Judges: Double Trouble, the Fat Man, and Cries for Help

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on May 17, 2020

Judges 3:7-31

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Now we turn our attention to study God’s Word. If you would turn with me to Judges chapter 3 and we will read tonight from verse 7 to the end of the chapter. 

In the last several years, a number of college professors have started using trigger warnings for their classroom lectures and for their assignments. Trigger warnings are meant to alert students of material that they may find offensive or may trigger negative emotions. And the warning is there in order to give the students in some cases the option to avoid the material altogether or just to prepare them for what is coming. Well some of those common trigger warnings that are found in college classrooms are found in our passage in the book of Judges tonight. We have issues with body image and violence, blood, death, religious exclusivity, not to mention other questionable content as well, especially if you have a problem with bathroom talk or if you are particularly sensitive to the challenges of being left handed. Maybe some trigger warnings are in order for us tonight!

There is some graphic and potentially offensive material in Judges chapter 3, but do you know what is the most offensive part of this chapter? The most offensive part of this chapter is sin. It is Israel’s turning away from God and turning to idolatry and doing evil in the sight of the Lord. All sin is repulsive, it is ugly, and it deserves God’s anger and discipline. And that’s exactly what we find in this chapter in the book of Judges. But we also find good news. We also find good news about God’s deliverance and good news about God’s gift of rest. And so before we read this passage, would you pray with me that we would see our own sinfulness and we would see our deep need for rest that comes from Christ. And so let’s pray together.

Our Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that by Your Holy Spirit You have revealed Yourself to us in Your Word. You have revealed to us the promises of salvation. And so Father, we pray by Your Spirit that You would illumine our hearts and our minds, that we would understand Your Word, apply it to our lives, and seek to live lives for Your glory. Speak Lord, for Your servants listen. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Judges chapter 3, starting in verse 7:

“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. 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. 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. 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.

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, ‘I have a secret message for you, O king.’ And he commanded, ‘Silence.’ And all his attendants went out from his presence. And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ And he arose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them.

When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, ‘Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.’ And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor.

Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond the idols and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. And he 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 did not allow anyone to pass over. And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.

After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever. 

So begins the downward spiral of sin, oppression, and temporary deliverance that we find throughout the book of Judges. These three episodes that we find in chapter 3, they vary in length and in detail, but the picture they present is one of a time in the land of Israel that was wild and unruly. And first we’re told that the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. The basic trajectory of their nation, of their culture, of their lifestyle was evil. And their worship had degraded to the point of spiritual harlotry, if not to the actual harlotry that often times accompanied the worship of Baal. You see, Baal and Asherah, they were Canaanite fertility gods, and all throughout the Bible, the practices that we find associated with the worship of Baal and Asherah are immoral and they’re indulgent and they even include cultic prostitution. All of that was carried out in an effort to stimulate fertility in the land. And Judges chapter 2 that we looked at last week calls it what it really is when it says that “the people whored after the other gods and bowed down to them.”

Ray Ortlund wrote a book several years ago and it was called “God’s Unfaithful Wife.” It’s an examination of the theme of spiritual adultery throughout the Bible. Well the original title of that book was simply, “Whoredom,” and you can maybe understand why they changed the title of the book – because the original title is blunt and it’s really shocking! Well that’s what this is. That should be the response in Judges chapter 3 verse 7 when we find out the people were serving the Baals and the Asherah; it’s shocking because it’s spiritual adultery and it’s a problem that had gone deep and it was spreading throughout the people of Israel. So as a result, Israel is attacked and they are brought into bondage to various nations around them. 

The first one we find is in verse 8. We find Cushan-rishathaim who oppressed them from Mesopotamia, from the north, for eight years. Cushan-rishathaim, that name, belongs at the top of the great Biblical names along with Mahashala-Hashbaz! But his name actually means “double evil,” and at least one commentator says that this man, this oppressor, was perhaps the worst of all of the oppressors that Israel faced during the time of the judges. And then there’s Eglon. He was king of Moab on the east and he gathers together Israel’s eastern and southern neighbors, the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and they went and defeated Israel. Verse 14 says that the people of Israel served Eglon, king of Moab, for eighteen years. And then we read in verse 31 that they also faced the threat of the Philistines who lived to the west of Israel. 

And so what we have in this chapter is the harassment and the violence that comes against Israel from all sides. It comes from the north and from the east, from the south and from the west. It’s all around them, and it’s an ongoing threat. You see, it’s likely that the judges we read about in this book, they were regional or tribal leaders and the periods of their leadership most likely overlapped one another. And so we have Othniel from Judah, we have Ehud from Benjamin, we don’t know where Shamgar is from, but these are not necessarily chronological sequences of events. So the trouble that you find in this time, it’s trouble that was going on in one part of the land but it may not have been going on in the other part of the land. And the rest that one area enjoyed may not have been experienced in other parts of the land. In other words, the turmoil in the land of Israel came from within, it came at them from all angles, and it was going on repeatedly throughout this book. 

The Guardian newspaper, in May of 1941, had many reports about the German blitz that was taking place against England. So the German navy was surrounding them at sea and the German bombers were dropping bombs on the cities in England. One of the reports in May of 1941 in The Guardian was of the hole that had been blown in the roof of Westminster Abbey. But also in May of 1941 in The Guardian newspaper was the first letter of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters published. Lewis published them individually as letters in the newspaper before they were collected as a book. And as you know, that book, it deals with temptation, with the dangers of sin. And so you had this picture in The Guardian newspaper at that time of the trouble that England faced. They faced trouble from all around them. There was war from without, but there was also war from within. And there’s the danger of temptation that always exists there. 

That is what’s going on with Israel in the time of the judges. We have all of these characters that are involved in the action. There’s Cushan-rishathaim and Othniel and Eglon and Ehud and Shamgar. They are the Israelites and the Mesopotamians, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Amalekites and the Philistines. But not one of them is the main focus of this narrative. None of those characters are the heroes of these stories. That’s because Israel’s sin was against the Lord and it was the Lord that gave them into the hands of their enemies, and it was the Lord who heard their cries and the Lord who raised up deliverers. It was the Lord who provided victory for Israel and gave them a period of rest. In the midst of their chaos and their upheaval, the Lord was in control and the Lord was at work. That’s because the Lord is sovereign over the nations and He’s sovereign over their rulers and He is gracious to His people and He is committed to keep His promises and to work out His plan of salvation for them. And those things are true about God, whether we have just the basic facts like in the case with Othniel or whether we know hardly anything at all like we have with Shamgar, or whether we have all the gory details like we have with Ehud.

Which makes us ask the question, “Why do we have these crazy details about Ehud and Eglon? Why do we need to know that Ehud was left handed or that Eglon was fat? Why do we need to know that Ehud’s sword was engulfed by Eglon’s belly and that his dung came out?” Well, it’s showing us that God uses messy people like Ehud and He is involved in messy situations like this to accomplish His plans of salvation. And it also shows us that God brings about a complete and a laughable humiliation of Israel’s enemies and of their enemy’s idols. But there’s also something to say about God being involved in the big picture like we have with Othniel, but also in the details like we have with Ehud. Because it can be one thing for us to say that God is sovereign over the nations and over history, but then do we trust Him on a random Tuesday? Or do we worry about a microscopic virus? Or do we worry about what’s in our bank account? There’s no power too great and there’s no detail too small that falls outside of God’s sovereignty and dominion. The Lord, Yahweh, He is sovereign over the turmoil. He is in control of these events so that He might bring about a great salvation for His people that He might deliver them. 

And that’s what we find in this chapter. We find this turmoil and we find the deliverance of the Lord. And that turmoil and that deliverance, they provide or they contain a warning and a promise for all who read these accounts. They provide a warning and a promise for us. We find here that there are lessons about the ugliness of sin and about our deep need for rest. 

The Attractiveness of Sin 

The first thing is that sin, sin is the cause of all of the trouble and the dysfunction in this chapter. Yet with that being said, what may not be obvious to us at first is the attractiveness of sin. You know part of the reason that Israel kept turning to the Baals and the Asheroth and the reason that there were idols near Gilgal is that there was an allure to these religions. They appealed to their senses, the desires of their flesh. Baalism was materialistic. It was all about health, wealth and prosperity. You see, temptation to sin, it’s attractive. It doesn’t come with a warning; it comes with a welcome, with an invitation. It seems good in the moment. It seems attractive. There’s a thrill, perhaps, associated with temptation. 

Think about those places in the proverbs that aim to cultivate wise relationship and wise habits. There’s chapter 7 that tells us about the adulterous woman and it paints this picture of someone who looks good and everything sounds pleasurable, and yet what the writer of Proverbs warns us is that the man who follows after her, he does not know that it will cost him his life and her house goes down to the chambers of death. And then in Proverbs 23, think about what it says about drunkenness. It says, “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end, it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.” 

One of the dangers of living in a pandemic – and really it’s the danger any time we think about the trouble out there or what’s wrong with the world today – is the danger to ignore the trouble that is in here or to be blind to the temptation that is right in front of us. Our lifestyles have changed in some ways recently and we need to be on the guard against being impatient or speaking harshly to our family. We need to be on guard against going to websites or watching television shows that are inappropriate and wrong. We need to be on guard against the dangers of alcohol and of worry and fear or of complaining. Those are temptations that are relevant any day, all the time, but even now, especially as we find ourselves at home together more and we find ourselves on screens more often and we have more down time and there’s so much unknown and there’s so much disruption to our lives, there are particular temptations that we must look out for. 

The Honest Picture of Sin 

And the book of Judges, it’s showing us the brutally honest picture about what sin is. Sin is not exciting. Sin is not fun. No, sin is an offense against the Lord. It deserves His anger and discipline and it leads to bondage and sorrow. In a word, we can say that sin is death and the marks of death are all over this passage. It’s ugly. And what Ralph Davis also adds is that there is a monotony and a dullness to sin. Davis says that any time you find these passages where there’s a repetitiveness, we have this downward cycle, a downward spiral like this passage, it’s just so tedious. Sin is like that. There’s nothing new, nothing fresh about sin. It’s just the same old thing with the same old results – the same guilt and the same shame and the same damage done. What you have in this chapter – the people cried out to the Lord – when they cried out to the Lord they were crying out to the Lord because of the consequences of their sin. They should have been crying out to the Lord because of their sin itself. This passage is calling for us to look at the sin and idolatry in our own lives and to weep over it, to mourn in repentance, to cry out to God for deliverance from temptation. It’s about temptation that Charles Bridges wrote, “Dread the first step and do not imagine you can stop yourself when you want to.” Dread the first step. This passage is a warning for us not to be numb or to be desensitized to sin.

An Invitation to Find Rest 

But this passage is also an invitation. It’s a call for us to find rest. One of the memes that’s being going on recently is called “Pick Your Quarantine House.” I saw one recently. It had different house options where you would stay in quarantine. And so each house option had some good features and some bad features. So there was one that had a lake house but you’re with someone who’s difficult to get along with. One of them, the positive feature was that it had a mountain view and the negative feature was there was no internet there. A mountain view and no internet – that sounds great! It sounds so restful. And it appeals to us because there is something deep within us, a longing for rest. 

Well the word for “rest” in Judges chapter 3, it refers to a time when the land was quiet and there was calm there. That was the ideal for God’s people in the land of Israel. That is the ideal for God’s people going back to the creation Sabbath and that is the goal of God’s plan of salvation – to be free from sin and temptation, to be free from the curse and from the effects of death, to be free from oppression and persecution and violence and pain and to enjoy life with God, to enjoy the beauty of all of His blessings and the fellowship of life with His people. But that’s not exactly what we have in Judges chapter 3, is it? There’s a glimmer of rest here, to be sure, but it doesn’t last. And the cycle of sin and of turning away from God continues to mess things up in the book of Judges. 

And as the history of the book of Judges progresses, we actually find that the note of rest disappears. The last note of rest in the book of Judges comes in chapter 8 and things unravel from there until the end of the book. In these times, the Lord raised up deliverers and the Lord gave rest through the judges, but the judges were insufficient. They themselves were not innocent to the tactics of violence. They were not immune to the corruption of sin. They all succumb to the fate of death. And so the rest that they provided was fleeting. It was imperfect. But it’s to people like this in the book of Judges and it’s to people like us who may be tired and burdened and struggling, that Jesus offers Himself and He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Rest for your souls is what Jesus offers in Matthew chapter 11, 28 and 29 – a rest that will not go away; a rest that no problem and no person in this world can take away from you. It’s a rest that is eternal life in the peace of God and Jesus and Jesus alone gives that rest. He gives that rest because He defeated sin and death by His death and His resurrection. Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar – they could deal with Israel’s temporal enemies for a time, but Jesus deals with the last and the greatest enemy, death. He defeats death itself by His resurrection from the grave.

And that means that even when everything around us is chaotic or uncertain, when we have faith in Jesus then we can have a rest that is lasting and deep. “When all around my soul gives way, He is my hope and stay. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!” These deliverers, these judges – Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar – they are pointing away from themselves to the Lord’s deliverance, to Yahweh’s salvation. They are pointing us to Jesus, the true Deliverer. And they’re calling us, this passage is calling us to trust in Him, to trust in Jesus so that He might free us from our sin and give us rest.

You can have all of the leisure and all of the free time that you could ever want and still not be at rest, still be unsettled. Or, you can be in the middle of a crisis and have true and deep rest. The difference, the difference comes down to knowing Jesus and having the rest that He provides. “Come to Me,” Jesus said. Go to Him. Go to Jesus, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest. 

Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for the colorful stories that capture our imagination and our attention, that point us in such vivid ways to the danger of sin and temptation and of the need for rest and salvation and deliverance in Christ. So we pray, Father, that Your Word would do its work in our hearts by Your Spirit. Would the Spirit of the Lord work again in our hearts and the hearts of those who do not know You, to draw us closer to salvation and rest with Christ. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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