Thus the oath of the gods" is a well attested ceremony in ancient oriental court procedure and there is no doubt that the same ceremony is indicated by וְנִקְרַ֥ב בַּֽעַל־הַבַּ֖יִת אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹקִ֑ים. It is interesting to note that this idiom, קרב אל אלוהים, is found in its exact Akkadian counterpart in the Nuzi tablets (N I 89:10-12) ana ilani qarabu, where the ilani mean the תירפים."
See: אלוהים in Its Reputed Meaning of Rulers, Judges Author(s): Cyrus H. Gordon Source: Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Sep., 1935), pp. 139-144 Published by: The Society of Biblical Literature Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3259316
"Restore our judges" A paraphrase of Isa. 1:26, "I will restore your judges as in days of old, prophecy imagining a restored, properly functioning judicial system. In the Amidah, however, "judges" refers to the leaders of Israel after Joshua and before the establishment of the monarchy. According to the Bible, Joshua was succeeded by a series of local military chieftains known as judges (shoftim), who were followed in turn by Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings. (After the last of the five books of Torah, our Bible devotes separate books to Joshua, Judges, and, eventually, Kings ; between Judges and Kings is Samuel, referring to a transitional era, when the prophet-judge Samuel dominated Israel's history and in whose time the first of the kings, Saul and David, were chosen.) Our benediction looks back nostalgically at the period of the judges as ideal, not because the judges are themselves so positively viewed, but because (following 1 Sam. 10:18-19) the subsequent election of earthly kings implied a rejection of God's kingship. Thus, the real focus is not the judges, but the absence of any king other than God. As the blessing says, God should "reign over us.. . alone." God is the only monarch who can be counted on to reign "in kindness and mercy and "who loves righteousness and justice."
Thereis thus implicit tension between this blessing and the blessing later on (#15) for the offspring of David to arise as the messianic ruler. But the Bible itself (Ezek. 34:24)resolves the conflict by positing an ideal world of the future where a messianic figure and God will rule together: "I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a ruler among them." [Brettler]
After this, the Israelites grew effeminate as to fighting any more against their enemies, but applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which producing them great plenty and riches, they neglected the regular disposition of their settlement, and indulged themselves in luxury and pleasures; nor were they any longer careful to hear the laws that belonged to their political government: whereupon God was provoked to anger, and put them in mind, first, how, contrary to his directions, they had spared the Canaanites; and, after that, how those Canaanites, as opportunity served, used them very barbarously. But the Israclites, though they were in heaviness at these admonitions from God, yet were they still very unwilling to go to war; and since they got large tributes from the Canaanites, and were indisposed for taking pains by their luxury, they suffered their aristocracy to be corrupted also, and did not ordain themselves a senate, nor any other such magistrates as their laws had formerly required, but they were very much given to cultivating their fields, in order to get wealth; which great indolence of theirs brought a terrible sedition upon them, and they proceeded so far as to fight one against another, from the following occasion. (Josephus, Anitquities 5.132-35)
In our culture, a judge (eventually from Latin judex, "one who pronounces the law") is normally a court official with authority to hear and decide in legal cases. Our judges do not create law (although they can creatively interpret it), and they do not execute the judgment (but they might increase the penalty when angered). Other organs of government are allotted these tasks. But even within our culure, the term "judge" can have applications that are scarcely legal, for example, a judge in a beauty or sports contest. What is shared is the authority to impose an opinion. The point to keep is that the same title need not imply the same qualification or area of experise.
The Hebrew word šõfer (plural šõfěțim) is a participle, so one engaged in the performance of a "tpt act. Other words based on this root are mišpāț, "ordinance, decree," sefäțim (always in the plural but referring to a "judgment, decision"), and šéfo, with a similar sense but also implying "punishment." The verb šäfaț is ostensibly transparent (it certainly is not about unjust acts or results) but also is difficult to adequately pinpoint. It seems to cover two overlapping spheres of action. One is about making a choice among alternatives, hence deciding legal cases, so closer to our sense of "judge," with şedeg, "righteousness," but also nčqāmâ, "reprisal," as a goal. In this category, it stands in parallel with such verbs as *din, "to present/settle a legal case," and *rib, "to accuse, contest (legally)." In Judges, the single reference to the title šõfet with this specific sense is applied to God as the ultimate judge in political disputes (11:27).
The other meaning has to do with authority and control, even dominion. Here it matches such verbs as ys (Hiphil), "rescue'; *plt (Piel), "deliver'; *nşl (Hiphil) min, "deliver from"; and "šw, "save." In Judges, this meaning is applied to leaders only in the preamble (Judg 2:16-19), about which, see the Comments. The image of God as a šöfeț, standing in the midst of an assembly (Ps 82), certainly partakes of both meanings. Perhaps the same can be said about Moses, who governs as well as decides cases (Exod 18:13).
To evaluate the role of those titled šöfèt, we might also assess the company they keep. Together with priests (Deut 17:9) and Levites (Deut 19:17-18), or with elders (Deut 21:2), they are charged with investigating (verb: dāraš) cases too difficult for local oficials to solve, so a kind of inspector. The presumption is that the famous call to "pursue full justice" (sedeg sedeg tirdof, Deut 16:20) applies to them.
Judges 1-2 A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries) 2014, by Jack M. Sasson pp 185-6
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