The last study covered most of chapter 2 and into the first four verses of chapter 3. Again, chapter breaks and verses were not part of the inspired text, and they can be useful for logical breaks. However, sometimes the break is placed where it can cause confusion instead. It contains what skeptics claim is a contradiction, so if you haven’t read the commentary on chapter 2, you might want to take a look at it for that reason as well as understand the backdrop of what occurs in the beginning part of the Book of Judges.
Chapter 3 starts going into more detail as to the cycles we mentioned before. Dr EW Bullinger’s The Companion Bible categorizes them somewhat differently, but he has a lot of useful notes as to where each cycle begins and ends. Over all, we see a continuous cycle until we come to part 2 in chapter 17.
The cycles (adapted from Bullinger) are:
- vv 5 –7 Evil committed
- v 8 Oppressor
- v 8 Servitude
- v 9 Repentance
- vv 9 – 10 Deliverer (Othniel)
- v 11 Rest
- v 12 Evil committed
- vv 12 – 13 Oppressor (Eglon)
- v 14 Servitude for 18 years
- v 15 Repentance
- vv 15 – 30 Deliverer (Ehud)
- v 30 Rest
4 – 5
- v 1 Evil committed
- v 2 Oppression
- v 3 Repentance
- v 5 Oppression
- vv 4 –5 Deliverer
- vv 6 – 24 Deliverance
- 5:31 Rest
6:1 – 8:35
- v 1 Evil committed
- v 1 Oppressor
- vv 1 – 6 Seven years servitude
- vv 6 – 10 Repentance
- 6:11 – 7:18 Deliverer
- 8:28 Rest
- 8:29 – 35 Deliverer forgotten
9:1 – 57
- Internal struggles
10:6 – 12:15
- v 6 Evil wrought
- vv 7 – 9 Oppression
- vv 10 –16 Repentance
- 10:17 – 12:6 Deliverance
- 12:7 Apparent calm
13 – 16
- v 1 Evil committed
- v 1 Oppression
- 13:2 – 16:31 Deliverance
So, in Judges 3:5, we see the Children of Israel as they “dwelt among the Canaanites”. Once again, the emphasis is upon Israel dwelling among the inhabitants rather than the other way around. This again points to the failure of Israel to carry out God’s commands.
Even worse, in v 7, we see them practicing idolatry rather than worshipping the God that they had a covenant with.
So, we see God’s angered “was hot”, or literally “burned”, against Israel, and He “sold” them into the hands of their oppressors for eight years.
So, they were sold into the hands of “Chushan-rishathaim”, or “Cushan of double wickedness”. This seems to hearken to Habakuk 1:13, where the prophet agonizes that God would use someone wicked to “devoureth the man that is more righteous”.
Othniel, son of Kenaz and nephew of Caleb, delivered Israel out of Mesopotamia’s hand.
We now come to the story of Ehud delivering Israel from Eglon, King of Moab. Notice, however, that God used Ammon and Amalek to punish them as well. Amalek went and took possession of “the city of palm trees”, that is Jericho.
God rose up Ehud, a Benjamite, as deliverer. It appears that many Benjamites were left-handed, as this is a recurring theme in the Bible’s historical accounts. It is mentioned here and plays a role in how Ehud kills Eglon. It is also ironic because in some societies, left-handed people were considered unfit for military duty.
“Ehud made him a dagger” probably because such weapons were outlawed. Today, we might have gun control. Back then, subjugated people had weapons control. We are told in 1 Samuel 13:20 that Israel had to go to the Philistines to sharpen their iron.
So, he made a “dagger”, probably more like a short sword, about 9 inches long, and he strapped it to his right thigh. If he were searched, there is a good chance that not too many would even look on his right thigh, since most people are right-handed. He brought “tribute” (NIV) to King Eglon with this small sword strapped to his thigh.
Matthew Henry’s commentary makes a point that since they weren’t serving God, they would forcibly pay tribute to someone else.
Next we are told that Eglon was “a very fat man” (v 17). This didn’t mean he just had a beer gut. It meant he was probably something like Jabba the Hut in roundness. This little detail leads to an interesting situation as we shall see.
Next, vv 18 – 19 seem a little confusing in time sequence. We are told that after his audience with Eglon, Ehud dismissed the party that was with him. Then, “he himself turned again from the quarries that were by Gilgal”. This wasn’t close to where Eglon was.
Some believe that Ehud might have started to get cold feet. Then, he came upon the “quarries” (KJV). Some translators believe that these were graven images. They may have been idols of Moab even. The traditional explanation is that the shame in seeing these idols made Ehud angry enough to return and deal with Eglon.
However, it may be something entirely different and more likely. In Joshua 4, we see a monument of stones was set up on the Canaanite side of the Jordan made up of stones picked up from the dry river bed. We then find out in Jos 4:19 that they camped at Gilgal. Was this the “stones” that Ehud saw? Did this evoke within him memories of the story of the crossing of the Jordan on dry land? Did this raise up within him a sense of patriotism and shame for what has occurred to Israel? Did it inspire confidence in God to deliver as He did his forefathers? This seems more likely to me to be a motivation for him to turn back.
Ehud must’ve earned some sense of trust, for when he tells Eglon “I have a secret”, Eglon tells everyone to leave. He probably had a sense that some of his subjects weren’t so loyal and could have been planning an assassination or some other plot to overthrow him. In any event, they were dismissed. Back then, dismissal meant dismissal. You did not return unless called.
So, now the men were alone, Ehud approaches and says, “I have a message from God unto thee,” and stabs him. Then, we are told (NIV):
22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it [this must’ve been a lot of fat]. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch[f]; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them. [By shutting and locking the doors, no one could peer in, and since no one can come unless called, this ensured his escape.]
24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead. [Likely, the latter being even more embarrassing than the waiting.]
This shame and embarrassment the king’s servants felt is in contrast to the possible shame Ehud felt at Gilgal. In essence, the shoe is now on the other foot. On his way to Ephraim, he once again passes the stone monument, but this time with no shame and with great courage. As a side note, if these were truly “idols”, you would think this would be the appropriate place to destroy them.
After this, Ehud blew a trumpet and led the Ephraimites into battle.
Next, the chapter ends with a very short account of Shamgar son of Anath. He kills 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. Philistia would have been on the west side of Israel by the coast, while Moab was to the east. Shamgar was a contemporary of Deborah and Jael, as we will see in the Song of Deborah. This is just one account where judges ruled simultaneously and there was no “one man” (or, in Deborah’s case, “one woman”) in charge.