March 19 Reading: Judges 3-5 Commentary
“And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” (Judges 3:4)
“And Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!’ So she said, ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.'” (Judges 4:8-9)
Judges 3 – The First Judges
We know that Israel did not drive out all the inhabitants of the land. However, some people remained including the “five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians and the Hivites” (v. 3). The sad part is that they could have been driven out if the people would have not become complacent and took the matter seriously. God would have definitely taken care of these people groups if the people would have fully trusted him.
But now that they remained, it seems that God had a purpose for it. Judges 3:4 tells us, “…they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” God allowed adversity in their lives to see how they would rely on him.
Did the people pass the test? Hardly. Time and time again we see them disobeying the commands of the Lord.
The two most devastating sins are listed in verse 6. They took the daughters of the pagan nations as wives. Additionally, they gave their daughters in marriage to people in the land. And, in the ultimate form of disobedience, Israel served their gods (mainly the gods known as Baal and Asherah – v. 7).
These two actions regarding marriage and worship were fundamental commands God had set for the people. Engaging in them is called “evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 7). And it brought the Lord’s anger and judgment on the people (v. 8).
The first time Israel disobeyed by doing the two things noted above, God sent Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia as an adversary to Israel. The language used here is that God “sold them [Israel] into the hands” of the king (v. 8). So Israel was subject to the king for eight years (v. 8).
After eight years, Israel “cried out to the Lord” (v. 9). You would think they would have done that sooner. Eight years is a long time to ignore your sin and ask God for help.
Nevertheless, when they finally repented, God raised up Othniel to deliver Israel (v. 10). This is the same Othniel from Josh. 15 who took up Caleb’s challenge to conquer a section of the land. In this case, God’s spirit came upon him, so that he went to war against the Mesopotamian king and prevailed.
In the end though, the text is clear to point out that it was the Lord who prevailed over the king. God delivered the people from bondage, not any one person.
After this, the land had rest for forty years (until Othniel died) (v. 11). The mention of the number of years the land had rest is a recurring feature in the book. It signifies the end of each sin-judgment-repentance-deliverance cycle.
Some time after Othniel’s death, Israel “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 12). The specific reason is not listed. But God strengthened Eglon king of Moab to come against Israel.
With help from the Ammonites and the Amalakites, he defeated Israel and captured the “city of Palms” (aka Jericho) (v. 13). That is interesting because Jericho was destroyed during the conquering of the land in Joshua 7. So perhaps part of the city had been rebuilt because of its strategic location.
The occupation under Eglon last 18 years (v. 14).
Again, after 18 years of bondage to Moab, Israel “cried to the Lord, [and] the Lord raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man” (v. 15).
Several things are noteworthy about this judge:
1. Ehud was from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of all the tribes (I Sam. 9:21).
2. He was left-handed (v. 15). The fact this is mentioned in verse 15 and verse 21 seems crucial to the story. Although not specifically stated, his left-handedness and the placement of the sword on his right thigh under his cloak (v. 16, 21) may have allowed him to slip through any security inspection by the king’s guards.
3. Israel assigned him to bring tribute to King Eglon (v. 16). We don’t know if Ehud routinely did this or if he volunteered for this task based on God wanting to use him to free Israel from Moab.
King Eglon, himself is described as a very fat man (v. 17). That’s another detail that adds to the gruesome visuals of the story that follows.
Ehud Confronts Eglon
Once Ehud brought the tribute to Eglon, Ehud sent the people away who came with him (v. 18). Then, he asked to speak privately to the king, saying he had secret message. So Eglon sent all his attendants out of the upper chamber and allowed Ehud to come in (v. 19-20).
Once they were alone, Ehud wastes no time. The action that follows is violent and gruesome.
“Then Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” So he arose from his seat. Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. Even the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out. Then Ehud went out through the porch and shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them” (vv. 20-23).
Meanwhile, Eglon’s attendants came to check on him. Finding the door locked, they assumed he was “attending to his needs” (v. 24). In other words, they thought the king was relieving himself.
However, it went on for so long that they became embarrassed (v. 25). So they used a key to open the doors and found Eglon dead.
In the meantime, Ehud escaped. He went to a place called Seirah (v. 26), blew a trumpet and rallied the armies of Ephraim (v. 27). Ehud said, “Follow me, for the Lord has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand” (v. 28)
The armies seized the fords of the Jordan leading to Moab. On that day, they killed 10,000 men of Moab…“not a man escaped” (v. 29).
As a result of Ehud’s courageous leadership, the land had rest for 80 years (v. 30).
Judges 4 – A Woman Leader
Generally speaking, women maintained very few rights in Old Testament culture. So, although not the norm, several women played instrumental roles in the history of Israel. Sarah, Rahab, Ruth and Esther are a few prime examples.
Additionally, women could lead too. In Judges 4, God raised up a prophetess named Deborah to lead the people during one of their dark times.
They went through those dark times because the people “did evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died” (v. 1). God sold them into bondage under Jabin, king of Canaan. He had a commander named Sisera who oversaw Jabin’s army which included 900 chariots (v. 3). Through their power, they oppressed Israel for 20 years.
We don’t know how Deborah came to be a judge or how long during the 20 year time span she functioned as a judge. We simply know that she was judging Israel (vv. 4-5) when this narrative begins. In verses 6-7, she summons a man named Barak to take 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun and march to Mount Tabor to draw out Jabin’s army. God commanded this and would lead Barak to victory.
Deborah must have been a respected and valued leader. How do we know that? Because Barak, the general of Israel’s army, would not go to battle to free the people from the Cannaanite king unless she went with him. He says, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (v. 8).
On the one hand, Barak’s hesitancy shows a lack of courage and faith in God. He was not confident enough to lead the battle on his own. However, at least he asked for help. It’s better to be timid and ask for help to lead than to not lead at all because you’re timid.
Deborah agrees to go but tells Barak that there will be no glory in victory for him. Instead, God would use a woman in a dramatic way to capture the enemy king
The Battle Belongs to God
When Sisera finds out Barak is advancing towards his position with 10,000 men, he called all 900 of his chariots to the river Kishon and waited for battle. But he did not know what was in store for him there. Namely, the God of Israel.
Deborah seeks to inspire Barak by saying, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?” (v. 14). Indeed, the Lord had gone out before Barak. Verse 15 tells us that “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword.”
We don’t know the exact details as to how the Lord did this. Judges 5:19-22 gives us a clue though. It appears that somehow the chariots were swept away by the river. So perhaps they tried to cross it and got stuck. Or perhaps God caused the river to rise and flood the plain.
Regardless, it’s clear God won the day. The victory was so decisive “not even one was left” of the enemy army (v. 16).
Death at a Woman’s Hand
When Sisera realized the battle was lost, he abandoned his army and fled on foot to a nearby ally, the Kenites (v. 17). He came across a tent where a woman named Jael came out to greet him. She brought him into the tent and gave him some milk to quench his thirst (vv. 18-19).
Jael covered Sisera with a rug to hide him and stood at the door of her tent to lie about his whereabouts if anyone asked. In the meantime, weary from battle, Sisera falls asleep.
It’s at this juncture, we get one of the most graphic visuals in the entire Bible:
“Then Jael…took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.” (v. 21)
When Barak and his armies pass by, Jael came out to meet him. She brought him into her tent and showed him the dead Sisera (v. 22). “So on that day God subdued Jabin…And the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger against Jabin king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin…” (vv. 23-24)
Judges 5 – Deborah’s Song of Victory
After the battle, Deborah and Barak praise God for their victory by singing. Some notably components of the hymn include:
1. Praise for leaders who lead and for those who willingly volunteer for a cause (v. 2).
2. When the Lord leads, his presence is felt (v. 4-5).
3. Deborah describes herself as a mother to Israel (v. 7), again signifying her honor and respect among the people.
4. The cooperation of the tribes to fight together against their enemy is noted (vv. 14-15).
5. The rivers role in the defeat of Sisera’s army (vv. 19-22).
6. Praise and blessing offered to Jael for her bravery (vv. 24-26).
The exploits of Deborah, Barak and Jael, the land had rest for 40 years (v. 31).
Questions to Consider:
Ehud took advantage of being left-handed to do something great for the Lord. Is there something you’ve been blessed with that God could use?
In Judges 4, Barak doesn’t outright reject the calling to lead. He simply needs a little push. Deborah provides the support he needs by going with him. In the end, their partnership was successful. Who in your world needs a push today? Whose life can you step into and support?
Do you ever put conditions on God to serve him by saying things like, “God I will do this if…?” How might events turn out differently if you simply trusted him unconditionally?
What other points would you want to know about in our Judges 3-5 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.