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Using the Unlikely

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Judges 3:7–31

God's work in this world is not reserved for perfect candidates. Instead, He uses people who, with all their flaws and shortcomings, are available for Him to use. Such people demonstrate, not their abilities, but God's power. Israel's first three judges are prime examples.


Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission in the 1800s, was a man of faith whom God used greatly. But Hudson Taylor once wrote, “God chose me because I was weak enough. He trains somebody to be quiet . . . and [small] enough, and then uses him.” 

Average Christians today are often discouraged because they don’t think they’re the kind of Christians God can use. Well, journey with me through the book of Judges as we watch God use one judge after another—people who all have this in common: they are all ordinary, unlikely servants, but they’re available for God to use. 

Now when you picture these Old Testament judges, don’t think of courtroom judges wearing long black robes, quiet and somber. No, they are more like cowboys riding into town with their six-shooters. Their primary function is to deliver the people from their enemies.

As we come to chapter 3, we encounter this repeating cycle we see throughout the book. Each cycle follows the course of sin and oppression, then repentance and deliverance. We enter the first cycle in verses 7-8, where we read: 

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.

In our last session, I explained that Baal was the chief Canaanite god. His name simply means “lord.” But he is no lord at all. In chapter 2, Baal’s mistress is Ashtareth; here in Judges 3 is another mistress, Asherah, or Asheroth, another pagan goddess. It was believed that Baal and Asherah would become sexually involved, and she would give birth to springtime. She was often symbolized by a carved pole standing beside an altar to Baal. So, whenever you read that God’s people cut down the Asherah, they were simply chopping down these wooden poles.

Israel has now become involved in the temple practices of sexual immorality that accompany the religion of Baal. And God hands them over to the king of Mesopotamia, who rules over them for eight years. His name here is Cushan, and attached to that is his nickname, Rishathaim; which means “double evil.” How’s that for a nickname? He’s double trouble.

After eight years of oppression, the Israelites cry out in repentance, and the Lord responds by raising up a judge. Verse 9 tells us he is “Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.”

Verse 10 tells us:

The Spirit of the LORD was upon him . . . He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.

Israel then has “rest [for] forty years” (verse 11). Now, we have already encountered Othniel before in Scripture (Joshua 15:17; Judges 1:13). He’s described as a courageous and faithful soldier; and that’s exactly the kind of man we would expect God to use, right? He’s got a great family background, he’s courageous, and he has all the right connections.

And listen, God can use people like that! Don’t be silenced by criticism that you are being used by God because you have all the right connections or because you come from a godly family. Just ignore the critics, and keep pressing on. But don’t get too big for your britches either. Don’t become proud and self-reliant. God isn’t using you because of your connections; He’s using you because of your commitment to Him. 

Now after the death of Othniel, the cycle begins again: 

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. (verse 12)

This time the bad guy is the king of Moab; he’s taken possession of Jericho—called in verse 13 the “city of palms”—and he’s been tormenting Israel for the last eighteen years.

Israel finally cries out to God in verse 15, “and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer [and his name was] Ehud.” We are told Ehud is a Benjamite. Up to this point, the tribe of Benjamin has not produced any heroic leaders. In fact, this tribe failed to drive out the enemies in their territory according to Judges chapter 1. So, it seems pretty unlikely that a national hero will come from Benjamin.

We’re also told here in verse 15 that Ehud is left-handed. The Hebrew word translated “left-handed” is a compound word that means “defective in the right hand.” Ehud was left-handed because he was evidently disabled in his right hand; we’re not given any details about his disability. But we are told that Ehud goes to meet with this enemy king, and verse 16 states, “Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges . . . and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes.” 

Ehud completes the mission, killing King Eglon when the two of them are alone, and then he leads the people of Israel to march against Moab. As a result, Israel wins back their freedom. Verse 30 says: “Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.”

Now don’t miss this: Ehud had no family connections; he came from the wrong tribe, so to speak; he didn’t have any experience; and he was in some way physically disabled. Yet God used him to deliver his people.

Beloved, what’s your excuse? What is it about yourself that has convinced you that God can’t use you?  Remember this left-handed judge and offer yourself—all your abilities and all your disabilities—to the Lord for His service. PQ 

Now there’s one more judge named here in chapter 3. We meet him in verse 31: “Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.” There is just one verse about Shamgar, but this verse is loaded with clues about this unusual judge.

The first clue is his name, Shamgar. This is not a Hebrew name. He wasn’t born into an Israelite family. In fact, his father’s name here is Anath, and that gives us another clue. Anath was the name of the Canaanite goddess of sex and war. Shamgar’s father and family were part of the Canaanite world of idolatry.

A third clue we’re given about him is the weapon he uses to kill 600 Philistines—an oxgoad. This was a long wooden rod with a metal tip on one end to prod oxen that were pulling a plow; and on the other end was a sharp blade used for cleaning the plow. This was a common tool used by farmers in that day. 

Evidently, Shamgar was an ordinary Canaanite farmer who converted to the God of Israel. Somewhere along the line, God’s truth reached the heart of this farm boy who had grown up in the home of unbelievers. He left his Canaanite world behind him and became a faithful judge in Israel.

Beloved, God doesn’t depend on your pedigree or position; He isn’t waiting for you to get stronger or smarter. Those are blessings God can use, but His work is not dependent on your resume. He’s looking for people like Hudson Taylor—people who are weak enough and small enough to depend on Him alone. 

As Martin Luther, the reformer, said, “God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.” 

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