The key to interpreting any historical book like Judges is to discover the major theme of the book. It most cases the narrator of any particular book will highlight the theme in the beginning paragraphs or the opening narrative within the book. However, in the case of Judges the major theme of the book is reserved for the end. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (21:25). The book of Judges as a whole unfolds culminating with this conclusion.
The form of government in the days of Judges was a theocracy, that is, God Himself ruled over the nation. But the people with their polluted and darkened hearts rebelled over and over against God. Idolatry for pagan god’s found a resting place within them. Throughout the book the reader will discover a re-occurring cycle of: idolatry, judgement, repentance, deliverance, and restoration. Thus, Judges becomes a volume displaying the mercies of God and the fallen nature of man.
Having a working knowledge of the key components that are essential to preaching Old Testaments narratives is an absolute. This is the ground work that ensures proper exegesis.
Essential Components Necessary for Proper Exegesis of Biblical Narratives
The first essential component is scene. Identifying the scene enables the reader to understand the when and where of the text. Each scene represents something that took place at some particular time or place.
The Second essential component is plot. Simply stated, the plot is the main organizing principle of the story. Kaiser wrote, “The plot is what gives movement to the story, for each narrative must have a beginning, a middle or midpoint and an end. Plot traces the movements of the events and episodes as the emerge in the story.”Walter C. Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2003), 66.
The Third essential component is point of view. This is perspective from which the story is told. Determining the point of view helps the passage to take shape or unfold before the interpreter’s eyes, conforming it as an essential step in sermon preparation. Discover what the text meant to the original readers is non-negotiable.
The Fourth essential component is characterization. Kaiser wrote, “Once an analysis of the way a narrative is structured has been secured, it is important to discover what the narrative expresses. The substance of what a narrative portrays can be found especially clearly in its use of character.”Kaiser, 68. Characterization can be discovered by primarily looking at the main characters of the narrative. For example, does the main character change in his characterization? If there is no change then the character is static. However, if there is considerable change then the character is dynamic. Discovering this will help bring to light the character of the narrative as a whole.
The fifth essential component is setting. This provides the beginning place for the story. This is the story’s historical, cultural, and geographical background. Moreover, there is what is known as the “inner-textual setting.” This setting is concerned with the immediate context of the narrative and takes a detailed look within the narrative. To understand the narrative fully, one must examine its placement within the larger whole of which it is a part.
The sixth essential component is dialogue. Robert Alter wrote, “dialogue is made to carry a large part of the freight of the meaning. Everything in the world of biblical narrative ultimately gravitates toward dialogue. Quantitatively, a remarkable large part of the narrative burden is carried by dialogue, the transactions between characters typically unfolding through words they exchange.”Rober Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 65. Dialogue is a very effective tool used by the narrator to help the reader discover the point of view.
The seventh essential component is key-wording. Often narratives will use the same words or a pattern of words. These words can help the reader discover the entire periscope (unit of thought), or set forth the distinctive features of the narrative.
The eighth essential component is structure. Every narrative has some type of deliberate arrangement of all its parts. Therefore, examining how all the parts work together and interrelate is essential. Identifying structure will help the unity of narrative become apparent and its theme and plot also will be uncovered. One thing to remember is that every narrative is unique, yet narratives have a common a structure.
The ninth essential component is stylistic and rhetorical devices. Evidence of the narrator’s own style can be found within the narrative. Kaiser wrote, “A few of the ways that style may be evidenced is by noting what is repeated and what is omitted, as well as the author’s use of chiasm, irony, and similar figures of speech.”Kaiser, 74.
The tenth and the final element is what I call the redemptive element. The entirety of Scripture points to Christ and is fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is the direct fulfillment of the Old Testament. Every passage should be interpreted in light of the finished work of Christ. And, every sermon should point to Christ.
Practical Ideas for Preaching Through Judges
One of the first things I do is read through the entirety of the book at least seven times. This allows me to have a working knowledge of the book as I prepare to outline the structure of the book as a unit. Upon completing my rough draft of the books structure, I then compare what I have written down with critical commentaries. One of the critical commentaries I like to use on the Old Testament is “The New International Commentary on the Old Testament-NICOT.” Observing how the critical commentaries structure the book will add clarity and assistance to my own structure.
Identifying structure is essential in establishing the number of sermons that will be preached through the book. Following is an example of how I might structure the book.
- The Conquest of Israel (1:1-2:5)
- The Successes and Failures of the Southern Tribes (1:3-21)
- The Successes and Failures of the Northern Tribes (1:22-26)
- Israel Accused of Disobedience (2:1-5)
- The Correction of Israel (2:6-3:6)
- The Career of the Judges (3:7-16:31)
- Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar (3:7-31)
- Deborah and Barak (4:1-5:31)
- Gideon and Abimelech (6:1-9:57)
- Tola and Jair (10:1-5)
- Jephthah (10:6-12:7)
- Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15)
- Samson (13:1-16:31)
- The Compromise of Israel (chaps. 17-21)
- Religious Chaos (17:1-18:31)
- Moral Chaos (19:1-21:25)
From this structure, I could preach anywhere from twelve to fifteen sermons through Judges.
About: Dr. Blake Gideon serves as the Senior Pastor of Edmond’s First Baptist Church. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2005 with his Undergraduate Degree in Theology. Later, in 2008, he graduated from Southwestern Seminary with his Masters Degree in Religious Education and has also completed his Masters Degree in Divinity. He completed his DMin at New Orleans Theological Seminary in 2015.