“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
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.
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
And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died. “
Concerning the original inhabitants of the land of Canaan there are two notices given in the context that ought to be observed.
In the first place, we are told that Israel had not driven them out completely as the Lord had commanded.
O, indeed, there was a large portion of the inhabitants which had been driven out. All of those dwelling on the east of the Jordan were vanquished before Israel crossed the Jordan. This portion had been occupied by such heathen powers as represented by Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. This portion of Canaan was to have been given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and a half tribe of Manasseh. We also learn that through the conquests of Joshua many of those living on the west of the Jordan had been overcome, at least sufficiently for the tribes inheriting this portion to dwell in their inheritance. And in Judges 1we learn that Judah with Simeon overcame the heathen dwelling in their portions, under the leadership of Caleb and his nephew Othniel. But for the rest, Israel allowed the heathen to remain in the land. The last part of Judges 1 makes plain that especially the northern tribes, such as Manasseh, Zebulon, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, and Ephraim, were guilty of this. For this reason the Lord had remonstrated with Israel at Bochim. Judges 2:1-4
On the other hand, we are told that the Lord left these heathen in the land; and that for two reasons. In the first place, He did it in order that they might serve as thorns in the sides of Israel who would sin against Jehovah. And in the second place, the Lord would use these heathen to teach Israel to be a militant people—He would teach them to war .Judges 3:2
As a consequence of the fact that the heathen were allowed to live in the land, we find Israel dwelling among them. Apparently the majority of Israel were content to be unequally yoked with the wicked. This is evident from the statement that the children of Israel “dwelt among them.” This is still more evident when we read that they intermarried with the heathen.
As is always the case, because of this the majority of Israel served the gods of the heathen. Not all were given to idolatry. Also now there was a remnant, the seven thousand, who did not bow the knee to Baal, who served Jehovah in truth. But because they were a despised minority, and for fear of the majority, they kept silence, and thus made themselves guilty. They did not fight against the heathen, nor did they fight against their brethren according to the flesh. They evidently contented themselves with the evil thought that it would not do any good to protest.
But the majority were apostate. They forgot the Lord their God, and they served Baalim and the groves.
Therefore the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of Chushanrishathaim.
Israel sold to the enemy!
But what does this mean?
It cannot mean that the Lord abandoned Israel, though the figure of the Lord selling His people into the hands of the enemy might appear on the surface to signify that He had utterly abandoned them. When you or I sell our house or our car, then we no longer dwell in the house or drive our car. The property rights are transferred to the party that purchased them; they are now the sole possessors of them. So when we read that the Lord sold Israel, it would seem to mean that He no longer possessed Israel. He allowed Israel to slip out of his possession and control. In one word, it appeared that He had abandoned Israel. Yet we know that this is utterly impossible. Jehovah cannot abandon Israel for His own Name’s sake. His honor is tied up in that people. For His covenant’s sake He cannot dispossess His people. The promise He made to Abram, Isaac, and Jacob is an unfailing promise. Should He fail to fulfill that promise, He would prove Himself to be unfaithful. And this can never happen.
But it does mean that He so wonderfully withdraws His help that that people could no longer stand before their enemies. This is what is literally said in Judges 2:14, 15. There you read that He sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. And that means that He withdraws His help from that people—just as, when we for a time walk in sin, He withdraws His grace from us, so that we sense our helplessness and hopelessness. So here He withdraws His saving help from Israel who had forsaken Him, that Israel may feel its desolate state without Him. They no longer had the spiritual fortitude to oppose the enemy. In desperate fear they succumb to the power of the enemy.
The enemy in this case was Chushanrishathaim. Little or nothing is known of him except what is said in the text. In the original text you read: “Chushanrishathaim king of Aram of the two rivers.” That the King James Version has “king of Mesopotamia” is commentary. Aram represents the land which the Greeks called Mesopotamia, which lay between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers to the north and east of the land of Canaan. We probably remember it best from the Genesis narrative as the place where Abram came when the Lord called him from Ur of the Chaldees. When Abram was called the second time to go to the land God would show him, he left behind his father Terah and his brother Nahor who stayed in this land. It was to this place that Jacob later came when he fled from the wrath of his brother Esau, and where Jacob labored for twenty years for his wives and substance.
Chushanrishathaim was a heathen king ruling over that land at the time of our text. Evidently he was not satisfied with the boundaries of his own kingdom, and therefore thought for expansion by including also the territory in which especially the northern tribes of Israel now dwelt. All this was under the providential direction of Jehovah. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; as rivers of water, He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Proverbs 21:1). This king the Lord will use now to prove Israel. So this king with his ambition to increase his territory and power turns to conquer northern Palestine, to serve the divine purpose of proving Israel.
Because Israel had forsaken Jehovah their God, they did not have the spiritual or physical stamina to oppose this enemy. This is always the plight of those who forsake the Lord and choose the idol. Not only do they discover the vanity, the emptiness of idol worship, but they lose their spiritual and physical vitality. It also became evident that they would have nothing of war, deploring war on the grounds that it is proper to live at peace with their fellow men; but they also did not possess the heart to wage war.
Consequently the enemy exacted from them and brought them under oppressive servitude. For eight years Israel felt the power of the enemy which, with its police brutality, collected the tribute for their heathen king. His armies were there to haul away the crops made ready for harvest. The situation for Israel appeared utterly hopeless and desperate.
Under these oppressive circumstances Israel cried unto Jehovah, and He heard them.
It was a cry of the penitent that moved Him. Never does He hear the cry of the rebellious. O, indeed, the rebellious in Israel cried by reason of the oppression. It is inconceivable that they would be insensitive to the exacting powers of the enemy. It may even have been true that the rebellious realized that their oppression was because the Lord had withdrawn from Israel His help. But their cry is one of rebellion and cursing which the Lord does not hear. Rather, it was the cry of those who deplored Israel’s rebellion. It was the remnant according to the election of grace who historically and organically belong to the nation that rebelled, the believing Israelites who sense that the oppression is brought about by Jehovah because of Israel’s sin, who now deplore Israel’s sin and plead for Jehovah’s mercy.
Jehovah always hears their cry. Forget it not—it is He Who creates within them true sorrow after God. Later the apostle Paul would write to the church at Corinth, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (II Cor. 7:10). So it always is that godly sorrow which worketh repentance is a sorrow which God realizes in His people and they sorrow because they have offended the living God.
In the way of repentance Jehovah responds with deliverance. This is always the divine order in the matter of our salvation. So it must also be understood that salvation is of the Lord. He does not save His people on condition that they repent, but He saves them always in the way of repentance which He Himself creates within them. Thus we read in the text that the Lord raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them. . . .
Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother!
Remarkable it is indeed that this deliverer is one who comes, not from Zebulon, Naphtali, or other of the northern tribes, who were to be delivered, but from the south country, from the land of Judah.
From Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, who prophetically is said to be he whom his brethren shall praise, the lion’s whelp who coucheth for the prey; the one from whom the scepter would not depart until Shiloh come (Gen. 49:8-10). Out of this tribe the Lord raises up the deliverer, who stands in the line from whom the Saviour must come—Who is God’s lion, His Strong One.
Remarkable too, is the name Othniel! Literally it means: lion of God, or my lion is God. Such was the faith of his father Kenaz when this son was born. Not Othniel is the lion, but the God of Kenaz, and now of Othniel. He is the Lion, the Strong One.
In chapter one of Judges we learn of his faith and courage when his uncle Caleb challenged him to fight against Kerjath-sepher, and rewarded him with a wife from one of his daughters. Remarkable it is that this man who stands in the loins of Judah is the one whom the Lord now raised up.
The first judge and captain over Israel!
The Spirit of Jehovah came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war. That he became the first judge meant that he taught Israel to put away their idols, and he moved Israel once more to seek Jehovah’s face to worship Him. That he led Israel to war (Judges 3:2) meant that he first taught Israel how to fight—God’s people must be a militant people; and then he went before them into battle with the enemy. All was the work of the Spirit of Jehovah which came upon him. Not of himself was he a deliverer; but Jehovah is the Strong One Who will deliver Israel through him.
Saved by the wonder of grace!
It is not sufficient to say that the Lord delivered Israel by the hand of Othniel, though this was the fact. For the Lord raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel. What we must see here, if we are to hear the Word of God in our text, is the truth that when He delivers it is a wonder of grace—just as truly as Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was a wonder of grace; just as truly as the destruction of Jericho was a wonder of grace. So are the deliverances of Israel in the book of Judges, the manifestation of Jehovah’s grace. That is the saving truth in our text. That is always the saving truth in all the work of Jehovah’s salvation.
And the land had rest for forty years!
Joyous, but typical rest!
The hard thing that Israel had to learn was the fact that to forsake the service of Jehovah can only end in oppression, war, and unrest.
The joyous truth Israel must always learn is that when they serve the Lord from the heart, they will experience peace and rest. Such is the rest Israel now enjoyed. It was typical, not the final, perfect rest. It was temporary, for it lasted only so long as Israel served the Lord. It lasted for only forty years, not for ever; it was a long time in comparison with the eight years of oppression.
Until Othniel, the son of Kenaz, died!
Until then, the spiritual remnant governs. This is the significance of the history of the Judges. So long as the judge lived, spiritual Israel is in control. Those who still served idols had to do so in secret. The predominate power of the judge and the spiritual remnant brought the service of Jehovah again to the fore. So long as the God-appointed authority was recognized and obeyed, Israel prospered. But always, at the death of the judge, Israel returns again to its evil ways. It is this fact that constantly recurs throughout the entire period of the Judges.
The lesson then is this: Israel, according to its sinful and corrupt nature always departs from Jehovah, and suffers the consequences. Israel, according to the election of grace, in principle serves Jehovah, deploring Israel’s sin, repenting in sorrow after God, imploring His mercy. And Jehovah remembers His covenant. Always He provides redemption. He rises up The Deliverer. He graces that Deliverer with His Spirit. And He brings His people at last into the everlasting rest.
Thanks be unto Him, the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ, for His everlasting salvation!