OT History Part 1 – Judges 3

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.
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.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 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. 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.
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.
Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—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. 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.” As the king rose from his seat, 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.
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.
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.
“Follow me,” he ordered, “for the Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” 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.
After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.

  • Judges 3:1-31

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Judges 3:4 ‘Israel had a heart condition’: “A state of heart that rejected admonition was characteristic of Israel at various periods in her history, and these periods were invariably followed by judgment. When Christ came to the Jews He found them chuck full of that arrogant self-confidence that would not accept reproof. ‘We be Abraham’s seed,’ they said coldly when He talked to them about their sins and their need of salvation. The common people heard Him and repented, but the Jewish priests had ruled the roost too long to be willing to surrender their privileged position. Like the old king, they had gotten accustomed to being right all the time. To reprove them was to insult them. They were beyond reproof.
“Churches and Christian organizations have shown a tendency to fall into the same error that destroyed Israel: inability to receive admonition. After a time of growth and successful labor comes the deadly psychology of self-congratulation. Success itself becomes the cause of later failure. The leaders come to accept themselves as the very chosen of God. They are special objects of the divine favor; their success is proof enough that this is so. They must therefore be right, and anyone who tries to call them to account is instantly written off as an unauthorized meddler who should be ashamed to dare to reprove his betters.
“If anyone imagines that we are merely playing with words, let him approach at random any religious leader and call attention to the weaknesses and sins in his organization. Such a one will be sure to get the quick brush-off, and if he dares to persist he will be confronted with reports and statistics to prove that he is dead wrong and completely out of order. ‘We be the seed of Abraham’ will be the burden of the defense. And who would dare find fault with Abraham’s seed?”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous

Judges 3:7-11 ‘Othniel’: “The Book of Judges cites six historical examples of the pattern of sin, judgment, repentance, and restoration. The first of these is the story of Othniel (3:7-11). Aram Naharaim has been identified as an Aramaean kingdom in northern Mesopotamia. The objection, though hardly conclusive, is that Judah was a substantial distance from Mesopotamia and there is no record of intervening Israelite areas being attacked. Therefore, some scholars see Aram Naharaim as a possible textual deviation for ‘Edom.’ (In nonvoweled Hebrew ‘Aram’ is very similar to ‘Edom.’ Besides, Edom is more geographically appropriate.) Other less likely suggestions are that Cushan-Rishathaim was a (Neo-)Hittite ruler, a Kassite chief, or a Khapiru leader.
“God, angered by the people’s apostasy, brings judgment: oppression at the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim. The fact that God responds to his people may indicate that their crying out signals some measure of sincere repentance. A special enablement through the Spirit of God brings the Calebite Othniel to rescue the people. Some scholars argue that the ‘forty years’ of peace during his leadership are best understood as a ‘generation.’ ”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Judges 3:10 ‘The spirit of the Lord … came’: “Certain judges were expressly said to have the Spirit of the Lord come upon them (6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14); others, apparently, also had this experience. This is a common OT expression signifying a unique act of God which conferred power and wisdom for victory. But this did not guarantee that the will of God would be done in absolutely all details, as is apparent with Gideon (8:24-27, 30), Jephthah (11:34-40), and Samson (16:1).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 2:12-30 ‘Ehud’: “The second historical account of Israel’s apostasy is found in the story of Ehud and the Moabite alliance (3:12-30). Israel’s sin is described merely as the fact that they ‘did evil’ (v. 12). A Trans-Jordanian alliance, including Amalekites and Ammonites and led by Eglon of Moab, comes and attacks Israel. Jericho serves as their base of operations for eighteen years. Again, ‘crying out’ marks the people’s repentance, and intrigue against Moabite rule begins.
“We should not ignore the question of rebellion against a de facto ruler. In New Testament terms, such rebellion is sin (Rom. 13:1), and God’s moral principles do not change. Human government has been ordained by God. However, from the biblical perspective, the covenant nation is always a special case. Therefore, the independence of this nation is God’s immediate covenant purpose, and is not dependent upon moral rules applicable to the nations in general.
“Eglon is apparently the unifying factor in the alliance. Since Eglon, at least within the context of God’s special covenant relationship with his people, is a recognized enemy, Ehud can justifiably assassinate him. Ehud delivers the annual tribute, possibly to Jericho, and then heads home as far as Gilgal. From there he returns to Jericho to carry out the assassination. Ehud must have previously cultivated Eglon’s trust for Eglon to be willing to see him alone. Eglon’s ‘upper room of his summer palace’ (v. 20) literally means an ‘upper cool room.’ In ancient Egypt, a ‘cool room’ was a toilet chamber. This may be the meaning here, especially since Eglon’s waiting servants speak of him as ‘relieving himself’ in an inner room of the house. Ehud assassinates Eglon and secretly escapes by means of the “porch,” an architectural feature of unknown character.
“Ehud flees to Seirah. ‘Seirah’ may be the locative form of a noun meaning ‘forest’ rather than a proper name, so that the sense of the passage might be ‘to the forest’ (i.e., ‘in the hill country of Ephraim’). The death of Eglon raises the morale of the Israelites, and the Moabites and their allies west of the Jordan are killed. This results in eighty years-or two generations-of rest.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Judges 3:20 ‘a message from God’: “Can there be a person to whom God has never sent a message? Possibly the question may be startling. The thought of the great invisible God sending such a message seems strange and unlikely. To me it is far more surprising that anyone should imagine he has never done so. Is he our Creator? And has he who made us launched us forth on the tempestuous sea of life to drift in solitude without compass or guide? Does it seem likely? The truth of the matter, I think, is that we have been deaf to God’s messages. He has often desired to correspond with us. He has sent some communications to us, but we have resented and rejected them. Is it not likely that he has often spoken when we have not heard and that he has drawn near to us and called to us when we would not listen to him? It cannot be that God has left the world—it must be that the world has left God. It is not possible that God has ceased to speak to the soul. Surely the soul has ceased to listen to God, to acknowledge his messages, or to reply to them. Most who are still without God and without Christ have had many messages from him. The gospel is a distinct and direct message. We can scarcely find a house so poor that it does not contain a copy of the Word of God. If our Bible could speak to us-or rather, if we would listen to what it says to us—we would hear the words, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ We have had other messengers. Some of their words have been as sweet as honey. I will call them bountiful providences. We might call them a stroke of luck. Have we been favored with success in business? In our families we have had welcome mercies. Children have been given us. Those children have been restored from beds of sickness when our hearts have been sick with anxiety. In our own health of body, we have not been strangers to God’s choice favors. On those days did not these mercies seem to say, as they came trooping along down the streets of our souls, ‘We have a message from the Lord for you’? ”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Judges 3:20 ‘I have a message from God for you’: “Ehud claimed he came to do God’s will in answer to prayer (v. 15). Calmly and confidently, Ehud acted and, later, credited the defeat of the wicked king to God (v. 28; cf. Ps. 75:6, 7, 10; Dan. 4:25), though it was by the human means of Ehud, just as Jael used a hammer and tent peg (4:21), and Israel’s armies used the sword (4:16). By God’s power, Ehud’s army would kill a greater number (v. 29). Men’s evil provokes God’s judgment (Lev. 18:25).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 3:24 ‘He is … attending to his needs’: “The dead king’s servants guessed he was indisposed in privacy, literally ‘covering his feet,’ a euphemism for bathroom functions.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 3:31 ‘Shamgar’: “The one-verse account (3:31) of Shamgar’s exploit (killing six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad) marks him as a mighty warrior. Both his name (from Hurrian Semiqari) and his title (son of Anath [the Canaanite war goddess]) indicate Israel’s openness to foreign influences.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Judges 3:31 ‘Shamgar’: “His extraordinary exploit causes one to think of Samson (15:16). an ox goad. This was a stout stick about eight to ten feet long and six inches around, with a sharp metal tip to prod or turn oxen. The other end was a flat, curved blade for cleaning a plow.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

 

My Thoughts

This Bible Study is only one chapter, but there are three judges to discuss.  Some judges have much more written about them.  The breaks between lessons will go along judge lines rather than chapter lines.

The first six verses of Judges 3 start the cycle of falling away with some of the mechanism explained.  They list all the nations that God allowed to stay among the Israelites to test them.  The testing was required because the Israelites had not acted in faith in the first place.  God would have driven out the enemies, but the people were afraid of the iron chariots or the size of the people or fill in the blank with the excuse of the day.  It was not a spurious decision on God’s part to test His Chosen People.  The people did not have the faith to drive out the other nations and then showed more unfaithfulness by intermarrying.  Worshipping false gods could not be far behind, maybe immediately upon the marriage.

Then the next step of the cycle is that they have fallen far enough for God to bring judgment.  The Baker Commentary above discusses the possible origins of the oppressors, but the people were oppressed for eight years, and they cried out.

Oppression for eight years seems like a two-term president of whom you really dislike the policies, but the oppression is probably closer to indentured servitude or slavery.  It could have been like the exile without having to leave home.  While there was no deadly march, like the Trail of Tears (removing the Five Civilized Tribes from the SE United States) or the Bataan Death March (removing the Allied soldiers from Bataan and Corregidor in Philippines), there was probably severe oppression, possibly equal to the slavery in Egypt.

And now the crying out.  Was this a unilateral crying out where the entire nation of Israel repented and turned to God?  How long did they cry out?  I am sure there were those that were faithful to God, and there must have been many of them.  Elijah lamented that he was the only faithful person in Israel, but God said that He (God) had reserved seven thousand who had not bowed a knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).  In the days of the judges, it was probably about the same thing.  It was probably not a few faithful who became the judges, but many faithful of whom God chose a judge.  So, did the faithful immediately start asking God, “Hey!  Why me?”  We say that when we are given trials and tests of faith.  Or am I the only one?  And I know my sins.  Or did the faithful sit by patiently for a while?  Did the faithful ask their rebellious neighbors to join them in crying out to God and repenting?  How long, and at what percentage of the people, did it take before God “heard” them.  Of course, God heard the first cry. Why ask so many questions?  It may be helpful to know when we are placed under our own trials, and we need to endure suffering.  The answer is to repent, turn to God, and keep our focus on God instead of the swirling waters that seem to be going down the drain into the sewer.

And after the judgment phase, we get repentance and then restoration.  It is not adequate to simply cry out, but repentance is necessary.  And in this first case, the judge is someone familiar, making him a rather unique judge.

Othniel is already battle tested (Joshua 15).  He has already proven to be a military leader who can trust the Lord.  In Joshua 15, he conquered the land for the hand of his bride, Caleb’s daughter, his cousin.  The Spirit would come upon him and Othniel would purge the oppressors from the land.

But the cycle that the Baker Commentary mentions (sin, judgment, repentance, and restoration) is missing the final step that completes the cycle.  Othniel (and each judge thereafter) died.  So, maybe two steps need to be added and the power behind them identified: sin of a rebellious people, God’s judgment using neighboring nations, repentance by the people, God raises a judge, restoration, the judge dies, without the judge – the sin proliferates.

Why did sin rapidly spread once the judge died?  The people were stiff necked, and they needed something they could see rather than trusting an unseen God.

There has been much talk, and writings, about theocracies and how they are doomed.  As some religions may control by force to some success, there is always a double rebellion: rebellion against the religion (or gods or God) and rebellion against the government.  Thus, rule by force is the only way to even marginally keep an upper hand.  Thus, is it really a theocracy at all?

Yet, with the Israelite theocracy, we do not see an absentee God.  God restores them even though they rebel.  They will demand of Samuel to obtain a king.  Yet, with a monarchy, they exhibit the same cycle.  See the pattern in the book of Judges and then study 1 and 2 Kings.  There may be mini versions of the cycle elsewhere, such as David’s census at the end of 2 Samuel.  In each case of rebellion and repentance, God shows mercy.  The Israelites may not have been better off with a king, but without a king, then Jesus would not be a descendant of a royal line.  God’s Will was done.

The second judge is Ehud.  We see a big fat king and a small knife.

Let me focus on the small knife.  Scotsmen who wear kilts often keep a knife in their sock.  It is called a Sgian Dubh (pronounced Skeen Doo).  This translates to “Black Knife.”  The knife is often black, but it does not have to be.  The name stems from how it was used.  You held out your hands to show that you were unarmed and then in close quarters you could surprise your enemy.  The “black” meant sinister, maybe even down-right nasty.  Did the Scotsmen get the idea from Ehud?  It is quite possible.

Ehud arrives with the tribute.  He gets a moment alone with the king.  He buries the knife in the king’s belly.  He leaves, giving the servants the idea that the king needed time to relax and relieve himself, and then Ehud was long gone by the time they discovered the king dead.  This is one of those scripts that the producer rejects, unless producing a comedy or it really happened that way.  Then, the producer would change it, as they often have.

When Ehud switched from assassin to military leader, they cut off the escape route for the Moabites and killed 10,000 who were trying to escape after their king had been killed.  This time, the people enjoyed two generations of peace or eighty years.

Why give Shamgar, who some say is the least known judge, more than one sentence?  For one, there are a few judges with about the same amount of mention as Shamgar, but Shamgar has gotten publicity where they have not.

The photo above shows a man driving his cart, with an unequal yoke, and his “goad” is a small stick or bamboo pole.  John MacArthur describes something that I have seen fabricated as a multitool, part shovel and part goad.  Maybe they have found such things in archeological digs, but I have seen many ox carts driven by a tiny bamboo pole or even a shorter and thinner stick with a leather strap on the end to get the attention of the ox.  The point is, without beating the ox to death, you need to get the ox to go where you want it to go and get it to stop or to go.  I am thinking that the goad that became Shamgar’s weapon was something bigger than a bamboo pole, but to be inches thick with a shovel on one end would be difficult to swing in battle.

I’m thinking of something like a baseball bat.

With that in mind, I am thinking of a “Never got a dinner” joke, as Red Buttons made famous.  Red Buttons would appear at a Friar’s Roast to honor a celebrity (a dinner party with a lot of jokes at the honoree’s expense), and Red would complain that the person being honored was not that great, not like so many people who “never got a dinner.”  Then he would say something like … “someone like Eve, … who turned to Adam and said, ‘What do you mean this leaf makes me look fat?!’ … Never Got a Dinner!”  I will now give you the Shamgar version: Let’s take Shamgar, who said, “If I only had a Louisville Slugger, I could have batted a thousand!” – Never got a dinner.  As Mark Twain says, when you dissect a joke, you have to kill it.  Louisville Slugger – a well-known baseball bat manufacturer.  A Thousand – a perfect batting average, a hit for every time at bat.  To someone who knows baseball and the fact that Shamgar used an unlikely weapon to kill 600, the joke would be hilarious, that is if it had not been dissected and they had actually heard of Shamgar in the first place.  But it was God’s power that made the oxgoad so deadly, regardless of how it was made.

And as for the scholarly comments above, I love the quote from Charles Spurgeon. Is there anyone who never got a message from God?  Ignoring the message?  Yes.  But I think we get messages from God all the time.  The point is that we must listen to them.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Othniel: 1. When have you burned with rage? Yearned for peace? How was the Lord involved? (Or was he?)
Ehud: 1. When have you sent God an ‘SOS’ call for help? How did he answer? Where in your life would you like to experience God’s answer to one of your cries today?
2. If you were to ‘blow a trumpet’ in gratitude for something God has done for you recently, what would it be?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one question for Othniel and two questions for Ehud in Judges 3.  Sorry Shamgar.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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