Judges 3 Commentary
Chapter 3 is fast-paced. We have three Judges: Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. They all intervene at critical moments in the history of the nation. But what has brought Israel here?
The chapter is beautifully arranged to highlight the realities on the ground. The LORD providentially subjects Israel to warfare. The thought is that the warfare is meant to test Israel. And Israel fails the test. The scripture gives us the areas of failure
Firstly, they freely live among the Canaanites, Hittetes, Amorites, perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The call to come out of her and be separate appears to have been ignored completely.
Secondly, instead of driving them out completely, they marry and get married to them. This only happens because Israel feels the Canaanite peoples are good enough. After all, there is no difference between us and them. The dividing lines are broken. There is no ‘them’ any longer. We are one.
Thirdly, Israel begins to serve the gods of the Canaanites.
It is in these three areas where they fail the test. These constitute the battlefront. All along the battle hasn’t been about military weapons and strategy. The battle has been about obedience. It has been about the Ten Commandments.
It really should be simple but Israel is impossible: a non-starter situation. It is loud and clear for us all today. You are in this world though not of the world. Providence dictates that you live among men of unclean lips. It is an exam. It should be passed and not failed. It is designed to be passed. There is no godliness without this test. Don’t fail it. We also learn that no one graduates without passing this exam. There are consequences.
In the immediate context, Israel is left to exist without the benefit of grace. The blessing of Issachar plays out. “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down among the sheep pens. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor.” Genesis 49 verses 14 and 15.
That brings us to the three Judges that the LORD providentially raises at critical moments during this time of great suffering for Israel. The first Judge is Othniel whose victory over Aram brings peace for forty years. Ehud comes second and his military exploits are discussed at length. Notice the eighty years of peace: these multiples of the famous 40. Shamgar’s record is very brief.
From the three Judges so far, we can see that these were not spiritual revival peddlers but mere military efforts through which the LORD brought temporal relief to the nation. But what else did you expect? Israel had cried out to the LORD because of physical hardship. Had it been a cry of the brokenness of heart because of sin, maybe the result was going to be different.
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