A Failure of Male Leadership

Let’s open our Bibles to Judges chapter 4.

We’ll cover the 4th and 5th chapters in this book today. It’s the story of another judge – another tribal leader. Remember — we’ve seen three judges so far. The first was Othniel the nephew of Caleb. He comes at the beginning of this long sequence of judges. And they get worse and worse. So it doesn’t get any better than Othniel in terms of the quality of his judging Israel. He fought the dark, doubly-wicked king from Mesopotamia. Then we had Ehud. He assassinated Eglon the rotund king of Moab and led Israel to slay many Moabite soldiers. In each case the land had rest from war for decades after they delivered Israel. Then Shamgar doesn’t have much said of him, but he too judged Israel and delivered them from the Philistines.

And why are these judges needed anyway? Let’s rehearse that. It’s because a new generation arose and did not know the Lord. They didn’t have a personal walk with him. They didn’t care about what he said. They turned from him to serve worthless idols. And because they did, the Lord was angry. He would send oppressors to oppress his people in response to their unfaithfulness. And he did that so that they would turn from their idols and turn to him. And it would work, at least temporarily. I just read this morning in 1st Samuel. And there in chapter 12 Samuel is giving a history of Isarel’s disobedience to the Lord. He says that their fathers would disobey in times past. And when they did God would send oppressors. And when that happened the people would cry out to the Lord and say, “…We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD, and have served Baalim and Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee.” So, that sounds like true repentance. But chapter 2 of this book of Judges leads us to believe that this repentance was short-lived or maybe just partial – like maybe some truly repented while the rest of Israel did not. Whatever the case, Israel’s crying out to the Lord for deliverance was at the very least short-lived.

Now, even though their cry may have been completely selfish and for the most part lacking true repentance, the Lord had mercy on his sinful people and sent someone to save them. And that’s where these stories about individual judges come in. These judges are called to save or deliver the Lord’s people. And as I said the judges that we’re presented with go from pretty good… to alright… to bad… to awful. And as we begin our lesson today we transition from good/OK to… well, I’ll let you decide as we go through the text. How does our judge today fare in comparison to Othniel and Ehud?

Judges 4:1-3

So, let’s get acquainted with our judge for today. But first we need to get a picture of why the judge was necessary. Let’s read verses 1 through 3.

KJV Judges 4:1 ¶ And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead. 2 And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. 3 And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.

Now, this Jabin guy might sound familiar to you if you remember our lessons in Joshua. Jabin was the king of Hazor back in Joshua 11. He led a coalition of the northern Canaanite cities who opposed Joshua. But he was defeated and killed. Further, his city Hazor was totally destroyed and burned. But Canaanites have a way of cropping back up. They’re resilient – especially when they’re being used as a chastisement from God for his disobedient people. So this Jabin is not the same person. Perhaps the name Jabin was used like name Pharaoh was in Egypt – it’s really a title rather than a personal name.

And so we’ve said a little about this Jabin fellow. But really he’s not at all a main character in this story. He’s mentioned once more in the entire book of Judges. So he’s really brought into the story to bring the main adversary into the picture. His name is Sisera. And he’s the captain of Jabin’s army. And it’s a well-equipped army. 900 chariots. What’s interesting is that this group of Canaanites is mentioned back in Joshua 11 as having many horses and chariots. So I guess chariots were something of a specialty for them. But you know, in Joshua the chariots weren’t a problem at all. God delivered Israel from these chariot-riding Canaanites. But he’s not doing that this time. The people’s disobedience calls for God to not only not deliver them from the king of Hazor and his commander. It also calls for God to actively use these Canaanites to oppress his people in order to get their attention.

Judges 4:4-7

So for 20 years Sisera oppresses Israel. We’ll get a better idea of what that oppression may have involved in chapter 5. It’s not pretty. And Israel is miserable and in great pain. So they cry out to the Lord. And God mercifully sends a judge to deliver them. Let’s read about him… or her in verses 4 through 7.

4 ¶ And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. 5 And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? 7 And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.

Now, two times in this section “judged” or “judgment” is mentioned in relation to Deborah. So, is she the judge? But then she commissions Barak. And God wants him to do what the typical judge did in this time frame. So… who’s the real judge here? Deborah? Barak? Both of them? Hopefully it’ll become clearer as we continue.

Now, it seems that Deborah is from Ephraim. Barak hails from north of there in Naphtali. Deborah is a prophetess. As we see here she is someone to whom the Israelites go to have some sort of verdict pronounced in their disputes. And that kind of position is needed, surely. But is that how the first three judges in this book have been pictured? As settling disputes? No, we haven’t seen judges do that yet. Well then, maybe she’s not the judge in this story. But here’s another thing she does. She acts as God’s mouthpiece to call Barak to action. Action! Delivering Israel from their enemies! Now, that’s the role of a judge. Maybe Barak then is the judge in this story. Now, we don’t know how the first three judges were called by God. But here we see Barak’s calling to that position. Deborah, speaking for God, tells him that God will surely deliver Sisera into his hand. That’s really exciting. I can’t wait to see him do it!

Judges 4:8

Oh, but… as we look to the next verse we don’t see action. We see… something less encouraging from this potential judge. Let’s read verse 8.

8 And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.

What?! This man who’s called by God through Deborah, his mouthpiece, to be a judge is accepting it with conditions? When God tells you to do something you don’t put conditions on your obeying him! And his condition honestly makes Barak look pretty weak. He won’t go unless this lady Deborah goes with him. Some think he’s declaring that he refuses to go into battle without God’s guidance – which Deborah represents, since she’s God’s prophetess.

Judges 4:9

But I don’t think this request is noble. How do I know? Look at Deborah’s response in verse 9.

9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

If this was your first time reading this story who would you think the woman is that Deborah refers to? Herself — right? So again you’re maybe back to thinking that she’s the judge in the story. But I’ll just cut to the chase and inform you that Deborah is not the woman who kills Sisera. But this whole back and forth between who’s the real judge in the story – combined with Barak’s apparent wimpiness — I think it all gives us an idea of what’s happening at this time in Israel’s history. I think what we see in Barak and Deborah’s story is “A Failure of Male Leadership” in Israel at the time of the judges. There’s failure on every hand during this time – but this story points out a failure of male leadership.

Barak balked at God’s promise. He didn’t immediately obey God’s clear call. This is a problem not just for Israel in the days of the judges, is it? Can I encourage us all to be careful to not doubt God’s promises – but to believe them and act accordingly? Let’s not put conditions on our obedience to what we clearly know God wants us to do.

So, I’ve raised the issue of who the judge is in this story. Is it Deborah? Is it Barak? Or both? And honestly it’s confusing. The text says Deborah was judging Israel. But she’s not involved in the delivering of God’s people that’s always associated with a judge. Barak does act to deliver God’s people, but he’s not acting with much confidence in God. So he’s somewhat suspect, too. So, here’s what I come to. I believe the narrator of this story left us intentionally in suspense to tell us about this deficiency in Israel of male leadership. Why was Deborah a judge anyway? Shouldn’t an elder — who would probably always be a man – fill that position? She’s a prophetess. Well, so was Miriam. But Miriam’s prophesying seemed to lie in her musical proclamations, rather than her plain verbal foretelling of events. Why did Deborah need to be God’s mouthpiece? Where are all the men? I think these things are intended by God to be somewhat confusing. And in the confusion we see this major problem in Israel with male leadership. So, who’s the judge? I don’t know. Maybe both. I lean toward Barak being the judge.

Well, Barak eventually did go — with Deborah by his side. And verse 10 tells us that “…Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.”

Judges 4:11

Then we’re given another introductory element of the story in verse 11.

11 ¶ Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.

So, now we have this Heber fellow introduced for us. He’s a Kenite. The Kenites were the group who came to Judah at the beginning of this book from Jericho. But for some reason Heber separated himself from the rest of his clan and moved up north to Naphtali – right next to where Barak and his army now stand. What a coincidence! We’ll hear more about Heber – or more precisely his wife – later in the story.

Judges 4:12-16

Alright, Barak is ready to fight. He was reluctant. But he has the prophetess with him and so he’s good now. He did exercise some faith. That’s why he’s mentioned in Hebrews 11. So, what happens next? Sisera enters the picture in verses 12 through 16.

12 ¶ And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor. 13 And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon. 14 And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him. 15 And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. 16 But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.

So what we’re not seeing is an exceptional amount of courage and manliness from the men in this story thus far. Deborah commands Barak to go and fight Sisera. Then when the Lord starts routing Sisera’s army he flees. Commanders don’t flee! Or they shouldn’t.

Judges 4:17-20

But despite the lackluster show of manliness, did you hear what Deborah said to Barak? The Lord has delivered Sisera into his hand! Maybe God changed his mind. Maybe he’ll let Barak kill Sisera after all. But it doesn’t look like Deborah’s the one to kill Sisera. We don’t hear about her fighting. How is Sisera going to die then? Let’s read verses 17 through 20.

17 ¶ Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle. 19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him. 20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.

So here’s another mention of Heber the Kenite. But now we discover that this man was on the wrong side of things. Heber supported Jabin – Sisera’s king. Oh no. And now it looks like Sisera’s going to get shelter and protection from Heber’s wife Jael. (Come on, pretend you’ve never heard this story before please!) She even treats him to some good Bedouin hospitality. Covering him with a mantle and giving him some curdled milk. Yes, apparently that was a sign of hospitality. If anyone gave me curdled milk I’d probably immediately detect they were a foe. But Sisera doesn’t interpret this gesture that way. He is completely at ease now in Jael’s home – or tent. I think what’s pretty funny is his statement at the end of verse 20. If anyone comes looking for a man you go ahead and tell them that there’s no man here. It’s ironic for two reasons. One, the men in this story are seeming to have some trouble acting the part. Second, well… pretty soon Sisera won’t be there in a sense. He’ll be dead.

Judges 4:21-22

Let’s read verses 21 and 22.

21 Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. 22 And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.

So God did deliver Sisera into the hand of a woman – just like Deborah prophesied. And yet God was merciful to Barak and allowed him to defeat the enemy, overall. Thus the enemy was delivered into the hand of both a woman and Barak.

And what an interesting woman this Jael is. She’s a gentile. Her husband is friendly with Israel’s enemies. And yet somehow she had the bravery to slay the enemy of Israel. Did she hear about Israel’s God and come to fear him? Is that what motivated her bold actions? I don’t know. But I have no other explanation for why she helped God’s people when she didn’t need to, and – in fact – when it was dangerous to do so.

Judges 4:23-24

And as a result of her action and Barak’s reluctant obedience we have the happy report of verses 23 and 24.

23 ¶ So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. 24 And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

So the destruction of Sisera was a pretty quick matter. But the destruction of Sisera’s king, Jabin, took a little longer. And yet it happened eventually. The Lord saved his people from their enemy. He used a “weaker vessel” as Peter would say to do it. But isn’t that how God works? He uses the weak to confound the strong.

Judges 5:1-8

Now, all of this calls for a celebration. We’ve heard the facts of the story. We’ve heard the timeline of things. But now we’re going to celebrate the Lord’s victory with a song in the form of Hebrew poetry in chapter 5. Chapter 4 gave us the events. Chapter 5 now gives us some of the emotion behind the events. It also fills in some details we didn’t hear about in chapter 4. Let’s begin by reading verses 1 through 8 of chapter 5.

5:1 ¶ Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,

2 Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. 3 Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel. 4 LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. 5 The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel. 6 In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. 7 The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel. 8 They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?

The song starts out with praising the Lord for the people offering themselves willingly for the battle. We’ll see that elaborated below. The song then personifies God as coming from the southeast in Edom to Kedesh where the battle happened. Then we’re given a picture of the desolation that the Canaanite oppressors brought to Israel in the days of the first minor judge Shamgar and Jael. Why the desolation? Why the oppression? Verse 8 – Israel chose new gods. And the true God – their God – then disarmed them and sent the oppressors.

Judges 5:9-13

Let’s read the next section in verses 9 through 13.

9 My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD. 10 Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way. 11 They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates. 12 Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam. 13 Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.

I won’t say much about this section. Only that again Deborah and Barak are giving thanks for the people of Israel who willingly offered themselves.

Judges 5:14-18

And verses 14 through 18 elaborate on this fact.

14 Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer. 15 And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. 16 Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. 17 Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches. 18 Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.

Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir in Manasseh, Zebulun, Issachar. All of these tribes were those who participated willingly in the battle. And they are heartily commended in this song. But then we have those who didn’t participate. See? You wouldn’t have known this information without this song. In the narrative we didn’t get any idea that some people didn’t participate in this battle. We do here though. Reuben is viewed as hiding away with the sheep and listening to their bleating. Gilead stayed in his land, too. Dan remained in ships, because obviously his original territory was on the sea coast. So was Asher’s. Then finally the song extolls in a special way Zebulun and Naphtali.

Judges 5:19-23

Then we’re told of what happened when these tribes came together willingly. Verses 19 through 23.

19 The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. 20 They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. 21 The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength. 22 Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones. 23 Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.

Poetically, we’re told that stars fought against the Canaanites. The Kishon River is also poetically pictured as sweeping away Israel’s enemies. This is what can happen in poetry. Objects in nature can be personified.

Then verse 23 kind of cuts into the song with a curse. Meroz apparently was a city that did not come to help Barak fight against Sisera. This song has extolled again and again the people who fought willingly. And in contrast it issues the strongest rebuke to those among God’s people who won’t offer themselves willingly to his work.

Judges 5:24-27

But the song doesn’t stay focused on curses and this lack of willingness. Verses 24 through 27 focus on our very unlikely hero in this story – Jael.

24 Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. 25 He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. 26 She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. 27 At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

In contrast to faithless Meroz, Jael willingly offered herself to fight for the Lord’s cause.

Judges 5:28-31

So she’s an example of a woman who was on the right side of this battle. And the song ends with a close-up of another woman. This time it’s Sisera’s mother. Let’s read verses 28 through 31.

28 The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots? 29 Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself, 30 Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil? 31 ¶ So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.

And the land had rest forty years.

So Sisera’s mom and her wise women console themselves in vain imaginations. They reassure themselves that Sisera will be home soon. “You now — they’re just picking up some ladies as plunder. They’re just dividing the rest of the spoil. Don’t worry. They’ll be home soon.” You might be tempted to feel sorry for Sisera’s mother. Please don’t. One of the thoughts she consoles herself with is Sisera’s exploitation of captive women. She says in verse 30 that Sisera and his men each get a damsel or two. The word “damsel” is “rechem”. It can mean “girl”. But it’s also often literally translated “womb”. One modern English version sort of supplies the idea that Sisera’s mom was probably expressing when they translate her statement as “a girl or two for each man to rape!” That’s the kind of brutality that comes along with pagans going to war. And it’s the kind of brutality and immorality that Sisera’s mother was encouraging and even hoping for in her son. She was consoling herself with this thought!

But the song ends with comfort and assurance. May all the enemies of the Lord, just like Sisera, perish. But Lord, strengthen the ones who love you. And then the land has rest for 40 years.

What a stirring conclusion. But you know it’s just going to get worse again. In these two chapters we saw a failure of male leadership. But we had a happy ending. But just in the next verse we have the children of Israel doing evil in God’s sight. And then we’ll see the Lord raise up a man named Gideon.

The Worst is Yet to Come

Open your Bible to the 3rd chapter of the book of Judges.

Today’s the day we’ve been waiting for. For the last two weeks we’ve been in the introduction to this book. And you recall that it’s a double introduction. Are you annoyed with me pointing out that the book of Judges has a double introduction? Well, I’m going to keep telling you all that this book has a double introduction until it sticks in your head and forevermore when you read this book you’ll remember why it seems to mention Joshua dying twice. I’ll keep telling you about the double introduction until you remember that the first introduction tells us about Israel’s failures regarding foreign armies and that the second introduction tells us about Israel’s failures regarding foreign idols. And if you don’t remember… I’ll probably tell you again next week.

Alright, now that we all remember the double introduction! We need to remember what the book of Judges chronicles. Throughout this book we will witness the Canaanization of Israel. It’s a progressive thing. It gets worse and worse. And isn’t that the nature of sin? Give it an inch and it will take a mile.

And Israel was sinning. They disobeyed God by not driving out the Canaanites. Instead, they were actually marrying the Canaanites and worshiping their false gods – Baal and Ashteroth and I’m sure many more.

Now, God wasn’t going to take this sitting down. He was very angry with his people for their sin against him. He swore to not drive out the Canaanites. These Canaanites will serve a few of God’s purposes. First, they will prove whether Israel will obey the Lord or not. Those silly rain deities that the Canaanites had were surprisingly attractive for ancient Israel. Would Israel choose Baal? Or would they choose the true God who had rescued them from Egypt and brought them into a covenant with himself? The Canaanites would prove which way Israel’s heart was inclined.

The second purpose Yahweh had for leaving the Canaanites in the land was so that the inexperienced Israelites could learn war. The new generation that arose and didn’t know the Lord also didn’t know how to fight. God amazingly even while punishing this nation is letting them derive some benefit during the punishment.

Now, not only was the Lord allowing the Canaanites to remain in the land. But when he was sufficiently provoked to anger with Israel he would actually send oppressors to oppress them. He wanted to get their attention. You can imagine the Lord saying something like this through sending oppressors to Israel — “Hey look! The gods whom you’re serving aren’t strong enough to deliver you! Can’t you see that I AM and there is no other? Turn to me and be saved!”

And you know what? The Israelites did react. They would cry out. And you might think that sounds really good. Maybe it’s a cry of repentance! We could only wish. I’m afraid their cry was far short of repentance. Israel was like a child who cried when his father declares his intent to discipline the boy. But is he crying because he’s repentant? Or is he crying because he’s being punished? Unfortunately it does seem that when Israel cries out she does so out of pain and misery. But she’s far from repentant. Because once the judge dies, Israel’s right back to her evil ways. And they’re even worse than they were before!

So, Israel’s cry isn’t one of repentance. You might expect the Lord to not answer such a cry. But actually… he does. The Lord responds in pity and compassion to his evil disobedient nation. It’s like he can’t help his heart from going out to those oppressed individuals. Their oppression is their own fault. And God could cross his arms and turn away from them. But he didn’t. He can’t shut off his mercies to them. He just won’t.

Is this not a God who deserves our love? A God so holy, so just, so upright. And at the same time he’s a God who is so full of pity, of love, of compassion. And this same God is our God. And you are in a covenant with him if you’ve trusted Christ. You’re espoused to Christ. And no one can take you out of his hand. Remember Pastor Fuller’s message last Sunday night? A big point of that message was this – “let love for Christ drive out all idols.” How could you not love such a merciful, forgiving, compassionate God?

Now, God does respond to Israel’s cry of pain and misery. And his chosen response is to send saviors to them – judges or tribal rulers. These men – well, I’ll say individuals – are charged with delivering or saving God’s people. And once these tribal rulers have done their job and delivered God’s people from their oppressors the people are safe for a while… Until… they sacrifice to idols, intermarry with pagans, and provoke the Lord to anger. When this happens we go right back to where we started this discussion.

And this cyclical process gets worse and worse as I said. Do you know what that means? It means that the first judge that we’re going to see is really the best judge – the prototypical judge – the model judge after which all other judges will be (pardon the pun) judged. So perhaps we could call this lesson “The Worst is Yet to Come.

Judges 3:7-8

So, who is this first judge? Well, let’s read about him in 3:7-8.

KJV Judges 3:7 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves. 8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.

So, actually we didn’t get to the judge yet. The scene is being set for him still. And this is the scene. Israel sinned and made God very angry. They’re worshipping the Canaanite storm god Baal and some wooden symbols of some other sort of deity. Apparently Israel is very happy to serve these dark doubly-wicked deities. And so you know what? God sells the Israelites into the hands of Chushan-Rishathaim. Do you know what his name means? “Dark, doubly-wicked” – just like their false deities. And by the fact that this guy has a name like this we can imagine that he’s pretty bad. He hails all the way from Mesopotamia. So he’s come from a long way. And he’s a really evil guy. And he crushes Israel under his boot for eight years. It’s interesting to note how the text describes this situation. Verse 7 – Israel served dark wicked deities. Verse 8 – the result – Israel served this dark wicked king. The punishment matches the crime.

Judges 3:9-11

The situation is bleak. Israel is subject to this evil king. The Lord has rightfully abandoned them. They’re seeing how hopeless they are. And they’re in pain. So finally they take a step in the right direction and God’s compassion is kindled. Verses 9 through 11.

9 And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim. 11 And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

You can’t ask for a better outcome. Israel cries out to the Lord because of their pain and misery. The Lord then takes the initiative to raise up a savior for his wayward people. His name? Othniel. He’s Caleb’s brother. And he’s the son of Kenaz. And here’s something interesting. Apparently Kenaz isn’t a natural born Israelite. He would have been a convert to the religion of Yahweh. Nevertheless, he’s a supremely godly individual. He was somehow grafted into the tribe of Judah. He’s the relative – probably the nephew – of one of the godliest Israelites – Caleb. His wife Achsah is completely in-tune with The Lord’s plans for the land. And these are things we’ve already known.

Beyond those things, we have a few more items to note in this passage. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Caleb. And in that strength and wisdom he went out and waged war and judged Israel. The Lord raised him up. The Lord put his Spirit on him. It’s as if the Lord himself and the man Caleb are one, fighting against the enemy. And together they defeat King Dark, Doubly-Wicked from Mesopotamia. The land has rest for 40 years and then Othniel dies.

Now, why is there so little said about this judge? I mean, if he’s the prototypical example, why does a character like Samson have several chapters devoted to his story while Othniel has not even a whole chapter? What I think we’ll see is that more ink needs to be spilled for the other judges in order to document their idiosyncrasies, flaws, and everything else. Othniel did things by the book. God raised him up and empowered him and he just went and did the work. No abnormalities. No moral failures. He just gets the job of saving the Lord’s people over and done with.

Judges 3:12-14

Alright, now that this first major or cyclical judge finished his task, we move a bit north from Judah to the tribe of Benjamin. Let’s read verses 12 through 14.

12 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. 13 And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees. 14 So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

Let’s note a few things here. First, who’s the enemy? His name is Eglon. Who is he? The king of the land of Moab just south-east of Israel on the other side of the Dead Sea. And what does he do to Israel? He strikes Israel and takes possession of Jericho – the city of palm trees. This is as you recall the very first city that Israel took when they crossed the River under Joshua’s leadership. And now it appears to be the very first city they’ll be giving back to the Canaanites whom they should have destroyed. But how can this evil Moabite king have such an influence over Israel? Such power to defeat them? We’re told in verse 12. The Lord himself strengthens this king to oppress his evil people. Why does the Lord allow them to be oppressed anyway? Because they did evil in the Lord’s sight. And remember that this would certainly include Israel bowing down to idols and marrying lost people from the surrounding nations.

Judges 3:15-17

So this is a hopeless scene. Israel is oppressed. And it’s the Lord himself who is strengthening the oppressor. God’s people have gotten themselves into a big mess. In fact, it’s so hopeless that there’s nothing they can do to save themselves. They need salvation from the Lord. Let’s read about this next “savior” of God’s people, Israel, in verses 15 through 17.

15 ¶ But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab. 16 But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh. 17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.

Israel cries out to God because of their pain and misery. And so God raises up a savior, a deliverer, a judge. His name is Ehud. He’s not from Judah, like Othniel was. He’s from Benjamin – and in this book this particular tribe wasn’t cast in the best light. In the first chapter Benjamin follows Judah in trying to drive out the Canaanites. Judah does well, though they fail. Then Benjamin steps up to the plate and… doesn’t even swing. They fail to drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, which was already weakened by Judah. That’s the first we hear of Benjamin in this book. This tribe is mentioned a few more times, but the majority of the discussion about them centers in the conclusion to the book. Remember the Levite and his concubine? Then all Israel goes to war with Benjamin, leaving that tribe almost wiped out. So Benjamin gains a pretty bad reputation through this book. But here, God raises up a deliverer from this tribe.

Now, this man Ehud is left-handed. Some see this as sort of an insult to him. Apparently ancient cultures were a little suspicious of left-handed individuals – like they were somehow unnatural. But I don’t that’s why the author of Judges mentions this. Why does he mention this fact then? I think it leads up to the statement in verse 16. This fellow made a dagger about a foot long or maybe a bit longer. And where does he put it? On his right thigh. Now, I don’t want to spoil the surprise of what’s to come. So, I’ll just say this. Ehud is being sent with some money to Eglon. Ehud is going to deliver Israel from Eglon. Ehud made a dagger and put it on his right thigh under his clothing. Surely the guards would check Ehud’s left thigh, since most people were right-handed and since that’s apparently where people would keep weapons. But would the guards check the right thigh?

Judges 3:18-23

The end of verse 17 adds suspense to this story. Out of the blue we’re told – now Eglon was a very fat man. The name Eglon comes from a word that means calf. The “on” ending probably makes it mean something like “young calf.” So here we have a young fattened calf. A man who has been fattened by oppressing and extorting from God’s people. And on the other side of the ring is a man carrying a sharp instrument for the purpose of slaughter. It sounds to me like we have a sacrifice coming up – not literally, but in a sense that’s what this kind of situation might recall to the Israelites’ minds. A fattened calf and a knife. Sacrifice time. Let’s see what happens next. Verses 18 through 23.

18 And when he [Ehud] had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present. 19 But he himself turned again from the quarries [this could also means “stones” or “idols”, since idols were often made of stones] that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand [or “word” or “matter” or “thing”] unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him. 20 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat. 21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly: 22 And the haft [or “handle”] also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out. 23 Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.

Sacrifice accomplished, I’d say. So, Ehud came with a few other Israelites to give tribute to this oppressive king. Once this is finished Ehud and his assistants go back to wherever they came via Gilgal. And on this journey back in Gilgal Ehud sends everyone else back ahead of him. Does he spend some time by these quarries or by these idols – whatever translation it is? If there are idols there then does seeing these idols provokes Ehud to anger and a sense of vengeance for his God? If we’re talking about just plain stones, could these have reminded Ehud of the stones which Joshua had the children of Israel set up when they crossed the River? Whatever the case, something happens to Ehud in Gilgal. And he turns back to face the enemy.

He approaches Eglon and reveals that he has a secret for him. Again, “errand” is the word that can mean “word” or “matter”. Ehud has a secret matter for the king. He keeps it discreet and mysterious. We can imagine Eglon bouncing up and down and jiggling with delight at the prospect of a treat – maybe a tasty bit of food, maybe more money to spend on his appetite. Whatever it is, he hastily sends his guards away. We can assume from this that Ehud probably didn’t look or act sinister in any way. He probably wasn’t a tall foreboding character. Eglon felt perfectly comfortable in his presence without any guards. Besides, I would assume that the guards already checked his person for weapons – at least on his left thigh!

And this scene all happens in Eglon’s cool summer parlor. Again the contrast between Israel and her oppressors is laid before us. Eglon is fat from Israel’s offerings. He has a splendid cool summer palace while the oppressed Israelites languish.

Once the guards leave the room I assume they move a considerable distance away from the king’s personal chamber. Otherwise I imagine they might hear the sound of what happened. So, they leave and go somewhere for a little while. Long enough for Ehud to stab Eglon. And the description of what happened is sort of comical, though of course we’re speaking of the demise of a real human, so let’s not laugh too hard. But we’ve been set up for this. The guy is fat. Really fat. And he oppresses God’s people. He manages to get himself up out of his chair to receive his treat. And then Ehud pulls the weapon from his right thigh and plunges it into Eglon’s belly. Eglon is so fat that the dagger enters his belly sinking all the way into him. The fat – another sacrificial term or concept – covers even the handle of the dagger and cannot be retrieved. And ultimately we have the King James Version telling us that the “dirt” came out. Yuck! This probably means that excrement came out of Eglon’s body as a result of this attack.

Judges 3:24-25

Ehud escapes and locks the door behind him. Then the guards return. Verses 24 and 25.

24 ¶ When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour were locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber. 25 And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.

So even this part is intended to be humorous I think. And I’m sorry if this is distasteful – well, there’s no “ifs” about it – it is indeed distasteful. But, seeing as the “dirt” came out earlier on in the story and now that Eglon isn’t coming to the door, the guards put two and two together. Covering one’s feet is an ancient Hebrew euphemism for our modern English euphemism “using the facilities.” He’s not coming to the door. The smell may have been noticeable. Again, I’m sorry for the unpleasantness. And these guards at first wait patiently. Then as the minutes pass they start to wonder. But really who is going to be the first to knock and risk embarrassing their liege? They wait until they are ashamed and can’t wait any longer! So they get the key, open the door, and find their corpulent and godless leader dead on the ground.

Judges 3:26-30

What happens next? Verses 26 through 30.

26 ¶ And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries [or, again, perhaps “idols” or just the “stones” that were in Gilgal], and escaped unto Seirath. 27 And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them. 28 And he said unto them, Follow after me: for the LORD hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over. 29 And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty [or “robust” or “large” or even “fat”], and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man. 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.

What an ending! Ehud escapes. But not one of those fat, large, or robust men of Moab does.

It’s interesting that Ehud escapes to Ephraim. Again, he’s from Benjamin, but I think this shows that judges could be the tribal ruler over several tribes, not just one. So, apparently a number of men from all Israel followed after Ehud down to the fords of Jordan where people would cross over to Moab. And they kill a lot of these fat/large/robust men – apparently they’re this way from their consumption of Israel’s goods just like Eglon. 10,000 of them or thereabouts. But later on in the book there will be an even larger slaughter at this very same place – the fords of Jordan. It’s there at the end of Jephthah’s time that the Gileadites led by Jepthah slaughter not 10,000 but 42,000. But that’s not the number of foreign enemies in chapter 12. It’s the number of Ephraimites that are slain under Jephthah’s rule – these very Ephraimites who are helping Ehud destroy the foreign enemy – Moab.

But for now, Ehud did his job. The foreign enemy is put down. And the land – whether that’s all Israel or just that immediate area – has rest for 80 years – two generations.

So, what do you think about Ehud? I’d say he’s generally a good judge. There really isn’t anything bad said of him – unless you think that being left-handed is a negative quality in a person. He did use deception, whereas we’re not told that Othniel did. But I’m not sure that we should look down on him because of that. Deception is a lawful tactic in war. And Israel certainly was in a war. So I think he’s fine. But even the fact that we’re having to weigh Ehud’s actions and character are an indication that things are on a downward progression in Israel, though the progression is slow at this point.

Judges 3:31

Well, we’ve seen two major or cyclical judges. Then we end the chapter with a minor or non-cyclical judge. Let’s read verse 31.

31 ¶ And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.

We can assume that Shamgar did much more than we have recorded. But we have recorded here all we need to know about this man for the sake of the message of this book. Shamgar is the first minor judge. He’s the son of Anath. Anath could be his father’s name. Or it might indicate that he was a military figure, maybe a mercenary. And he kills not Moabites like Ehud or Mesopotamians like Othniel. Shamgar kills Philistines. And since he’s dealing with Philistines he probably lives around the coast of the Mediterranean Sea where the Philistines lived. The tribes around there include Judah, Simeon, Dan, Ephraim, and Benjamin. So it’s likely that he’s from one of those tribes. But I’ve read that Old Testament scholars think he may not have been a native Israelite – just like Othniel.

Now, Shamgar kills 600 Philistines. And he does it with a pretty unusual instrument – an ox goad. That’s the instrument farmers would use to move their oxen along. 600 dead with a simple ox goad. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. It is amazing. But just imagine what Israel could have been doing this whole time if only they had been faithful to the Lord instead of serving Baal.

So, now we’ve considered the first three judges in this book. We have nine left. And as I said at the beginning, it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s all downhill from here. Israel gets worse and worse and so do their judges. Next time we’ll hear about a female judge named Deborah and her reluctant sidekick Barak.