William Kyle Carpenter, age 21, is the youngest American soldier to receive the Medal of Honor. When serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Carpenter threw himself on top of a hand grenade in order to shield his fellow soldier from the explosion. His bravery cost him his right eye, most of his teeth, a broken jaw, and multiple fractures in his arm. Carpenter’s action demonstrated that he was a hero.
We usually know a military hero by his or her exemplary bravery and self- sacrifice. Yet these and other heroic qualities, like impressive physical stature and strength, are strangely absent from the description of the deliverers in Judges 3. In our reading today, we meet the first three judges: Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. None is exceptionally bright or brave. In fact, very little personal detail is offered about these three men whom God used to deliver His people.
We know that Othniel is related to Caleb, who, along with Joshua, had brought back a faithful report of the Promised Land to the people of Israel (cf. Num. 13:25–33). We know that Ehud was left-handed (or perhaps ambidextrous, as some commentators argue). And we know even less about Shamgar, who was likely not an Israelite, except that he could expertly wield an oxgoad, an ancient farming implement.
The personal profile of each of these deliverers stands at the background of the biblical story. As readers, we don’t sense that they are being commended to us as examples to follow. Instead, at the foreground of the action is God: He raises up a few good men to deliver Israel from distress; His Spirit empowers Othniel; He delivers a fatal message to King Eglon by Ehud; through His power, Shamgar “saved Israel” (v. 31). God used these men to rescue His people, but they weren’t the heroes—God is.
Apply the Word
Judges does not tell Israel’s story chronologically but thematically, focusing on Israel’s sin, punishment and pleas, deliverance, and temporary peace. Notice as we read further that elements of the formula disappear, signaling their increasing moral dissolution. May we be encouraged to repent and turn away from our own sin!