Judges 3

Judges 3,
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

As a part of a generation spared the demands of war, today opens with an appropriate warning:  those without experience do not know it all, and are vulnerable.  GenX and GenY have fought in Gulf Wars and been left to suffer upon redeployment, no thanks to us Boomers.

The costal regions, Gaza and Philistia up to Lebanon, Sidon, will give trouble to this next generation of ‘innocents’.  The complacent tribes intermarried and assimilated with other peoples, something we too celebrate and encourage.  It’s the choice of gods that offends Yahweh, who seems to welcome marrying ‘in’ to Israel’s faith.

Listing Othniel as a first judge is a bit out of order with this generational summary, since he was already adult during the initial occupation.  He fights the Arameans, and his nemesis’ name includes ‘Cush’, an African association. We get a biblical ’40 years’ of peace, with no reference to the earlier repeated tradition of Achsah.

Now the trouble comes from the southeast, through Moab on the east side of the Jordan and Dead Sea, in alliance with Ammonites. Their economic and cultural dominance of Israel is summed up in the image of King Eglon – source for Jabba the Hut in Star Wars, eh?

Ehud, the next ‘judge’ or at least hero, is an assassin.  He may just be left handed and sinister like me, or he might have a disability in his right hand, to be less threatening.  He presents the big tribute, pays the protection money to the mob boss – then says he has a private message, and alone, he sinks a blade so deep that it disappears in the fat man, whose bowels empty.  Humiliating.

I think the gory stuff again works for narrative, and as the fantasy of revenge on behalf of the oppressed against a caricature of an oppressor, it resonates pretty well.  Over the centuries, the people have had a few tyrants, to whom this model may be applicable.  The assassin breaks the thrall, then rallies troops from Ephraim, who in turn reclaim the crossings of the Jordan into Moab.

God is back onside, and driving Moab out.  The outcome is 80 years of peace, two biblical spans of 40 years.  There is offered as a near afterthought the tale of Shamgar and his ox goads as a champion against Philistines (Gaza coast).  

These individuals are not good role models.  These stories are close to legends or fables, rather than historical accounts.  They only make any sense to me in a context of a biblical version of what we now call social sciences, about how economic, social and political tyrannies rise and fall, and what side God takes in any context.

If we are dismissive of this storyline, it may be attributable to our place late in a long generation of peace and prosperity.

 Now these are the nations
 that the Lord left
to test all those in Israel
 who had no experience
of any war in Canaan
 2(it was only
that successive generations of Israelites
 might know war,
 to teach those
 who had no experience of it
 3the five lords of the Philistines, 
and all the Canaanites, 
and the Sidonians, 
and the Hivites
who lived on Mount Lebanon, 
from Mount Baal-hermon
as far as Lebo-hamath.
 4They were
for the testing of Israel, 
to know
whether Israel would obey
 the commandments of the Lord, 
which he commanded their ancestors
 by Moses.
 5So the Israelites
 lived among the Canaanites, 
the Hittites,
 the Amorites,
 the Perizzites,
 the Hivites, 
and the Jebusites;
 6and they took their daughters
 as wives for themselves, 
and their own daughters
 they gave to their sons; 
and they worshipped their gods.
7 The Israelites did
what was evil
in the sight of the Lord,
 forgetting the Lord their God, 
and worshipping
 the Baals
and the Asherahs.
 the anger of the Lord
 was kindled against Israel, 
and he sold them
into the hand of King Cushan-rishathaim
of Aram-naharaim; 
and the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim
 for eight years. 
9But when the Israelites
cried out to the Lord, 
the Lord raised up a deliverer
for the Israelites, 
who delivered them, 
Othniel son of Kenaz, 
Caleb’s younger brother.
 10The spirit of the Lord
 came upon him, 
and he judged Israel; 
he went out to war, 
and the Lord
gave King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram
into his hand; 
and his hand prevailed
over Cushan-rishathaim.
 11So the land had rest
for forty years. 
Then Othniel son of Kenaz
12 The Israelites again did
what was evil
in the sight of the Lord;
 and the Lord strengthened
 King Eglon of Moab
against Israel, 
because they had done
what was evil
 in the sight
 of the Lord.
 13In alliance
with the Ammonites
and the Amalekites,
 he went and defeated Israel;
 and they took possession
of the city of palms.
 14So the Israelites served King Eglon of Moab
for eighteen years.
15 But when the Israelites
cried out to the Lord, 
the Lord raised up for them
a deliverer,
 Ehud son of Gera,
 the Benjaminite,
 a left-handed man.
 The Israelites sent tribute
by him
to King Eglon of Moab.
 16Ehud made for himself
a sword with two edges, 
a cubit in length;
 and he fastened it on his right thigh
 under his clothes.
 17Then he presented the tribute
to King Eglon of Moab. 
Now Eglon was a very fat man.
 18When Ehud had finished
 presenting the tribute,
 he sent the people
 who carried the tribute
on their way.
 19But he himself turned back
at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, 
and said, 
‘I have a secret message for you, 
O king.’ 
So the king said,
and all his attendants went out
from his presence.
 20Ehud came to him, 
while he was sitting alone
 in his cool roof-chamber, 
and said, 
‘I have a message
from God
for you.’ 
So he rose
from his seat.
 21Then Ehud reached
with his left hand, 
took the sword
from his right thigh, 
and thrust it into Eglon’s belly;
 22the hilt also
went in after the blade, 
and the fat closed over the blade,
 for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; 
and the dirt came out.
 23Then Ehud went out into the vestibule, 
and closed the doors of the roof-chamber on him, 
and locked them.
24 After he had gone, 
the servants came. 
When they saw
 that the doors of the roof-chamber were locked, 
they thought,
 ‘He must be relieving himself
 in the cool chamber.’ 
25So they waited
until they were embarrassed. 
When he still did not open the doors
of the roof-chamber, 
they took the key and opened them. 
There was their lord
lying dead on the floor.
26 Ehud escaped
while they delayed, 
and passed beyond the sculptured stones, 
and escaped to Seirah.
 27When he arrived, 
he sounded the trumpet
 in the hill country of Ephraim; 
and the Israelites went down with him
from the hill country, 
having him at their head.
 28He said to them,
 ‘Follow after me;
 for the Lord has given your enemies
the Moabites
 into your hand.’ 
So they went down after him, 
and seized the fords of the Jordan
against the Moabites, 
and allowed no one to cross over.
 29At that time
they killed about ten thousand
of the Moabites, 
all strong, able-bodied men; 
no one escaped.
 30So Moab was subdued that day
under the hand of Israel.
 And the land had rest for eighty years.
31 After him
came Shamgar son of Anath, 
who killed six hundred of the Philistines
with an ox-goad. 
He too delivered Israel.