I quickly lost track of the names and periods of the Judges, so I looked them up:
First Period: Othniel
Second Period: Ehud and Shamgar
Third Period: Deborah and Barak
Fourth Period: Gideon, Tola and Jair
Fifth Period: Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon
Sixth Period: Samson
The purpose of Judges is to show, over time, God's certain judgment against sin and His forgiveness for those who repent wholeheartedly.
Despite the almost overwhelming nature of reading Judges straight through, there are some really intriguing and epic stories:
1. Deborah, the female Judge.
"Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel in that time." Judges 4:4
Women in the Bible--that tends to be a touch subject where everyone has firm beliefs about the amount of involvement women are given. I'm not looking to start a debate right now, we'll save that for another day, but here is a wonderful example of a strong female character in the Old Testament. She was leader of Egypt--period. She was a great great Judge of the people even though she was female and married. She even led soldiers into battle and was victorious. All of God's people loved her and she brought peace to the land.
God can use anyone, any sex, any background, any social standing if we let him. Where we see limitations, God sees possibilities.
"But Lord" Gideon replied, "how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!" The Lord said to him, "I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man." Judges 6:15-16
I like the Gideon story. It shows that God will chose ANYONE. Gideon was merely a farmer when God chose him, who thought he was nothing special. But Gideon was faithful to God and that's all God needs. God doesn't see limitations or circumstance--He uses people even in the middle of their current struggles and expands on abilities we already have. Gideon was faithful and God led him to victory.
Of course, reading Gideon's story now, all I can visualize is Larry the Cucumber with a tuba from Veggie Tales: Gideon Tuba Warrior. All the important lessons to learn as Gideon becomes a Judge for Israel are there.
"You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines." Judges 13:5
Samson is quite the character. He represents the best and the worst of humanity. He was dedicated to God from birth, but violated many of God's laws; he was known for his incredible strength, but often used his gifts unwisely; and he was leader of people, but he often confided in the wrong people. The most obvious example of this is with Delilah and his lost connection with God.
My favorite part of Samson's story is that he redeems himself. He reaches out to God who gives him strength to over come his oppressors, killing them and himself. Samson was far from perfect, but he was a Man of God and was recorded in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. And he did in fact begin to rescue Israel from their oppressors.
Judges is a very rich book with lots to learn and take in. For the same reasons we study history in school, it is important to know the histories of God's people. We can learn from other's mistakes, understand more about God and define how to faithfully walk with Him.