o Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar


(A) Introduction. Read Judges3.

Verses 1 to 6 provide an answer to three important questions:

(1) Why does God allow his people to have enemies?

The Israelites had not fully conquered the Promised Land in the time of the Judges. The following potential enemies were left: the 5 rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon Mountains. v3.

The reason God left these peoples in the land was to teach warfare to the descendents of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience. v2.

Enemies in close proximity meant that there was no room for complacency, presumption or carelessness. Instead, dependence upon God, togetherness and discipline were fostered. Such qualities were needed to face up to much greater foes from outside the region.

God allows the enemies of the church to flourish so that Christians, too, rely on God, stick to together and remain disciplined. Every army, including the mighty army of Christ, needs disciplined troops.

(2) Why God allows his people to be tempted?

They (the enemies of Israel) were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord's commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. v4.

You cannot exhibit virtue without testing.

Allegiance to God can only be shown if you are tempted to join the enemy. Many Premier League footballers are tempted away from their clubs by promises of higher wages elsewhere. Loyalty counts for very little among professional footballers. Most of them are no better than mercenaries. It is only as Christians resist the allurements of the world that they confirm their allegiance to Jesus.

Faithfulness can only be demonstrated if disloyalty would provide benefits. There were obvious benefits to an Israelite in marrying a sexy Canaanite maiden. A Christian cannot prove his faithfulness unless he resists a beneficial alliance with the world. Many Christians are found out when they fall in love with someone who is not a Christian.

Resolution is only possible if hard things need doing and we are tempted to give up. Resolution and endurance are only required when the going gets tough.

I have to say I enjoyed reading this illustration in ChristianGlobe: A young fellow wanted to be a star journalist but lived in a small town where there was not much scope for his talent. One day the dam upstream burst and the town was flooded. He got in a rowboat and headed out to look for a story. When he found a lady sitting on her rooftop he tied up the boat and told her what he was after. They both watched as various items floated by. When a whole muck heap sailed past with chickens aboard the lady says, "Now there's a story" only to receive the reply, "No, that's not a story." A similar response greeted a dog and a cat floating past on a plank, an old man sitting on a flood born wooden shack smoking his pipe and the like. Finally a hat floats by and then does a 180 degree turn, goes upstream a distance and does another 180 degree turn. Back and forth it went. The fellow says, "Now there's a story." "Oh no, that's not a story," said the old lady, "that's my husband Hayford. He said he was going to mow the lawn come hell or high water!"

(3) What seriously displeases God?

God is displeased when his people are indistinguishable from the world. 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. v6.

God does not want us to identify with the world and share its values. He is displeased when we idolise the world's gods: possessions, entertainment, celebrity, fashion, family, scholarship, power, money, success and recognition.

The consequences for the Israelites were dire. They were oppressed by their enemies who came at them from all directions. The consequences for Christ's church are equally dire whenever it adopts the values of the world. Nothing hastens its decline into ineffectualness more rapidly.

(B) Repentance and deliverance.

In Judges there is a repeated pattern. Israel sins collectively by forsaking God and worshipping other gods. God punishes Israel by delivering them into the hands of their enemies. Years of oppression bring the Israelites to their senses and they call out to God for help. God then raises up a mighty leader who delivers the Israelites from oppression and gives them a period of peace and stability - only for the people once more to succumb to idolatry and sin.

I think this is in some ways a picture of the Christian life. Many Christians, me included, have periods when we drift away from God. We may neglect our private devotions and get spiritually dry. Yet God does not forsake us. Perhaps, he sends trouble, a setback, disappointment or even pain to draw us back to himself. We often have to confess our sins and ask Jesus to forgive us from all our iniquities. He is our mighty deliverer. His shed blood cleanses us. His saving work restores us over and over again.

I am going to look at the first three of Israel's champions in this expositions. I think they have some lessons to teach all God's servants.

(C) Othniel the nephew or younger brother of Caleb.

There are four significant things to say about Othniel:

(1) He was an outsider.

Neither Caleb nor Othniel were Jews by birth. Caleb was the son Jephunneh the Kenizzite. The Kenizzites were an Edomite clan. The Edomites were descendents of Esau. It is highly likely that Jephunneh and Caleb had Jewish wives. The strange thing is that Caleb, in spite of his pedigree, was the chief man of the tribe of Judah. One can only assume that Caleb had remarkable leadership qualities. These were shared by his nephew (or younger brother) Othniel.

There are, of course, other instances of men and women outside the Jewish mainstream whom God used. Three such individuals are Rahab the harlot, Shobi the Ammonite who along with Barzillai provisioned David's army at the time of Solomon's rebellion and Ebed Melech the Egyptian eunuch who rescued Jeremiah from the miry clay.

God still uses men and women out of the mainstream to serve his purpose. William Carey, a Particular Baptist minister and cobbler, was hardly in the mainstream of Christianity, but few did more for missionary endeavour than him. C.S. Lewis was a university lecturer in English Literature but he was the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century. William Booth was persona non grata among the Anglicans and Methodists but succeeded with God's help in founding the Salvation Army.

(2) He benefitted from a good example.

Othniel saw what his 85-year-old uncle Caleb achieved when he took Hebron by driving out three giant men: Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai.

Many Christians who turn out to be valiant for truth benefit from the good example of godly parents. Timothy was blessed by having both a Christian mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois. Corrie ten Boom paid tribute to the wonderful example of her saintly father in her book, 'In My Father's House.' My friends John and Marion Skull have three children actively serving the Lord. My dear father always acknowledged his spiritual indebtedness to his father - a good and holy man.

(3) He was a veteran.

In this respect Othniel was, perhaps, different from the majority of judges. He fought alongside Caleb in the time of Joshua. He won his wife, Acsah, Caleb's daughter, by conquering Kiriath Sepher.

Othniel was an experienced, seasoned warrior. He, unlike Ehud, Shamgar, Gideon and Sampson, defended Israel with God's help in a straightforward, conventional way.

Experience counts for something! My friend, Miss A, fell over in Needham Market. A kind onlooker fetched her husband to get Miss A up and sitting on a chair. That's all she could do. When the ambulance arrived the elderly medic said, "Well, we must get you to hospital for an X ray - not that there's any need. You've broken your hip." When Miss A expressed her surprise at his confident diagnosis the medic said, "I'm almost at retirement age. When you have seen as many ladies of mature years sitting in a chair and unable to get up as I have it is not difficult to tell what the problem is."

Experience counts for something. This is true for doctors, plumbers, motor mechanics, electricians and preachers. My friend Denis has been an electrician for over 45 years. There are not many electrical jobs that he cannot do! I have been preaching for more than 50 years. I occupied many pulpits when I was young and sadly very few now albeit at the age of 70 I can speak from experience - something I could never do at 20.

(4) He was a patriot.

Othniel lived at Hebron in Judah in the extreme south of the tribal confederacy. Cushan-Rushathain or Cushan the twice wicked, king of Aram Naharaim in N.W. Mesopotamia (Syria) attacked from the north. The northern tribes were the ones that suffered most. Othniel showed his solidarity with the other tribes by going to war against the northern threat.

We need to show solidarity with other Christians - especially those suffering persecution. We can be too parochial - interested only in our own denomination or even our own small church. The fact of the matter is that there are not many large churches that ride to the rescue of small and struggling causes. The majority of declining churches are just left to fail.

(D) Ehud.

There are four more lessons we can learn from Ehud the assassin.

(1) He was a practical man.

Ehud must have been a skilled smith to make an 18 inch long, very sharp, two-edged dagger or sword. It was difficult to make the iron hard enough to hold two sharp edges. Ehud managed this even though his right hand wasn't much good. The Hebrew translated in the NIV, 'a left-handed man,' actually means, 'restricted as to his right hand.' So the smith may have had a withered arm or a deformed hand.

We need to use what skills we have in God's service, not long for skills we haven't got. It is preferable to be a good DIY man than a poor preacher. It is better to cook a wonderful fruit cake to God's glory than bore everyone to death with an uninspiring sermon. Christians need to employ the talents God has given them to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. My father was grateful to his deacon Jack Bishop for servicing his car free of charge. I was grateful to my fellow Christian Ron Moody for sorting out my corroded telephone socket and helping me to set up my new computer.

(2) His weakness was his strength.

Eglon and his bodyguard didn't suspect that physically handicapped Ehud was a Jewish hit man. The king was lulled into such a false sense of security that he agreed to see Ehud alone.

When Ehud told the king that he had a message from Elohim (God), a name respected by the Moabites who were descendents of Lot, Eglon struggled to his feet - all 30 stone of him. Now very fat men like Eglon have a great deal of trouble getting to their feet. As the Moabite was distracted by the very real struggle to get up Ehud pulled out the dagger strapped to his right thigh and struck.

Paul wrote: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Cor1v27.

I like the story of Esther - she was one of the weak things of the world and a most unlikely saviour of her people. Esther was a member of the Persian king Xerxes' harem. She was little more than a sex object. Some would say she compromised her Jewish identity by taking on such a role. She slept with the enemy! But it was Esther who delivered her people from the genocide plotted by chief minister Haman.

Paul himself was an unlikely apostle to the Gentiles. He didn't have much to commend him: a lowly occupation mending tents, an unprepossessing appearance, limited ability as an orator, indifferent health and dressed in rags. What sort of an impression is such a man likely to make? He has left an indelible mark on the Christian church for 2000 years.

Joseph Stalin made a determined effort to eradicate Christianity from the USSR. He marshalled all the resources of the state to this end. Schools, universities, the state controlled media and the security services all combined to promote atheism. But Stalin miscalculated. He miscalculated the influence of Russia's old grannies and their icons. They kept the Faith alive by repeating familiar Bible stories and remembered snatches of the Russian Orthodox Church liturgy to their grandchildren.

(3) A man who made good use of what he had.

Ehud struck one blow - but what a blow. Eglon was a very fat man but the dagger went right through him. Even the hilt penetrated his body before the folds of fat engulfed it.

God can make good use of our assets especially if we apply them with some enthusiasm. I love the words of Charles Wesley's hymn:

          Soldiers of Christ, arise
          And put your armour on;
          Strong in the strength which God supplies
          Through His eternal Son.

Every Christian is equipped with a sharp two-edged sword forged in heaven. The writer to the Hebrews writes: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword. Heb4v12.

The word of God is capable doing much damage to our enemies. In the right hands it will drive back the forces of evil and advance the kingdom of light. See exposition on Heb4v12.

(4) A man who co-operated with others.

I am sure Ehud was part of a conspiracy. He did not work alone. He and his allies had a cunning plan. There was nothing spontaneous about Ehud's action. It was carefully thought out from start to finish.

    (a) Ehud arranged with the Benjamites and Ephraimites to take tribute to Eglon at his new headquarters in Jericho.

    (b) He was chosen as Eglon's assassin because of his withered arm.

    (c) Ehud planned his getaway. He secured a private audience with the king in his roof-top summer house where he killed him. The assassin was able to lock the door from the outside and calmly walked out of the palace. There was a considerable delay before the alarm was raised because the servants thought Eglon had locked the door to relieve himself. Further delay ensued because a key was needed to unlock the summer house from the outside. So Ehud made good his escape.

    (d) The trumpet call in the hill country of Ephraim must have been a prearranged signal that the assassination had gone well. Armed men quickly materialised. They made for the Jordan fords where the panic stricken Moabites were trying to make good their escape from Jericho back to their home territory in the east. Thousands were slaughtered.

It is important that Christians co-operate in serving Jesus. There is a place for great campaigns such as those organised around the great American evangelist, Billy Graham. His Harringay Arena Crusade was a wonderful event that resulted in many, many converts. I was interested to read this about his subsequent world-wide ministry:

Evangelist Billy Graham has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history - over 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories - through various meetings. Every evangelistic crusade conducted by Mr. Graham has been the result of a cooperative effort involving the evangelist, his team, and many local Christians and churches.

Ehud the left-handed assassin secured EIGHT YEARS of peace for Israel. He is a fine example of what can be achieved by a man willing to give God his all, a man prepared to take risks on behalf of the LORD's people and a man happy to work enthusiastically with others.

(E) Shamgar.

There are three things we know about Shamgar:

(1) He had inadequate resources.

Shamgar took on the Philistines - Greek settlers of the coastal plain - without the benefit of proper weapons. It is probable that by this time the Philistines were already implementing the policy recorded in 1Sam13v19to22: Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, "Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!"

All Shamgar had was a clumsy 8 foot long ox goad - just a pole tipped with iron or bronze. It could be used as a makeshift spear - especially if it was actually a spear masquerading as an ox goad.

There are plenty of instances of men and women using their slender resources to serve God's purposes. David used a single smooth round stone, Jael a mallet and tent peg, Sampson the jaw-bone of an ass, Paul a cobbler's needle and Jesus five small loaves and two fishes.

Charles Spurgeon used to give his students a lecture entitled, 'To workers with slender apparatus.' To my amazement it can still be found on the internet. Spurgeon gave advice on sermon preparation to poor ministers with very slim libraries. They should make good use of what they did have: the Bible, the natural world, the daily newspaper, life's experiences and so on.

There is no finer exemplar of this than Jesus. He did not have shelves and shelves of books to consult. The Pharisees accused him of being unlearned and unqualified to speak about God's kingdom. But what stories Jesus told, all of them derived from his experience of creation, work, business and human nature.

(2) He had great courage.

Shamgar took on the better armed Philistines who were beginning to settle the coastal plain. He killed 600 although I am doubtful he did so all at once. He may have launched guerrilla raids on the five Philistine cities while they were in their infancy. Skilful and ruthless use of his ox goad may have persuaded the Philistines to restrict their settlement to the coastal cities.

Shamgar was a brave loner but according to the record he too saved Israel. What an epitaph!

There are times in the history of God's people that individual brave men or women make all the difference. The list is long and includes: Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Esther, Stephen, Luther, William Carey and Wilberforce.

(3) He was an opportunist.

Shamgar probably attacked the Philistines when they were vulnerable - as they were beginning to settle the coastal plain and before their cities were walled. Then the one man and his lethal ox goad did much damage.

Christians should be opportunistic. They should seize the moment. Paul certainly did. He took every opportunity to preach the gospel - at his trade, at a river side prayer meeting, after an earthquake, at his trials, in a storm on board ship, on Malta after the shipwreck and in prison.

Through the years many Christians have seized the moment. There are still many opportunities to witness in Britain - in prisons, at school assemblies, on the streets, with young wives and toddlers, on Christian camps and to the sick and dying.

Many God help us to use the opportunities we are given even if, like Shamgar, all we have is an ox goad. Remember his epitaph: He too saved Israel.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net