Judges 3: Othniel & Ehud

Judges 3 covers the victories of Othniel and Ehud, two of the first judges of Israel

Introduction

God expects the Israelites to prove themselves by defeating the Canaanites. Only when they believed in God and followed His ways would they be able to rise up against the more powerful armies. Throughout judges, the question is always "Will the people follow God or will they chase idols?".

Judges 3 follows two cycles of unrest in Israel. The first period of unrest is ended by Othniel, the nephew of Caleb whom we met in Joshua. The second judge to lead Israel is Ehud, from the tribe of Benjamin.
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Decisions and Consequences

Growing up, my dad's mantra was that in life we have choices, and we always have to live with the consequences of those choices. When it was time to make a decision about something, he would remind me of this and expect me to make the choice that had the best consequences. This is crucial when we make decisions concerning our walk with God. Each act should be proceeded with the question "how will this effect my relationship with God?" and the answer to that question should determine your actions.

The Israelites decided to live amongst the people of the land, despite God telling them to do the opposite. As a consequence, they began to intermarry with the Canaanites, which led to idol worship of Baal and Asherah. Note, that in the King James Version of the Bible, the word "groves" refers to a pole for worshiping Asherah. Naturally, this disobendience infuriates God. As retribution, God turns them over to Chushanrishathaim, a king from Mesopotamia. Under his rule they are forced into servitude for 8 years.
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Implications of Marriages

I've probably discussed this elsewhere on the blog, but just in case, I want to make a point about God's stance on marriage between the Israelites and the Canaanites. For a long time, people used verses like those condemning the intermarrying of the Israelites and Canaanites to justify anti-miscegenation laws. From these verses, people decided interracial dating was forbidden, but that isn't what God was stating here.

While there are several instances of people marrying within their own people (i.e. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.), there are also examples of people marrying from other tribes/nations (i.e. Moses and Joseph). There was no such thing as "race" during the time period we're reading about. God did not consider color of skin or texture of hair to be a sign of someone's worth. This is confirmed in both the New and Old Testament with statements confirming that we were all created in God's image, that we all descend from Adam and Eve, and that we all have a chance to live in the Kingdom of God.

God's concern was with the heart of the people. We see this when Rahab is given sanctuary and the ability to live amongst the people of Israel. She isn't an Israelite, but she marries an Israelite and becomes an ancestor to Jesus! The reason God didn't want the Israelites to marry the Canaanites was not because they were descended from Ham and thus a "different race" or because the were "inferior." It all boiled down to idolatry and paganism. The Canaanites were deeply pagan and God didn't want that rubbing off on the Israelites. It's much easier to participate in drunken pagan rituals than to follow the more straight-laced commandments of God. Which is exactly what we see when these marriages take place.
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Othniel

Eventually, the Israelites plead to God for deliverance, just as they had in Egypt. God shows that He is merciful and loving when He calls upon an the first judge to deliver them: Othniel. This is the same Othniel that won the hand of Caleb's daughter. We are told that the Spirit of God—I assume this is the Holy Spirit—empowers Othniel to rise up and overthrow Chushanrishathaim. During Othniel's leadership, the Israelites experience 40 years of peace. Once Othniel dies, however, the Israelites fall back into idolatry.
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Ehud

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/Brian Lary
When the Israelites fall back into idolatry, the king of Moab, Elgon, partners with the Amorites and Amalekites to capture Jericho (known as the city of palm trees). Elgon keeps Israel in submission for 18 years; it is in this 18th year that Ehud is raised up. Ehud was a left-handed man from the tribe of Benjamin. The Bible notes his left-handedness because during that time period left-handedness was seen as a handicap or disfigurement. Today, this seems like unnecessary detail, but the Israelites who witnessed Ehud's victories (and up until quite recently, anyone who read this passage), would have understood this as a show of God's ability to raise up someone no one expected to be victorious and make them victorious.

Ehud uses his atypical handedness to his advantage. When searching for a weapon, guards would check the left thigh, where a right handed person would find it more natural to retrieve a weapon. However, Ehud hid his weapon on his right thigh, allowing him access to the king while in possession of a weapon.

Using trickery to gain alone time with the king, Ehud claims to have a special gift or secret for the king. In the king's greed for the gift, he dismisses everyone else and brings about his own death. In possibly the most abrupt and modern-action-movie-esque moments of the Bible, Ehud rams the knife into the king's gut. Ehud stabs the king in such a manner that the dagger remains in the fat of the king and the "dirt" of his intestines spill out. "Dirt" most likely refers to whatever was in his intestines.[1]

When Ehud escapes, he locks the door behind him. The king's servants return but assume the king has locked the door for privacy and do not enter or bother him. By the time the servants decide to open the door, the king is dead and Ehud has safely escaped to Seirath.
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Defeating Moab with Ephraim

Ehud blows a trumpet upon enter the tribe of Ephraim's territory. He calls them all to war and they are successful at killing about 10,000 men, subsequently defeating the reign of Moab. 80 years of peace follow Ehud's victory.
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An Observation

Othniel responds immediately to God's call and carries out his task diligently. Ehud, while dabbling in trickery, also carries out God's plan without any protestations. Most of the other judges are just like the Israelites and do not leap at the chance to serve God.
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Minor Judges

The closing verses of Judges 3 tell us about a minor judge who might have been acting during the same time as Othniel and Ehud or directly after: Shamgar. It is thought that perhaps Shamgar was actually a pagan. He is described as son of Anath, which suggests he worshipped the Canaanite goddess of war who was named Anath. The structure of his name is also not Hebrew, further implying he was a foreigner.[1] Continuing the gory tone of the book, we are told that with God's help, Shamgar is able to defeat 600 Philistines with an ox goad. This is just another example of God raising up unexpected people to deliver Israel.
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References

  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg 417-420. 2014

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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