Study In Judges. Chapter 2v20-3v31. The Judges Take The Stage. No fewer than five reasons are given in the book of Judges for Israel’s failure to possess the land fully: It was because of the superior arms and fortifications of the Canaanites [ 1v19 ].
No fewer than five reasons are given in the book of Judges for Israel’s failure to possess the land fully:
It was because of the superior arms and fortifications of the Canaanites [1v19].
It was because of Israel’s disposition to make alliances with the inhabitants of the land [2v1-5].
It was because Israel had sinned and must be punished [2v20,21].
It was because God was proving Israel’s faithfulness [2v22,23; 3v4].
and finally, it was so that Israel might be instructed in the arts of war [3v1-3].
All of these reasons need to be taken together to flesh out our understanding of the sovereignty of God. They further serve to indicate for us the multifaceted complexity of the consequences of refusing to do what God asks of us. Perhaps the thing that should trouble us the most is that even when presented with so many consequences of disobedience, the light was not switched on, the penny did not drop sufficiently to provide a radical repentance!
Verses 1-6 describe the nations surrounding Israel. The five lords of the Philistines [v3] represent the five city states of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. The Canaanites dwelt in the valleys and coastal areas. The Sidonians[Phoenicians] were located around the port of Sidon. The Hevites in the north in the area of Hermon and Lebanon are often identified with the Horitesof Gen. 36v2,20,29. The Hittites [v5], were a great nation covering the
whole region of Syria (Josh. 1v4). The Ammorites dwelt in the hill country on either side of the Jordan, the Perizzites were also hill dwellers. The Jebusites dwelt in the hills round about Jerusalem. It is therefore understandable that Israel should have been under pressure to conform to the
corrupt practices of their immediate neighbours.
Note the writer’s comments in v2 and v4: on the one hand, Israel were to learn the arts of war - Tyndale observes, “military prowess was a necessary accomplishment, humanly speaking, if she was to survive”. This does not necessarily mean an abdication of trust in the Lord for protection and victory: for the Lord uses the ordinary means of military skills for the fulfilment of His purposes.
On the other hand, these pressures were used as a ‘trial of faith’, and a test of obedience v4,and Israel could have risen triumphantly to the challenge, as in the days of Joshua. But sadly, it is very different now in this generation that ‘did not know the Lord’.
Verses 7-11 take us to the central theme of the book and to the beginning of the record of the individual judges. Verse 7 highlights the declension process and is a potted version of the principle unfolded in 2v18-19. The land of Aram v8 lies in the Euphrates ‘curve’, north-east of Canaan, in present day Syria, east of Carchemish, in the former Hittite empire.
It was into the hands of the king of Aram that the Lord delivered his people because
of their sin, and it was in relation to this bondage that Othniel was raised up as Israel’s deliverer.
The account of Othniel’s judge-ship is brief. We read that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, enabling him to set free the people.
A question does arise, however. Why, if the attack came from the north-east, was Othniel, who belonged to the tribe of Judah in the far south, chosen as deliverer? Othniel was well known in the land as a whole [cf1v13 and the story of his exploit at Kirjath-sepher]. He was a man with a proven record of valour: what could be more natural than that the nation should instinctively turn to him and indeed that the Lord should lay His hand upon him, in time of need.
In v10 we read that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, and Divine grace was bestowed on him, not only - and surely not in the first instance - to effect deliverance, but also to judge Israel- leading them towards a state of preparedness in which deliverance could become a possibility.
This is important, and undoubtedly that state of preparedness would include bringing about spiritual renewal. Military success would not in itself answer any problems, It was a programme of recovery in the deepest sense. For an explicit parallel to this note the early years of Samuel’s judge-ship which led the people to consecration at Mizpeh1 Sam. 7.
No doubt Othniel accomplished deeds surpassing the courage through his Divine anointing, but it is his judging of Israel that is the important element. Note the time-scale involved in these verses. Israel were subjugated to Aram for 8 years, after the deliverance effected by Othniel, the land had rest for 40 years.
Compare this with the 6years of WWII, followed by 60 years of peace, and think not only of the suffering that Israel’s subjugation involved, and also the jubilation that followed Othniel’s victory.
The illustration is helpful for it shows the hazards involved in ‘winning the peace’ . Israel failed to do so, cfv12, and this should serve to make us reflect on the dangerous situation we are in the the UK today.
In v12-30 we find the next instalment of Israel’s declension, after the 40 years of peace following Othniel’s judge-ship and deliverance. The same monotonous refrain follows in v12, the sins of Israel, and the hand of the Lord against them through their enemies because of their sins. Moab was situated in the area south east of the Dead Sea, Ammon to the north of them, and the Amalakites in the southern part of the land, in what is now called the Negev. The attack upon Israel was therefore from the southeast, with the enemy crossing Jordan at much the same place as Israel had cross sixty years earlier under Joshua, when he captured Jericho, the city of Palm trees.
On this occasion the servitude of Israel lasted, not 8 but 18 years, - a measure of the deeper declension into which they had sunk. We may think of the dilapidation, that 18 years of occupation must have brought to Israel, and the dispiritedness that must have devastated them! Such was the setting for the new deliverance about to take place.
Note the different direction of the assault. The Promised Land was surrounded by strong and powerful enemies on all sides. Israel was always under threat, always vulnerable, and for this reason, surely, that God always intended her to trust and rest in Him alone, not in herself-
“safety is of the Lord” Prov. 21v31.
Ehud, son (or descendent) of Gera, was a Benjamite [Gen 46v21]. The territory of Benjamin was directly under threat by Eglon, (Gilgal and Jericho, the city of palm trees were within it), so it is understandable that the Lord should raise up a deliverer from that tribe. Particular reference is made to the fact that Ehud was
‘a left-handed man’ v15, a fact of significance in relation to what happened in his encounter with Eglon.
The name ‘Benjamin’ means‘sonof the right hand’, and it may be that this is one reason for Ehud’s left-handedness being remarked upon. There is a curious reference in Judges 20v16 to the presence of 700 chosen left-handed men in the tribe of Benjamin, who obviously fulfilled a very useful function in the army.
In ancient times left-handedness was regarded as a defect, The Latin word for ‘left hand’ is ‘sinister’ - this derived from the practice of augury, for omens seen on the left were considered unfavourable. The idea, of course, is an erroneous one although the idea still persists in common usage, e.g., in the phrase ‘a left-handed compliment’.
Matthew Henry’s comments: “Either through disease or disuse, he made little or no use of his right hand”. If the Israelites regarded this as a defect, then what is being suggested here is that God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, and that He chose this left-handed man to be the man of His right hand [ Ps 80v17], whom he would make strong for himself.
The chief significance, however, of the left-handedness lies in the stratagem that Ehud played on Eglonv16,21. He had his dagger by his right side, thus appearing unarmed to his enemy, and who would not be suspicious of any ill intent. The ‘tribute’v17 represents the harsh penalty made upon a conquered people. The ‘’idols in v19 may have been the actual stones set up by Joshua to commemorate the miraculous crossing of Jordan, Josh 4v20.
The account of Eglon’s assassination is gruesome, reflecting the barbarism of the times. We are not called upon to approve of it. However , we must not brand it as ‘sub-Christian’, as if it belonged to an era when ‘they did not know any better’.
One has only to think of some of the desperate exploits of WWII and the more recent atrocities in Kosova by those who profess to be Christian today.
We are touching on vast and complex moral question involving war and its attendant evils asking if it is ever justified. Is assassinating a heathen monarch in such a brutal way worse, or better, or different from targeting Saddam Hussein, or Muammar Gadaffi? These are very real questions, and we must guard against giving merely ‘emotional reaction’ answers to them. Primitive, OT ‘barbarities’ is nursery school behaviour in comparison with the horrors of C21st ‘inhumanity’.