Sometimes we encounter stories in the Bible that leave us wondering, “What is the point of that?” If we typically read Bible stories for moral lessons and life application takeaways, these stories—and Judges is full of them—will leave us bewildered. The stories of Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar are great examples. Taken individually, each of these stories is difficult to interpret or find particular value in. However, looking at them together shows us some big truths about God, humanity, and salvation.
Moses told the people in Deuteronomy 8:1–2, as they prepared to enter the promised land, to keep all God’s commands so that they may live long and be well. He also said that God had tested their faithfulness and obedience, indicating God would continue to do so. And that’s what we find in Judges 3: the people failing the tests of obedience and faithfulness and turning to other gods. And so begins a pattern: rebellion by Israel, God handing them over to be ruled by a pagan power, the people crying out to God, and God raising up a judge to rescue them. The first three of these judges are Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar.
Each of their stories is told quite differently. Othniel gets an overview, Ehud gets a fantastically detailed account (and, if I might say so, a rollickingly exciting and humorous one at that), and Shamgar gets barely a mention. But each judge represents something significant. They are God’s appointed rescuers. They are embodiments of God’s mercy on His undeserving people. They are answers to Israel’s desperate prayers. And they are temporary; each brought peace to Israel with God’s help, but the peace would not last. So this means that each of these judges foreshadows a better rescue.
The pattern of sin-judgment-outcry-rescue is not just the story of Israel. It’s one each of us ought to recognize in our own hearts. We, too, readily turn to anything or anyone but God with our worship and affection. But that better rescue has come, and we have access to it—or rather, to Him. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” We were in darkness—we were like Israel chasing after other gods. But Christ rescued us and brought us from darkness to light.
What Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar could only do incompletely and temporarily, Jesus has done perfectly and eternally. What they did with swords, stealth, and cattle prods, He did by laying down his life. So now we can step out of the rebellious pattern we were in and walk as children of light.