Judges 3:7-31 | Week 3 | Salvation 3 Ways

 

God, The Master Chef

The television hit “Chopped” pits chefs against each other in a bid to create the most complete dish from identical ingredients. They open their basket, are given 20 minutes, and the race begins. The panel then judges the dishes on taste, texture, finesse, and other categories. At the end of the show, we’re left with one chef who has shown he can create the most beautiful dish from the different ingredients. 
 
As we read through Judges, we’ll often feel like we’re the judges watching God move around and use all these different ingredients: The rebellious Israelites, the wicked nations, and the judges. As we read, God arranges things just right so that he and he alone is credited for the deliverance of his people. Certainly, some of the way God brings salvation will shock us. Some of these stories will offend our modern sensibilities of justice. The picture is clear though, God is the master chef of the book of Judges. He’s always moving, turning up the heat, and at just the right time, bringing justice to the wicked and deliverance to his people.
 
In other words, God saves in unexpected ways.

Othniel the Ordinary

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11 So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.”
 
The account of Othniel is ordinary and expected. It’s a generic account; it matches in rhythm and tenor and content to the previous chapter. To understand this passage a little more, let’s dive into the specific add-ons in verses 7-11.
 
First, we know very little about Othniel. He’s mentioned briefly in chapter one as he takes captures the city Kiriath-Sepher and is given Caleb’s daughter to marry. We last hear from him as he settles in Kiriath-Sepher, which is in the far southern reaches of the Promised Land. He is Israel’s first Judge and apparently an accomplished leader and warrior. This is all we know of Othniel, he was a capable warrior, a nephew of Caleb, and the man God would use to save the Israelites.
 
King Cushan of Mesopotamia, came from the fertile crescent and likely stalled somewhere in Northern Israel. We can’t be sure of how far he actually transgressed into Israel to some degree it’s not important. What is important to the writer is that it is God who sold Israel to him and that King Cushan had control of the Israelites during that period. Othniel would likely head north to fight of King Cushan for the nation of Israel.
 
What do we know about Cushan-rishathaim? Not much. His name actually means Cushan-double wickedness. The Hebrew name for Mesopotamia is “Aram of double rivers” when you read the Hebrew it’s a funny play on words and sounds. There’s King Double Evil from Aram Double River. An oppressed people can do little to change their position but they can memorialize their extreme displeasure through a not-so-subtle jab. 
 
The story continues as Israel turns away from God and pursues idols of all kinds. God, because he promised to be faithful to them and because he loved them, refuses to allow his children to become comfortable in their sin.So he sells them into the hands of ole King Double Evil. It’s unlikely they felt like it was fair or fun or right but if it helped them loose their grip on Baal and Ashertoth it might lead toward salvation for them. Being sold into sin wasn’t salvation but it laid the ground work for God to bring salvation to a humbled people. This was their rock bottom.
 
Their salvation came in the form of Othniel. Take a look at verse 10 “The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel.” A couple of things worth noting here, it is the Lord who appointed Othniel and it was the Lord who empowered Othniel for the work for which he was appointed. This is the work of the Lord that accomplishes and saves, Othniel is the means of that salvation. The second is this, we’ll see the phrase “The Spirit of the Lord was upon him” multiple times in Judges and the presence of the Spirit of the Lord does not equate to an endorsing of all that the judge does. In this case, the next verse shows Othniel’s victory was given by the Lord handing over King Double Evil.
 
Othniel’s story lacks flair, it seems expected given the preceding chapter and seems rather tame and forgettable based on what follows. But in what seems ordinary, we see the clearest presence of God. The Lord is mentioned 7 times in 5 verses – he is the main offended party, he was sinned against, his anger was kindled, he sold the Israelites to King Double Evil, he heard their cries, he raised up Othniel, he empowered Othniel, he delivered King Double Evil to Othniel. What this story lacks in flair it more than makes up for in God’s clear presence and acting in salvation

Ehud the Cunning

12 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. 13 He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. 14 And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
 
15 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16 And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. 17 And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence.20 And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat.21 And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. 22 And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them.
 
24 When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.” 25 And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor.
 
26 Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond the idols and escaped to Seirah. 27 When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. 28 And he said to them, “Follow after me, for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over. 29 And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.” 
 
The story of Ehud is full of suspense and deception. It follows the same basic pattern as laid out in Chapter 2 and then the story of Othniel – the people again did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord and the Lord “strengthened” the king of the Moabites, Eglon who creates a mini-united nations to attack and harass Israel. Eglon takes Jericho, the city of Palms, and rules for 19 years. God hears the cries of his people and he raises up Ehud to deliver the Israelites. He does so by assassinating the King and leading the Israelites to finish off quite a few of the strong men of Moab. The land then has rest.
 

Theological Geography

Moab is to the east of the Dead Sea, Amalek is to the south and west of the Dead Sea, and Ammon is to the east of the Jordan River. Eglon recruits the help of the Ammonites and Amalekites and heads northward to conquer and take Jericho. It’s where he would rule for the next and last 18 years of his life. 
 
Ehud was the son of a Benjaminite which lived alongside the Canannites in Jerusalem. Ehud traveled east from Jerusalem to Jericho, delivers the tribute, then leaves Jericho partially, returns to Jericho, assassinates Eglon then flees west to the mountains to gather the troops, and with the resulting momentum from the assassination, takes the troops the fords of the Jordan river to stop any escape by the Moabites. And it’s a slaughter. The men of Israel kill 10,000 of the strongest mighty men of Moab.
 

An Angry Story About a Fat King 

One of the 1st things to know about this story is that it’s a polemic satire aimed at the Moabites and Canaanite culture. A polemic is a written or verbal attack and it just so happens that this story has humor imbedded in it as well. Imagine yourself as an Israelite. Subjected and abused for 18 years. Forced to pay crushing taxes and compelled to offer “tribute” to this “king.” This whole story is written from the perspective of a disenfranchised people who are angry, oppressed, and, as a result, hate their oppressors.
 
Ehud, is a Benjaminite who was apparently left-handed. There are two prevalent theories on what this means. The Hebrew literally means “restricted as to the right hand.” So it’s possible that he had a deformity on his right hand that made it impossible for him to use. The other possibility is that Ehud was ambidextrous. Judges 20:16 describes 700 Benjaminites as left-handed and able to “sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.” In warfare being left-handed would be hugely advantageous. There seems to be evidence that the Benjaminites trained their warriors to be ambidextrous. In this case, Ehud’s ambidexterity would’ve been critical to getting so close to the king.
 
We know a little about King Eglon from the text. He was strengthened by God and didn’t seem to recognize it. In other words, he was given power and seemed to think it was because of his own leadership and prowess. He was also fat. The word used to describe the king is the word to describe fattened sheep or cows. His name Eglon is actually a form of the Hebrew for word bull or calf.  The author is taking great pains to give us a precursor of what is to come by writing it in such a way that Eglon looks and sounds like a fatted cow ready for the slaughter. Note too, this is the last mention of the king’s name and it’s associated with his excess corpulence. The last time Eglon the oppressor is mentioned he’s mentioned as a calf fattened for the slaughter.
 
Ehud fashions a double-edged sword and straps it under his right thigh. He does this because most swords be stashed on the left side for a right-handed warrior. Eglon’s guards would only check on under the left thigh. One more thing about the sword, it was about 18 inches long and didn’t have a hilt. 
 
Ehud and his band of marry men head up to Jericho to pay the tribute to Eglon. Note in verse eighteen that there were a number of attendants who carried the tribute. No doubt that part of the tribute was financial but the rest of it almost certainly was agriculture related. Normally you don’t carry cows or sheep or goats because they can walk. What kind of agriculture can’t walk itself to the king? Vegetables, Kale, Lettuce. The Israelites bring Fat King Eglon, all their finest kale, fruit, and other assorted rabbit food. It’s the Weight Watchers version of a tribute to a king.
 
They deliver the tribute and then begin to head out of town. As they head out, in the area around Jericho, Ehud sends his guys on home and returns back to say he has a secret message. The king, in all his vanity, just has to know. Normally, an Israelite doesn’t just turn around and get an audience with the king but this Israelite isn’t a threat and he has a message.
 
The king is now on his rooftop chamber, joined by Ehud and they’re all alone. Ehud leans in and whispers to the king, “I have a message from God.” Now the curiosity will literally kill the king. With great effort Eglon stands up and with great skill Ehud grabs the homemade sword and plunges it into the rather large stomach of the king. The sword plunges completely in and Ehud leaves it there covered by the king’s own excess. The inclusion of the dung seems like an unneeded and graphic addition until you read the rest of the story.
 
Ehud leaves dead king, locks the door and leaves. The servants who are clueless, note the locked door and smell the dung and the bile and figure he’s just relieving himself. Eventually, after a while, long enough to make them embarrassed, they unlock the door and find their king dead. All while Ehud hightails it west into the hill country where his people await his return. He sounds the horn to recruit all the nearby fighting men. There wasn’t time to recruit men from the other tribes so he took men from Ephraim who would’ve likely suffered more given their proximity to Jericho and Eglon’s throne. Pay close attention to what Ehud says in verse 28 because it’s important “Follow after me, for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” Ehud recognizes the Lord’s work and sovereign control over the outcome. And as a result of their obedience to the Lord around 10,000 of the strong, able bodied men were killed. Apparently enough of their army was destroyed in that moment that all of Moab was then subdued as a result. And finally, the land had rest.
 
The story with all its details give us a sense of the deep animosity towards Moab and the dark humor this story was written with. In spite of all of that verse twenty-eight serves to remind the readers, many of which who would’ve laughed at the kale tribute, cheered at the dispatching of Eglon, and sneered with delight at the buffoonery of the Eglon’s servants needed to be reminded that the focus of this story, the reason it’s written is to show God’s salvation for Israel. God is the one who gets the glory. It is God who uses an assassin who used cunning and deceit to bring salvation to his people. God orchestrated the salvation of Israel one way with Othniel and another way with Ehud but the result was the same God used obedience to give his people rest. 

Shamgar the Unexpected

31 After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.”
 
There’s not much here about the story or about Shamgar himself. It doesn’t follow the same pattern as Othniel or Ehud. We don’t know what Israel did, we don’t know the surrounding events about Israel’s need for deliverance. We’re just told that Shamgar was pretty adept with a farmer’s tool. Shamgar fought the philistines. We’re not told where but it was likely near one of the cities in the Philistine Pentapolis.
 
Shamgar isn’t a name of Jewish origin. It’s likely Hittite or Hunnite which leads us to one of two conclusions, either he was the product of intermarrying into the Israelites, which was common, or he was a Canaanite with no familial connection to the nation of Israel. Either way, God used an outsider to save Israel from the Philistines.
 
Shamgar is mentioned for his dispatching of 600 philistines with an oxgoad. An oxgoad is an eight to ten foot rod with a sharpened metal tip and a fishhook like metal instrument attached to it that was often serrated. A farmer would use it to poke an ox if he got lazy in the field. A judge would use it to stab and slash his way through 600 philistines.
 
This is the pattern of God. It’s the same God who chose a reluctant prophet to go to Ninevah. It’s the same God who chose tax collectors and fishermen to be the initial heralds of the Gospel. It’s the same God who took a murdering Pharisee and made him chief preacher to the Gentiles. God is and always has been in the business of taking imperfect and broken men and using them for his glory.

Jesus the Only Way

The book of Judges has quite a few judges and they serve to prefigure Christ. They are like fuzzy shadows of what is to come. We’re not sure what to make of them all the time but theologically, they begin to signal the coming of a final and perfect judge who would come from ordinary backgrounds to save his people and to finally give them rest.
 
 “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:1-4
 
Look at the description of Jesus, he wasn’t a man that caught anyone’s eye. Not a man that anyone would expect anything from. We know he was the son of a carpenter. What kind of Savior would that make anyway? The text says Jesus was rejected not accepted, he was spurned and not loved. In many ways, he’s the anti-judge. Where Israel had histories of great leaders, charismatic warriors, God sends Jesus and he is humble in spirit, stature, and appearance. 
 
“5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 5:5
 
It was Jesus who was crushed. Jesus didn’t start his ministry by riding into the temple courts on a white horse slaying all the Pharisees. The streets didn’t run red with the blood of his enemies. Instead Scripture says he was crushed for our sins, it was his blood that ran red for our iniquities. He was crushed by his enemies for his enemies that his enemies might know peace.
 
The biggest failure of the each judge is that each one of died. Othniel died, Ehud died, and the same with Shamgar. Revelation 1:18 Jesus says this, “…I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Where all the judges were unable to secure lasting peace and lasting salvation, Jesus outshines them all. He physically died and physically rose from the dead which means that what he accomplished can’t be taken away. He has the keys of Death and of Hell. The work he does to save you means you’re his forever. He doesn’t relinquish the keys to you or leave your salvation in your hands. This is the good news, our salvation no longer rests in the hands of men or in our own hands it rests in the one who died and rose again and in that we can finally have rest from striving to be more moral, to be good enough, to be acceptable to God and accept the salvation from Jesus the only way, the one who was crushed, and the one who rose again. 

 God has always saved in unexpected ways, first with the Judges and eventually, finally, fully, and perfectly in Jesus Christ.