Chapter three of Judges follows Judges one and Judges two. You say, “Well, I know that. I can add. I can follow numbers.” Well, I don’t mention that to check out your mathematics skills. I mention it because of what happened as recorded in Judges chapter one and two have a bearing on chapter three.
A quick review of chapters one and two so that you can see how it blends in with chapter three. Chapters one and two describe the death of Joshua, their faithful leader who led them into the Promised Land. He directed them in conquering the enemies that they encountered when they came into the Promised Land.
Joshua died, and they did not have a leader. But, it says they called upon the Lord. They sought the Lord after Joshua’s death, and God gave them wisdom as to how to go into battle. Consequently, they experienced 10 victories over their enemies, because they sought the Lord and he helped them.
One of those victories resulted only in a partial victory. Part of the way into it, they encountered enemies down in the plain who had iron chariots. The Bible says they did not try to conquer those who had the iron chariots in direct contradiction to what God had instructed them through Joshua. He had told them, “Don’t flee from the chariots of iron. God will give you the power to overcome them and to defeat them.” (Joshua 17.16-18)
That victory resulted only in a partial victory, because they did not defeat those in the plain. Their unbelief, their infidelity, their failure to trust God had severe consequences. After those 10 victories came seven straight defeats at the hand of their enemies. These losses resulted in their intermingling among the Canaanites in the land.
As a result, they bowed down and worshipped the idols and the false gods of the Canaanites. They forsook the God who brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
At the end of chapter two, God summarized their affairs. He told them that, because they failed to believe him and to trust him, he would not drive out the enemies from them any longer. The enemies would remain there intermingled with the Israelites. It would result in their intermarriage and their idolatry by following after their gods. God told them, “I am going to permit this as a test, because I want to see if you will follow me or the people among whom you live?” (Judges 2.20-23)
In chapter three, we come to the first test, the first time when God abandoned them and left them alone. When they came into the Promised Land, he said, “As long as you trust me and follow me I will give you victory over all of your enemies. But, when you fail to obey me and fail to trust me, I will become your enemy. I will fight against you, and your enemies will overtake you. You will become their slaves, and you will worship their God's.” (Judges 2.11-15)
When we come to Judges chapter three, we find that very thing came to pass. God left multiple nations in the land to test Israel. (Judges 3.1-6) God wanted to know whether or not they would obey his commandments, which he gave to their fathers by the hand of Moses.
At the beginning of this passage, it says they didn’t know war. God permitted these enemies to stay in the land so that Israel could learn war. Now what does that mean? God sounds like a great warrior who enjoys war.
God wanted them to learn war according to his ways. He wanted them to trust him and obey him. These people had grown up without knowing how to do the kind of battle that God instructed them to do. They didn’t know how to trust God. They had failed to trust him in the past and in the present. They didn’t know how to do war God’s way. He left the enemies there to see if they would call upon him or not.
God had commanded them to destroy all of the inhabitants of the land when they came into it. He instructed them not to leave any of them. He also told them to destroy the inhabitants’ altars. He warned them, that if they did not follow his instructions, they would intermarry with them and worship their gods. (Deuteronomy 7.12-26)
Now he wants to see if these left over children of Israel, now in the land will follow him or not. Will they call upon me as they had in the past and, thus, learn how to battle the way I would instruct them?
God left six nations in the land to test Israel. The Israelites took the daughters of these tribal nations to themselves for wives. They gave their daughters and sons in marriage to those remaining nations. In the end, they served the gods of these nations.
Thus, the Israelites did evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. (Judges 3.6-7)
Earlier, I mentioned that their unbelief would have severe consequences. We now begin to see the consequences that resulted from their unbelief. They failed to seek God. They failed to trust him and to believe him. So he left their enemies there, and their enemies took over.
Just as God had warned them, it came to pass. They married their daughters, and their daughters became wives for their sons. They intermarried with the godless people inhabiting the land of Canaan.
As usually happens, when a believer marries an unbeliever, both of them worship the god of the unbeliever. That describes what happened to Israel. They worshiped the gods of those whom they married from the enemies in the land. They became idol worshippers of Baal and the Ashtaroth.
They worshiped these multiple gods, gods of sex, the fields, and crops. Every tribe had its own set of gods that they worshiped. Thus, they became a pluralistic society in which they now lived. They believed that everybody had a good god, and you had to worship all of them.
Sadly, Israel forgot God. In the midst of their idol worship, intermarriage with the people in the land, and in the midst of their failure to destroy their enemies as God instructed them, they forgot God and left him to worship the gods of the society in which they lived.
Notice Judges 3.8:
“Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.” The land of Mesopotamia stood to the north and east of Canaan all the way over to the land of Iraq as we now know it, a broad expanse of land governed by this king. He came down, conquered the Israelites, and enslaved them.
Doesn't that sound familiar? From what did God deliver them in Egypt? Slavery. The Egyptians oppressed them as slaves in Egypt. But, God in his grace and mercy brought them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. He set them free to live without restraint under another king or ruler.
Ah, but because they failed to believe God and disobeyed him, they ended up right back where they started, enslaved to a foreign king, exactly as God said would happen. He said he would fight against them and become their enemy, if they doubted and disobeyed him.
Sure enough, he did as he warned. He enabled this godless, wicked king to come and to destroy them and to place them into servitude. Eight years they suffered, not as long as they did down in Egypt but a long time. Eight years of servile labor to a foreign, godless king in the land where they should have lived as rulers. The anger of the Lord came against them.
“But, when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD rested upon Othniel, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.” (Judges 3.9-11)
God raised up a judge just as he said he would. We read that at the end of chapter two. God said he would raise up judges periodically who would deliver them from their enemies, and they would experience rest and peace during the lifetime of that judge.
But, he also said that at the end of the life of that judge they would fall right back, worse than before the time of the judge. Well, we don’t see that recorded here, but, the part of Scripture that follows our text records.
Here we have Othniel. God raised him up to become the judge of Israel. Othniel has a little bit of good history. You can read about him in chapter one of Judges. Caleb along with Joshua stood as two bright lights in the wilderness. They believed and trusted God all the years of the wanderings in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Only these two men of the generation that left Egypt got into the Promised Land.
Caleb went to inhabit and occupy the land that came to him by lot. A particular spot had some very difficult enemies, and he made a promise. He said, “Whoever defeats the enemies in Debir, I will give to that man my daughter in marriage,” a grand prize in that day.
Othniel, his nephew said, “I will take that mountain.” And, he went and he defeated the people in Debir. Faithful to his promise, Caleb gave him his daughter in marriage. Now he had a double relationship with Othniel, not only as a nephew, but as his son-in-law.
Othniel knew how to do war God’s way, one of the few in Israel at that time. He knew how to wage war in God’s way. God raised him up to become the champion, the savior, the judge, the one who would lead the people into victory. And he enabled Othniel to defeat this wicked, godless king who had defeated them eight years previously.
All during the lifetime of Othniel they experienced rest and peace for 40 years. Then he died.
What does this narrative from Judges reveal to us about the true character and nature of the children of Israel? It exposes their unbelief. They didn’t believe God. They didn’t trust him. They didn’t obey him. They didn’t follow his directions, his commandments in life.
In fact, they went so far as to forsake God. They abandoned him. They left him. They wanted nothing to do with him. They preferred the idols of the people of the land that they failed to conquer instead of the God who had brought them out of Egypt through the wilderness, and had given them such grand victories in the Promised Land as long as they trusted him.