What is a…

properly a magistrate or ruler, rather than one who judges in the sense of trying a cause

Time of the Judges

Judge is primarily the name we give to those rulers who presided over the affairs of the Israelites during the interval between the death of Joshua and the accession of King Saul (Judges 2:18), a period of general anarchy and confusion. These are people who Scripture says “judged over Israel.”

Key Scripture

When the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge… —Judges 2:18 NASB (excerpt)

Prior to Moses

In the early patriarchal times the heads of families and the elders of the tribes were the judges (compare Genesis 38:24), and their authority was based on custom.


In Exodus 2:14 Moses is questioned as a “judge.” This fact may indicate that while for revenue purposes the “taskmasters” were over the people, they were yet, just as at a later time when under the Romans, governed by their own rulers. During the Exodus, Moses became the sole judge of Israel until he began delegating the work to others as suggest by his father-in-law Jethro.


Their authority extended only over those tribes by whom they had been elected or acknowledged.

There was no income attached to their office, and they bore no external marks of dignity.

“The office of judges or regents was held during life, but it was not hereditary, neither could they appoint their successors. Their authority was limited by the law alone, and in doubtful cases they were directed to consult the divine King through the priest by Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21).


The only cases of direct divine appointment are those of Gideon and Samson, and the latter stood in the peculiar position of having been from before his birth ordained ‘to begin to deliver Israel’.

Deborah was called to deliver Israel, but was already a judge.

Samuel was called by the Lord to be a prophet, but not a judge, which ensued from the high gifts the people recognized as dwelling in him; and as to Eli, the office of judge seems to have devolved naturally or rather ex officio upon him.”

Names of known judges

  1. Moses
  2. Joshua
  3. Othniel
  4. Ehud
  5. Shamgar
  6. Deborah
  7. Gideon
  8. Abimelech
  9. Tola
  10. Jair
  11. Jephthah
  12. Ibzan
  13. Elon
  14. Abdon
  15. Samson
  16. Eli
  17. Samuel
  18. Joel, son of Samuel
  19. Abiah, son of Samuel

For 5 of these judges, we have virtuallyno record at all beyond the bare fact that they were judges—Tola (Judges 10:1), Jair (3), Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15). Sacred history is not the history of individuals, but of the kingdom of God in its onward progress.

Hebrew words in Scripture

שָׁפַט —transliteration: shophet (shaphat) —plural: shophetim —meaning: to judge, to govern
דִּין —din (deen) —meaning: to judge
דַּיָּן —dayyan —meaning: a judge
פָלִיל —palil —meaning: a judge

Greek words in Scripture

κρίνω — krinó —meaning: to judge, decide
κριτής —krités (krites) —meaning: a judge
δικαστής —dikastés (dikastes) —meaning: a judge
διακρίνω —diakrinó (diakrino) —meaning: to judge, to distinguish —literally: to separate throughout or wholly

God, the ultimate judge

The Bible frequently and clearly states that God is the supreme and righteous judge.

More information

Article Version: June 4, 2019