The third chapter of Judges is interesting, not only because of the story it tells, but by the lesson it teaches. It tells of the early judges over Israel that led them back to serving God after their backsliding. It also asked the question why did Israel persistently sin?
The first verse reveals that God allowed other nations to be present in the promised land as a means to test Israel and to teach them. Verse three gives Israel the opportunity to verify their faithfulness to God.
Immediately the children of Israel did wrong. They intermarried with the other nations and served the false god Baalim. As a result, they came into servitude under the king of Mesopotamia. Verse nine presents a situation that repeated itself over many, many years. The Israelites cried unto the Lord out of their misery of servitude. Here is a cycle that is established in which they sinned, they were punished, they cried out to God, and God delivered them.
The first judge is Othniel who was a nephew of Caleb. Scripture says that the spirit of the Lord came upon this man and he led Israel to victory. Under him they had 40 years of peace.
Then the cycle repeats itself. They committed sin, they were punished, they cried out, and God provided the next judge named Ehud. An interesting story of this man takes up most of the rest of the chapter. Then they had peace for 80 years. A footnote in verse 31 says that Shamgar was the next judge and delivered his people.
Backtracking to the story of Ehud, God’s people were in servitude for 18 years under the king of Moab. Ehud was left-handed and put a dagger on the right side of his clothing, presumably to hide it. He pretended to offer a present to the king. After persuading other people to leave the room, he stabbed the king in his belly and because he was so fat the dagger went all the way in and hid itself in the blubber. Ehud calmly left the room and locked the doors behind him allowing enough time for him to escape before the servants realized what had happened. In verse 28 he declared to the people, “follow after me.” Only God’s man could make such a bold statement to others.
Now to the lesson this chapter teaches. Why did Israel persistently and repeatedly sin?
It must be declared that, just because God allowed the other nations to be present among the Israelites, did not give any fault to God. In various places of Scripture there are words such as tempt, try, and prove. They all mean the same thing. Just as a sword is beaten into shape and placed in the fire and beaten again, then plunged into the water, it is tempered. So, it is with these words. On occasion God’s people are tempered to sharpen them and improve them. This was God’s intent in this chapter. However, the Israelites repeatedly failed to improve and be sharpened as servants of the Lord. Do not look at trouble in your life as God’s fault; trouble is an opportunity to be sharpened for victory.
Even though God allowed other nations among his people, there is no evidence in the story of this chapter that they could not take matters in their own hands and drive out the enemy or at least not fall to their temptations. They lived too close to temptation and did not put space between themselves and the source of temptation.
They were only willing to reform if they had a righteous leader. We cannot claim our own righteousness based on another’s. We cannot say that our grandparents or parents were righteous people and that makes us Christians. We cannot say that we were raised in a Christian home and went to church to verify that we are Christians. Righteousness from God is on an individual basis that through faith in him we must claim for ourselves. Any reformation that we may try to make does not equal repentance. Our conversion to be a child of God must be true and heartfelt.
We must make a conscious desire to keep under control our natural man that is accordingly rebellious against God. Even though we become Christians, we still have the natural man, the carnal man that resists being sanctified under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Our souls were saved, but we still live in this world of temptation and our carnal self desires to enjoy the pleasures of that temptation. After we except Christ as our Savior, it is our responsibility to daily surrender to him. Even the apostle Paul had the same struggle. He said that which he would want to do, he had difficulty doing. He said that what he did not want to do, he found himself doing. All in all, like the Israelites, trouble and temptation is either an opportunity to live under less desirable conditions or to conquer those troublesome temptations and enjoyed victory in our lives.