Judges 3:1-11 Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before... They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. 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. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. ESVJudges chapter 3 begins with the mention of three of Israel's fifteen judges: Othniel who delivered Israel from the Mesopotamians, Ehud who delivered Israel from the Moabites and Shamgar who delivered Israel from the Philistines. Today we focus on Othniel, the younger brother of Caleb.
Israel violated the Lord's command in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 by giving their sons and daughters in marriage to the non-Israelite nations living among them: "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations... Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you." Moses' warning came to pass as the Israelites soon served the Baals and the Asheroth, male and female fertility gods of the Canaanites, thereby corrupting themselves spiritually and morally with the evil practices of ritual sexual orgies and child sacrifices. The Baals are gods of nature and Asheroths are gods of love and sex. Consequently, they came under the oppression of Cushan-Rishathaim for eight years. But when they cried out to the Lord, He sent Othniel to deliver them out of the Mesopotamian oppression and Israel had rest for 40 years.
Three important lessons for us to reflect on:
(1) Training in spiritual warfare ("to teach war to those who had not known it before"): God allows evil to remain among us so that we can learn how to fight them and not yield to them. As long as we remain on this earth, there will always be evil and suffering around us and we have to learn to exercise faith in God to become victors, not victims, of evil. The Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into tempation but deliver us from evil," suggests that evil will always be with us but prayer will empower us to be overcomers.
(2) Spirit of Baals & Asheroth/Ashtoreth ("served the Baals and the Asheroth"): Baals is the god of nature and Ashtoreth is the goddess of love and sex. While we may no longer bow down to such physical idols, many, including Christians, are still bowing down to the spirit of Baals (belief in the power of nature - naturalism & evolutionism) and Ashtoreth (obsessed with love and sex - teen sexual promiscuity is a widespread concern in Singapore). Such beliefs and practices undermine our faith and obedience to Lord as revealed in Scripture. We have in some places confused the Baals with Yahweh because we want God to be like Baals - able to bring material blessings and comfort to our lives. While there is no doubt that the Lord/Yahweh we worship will bless us with health and wealth, but He is more concerned about our character than our creature comforts and convenience. To the man who said, "I will follow you wherever you go," did not Jesus reply: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head"? (Luke 9:58).
(3) Holy Spirit power ("the Spirit of the Lord was upon him"): What makes Othniel an instrument of deliverance is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Oppression is brought on by the spirit of Baalism - manipulating the gods to satisfy our material desires. Sadly, the over-emphasis on material prosperity and blessings by some preachers can cause immature Christians to go down the road of self-serving religion -- of using God rather than loving Him, which is manifested by a strong desire to obey Jesus' commandments: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). However, if we walk by the Spirit it would manifest itself in our becoming like Christ in our character - the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. The motive for this character-formation is love of God and love for God: "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:5).
In the same way, we can come under spiritual oppression if we compromise with the spirit of Baals and Asthoreth (focusing on getting blessed). And similarly, we can only be set free from spiritual oppression if we walk by the power of God's love (focusing on becoming a blessing).
Father, set us free from the self-focused life of spiritual oppression to walk in the power of the Spirit-anointed life marked by freedom from spiritual, mental and emotional oppression. In Jesus' name, Amen.