2:12)
And in wonderful Hebrew fashion this short book ends with a genealogy — remember, this is history, and this is the lineage of the Messiah: “Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.” (Ruth 4:18-22 ESV)
David, as in David the King, as in the ancestor of Jesus Christ who is called the Son of David… this is the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz.
In 1 Samuel we will meet the last Judge, and the first of the prophets, Samuel, who installs the first King of a united Israel, namely, Saul. King Saul is a tragic figure, who happens to be more concerned about popularity than righteousness. This will lead to God’s call upon David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). And David, though flawed, will be a high point in Israel’s history, because he really seeks to rule God’s people in righteousness.