In Judges 3 we get acquainted with the first three judges and their performance. Of all three we read something that gives their person a lower appearance. Othniel is a younger brother of Caleb, Ehud is left-handed and Shamgar uses an oxgoad in battle. In general, such men do not get the most votes in an election. It makes it clear that they are men of God’s choice and not of the people, of man. This choice belongs to the ways God goes in broken situations, when the shine of the beginning has faded.
Just look at the origins of the church with its great apostles and verify this with the later situation, that of decay. In the beginning, the Spirit can work mightily as an answer to the glorification of Christ. After the onset of decay, the instruments are also characterized by certain forms of weakness. Luther and Calvin, Darby and Kelly, all great men of God in their time, did not climb the height of a Paul and a Peter. Yet God wanted to use them for His purposes, in the reformation of the sixteenth century and in the revival of the nineteenth century. In this way God always wants, even today, to use weak, limited and insignificant people for the liberation of His people.
Generally speaking, the reformation is the liberation from the yoke of Rome, the ritualism; the reveille is the liberation from the dead orthodoxy, the rationalism, in the Protestant churches. The liberation needed today is the liberation of the spirit of Laodicea, the spirit of complacency, the desire to have a spiritual life without life from the Spirit. It’s about the experience: what do I feel good about?
The things of God are judged according to our taste and feelings and not according to the Word of God. The fact that these enemies are particularly active today does not mean that the old enemies, ritualism and rationalism, have been defeated forever. These enemies will constantly try to get God’s people back in their grip. This state of affairs means that we have to deal with these enemies over and over again and act as a judge.
1 - 2 Be Taught War
1 Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them ([that is], all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).
Verses 1-6 of this chapter belong to the previous chapter. They describe other reasons for which God has left the enemies in the land. God never does something without intent. He has His own reasons for all His actions. Sometimes He even has multiple purposes in mind. He can work several things with a certain action or a certain word. The ultimate goal of God is to glorify Himself in the happiness and blessing of man in general and of His people in particular. The reason mentioned here is that God through the presence of the enemies wants to teach His people war.
When a man is prosperous, his life is going well and without hardship, it is not so clear what is present in his heart for God. Prosperity does not take away the unfaithfulness present in the heart. If everything goes well, there are no exercises and struggles to learn Who God is and how to use His power to overcome hardship. It is not God’s intention that we allow ourselves to be overcome by the enemy, by evil, but that we overcome evil in His power.
God knows what is in man, but through the enemies left behind man will discover this for himself. His reaction to evil shows what is in his heart. If there is a real connection with God, he will go to God when danger threatens.
What is created by unfaithfulness – the people have been unfaithful and have failed to eradicate all enemies – is used by God for good. The spared enemies serve to teach generations who did not participate in the conquest of Canaan to fight for the blessings God has bestowed. By the presence of the enemies they can show if they appreciate the land of God.
Whoever appreciates what God has given, will not allow the enemy to take possession or keep that gift of God. He will fight for it. What is thus taken from the power of the enemy will have an extra valuable meaning. In daily life this is also the case. After all, it adds value to our property if we have worked for it ourselves, isn’t it? It is much more our property. We enjoy it more intense than things that have been fallen into our laps.
Times of decay are times of struggle for one who wants to be faithful to the Lord. In the second letter to Timothy, which describes the time of decay in Christianity, reference is made several times to struggle (2Tim 2:3-4; 4:7). In these texts the individual is called upon to remain faithful in the midst of decay. Battle reveals winners (Rev 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21).
In all this, we must always remember that our struggle is in the heavenly places and is not a struggle against flesh and blood. The peoples who remained are a picture of the flesh within us. The flesh is not left within us so that we may serve it, but so that we may learn to judge it. These peoples can also be a picture of a “thorn in the flesh” as Paul had it (2Cor 12:7). The purpose of that thorn was not to paralyze him in his service to God, but to keep him humble and dependent.
In this way there can be things in our lives that we would like to get rid of, but that we still have to carry with us. These are not sins, for these we must condemn. It mostly is about unpleasant matters which, in our opinion, limit our functioning. But God has allowed these things to keep us humble so that we can function better for Him.
3 The Enemies
3 [These nations are]: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath.
The enemies mentioned by name are the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites. The area of the enemies is also described. Each enemy has its own field of activity. The Philistines are mentioned first. So we find it also in Joshua 13 (Jos 13:1-2). There the LORD says that there is still much land left to take possession of. If the land not conquered is listed, the area of the Philistines is mentioned first.
The Philistines occupy a special place among the enemies of Israel. They are the most persistent enemies. Only when David is king he will take away the strength from this enemy, but even then he is not completely eliminated. Even then he remains active, even if he is no longer the ruler of the people.
It is remarkable that not the Philistine people are mentioned here, but “five lords of the Philistines”. In Joshua 13 we read about the same five lords and the names of the places they reign are listed (Jos 13:3). Three of these places Judah has captured (Jdg 1:18). But here it turns out that they have not done this adequately.
The Philistines are a people who have nestled in the land and claim it for themselves. In Exodus 13 we read that God allows His people to leave Egypt and that He “did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near” (Exo 13:17). The shortest route to Canaan would have been via the land of the Philistines. Yet this is not the way God has shown His people. He has had a different way for them in mind, a way in which they have had experiences with Him and through which they have come to know Him and also themselves better.
The Philistines entered the land by another way. They are a picture of a people who do not know the salvation of Egypt, although they are connected to it, because they originally come from Egypt. In Genesis 10 Mizraim is mentioned as an ancestor of the Philistines and Mizraim is Egypt (Gen 10:13-14). This means that both Israel and the Philistines had to deal with Egypt.
The difference is that Israel has been there in slavery and redeemed by God, while the Philistines are a wandering people who have left Egypt but have never known salvation. They also know nothing of experiences with God in the wilderness and of a passage through the Jordan to get into the promised land.
The Philistines represent people who say they are Christians, who say they are entitled to the blessings of God, but who have no life out of God. They have never sincerely confessed their sins before God and do not participate in salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus. They are nominal Christians. They are people who, in their so-called being Christians, are guided by their own thoughts and feelings.
Nominal Christians push the Bible their way. Serving God they do so in the way that seems best to them. Their religion is determined by the ‘five lords’. We can compare this with the five senses of man. In serving God, the nominal Christian is guided by what he hears, sees, smells, feels and tastes, that is to say, purely by his own perception and not by the Spirit of God, for he does not possess Him.
This way of religion is common in Christianity. It is not what God says that determines, but what man thinks. When the opinion of nominal Christians becomes decisive in the things of God, the Philistines as it were are in charge and the people of God are robbed of God’s blessing and the enjoyment thereof.
About the second enemy mentioned here, the Canaanites, some things have been written about in the discussion of Judges 1:8-9. Further on, at verse 5 of this chapter, some more will be added.
The third enemy comes from Sidon. This is in the area of Asher (Jdg 1:31). Because of the unfaithfulness of Asher, this enemy is still alive and exercises his influence. Because of this, the Israelites began to serve the gods of the Sidonians (Jdg 10:6). The judgment prophecy about Sidon (Eze 28:21-24) shows that Sidon was for Israel a ‘prickling brier or a painful thorn’. God blames this city for the inhabitants having enriched themselves with His silver and gold and for having traded His people as merchandise (Joel 3:4-6).
The enemy Sidon represents to us is the thirst for wealth. When greed reigns over the people of God, it becomes a plague that prevents them from enjoying God’s blessings. The relationship between Sidon’s greed for money and the pain that Sidon brings to the people of God in all times is aptly expressed in 1 Timothy 6. There we read: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1Tim 6:10). Can it be said clearer?
The Hivites are discussed when we discuss verse 5.
4 Obey the Commandments
4 They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses.
The previous chapter states that Israel is put to the test to see “whether they will keep the way of the LORD” (Jdg 2:22). Now we see another angle why the enemies remained in the land. The purpose here is “for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses”. The presence of the enemies is therefore also a test of whether they will stick to the Word of God.
On the way we go, all kinds of things happen to which we react, consciously or unconsciously. Through our reaction we show whether we take into account God and His interests or whether we are concerned about ourselves and our own interests.
5 Among the Nations
5 The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites;
The presence of the peoples in the midst of which Israel lives is caused by Israel’s unfaithfulness in the past. But God will not stop there. He uses these peoples to test the faithfulness of His people. He hands them over to the results of their disobedience, but does so that they may ask for Him again.
Day after day they live among these nations. They are thereby put to the test whether they will remain faithful and obedient to the LORD and chase away these enemies anyway. Their presence is on the one hand a testimony of their unfaithfulness in the past, and on the other hand it is a challenge to drive out their enemies and take possession of what God has given them, or to restore what they have lost.
What do these enemies represent? They are a picture of spiritual powers that want to influence the behavior of God’s people. What kind of influences these are, we can deduct from the meaning of their names. Every Christian or community of Christians is exposed to these influences. The big question is how we respond to it. Do we give in, let ourselves be influenced by these enemies, or are we going to attack them and defeat them with God’s Word? That is the test for us in the spiritual sense as it is for Israel in the literal sense.
About the meaning of the name Canaan (‘merchant’) another application can be made that we might recognize. Sometimes, without knowing or wanting, we can easily be influenced by this enemy. This is not about a financial benefit. There is also social benefit to be gained. Something can give a certain status to someone.
Some great men on earth claim to be Christians. Anyone who wants to come to the flattery of such prominent guys will have to show himself a Christian and adopt Christian values. In this way, the Christian goods are turned into a trade. It is not a question of whether someone is a real Christian or just in name. In many cases only God can answer that question. What matters is the way we act, the way we deal with the things of God.
I read an illustration of this in the newspaper. A list of the top six favorite preachers of U.S. President Bill Clinton (president from 20-01-1993 to 20-01-2001) was published. You wonder what’s the value of that. If you’re part of that, of course, it scores well, especially if you’re number one for him. It puts the preacher’s person in the spotlight and also his supporters. That makes a profit. If you are number 1 or 5 or 6 for Clinton, there will be many more who want to join you and your group. Many would much rather identify with a celebrated and influential person in the world than with a rejected and despised Christ in heaven. How God judges the value and profit of such a top six, will be left to Him.
Their name means ‘sons of horror’. The influence they exert lies in the atmosphere of instilling fear. This enemy tries to strangle the mouths of Christians. His proven weapon is fear. Many Christians are afraid to open their mouths to testify of their Lord. This may be a word to unrepentant people, but it may also be a word to be heard among believers.
Why are so few believers preaching the gospel? Why do so few children of God in the church open their mouths to thank God or to pray? Fear grips the people of God. Afraid to lose your face. Afraid, because you are too busy with yourself. When the heart is full of the Lord Jesus, shyness and fear are overcome, for what the heart is full of the mouth speaks out (Mt 12:34b). The presence of this enemy is the challenge to occupy yourself with the Lord Jesus. Then you can beat him.
They are the ‘talkers’, that is one of the meanings of their name. It is a very different enemy than the previous one that gaggles you. Someone can talk a lot, but without really saying anything. An easy talker uses a lot of words. Please note here it is about an enemy. It’s about talking as a negative feature.
There are Christians who are afraid to testify of the Lord Jesus, but who can show up whole stories about Christian values. Just look at the ‘Christian’ politics. This enemy must be overcome by fellowship with the Lord. When the “mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16) takes over the mind life, the “talkers” are defeated. Then the words get substance and they work out something in those who hear.
Perizzites means, among other things, ‘rulers’. They represent a spiritual class above the common people. They are the people who can know, because after all, they have studied for it. It is not what they say, but what they are. A person who has not studied, has no title in his name, cannot speak with authority. In a community where this applies, the Perizzites are in charge.
The teaching of the Lord Jesus that He gives when He is on earth is not accepted among other things, because He does not possess the papers that are judged necessary (Jn 7:15). That’s still how it works today. A person who has not followed recognized religious education is ignored in large parts of Christianity, no matter how much he speaks God’s truth. They just don’t listen to him, because he’s not a ‘colleague’. This enemy is overcome by listening to what the Lord Jesus says in Luke 22 (Lk 22:25-27).
The Hivites are the counterparts of the Perizzites. In contrast to the Perizzites, the ‘rulers’, we see in the Hivites the ‘villagers’. That is the meaning of their name. They are the common people, the lay people. They are not concerned about the interpretation of the Bible. They have their ‘rulers’ for that, who are paid by them. The convenience serves mankind, and if one pays for it, one can thereby reassure one’s conscience. Many Christians like not having to take responsibility and refrain from any activity.
In 1 Corinthians 12 we meet both the Perizzites and the Hivites. There we hear someone say that he is “not of the body” (1Cor 12:15-16). It seems that a ‘Hivite’ is speaking here. Although it is about someone who is dissatisfied with the place he has in the body, it can be applied to this enemy. The result of laziness and dissatisfaction is the same: nothing happens.
Every child of God has its own unique place in the body (the church) and may, yes, even has to perform the function that goes with it. Its function is for the benefit of the whole body (the whole church).
We also listen to a ‘Perizzite’(1Cor 12:21-22). He can do it and doesn’t need the others. He is above it.
The Jebusites close the list. The meaning of their name, ‘trampling ones’, shows the end result of what we’ve noticed in the previous enemies. They trample all that is of God. They overrun it. They resemble the dogs and swine of Matthew 7 (Mt 7:6). The Lord Jesus warns His disciples there that they will not give them “the holy” and “your pearls”, for they will trample it and tear it apart.
When we think of ‘the holy’ we can think of the Lord’s Supper. This is not for those who are not converted, but only for those who, through conversion to God and faith in the Lord Jesus, belong to the church. Unbelievers understand nothing of its meaning. They do not participate in the work of redemption of the Lord Jesus. All they can do with the Lord’s Supper is trample it under their feet.
When we think of ‘your pearls’ we can think of the precious truths that the Bible contains about the church and about so many blessings of the believer. All these truths are not for unbelievers, but for believers. Unauthorized people cannot appreciate these precious truths. They ridicule and mock them. That is why we should not discuss this with them.
This enemy can be conquered by ensuring that no not converted person is accepted at the Lord’s Table. We must not allow someone who does not have a life from God to participate in the service in the church. This can be done by maintaining discipline in the church, as the Scripture indicates, among other things, in 1Corrinthians 5 (1Cor 5:1-13). This can also be done by keeping to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6-7 and in 2 Timothy 2 (2Cor 6:14-18; 2Cor 7:1; 2Tim 2:16-22).
6 Marriage and Worship
6 and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
The enemy knows how to subdue the Israelites. The best way to do that is through love. He argues as follows: ‘Let our girls marry men from Israel and the girls from Israel marry our men. After a while the Israelites will take over our habits. After all, they will even start worshipping our gods.’
This way has always proved successful. If the enemy is not dealt with in obedience to God’s Word, a love affair will arise with the world that means the demise of God’s people. It is impossible to be neutral with the enemy. The enemy never abandons defeat and will take advantage of every occasion to submit God’s people to himself.
The same goes for us. If we feel at home in the company of the world, we will commit ourselves to it, while Christians are a people who, just like Israel, must live alone, separated from the world (Jn 17:17; Num 23:9b). The next and final step is to serve the gods of the world. We see that the order is: first eat and drink together, then marry or connect and finally worship together.
In Numbers 25 and 1 Corinthians 10 there are several negative histories which also have to do with eating and drinking and which show the same result (Num 25:1-3; 1Cor 10:7). Eating and drinking in these cases are not isolated things. They are used by the enemy to make contacts. These contacts gradually lead to closer ties, until the closest link, that of the marriage, is established. A next, inevitable step is to serve the gods of the spouse.
7 Evil in the Sight of the LORD
7 The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.
Seven times we read in this book that “the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Jdg 2:11; 3:7,12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). These words herald every time again a new period of decay. Forgetting the LORD their God and serving the idols are the two aspects of evil, both of which become visible here. The second evil results from the first. There is no other way. He who forgets God no longer heed His commandments and no longer listens to Him. An emptiness is created.
If there is no place for God, there is place for an idol. He will fill the void that has arisen with all kinds of other things to which someone will devote his attention, time and energy. That other thing becomes an idol than. In the explanation of Judges 2:13 the Baal has already been mentioned. The “Asheroth“ or “sacred poles”, as it also can be translated, are possibly a kind of fence around the idol, to protect him (cf. Jdg 6:25).
8 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.
“Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” God is deeply grieved by the actions of His people. He cannot stand idly by. Out of deep indignation, God is now going to act with His people in a way that does not exactly fit the wrong impressions we can have of a loving God. God is not the generous Father of Whom we sometimes think He condones sin. As if He would compare the actions of His people with bad guys tricks, which you should not judge too seriously. No, God takes the deeds of His people very seriously. He must discipline them for this.
However, God never acts from a feeling of irritation, as we can. If God must discipline His people, He does so with a view to their recovery. He wants them to repent and confess, so that He can bring them back to Himself and bless them again. Therefore they are surrendered by Him in the hand of the enemy. God says, as it were, to His people: ‘You want to serve the world? Well, then you will know what the world is like.’ Whoever as a believer wants the world will have the world, but as a master.
Mesopotamia means ‘land of the two rivers’ and is a picture of the world. Entertainment and pleasure on the one hand and religion on the other are the two rivers that make the world a pleasant abode for man without God. That Mesopotamia is a picture of the world can be deduced from Genesis 12 and Acts 7 (Gen 12:1; Acts 7:2). It is an area where the idols are served. From that region Abraham is called to become the ancestor of Israel (Jos 24:2).
Every believer is called by God to give up the world in the same way as Abraham. Nowhere in the Bible do we read a call to stay in the world and to improve it (cf. Gal 1:4). The believer is “not of the world” (Jn 17:16). Of course, he has a task there, as the Lord has had a task there, as He clearly says (Jn 20:21b), but the world no longer has a right to us.
The king of Mesopotamia is called Cushan-rishathaim. His name means ‘blackness (or: darkness) of double anger’. This speaks of the darkness in which the world is shrouded. The world shuts itself off from the light of God, even rejecting the light (Jn 1:5; 3:19). When the light shines, but it is still rejected, the greatest darkness arises.
Whoever professes to be a Christian, but turns his back on God and serves the idols, will lose all the light he once had. God will have to allow such a man to lose sight of Him, the Source of light, and of the Lord Jesus, the Light of the world (1Jn 1:5; Jn 8:12). To such a person applies: “If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt 6:23).
Only when this situation has lasted eight years the people call to God. The number eight speaks of a new beginning after a complete period of seven years. Only when someone is completely stuck and can’t get out of it himself he will call to God and is prepared to make a new start with God.
9 When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.
From this situation, Israel can only be liberated by a man like Othniel. We have already met him in Judges 1 (Jdg 1:13-15). There he emerges as a faithful man and an overcomer within his own circle. He is someone who has interest for the blessing of God. He allows himself to be inspired to act in faith. The starting point of his life is the Word of God. After all, he has taken Debir (Jdg 1:12-13)? Debir means ‘speaking of God’.
We have also seen in Judges 1 how important his relationship with Achsah is. His marriage to Achsah shows that he does not participate in the general sin of Israel mentioned in verse 3 of this chapter. He did not take a wife from the nations, but one from the people of God. He abides by God’s Word. To say it with a word from 1 Corinthians 7, he marries “in the Lord” (1Cor 7:39). Because he is personally free from the sins of the people, God can use him. All these things make it clear how things stand in Othniel’s personal life.
He who does not organize his affairs at home according to God’s Word should not think that he can do anything for the benefit of the whole people. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Lk 16:10). The education at home, in the family, is still the best preparation for serving the Lord in the church.
As has already been mentioned, today we recognize the judges mainly in the overseers or elders in the church. It is written of an overseer that it must be someone “[He must be] one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1Tim 3:4-5). These are the people who can help other believers today to escape the grip of the world that has caught them again. With their help these believers can enjoy God’s triumphs again.
10 - 11 The Enemy Defeated
10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11 Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.
Othniel did not owe his victory to himself. Although he is a suitable instrument, he has no power in himself to defeat the enemy. This requires the power of the “Spirit of the LORD”. Only the Holy Spirit can ensure that the wrong elements of the life of God’s people are removed.
The first activity we read about is that Othniel judges Israel. Only then does he go to war. He is first concerned with the condition of God’s people. He makes it clear where they are wrong. This must lead to self-judgment. Non-confessed sins weaken the people of God. There is no strength to fight. The first work of the Spirit is that He lets us discover in ourselves what is wrong, so that we can remove it from our lives. In this way we are freed and the Spirit can fill us.
Then what is referred to as the second can take place, that is to say, go out to war. The characteristic of the young men, that they have overcome evil (1Jn 2:14-17), becomes visible in Othniel. He possesses the power of God – his name means ‘lion of God’. Also the Word of God abides in him – he has previously taken Kiriath-sefer and made it Debir (Jdg 1:11-13).
After its victory, the land has rest forty years. If the power of God reigns, there is a situation where the enemy has no chance to do his corruptive work. But after forty years, Othniel dies, that is, the power of God has disappeared. The result is quickly apparent.
12 Moab and Eglon
12 Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD.
When Othniel has died, it does not take long or the Israelites do again what is evil in the sight of the LORD. It seems that they have learned nothing from the last time. Are they not a poignant example of who we are? It is significant that it says that the LORD strengthens the enemy. God’s power is not with His disobedient people of Israel, but with the enemy Moab. Is Moab better than Israel? No, he is not, but God wants to use Moab as a rod of discipline to get His people to return to Him.
This enemy also represents something. What that is, we can deduct from his name and from his history. His name means ‘from the father’. Who is his father? That is Lot (Gen 19:36-37). In Lot we see a man who loves the world. He looks at what is in front of his eyes. He is guided by the desires of the flesh, that is the old nature that every believer still has within. In Genesis 13 this is reflected in the choice he makes (Gen 13:8-11).
The man who rules Moab is called Eglon. Eglon means ‘round’ or ‘circle’. We could say that with Moab (the flesh) everything takes place within the circle of own interest. ‘I’ is central, and there is no place for God in this circle. The previous enemy, Cushan-rishathaim, who is a picture of the world, is followed by an enemy who is a picture of the flesh. This enemy is now given power over God’s people.
In the life of a deviated believer, this means that he will behave himself carnal, that he is looking for the satisfaction of his own desires. That never gives real satisfaction.
13 Ammon and Amalek
13 And he gathered to himself the sons of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and defeated Israel, and they possessed the city of the palm trees.
Moab seeks the help of Ammon and Amalek. Ammon has the same horrible origins as Moab (Gen 19:38). His name means ‘independent’ and shows the self-will of the flesh. Amalek is a descendant of Esau (Gen 36:12). His name means ‘people of rulers’. It shows the assertiveness, the desires of the flesh to rule. “The city of the palm trees” is Jericho, the city that forms the entrance to the land and is captured by Israel (Jos 6:1,20). The enemy now takes possession of that city again and thereby has a strategic place in his hands.
If a believer is unfaithful, the flesh takes possession of important principles in his life. For example, when making important decisions he is not guided by the Spirit, but by the flesh. When flesh takes control in a local church, there is conflict and confusion.
In the Bible the church in Corinth is an example of this. Paul must exhort them because they are fleshly (1Cor 3:1). In this situation he cannot speak to them about the blessings that are part of the Christian. He must remind them again of the most elementary things of faith, “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1Cor 2:2).
14 Period of Oppression
14 The sons of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
During the previous domination, it took eight years before Israel cries to the LORD (verses 8-9). Now eighteen years of domination are passing before the people reach that point. It seems that deviating again from the LORD makes the people more insensitive to the discipline that God sends. It is only after eighteen years that the awareness of becoming slaves begins to grow and they long for their freedom. That is the experience we can experience as well. The longer we forget God, the longer it takes for us to return to Him.
15 But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab.
Ehud is the man who God rises up to deliver His people. His name means ‘the decisive’, ‘the strong’. He is Gera’s son, which means ‘reflection’. He comes from the tribe of Benjamin, which means ‘son of my right hand’. If we think about these names, we can observe the following characteristics in Ehud. He comes from Benjamin, which shows that he is connected with a position of strength, because that is what the name Benjamin speaks of.
However, it is not enough just to know that we are in a particular position. It also means that we make that position our property. That is, we are reflecting about what it means to have been given that place. This is reflected in the name Gera, ‘reflection’. The result of this ‘reflection’ is that a powerful performance takes place.
Ehud is left-handed. Therefore he carries his sword on the right (verse 16). That’s an unusual place, but for him it’s the best. This way he can use his weapon in the way that suits him best. From this we can learn that we should use the Bible in the way that suits us and that we should not imitate others in its use. That doesn’t work. Thus David has nothing to do with the armor and sword of Saul. He knows how to deal with sling and stone and with that he kills the enemy (1Sam 17:38-39,49-50).
The literal translation of the word ‘left-handed’ is ‘closed from his right hand’. Apparently he can’t use his right hand. This can mean that something has gone wrong in his life, that for example he has had an accident that causes him to miss the use of his right hand.
In the life of a believer, something can also go wrong, causing him to lose his grip on the things of God. For example, someone may know the blessings described in the letter to the Ephesians, but be so busy with the things of earthly life that he no longer has time and attention for those blessings. In that way ‘gifts are given to the flesh’, which we also see in Israel, which through the hand of Ehud brings tribute to Eglon. For us, this tribute may consist of letting pass by opportunities to learn more of God’s blessings. We never get those opportunities back. We live for ourselves. We are overwhelmed by earthly worries and do not think of “the things above” (Col 3:1).
16 A Two-Edged Sword
16 Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak.
Here we see the basis for victory. This is achieved by Ehud making for himself a sword with “two edges”. With this he overcomes his personal handicap and becomes useful to God as a blessing for His people. In various places in the New Testament we can read that this two-edged sword is a picture of the Word of God (Heb 4:12; Eph 6:17; Rev 1:16; 2:12; 19:15). The Word of God is the weapon with which any enemy can be defeated. But we have to be able to handle it, that is to say we have to get to know the Word so that we can use it.
The Lord Jesus uses this ‘sword’ against the devil when He is tempted in the wilderness. He parries every attack of the opponent with “it is written” and then cites a verse from the book Deuteronomy (Mt 4:4,7,10).
It is a two-edged sword, i.e. it cuts in two directions. For us, this means that we must apply the Word first to ourselves and only then to the opponent. This order Paul presents to Timothy when he says to him: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1Tim 4:16). We cannot defeat the adversary if we allow things in our lives that are contrary to the Bible. We must first listen to the Bible ourselves and remove what is contrary to it.
The sword is a cubit in length. It is a precisely measured size, not too big and not too small. We must not add anything to the Word, nor take anything away from it. We need the whole Word, not just our favorite parts. Nothing is unimportant. Nor should we add our ideas or traditions. A cubit also speaks of something insignificant (Lk 12:25-26). The Word of God is shabby for people who trust and build on their own mind. But the simplest truths of the Word of God are capable of striking the flesh in all its corruption when used in real faith.
Ehud wears the sword under his clothes. Nobody sees it. This is reminiscent of the word of the Psalmist: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You” (Psa 119:11). At the same time, the Word gives strength to his walk: he wears it “on his right thigh”.
17 A Very Fat Man
17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man.
Armed with his newly made sword, Ehud will bring the tribute to Eglon for the last time. Eglon is a fat man. As said, this enemy is a picture of the flesh, where everything revolves around its own ‘I’. That cannot but result in sloth. Everything is viewed from the idea of how ‘I’ can benefit from it. There is no thought of others. Egoism reigns supreme. ‘I’ is getting big and voluminous. There is nothing in the flesh that attracts the spiritually-minded believer.
18 - 19 A Secret Message
18 It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him.
God has raised up Ehud as a savior (verse 15). After his personal preparation he is ready for his actual task. After he together with others have fulfilled the obligation, he sends the others away. The commission of God is addressed to him personally. He must fulfill it on his own, without any further attendees. He achieves his victory in secret, without any outward showing. The effect of his act of faith is public and benefits the whole people. Others, the people, will benefit from his deed.
Gilgal occupies an important place in his mission, from there he leaves. We have already met Gilgal before (Jdg 2:1). There we saw that it is the place from which Israel has always left to conquer the land and to which the people have returned after a conquest. Ehud does the same (verse 26).
The circumcision also took place at Gilgal. The spiritual meaning of this is the judgment of the sinful flesh. Circumcision teaches us that every battle to be fought can never be fought in our own strength, in the strength of our flesh. If we go into the awareness that there is no power in us, God can fill us with His power.
The stones of verse 19 are probably those which Joshua erected as a memorial on the river banks after the people passed through the Jordan (Jos 4:20). But here are they are transformed into “idols”. This also happened with statutes given by the Lord, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Bible states that both have to do with the death of the Lord Jesus. Because this meaning is abandoned in parts of Christianity, they became sacraments with an idolatrous meaning for the roman catholic church. They have even become means by which, when one uses them, one thinks one receives eternal life.
20 - 23 The Judgement on Eglon
20 Ehud came to him while 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 Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. 22 The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked [them].
Eglon is alone, in an environment that is completely adapted to his wishes. He sits there at ease, to satisfy all his desires. Here we see a striking picture of the selfishness of the flesh that wants everything for itself. There is only one answer to such an attitude and that is the message from God that Ehud speaks. This is how the judgment on Eglon is carried out (Heb 4:12; Rev 19:13-15). The flesh can only be killed in the presence of God.
That Eglon arises seems to indicate a certain respect for the Word of God, but it is only an external form. There is nothing in his heart that is really open to this Word. Such people have always been there and they are still there. However, that does not change the judgment that the Word pronounces on them. How they are by nature is obvious when the Word is applied in its full sharpness. That’s how it goes with Eglon. The sword goes into his belly and “the refuse”, that is his girth, comes out. The corruption that is in him comes out through the sword.
The corruption of the flesh is revealed by God’s Word. Don’t we get frightened of ourselves when suddenly disgusting thoughts come up in us? That is the only thing the flesh can produce. The flesh of an unbeliever and the flesh of a believer are exactly the same. The Word makes it public and gives its opinion on it.
After Ehud applied it to himself (verses 16,19), he now applies it to the enemy of God’s people. He does so radically, deeply. He does not deal with his enemy in a sugary and superficial way. Nor is he content with a partial or temporary victory, but he wants a final victory. He leaves the sword in place, he doesn’t pull it out. He also closes the room in which he killed Eglon.
As for him, he has done everything to completely eliminate this enemy of God’s people so that he cannot reappear. The application is clear. If we have judged a certain effect of the flesh in ourselves or in others by the Word that has caused it to disappear, then we must not allow it to reappear.
24 - 25 The Servants of Eglon
24 When he had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, “He is only relieving himself in the cool room.” 25 They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead.
The fact that the king of Moab is eliminated does not mean that the people of Moab are deprived of their strength. Eglon has servants and warriors (verse 29). The servants have a good explanation for the locked door. They think he went to the toilet. If you eat a lot, you often have to lose your excrement.
At some point it takes too long to them. They suspect that something has happened. They get a key and discover that their lord is dead. We don’t read how they react. The actions and deliberations of the servants fit perfectly with the behavior of their lord. They belong to him and possess his spirit. The flesh has many expressions, but all these different expressions breathe the same spirit. It is always about satisfying the flesh.
26 - 30 The Victory of the People
26 Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah. 27 It came about when he had arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he [was] in front of them. 28 He said to them, “Pursue [them], for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hands.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan opposite Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross. 29 They struck down at that time about ten thousand Moabites, all robust and valiant men; and no one escaped. 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land was undisturbed for eighty years.
After Ehud has won his victory, he calls on others to share his victory. He does not rest until the whole people have a part in it. This is the true spirit of brotherly love. He is committed to others. He does not withdraw from the battle when he has done his part, but leads the army to finish the work.
How important it is to give others a good example. This is particularly true for an elder or overseer of whom we can see a picture in the judge. If the flesh has been radically dealt with by God’s Word, an elder or overseer can say “follow me,” and then show the believers the way to victory.
Any connection between Ehud and the enemy is broken. In our lives too, the world and the flesh must be dealt with openly and decisively. Only then will we have a lasting victory. The only crossing in the Jordan is occupied. The Israelites crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land. They could only cross the river at the place where the ark paved the way for the people. For us, the ark in the Jordan speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ through which we have gained a place in the heavenly places. This strategic point must be retained by the believers at all costs.
Eglon is fat and so are many in his army. They are like him, for they are in his service and are fighting for the same cause. But they too must be killed. All the remains of the world and the flesh, the ten thousand “robust and valiant men”, die on the banks of the Jordan, the place that speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ. Moab is humiliated, not destroyed. The flesh remains an enemy as long as we live, but we must keep it in death.
The victory of Ehud has given the land eighty years of rest. As long as the sword, that is the Word of God, is active, there is rest. Although the period of rest is twice as long as the previous period of rest, this period also comes to an end, as we will see in the next chapter.
31 After him came Shamgar the son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad; and he also saved Israel.
Only one verse is dedicated to a victory over the Philistines by a certain Shamgar. His name means ‘foreigner’ or ‘resident’. The name is not Jewish. That seems to indicate that Shamgar comes from the nations. He is the son of Anath, which means ‘answer’. His weapon, “an oxgoad”, also speaks of the Word, but then as the world looks at it. For the world, the Word is without any visible value.
Shamgar is apparently a farmer, a simple person, someone who may not even be able to pronounce words well (cf. 1Cor 1:26-29). Possibly he is uneducated (Acts 4:13). He has, to put it in today’s language, no knowledge of the source text and he has not had a high level of education.
The Philistine people are an enemy in the land. They populate a small strip of land on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. They claim the land for themselves and even stamp it by attaching their name to it. In the word ‘Palestine’ the name ‘Philistines’ can be heard.
But Shamgar is taught by God. In this way he knows the distinction between a member of God’s people and an enemy of it, even though that enemy also speaks the same language as God’s people. He knows ‘his Bible’ and knows how to use it. Shamgar’s oxgoad never fails when he uses it for his oxen. He can trust its operation. He keeps his oxen on the path he wants them to take. From experience we know that we can trust in God’s Word. It never let us down.
The enemy cannot stand up to such a testimony. Like the unbeliever who mockingly said to a preacher that he could not believe that the Lord Jesus had changed water into wine. That preacher invited him to his house. There he would show him an even greater miracle: how beer had turned into household goods. He used to be a drunkard, but God’s Word had healed him. Then he started spending his money in another way.
We can learn a number of things from this one verse and make applications:
1. Only in Judges 4 we do read that Ehud, the previous judge, died (Jdg 4:1). It seems that Shamgar was a contemporary of Ehud. After Ehud’s victory, not after his death, Shamgar followed the same path of faith. He is a fellow deliverer. In this way we can achieve victories together, each on our territory, for the benefit of all the people.
2. As said, his name means ‘stranger’. The awareness that our own home is heaven and that only there is rest there for the Christian, makes us fit to overcome the enemy.
3. Anath, which means ‘answer’, evokes the thought that Shamgar’s rise is an answer to Israel’s ‘calling’.
4. This enemy is in the land, unlike Moab, the previous enemy, who comes from outside the land. Philistine means ‘wanderer’. This resembles ‘stranger’. The difference is that a wanderer does not have his own place of residence, while a stranger does.
5. The number six hundred also has something to tell us. Besides names, numbers in the Bible also have their meaning. The number six speaks of man created on the sixth day. Examples we have with the image of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 3:1) and the number of the beast (Rev 13:18). Six lacks one to be seven; the latter represents perfection. Shamgar’s victory is not a final victory.
6. The oxgoad is used to keep the oxen in the right track. It is a stick with sharp points. If an ox deviates, it is corrected with that stick. This is a beautiful picture of what God’s Word does in our lives. We often learn to apply the Word in our lives because others tell us something from it. “The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of [these] collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd” (Ecc 12:11). Such words let the pilgrim walk in the right direction instead of “to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14).
7. “He also saved Israel.” We can emphasize the word ‘also’. It indicates that he, like his predecessors Othniël and Ehud, has redeemed Israel from a precarious position. This has given them back their freedom.
Othniel is a soldier, Ehud a diplomat and Shamgar an oxherd. God has been able to use them all because they have made themselves available to Him out of love for His people.