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The "Judges" of Bible History prevailed during the approximately 2-3 centuries after the death of Joshua to the time of Samuel, Saul and David (see the Fact Finder question below). The original Hebrew word for judge was pronounced shaw-fat, meaning to judge, or govern. In effect, after the death of Joshua, Israel became a confederation of tribes, rather than a united kingdom, each ruled by a tribal governor who sometimes went to war against other tribes of Israel.
Much of the Judges era also involved conflict that the Israelites had with the people of the land that they failed to drive out, as they were warned to do, including by Joshua himself just before he died of old age:
"23:9 For the LORD hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day. 23:10 One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you. 23:11 Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God.
"They shall be snares and traps unto you"
Joshua then died, after a long and righteous life in service to the LORD. The Israelites heeded Joshua's warning, at first, but not for long. It should be kept in mind that the Israelites' physical promised land was merely a prophetic portrayal of the coming spiritual Kingdom of God in which only those who accept the true God, in the way that He commands, will be allowed to live - there will be people of all nations (by physical ancestry) in the Kingdom of God, if they accept Christ in their time, while there will be people of Israel (by physical ancestry) who will not be in the Kingdom of God if they refuse to accept the Messiah. The "promised land" wasn't about people who today live there and reject Christ; it was about those who will live "there" (in the Kingdom of God that will exist in all the world after Christ's return) because they accept and obey Him.
"1:1 Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? 1:2 And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand. 1:3 And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him. 1:4 And Judah went up; and the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men." (Judges 1:1-4 KJV)
Although still supporting them, because the Israelites did not drive the Canaanites out when they could have, the LORD thereafter left the Israelites to fight endless internal security battles, with limited success (note that even Jerusalem, "the Jebusite city," was still held by non-Israelites, a situation that would continue through the entire time of the Judges era).
"1:19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. 1:20 And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses said: and he expelled thence the three sons of Anak. 1:21 And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day." (Judges 1:19-21 KJV)
Ephraim, Manasseh, Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun and Dan all had only limited success in maintaining their sovereignty because they did not fight to win when winning was available to them.
"1:27 Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns: but the Canaanites would dwell in that land." (Judges 1:27 KJV)
Fact Finder: What political change happened to end the time of the Judges? How did that change form the basis by which the King of all humanity will rule?