Judges Chapter 3 - The Israelites Lived Among the Canaanites
Judges Chapter 3 – The Israelites Lived Among the Canaanites
The Israelites lived among the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites to test whether or not they would obey the LORD’s commands.
These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. Judges 3:1-4
The descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham, settled in the area that God later promised to give to the descendants of Shem. The Canaanites were Hamitic in origin, but they adopted a Semitic language and culture, as we know from both the Bible and archaeology.
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness. Genesis 9:20-23
Nakedness in the Old Testament was from the beginning a thing of shame for fallen man. As a result of the Fall, the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, and knowing they were naked, they covered themselves. To them as sinners the state of nakedness was undignified, shameful and vulnerable. The covering of nakedness was a sound instinct for it provided a boundary for fallen human relations. Nakedness thereafter represented the loss of human and social dignity. To be exposed meant to be unprotected; this can be seen by the fact that the horrors of the Judah’s exile to Babylon are couched in the image of shameful nakedness.
Nakedness is also a punishment to be meted out to the enemies of God:
You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. Habakkuk 3:13
Rejoice and be glad, O Daughter of Edom, you who live in the land of Uz. But to you also the cup will be passed; you will be drunk and stripped naked. Lamentations 4:21
To see someone uncovered was to bring dishonor and to gain advantage for potential exploitation.
When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” Genesis 9:24-25
The curse of slavery was upon Canaan and his descendants. The curse would rest upon the Canaanites who dwelled in ancient Palestine, Phoenicia, and Carthage. The Canaanites detestable practices included idolatry, fornication with temple prostitutes, divination and child sacrifice. The prophecy was fulfilled when the Canaanites were enslaved because of their wickedness by the ancient Israelites – first by Joshua (Joshua 9:23) and later by Solomon (1 Kings 9:20-21).
But why was Noah’s grandson Canaan cursed because of the sin of his father Ham? I think that there are at least two reasons that the curse fell on Canaan. First of all, God foreknew Canaan’s wickedness and how Ham’s disrespectful and dishonoring attitude would wax even worse in Canaan. Secondly, children are to be a blessing and are to honor their parents. Just as Noah’s son Ham did not bring Noah honor but shame, so would Canaan bring dishonor to Ham and not blessing.
The Canaanites and the other nations were left in the Promised Land for a dual purpose. The first was to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience. The second purpose was to test the moral and spiritual discipline of the Israelites to see if they would observe God’s commandments.
The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. Judges 3:5-6
The LORD God had forbidden the Israelites from intermarrying with the peoples of the surrounding nations. He told them of the consequences they would suffer if they disobeyed His command.
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. Deuteronomy 7: 1-4
The Israelites failed to heed the LORD’s warning concerning intermarriage, and just as He had predicted, their children turned away from the LORD their God.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. Judges 3:7-8
Baal, or “lord,” was the chief object of worship of the Canaanites. Asherah was known as the goddess of motherhood and fertility. She was called “Lady Asherah of the Sea.” Asherah or Ashtoreth was their supreme female divinity and Baal’s consort or wife. Some suppose Baal to correspond to the sun and Asherah to the moon; others that Baal was Jupiter and Ashtoreth Venus.
Each locality had its special Baal, and the various local Baals were summed up under the name of Baalim, or “lords.” The Canaanites believed that Baal was in absolute control over nature and over people. They believed that Baal was in charge of the rain and the weather, and man's survival was dependent upon his provision.
Worship of Baal involved imitative magic, the performance of rituals, including sacred prostitution. Sexual acts by both male and female temple prostitutes were understood to arouse Baal who then brought rain to make Mother Earth fertile.
After the Israelites intermarried with the heathen people from the surrounding nations, they followed their pagan gods and committed natural and spiritual adultery. They were unfaithful to their own spouses as well as unfaithful to the LORD their God.
The name Cushan-Rishathaim is interpreted, as “man from Cush, he of the twofold crime.” Cush was the eldest son of Ham, and the father of Nimrod. The land of Cush probably derives its name from this son of Ham. The Cushites appear to have spread along extensive tracts, stretching from the Upper Nile to the Euphrates and Tigris.
Cushan-Rishathaim was a king of Mesopotamia who was chosen by God as his tool to chastise the Israelites for their idolatry.
But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. Judges 3:9-11
Aram means high, or highlands. Aram is the name of an ancient country noted by its elevated region extending from the northeast of Israel to the Euphrates. It corresponded generally with Syria and Mesopotamia of the Greeks and Romans.
The Israelites were punished for turning from the LORD and worshipping the Baals and Asherahs by being subjugated by the king of Aram for eight years. When they finally cried out to the LORD in desperation, in His mercy, the LORD raised up and anointed Caleb’s younger brother as Israel’s first judge.
The Judges were both prophets and warriors who sought to bring God’s people to repentance and deliver them from the hands of their enemies. Their role was to turn the people back from idolatry to the worship of the LORD and the observance of the Torah. The judges were leaders or rulers who took charge of the affairs of several tribes in times of war and who also assumed leadership of their respective tribes in the subsequent times of peace.
Othniel in his role of warrior led Israel in battle and defeated the king of Aram and his army. He then served in his peacetime role of judge for the next forty years.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years. Judges 3:12-14
The Moabites lived just east of the Dead Sea. The Ammonites occupied the countryside north of Moab were both tribes related by blood to Abraham. They were descendants of his nephew Lot. The name Moab, the son of Lot from his older daughter, means “from the father.” The name Ben-ammi, his son by his younger daughter, means “son of my people.” These sons conceived through incest gave rise to the Moabites and the Ammonites.
Given the incestuous origins of Moab and Ammon, we are not surprised that contact with these peoples often brought much trouble for Abraham’s children as these peoples sinned like their parents. Moab led Israel into Baal worship on its way into Canaan (Numbers 25:1-3). Both the Ammonites and the Moabites hired Balaam to curse Israel as it journeyed toward the Promised Land and were thus forbidden to enter the Lord’s assembly for ten generations (Deuteronomy 23:3-4).
The Amalekites were descendants of Amalek, the son of Eliphaz and the grandson of Esau who had despised his birthright. They were related the Edomites. The Amalekites waylaid the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. They waited in ambush and attacked all who were lagging behind mostly women, children, the aged and the infirm.
The armies from these three nations attacked Israel and took possession of the City of Palms (Jericho). The LORD chastened the Israelites for their disobedience by handing them over to Eglon king of the Moabites who subjugated them for eighteen years.
Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Judges 3:15
The Hebrew Bible mentions left-handed people on three occasions: the story of Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king (Judges 3:12–30), the 700 Benjamites who could use the sling with deadly accuracy (Judges 20:16) and the two-dozen ambidextrous warriors who came to support David in Hebron (1 Chronicles 12:2). All of these accounts of left-handed people in the Bible appear in military contexts and all involve members of the tribe of Benjamin.
Benjamites may have been genetically disposed to left-handedness at birth, but the trait may also have been encouraged in soldiers to give them a strategic advantage in combat. Ironically, the name Benjamin means “son of (my) right hand.”
Ehud was selected by the LORD as the next judge or minister of Divine justice of Israel. He was chosen to deliver the Israelites from Eglon the king of the Moabites.
Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. Judges 3:16-18
Since the Israelites had been submissively paying large sums to Eglon for eighteen years, the king would not have been suspicious of meeting with Ehud who was bringing him tribute. Then, to avoid endangering his comrades, Ehud sent away his men who had carried the tribute to the king.
But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”
The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left. Judges 3:19
Ehud left Moab and traveled as far as Gilgal before returning alone to Eglon’s palace. The stone images may have been idols that the Moabites carved out of the 12 stones that were erected as a memorial when Joshua and the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River.
This allotted for enough time for the soldiers who guarded the king during the presentation of the tribute to leave. The king was intrigued by Ehud’s secret message and sent away his attendants.
Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 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. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them. Judges 3:20-23
After dismissing his servants, the king left the public hall on the main floor and went to the upper room of his palace. The king was sitting in his cool roof-chamber when Ehud approached him and said, “I have a message from God for you.” The king rose from his seat and no suspicions were raised concerning Ehud, who was left-handed, as he drew his sword. Ehud then plunged the sword into the king’s belly and did not pull the sword out. He locked the doors of the upper room behind him and made his escape out the porch.
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.” 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. Judges 3:24-25
Finding the doors locked, the servants thought that the king was relieving himself. The irony of the situation is that – when Eglon had been killed the thrust of Ehud’s sword, the king’s bowels had discharged. When the servants finally unlocked the door, they discovered the dead body of their lord.
While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the stone images and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. Judges 3:26-27
While the servants waited for the king to emerge from the upper room of his palace, Ehud had enough time to travel passed Gilgal. He escaped to Seirath which was “the forest” or “rough” which bordered on the cultivated plain near Gilgal, and extended into “the hill country of Ephraim.” He blew a trumpet which was a signal to gather the fighting men.
“Follow me,” he ordered, “for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab; they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years. Judges 3:28-30
Ehud went down from the mountain of Ephraim into the Jordan valley beneath it, straight to the Jordan fords. These were the places where the water was shallow enough to be crossed by wading. The purpose of possessing the fords of the Jordan was to keep the Moabites on the west side of the Jordan from joining their countrymen on the east side of the Jordan. Having struck down about ten thousand Moabites, Moab was made subject to Israel and the land had peace for eighty years.
After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel. Judges 3:31
The south-west area of the Promised Land was inhabited by the Philistines. The Philistines were a sea people that most probably came from the Aegean Sea. God raised up Shamgar to deliver Israel from these enemies. Since he had neither sword nor spear, he used an oxgoad as his weapon. An oxgoad is an instrument of wood about eight feet long, armed with an iron spike or point at one end, with which to spur the ox to plow. It also has an iron scraper at the other end with which to scrape off the earth from the plowshare when it became too clogged to make furrows. Shamgar used his oxgoad and struck down six hundred Philistines. This supernatural act was probably empowered by the Spirit of the LORD coming upon him.
From this verse and Judges 5:6 we may gather that Shamgar was contemporary with Jael, and that he only procured a temporary and partial deliverance for Israel by his exploit.