Notice that the foreign oppression is sent by Yahweh. Among the curses of the Mosaic Law, He warned, “If you will not listen to me and will not do all these
commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant… I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you” (Leviticus 26:14-15, 17). “And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall exact vengeance for the
covenant” (Leviticus 26:25). “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:25).
“A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually” (Deuteronomy 28:33). “The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower” (Deuteronomy 28:43).
The book of Judges expresses the fulfillment of these curses through phrases like: “The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia” (Judges 3:8); “The LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel” (Judges 3:12) and: “The LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor” (Judges 4:2). Notice that many times the foreign oppressors are directed by one person:
Cushan-rishathaim (which means “Cushan, doubly-evil”in Hebrew), Eglon (“little
calf”) and Sisera, the captain of the Canaanite army. But in it all, there is no doubt who is in control of the punishment given to the Israelites, and He does not punish them unjustly: “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). “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judges 3:12; 4:1).
“The people of Israel cried out to the LORD” (Judges 3:9, 15; 4:3). They get to the point of desperation where they realize that there is no salvation in Baal
and Asheroth. And just like Yahweh promised in verses like Leviticus 26:40-42, if they confess their iniquity, humble their uncircumcised heart and repent: “Then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land” (Leviticus 26:42).
And Yahweh raises up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saves them (Judges 3:9, 15; see also 4:6). Just as the foreign oppression often is led by one person, Yahweh’s deliverance also is led by one: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Barak in the first five chapters. With the exception of Othniel, we know nothing about the others until they are chosen by Yahweh for His work of deliverance; there is nothing in them that indicates beforehand that they will be judges in Israel. Notice also that on many occasions, deliverance comes through an unexpected instrument: Ehud’s double-edged sword, Shamgar’s oxgoad and the tent peg and hammer of Jael, the woman who killed Sisera. All of this shows that it is not by noble birth or advanced technology or military prowess but by the Presence of Yahweh that His people are saved, often by means of the humble, common and unrecognized.
Notice also the importance of women in these passages. Achsah, Othniel’s wife, dismounted from her donkey out of respect for her father Caleb and requested
springs of water along with her inheritance (Joshua 15:16-19; Judges 1:12-15). Deborah prophesies Yahweh’s message to Barak for Israel’s liberation from Sisera and praises Him in song for His victory. And even though Barak led the army that defeated Sisera, it was Jael, a woman, who disregarded the peace between the king of Canaan and her husband and earned the fame as the one who killed Israel’s tormentor. Just like the men, these women serve as examples of how to trust Yahweh’s promises, exhort others in their faith and deny Yahweh’s enemies in order to trust in Him.
Keep these characteristics and themes in mind because they will be
important to understand the lessons of the judges we will read about this week.