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Bible Commentaries
Judges 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-6


“Now these are the nations which Jehovah left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generation of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as beforetime knew nothing thereof: namely, the five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baal-hermon unto the entrance of Hamath. And they were left to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of Jehovah, which he commanded their fathers by Moses. And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hitittes, the Amorites, and the Perizites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons and served their gods”

“The nations Jehovah left… to prove Israel” This passage gives two reasons why the Lord did not drive out all of the Canaanites before Israel, namely: (1) to prove them, whether or not they would obey the Lord; and (2) to teach those ignorant of it, the art of war; (3) A third reason is also given, namely, that of punishing Israel for their disobedience.

The bankruptcy of radical criticism is seen in the fact that Moore declared these reasons to be “a contradiction”(F1) of Josh. 1:21, which states simply that the Benjaminites did NOT drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, implying, of course, that they were simply “not able” to do so. There were doubtless many reasons that lay back of God’s decision to leave many of the Canaanites in the Promised Land, and the passages citing one reason here, and another reason there, are not contradictory but supplementary. It was God’s displeasure with Israel that was the causal factor in Benjamin’s inability to dislodge the Jebusites.

As Dalglish noted, “The nations of Canaan were left by Jehovah as a chastisement of Israel as well as a trial of their faith.”(F2) The new situation brought about by Israel’s disobedience also triggered the necessity for the nation to be schooled in the prosecution of wars which would inevitably follow their apostasy.

“These reasons must not be regarded as contradictory, for it was the manifold result, related directly to the Lord, which occupied the attention of the historian here, rather than a single, all-embracing purpose.”(F3)

“All the Canaanites…” All of the nations which are mentioned here as being left by the Lord in Canaan actually include all of the “seven nations” enumerated in Deuteronomy 7:1, except the Gergasites, but, of course, a very large percentage of all these peoples had been defeated by Joshua and removed from the land occupied by Israel. Therefore, it appears certain that Moore’s observation is correct that, “These words cannot refer to unconquered Canaanites in Israel’s territory, but to a compact (and diverse) population on its borders.”(F4) Dummelow also restricted the meaning of “the Canaanites” in this passage to those living in the lowlands, the Shephelah, in the Southwest adjacent to the Philistines.”(F5)

“The five lords of the Philistines” These were the rulers of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. At first, Israel occupied some of these cities (see under Judges 1:18), but these enemies of Israel were able to re-take their territory from Israel as late as the times of Saul, whose kingdom they defeated, killing the monarch himself.

“Mount Baal-hermon” Keil stated that, “This is only another name for Baal-Gad,”(F6) and it seems to be a reference to some well-known area in south Israel.

“Unto the entrance of Hamath” “This `Gateway’ was afterward known as Coele-Syria and is now called El-Bika. It was often mentioned as the ideal northern boundary of Israel.”(F7) We find a similar usage of this expression in 2 Kings 14:25.

“To prove Israel… to know whether they would hearken” LaGard Smith’s terse comment on this is fully sufficient: “Israel fails tests”!(F8) As a college student would probably say it: “They flunked the examination!” That failure is summarized in Judges 3:6.

“They took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons and served their gods.” This verse marks the conclusion of the preface of the Book of Judges.

Verses 7-11



“And the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, and forgat Jehovah their God, and served the Baalim and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. And when the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah, Jehovah raised up a saviour to the children of Israel, who saved them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. And the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him, and he judged Israel; and he went out to war, and Jehovah delivered Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand: and his hand prevailed against Cushan-rishathaim. And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died”

“Israel… forgat Jehovah and served the Baalim and the Asheroth” The words for the false gods here are the plural forms of Baal and the Ashera. The orgiastic licentiousness of the worship of these pagan deities appealed to the Hebrews, and again and again they departed from following the Lord to indulge in that sensual worship.

“The children of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years” “This reference is obscure, there being no other reference to this power anywhere in the Bible.”(F9) The cyclical pattern that predominates in Judges is clearly visible here. First, there is ease and prosperity for Israel. Then they forget God and serve the pagan gods. God becomes angry with them and delivers them into hardship and oppression. God pities them and raises up a saviour in the person of a distinguished “judge.” Again Israel enjoys prosperity until that judge dies, and then the cycle is repeated.

It is of interest that the words “Cushan-rishathaim” mean literally, “Ethiopian of double iniquity,”(F10) or “Nubian of double-dyed wickedness.”(F11) It is possible that this “title” of Israel’s enemy here was a nickname for some well-known enemy of the Chosen People.

“Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother” The expression `Caleb’s younger brother,’ may be applied grammatically to Kenaz, Othniel’s father, which would mean that Othniel was actually Caleb’s nephew. Also, as Hervey suggested, “Perhaps we should understand the word `brother’ in its wider and very common sense of `kinsman or fellow tribesman.’“(F12) Otherwise the chronology poses some problems. Caleb was past eighty years of age when Israel began the conquest of Canaan, and any “younger brother” of his would have been too old to accomplish the exploits mentioned here a whole generation after the death of the elders who survived Joshua.

“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him” “This language is used in Judges of Gideon (Judges 6:34), Jephthah (Judges 11:29), and Samson (Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19; and in Judges 15:14). In 1 Samuel, the same thing is said of Saul (1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 11:6) and of David (1 Samuel 16:13).”(F13) We should NOT confuse the gift of the Holy Spirit to Christians with the endowment of God’s Spirit in the various judges and rulers to whom that Spirit came of old. That endowment enabled the possessor to perform feats of superhuman strength and to do many other things pertinent to the “deliverance” of Israel in the various circumstances confronting the heroes of the Book of Judges. As Davis said, “This ministry of the Spirit should NOT be confused with that which accompanies regeneration (in the New Birth), which is permanent in nature and produces a change in life and character.”

Myers observed that Judges 3:10 here gives a good indication of the character and work of a “judge.”(F14) Othniel possessed the Spirit of God. He declared war on Israel’s enemy. He led an army against him and defeated him. He also evidently “led” or “ruled” Israel for some forty years.

Verses 12-14


“And the children of Israel again did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah: and Jehovah strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah. And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek; and he smote Israel, and they possessed the city of palm-trees. And the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years”

The Moabites and the Ammonites originated in the incestuous union of Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19), but this physical kinship with the Jews did not mitigate their unwavering enmity against Israel. Although Moab was the chief predator in this oppression of Israel, it is not surprising that both Amalek and Ammon were Moabite allies.

“They possessed the city of palm-trees” This place was Jericho, the walls of which had not been rebuilt; but the king of Moab had apparently made it his capital.

“Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years” During this period Israel was required to pay tribute regularly to the king of Moab, and there can be little doubt that many other circumstances of Moabite domination of Israel had produced widespread resentment and hatred of the Moabite oppressors.

Verses 15-18


“But when the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah, Jehovah raised them up a saviour, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a man lefthanded. And the children of Israel sent tribute by him unto Eglon the king of Moab. And Ehud made a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length; and he girded it under his raiment upon his right thigh. And he offered the tribute unto Eglon king of Moab: now Eglon was a very fat man. And when he had made an end of offering the tribute, he sent away the people that bare the tribute”

“Ehud… the Benjamite, a man lefthanded” “The last word here in the Hebrew is literally, `bound of his right hand,’“(F15) indicating that Ehud’s right hand might have been crippled or injured. At any rate, it was “tied up” or “bound.” However, Ehud was also, as were many of the Benjaminites, lefthanded (Judges 20:16). Dummelow interpreted the literal Hebrew here as, “Lamed in his right hand,”(F16) but thought that, in the light of Judges 20:16, “Ambidexterity is all that is meant.” Our own opinion is that both meanings are in the passage. Ehud was not merely left-handed (or ambidextrous) but he was also lamed or injured in his right hand, which on the occasion of his bringing the tribute was rendered totally useless by bandages. This, no doubt, greatly aided the deception necessary to enable the assassination of Eglon. As Soggin said, “Everything is in favor of a real physical defect of a kind that would seriously diminish the capability of a fighting man and make him seem to be harmless. This is the only way in which we can explain how Ehud could ever have been admitted into the presence of the king without any search or any precautionary measures.”(F17)

“He sent away the people that bare the tribute” This reveals that the rich tribute conveyed to Eglon was very substantial. As much of it must have been accumulated in silver and gold, and as it no doubt also included heavy stores of grain, fruits, cattle, and other materials, a group of men were required to carry it. Very likely, the king’s bodyguard would have been very cautious and watchful as long as such a company of Israelites was present. By sending the “carriers” away, Ehud completely disarmed all suspicion of himself.

That Ehud’s murder of Eglon was premeditated and most skillfully planned is evident. The plan began with the making of a sword with no cross-member at the handle and with the concealment of such a deadly weapon upon his person.

Verses 19-22


“But he himself turned back from the quarries that were near Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king. And he said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him. And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting by himself alone in the cool upper room. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat. And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his body; and the fat closed upon the blade, for he drew not the sword out of his body; and it came out behind”

“He… turned back from the quarries near Gilgal” Gilgal was located in two or three miles of the old Jericho, and this indicates that the headquarters of the king of Moab was in that vicinity.

“The quarries” The Hebrew word here is, “Sculptured stones near Gilgal, meaning `graven images’ or `carvings’ - perhaps the figures carved on the standing stones from which Gilgal received its name.”(F18) The same word is used again in Judges 3:26.

“Keep silence” Bruce tells us that this is “An onomatopoeic word,”(F19) that is, a word based upon its resemblance to some sound, such as `bow wow,’ `splash’ or `bang.’ In this light, the word here was probably something like, “Shhhush,” a word which the king’s valets interpreted as requiring them to withdraw from his presence.

“And he arose out of his seat” “This is supposed to be a sign of reverence because of the Divine oracle he expected to receive.(F20)

“And it came out behind” Dummelow affirmed that, “No meaning can be obtained from the Hebrew words so rendered.”(F21) The guesses that have been suggested are that: (1) it refers to an anal discharge; (2) that it means the sword penetrated even through the king’s back; or (3) that the sword penetrated the intestines and that the discharge came through the opening by the sword. One of the key words here is not found anywhere else. “The most plausible suggestion is that the sword passed through the abdomen and projected through his body. It (the sword) came out behind.”(F22)

Verses 23-25


“Then Ehud went forth into the porch and shut the doors of the upper room upon him and locked them. And when he was gone out his servants came; and they saw, and behold, the doors of the upper room were locked; and they said, Surely he is covering his feet in the upper chamber. And they tarried till they were ashamed; and, behold, he opened not the doors of the upper room: therefore they took the key, and opened them; and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth”

Exactly how Ehud could lock the doors of the upper room upon the dead king’s body and leave the audience chamber through “the porch” is impossible of explanation without a diagram of the location where this happened. Perhaps the doors were of a type that could be locked as one left the room. That is, when set to do so, the doors might have locked automatically. It may be that Ehud carefully locked the doors and left through some secondary entrance which was not used by the servants. At any rate, the servants knew when Ehud left, and finding the doors locked, they supposed the king himself had locked them. Our guess is that there was some automatic device (similar to the common night-latch) by which Ehud locked the doors as he left, the porch being crossed after he passed through the locked doors.

“He is covering his feet in the upper chamber” Another rendition of this is, “He is relieving himself in the upper chamber,”(F23) which is a euphemism for using the bathroom. The other rendition suggests that the king might have been taking a nap.

Verses 26-30


“And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirah. And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the hill-country of Ephraim; and the children of Israel went down with him from the hill-country, and he before them. And he said unto them, Follow after me; for Jehovah hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and suffered not a man to pass over. And they smote of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, every lusty man, and every man of valor; and there escaped not a man. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years”

Hervey’s description of what happened here is as follows:

“By seizing the fords of the Jordan they cut off all communications between the Moabites east of the river and the occupation forces in Israel. The enemy could neither escape into Moab nor get any help from Moab. Thrown into confusion by the sudden death of their king, and the overwhelming enthusiasm of Israel’s attack, the Moabites lost ten thousand men, thus bringing to an end the Moabite oppression.”(F24)

It should be noted that Ehud gave all the glory to God. When he rallied Israel behind his call for fighters against Moab, he said, “Jehovah hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand” (Judges 3:28). Who can doubt it? If there was ever an example of providential intervention in an earthly conflict, this is surely an example of it. The essential element in the whole deliverance was the amazing deception of the protectors of the king of Moab. We may well believe that the king’s valets were all blinded by God Himself. If it had not been so, someone would have become suspicious of Ehud, and even after the assassination and the escape of the deliverer, the servants were still restrained from entering the king’s presence until Ehud had escaped safety!

Verse 31


“And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who smote of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox-goad: and he also saved Israel.”

It is surprising that so little is said of the deliverance mentioned here, yet the message is dear enough that the efforts of this judge “saved Israel.” That far more must have entered into that deliverance than the slaughter of six hundred Philistines appears to be certain.

“The son of Anath” “Anath was the Canaanite goddess of sex and war. She was the sister of Baal. Therefore, `son of Anath’ may be interpreted to mean, `the Warrior.’“(F25)

“With an ox-goad” This was an unusual weapon indeed. An ox-goad was a slender rod (a pole) some six or eight feet in length with a spike on one end and a flat knife on the other end. The knife was used to clean the plowshares, and the spike was for the purpose of urging the oxen to greater efforts or for controlling their movements.

“Six hundred Philistines” Davis believed that this total might not have been killed in a single encounter but that, “This total might represent a lifetime total and not the result of a single battle.”(F26)

Some have expressed doubt that Shamgar was an Israelite, due to the particular name by which he was called, and if this was the case, it might account for the fact that so little is recorded concerning his deliverance of Israel. Deborah mentioned Shamgar in Judges 5:6.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/judges-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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