JUDGES CHAPTER 3
Judge 3:1 Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan;
These are the nations. The writer, having finished his interpretation of the history of the entire period of the judges, now turns to enumerate the different peoples that were left in Canaan with whom the Israelites had to contend.
In doing so, he adds another reason why these Canaanites were left, and also shows how social and religious fusion with the heathen went on apace (1–6).
Verse 2 (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it),
Taught to know war.
The ones who belonged to the new generation of Israel did not know the horrors of war, nor were they personally acquainted with the mighty deliverances that God had wrought for their forefathers.
Having grown up in comparative ease, they turned their backs upon the God in whom their fathers had trusted for deliverance from a numerically superior enemy. God purposed through the nations that remained in and around Canaan, to repeat the lessons of His former mighty deliverances and of the impotency of heathen gods.
By the wars that ensued, the younger generation of Israelites learned from bitter experiences that they could fight and conquer these numerous and warlike people only with the aid of the God of their fathers.
Verse 3 namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath.
Lords. Hebrew seren. Used in the Bible of the rulers of these Philistine cities, with but one exception (1 Kings 7:30). It was evidently a Philistine word or title, inasmuch as it is generally used only of these rulers, and does not appear elsewhere. There were five main centers of the Philistine confederacy: Gaza, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Askelon (1 Sam. 6:16–18). Three of the cities had been overrun by Judah (Judges 1:18), but evidently were lost again.
All the Canaanites. That is, the groups of Canaanites that remained in all parts of the land. Much of their territory had, of course, been overrun.
Hivites. See Joshua 11:3. Elsewhere the Hivites are mentioned in connection with cities in the central part of Palestine, at Shechem (Gen. 34:2) and Gibeon (Joshua 9:7).
Archeologists are unable definitely to identify these people. It has been suggested that the Hivites were a segment of the Horites or Hurrians (see on Joshua 9:3).
Mount Lebanon. The Hivites are here described as living in the area around Mt. Hermon (in northern Palestine) up to the entering in of Hamath.
The latter expression was frequently used in the Bible to designate the northern boundary of Canaan. The city of Hamath itself was on the Orontes River about 140 miles north of Mt. Hermon. However, its territory stretched a number of miles to the south of the city.
The entering in of Hamath. See or Num. 34:8.
4. To prove Israel. See on 2:22, 23.
5. Amorites. See on 1:35, 36.
Perizzites. See on 1:4.
Jebusites. See on 1:21.
Verses 4-6 And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
5 Thus the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods.
Took their daughters. Intermarriage between those who honored God and those who did not is mentioned in the book of Genesis as one factor that accounts for the wickedness that prevailed on the earth prior to the Flood (Gen.6:2–4).
Yahweh had strictly forbidden intermarriage with the unbelieving nations of Canaan (Deut. 7:3), but the people often ignored this precept. The results of such intermarriage are evident from Solomon’s experience (1 Kings 11:1–8).
The danger of similar tragic results exists today. Too often the marriage of a believer and unbeliever corrupts the faith of the believing party. It could hardly be otherwise (see 2 Cor. 6:14–17).
Verse 7 So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God, and served the Baals and Asherahs.
These ’asheroth (frequently ’asherim) apparently were wooden poles or tree trunks, one of which was generally set up beside heathen altars and venerated as an object of worship.
Perhaps it was regarded as the dwelling place of the deity (see Deut. 16:21; 2 Kings 17:10). Such images were common in Canaanite sanctuaries and gradually came to be used in connection with Hebrew worship.
We read of one by the altar of Baal in Gideon’s home town (Judges 6:25), of others located in Samaria, Jerusalem, and Bethel (2 Kings 13:6; 23:6, 15).
They seemed to have derived their name from a famous goddess of the Canaanites by the name of Asherah, who, in the Ras Shamra tablets, is described as the mother of the gods and frequently called the Lady of the Sea.
It is not known how a tree trunk or wooden pole became her symbol.
Verse 8 Therefore the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the children of Israel served Cushan-Rishathaim eight years.
He sold them. That is, permitted them to be defeated and to be made a subject people who retained their territories only by paying tribute.
From this point begins the actual narrative of the book of Judges.
Thus far the book has, by means of two prefaces (1:1 to 2:5 and 2:6 to 3:7), laid the historical background and stated the principle, that the sins of the people led to oppression, but that God provided a deliverance through a “judge” to grant a further opportunity for Israel to accept her high destiny.
The narrative of the judge Othniel, like that of the other judges, is given to illustrate this truth.
Chushan-rishathaim. Historical records contain no information about the invasion of Canaan by a Mesopotamian king by this name.
The title means “Chushan of double wickedness.” The latter part of the name was probably added by the Israelites to show their aversion for him.
The invasion came from the northeast, from ’Aram Naharayim, as it is given in the Hebrew. The word means “Aram of the two rivers.”
This was the common designation for the region between the upper Euphrates and the Khābûr rivers. The word Mesopotamia later came to signify all the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Inasmuch as ’Aram Naharayim was at that time ruled by kings of Mitanni, it is probable that Chushan-rishathaim was a Mitanni king.
Verse 9. When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.
Cried unto the Lord. With self-confidence gone, illusive dreams of pleasure vanished, the people at last turned to their God.
They suddenly came to the realization that idolatry had betrayed them and that heathen idols were entirely impotent to help them. With this realization, they turned again to the God of their fathers.
It has been aptly remarked that affliction makes those cry to God with importunity who before would scarcely speak to Him.
Yet that is the divine purpose of trials. That the people did turn to the Lord in their trouble is to their credit. No sincere cry for help is ever lost.
Though the affliction is not in every case removed, yet to those who love God, to those who are completely surrendered to Him, He will work all things for their good (Rom. 8:28).
Nevertheless there will come a time when, though men “shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them” (Jer. 11:11). Therefore we should call on the Lord while He is near (Isa. 55:6). Today is the day of salvation.
Raised up a deliverer. When the Israelites cried to God in their distress, He heard and raised up for them a national deliverer, Othniel, the son-in-law of Caleb (1:13).
Verse 10 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord delivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-Rishathaim.
Spirit of the Lord. God did not reserve the special endowments of the Holy Spirit for New Testament times alone. Anciently, as well, He equipped His servants for their tasks through the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.
Othniel is truly an outstanding judge in that no indiscretion or unhallowed deed is recorded of him. On many of the other judges, notwithstanding their victories, fell the shadow of error, of grief, or of a tragic end.
Judged Israel. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, he first judged Israel and then went out to war.
This indicates that he put things right among the people before he essayed to fight the enemy. This is as it should be. Sin, the worst of all enemies, needs first to be conquered. Only with this foe subdued can we expect victory over the enemies abroad.
Went out to war. We do not conquer by sitting still even if the Spirit of the Lord has come upon us. Action is required by those who have the presence of God’s Spirit with them.
The Spirit of the Lord is the originator of everything good and of all great achievements, but He works through human agencies.
His hand prevailed. No details are given of this war, but it must have been a struggle of no mean magnitude considering the status of the oppressing king. However, now that the Lord was again helping the Israelites, their efforts were crowned with victory.
Verse 11. So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.
What happened after the death of Othniel?
Verse 12 And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.
Again did evil. Upon the death of the faithful judge Othniel, the Israelites gradually succumbed to their propensity for idolatry.
Thus it is seen how powerful the presence of one good man in a church or state may be.
A just and honest leader is one of the greatest blessings a nation can have, not only for the decisions he makes, but for the influence he exerts, by the example of his life, upon others.
The world today needs men like Othniel—men filled with the Spirit—to direct it back to God.
The Lord strengthened. This is the beginning of the second period of oppression. When Othniel was gone and the nation had returned to its sinful ways, God allowed other peoples to oppress the Hebrews again. The oppression was designed to be salutary.
Eglon. The Moabites were close relatives of the Hebrews (Gen. 19:36–38). Prior to this time the two peoples had never engaged in active warfare with each other.
Eglon allied himself with the Ammonites (whose kingdom lay to the north of Moab) and with the Amalekites (migrant Bedouins to the south).
The first attack of Eglon was launched against Jericho, the city of palm trees (see on Judges 1:16), and resulted in his conquering that city and the territory of Benjamin round about.
Probably about 60 years had passed after the invading Hebrews had destroyed the city. Either the city had been rebuilt, at least to some extent, or another city had arisen in its environs.
Verses 13-15 Then he gathered to himself the people of Ammon and Amalek, went and defeated Israel, and took possession of the City of Palms. 14 So the children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years. But when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. By him the children of Israel sent tribute to Eglon king of Moab.
Ehud. After serving this foreign king for 18 years the Israelites became sufficiently weary of their status to realize again that their troubles were due to their religious apostasy, and with a degree of contrition they cried to God for help.
Although they had betrayed His trust once, God responded by raising up a deliverer for them from the tribe of Benjamin.
The first judge had been from Judah, the leading tribe. Now Judah seemingly has no champion for the oppressed people. At least the Lord used a man from the smallest tribe, the tribe that had borne the brunt of the Moabite oppression.
Lefthanded. Ehud, whom the Lord chose as deliverer, is described as left-handed (literally, “bound as to his right hand”).
This fact has a bearing on what follows, for a left-handed person would bind his dagger on the opposite side to that on which it was usually carried, a distinct aid in concealing the weapon.
A present. Likely the payment of the yearly tribute. It was probably paid in kind, and therefore required a number of Israelites to carry it and to guard it from robbers on the way.
Verse 16 Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh.
Cubit. The Hebrew word here used for “cubit” is found nowhere else in the Old testament. It is therefore difficult to determine how long this unit of measure was. From what follows, we may conclude that it was about a foot long.
Verse 17 So he brought the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. (Now Eglon was a very fat man.)
Very fat man. A fact of importance in the sequel, being introduced parenthetically here in anticipation of the climax of the narrative.
Verse 18 And when he had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who had carried the tribute.
Sent away. After having delivered the tribute Ehud and the Israelite carriers who were with him departed for home. When they were a safe distance away, Ehud sent the porters on while he returned to try to carry out his dangerous mission.
The record does not state the location of the king’s residence. The setting indicates that it was in a town of Moab not far across the Jordan from Gilgal.
Verse 19 But he himself turned back from the stone images that were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” He said, “Keep silence!” And all who attended him went out from him.
Stone images. These may have been engraved boundary stones or perhaps a heathen sanctuary erected near Gilgal by the Moabites.
Why did he linger at this place? Maybe he decided that this Edomite idolatry in his land must end.
Secret message. The pretext appeared valid, and the king probably accepted it without suspicion inasmuch as Ehud had brought the tribute and the king probably supposed that he was about to betray some secret concerning conditions among the Israelites.
The king had probably been informed that Ehud had sent his companions on ahead, and he would naturally conclude that Ehud had acted thus in order not to be observed by them as he delivered the secret message.
Naturally Ehud could not have been expected to deliver such a message at the earlier public audience.
Keep silence. The Hebrew word imitates a sound. It corresponds to our English hush or ssh. The command was addressed to Eglon’s retinue.
Ehud would not dare ask that the attendants of the court withdraw; hence he probably acted as if he were on the point of telling his secret before all.
Of course, the king would not want a secret message to be delivered thus. He therefore dismissed his attendants, using this expression.
Verse 20 So Ehud came to him (now he was sitting upstairs in his cool private chamber). Then Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” So he arose from his seat.
Cool private chamber. Literally, “an upper chamber of cooling.” In modern Arabic, this room is still called by the same name as is used here in the Hebrew.
It is an additional story, ordinarily a third, raised above the flat roof of the house at one corner, or upon a tower like annex to the building.
Its high elevation and latticed windows on all sides rendered it well ventilated and comfortable even in hot weather.
It is apparent that some details of the narrative have been omitted. Evidently after ordering the servants to leave, the king retired to his private chamber, where he bade Ehud follow, or perhaps the first words of Ehud (19) were conveyed to the king by messengers.
Message from God. This statement was a shrewd ruse on the part of Ehud to enable him to get close to the king. At these words the king stood up as a sign of respect for the divine oracle.
Verse 21 Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.
His left hand. The natural circumstance of being left-handed helped prevent the king from getting suspicious as he reached under his robe to remove the dagger.
The mighty thrust pierced the monarch’s abdomen with such force that the whole dagger disappeared from view. The king’s extreme obesity, probably due to lasciviousness and luxury, rendered him incapable of defending himself.
Verses 22,23 Even the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out. 23 Then Ehud went out through the porch and shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
Porch. The Hebrew word here rendered “porch” occurs only this once in the Old Testament. It comes from a root word meaning “to arrange” and hence may mean a “colonnade.” All that can be known with certainty is that it referred to some part of the building.
Locked them. Likely made possible only by the fact that the servants had withdrawn completely to another section of the house.
However, we infer that they saw Ehud leaving the house, for they returned to the room where the king was. Upon finding the doors locked, they decided that the king desired privacy for a while.
Verse 24 When he had gone out, Eglon’s servants came to look, and to their surprise, the doors of the upper room were locked. So they said, “He is probably attending to his needs in the cool chamber.”
Attending to his needs. A euphemism for having a bowel movement. The same expression is found in 1 Sam. 24:3. Naturally attendants were hesitant about knocking on the locked door of their king.
Verses 25,26 So they waited till they were embarrassed, and still he had not opened the doors of the upper room. Therefore they took the key and opened them. And there was their master, fallen dead on the floor. 26 But Ehud had escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the stone images and escaped to Seirah
Escaped. The indecision and waiting on the part of the king’s attendants gave Ehud enough of a head start to enable him to make his escape.
Likely, too, the royal residence was near the Jordan, permitting Ehud soon to be safely on the other side.
Seirath. Location not known. It seems to have been in the nearby highlands of Ephraim.
Verse 27 And it happened, when he arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the mountains of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mountains; and he led them.
Mountain of Ephraim. In view of the fact that Ehud was of the tribe of Benjamin, it may seem strange that he did not go to the nearer settlements of his own tribe.
Either strong Moabite garrisons were stationed there, or he felt the Benjamites were too cowed to respond to his call to battle.
The tribe of Ephraim, the most numerous and most aggressive of the tribes, responded quickly to his battle call.
Verse 28 Then he said to them, “Follow me, for the Lord has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him, seized the fords of the Jordan leading to Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross over.
Fords of Jordan. The fords directly east of Jericho near Gilgal seem to be the ones indicated.
This move was to prevent reinforcements being sent from Moab and also to cut off the escape of the Moabite garrisons on the Israelite side of the river.
Verse 29 And at that time they killed about ten thousand men of Moab, all stout men of valor; not a man escaped.
Not a man escaped. So general and immediate was the uprising of the Hebrews that the Moabite garrisons, consisting of picked men, were completely destroyed.
Verse 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.
Moab was subdued. The Moabite power on the Israelite side of the Jordan was broken to such a degree that there was no longer any danger from that quarter.
Verse 31 After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad; and he also delivered Israel.
Shamgar. Evidently he was the next national hero to come on the scene of action. His exploits were only local, being directed against the Philistines in southern Palestine.
He probably lived at the same time that Deborah and Barak were fighting the Canaanites in the northern part of the country.
Chapter 4:1 states that Deborah and Barak performed their deliverance after Ehud was dead, but makes no reference to Shamgar.
Deborah implies that Shamgar was a contemporary (5:6). This fact is further suggested by the observation that Shamgar is not included in the chronological scheme of the narrative, no years being assigned to him at all.
By his daring feats he saved the Israelites in his area from being oppressed and enslaved by the Philistines. He was a deliverer, a national hero, but he was not called a judge of Israel.
The name Shamgar appears to be foreign and has been thought probably to be Hurrian or Hittite. The foreign name may be due to the fact that his mother was an Israelite married to a Hurrian or Canaanite. The author has already observed that intermarriages were common.
His father was named Anath, the name of a pagan goddess, and it is thought unlikely that a Hebrew would be given this name, unless by backslidden parents.
Ox goad. An instrument for urging oxen forward. These were often as much as 8 feet long so that the one holding the plow could reach the oxen.
Pointed as they were on one end with a metal tip, and having a chisel-shaped blade on the other for scraping the plowshare, such goads could effectively be used in place of a spear.
It was a humble weapon, yet an “ox goad,” with God’s blessing, accomplishes infinitely more than a “sword of Goliath” without His blessing. And sometimes God chooses to work by such unlikely means, that the power may truly stand revealed as of God.