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Sermon Judges 3.7-11

Judges 3.7-11

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 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. 9 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. 10  The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, 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. 11  So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.”

Introduction: We read this evening from the book if Judges, in particular we are reading about the first of the deliverers of Israel in what is considered on Israel’s darkest ages. When we read through Judges a common pattern emerges, the people sin, God punishes them, they cry out, and God sends a deliverer.

This account should be read partly an example, what happens here is followed  roughly by the other Judges, but Othniel is the model of how it was done right.[1] In many ways, the account that we are looking at today is sort of formulaic account, there is a pattern set here by Othniel, in this period the people will largely follow this pattern, but Othniel is one of the few to end on a high note, as oppose to Samson or Gideon for example.[2]

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” Judges 3.7 The People’s Sins

This account in the book of Judges, begins with the simple statement of “the Israelite’s did evil,” but then gives further detail of what this evil was, namely they forgot Yahweh and instead served other gods, namely Baal and Asherah.[3]

Specially one should note that author stresses that the people forgot their God, but the Hebrew is more forceful than that.[4] They had more than a mere case of being “absent-minded,” they weren’t simply forgetful.[5] Instead when you read this you should read, “They choose to disregard and to not take into account Yahweh.”[6]

Part of this comes from their intermingling with the Canaanites, as verse 6 notes.[7] The Israelites instead of obeying God’s commands to make the land their own, had instead settled for letting the other people of the land do as they pleased and even intermarried each other.[8]

Instead, they took into account, Baal and Asherah.  Asherah was often connected with wooden poles near where she was worshipped as; hence KJV’s sacred Grove.[9]  Furthermore according to ANET she was the mother goddess; hence important to the Canaanites.[10] Asherah would remain a problem for the Israelites and it appears that later in their apostasy they moved their belief from her as consort to Baal to that of YHWH.[11]

Baal was the storm god of the Levant, a major god who was considered the most powerful.[12] When referred to in the plural it seems to be indicating the various local manifestations of Baal. Like Asherah, Baal was a god that he Israelites kept turning to, up to the time of the exile.[13]

The author is not concerned so much about the specifics of the Canaanite paganism, so he gives two important gods of the false religion to show they had fallen.[14] The Israelites in essence had traded their living God, the God who had interacted directed into their story and brought them out of Egypt for gods made of stone and wood.[15]

As Daniel Block also noted, “The lofty theology, austere morality, and abstract cult of Yahwism is replaced with the exciting fertility religion.”[16]

The people of Israel instead of following Yahweh as he had commanded had instead chosen the easy path. They choose to sit back and not worry about the things of the Lord. Furthermore, they continued to disregard him, and chose instead to follow other idols that were more congenial to their own specific desires.  The people in so short a generation had forgotten the God who had take them out of Egypt, who had helped to conquer portion of the promised land.

For a moment we might be tempted to say, that we would never fail in this way. But why our gods may not be made out stone or wood, were certainly find idols and ideologies to replace God with. How often might we spend on Facebook, watching TV, or playing videos games and how little on studying and reading the scriptures. As Isreal would often replace, or put alongside Yahweh other gods, too often in our American Christianity we do the same sin. This ought not be. God is to placed first and God is not to be forgotten in the craziness of life. Let us strive not to forget Christ.

“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.” God’s response Judges 3.8

God’s response to the his people and this blatant sin is that of righteous anger and so the people are given to Cushan.[17]

Yahweh’s response to the Israelite’s disobedience is to give them away, the Hebrew term here refers often to a person selling his or her goods completely of their own will.[18] This phrase could also be translated as “Yahweh sold Israel.”[19] In essence, this was completely God’s choice, he wasn’t caught off guard about this.

Earlier in their history Yahweh had warned his people what would happened if they abandoned him; Deuteronomy 7.4 .[20]

Rishathaim can be translated literally as the Double Wicked. This could perhaps be a term given to him by his enemies.[21] This suggest that this was not his real name and though there have been various suggestions by scholars of who Cushan could really be, we simply don’t have enough data to know for sure.[22]

Cushan appears to have been from the area of northen Mesopotamia, modern day around Iraq-Syria.[23] Cushan coming from Syria is significant because it shows that out of the various enemies seen in Judges, he is the strongest, for Cushan to have been able to keep the people in his grip for eight years, despite the distance in territory is amazing.[24] Some scholars wonder if perhaps he had hopes for Egypt.[25]

God responded to Israel’s disregard of him by sending them a punishment in the form a foreign oppressor. The account is clear that Yahweh has the option of doing what he can to his people, but also to the world at large. His actions here, as verse nine indicates are for a purpose and throughout the book Judges, each time the people sin, he punishes them to turn them around.

Sin is a nasty thing, it is a part of us that can only be gotten rid of through the help of God. Through accepting the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work within us and that we are daily striving to be more and more Christ-like. We all have our ups and downs on the path toward heaven. Sometimes, a part of our growth is God’s interaction in bringing trials in our lives. Part of our growth is God allowing our mistakes their full affects on us and that we may realize that sin doesn’t get us anywhere at all.

Sadly some who had at once point in their life acknowledge God, have completely abandoned him. God is still there waiting for them, but they need to acknowledge God once more. God strives to get our attention, but too often we would choose rather to ignore him that than seek him.

“9 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.”Judges 3.9 – The People’s Cry and God’s Response

Eight years pass under this oppression before the Israelites finally turn back to Yahweh and cry out to him.[26] They cried out, probably not only privately, but also in a public assembly.[27] Earlier in the book, Yahweh is moved to action through seeing their suffering, 2.18.[28] Their cry seems to be not so much a cry of penitence, but rather one of “simply… of pain, a cry for help.”[29] So now God is moved in a different way, by their cry for help, not by pity because their problems were self-induced.[30]

We have God who is merciful, who has chosen so often to give us blessings when all we deserve are cursings. There was nothing stopping God from starting over with humanity when Adam and Eve first sin, there was nothing stopping God from destroying us the moment of our first sin. But God in his infinite mercy and grace, in his steadfast love, sent his son for us! We have the option of salvation because of who God is. That Yahweh who is a God of justice is also a God of mercy and loving-kindness.

All that Yahweh wanted of his people was for them to acknowledge him as their God, to turn away from their disregard of him. The moment the people together  sought God, he answered their prayers!

God raises up Othniel, a man who was known already as a hero and who likely would have been easily able to gain allies.[31] josh 15.15-20; judges 1.12ff Yahweh raises him up, meaning in a more simpler term, God choose Othniel for this task.

Othniel was in many ways a perfect choice, namely besides being known, he was related to Caleb, one of the two faithful spies, who along with Joshua was the only one of his generation allowed in the land, making Othniel one of the last links to the generation that had interacted with Moses.[32] Moreover, Othniel in the earlier accounts is known to not have sinned in marrying an non-israelite, but Achsah, Caleb’s daughter.[33] Moreover, it seems that Othniel was ready for the challenge, to serve God, to “call the nation back to faith.”[34]

“The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, 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 3.10-11 – God’s Strength and Land’s Rest

10 In the book of Judges, the judge or deliverer is often called by the descending of God’s spirit, or his spirit appears in their act of judging or delievering.[35] When reading of Yahweh’s spirit in the Old Testament we should not quickly think of it in the same sense as it appears in the New Testament.[36] When Yahweh’s Spirit comes upon a person, its affect is to give them the power to do extraordinary things.[37] When the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon a person in the Old Testament, it empowers and makes them ready for the task god gives them.[38]

Moreover, this act of God shows that the selection of the judges in this book, was an divinely led act, and the Judges’ authority comes from God.[39] Othniel will differ from some of the other judges, in that he appeared to have not let this special blessing go to his head and lead to corruption later on.[40]

Despite Othniel’s experience and his natural ability, he still needed the help of God.[41] In fact, the author appears to have purposefully, separated the two accounts of Othniel, to help stress God’s action and direction of Othniel in saving his people.[42] None of Othniel’s abilities could have helped to have saved his nation, rather, it is purely based on God’s power, it was God who had raised him up and is God who empowers him with his spirit.[43] In essence, Othniel was merely the tool and only God could be credited with saving Israel.

Othniel’s victory is given in a rather terse and quick sentence, he fought, Yahweh gave him the victory and he won. Yet this sentence is a reverse of what Yahweh had done to the Israelites, they had been sold to Cushan who is now sold to Othniel, who over powers him.[44]

God empowered Othniel to defeat the enemies of Israel, in fact, despite his clear accomplishments, God’s presence was continually with Othniel this exploit, showing God’s hand upon this deliverer. But also showing that the deliverance was not thanks to Othniel, but thanks to Yahweh.  All over our efforts are in reality meaningless, our talents our not for our praise, but for God’s. It is God who has given us these talents and it s God who empowers us to do great things!

Othniel was a prefect person for the job, but God had given him a task that he could never have done on his own, but Yahweh stayed right there with him and sent his spirit to help him! This is the same with us today in the Church. Whatever task God is leading us to do, often we have no hope of accomplishing it outside of God’s help. But God is right there, God right here with us now and he here to help. No matter the circumstance we can always depend upon God. For he is able, when we certainly are unable.

“when an individual who has been called by God into his service challenges the forces of evil and darkness in his [God’s] power, the hosts of heaven and earth are dethroned. Herein lies the hope for the moribund church today, in the words of Yahweh himself, through his prophet Zechariah, victories are won “not by might or by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6).”[45]

11 This account ends with a statement of rest for the land followed by Othniel’s death being recorded. The land, not the people is at rest for forty years, likely a round number, but even if not, it means a generation has rest.[46]

What is significant of this phrase is the Othniel is recorded, basically as doing the deed God had given him and having not made things worse, the land was able to rest after Othniel, unlike some of the other judges.[47]

Othniel does the task that Yahweh had given him and it appears that he doesn’t try to get in Yahweh’s way. As the book of Judges progresses, there will be those judges who make a mess of things, because they place self before God, but Othniel appears to have remembered that his accomplishments were thanks be to God.


[1] Hoppe, 117.

[2] Matthews, 55.

[3] Block, 151.

[4] Block, 151.

[5] Boling, 80.

[6] Block, 151.

[7] Davis, 128.

[8] Schneider, 37.

[9] Crossan, JBC, 152.

[10] Block, 151.

[11] Block, 151.

[12] O’Conner, 136.

[13] O’Conner, 136.

[14] Soggin, 45.

[15] Block, 151.

[16] Block, 152.

[17] Schneider, 37.

[18] Soggin, 45-6.

[19] Boling, 80.

[20] Schneider, 38.

[21] Davis, 129.

[22] Block, 153.

[23] Webb, 269.

[24] Block, 152.

[25] Block, 152.

[26] Davis, 129.

[27] Boling, 81.

[28] Boling, 81.

[29] Block, 153.

[30] Hoppe, 118.

[31] Davis, 129.

[32] Schneider, 39.

[33] Schneider, 39.

[34] Armerding, 317.

[35] Soggin, 46.

[36] Boling, 81.

[37] Boling, 81.

[38] Block, 155.

[39] Matthews, 56.

[40] Matthews, 56.

[41] Davis, 130.

[42] Schneider, 40.

[43] Block, 154.

[44] Block, 155.

[45] Block, 155-56.

[46] Block, 155.

[47] Schneider, 43.


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