Judges 3 - The First Three Judges

 

A. The pagan nations remaining in the territory of Israel.

 

1. (1-2) Why God allowed these nations to continue in Israel’s territory.

 

Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it),

 

a. These are the nations which the Lord left: God left these Canaanite nations behind because Israel was not faithful in driving them out. One might rightly say that it was a combination of both their choice and God’s will.

 

b. That He might test Israel by them: It was within the power of God to eliminate those pagan nations without any help from Israel. God allowed the troublesome peoples to remain for a reason. The word test here is used in the sense of “proving.” These nations would remain because God wanted to prove the faithfulness of Israel to Himself, and to improve their reliance on Him.

 

i. God doesn’t just instantly change every area of our lives so that our relationship with Him can be proved and improved; so that we will live a life of true partnership with God.

 

c. So that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war: This was another reason why God allowed the Canaanites to remain where Israel did not drive them out. God wanted His people to be warriors, and the presence of these dangerous neighbors would make it necessary for future generations to know war.

 

i. “Israel was to be in a hostile environment for the major part of her history, due either to the pressures of the petty kingdoms which surrounded her or, at a later stage, due to her strategic position between the successive world-powers of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia and Greece on the one hand and Egypt on the other hand. Military prowess was a necessary accomplishment, humanly speaking, if she was to survive.” (Cundall)

 

ii. No one likes the struggle against sin, but the battle is good for us. The symbol of Christianity is a cross, not a feather bed.

 

2. (3-4) The pagan nations are specifically listed.

 

Namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath. And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.

 

a. Namely: God named each of the pagan peoples that stubbornly stayed in the land. After the same pattern, some could today make a specific list of “pagan territory” in the life of the believer. Such a list may indeed be helpful in the way that it causes one to identify their enemy.

 

b. That He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey: The reason that God didn’t just eliminate these nations is again stated. It was to prove Israel’s commitment to God and His word. If they were obedient to the word of God the other nations would not hinder them and they would grow strong enough to drive them out completely.

 

B. The first judge: Othniel.

 

1. (5-7) The apostasy of Israel in the days of Othniel.

 

Thus the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods. So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God, and served the Baals and Asherahs.

 

a. They took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons: Part of the accommodation of Israel to the pagan peoples surrounding them was their sin of intermarriage with the pagan nations in their midst.

 

b. They forgot the Lord their God, and served the Baals and Asherahs: Their ungodly romances led them to the worship of the pagan deities Baal and Ashtoreth.

 

i. Jesus told us that following Him would require that we give up the things we love most (Mark 10:29-30). Often an ungodly romance falls into this exact category.

 

2. (8) Israel’s servitude to the king of Mesopotamia.

 

Therefore the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the children of Israel served Cushan-Rishathaim eight years.

 

a. He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia: God gave Israel just what they wanted. They didn’t want to serve God, so He allowed them to be in bondage to a pagan king. Israel reaped exactly what they sowed.

 

i. “The name of Cushan-Rishathaim is also suspect, for it reads literally ‘Cushan of double wickedness’, not likely a personal name, and it would appear that the historian has made a deliberate distortion to cast ridicule upon this oppressor.” (Cundall)

 

ii. “A rather strange designation but perhaps intended to be an intimidating one. It could also be a caricature of the actual name.” (Wolf)

 

iii. “Tyrants delight in terrible names and titles, as Attilas, the Hunne, who would needs be styled Ira Dei et orbis vastitas, the wrath of God, and waster of the world.” (Trapp)

 

iv. In those ancient times, the word Mesopotamia described the fertile, well-watered area that would be today Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq.

 

b. Eight years: It was many years of bondage before Israel cried out unto the Lord.

 

3. (9-11) God’s deliverance through Othniel.

 

When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord delivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-Rishathaim. So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

 

a. When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord: After the eight years of bondage Israel finally cried out in dependence on God. It often takes many years of bondage and calamity before man looks away from self and looks unto God.

 

b. The Lord raised up a deliverer…Othniel: Othniel was the son-in-law of the great hero Caleb (Judges 1:12-3) and his wife was also a woman of faith (Judges 1:13-15).

 

i. In his collection of rabbinical fables and traditions titled Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg includes two fanciful additions to the story of Othniel:

 

Š      “Among the judges, Othniel represents the class of scholars. His acumen was so great that he was able, by dint of dialectic reasoning, to restore the seventeen hundred traditions which Moses had taught the people, and which had been forgotten in the time of mourning for Moses.”

 

Š      “Othniel, however, was held so little answerable for the causes that had brought on the punishment of the people, that God granted him eternal life; he is one of the few who reached Paradise alive.”

 

c. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him: We don’t know very much about Othniel, but this was enough to know. The Holy Spirit empowered him for the job God called him to do.

 

i. Othniel lived the principle of Zechariah 4:6: Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Empowered by the Spirit of the Lord, he delivered Israel.

 

ii. “Since Pentecost (Acts 2) a more general and permanent endowment of the Holy Spirit has been the privilege of every disciple.” (Cundall)

 

C. The second judge: Ehud.

 

1. (12-14) The cycle continues: Israel sins and is sold into servitude.

 

And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord. Then he gathered to himself the people of Ammon and Amalek, went and defeated Israel, and took possession of the City of Palms. So the children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years.

 

a. The children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord: After God brought deliverance through the work of Othniel, Israel eventually drifted away from their dependence and obedience towards God. Their victory did not automatically last forever; it had to be maintained.

 

i. Cundall does a good job of describing the three peoples mentioned here as oppressors of Israel:

 

Š      Moab, situated to the east of the Dead Sea between the Arnon and the Zered, was settled as a kingdom some fifty years before the Israelite invasion.”

 

Š      Ammon, to the north-east of Moab, was established about the same time as Israel in the late thirteenth century b.c.

 

Š      “The Amalekites, who were akin to the Edomites, were a nomadic race occupying the considerable area south of Judah, and were possibly Israel’s bitterest enemy (Exodus 17:8-16; cf. 1 Samuel 15:2-3).”

 

b. The children of Israel served Eglon: Israel’s sin brought them into bondage. They suffered 8 years of bondage before they cried out to the Lord in the days of Othniel. Then they endured another 18 stubborn years of bondage before they cried out to the Lord.

 

i. Sin always brings bondage, though it comes to us deceptively. The fish never contemplates the bondage of the hook when it goes after the bait; Satan snares us by making the bait attractive and hiding the hook.

 

ii. “Some great men have borne names which, when reduced to their grammatical meaning, appear very ridiculous: the word Eglon signifies a little calf!” (Clarke) In Eglon’s case, it was a fatted calf and was ready for slaughter.

 

2. (15) God raises up a deliverer for Israel: Ehud.

 

But when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. By him the children of Israel sent tribute to Eglon king of Moab.

 

a. When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer: This shows the mercy of God. When Israel repeatedly drifted from God, He had every right to cast them off completely. Yet He still responded when they finally did call on Him for deliverance.

 

b. Ehud…a left-handed man: In the ancient world left-handed people were often forced to become right-handed. This made Ehud’s standing as a left-handed man more unusual.

 

i. “He is described as a left-handed man, literally ‘restricted as to his right hand’. In the eyes of an Israelite, this was regarded as a physical defect and it appears often in connection with the Benjaminites, without affecting their prowess in battle (cf. 20:16).” (Cundall)

 

3. (16-26) Ehud’s daring assassination of Eglon.

 

Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh. So he brought the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. (Now Eglon was a very fat man.) And when he had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. But he himself turned back from the stone images that were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” He said, “Keep silence!” And all who attended him went out from him. And Ehud came to him (now he was sitting upstairs in his cool private chamber). Then Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” So he arose from his seat. Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. Even the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out. Then Ehud went out through the porch and shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them. When he had gone out, Eglon’s servants came to look, and to their surprise, the doors of the upper room were locked. So they said, “He is probably attending to his needs in the cool chamber.” So they waited till they were embarrassed, and still he had not opened the doors of the upper room. Therefore they took the key and opened them. And there was their master, fallen dead on the floor. But Ehud had escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the stone images and escaped to Seirah.

 

a. He brought the tribute to Eglon king of Moab: Israel had to pay this tribute money because they were under the domination of the king of Moab. Ehud came to Eglon as a messenger or courier.

 

i. “Since the payment was carried by a number of men, it may have been food or wool.” (Wolf)

 

ii. “Presents, tribute, etc., in the eastern countries were offered with very great ceremony; and to make the more parade several persons, ordinarily slaves, sumptuously dressed, and in considerable number, were employed to carry what would not be a burden even to one. This appears to have been the case in the present instance.” (Clarke)

 

b. I have a message from God for you: Ehud certainly told the truth when he said this. The message was, “Those who oppress the people of God touch the apple of His eye and will be judged for it.”

 

i. F.B. Meyer set forth some thoughts from Judges 3:20, and Ehud’s statement to Eglon, I have a message from God for you.

 

Š      God’s messages are often secret.

Š      God’s messages must be received with reverence.

Š      God’s messages leap out from unexpected quarters.

Š      God’s messages are sharp as a two-edged sword, and cause death.

 

ii. “God’s Word pierces as a two-edged sword to the dividing of soul and spirit in the recesses of the being, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. When the Eglon of self has received its death-wound, the glad trumpet of freedom is blown on the hills.” (Meyer)

 

iii. God uses many messengers to speak to us, including death. “Ehud said, ‘I have a message from God for thee.’ It was a dagger which found its way to Eglon’s heart, and he fell dead. So shall death deliver his message to you. ‘I have a message from God unto thee,’ he will say, and ere you shall have time to answer, you shall find that this was the message, ‘Because I the Lord will do this, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel; thus saith the Lord, cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground! Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live.’ Oh! may you hear the other messengers of God before he sends this last most potent one, from which ye cannot turn away.” (Spurgeon)

 

iv. The preacher should also present the word of God with the sense that he has a message from God. “I am afraid, there are some ministers who hardly think that the gospel is intended to come personally home to the people. They talk, as I read of one the other day, who said that when he preached to sinners he did not like to look the congregation in the face, for fear they should think he meant to be personal; so he looked up at the ventilator, because there was no fear then of any individual catching his eye. Oh! That fear of man has been the ruin of many ministers. They never dared to preach right at the people.” (Spurgeon)

 

c. Ehud reached with his left hand: Because most men fought with their right hand, it wasn’t expected for a man to use his left hand with a dagger or a sword. This shows how cunning Ehud was and how unexpected the strike was to Eglon.

 

i. The fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out: “This is variously understood: either the contents of the bowels issued through the wound, or he had an evacuation in the natural way through the fright and anguish.” (Clarke)

 

ii. The phrase and his entrails came out has caused some problems for translators. One of the words used occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. “The most plausible, if gruesome, suggestion is that it refers to the opening of the king’s body, the downward motion of the dagger being with such force that it passed completely through the abdomen and projected from the vent (cf. rv, it came out behind). Such sensational details have a habit of impressing themselves indelibly upon the human memory.” (Cundall)

 

iii. “The KJV and RSV translate ‘and the dirt came out,’ implying an intestinal discharge caused by the sword thrust. Koehler-Baumgartner relates the word to the Akkadian parasdinum (‘hole’), meaning that Ehud went out through an ‘escape hole.’ The construction is very similar to ‘Ehud went out to the porch’ in Judges 3:23.” (Wolf)

 

iv. Some are troubled by this act of assassination; we cannot say that this event is a general approval or commission of those who would assassinate rulers who oppress the people of God. It is significant that this was never suggested or even an issue in the early Christian persecutions. “God did not necessarily approve of the method used by Ehud. It may be significant that the Spirit of the Lord did not come on Ehud and that he was never described as ‘judging Israel.’” (Wolf)

 

v. Nevertheless, the Bible reliably records this incident without giving specific approval of this act of assassination. “Such incidental details as the length of the murder weapon and the fact of Eglon’s corpulence (mentioned only because the dagger was completely buried in his body) attest to the historicity of the event.” (Cundall)

 

d. He is probably attending to his needs in the cool chamber: Without being coarse, we can see how real and true-to-life the Bible is. It describes normal, everyday functions but in a dignified way.

 

i. Attending to his needs is literally “covering his feet,” a euphemism for elimination also used in 1 Samuel 24:3. Some commentators see this only reluctantly: “He has lain down on his sofa in order to sleep; when this was done they dropped their slippers, lifted up their feet, and covered them with their long loose garments. But the versions, in general seem to understand it as implying a certain natural act.” (Clarke)

 

ii. The stone images mentioned in Judges 3:19 and 3:26 were probably “the actual stones set up by Joshua to commemorate the miraculous crossing of the Jordan (Joshua 4:19-24) and thus were a well-known landmark.” (Cundall)

 

4. (27-30) Ehud leads the Israelites in battle against the Moabites.

 

And it happened, when he arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the mountains of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mountains; and he led them. Then he said to them, “Follow me, for the Lord has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him, seized the fords of the Jordan leading to Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross over. And at that time they killed about ten thousand men of Moab, all stout men of valor; not a man escaped. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.

 

a. And he led them: As much cunning and courage as Ehud had, he could not do the work by himself. It was essential for brave and faithful men to rally around him. Ehud led, but he had to have followers.

 

i. In the same way, God lifts up leaders in the church, but they can’t do the work by themselves. The whole body needs to work together.

 

b. Follow me, for the Lord has delivered: Ehud asked the Israelites to follow him, because he was their leader. Yet he also encouraged them to look with faith to the Lord (for the Lord has delivered your enemies into your hand).

 

i. Like any true leader, Ehud said “follow me.” A leader can’t expect his followers to go where he or she will not or has not gone. “This was captain-like spoken. Caesar never said to his soldiers, Ite, Go ye, but Venite, Come along: I will lead you, neither shall ye go farther than ye have me before you. Hannibal was wont to be first in the battle, and last out.” (Trapp)

 

c. And the land had rest for eighty years: Ehud’s cunning and courage, coupled with Israel’s faithful following of a leader, brought Israel’s longest period of freedom under the 400-year period of the Judges. Ehud is a dramatic example of how in the Lord, one man can make a difference, and how God will call others to work with that one man.

 

D. The third judge: Shamgar.

 

1. (31a) The brief story of Shamgar.

 

After him was Shamgar the son of Anath,

 

a. Shamgar the son of Anath: Shamgar is one of six individuals we call “minor” judges, because not much is written about them. Yet the work they did for God was just as important in their day as anyone else’s work.

 

2. (31b) Shamgar’s great accomplishment.

 

Who killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad; and he also delivered Israel.

 

a. Killed six hundred men of the Philistines: Shamgar was a man of great accomplishment, yet only one verse describes his work. It is possible that so little is said about Shamgar because his story was so well known.

 

i. “The significant omissions may indicate that there was something unusual about Shamgar; he may not have been a judge after the usual pattern but just a warrior who effected this one local stroke of valour against a nation who afterwards became Israel’s principle oppressor.” (Cundall)

 

b. With an ox goad: Shamgar is an excellent example of serving for God. He simply used what God put in his hand - in his case, an ox goad.

 

i. An ox goad was a stick about 8 feet long (about 2.5 meters), and about 6 inches around at the big end. One end of the ox goad was pointy (for poking the ox), and the other end was like a chisel (for scraping the plow clean of dirt).

 

ii. “In the hands of a strong, skilful man, such an instrument must be more dangerous and more fatal than any sword.” (Clarke)

 

c. He also delivered Israel: There was nothing spectacular about an ox goad. But God can use, and wants to use, whatever is in our hands. Shamgar was merely a laborer doing his job; but he took what was in his hand when prompted by God and he rescued the people of God from their enemies.

 

i. Shamgar was like Moses and his shepherd’s staff or David and his shepherd’s sling. God uses simple things to accomplish great things.

 

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