Though God’s people were to look to the future for the prophesied deliver(s), Israel itself was part of God’s plan of redemption. The nation was to be a priest to the nations (Ex. 19:6). They could bless the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3) by leading them to the true God (Deut. 4:1-8). But Israel was also part of the world’s sin problem. God predicted that Israel would fail to keep his law and would therefore suffer the covenant curses (Deut. 30:1-8). Israel, even in Moses’ day, was comprised of people with uncircumcised hearts. They needed regeneration so they could turn and obey they Lord (Deut. 30:1-10). Though Israel successfully conquered the Promised Land (Josh. 10:40; 11:23; 21:43-45), Joshua told the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord” (24:19).
The book of Judges confirms Joshua’s prediction. The people quickly turn from beings priests to the nations to becoming like, or even worse than, the nations. By the end of the book, one judge offered human sacrifices. Another judge was more concerned with Philistine women and personal vendettas than with delivering God’s people. Israel’s judges were unable to restore God’s people to God’s law.
Not even the priestly class in Israel maintained the true worship of Yahweh (Jdgs. 17-18). The last account of the book includes an incident eerily reminiscent of the Sodom story. Amazingly, the story in Judges is darker than the one in Genesis. In Sodom, the angels blinded the men and no wicked deed was accomplished, but in Judges, the men of Gibeah “knew her and abused her all night until the morning” (19:25). They left her for dead, and the concubine’s master dismembered her and sent the pieces of her body throughout the land. Israel, the priest to the nations, had become worse than the worst of the nations (Sodom throughout Scripture is the illustration of human wickedness; Deut. 32:32; Isa. 1:10; 3:9; jer 23:14; Ezek. 16:46-56; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7; Rev. 11:8).
The nations needed a better priest, and their priest, Israel, needed better priests (The last two accounts in Judges feature wayward Levites, including a descendant of Moses himself; cf. Block, Judges, Ruth, 512). The text explicitly notes Israel needed a king. Four times it says, “In those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). The closing words of the book are, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). These words recall the actions of Adam and Eve doing what was right in their eyes. Israel was acting in the same manner that led to the distortion of human dominion at the beginning, and God said they needed a king to fix this sin problem.
The storyline of Scripture moves forward into the book of Samuel. Stephen Dempster says, “It is hard to imagine a worse situation than the end of the narrative of Judges, but this is it” (Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 135). The opening chapters of Samuel reveal that sin permeated the priesthood. Eli’s sons insisted on taking whatever raw meat would come up when they stabbed it with a meat-fork (1.2:13-17) despite Torah prohibitions (Lev. 7:22-25, 31-36; Deut. 18:3-4). Furthermore, they corrupted the women who ministered at the tabernacle (1.2:22; cf. Ex. 38:26) in a way that may have mimicked the forbidden cult prostitution of the Canaanites (Deut. 23:17). In summary statements, these men are called “sons of Belial” and men who “did not know the Lord” (1.2:12; this contrasts with Exodus which repeatedly says that the purpose for God’s miraculous deliverance was so Israel would know that he is the Lord: Ex. 6:3, 7; 10:2; 16:6, 12; 29:46; 31:13). Their actions were said to be blasphemy (1.3:13). Eli was little better. Despite his strong words, his remonstrance with his sons was ineffectual (1.2:22-25). Priests like this could not mediate between God and man.
God intervened at this crisis point in Israel’s history by raising up a prophet: Samuel. The necessity of a prophet showed the failure of the priesthood. The priests could receive revelation from God through the Urim and Thumim. They were given the responsibility of teaching God’s word. These tasks mirror the prophetic tasks of receiving revelation from God and declaring his word to the people. Samuel was a faithful prophet (1.12:3-5), but he was not sufficient to turn the people to God. Furthermore his sons became known for their wickedness (1.8:1-3).
Israel was in need of a righteous king, priest, and prophet.
Block, Daniel I. Judges, Ruth. New American Commentary. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 1999.
Dempster,Stephen G. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Edited by D. A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003.