Scriptures

Judges 3

Introduction

“These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses.” Judges 3:1-4

In the previous two chapters, we saw that after the death of Joshua, Israel as a nation, slowly but surely went into decline. We saw how this was one of the darkest times for the nation of Israel because they failed to drive out the Canaanites and ended up compromising with them. This led to them getting involved in idolatry, intermarriage and accepting them as neighbours.

And because Israel refused to walk with the Lord like He commanded them to, God refused to drive out all their enemies from the land of Canaan. And so Israel was forced to live alongside the very people they had been sent to destroy.

In these few verses we’re told the very reason why God left the people in the land.

1. God was testing Israel and so He allowed the pagans to live around His people to test them.

His people were tested to see how they would live whilst being surrounded by wickedness. And His people were tested to see if they would keep His commandments or not. Sadly, as we all, know they failed this test.

2. God also left them there to teach this new generations about spiritual warfare.

In other words, God wanted them to learn the lessons from battle that their fathers had known. God wanted them to be strong and to know how to fight the enemy when they came around, but sadly they failed that test too.

And so it wasn’t long until this caused some serious problems among the people of Israel. Israel proved that they couldn’t be trusted to stand up against the enemy and they proved that they would rather join the enemy rather than fight the enemy.

And because they failed on both counts, God was going to deliver them from a time of cruel bondage by raising up a judge named Othniel, whom we will look at later.

Let’s remind ourselves of Israel’s condition.

“The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons and served their gods.” Judges 3:5-6

The writer tells us that Israel’s first great failure was their compromise of God’s Word and God’s will. They lived among the enemy, that word ‘lived’ carries with it the idea of settling down.

And so when Israel arrived in Canaan, despite being commanded to destroy these people without mercy, they’re living among them, they have settled down with them. And that didn’t take very long, their former enemies had now become their new neighbours.

Israel was supposed to be separate from the world around them because they were unique among all the peoples of the world. They had been chosen, redeemed and set apart to serve the Lord God Almighty, and He expected them to remain separate, Deuteronomy 7:6-11.

But because they didn’t remain separate, they opened the floodgates of sin that would end with them facing a terrible punishment from God.

As God’s holy, special, redeemed people, we too, need to be keep separate from the world, 1 Peter 2:9. When we refuse to walk in His ways and honour His Word in our lives, it can open the floodgates of sin that will eventually overwhelm us and drown us in its turbulent currents.

After a while, the people of Israel got so used to living among the Canaanites that they began to intermarry with them.

This again if you remember was expressly forbidden by the Lord, and so this was nothing less than pure disobedience on their part, Deuteronomy 7:1-5.

As they married into the tribes around them, the Israelites began to lose their national identity. The very integrity of their families began to break down and they soon lost the very thing that made them unique. Don’t be fooled, when we get too close to the world around us, we will soon find ourselves entangled with them in their sins.

In other words, the company we keep will determine how close we walk to the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:33. Yes, we have to interact with the world so that we can be a light to them and give them the Gospel, but we must keep our spiritual distance.

Notice it didn’t take long for the Israelites to get from living among them, to marry them and then going on to worshipping with them. And again they might have been thinking to themselves, ‘well, you marry a Canaanite girl and you just have to understand how they are. They were brought up differently than we were. You have to allow them to bring their gods. After all, it’s just part of her culture.’

So the children of Israel, who had been redeemed by the blood of the lamb, and who had been delivered from Egypt by God’s mighty power. The children of Israel, who had been the beneficiaries of God’s power and work, time and time again, found themselves bowing before the idol gods of the Canaanites.

“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” Judges 3:7

The Baals and the Asherahs were the various gods and goddesses of the Canaanites. Many of their gods were associated with fertility rituals and their worship involved disgusting sexual acts and the actual prostitution of their daughters in the Asherahs.

The Asherahs were basically tall poles set up on hills and people would have intercourse between these poles in an effort to convince their gods to bless the crops and the ground with a good harvest.

Think about this, what we have here is a group of people who have gone in one generation, from worshiping God and fighting evil, to abandoning God and what do they end up doing? They end up sleeping with the enemy.

And that’s not the worst of it, they took their precious sons and their precious daughters and handed them over to the very people they had been commanded to utterly destroy.

And this stands a warning for God’s children today, because when we refuse to maintain our distance from the world around us. When we continually yoke ourselves to the people and things of the world, when we bow down at their altars, we’re sacrificing a generation to the gods of this world.

Each step they took, led them farther away from God, each step they took away from Him, led them down a pathway toward totally abandoning God and His ways.

The text says, ‘they forgot the LORD their God’. That word ‘forgot’ doesn’t mean forgot in terms of memory, it means they chose to ignore or they ceased to care for God. The people of Israel reached a place where they simply ignored God and ceased to care about Him or what He had to say about anything.

And that’s a dangerous place to be, especially in light of what the writer says in the next verse.

“The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years.” Judges 3:8

This is where Israel was spiritually, but that isn’t where God would leave them. In other words, we might deliberately continue in sin, but we better believe we won’t get away with it forever. And that’s because there’s always a price to pay for disobedience and rebellion against God.

That word ‘anger’ means God is ‘flaring through His nostrils’ and the word, ‘burned’ means God is ‘furious’. But let me ask you, who was God angry and furious with?

It wasn’t the Canaanites, yes, He hated their sin, but they were a lost people. They didn’t have His Law and they hadn’t been redeemed, separated and commanded to be different. No, His anger was directed at His people and they were about to be punished for their sins against God.

In other words, judgment begins with the household of God, 1 Peter 4:17. And remember when God punishes His children, it’s not always to hurt us but to bring us back to where we’re supposed to be, 1 Corinthians 11:32.

Notice that God ‘sold’ Israel into the hands of a pagan king. That word ‘sold’ there has the idea of ‘giving up or giving over into one’s control or power.’

In other words, Israel gave themselves to paganism and God punished them by giving what they wanted. They didn’t want to follow God’s rule, so He allowed them to be ruled by a harsh, pagan king.

The name of this king is interesting, the name ‘Cushan-Rishathaim’ means “Double Wicked Cushan”, literally it means ‘Double wickedness’.

In other words, Israel is about to reap what they had sowed. They wanted paganism, they wanted their sin, they wanted their false gods and God gave them everything they asked for and more.

Because some people refuse to acknowledge God and His ways, God allows them to live the kind of life they want but they have to suffer the consequences of that lifestyle, Romans 1:24 / Romans 1:26.

The very things that we think are so important to us can actually become the very things which can destroy us spiritually and they can become ‘double wicked’ to us, Galatians 6:7-8.

Now look at how long God was going to leave them in slavery. God sold them into slavery and left them there for ‘eight years’. In other words, God allowed them to experience the full measure of what their sin cost them.

When they dwelt among the Canaanites, married their sons and daughters and bowed down to their gods, they never thought it would come to this, but it did. And so they had to pay the terrible price for their sins.

That’s the bad news for Israel, but there’s good news to come as we read on.

Othniel

“But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.” Judges 3:9-11

When Israel came to their senses, they called on God and He heard them. When they turned back to God in their hearts, He reached out to them in deliverance.

He raised up their first judge, a man by the name of Othniel whom the writer calls ‘a deliverer’ which basically means ‘a saviour’, and as we shall see in a moment that’s exactly what Othniel was.

Now what do we know about this first judge named Othniel? We know he’s ‘Caleb’s younger brother’ and we also know that he’s the son of ‘Kenaz’. However, we’re told in Numbers 13:6 that Caleb’s father was a man named ‘Jephunneh.’

This isn’t a contradiction, Kenaz was Caleb’s brother, and Othniel was Kenaz’s son. That would make have made Othniel, Caleb’s nephew. And, if Kenaz was dead, Othniel would have been elevated to a place of leadership in the family. And so, Othniel would have been recognized as Caleb’s brother.

But what else do we know about Othniel? Othniel must have been a courageous and brave man, as he defeated a Canaanite city to win Caleb’s daughter as his wife, Judges 1:12-13.

And so, Othniel was a man of great courage, with strong ties to a former generation of leaders in Israel. He was an older man, some believe around the age of 75 but he was battle tested and he was available and God chose him.

This is a reminder that God can use anyone, regardless of our past, regardless of who we are, regardless of our strengths or weaknesses. If are willing to allow God to use us, then He can use us for His glory, but we must be willing to make ourselves available to Him. Othniel did that and the Lord used him in a mighty way and He’ll do the same with you if you would only allow Him too.

We really need to stop focusing on the things we can’t do for God and allow God to help us focus on the things we can do for Him. And we do that by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through us.

Othniel didn’t possess the power to deliver Israel within himself, but, when the Spirit of God took control of his life, God was able to use him in great ways. Othniel didn’t really deliver Israel, God delivered Israel through Othniel.

The truth is, when we’re left to ourselves, we’re incapable of serving God as He deserves to be served. The only way we will ever be useful and usable by the Lord is when we’re controlled by the Spirit of God like Othniel was.

Paul clearly tells us how important it is to allow the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, Galatians 5:16-25. And so just like Othniel, the Spirit of God will enable us to stand against the enemies around us. The Spirit of God will make us powerful for the glory of the Lord.

The Spirit of God will use us in ways that we can hardly imagine, but we must be willing to allow Him to do that. And when we finally do that, we will be more open to His power in and over our lives.

God can take what most people would call an old boring man, who more or less has five verses written about him and do great things through him. And he can do the same with each and every one of us, if only we would allow Him to.

Look what Othniel achieved because he allowed God, through the Spirit to use Him. Do you know the meaning of the Othniel’s name? It means God’s strength, God’s lion.

And so God enabled Othniel to defeat old ‘Double wickedness’. God allowed Othniel to deliver Israel from the bondage of that pagan king. And God empowered Othniel to judge the nation of Israel for the rest of his life, some 40 years.

In other words, God gave Othniel victory in his life because Othniel gave himself to the Lord first. We must learn to submit to the Lord like Othniel did and allow the Lord through His Spirit to lead us, control us and He will use us for His glory.

As Ehud’s story is introduced, we see that Israel’s evil-doing led to an enemy taking control.

‘Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.’ Judges 3:12-14

Eglon, king of Moab, was allowed to overpower and occupy the Jewish nation for 18 years, demanding a percentage of Israel’s gross national product. Moab, situated east of the Dead Sea, became the ‘rod of God’s anger’ to punish His people for their unfaithfulness to His covenant.

Eglon crossed the Jordon and took the ‘City of Palms’, but he did this to his own downfall. The ‘city of Psalms’ is also called by another name and that name is Jericho.

Now we might be thinking, what’s so important about that? Remember after Joshua took Jericho, remember what he said? Joshua uttered a curse upon anyone who might dare rebuild Jericho, which Eglon carelessly disregarded to his own peril, Joshua 6:26.

Eglon’s name means a ‘bullock’ which is appropriate, considering his size and demise! And so after 18 years of being in subjection to Eglon, once again, Israel cried out to God, and an unlikely man named, Ehud became their deliverer.

Ehud

“Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. ‘He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man.’ Judges 3:15-17

Notice again what some may view as a handicap, God takes and uses for His purpose. Ehud came from the tribe of Benjamin and his right-hand was withered or deformed. We know that because the original text literally reads, ‘a man restricted in his right hand’.

Because his right hand was deformed, that would mark him out as a non-warrior, and one who could be safely left alone with the king. And remember that left-handedness in ancient times was considered peculiar and unnatural.

Without being left-handed, Ehud would have never been able to smuggle his dagger into Eglon’s palace. The guards would have assumed that he was right-handed, and so they only checked his left side for weapons.

According to scholars, Ehud’s sword was closer to a foot in length, not as the NIV translates, ‘a cubit long which is a foot and a half’. Ehud likely fashioned the blade appropriate to the size of Eglon, who is described as a ‘very fat man’, yet the blade was small enough to conceal.

It was probably more like a dagger or stiletto and the reason it was a double-edge sword was to ensure the fatality of a quick thrust.

He then hid it in his flowing garments, giving the appearance of one unarmed. And so the Israelites sent Ehud with tribute to Eglon, providing him the opportunity for a daring, risky plot.

Now the king may have been thinking to himself, ‘it’s about time these Jews respected my office!’ But he didn’t suspect a thing and that’s because it was customary to make a lavish ceremony out of presenting gifts to monarchs, appealing to their vanity.

The word ‘tribute’ is an expression typically used for offering a sacrifice. And so Ehud came presenting an offering to Eglon, but the king unknowingly was the real offering. In a sense, he was the ‘fatted calf’, and he had fattened himself on the tribute he was taking from the Jews.

“After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.” The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left. Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” Judges 3:18-20

Ehud sent the tribute-bearers away, giving greater plausibility to his claim that he had a ‘secret message’ for Eglon’s ears only. The king may have perceived this as an oracle from the gods, since we’re told that Ehud was standing near the idols when he made his disclosure.

The timing was perfect, and Ehud used the king’s pagan superstition and vanity to entice and ensnare him. Eglon was flattered by Ehud’s willingness to share this confidential information and so he ordered everyone to depart, oblivious to the danger. His gullible pride dictated that he alone should receive this privileged message.

It’s often said that ‘knowledge is power’, and so many people hold their information close to them, not wanting others to share the wealth. Well in much the same way, Eglon expected to learn things that would increase his hold on the throne.

This private ‘upper room’ was situated on the roof of the house, with several windows to catch the breeze. And much like Ehud’s sword, his words to the king were also a double-edged dagger.

He gave him a message, not from idols, but from Elohim, the Lord Almighty. Elohim, the omnipotent God, the sovereign God. The God who has supreme governing power and exercises control over the destiny of nations.

‘I have a message from God for you,’ Ehud says. And it’s in those words that we get a glimpse of Ehud’s calling from God. He’s acting as God’s servant and he’s defending God’s people against Moab’s oppression. And so the king, in his eagerness to hear this message, rises from his seat and then.

“Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.” Judges 3:21-23

I don’t know about you but that’s pretty graphic, isn’t it? Ehud brutally stabbed the king, and the Hebrew text indicates that Eglon’s sphincter muscles exploded from the deadly blow and a stench filled the room.

Ehud wasn’t able to retrieve his weapon, and so it stayed inside the king’s stomach but you couldn’t even see the sword because the king’s fat covered it.

And then he quickly locked the door and departed without incident or suspicion.

‘After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.’ Judges 3:24-25

The text tells us that that the king’s servants thought he was relieving himself. Now some commentators believe this means he was doing the toilet but others strongly believe he was actually sexually relieving himself.

But whatever he was doing, after a long while, to their humiliation, the servants gradually plucked up enough nerve to unlock the door only to find their king dead.

‘While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the stone images and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. He said to them, “Follow me, for the LORD is about to defeat your enemies, the Moabites!” Judges 3:26-28

Ehud got away safely, he blew the trumpet and Ehud swiftly rallied his army together. Ehud not only gave credit to God, but he also had trust in God, Yahweh is about to defeat the Moabites, he says.

It’s all very well trusting that God will fight our battles for us, but if we just sit back and do nothing in the process, that’s not faith. Faith acts, faith has legs attached and so we need to be actively trying to meet people in order for God to open up those doors of opportunity for us to share the message of Jesus with others.

Ehud knows that it’s God whose going to win the day for the Israelites but the Israelites can’t just sit back and let God do it all. They had to do something with their faith, they had to act upon their trust in God.

“So they followed him down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab; they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.” Judges 3:28-30

The Israelites acted upon their trust in God and when they did, the Moabite troops ended up just like their king. And although they were strong, they’re also described as ‘vigorous’, which is a term that can be translated ‘fat’.

And so they too, like Eglon, are ‘struck down’ by the hand of Israel and Israel finally had peace again, for the next 80 years anyway.

We sometimes let ourselves be defeated by our limitations, by things no more significant than being left-handed. And we think to ourselves, we’re not good enough in certain areas and so they keep us from offering God our service. But if we learn anything from Ehud, surely we can learn that it’s not about our abilities, it’s about God’s ability to use us.

Yes, we should recognise our weaknesses, but those weaknesses are the very things we should be turning over to God, 2 Corinthians 12:10.

Thankfully God doesn’t ask us today to go out and kill some kings but God does tell us that we are involved in spiritual warfare, Ephesians 6:12. And we have to arm ourselves with God’s word, which according to Hebrews 4:12 is ‘alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword’.

Ehud’s account is very graphic and very bloody, but we need to understand that Ehud’s actions saved Israel from cruel enemy oppression. And in a very real similar way, a very bloody sacrifice upon a Roman cross ensured our eternal salvation.

When you read the accounts of Jesus’ death, they’re not pleasing to read but yet He had to go through all of that in order for us to have forgiveness. Israel trusted a left-handed saviour, and we trust a Saviour whose hands are scarred by nails.

Let’s go ahead and read the account of Shamgar, it won’t take very long, as it’s only one verse.

Shamgar

“After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.” Judges 3:31

We all should know by now, just because we only have one verse concerning Shamgar doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot from him.

There’s a lot of speculation concerning his name, for example the name ‘Shamgar’ means either ‘sword’ or ‘cupbearer’. But that doesn’t really give us any problems because both meanings fit well with his character.

If his name means ‘sword’ then he certainly was like a sword in the hand of God, as God used him to destroy the enemies of Israel. If his name means ‘cupbearer’, then he certainly was like a cupbearer who brought the cup of God’s wrath to those whom God would judge.

But he’s also called ‘the son of Anath’ but who is ‘Anath’? Anath was the Canaanite goddess of war, and so Anath may well be Shamgar’s nickname. It’s also possible that he was called ‘the warrior’.

This name could also mean that he was from the town of ‘Beth-Anath’, which was located in northeast Israel on land belonging to the tribe of Naphtali. And lastly of course, it could simply mean that his father’s name was Anath.

And so there’s a lot of speculation concerning his name but one thing we don’t need to speculate on is his occupation. One thing we know for sure about Shamgar was that he was a farmer and we know that because he obviously carried and fought with an ‘oxgoad’.

An oxgoad was not a weapon, it was an agricultural tool, it was a pole some 8 to 10 feet in length and about 2 inches in diameter. One end was tipped by a long iron point, this end was used to encourage the oxen he was driving to move.

Oxen might not respond to voice commands or the pulling of the reins, but they would respond to the sharp point of the oxgoad. The other end of this tool was shaped like a spade, it was a metal blade used to clean wet clay, roots and other impediments off plough points.

Another thing we know about Shamgar has to do with the time in which he lived. Don’t underestimate what he did, it was a very difficult time for the people of Israel.

In Judges 4-5 which we will look at next time, we see that the nation of Israel was being oppressed by Jabin, the King of Canaan. Jabin was a powerful enemy, who possessed 900 iron chariots, and so his army seemed totally unbeatable, Judges 4:3.

It was a time when the people of Israel were filled with fear, Judges 5:6-7. The Israelites were living in fear, they were afraid to travel the highways because of their oppressors and they were afraid to live in their homes because of those who invaded and attacked them.

The Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites under King Jabin and his powerful army. Jabin has disarmed the Israelites and made them militarily weak and so they weren’t in a position to defend themselves. And this provided an opportunity for the Philistines, who were a warlike people who lived near the Mediterranean Sea, to take advantage of the situation.

They would invade Israel and capture them as slaves, steal crops and destroy villages. And we can only imagine what it would have been like to live during these days.

When the Philistines came, most of the people in Israel would flee in terror because they wanted to avoid death or being captured. But Shamgar, he didn’t flee, he didn’t run away, he wasn’t afraid. When the Philistines came, he stood his ground and he fought and remember he didn’t have any weapons of war, but he did have his oxgoad. Do you understand what he did?

Shamgar took what he had and he used it to secure victory for his people and safety for his family.

The text tells us, over the course of his life, he killed 600 of the Philistine raiders. Using that heavy oxgoad to kill 600 men would have been an amazing physical feat, which tells us he must have been a man who was in top notch, physical condition, but his power wasn’t just physical, his power was also spiritual.

Shamgar was a man empowered by God for this task and there can be no doubt that the Spirit of God enabled Shamgar to stand and fight like he did. Shamgar stood his ground and fought while others ran away because Shamgar knew that some things are worth fighting for.

And what was he fighting for? He was fighting for his home, his family, his freedom and his land. But more importantly, he was fighting for the right to worship his God.

Notice that Shamgar ‘delivered or saved Israel’, depending on your translation. His courage freed the people around him and allowed them to live in freedom and liberty. In other words, he made a difference in the lives of those he fought for. Shamgar fought from where he was and he didn’t give in to fear.

Shamgar fought with what he had and Shamgar left the results to God, every time he fought he put his life on the line, he trusted God with his life.

And finally Shamgar enjoyed victory, every time he fought, Shamgar walked off the battle field as the victor, 2 Timothy 4:7-8.

Go To Judges 4

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

Hebrews 13:5

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