Notes on Judges 3:1-11

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 3:1, KJV: 1 Now these (are) the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, (even) as many (of Israel) as had not known all the wars of Canaan; 2 Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof;

The generation who had come into Canaan with Joshua apparently had all died by now. Few if any of their children or grandchildren had ever fought the enemy—although they should have, by driving out the last of the Canaanites. The job was nowhere near completed when Joshua and the first generation died.

3 (Namely), five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath.

Compare this list with the nations listed in Joshua 13. Judah and Simeon had driven out the southernmost of the Canaanites but the central and northern tribes had only put them to forced labor (see chapter 1). The Philistines were in control of at least five major cities (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza) and an unspecified amount of territory outside these cities. Their land began at the Mediterranean coast and some at least of the hill country of Canaan.

The other Canaanites, Sidonians, Hivites and others seem to have lived in the northern regions. The Gibeonites, however, were also considered Hivites (Joshua 9:7, 11:19) but it is not known how many, if any, others survived the initial conquest.

4 And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.

God had earlier promised to drive out the Canaanites “little by little (Ex.23:30, Deut. 7:22)” and that is exactly what happened during the conquest. Later, God swore He would not drive out any more of the Canaanites because of Israel’s disobedience (Judges 2:20-23).This was a test to see if the Israelites would truly follow the LORD’s commandments.

5 And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites:

As mentioned several times, Israel was not supposed to dwelling among the various peoples of Canaan, Israel was supposed to drive them out!

6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.

This was first considered when Jacob lived near Shechem (Gen. 34). The king used this same strategy to try and take over all of Jacob’s property. God had later commanded Israel not to do this (Ex. 34:10-16).

7 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.

This is another one of the saddest verses in the Bible. The LORD had done so much for Israel and yet Israel forgot the very same God of their fathers. The “Baalim” (a plural noun) refers to the various “Baals” such as “Baalpeor (Numbers 25)”. The “groves” appear to be a group of trees where the pagans carried out any number of rituals. Several times, worship of false deities was performed under “green trees (Deut. 12:2, 1 Kings 14:23, 2 Kings 17:10, e.g.).

8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.

Again it is stated that the LORD’s anger was “hot” against Israel. Mesopotamia was known as “the land between the rivers”—the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern day Iraq. One irony is that Abraham had grown up in Ur of the Chaldees, in Mesopotamia, and God took him away from there to the Promised Land. Now God is bringing a king from the birthplace of Israel’s ancestor to this very land, but that king was coming to punish Israel, not to bless it. Israel was under foreign domination for the first time since they had come to Egypt and they remained in slavery for eight years.

9 And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, (even) Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. 10 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.

This apparently happened early in the time of the Judges. Othniel, the nephew of Caleb, had defeated Debir (Joshua 15:15-17, Judges 1:11-13) while Caleb and Joshua were still alive. Othniel’s life overlapped the last days of Joshua and the earliest time of the Judges. He was Israel’s first Judge, in the sense of the word in this book.

This is also the first example of the pattern Israel fell into: rejection of their God, oppression by a foreign power, deliverance by a Judge who “judged” for a period of time, sometimes specified but not always

There is no mention of what Othniel used or how he was able to defeat the enemy forces controlling Israel at that time.

It should be no surprise that enemy forces from as far away as Mesopotamia came through Canaan/Israel. Perhaps the earliest such invasion had occurred in Genesis 14 when the kings of Shinar (Mesopotamia), Ellasar, Elam, and “Tidal, king of ‘nations’” came as far as Sodom. Lot was a captive.

11 And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

Othniel’s age at his time of death is not given. We can rejoice in what he did for Israel during a very difficult time. Sadly, there is no mention that there was ever a revival of obedience to the God of Israel.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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