JUDGES 3:7-31

JANUARY 22, 2012





             Years ago a grandmother stopped me after worship and said, “Yesterday I discovered how old I was.”  She had been driving through town with her grandson and while driving they passed a McDonald’s.  As they passed McDonald’s the six year old asked, “Gramma, did you go to McDonald’s when you were little?”

            “No,” she said.  “We didn’t have any McDonald’s when I was little.”

            He replied, “Oh, that’s right.  You are my dad’s mom and you are in the Old Testament.”

            Well, so are we in the Old Testament.  We are studying the Book of Judges and this is our third message in the series.  Today, after two preliminary, foundational messages we meet our first Judges.

            Before we do that, however, let’s do a quick review of some of the things I said we would see in this book.  First, remember the motto of the book?  The bible, depending on the version, translates the motto in a couple of ways.  One translation reads, “Everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes.”  The bible you have may translate the motto that way.  The other way is the way our version translates it.  Look at verse seven of the third chapter ...


            The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God ...


            And in verse twelve we read,


            The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord ...


            We will see this statement repeated again and again in this book.  The people will forget God, get into trouble, cry out to God asking for help, and God will raise a judge to rescue them, and they will clean up their act for awhile, but then the judge dies and they forget the Lord again.  That’s the motto of the book.  “Everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes,” or the way our translation puts it, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” 

            Second, we said at the beginning that the book covers a long period of time.  By the time it opens to the time the Book of Judges closes, three hundred and fifty years pass between chapters one and twenty-one.  In this third chapter alone one hundred and twenty five years pass. 

            Finally, in way of introduction, we said this book is a book about heroes, most of them reluctant, some of them flawed, but heroes nonetheless and we’ll meet three of them in this chapter.  This morning I want to take a brief look at each one of these heroes and then I want to draw this third chapter together by saying a couple of things about God.

            OK. let’s meet the first judge.  His name is Othniel.  He sounds like he could have been a sales rep for Quaker Oats ... Othniel.  Now what’s important to keep in mind about Othniel is what is said about him in verse nine.  Look at that verse with me.

            But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites, who delivered them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.


            Anyone here a Daughter of the American Revolution?  Or maybe you ancestors came over on the Mayflower?  Anyone here have that sort of pedigree?  Well, that’s what Othniel had, a great family pedigree.  He was Caleb’s younger brother.  Caleb was one of the twelve men sent out by Moses to scout out the Promised Land, and ten of the twelve came back with a negative report.  The ten said, “Man, we don’t want to enter the Promised Land.  The women are ugly, the men are big and strong and smelly and the children are above average we don’t stand a chance.”  Joshua and Caleb, however, put God in the equation, and said, “Yes, it will be a challenge, but with God we can do anything.”  Caleb and Joshua were two of the greatest individuals of their generation, and Othniel was Caleb’s younger brother.  He had a pedigree of a great family of faith.  By the way, if our second child had been a boy instead of a girl, we would have named him Caleb.  We would have had two boys, Joshua and Caleb. 

            The next judge, judge number two for today Ehud, was a notch below Othniel on the social ladder.  What we glean about Ehud comes from verse fifteen. 


            But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man.  The Israelites sent tribute by him to King Eglon of Moab. 


            Two things stand out about Ehud.  One he was left-handed and I will say more about that at the end of the message.  Just file that away for a moment.  The other thing was he was a prominent man in the community.  He did not possess the family pedigree of an Othniel, still he was an important individual.  He was probably the  president of the local chapter of Rotary.  I say that because Ehud was in charge of taking the tribute to King Eglon.  This was a form of taxation and the person who brought it was normally a man of prominence.  He was one who could be trusted with a great deal of money.  Sort of like Rich Peterson or Lowell Iske in our church.

            Then there was Shamgar.  If Othniel was at the top of the social ladder, and Ehud down a notch, then Shamgar was at the bottom of the social ladder.  What little we know about Shamgar comes from verse thirty-one. 


            After him came Shamgar son of Anath, who killed six hundred of the Philistines with an ox goad.  He too delivered Israel.


            We learn two things about Shamgar here.  First, he lived on the opposite side of the tracks from Othniel.  Shamgar was a peasant.  His family did not cross the Jordan River on the Mayflower.  We know this from his weapon, an ox goad.  This was a wooden stick with a sharp point at the end which peasants used for keeping oxen in line when plowing fields.

            The second insight into Shamgar comes from his name.  Shamgar was not a Hebrew name.  It was a Canaanite name.  In fact, his father’s name, Anath, was the name of the Canaanite god of war.  On that basis some have concluded that Shamgar was a non-Israeli judge, but I don’t think that was the case.  Rather I think Shamgar’s name provides us with a picture of the extent to which some Hebrew families went to blend into the culture in which they lived.  Shamgar’s family went so far as to adopt pagan names.  Remember how immigrants to America came to Ellis Island and were given different names to better assimilate into their new country?  We have a bit of that here.

            So there we have them, the first three judges in the Book of Judges, and they are quite different.  One, from a proud Israeli family, another who had risen to prominence through hard work, and one a peasant whose family adopted many of the customs of the people around them.  And I want to draw these three Judges together, and make two comments about God in the context of this chapter.

            Number one, God only makes originals.  If we were trying to find a mold in Judges 3 for the type of judge God uses, we would wind up very much confused.  There is no mold.  All three judges are different.  We are reminded of that wonderful truth here.  God is not stuck on one pattern. 

            We need to be reminded of that fact from time to time.  Maybe you have in mind what a good mother should be like, and if you don’t hit that you think, “I’m a bad mother.”  Or maybe you have a father mold in mind or a son mold or a daughter mold.  I know I sometimes have a pastor mold in mind.  When I forget that I get into trouble.  For example, I have an idea in my head of what a pastor should be, and I don’t always fit the mold.  I laugh too much.  I’m not always spiritual enough.  My language is not laced with a lot of “praise the Lords.”  I’m too materialistic.  In my mind, I sometimes think I should be more like Dr. Skelley.  Now, if ever there was a mold for what a pastor should be like, it’s Dr. Skelley.  At least, in my mind that’s what a pastor should look like.

            But you know what?  God doesn’t have a pastor mold any more than God has a judge mold, or a mother mold or a father mold, or a Christian mold. Now, I’m not talking about standards or qualities, I’m talking about molds.  We need to stop trying to fit into a certain mold, particularly a Christian mold, because there is no mold.  Instead we need to simply love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves, and start being the best Mary Perry, or Ray Wilkins, or Millie Iske we can be. 

            Do you understand what I’m getting at here?  There’s no mold!  There’s only Jesus Christ.  Get to know him and he will help you and me achieve our own, unique potential.   He will help us to become the unique individual he created us to be in the first place.

            The other thing we glean from this chapter is this:  With God nothing goes to waste.

            Let’s get back to Ehud and the fact that he was left-handed.  Now, the question we need to ask is, “Why did the author include this little detail in his description of him?”  Could it have been to show that God even uses what we think are limitations for God’s purposes?

            Let me explain.  In Ehud’s day being left-handed was considered a defect.  In fact, the Hebrew literally says that.  In our text the Hebrew does not read “a left-handed man.”  Literally, the Hebrew reads, “he was hindered in his right hand.”

            How many left-handers do we have here today?  Raise your left hand!  Don’t be shy.  I’m amazed that the politically correct craze has not reached left-handed people.  For example, take the French word that has slipped into our language to describe someone who is socially awkward.  The word is “gauche” which in the French literally means “left-handed.”  Then there’s the word “sinister.”   We use that to describe someone who is evil or wicked.  That’s the Latin word for “left-handed.”  Then someone with skill and ability is referred to as “dextrous” which means “right-handed” in Latin.  Maybe in this age of being politically correct we need to eliminate the words gauche, sinister, and dextrous from our vocabulary!

            Back to Ehud.  He was from the tribe of Benjamin (by the way the name Benjamin literally means “son of my right-hand), and Ehud was left-handed in a world of right-handers.  So what did God do with this supposed defect?  God used it.  Listen to the story.  Verse sixteen.


            Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length; and he fastened it on this right thigh under his clothes. 


            Now, think about it.  If he was to be patted down Eglon’s guards they would have checked Ehud’s left thigh, not his right thigh.  If you were right handed that’s where you would hand a sword, on you left thigh.  They didn’t expect someone who was left-handed, so he get’s the sword through security.


            Then he presented the tribute to King Eglon of Moab.  Now Eglon was a very fat man.  When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent the people who carried the tribute on their way.  But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.”  So the king said, “Silence!” and all his attendants went out from his presence .  Ehud came to him, while he was stilling alone in his cool roof chamber, and said, “I have a message from God for you.”  So he rose from his seat.  Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s belly; the hilt went over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out.  Then Ehud went out of the vestibule, and closed the doors of the roof chamber on him, and locked them.


            Been divorced?  Suffer from depression?  Made poor financial decisions?  Struggle with an addiction?  Rather shy?  Run off at the mouth a little too much?  No matter the apparent weakness or defect, God can use it.  Nothing goes to waste.  Just you wait and see.