Judges 3
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The general lesson of the Book of Judges is here repeated. There is shown to have been a Divine providence prevailing through and above the defections of Israel. God uses the consequences of their neglect as a means of grace. The nations that had not been rooted out became in turn their tempters and their tyrants; and thus they outlive their minority, and are prepared for the great place they have to take in the history of the kingdom of God.

I. IT WAS A RESULT OF PARENTAL NEGLECT. The fathers had left much of their task undone. A determined attitude on their part, and vigorous measures, would have rid the land of the nuisance. One generation may do much good or evil to its successors. We never reap all the results of our own misdoing; a great portion is left for the children of after generations. The neglect of the laws of health, of the canons of a moral life, of educational institutions, social and political progress, may entail grievous disadvantage upon those who come after us; as much that comes in this way, comes in this way alone, and cannot be produced suddenly. And so it is with the growth of theological truth, and the habits and usages of the spiritual life.

II. BUT THE CHILDREN TOO WERE TO BLAME. The oracle of God at Shiloh could have been consulted still. God's will could easily have been ascertained. Thorough and absolute trust in Jehovah, and devotion to his service, would have rid them of their enemies. They were therefore the children of their fathers in this also, viz., that they were not wholly given to God's service and the desire after righteousness. How much of human guilt consists in mere letting alone, or in supinely submitting to evils as if they were inevitable or incurable!

III. IT WAS AN INSTANCE OF EVIL DIVINELY UTILISED. A probation. To call forth the courage and faith of the new generation. To prevent them accepting the situation as a final one, or calmly submitting to and acquiescing in the wicked customs and idolatries of their neighbours. Some natures find the way of transgression harder than others. They are finer, more susceptible, have more deeply-set longings after goodness. They feel the inherent contradictions of evil more acutely; its penalties press more heavily upon them. This is not an injustice on the part of their Maker; it is a mark of his goodness and mercy. He would have them fenced in by the sanctions of righteousness; driven back into his fold. He has meant them for a better life. So it was with his elect people then. They and their heathen neighbours were upon a different footing. It was the destiny of Israel not to be let alone. A later experience in order to the comprehension of an earlier experience. One of the most valuable uses of experience - to throw light backward. It reveals the true value of an inheritance, and renders precious things more precious. Otherwise the younger Israelites who entered into the conquests of the first warriors would not have known the severity of their toils, or the mighty hand of God which wrought their deliverance. There are some lessons every man must learn for himself. A true appreciation of God's saving grace is a personal and, for the most part, an incommunicable thing. "To teach them war, i.e. to inure them to it as a necessary discipline, and as the preliminary work that had to be done ere the kingdom of God could be brought in; and, as above, to show them how much spiritual privileges cost, and how difficult and yet how honourable it was to defend and secure them. Still it was -

IV. AN INSTANCE OF A PROVISIONAL ALLOWANCE OF COMPARATIVE IMMORALITY. The world was not ripe for the morality of Jesus. The self-contradiction of a continual state of warfare was to be their schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. The state of peace is not of itself more moral than that of war. It is "the things that make for peace," the spirit of brotherhood and Christian charity, that are the aim of the righteous mind. The world must first be righteous ere it can be peaceful. - M.

When Israel entered the land it was on the express condition that no terms of marriage or intercommunion should be entered into with the aboriginal tribes of Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). This seems either to have been forgotten or deliberately ignored. The consequences predicted came to pass, and the hearts of the people were led away from the worship of the true God.

I. THE LIMITS OF COMMUNION BETWEEN THE CHILDREN OF GOD AND THE WORLD, The law of extermination prescribed to Israel made the path of duty very clear. It was God's purpose to disentangle the national and individual life of his people from the perversions, corruptions, and self-contradictions of idolatrous worship. He desired to separate them entirely to himself. Severe and uncharitable as this rule might at first appear, it was true mercy to the world as yet unborn, and to the future that was to be redeemed to God. Some comforts and conveniences, a few really valuable fruits of pseudo-civilisation and the contact with the currents of thought and life in the great world of men, had to be sacrificed, but the advantage was more than worth them all. The same problem presents itself to-day to the Christian. How far is it allowable for the life of a child of God and a child of this world to intermingle? What relations of this life are to be kept apart from the world, and to subsist only between Christians, and what relations may be shared with the world? The letter of the ancient prescript is of course obsolete, but the spirit must still be binding. Evidently, however, the relations of what are strictly religious communions can only be sustained between true Christians. And many of the higher relations of our natural life, as, for instance, marriage, can only be worthily sustained by Christians. The spirit of the old law was, immediately, severe, but, ultimately and more largely, merciful. So ought the disposition of the Christian to be. Of course the extent and direction in which we observe this law of heavenly prudence must be left to every man's conscience in the sight of God. It ought to be remembered that often when it seems to act against others it is really for their good.


1. Habit blunts the conscience to unlawful customs.

2. Personal attachments and friendships lend attraction to social and religious observances which are really unrighteous.

3. The relations of civil life create entanglement and perplexity.

4. The peculiar, intimate, and profound relations of marriage add to the force of all influences that affect the religious nature and the spiritual life. - M.

The effects of this communion with idolatrous peoples speedily appear. It was no accident that Israel became the subject of a heathen power, nor are we to suppose it an arbitrary exercise of the right of Divine providence.

I. AS FAITH STRENGTHENS, SUPERSTITION DESTROYS, MORAL POWER. In all these punishments the external and physical disadvantage appears to be the first perceived. But the real loss was sustained beforehand, when faith in the one God was lost. The whole moral life which this dogma encouraged and sustained was thereby undermined. Monotheism was the foundation of the moral life, correcting and purifying it; idolatry pandered to the worst passions, and chained the spirit of man to the outward and sensuous.

II. MORAL ENTHUSIASM IS THE ESSENCE AND INSPIRATION OF HEROISM AND THE RULING QUALITIES. The reverence of Israel in the worship of Jehovah was called forth towards qualities that were truly noble and admirable. The sustaining force of an Israelite's piety was absolutely righteous and super-sensuous; and it had appeared superior to all that the arm of flesh could bring against it. The Israelite was taught, therefore, to despise the material, the outward, and the merely human. His faith, therefore, became heroic. And as the influence of the Divine Being repressed the passions and developed the spiritual power, it enabled him to restrain himself, to pursue after distant and vast aims; and, in making him heedless of the attractions of sense and penalties which only affected the outward man, it made him influential over others. Hence the religion of Israel marked it out for political superiority and power.

III. THE "SERVICE" THAT IS WASTED ON WORTHLESS OBJECTS IS AVENGED BY A "SERVICE" THAT IS SEVERE AND INVOLUNTARY. This was the result of a special appointment, and also of a Divine law. The people that had become effeminate by idolatrous indulgence were an easy prey to any military and ambitious power; and so that which had been a weak yielding, or a choice, became binding and imperative. National liberty was lost; the purest and noblest traits of national character were repressed. What a special political power did in this instance evil habit itself may do; and there are other influences whose yoke waits upon the loss of moral power. - M.

It is a curious fact in the history of Israel that it is never until they have acknowledged God as the source of salvation that they achieve any permanent success. It is as if this people were to learn that only by supernatural means is it ever to fulfil its destiny.

I. HE INSPIRES TRUE HEROISM. Of Othniel we have already heard; he stands as a representative of early Israelitish chivalry. But on the occasion on which he distinguished himself formerly, the inspiration was hardly so lofty as to mark him out as especially the servant of God. He is, however, on the threshold of the great life of self-denial and generous self-sacrifice which characterised the judge of Israel. He is a vessel chosen of God for better service. Of the particular influences which marked him out for the high office to which he was called we are not informed. All that we know is, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. That he was well qualified otherwise for warlike exploits we know; but the merely human traits of character which he has displayed are nothing without this distinctive inspiration. God finds the man for the hour.

II. THE MORAL AUTHORITY IS DIVINELY CREATED. Israel gravitates towards Othniel as its moral centre. By a kind of moral necessity he becomes its judge, and there is no one to dispute his ascendancy. The prestige which he gains in his magistracy is not injured by military failures. We are to look upon all this as proof that God was with him. preserving and increasing his reputation, and developing the powers which he possessed. When it is said (Judges 2:18), "And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge," we are invited to behold no series of merely human successes, but that which is directly due to his presence and help. And so with all Whom he inspires for special service; he will make their moral influence his care, sustain their strength, and secure uninterrupted success if they put their trust in him. - M. Natural advantages and endowments perfected and crowned by consecration.




The Book of Judges brings before us the heroic age of Israel. The multitude of the people are in a condition of moral and political degradation, but great men appear from time to time whose individual heroism secures the salvation of their nation. Othniel, the first of the judges, may serve as a type of the rest. The characters and mission of these men may throw some light upon the function of great men in the economy of Providence.

I. GREAT MEN OWE THEIR GREATNESS TO GOD. Many of the judges sprang from obscure families; they were not hereditary rulers, but men sent of God with individual vocations. Othniel belonged to the honourable family of Caleb, and shared in the fame of that family, perhaps, partly in virtue of hereditary qualities. But even he is described as owing his greatness to God.

1. Great men are sent by God. When the people "cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer." There are men who are born heroes - men whose great qualities are owing to their nature, not to their culture or their conduct. He who believes in providence will recognise that such men are "raised up" by God.

2. Great men derive their highest powers directly from God. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel. The military and political ability of Othniel as warrior and judge are ascribed to a Divine inspiration. All truly great men are inspired by God. Not only ore they originally formed and sent by God, but they owe their powers to the constant influence of God within them. Bad men of genius receive their genius from God, and are therefore guilty of prostituting the noblest Divine gift to evil purposes. Such men attain to no more than an earthly greatness. In the sight of God their low aims destroy the character of heroism which their abilities rendered possible. On the other hand, all Christians may attain to a measure of greatness in proportion as they receive the Spirit of God; yet we must distinguish between the graces of the Spirit, which are for all Christians, and the gifts of the Spirit, which are special, and bestowed on individual men.


1. Great men are intrusted with great talents for the benefit of others. To devote these to selfish ends of ambition or pleasure is a mark of gross unfaithfulness. We are members one of another; and that member which has the highest capacities will produce the largest amount of harm if it refuses to perform its functions in promoting the welfare of the whole body.

2. Great men are needed by the world. The heroic age has passed, and there is now more power in the general thought and life of men than in primitive times. The work of individual men has often been overrated when compared with the deep, silent strength of public opinion, and the slow, steady movement of national progress. Yet it is real and large. Christianity would have lived if Paul had never been converted; the Reformation would have come without Luther. But these movements would have taken a different form, and probably would have made much slower progress without the help of their leading spirits. Great inventors, legislators, reformers have left a distinct individual stamp on the history of our race. Christianity is not a product of the spirit of its age; it owes its origin to the life of the greatest of men.

III. THE MISSION OF GREAT MEN VARIES ACCORDING TO THE NEEDS Off THEIR AGE. In the heroic age of Israel the great men are warriors who deliver the people from the yoke of invaders; later they appear as kings who lay the foundations of constitutional government, e.g. David and Solomon; later as prophets, etc. Perhaps the gifts for all varieties of excellence exist in every age, but a natural selection brings to light only those which are suitable for each particular age. But possibly there is a providential economy which shapes the great man according to the needs of his age. In either case it is clear that there is a breadth and variety of Divine inspiration, so that we cannot limit it to any one form of manifestation, nor deny that it may be found in some novel and startling shape as the requirements of the world assume new features. - A.

It was as a judge of Israel that Othniel first attained influence. This necessitated a righteous life and a consistent character. In this way he obtained command over his people, and was able to transfer their attachment and respect to the battle-field. So it was, as Israel learned to obey the servant of Jehovah in civil affairs, and learned to respect the law of righteousness, that it was able to face its enemies with an irresistible front. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation and a man.






Jehovah is spoken of here as if he had become the God of heathen nations. He takes the side of the enemies of Israel, and strengthens them for the subjugation of his own people.




There is no grandeur of character about Ehud, nor can he boast of an illustrious descent; yet he is sufficient for the purpose of delivering Israel. The defectiveness of the instrument makes the Divine agent the more conspicuous. We see here: -

I. GOD'S USE OF OBSCURE AGENTS AND INSTRUMENTALITIES. He was of the less important tribe; personally obscure; physically defective. So God uses the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, etc., that the praise may be given to the true source of power and wisdom. On the present occasion the choice was singularly felicitous, as it emphasised both subjection and deliverance as Divine. The left-handedness of Ehud also becomes curiously and instructively prominent. His very defect proved his fitness for the special task he had to accomplish. Is his power but a one-sided one, and hardly available for regular service? If he be in earnest an opportunity will be given for its effective use. It is exacted by God's servants that they do what they can; the rest is to be left with himself.

II. DEFECTIVE POWERS AND CHARACTER RESTRICTED TO THEIR PROPER SPHERE. We can see from the history that the moral character of Ehud is not high. His success, humanly speaking, depended on duplicity, boldness, sleight of hand. He has decision enough to improve upon the advantage which he has thus obtained, and to weaken the enemy by a terrible blow. But there is no sign of the judicial faculty, nor even of great military skill. He rendered a signal service, and then apparently retired into obscurity. He held no high office, or great public responsibility. - M.

The left-handed man may be regarded as a type of the abnormal, the eccentric. The existence and position of such people deserves notice.

I. THE PROVIDENTIAL GOODNESS OF GOD PERMITS PECULIAR VARIATIONS FROM THE NORMAL TYPE OF HUMANITY. God does not form all men according to one exact pattern. There is great variety in the nature, capacity, position, and vocation of men. While most are more or less near to the central type, some are far removed from it.

1. Such people should be treated with delicacy and consideration. In the present instance the variation is too slight to be an affliction, but in more severe cases the sufferers are likely to be painfully conscious of their peculiarity. Christian courtesy will devise means of making this as little apparent as possible.

2. The common human likeness which belongs to all men should be recognised beneath the few discrepancies which strike us forcibly just because they contrast with the multitudinous points of agreement. The peculiarities are superficial. The deeper nature is true to the normal type of the great human family. The left-handed man has the same heart as the right-handed man. If we had more breadth of sympathy, more care for real and deep human qualities, and less regard for superficial and trivial points, we should recognise more genuine humanity in the most eccentric people.

3. Peculiarities of constitution should be borne with calm faith in the wisdom and goodness of God. They may be severe enough to constitute a heavy cross. Yet they come from the hand of our Father who will not willingly afflict. It is well therefore to proceed to see how they may be turned to good accounts or how the evil of them may be ameliorated.

II. DIRECT ADVANTAGES MAY BE DERIVED FROM THE PECULIARITIES OF ABNORMAL CONSTITUTIONS. Ehud is able to effect his terrible purpose the more securely through the surprise occasioned by his unexpected action (ver. 21). It is foolish to aim at eccentricity, because such an aim would result in abnormal habits without abnormal capacities. But where the peculiarity is natural it must be regarded as providential, and we should then cast about to see if it may not be turned to some advantage, so that the thing which appears at first as nothing but a hindrance may be found a source of some special aptitude. If the peculiarity be a positive affiiction, it may enable those who suffer from it to sympathise with and help their companions in similar affliction. Thus the blind may have a mission to the blind. If the peculiarity compel an unusual manner of acting it may be the means of accomplishing some special but much-needed work.

III. PECULIAR DISADVANTAGES IN ONE DIRECTION ARE OFTEN COMPENSATED FOR BY PECULIAR ADVANTAGES IN ANOTHER. The man who is weak in the right band, is left-handed, i.e. he has special strength and skill with his left hand. The blind often have a rare skill in music. Muscular weakness is often accompanied by intellectual. strength, deficient health by fine spiritual powers. Therefore instead of complaining of the peculiarity with which he is tried it would be well if the person who suffered under it were to be thankful for the special advantages with which he may be favoured. No peculiarity which may seem to exclude from the advantages of human society will sever from the love of God or from the sympathy of Christ the Good Physician. - A.

A long interval has elapsed. The moral effect of Ehucl's feat is beginning to lessen. Another warning is required. It is given from the opposite side of Israel in the incursion of six hundred Philistines. These are not many, but they may be spies, pickets, the vanguard of great armies. If any effect is to be produced upon those who are behind them it must be by a sudden and. decisive blow. The example of Ehud is a precedent. Another hero rises to deliver Israel at a stroke. And by a rude and apparently ill-adapted weapon. Shamgar illustrates: -

I. THE INFLUENCE OF EXAMPLE. "After him" - an Ehud inspires a Shamgar.

II. OF THE GREAT EFFECTS WHICH MAY BE PRODUCED BY IMPERFECT MEANS WHEN ZEALOUSLY AND SEASONABLY USED. The slaying of the six hundred deterred perhaps a whole series of invasions. It lent itself easily to poetic treatment, and appealed to popular imagination. The inspiration of the deed was unmistakable. A common man, a rude implement used by Jehovah at a set time for the deliverance of his people.

III. OF THE SIGNIFICANCE AND VALUE OF A SINGLE GREAT DEED, We hear nothing of Shamgar before or after.

1. Its greatness lay in the agent rather than the means. Previous preparation of character was required.

2. The moral effect was sudden, wide-spread, and decisive. God used it for a greater purpose than was immediately contemplated.

3. But it did not qualify for permanent official usefulness. It was followed up by no spiritual witness, or succession of services. It might be that Shamgar outlived his fame, or obscured it by unworthy life, etc. The constant service ought to supplement the individual exploit. - M.

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