God left certain minority groups in Israel in order to test the people. “The five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Zidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon to the passageway of Hamath. And they were to test through them Israel, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord which He had commanded their forefathers through Israel (Judges 3:3-4).” The Israelites commingled with these tribes, going as far as to intermarry with them and to even serve their gods. Clearly, intermarriage is not a new crisis for the Jewish community. “And the children of Israel did that which displeased the Lord, and they forgot the Lord their God, and served the Baalim and the Asheroth (Judges 3:7).” This demonstrates that once you dilute your own community enough, and absorb so much into your surroundings, you forget what separates you and succumb to temptations.
God gets angry, obviously. He punishes the people, they cry, and He raises a savior for them. This time, it’s Othniel, Caleb’s nephew who we heard about towards the end of the book of Joshua. Othniel leads as a military commander for forty years, and keeps Israel safe until his death. Again, the people are fickle, and wind up becoming subjugated to the king of Moab for eighteen years before they cry again and a new savior comes along. This time it’s Ehud, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. “And Ehud made for himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit was its length; and he girded it under his clothing on his right thigh (Judges 3:16).” Ehud offers a present to Eglon, the king of Moab, and as he hands it over he kills the king in secret with his sword. It’s a graphic and disgusting death, but Ehud escapes and takes the people to war against the Moabites. For eighty more years, there is peace in Israel. This seems a little like today (with longer intervals of peace). There’s an outbreak of war, and then some quiet, but everyone knows the next battle is coming. It’s just a matter of when. Peace isn’t lasting, with the enemies so close and so tangled up with the Israelites.