THE FIRST THREE JUDGES
Psalm 136:1, ESV
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
JUDGES 2:11-19, NIrV
11 The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They served gods that were named Baal. 12 They deserted the Lord, the God of their people. He had brought them out of Egypt. But now the Israelites served other gods and worshiped them. They served the gods of the nations that were around them. They made the Lord angry 13 because they deserted him. They served Baal. They also served female gods that were named Ashtoreth. 14 The Lord became angry with the Israelites. So he handed them over to robbers. The robbers stole everything from them. The Lord handed the Israelites over to their enemies all around them. Israel wasn’t able to fight against them anymore and win. 15 When the Israelites went out to fight, the Lord’s power was against them. He let their enemies win the battle over them. The Lord had warned them that it would happen. And now they were suffering terribly.
16 Then the Lord gave them leaders. The leaders saved them from the power of those robbers. 17 But the people wouldn’t listen to their leaders. They weren’t faithful to the Lord. They served other gods and worshiped them. They didn’t obey the Lord’s commands as their people before them had done. They quickly turned away from the path their people had taken. 18 When the Lord gave them a leader, he was with that leader. The Lord saved the people from the power of their enemies. He did it as long as the leader lived. The Lord felt very sorry for the people. They groaned because of what their enemies did to them. Their enemies treated them badly. 19 But when the leader died, the people returned to their evil ways. The things they did were even more sinful than the things their people before them had done. They served other gods and worshiped them. They refused to give up their evil practices. They wouldn’t change their stubborn ways.
The book of Judges records the next 300 years of Israel's history after Joshua died. Interestingly, it repeats the same story over and over. Why would the writer of Judges keep writing down the same story? Because God's people kept repeating the same foolish pattern. Twelve times in this book, you'll read a story that goes like this: God's people anger him by worshiping other gods. As a punishment, God allows Israel's enemies to conquer them. In need of rescue, God's people cry to him for help. Suddenly, a "judge" appears, a savior sent by God to crush Israel's enemies and give them peace.
+ Why would these “judges” be able to rescue God’s people? (vs. 18)
+ What would happen every time after the judge died? (vs. 19)
JUDGES 3:7-11, NIrV
7 The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God. They served gods that were named Baal. They also served female gods that were named Asherah. 8 So the Lord was very angry with Israel. He handed them over to the power of Cushan-Rishathaim, the king of Aram Naharaim. For eight years Israel was under his rule. 9 They cried out to the Lord. Then he provided someone to save them. The man’s name was Othniel, the son of Kenaz. He was Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on Othniel. So he became Israel’s leader. He went to war. The Lord handed over to him Cushan-Rishathaim, the king of Aram. Othniel won the battle over him. 11 So the land was at peace for 40 years. Then Othniel, the son of Kenaz, died.
When the Israelites entered the promised land, God ordered them to drive out the wicked men living there. But before that job was complete, the Israelites put away their swords and settled down in the land. This dreadful decision set the stage for the repeating history of Judges. Israel soon copied the evil nations around them and served their pretend gods. Because of this sin, God let his people suffer as slaves to an evil king for eight years. Then, though they didn’t deserve it, God answered their cries for help by sending Othniel, the first of the judges, to crush their enemies in battle.
+ What was the name of the king who captured the Israelites? (vs. 8)
+ After Othniel rescued them, how long did the Israelites have peace? (vs. 11)
JUDGES 3:12-14, NIrV
12 Again the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord gave Eglon power over Israel. Eglon was the king of Moab. 13 He got the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him. All of them came and attacked Israel. They captured Jericho. Jericho was also known as The City of Palm Trees. 14 For 18 years the Israelites were under the rule of Eglon, the king of Moab.
When you walk in circles, you always end up right back where you started. And that’s a good way to describe the history of the Israelites in the book of Judges. In the last section, we read about the first of these history cycles: Israel worshiped false gods, were conquered by their enemies, cried out to God for help, and were rescued by a God-sent judge named Othniel who gave them peace for 40 years. However, Othniel didn’t live forever. And when he died, the same sad circular story started again! The Israelites turned to false gods again. And again, God let an enemy conquer his people.
+ Who conquered the Israelites? What nation was he the king of? (vs. 12)
+ How long did the Israelites serve this evil king? (vs. 14)
JUDGES 3:15-16, NIRV
15 Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord. Then he provided someone to save them. The man’s name was Ehud, the son of Gera. Ehud was left-handed. He was from the tribe of Benjamin. The Israelites sent Ehud to Eglon, the king of Moab. They sent him to give the king what he required them to bring him. 16 Ehud had made a sword that had two edges. It was about a foot and a half long. He tied it to his right leg under his clothes.
Just like God sent Othniel to rescue Israel the first time they found themselves in huge trouble, God sent a second judge to save his sinful people. His name was Ehud and he was a lefty. Since most men are right-handed, fighting a soldier who swung a sword with his left hand was a real headache! After conquering them, evil King Eglon forced God’s people to give him tributes: gifts of treasure, food, and valuable resources. The Israelites selected Ehud to deliver this gift to the king of Moab. Before he left, Ehud smelted a small sword he could secretly strap to the inside of his right leg.
+ What did the Israelites do before God sent Ehud to them? (vs. 15)
+ Ehud’s sword was two cubits long (about 18 inches). Use a ruler to measure out 18 inches to give you a picture of what Ehud’s two-sided sword looked like.
JUDGES 3:17-25, NIRV
17 Eglon, the king of Moab, was a very fat man. Ehud gave him the gift he had brought. 18 After that, Ehud sent away those who had carried it. 19 When he came to the place where some statues of gods stood near Gilgal, Ehud went back to Eglon. He said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”
The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And all his attendants left him.
20 Then Ehud approached him. King Eglon was sitting alone in the upstairs room of his palace. Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” So the king got up from his seat. 21 Then Ehud reached out his left hand. He pulled out the sword tied to his right leg. He stuck it into the king’s stomach. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade. Eglon sagged and fell to the floor. Ehud didn’t pull out the sword. And the fat closed over it. 23 Ehud went out to the porch. He shut the doors of the upstairs room behind him. Then he locked them.
24 After he had gone, the servants came. They found the doors of the upstairs room locked. They said, “Eglon must be going to the toilet in the inside room of the palace.” 25 They waited for a long time. They waited so long they became worried. But the king still didn’t open the doors of the room. So they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their king. He had fallen to the floor and was dead.
Eglon, the fat king of Moab, was a big-bellied bully, feasting on food brought to him by the people he conquered in battle. When Ehud arrived with Israel’s gifts, I’m sure he was looking forward to munching on another free meal. But Israel’s judge had not come to deliver a tribute – he came to deliver God’s justice! With his small sword secretly strapped to his leg, Ehud tricked the chubby ruler into sending away all his body guards. Alone with Eglon, Ehud said, “I have a secret message for you from God.” What was that message? A sword-strike right into the king’s big old belly!
+ Why did Ehud leave his sword behind when he escaped? (vs. 22)
+ Why did Eglon’s servants wait so long before they checked on him? (vs. 24)
JUDGES 3:26-31, NIRV
26 While Eglon’s servants had been waiting, Ehud had gotten away. He passed by the statues of gods and escaped to Seirah. 27 There in the hill country of Ephraim he blew a trumpet. Then he led the Israelites down from the hills.
28 “Follow me,” Ehud ordered. “The Lord has handed your enemy Moab over to you.” So they followed him down. They took over the only places where people could go across the Jordan River to get to Moab. They didn’t let anyone go across. 29 At that time they struck down about 10,000 men of Moab. All those men were strong and powerful. But not even one escaped. 30 That day Moab was brought under the rule of Israel. So the land was at peace for 80 years.
31 After Ehud, Shamgar became the next leader. He was the son of Anath. Shamgar struck down 600 Philistines with a large, pointed stick used to drive oxen. He too saved Israel.
When Ehud thrust his secret sword into King Eglon’s belly of jelly, it was just the first blow against the enemies of Moab. After escaping from the king’s chambers, he ran to his people, blew a trumpet, and said, “Follow me! God has given our enemies to us!” And that’s exactly what happened. With God’s judge as their leader, the Israelites attacked and completely wiped out the soldiers of Moab. And the Israelites enjoyed an incredible 80 years of peace.
But as you can guess, that didn’t last. As they had done two times before, God’s people turned away from the Lord’s commands and ended up conquered by their enemies, the Philistines. And just as he had done two times before, God sent another judge: Shamgar. With God on his side, this ordinary man defeated 600 soldiers by himself using only an oxgoad, a pointy stick used to move cows in the right direction!
This week, we read about three different times that the Israelites sinned, three different times they were captured by their enemies, and three different judges that God sent to save them: Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. But this sad, sorry cycle didn’t stop. The people of Israel repeated this history ten more times!
No matter how many times their sins led to suffering, the Israelites never learned their lesson. They kept turning away from the One True God to worship false gods. But no matter how many times his people sinned, God kept on listening to their cries for help. He sent judge after judge to save them. And each one was sent by God to rescue the people from their own sin-made mess.
These twelve judges are small pictures of another person God sent to rescue his people from their sin-made mess: Jesus! But Jesus wasn’t just some ordinary man like Othniel, Ehud, or Shamgar – he was the Son of God! His mission was simple: save the world, just like the twelve judges saved Israel.
But the story of Jesus is so much greater than any of the stories of the judges. Men like Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar did what God wanted them to do: they defeated the enemies of Israel in battle so God’s people could live in peace. And each time it would work… for a while. But the Israelites kept falling into sin. And their sin led them back to slavery, time and time again.
But Jesus didn’t come to defeat enemy kings; he came to beat sin itself! He did that by paying the punishment we have earned for our sin: death. On the cross, Jesus paid our sin price in full. And to prove he won this battle, once and for all, he rose from the dead! Best of all, anyone who believes this good news will enjoy a time of peace: not a 80-year peace, but a forever peace in God’s good kingdom!
+ How many men of Moab did Ehud and his soldiers defeat? (vs. 29)
+ How could Shamgar defeat 600 men by himself without a sword?