Judges 3

Judges 3
by Pastor Mark Hudson

The first 6 verses of this chapter belong with chapter 2. While God had commanded Israel “to devote them [nations living in the promised land prior to Israel’s conquest] to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show them no mercy” Deut 7:1-2), His people never obeyed God in this command. Sadly, we discover the reality of Israel’s disobedience throughout this book of Judges. The different groups, often just called Canaanites, are still in the land. The first 6 verses of chapter 3 remind us how God uses even their disobedience.

“Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. . . . 4 They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” This is one of the reasons these nations were still there, but it seems like this is plan B. God commanded Israel to destroy them. Ah, but God was not surprised by their disobedience . . . ever. So, God uses their sin for their good.

Then in verse five, “5 So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6 And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.” This is what God warned against in Deut 7:2, “you shall make no covenant with them . . . .” Israel not only married with these ungodly people but found them quite compatible.

Dale Ralph Davis labels 3:7-16:31, the second section of Judges as “The Salvation of the Long-suffering God. Then 3:7-11, “the paradigm of Yahweh’s salvation. There are several observations when it comes to the book of Judges. First, compare the judges from Othniel to the last Judge, Samson and you will see a degradation in the judges. Othniel seemed to be a godly person and Samson is puzzling at best. This points to the spiraling down of the nation and their deliverers. This apostasy continues to spread its deadly odor throughout the entire Old Testament. Why did God (and why does He now) show such patience toward His people? He is truly amazing in His long-suffering.

You have heard variations on this cycle that one observes in Judges: apostasy-oppression-repentance-deliverance. While the broad outlines of this cycle are clearly observable, Davis disputes the ‘cry’ in this cycle (v. 9 et al) means repentance. In his commentary (pp. 49-51), Davis avers that this verb only means to cry out. There is no repentance involved. He comes to this conclusion after examining over 60 uses of the verb in the O.T. Why is this important for us? God is so merciful that as soon as His people cry out, God begins to save them. God is so merciful that He waits for the first complaint, and He rushes in to help. We have a hard time appreciating how kind, forgiving, and comforting God is to His people. He is moved by not their repentance but their cry for help. He doesn’t even wait for repentance. He moves in mercy so quickly He doesn’t even wait for His people to repent.

After the first judge Othniel dies, one of the most fascinating stories in Judges involves Ehud, “a left-handed man.” This is a story bound to be a favorite of young boys. The very parts of the story young boys might enjoy could be the parts that fill us with consternation. But, before we look at the gory details of Eglon’s death, let’s look at why Israel might enjoy this story as modern boys do. After the forty years of rest thanks to God raising up Othniel, the “people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel . . . .” These verses end section 7-11 and begin vs. 12-30.

Eglon was used by God “against Israel.” Eglon was not their friend or kind leader. But God raised wicked Eglon up against His own people. After he died, “the land had rest for 80 years” v. 30 which implies Eglon’s reign was anything but rest. He was oppressive and hated. If a king is oppressing a nation, the people want him gone from the earth. I write this in January of 2023 when Russia is at war with Ukraine. Most people in Ukraine want Putin dead. The Ukrainians want Putin not just gone but humiliated, defeated, and dead. At the end of our story, 10,000 Moabites are killed. Gory to some, but if we were Israelites, we see justice vindicated in the death of Eglon.

Notice also that when God needed a man to get through Eglon’s security, He raised up a left-handed man if Eglon’s security would not check his right leg since most people were right-handed. Ehud “made for himself a sword” again to get past security. Does this mean there was not a big crosspiece and therefore could hide under a robe? Everything had to work as planned for Ehud to be successful. When he said in v. 19, “I have a secret message for you, O King” what if one attendant stayed in the room? What if there was no easy exit for Ehud? What if Eglon had screamed?

I can just imagine as priests taught the Bible in the O.T., the Jews would ask to hear to story of Eglon and Ehud. Remember, “the LORD raised up for them a deliverer” to rescue His people. What Ehud did was great news for God’s people. Also don’t forget that God raised up a left-handed judge at just the right time. God orchestrated every part of this story, so God’s people have every right to rejoice in God’s deliverance and laugh at some of the details at the same time.

Our dear heavenly Father, You provide for us and deliver us in ways that ought to delight us. We will never know all the accidents that You prevented, or catastrophes were averted until You tell us (if You do) in heaven. We see our history in these stories. Not that we were there or are looking for a left-handed deliver. Yet, we trust that in our lowest times of discouragement and loss, You are there. You are always able to ridicule Your enemies and save Your people. We rest in what Christ did for us, does for us and will do for us. In Christ’s name, Amen.