Before Israel had kings, the people were ruled by judges ... men OR women who arbitrated between people, who settled disputes, and who kept the good of the nation in the forefront of their mind.
The book of Judges tells their story. It is a wild book, about the youth of the nation of Israel, its continuing fights with Philistines and Canaanites. The small section we will read Sunday comes from one of the most ancient parts of our Scriptures. It tells us of a culture where you could still rely on kin and clan to provide soldiers for the army of Israel. It also tells us of the importance of women in Israel's survival -- Deborah, the judge, and later Jael, the woman who kills the Canaanite general Sisera.
Taken as a whole, the book of Judges is offputting to many people. It is bloody, violent, gory, and filled with battles, sword fights, narrow escapes and murders. It is the perfect way to begin to introduce 8-year-old boys to the Bible! The book shows Israel descending into worse and worse behavior, which will lead eventually to the demand for a king. It is a shame, because the original exercise in the new nation was one of self-government, of tribes living side by side, able to sort out their differences through the administration of laws by a wise judge. The people proved too unruly, however, and settled for a human monarchy at last.
Or as the last verse of Judges puts it: "In those days there was no king in Israel. All the people did what was right in their own eyes." (Judges 21:25)