The Jewish Encyclopedia describes the period of the Judges, the period we’re reading about this week in our lectionary, in this way:
“Israel remained for some time a rough people, barbarized by continuous wars. Sword law and the vendetta reigned supreme. Neither expeditions undertaken for pillage and plunder (comp. Judges xvii. et seq.), nor treacherous dealings with the enemy, as practiced by Samson, nor assassinations, as those committed by Jael and Ehud, gave offense; and even the lives of those nearest and dearest were sacrificed to satisfy a vow, as in the case of Jephthah.”
“Barbarized by continuous wars.” War became the only way to settle things at this time, and that led to warrior leaders, some more measured than others. The allegory of the trees which we will hear tomorrow from the Book of Judges ends with the buckhorn tree ruling over the people. That’s Abimelech, the vicious son of Gideon, who kills anyone in his way and, in turn, suffers a violent death.
The Book of Judges was an admonition to the Jewish people to beware of seeing war and violence as a way of life. It creates a barbarous society. It’s a way to death.
An admonition to us too?