Judges 3

Jud 3:1 These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan

‘In this chapter, you will find “five lords of the Philistines” (Jud 3:3) and the King of Moab called “lord;” (Jud 3:25) but more importantly “the Lord,” meaning Jehovah God, is named fifteen times in these thirty verses. That lets us know who is really in charge. The Presbyterian missionary leader A.T. Pierson used to say that “history is his story,” and he was right. As he executes his divine decrees, God never violates human responsibility, but he does rule and overrule in the affairs of individuals and nations to accomplish his great purposes on this earth.’

‘The early church prayed, “Lord, you are God!” and they gladly confessed that their enemies could do only “whatever your hand and your purpose determined before to be done.” (Ac 4:24,28, NKJV) Poet T.S. Eliot said, “Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen.”‘ (Wiersbe)

Here might be said, as elsewhere, that they (the nations) meant it for evil; but God meant it for good.’

Judg 3:2 (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience):

Judg 3:3 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.

Jud 3:4 They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses.

‘God also used the Canaanite nations to test Israel and reveal whether or not his people would obey the regulations Moses had given them from the Lord. (Jud 3:4) God had made it very clear to the Jews that they were not to study “comparative religion” and get interested in the pagan practices of the Canaanites. (Deut 7:1-11) It was that kind of curiosity that had brought divine judgment on Israel in the land of Moab (see Num. 25), because curiosity is often the first step toward conformity.’

‘Of course, Israel should have been a witness to the surviving pagan nations and sought to win them to faith in the true and living God, but they failed in that responsibility as well. What a difference it would have made in subsequent national history if the Jews had won the Canaanites to the Lord instead of the Canaanites winning the Jews to Baal!’ (Wiersbe)

Judg 3:5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

Jud 3:6 They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.

‘When Israel obeyed the Lord, he blessed them richly; and both their conduct and God’s blessing were a testimony to their unbelieving neighbors. (See Gen 23:6 26:26-33 30:27 39:5) The pagan people would say, “These Jews are different! The God they worship and serve is a great God!” And the Jewish people would then have had opportunities to tell their neighbors how to trust Jehovah and receive his forgiveness and blessing. (See Deut 4:1-13) Alas, instead of trusting God to change their neighbors, the gods of their neighbors changed the Jews; and everything Moses warned them not to do, they did. The Jews broke down the wall of separation between themselves and their godless neighbors, and the results were tragic. Contrary to God’s law, Jewish men married pagan wives, and Jewish women married pagan husbands. (Ge 24:3 26:34-35 27:46 Ex 34:15-16 Deut 7:3-4 Jos 23:12) The idolaters gradually stole the hearts of their mates from worshiping Jehovah to worshiping false gods. King Solomon made this same mistake.’ (Wiersbe)

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

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).

They forgot the Lord their God – This is what happens when the worship of the living God is mixed with the worship of idols: the good does not improve the bad; but the bad corrupts the good.

The Baals and Asherahs – These Canaanite fertility deities represent the bounty of rain and the growth of crops in the fields.

Jud 3:8 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.

‘Four times in the Book of Judges we’re told that God “sold” his people to the enemy (2:14; 3:8; 4:2; 10:7; and see 1 Sam 12:9 1 Kings 21:20,25 Ps 44:12). The Jews acted like slaves, so God sold them like slaves. Had the Jews been faithful to the Lord, he would have sold their enemies into Israel’s hands.’ (Deut 32:30) (Wiersbe)

‘Charles Spurgeon said that God never allows his people to sin successfully. Their sin will either destroy them or it will invite the chastening hand of God. If the history of Israel teaches the contemporary church anything it’s the obvious lesson that “right”]eousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people”.’ (Pr 14:34, NIV) (Wiersbe)

This was the first period of servitude since Israel left Egypt.

Jud 3:9 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.

They cried out to the Lord – ‘Those who in the day of their mirth had cried to Baalim and Ashtaroth now that they are in trouble cry to the Lord from whom they had revolted, whose justice brought them into this trouble, and whose power and favour could alone help them out of it. Affliction makes those cry to God with importunity who before would scarcely speak to him.’ (MHC)

‘What the faithful servants of God among them urged in vain the iron heel of Cushan-rishathaim made them remember and realise-that they had a God from whom they were basely departing, a birthright they were selling for pottage. In Doubting Castle, under the chains of Despair, they bethought them of the Almighty and his ancient promises, they cried unto the Lord. And it was not the cry of an afflicted church; Israel was far from deserving that name. Rather was it the cry of a prodigal people scarcely daring to hope that the Father would forgive and save.’ (R.A. Watson, in Bible Illustrator)

He raised up for them a deliverer – It is so often the case that God revives the fortunes of his people by raising up a gifted individual: a Luther, or a Knox.

Othniel – The first judge, Othniel, ‘is a model figure in a number of ways. He belonged to a clan which had close connections with Judah, the leading tribe. (Jud 1:13) Moreover, he had already distinguished himself in battle and won Caleb’s daughter as his wife (Jud 1:11-15) – no inter-marriage with Canaanites for him!’ (See Jud 3:6) (NBC)

‘Othniel was designated as God’s chosen deliverer by a special gift of power given to him by God through his Spirit. In this sense he was a ‘charismatic’ leader. Othniel, the first judge, exemplifies the essential features of judgeship. The careers of the following judges represent variations on this basic pattern.’ (NBC)

Othniel, the first of the judges, seems one of the best. He is not a man of mere rude strength and dashing enterprise; nor is he one who runs the risk of sudden elevation of power, which few can stand. A person of acknowledged honour and sagacity, he sees the problem of the time and does his best to solve it. He is almost unique in this, that he appears without offence, without shame. And his judgeship is honourable to Israel. It points to a higher level of thought and greater seriousness among the tribes than in the century when Jephthah and Samson were the acknowledged heroes. The nation had not lost its reverence for the great names and hopes of the Exodus when it obeyed Othniel and followed him to battle. (R.A. Watson, in Bible Illustrator)

Jud 3:10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon 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.

The Spirit of the Lord came upon him – ‘Since Pentecost a more general and permanent endowment of the Holy Spirit has been the privilege of every disciple.’ (Cundall)

Four judges are characterized in this way (Othniel – Jud 3:10; Gideon – 6:34; Jephthah – 11:29; Samson – 14:19)

Othniel became Israel’s judge and went to war – he dealt first with the internal problems and then with the external threats. ‘Judgment and then deliverance; judgment of the mistakes and sins men have committed, thereby bringing themselves into trouble; conviction of sin and righteousness; thereafter guidance and help that their feet may be set on a rock and their goings established-this is the right sequence. That God should help the proud, the self-sufficient out of their troubles in order that they may go on in pride and vainglory, or that he should save the vicious from the consequences of their vice and leave them to persist in their iniquity, would be no Divine work. The new mind and the right spirit must be put in men, they must hear their condemnation, lay it to heart and repent, there must be a revival of holy purpose and aspiration first. Then the oppressors will be driven from the land, the weight of trouble lifted from the soul.’ (Watson, in Bible Illustrator)

‘Othniel not only rescued his nation from bondage, but also served his people as judge for forty years. This meant that he exercised authority in managing the affairs of the nation, and it was his spiritual and civil leadership that brought rest to the land. Never underestimate the good that one person can do who is filled with the Spirit of God and obedient to the will of God.’ (Wiersbe)

‘In modern times there would seem to be scarcely any understanding of the fact that no man can do real service as a political leader unless he is a fearer of God, one who loves righteousness more than country, and serves the Eternal before any constituency. Sometimes a nation low enough in morality has been so far awake to its need and danger as to give the helm, at least for a time, to a servant of truth and righteousness and to follow where he leads. But more commonly is it the case that political leaders are chosen anywhere rather than from the ranks of the spiritually earnest. It is oratorical dash now, and now the cleverness of the intriguer, or the power of rank and wealth, that catches popular favour and exalts a man in the State. Members of parliament, cabinet ministers, high officials need have no devoutness, no spiritual seriousness or insight. A nation generally seeks no such character in its legislators, and is often content with less than decent morality. Is it then any wonder that politics are arid and governments a series of errors? We need men who have the true idea of liberty and will set nations nominally Christian on the way of fulfilling their mission to the world. When the people want a spiritual leader he will appear; when they are ready to follow one of high and pure temper he will arise and show the way. But the plain truth is that our chiefs in the State, in society and business must be the men who represent the general opinion, the general aim. While we are in the main a worldly people, the best guides, those of spiritual mind, will never be allowed to carry their plans. And so we come back to the main lesson of the whole history, that only as each citizen is thoughtful of God and of duty, redeemed from selfishness and the world, can there be a true commonwealth, honourable government, beneficent civilisation.’ (R.A. Watson, in Biblical Illustrator)

Judg 3:11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

Judg 3:12 Once 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.

Judg 3:13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms.

Judg 3:14 The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.

Judg 3:15 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.

Judg 3:16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing.

Judg 3:17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man.

Judg 3:18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way the men who had carried it.

Judg 3:19 At the idols near Gilgal he himself turned back and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” The king said, “Quiet!” And all his attendants left him.

Judg 3:20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat,

Judg 3:21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly.

Judg 3:22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.

Judg 3:23 Then Ehud went out to the porch ; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

Judg 3:24 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 house.”

Judg 3:25 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.

Judg 3:26 While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.

Judg 3:27 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.

Judg 3:28 “Follow me,” he ordered, “for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab, they allowed no one to cross over.

Judg 3:29 At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not a man escaped.

Judg 3:30 That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.

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