By emphasizing the activity of the Holy Spirit in the judgeship of Othniel and not focusing on the specific details of what Othniel did, the author of Judges seems to lift him up as the model judge during a difficult era for Israel (Judg. 3:7–11). Perhaps there is no need for specifics because Othniel’s desires and methods were so in conformity with God’s will.
As we will see, things declined in terms of the judges’ character after Othniel. God still used them, but the judges tend to receive a greater focus than the Lord Himself. And the judges became increasingly flawed. The one possible exception to this is Ehud the Benjaminite, the first judge described after Othniel. His story, which is among the coarsest tales in the Bible, is found in Judges 3:12–30.
We see in verses 12–14 that after Othniel died, the people of Israel fell back into apostasy, and the Lord raised up Eglon, king of Moab, to discipline them. The Moabites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot who lived east of the Dead Sea (Gen. 19:30–38). They were longtime enemies of Israel because of their refusal to show hospitality and because they hired Balaam to curse the Israelites while Israel was wandering in the wilderness (Deut. 23:3–6). Under Eglon, the Moabites joined with the Ammonites and the Amalekites and invaded Benjamin’s territory, capturing the “city of palms” (Judg. 3:12–14). That is, Eglon established a base at Jericho, rebuilding it to some extent as a stronghold from which he could oppress God’s people.
God is sovereign over both His people and the enemies of His people. The story of Ehud shows us that the Lord strengthened Eglon and then raised up Ehud to defeat him. Through subterfuge and military cunning, Ehud killed Eglon with a hidden blade and then led the Israelites to subdue the Moabites (vv. 15–30). The story is filled with gory detail, which can make many readers uncomfortable. However, we must remember that this was a time of war for God’s people, and what Ehud did was just under the circumstances. As with many of the other judges, the author is not giving directions to God’s people for all time but is describing what happened. Matthew Henry comments that Ehud “as a judge, or minister of divine justice, executed the judgments of God upon him, as an implacable enemy to God and Israel.” The Lord did not stand aloof from the desperation of His people, but He used Ehud to deliver the Israelites.