|(See 'What's going on' page for larger image and intro to Judges)|
I recommended yesterday that we start reading it ahead of each Sunday's reading. Some of the stories are quite long, and it will help if we've already got our heads in them. To save us getting completely lost, though, here's a few tips:
 Remember where this is in history.
As chapter 1 explains, this is the period immediately following the time of Joshua, when God's people took control of the land. All the talk of battles, war and enemies is in that context - not immediately ours! We have to remember that they were told to be God's instruments of judgement on the thoroughly evil people already living in the land of Canaan. (Bear in mind God's promise to Abraham back in Genesis 15:16: "... your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.") Joshua's job was to clear them out. Therefore, it can be a mistake to be sentimental when reading Judges, and forget the brutal job they had to do, and why.
 Be aware of the structure.
Chapters 2-3 introduce us (as we'll see on Sunday) to the repeated pattern of the book. Over and over, it goes like this: the people forsook God; God punished them; they cried out to God; God sent a rescuer (a 'Judge' - not the wig-and-gown type). After a time of peace, the people rebel again and the cycle starts all over. Spotting this helps to identify where we are in a story. The variations each time round make us ask, 'What's specific for us to learn this time?'
There are 12 judges. In spite of amazing high points, the cycle pattern turns out to be a downward spiral. The book ends in sick depravity.
 Look to Jesus.
The judges are often the most unlikely heroes. The failures - and death - of each one makes us look forward to the ultimate Saviour. Each week, guaranteed, we'll be saying, 'Thank God for Jesus!'