The basic theme of Judges is outlined in chapter 2:11-19. A cycle took place during this time in Israel’s history: The people would sin, God judged them, the people would cry out to the LORD for help, and God would raise up a judge to deliver them. After the judge died, however, the people fell back into sin, and then the whole cycle repeated itself.
With that in mind, Judges chapter 3 introduces us to the first three men who would be God’s deliverers.
Othniel – 3:7-11 Verse 7 opens with the typical situation, the people forgot God and served the Baals and Asherahs. They gave themselves over to serving the fertility cult gods and seeking them for their provisions, not the LORD.
One will note verse 8: “Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia.” Notice it is the LORD acting in judgment. He is the one who “sold them into the hand” of their enemies. Later, in verse 12, God is said to have “strengthened Eglon” against Israel. In other words, God is in complete control. Furthermore, He is upholding His side of the covenant: if the people disobey, He will be faithful to judge them.
Verse 8 also states that the “anger of the LORD was hot against Israel.” Here God is described as aroused to anger. “Hot against” has the idea of flaring nostrils and heavy breathing of one who is upset and angry.
In response to their disobedience, God sells them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim. We are not entirely certain who this individual is. What is known is that his name literally means, “The doubly wicked from between the two rivers.” Perhaps this is the area between the Euphrates and Tigris.
Whoever this individual was, he was a world-class king because his power exerted a heavy, wicked hand all throughout the area, reaching out far and wide from Mesopotamia and into the land of Israel. It is suggested that he was looking to establish a base of operation in Israel in order to launch campaigns into Egypt. “Double wickedness” may also be a name given to him describing how he cruelly oppressed Israel for at least 8 years.
Israel eventually cries out to the LORD for deliverance, and God raised up Othniel. He is mentioned first in Judges 1:13 as fighting to take the city Kirjath Sepher and winning Caleb’s daughter. He is said to be the younger brother of Caleb. It is uncertain the family relationship. Two other possibilities is that he was Kenaz’s younger brother or he is a half-brother from the same mother who remarried after the death of a husband.
Whatever the case, Othniel was stirred to action by the Spirit of God and he led a battle against the oppressor, “Double Wickedness,” and God delivered him into his hand. Note that verse 8 says God sold Israel into their oppressor’s hand, whereas verse 10 says he, the oppressor, was delivered into Othniel’s hand.
Ehud – 3:12-30 – After Othniel died, Israel repeats their cycle of disobedience against God. This time God delivered them into the hands of Eglon, king of the Moabites. Moab, if one remembers the history from Genesis 19, was the son born from the illicit encounter Lot had with his daughters after they escaped from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The LORD is said to have strengthened Eglon against Israel, which clearly implies God helped Eglon and used him against the sinning Israelites. He gathered up the Ammonites and the Amalekites and took the City of Palms, which is the remnants of Jericho. That was in direct defiance to Joshua’s curse upon the remains of the city.
After 18 years, the people cry out once again to the LORD, and he raised up Ehud. Ehud was from a group of elite fighters. He is said to be left-handed. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and according to 1 Chronicles 12:2, those unique individuals specialized in training themselves to fight efficiently with both hands.
Apparently there was a custom to pay tribute, or protection money, to Eglon. Early on in the history of Judges, Israel, rather than wiping out the wicked Canaanites, brought them into bondage to themselves and had them pay tribute. Here, God reverses the roles; Israel pays tribute to their oppressors.
Ehud, taking advantage of the arrangement, fashions a dagger and smuggles it into the area where the tribute is brought. He gave the money, and then sent away the people who were with him. The text says he turns back from “the stone images that were at Gilgal” to announce he has a message for the king. It is not entirely sure where he was when Ehud “turned back from the stone images that were at Gilgal.” The little note does remind the reader for the reason for Israel’s situation and why they were being oppressed, they gave themselves over to serve other gods.
When Ehud returns to give his “special message” to the king, Eglon dismisses the other people in attendance, and retired to his private chamber, a room that was perhaps situated near the throne room there in his citadel. Once they were alone, Ehud says he has a message from God, draws out his smuggled dagger, and plunges it so hard into Eglon’s belly that it went all the way into his body. Because Eglon was an enormously obese man, the fat is described as closing around the wound and almost sucking the dagger into his tummy so that his entrails came out.
Ehud locks the door and escapes a different way from where he entered. When Eglon’s servants return, they find the door locked, but “smell” Eglon. They thought he was using the toilet, as it were. However, after an extended time waiting around for him to come out, they fetched the key to check on him and found him dead. Ehud then rallies the people and leads them to war against the Moabites, and they broke their rule over Israel.
Shamgar – 3:31 – Shamgar receives one verse at the end of Judges 3. There is uncertainty as to who Shamgar was, or even when his work defeating the Philistines took place. Deborah mentions him in her song of praise recorded in Judges 5:6. There she speaks about the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath. Anath is an Egyptian name. Whoever Shamgar was, he was able to kill 600 Philistines with an ox goad. A similar work to what Samson did near the end of the history of Judges.
The one verse seems to imply that Shamgar was not particularly called of God to do his work. It was like he had some issue with the Philistines. Reading Deborah’s song, her comments suggest that perhaps the Philistines were involved in attacking travelers that prevented the Israelites from journeying over their own land. God providentially stirred up Shamgar who took it upon himself to engage the Philistines. His actions unintentionally delivered Israel from the Philistine influence.