The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD left some of the nations as a test for those among the Israelites who had not taken part in any of the wars in the land of Canaan. 2The LORD did this to teach the art of warfare to those who had no experience of it. 3They were the five cities of the Philistines with their kings, all the Canaanites, Sidonians and Hivites in the Lebanon mountains from Mt. Baal-Hermon to Lebo-Hamath 4who were left to test the Israelites to see if they would obey the LORD’s commands given through Moses.
5So the Israelites lived with the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, 6and took their daughters as wives and gave their daughters to them and began to worship their gods. 7The LORD saw this as evil because they had forgotten the LORD their God and had begun to worship the Baals and Asherahs. 8The LORD was angry, and gave them to Cushan-Rishathaim, the king of Aram-Naharaim. The Israelites served him for eight years. 9They finally cried out to the LORD for help, and the LORD called Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, who came to their rescue. 10The Spirit of the LORD came upon Othniel, and he became Israel’s judge, and the LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim into his hands. 11There was peace in the land until Othniel died.
12The Israelites again strayed from the LORD’s way, and the LORD gave them into the hands of Eglon king of Moab. 13Eglon joined forces with the Ammonites and Amalekites, and they attacked Israel and took the city of palms (Jericho). 14The Israelites were Eglon’s servants for eighteen years.
15Once again they cried out to the LORD, and the LORD sent them Ehud, a left-handed man who was the son of Gera of the tribe of Benjamin. The Israelites sent Ehud to deliver the valuable items demanded by Eglon. 16Ehud had made a sword, double-edged, about eighteen inches long, and he tied it to his right thigh underneath his clothes. 17He presented the items to Eglon, who was very fat, 18and then sent the men who had carried the items with him back home.
19But Ehud stopped at the stone quarry near Gilgal and returned to king Eglon. He said, “I have a secret message for you, king.”
Eglon called for silence and sent his attendants out.
20Ehud then approached the king while he was all by himself in his rooftop shelter, and said, “I have a message for you from God,” and Eglon rose from his chair. 21Then, with his left hand, Ehud drew the sword tied to his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s stomach 22until even the hilt sank into the fat. He left the sword in Eglon’s belly, 23went out onto the roof and closed the door of the shelter and secured it behind him.
24When he was gone the servants came and found the door locked. They thought Eglon must be relieving himself. 25They waited a long time, and finally used the key and went inside, and there was their king dead on the floor.
26Meanwhile, Ehud had escaped past the stone quarry and on to Seirah. 27When he got there he blew a trumpet, and the Israelites in the hill country of Ephraim joined him. 28“Follow me!” he called. “The LORD has given Moab your enemy into your hands!” They followed him to the fords of the Jordan and took them, and blocked the passage into Moab. 29They attacked, and killed about ten thousand strong and able Moabite men and allowed none to escape.
30So, Moab was defeated that day, and the land had peace for eighty years.
31After Ehud, Shamgar son of Anath took out six hundred Philistines with a cattle prod.
Israel still has many enemies both in the land of Canaan and surrounding it, and these enemies periodically assert control over one or more of the tribes. The book is adamant that each of these oppressions is the result of their having forsaken the worship of God. A series of “judges,” popular charismatic characters who can inspire the people, arise to lead them both to throw off the yoke of their oppressors and to return to the covenant. We will see that some of them are warlords of dubious character.
1-6: The book of Judges takes a different view of the situation than did the book of Joshua. In Joshua, the Canaanites remaining in the land represented a failure of the tribes. In Judges, they are there so that God can test Israel to see if they will be true to the covenant. They fail the test, intermarrying with the various peoples in the land and worshiping the local gods.
7-11: The “Baals” is a reference to the various gods worshiped by the pagan people of the land. “Baal” is the Canaanite word for “Lord.” The Asherahs is also a reference to local deities represented by something like totem poles. It is hard to know whether “Israelites” here means the whole country or only some of the tribes. Cushan-Rishathaim may be at least partially fictitious, as it means “Cushan of Double Wickedness.” Aram-Naharaim provides an almost comic rhyme to “Rishathaim”. It means “Aram of Two Rivers,” perhaps a reference to the Tigris and Euphrates. There are as yet no discovered records of Cushan-Rishathaim outside the Bible. Othniel is the nephew of Caleb who won Caleb’s daughter Achsah (see 1:12-13). He is the only judge from the tribe of Judah in the book of Judges. His efforts result in 40 years of peace in Israel.
The outline in these verses will be followed throughout the book: 1) The people forsake God; 2) God allows them to be oppressed; 3) the people cry out (as they did in Egypt); 4) God hears, and raises up a “judge” who will lead them to overthrow their oppressors; 5) the land then has peace until; 6) the judge dies, and; 7) the people forsake God.
12-30: With Othniel dead, the people revert to their old ways of mixing pagan worship with their religious ceremonies. King Eglon of Moab is the next oppressor, with help from allies. He oppresses them for eighteen years, and the people finally cry out to God (the last time it only took them eight years to cry out to God!).
God summons Ehud, a left-handed Benjaminite, to be the next judge. Ehud assassinates Eglon in a story sequence that again has some comedic elements, though rather crudely presented. With Eglon dead, the Israelites rise up and seal their border at the Jordan River. Eighty years of peace ensue.
31: Shamgar receives slight mention. Apparently, his escapades happen during the 80 years of peace, and involve the Philistines in the western part of Canaan.
In the book of Judges, God is testing Israel and then showing his regard for them by sending them a rescuer. God does the same to us as well, putting us into situations that test our faithfulness. When we fail, God lets us suffer the consequences for a while, but always sends someone or something to show us our mistakes and give us the opportunity to overcome them.