It has been a while since you last heard from me, hasn’t it. I am sure you used that time when I wasn’t pestering you to really dig into the adventures of those three dashing musketeers: Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar. Of course they really weren’t musketeers. The musket hadn’t even been invented yet. And no, Shamgar was not their pet dog.Truthfully, these guys might not even known each other.
Afterall, Othniel (The Big O as I call him) was from Judah and dead before Ehud grabbed any headlines.
And Ehud wasn’t from Judah; he was a Benjaminite.
Of Shamgar, we are not told much. Even though his name comes up twice, but in neither time does it say where he was from or where he went after his brief moment of note. There is speculation offered by scholars based solely on his name that he was the offspring of a mixed marriage between an Israelite and a Canaanite.
But why am I telling you all this when you probably have often pondered and discussed these guys at parties and other get togethers. Perhaps I should be asking you about them and their deeds.
But before we consider their deeds, lets look at some Israeli history because how did we ever get to the place where these three guys got the spotlight? Before them we had some superstars that everybody knows upon the world’s stage, Joseph, Moses and Joshua.Yet we got some kind of hiccup after Joshua passed away and people were left on their own without God, and without God depravity fills the void and into that vacuum came Ophniel, Ehud and Shamgar.
It took a lot of history to reach that point, so a flash review may be in order. First you got to realize the Bible isn’t a collection of snappy little stories. It is one big book written by God and everything is a connected, logical, continuing narrative. But we are not going to go all the way back to the beginning. We are going to begin instead with Joseph.
Most Americans have heard of Joseph. At least they know he had a coat of many colors. There was even a Broadway musical written about him called, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. My daughter was once in the cast of one such production.
There is more to Joseph than his coat. You will find his whole story told from Genesis 30 through Exodus 1. Wow, that is a lot of press. He must have been important.
Joseph was the favorite of his pop, Jacob, aka Israel. He had 11brothers, but his father singled him out for that colorful coat. Despite his father’s favoritism, or perhaps because of it, he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers because they didn’t like his colorful coat, but even more so resentment of his dreams, which in all honesty, he did talk about too much. He became known as the dreamer.
The slavers took him and sold him in Egypt, and so at least one Israelite came to Egypt. (I will tell you this though, he wasn’t the first.) But how did those many others get there?
Because of his faith and faithfulness to God, Joseph rose to greatness in Egypt. He became Pharaoh’s golden boy and God’s interpreter of dreams .God gave Pharaoh dreams that no one could interpret:
And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river.
And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow.
And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river,ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river.
And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.
And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.
And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them.
And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. (Genesis 41:1-7)
It might just be fat and skinny cows and odd corn to us, but Joseph was able to understand this stuff. What he saw in the dream was the coming of seven great years followed by seven terrible years when a great famine would hit Egypt and the countries around it. God gave Joseph the insight to devise a plan that not only saved Egypt from starvation, but also provided a storehouse of food for others. It was through this famine and the need to eat that the other sons of Jacob (Israel) came to Egypt. They came to buy food, but were reunited with Joseph, not without some intrigue and drama, which we won’t go into here. Eventually, Joseph’s father Jacob, and all his family moved to Egypt, and perhaps at this point we would expect to say, lived happily ever after.
Happiness never comes that easily., especially in Scripture. There are some very interesting passages in Genesis 47:13-22, which tell us much.
Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord's. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”
So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh's. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.
You follow what happened here?
People came to Joseph, acting as Pharaoh’s agent, and bought the food with money, which Joseph turned over to Pharaoh. But the famine was long and severe, so the people ran out of money, then Joseph made a barter with the people of Egypt. Pharaoh would continue to give them food in exchange for their livestock, but the next thing you know, all the livestock had become Pharaoh’s property and the people faced famine again.
What did the people do? They not only sold their land and livestock, they sold themselves to Pharaoh and became his servants. Pharaoh came out of this famine, thanks to Joseph, richer and more powerful than ever and the people much poorer. This was the ancient equivalent of paying for one credit card with another. You just end up owing more to the credit card bank. In this case the credit card bank was Pharaoh.
Meanwhile, Jacob, now reunited with his lost son, brings his people our of Canaan to settled down in Egypt in an area called the Land of Goshen. Here the Israelites prospered. (Genesis 47)
Then at the age of 110, Joseph died. Genesis 50:26)
Jacob had come into Egypt with 70 people, but after Jacob died, and Joseph died and all that first immigrating generation died, the Israelites continued to be quite prosperous and their population grew mightily. Before you knew it Egypt was full of these Israelites. (Exodus 1:7)
And generations passed and there were scads and scads of Israelites down in the Land of Goshen. There was also a new Pharaoh, who remembered nothing of this guy Joseph. What the new Pharaoh saw was a bunch of foreigners who he thought had gotten too big for their britches and too big for Egypt to contain as well. So he set taskmasters over them and they became forced labor (Exodus 1:10-14)
That wasn’t enough. The more Pharaoh came down on the Israelites, the more they seemed to multiply. So, in the end Pharaoh enslaved them. He even went further than that. He directed the midwives to kill any babies born of the male persuasion.
The midwives, brave souls, disobeyed Pharaoh because they feared God more than he, but to save their own necks they told Pharaoh these Hebrew women were just too fast for them. They had their babies before the midwives could get to them. Pharaoh then ordered all his subjects to throw any new born Hebrew boys into the Nile. After all, There were crocodiles needing to be fed and appeased.(Exodus 1:15-22)
Thus we see that because of Joseph’s dealings with the Egyptians, Pharaoh has increased his treasury, his livestock and had made the people his servants. Pharaoh had become very, very powerful. Meanwhile, the Israelites, those 70 who came down with Jacob, were growing and proffering in the Land of Goshen. So now we know the Egyptian government has grown very powerful and we know how the first Israelites came to be in Egypt. Actually we must go back to Abraham, to whom God made a promise if he would leave Er and travel to a distant land, to learn who was the first Israelite and how the prophesies to him played out.