GOD CAN TRANSFORM DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE INTO COURAGEOUS AND EFFECTIVE LEADERS
You are already familiar with many of the heroes sprinkled throughout the history of the nation of Israel. Starting with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and moving through Moses and Joshua and then right down the line of the few righteous kings like David and Solomon and the various prophets like Elijah and Elisha and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the list goes on.
But in the book of Judges we are introduced to some heroes that were lesser lights on the panorama of history. You probably did not consider naming your children Othniel, Ehud or Shamgar – you still have a shot with your grandchildren. These are the heroes we will be considering today. What characterized these very different types of leaders? What types of weapons did they use? How did they seize the opportunity before them by faith and take the decisive action needed to rescue God’s people from oppression? What can we learn from their stories? How can God use me – despite my limitations and unique challenges? In addition, the mercy and faithfulness of the sovereign, covenant-keeping God is highlighted against the backdrop of the repeated unfaithfulness and spiritual adultery of His people.
Last week we saw from a theological perspective THE CYCLE OF SIN AND DELIVERANCE INTRODUCED – now we see the accounts of the first three judges and that cycle is no longer just theoretical but it has concrete expression.
SIN / SERVITUDE / SUPPLICATION / SALVATION / SLIPPAGE (REST)
These three historical examples are very different
– Othniel – The Cycle Summarized and Idealized – just what you would expect; a very crisp account with no color commentary – the emphasis is on the divine role rather than the individual exploits of the particular judge
– Ehud – The Cycle Expanded – we will spend the bulk of our time here – everything that happens is unexpected and shocking – we are presented with such graphic detail of gore and human excrement that our refined spirits cry out: “Too much information!” But you have to love the humor and the irony of how the obese enemy of God’s people meets his demise.
– Then in a complete reversal we see The Cycle Minimized with a short one verse reference to Shamgar – What is that all about??
I. (:7-11) THE CYCLE SUMMARIZED AND IDEALIZED – PRIVILEGED OTHNIEL (another mighty man from the family of Caleb) – GOD CAN USE A MAN CONTROLLED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
A. (:7) Sin
“And 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.”
B. (:8) Servitude – King Cushan-rishathaim of Mesopotamia – 8 years
“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.”
Inrig: Rishathaim means “double-wickedness” which suggests that he was a cruel and powerful man.
Probably a pejorative term ascribed to him by his enemies – if you can’t defeat him, at least you can call him names behind his back … “Double evil from double river”
Block: Arameans, one of the most important ethnic groups in the late second and early first millennia. The territory extended from northeast of the Sea of Galilee to the Taurus mountains in the north and eastward beyond the Habur tributary of the upper Euphrates River. . . He was the most powerful of all the enemies of Israel named in the book. For him to have extended his tentacles as far as Judah in southern Canaan meant he was a world-class emperor, who held Canaan in his grip for at least eight years. . .
C. (:9a) Supplication
“And when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD,”
Davis: za’aq does not necessarily connote repentance but a crying for help out of deep distress or because of some unbearable circumstance; a cry of anguish
Emphasis is on the suffering and the misery and the need for help and deliverance
D. (:9b-10) Salvation
“the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. And 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.”
Judges 1:11-15 – introduced to Othniel; proven courageous warrior
Great spiritual family heritage — Half brother of Caleb?? Or his nephew
Num. 14:24 “he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully”
A man used mightily by the Holy Spirit
Othniel has been presented as a model judge; this is how one is supposed to operate – swiftly and decisively; but as we look at the other judges that follow, this idealized pattern will be hard to duplicate
E. Rest / Slippage – 40 Years
“Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.”
Davis: There are nothing but bare essentials here – and those are about what Yahweh had done. The problem with Othniel is that he is so colorless. There is no flash and dash about Othniel – nothing about being left-handed and making a dagger (so Ehud), no snazzy motto like Jael’s (Step softly but carry a big hammer.) Probably with good reason. It is likely that we have this first episode in such stripped-down style precisely so that we will see clearly what is most essential – the activity of Yahweh. Sometimes interesting people can obscure that, and we end up watching these fascinating folks but never see what our God is doing.
II. (:12-30) THE CYCLE EXPANDED –- LIMITED EHUD –- GOD CAN USE A MAN WHO ALLOWS HIS WEAKNESS TO BE CONVERTED TO A STRENGTH
A. (:12a) Sin
“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD.”
B. (:12b-14) Servitude – King Eglon / Moabites / Ammonites / Amalekites – 18 years
“So the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. 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. And the sons of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.”
Eglon = fat calf
Inrig: a very coarse man, gathered together his people, linked the Ammonites and Amalekites with him, and swept through the Transjordan where the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were. Then they crossed the Jordan, established their capital at Jericho, and began to spread their influence through the areas of Benjamin and Ephraim.
Brensinger: OT typically depicts tension between Moabites and Israelites [despite connection between Abraham and Lot]. The Moabites, for example, refused to allow the wandering Israelites to pass through their territory while en route to Canaan (Judg. 11:17). In fact, the Moabite king Balak hired Balaam, a Mesopotamian diviner, to curse the Israelites in an attempt to thwart their advances (Num. 22-24). In later years, occasional biblical references indicate that relations fared no better (2 Kings 3; 13:20; 24:2). As a result, various Israelite prophets denounced their Moabite neighbors on more than one occasion (Isa. 15:16; Jer. 48; Zeph. 2:8-11).
James Jordan: Moab and Ammon were descendants of Lot by incestuous breeding with his daughters. The daughters learned such morality from their lives in Sodom and Gomorrah, and Moab and Ammon are, in Scripture, seen as historical extensions of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Wiersbe: Jericho was under a curse (Josh 6:26), and there’s no evidence that the city had been rebuilt; but the location was ideal for directing military operations, and there was an abundance of water there.
C. (:15a) Supplication
“But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD,”
D. (:15b-30a) Salvation – Killed 10,000
1. (:15b) Source of Salvation
a. Salvation from the Lord
“the LORD raised up a deliverer for them,”
b. Salvation from the tribe of Benjamin
“Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite,”
Name means “strong”
c. Salvation from the Left Hand
“a left-handed man.”
Who here is left handed? Did you have any struggles with this?
Inrig: an ironic situation in a man from the tribe of Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” A man who is awkward is called gauche, a French word meaning left-handed. Something that is wicked or evil we call sinister, the Latin word for the left hand. But someone with skill and ability is dexterous, which means right-handed in Latin. . . in Ehud’s time, it was considered to be a defect. . . Why am I left-handed in a world of right-handers?
Motyer: positive references in Scripture (check a concordance) to the Lord’s right hand – by it he swears to bless his people, and with it he destroys their enemies. At his right hand are pleasures for evermore, and there his Chosen One sits. It is the hand of power, glory, and blessing . . .
Othniel, the first judge, has set the pattern of the classic, readily-recognizable hero-deliverer – and the mold is at once broken by his immediate successor, this unlikely southpaw. . .
He therefore is the one chosen for a task totally different. So far from a crusade of liberation, this is a mission which sums up the abject humiliation of a defeated people – the conveying of tribute payment. It expresses not revolt but submission. A probe behind the English translations reveals a point which nearly all of them miss it is not simply “by him” that Israel sends the tribute to Eglon, but “by his hand.” Which hand? His left hand, which he alone knows will be bringing something very different? No, his right, which is good for nothing else; a withered hand, fitly representative of a conquered people.
2. (:15c-25) Story of Salvation – a secret message from God for Eglon
“And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. And Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length; and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. And it came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. 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. And 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. And Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. 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. Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them. 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.’ And 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.”
“message from God” – Balaam’s prophecy to Balak, king of Moab – Num. 24:8
Davis: “behold” – the Hebrew particle hinneh appears three times in vv. 24-25. Traditional English versions frequently render it “behold,” which drains the life out of it. It is a particle that usually indicates something at least a bit unexpected.
Brensinger: Palaces such as the one envisioned here consisted of two floors: a lower audience hall and an upper chamber. Included in the upper chamber was a toilet that emptied into a latrine-like closet on the lower level.
– A Fat King – look at how the account makes fun of this obese leader; he struggles just to get out of his chair and stand up – kings were supposed to be exemplary military leaders
– A Gullible King
o Sees Ehud as no threat to him because of his natural deformity
– A Humiliated King
Jordan: In death, the muscles of the colon relax, and sometimes excrement issues from the body.
– A Dead King
Block: Taken as a whole, this literary cartoon of Eglon and his countrymen is not only aimed at the Moabites but is ironical as well. The man whom God had strengthened will eventually be reduced to a heap of fat and excrement. The author’s deliberate satirizing of Eglon in particular and the Moabites in general should not blind the reader to the ridicule he is casting upon his own people. After all, the Book of Judges was not written primarily to mock foreigners; it challenges the Israelites to reflect on their own condition. Far from being the noble people they claim to be, in their Canaanized state they have been reduced to less than the Moabites.
– A Trusted Leader – chosen to take the tribute to Eglon
– An Opportunistic Warrior
– A Courageous Hero
– A Master Schemer
3. (:26-30a) Slaughter of Salvation – finish off the Moabites
“Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah. And 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. And 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. And they struck down at that time about ten thousand Moabites, all robust and valiant men; and no one escaped. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel.”
Gilgal had been defiled by idols having been set up there by the Moabites under Eglon – taking the memorial of the stones that Joshua had set up and creating a counter-memorial to idols
Let’s blow the trumpet and engage the enemy – Victory belongs to the Lord
James Jordan: First Ehud went to Gilgal, the place where shame was removed, to rally the detachment he had left there. Then he went north, and backtracked somewhat to rally his forces in Ephraim. As the Israelite forces swept down out of the hills, Ehud was in front of them. They joined their fellows at Gilgal and took possession of the crossing place of the Jordan. The Moabites, in disarray at the death of their leader, and a long way from home, began a hurried retreat toward the Jordan. All were slain by Ehud’s men.
E. (:30b) Rest / Slippage – 80- years
“And the land was undisturbed for eighty years.”
Now we have essentially two generations – quite an impact
III. (:31) THE CYCLE MINIMIZED – RESOURCEFUL SHAMGAR – GOD CAN USE A MAN WHO DEDICATES ALL HE HAS TO THE CAUSE OF THE LORD
D. Salvation – Killed 600
“And after him came Shamgar the son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad; and he also saved Israel.”
Inrig: lived at a time when the Philistines were beginning to exert their power in the southwest corner of the land. . . First, Shamgar was a man with a very confused family background. Shamgar was not a Hebrew name. It was Canaanite. His father’s name, Anath, is the name of the Canaanite god of sex and war. . . his family had completely capitulated to the paganism all around them. . . Second, Shamgar was a peasant. We know that from his weapon, an oxgoad. An oxgoad was a long wooden stick tipped with metal at one end, and a blade on the other for cleaning the plow. Third, Shamgar was a man of courage.
E. Rest / Slippage
(1) That God can make those eminently serviceable to his glory and his church’s good whose extraction, education, and employment, are very mean and obscure. He that has the residue of the Spirit could, when he pleased, make ploughmen judges and generals, and fishermen apostles.
(2) it is no matter how weak the weapon is if God direct and strengthen the arm. An ox-goad, when God pleases, shall do more than Goliath’s sword. And sometimes he chooses to work by such unlikely means that the excellency of the power may appear to be of God.
Brensinger: It has often been said that you can be too big for God to use, but you can never be too small. The overwhelming majority of people who make up the church today are, as always, ordinary. The Lord, however, can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. . . can become the often-unnoticed and perhaps modestly equipped servants who faithfully carry out the work of God’s kingdom today.
Inrig: God uses people who step out in faith and trust Him. Shamgar, Ehud, and Othniel were different in many ways, but they had one thing in common. They had the courage to take a risk, to step out in faith for God. They were bold enough to take God at His word and confront the enemy.
1 Cor. 1:26-29