What does it take to be utilized in the Kingdom of God?
What if you don’t feel usable? Can you still play a part?
It is not ability or inability but availability that sets you apart as usable. God will pass over a thousand men to get to one who is available. He will bypass a thousand to come alongside the one who will walk with Him.
Since reading Gary Inrig’s book on the subject years ago, I am still unable to escape the Old Testament stories in Judges 3.[i] The judges of biblical times were not anything akin to the magistrates before whom we plead our traffic tickets. They were more like regional enforcers or old west gunslingers. Judges contains numerous stories of such folks—men and women alike. When circumstance required it, God chose a person to accomplish His purpose. Inevitably, the person He chose was a person available to Him.
Judges, Chapter 3, tells three stories. Certainly the first judge mentioned possessed all the credentials you would expect from a hero. Othniel (3:7-11) was a man of outstanding character. His resume was impressive and his family was noted in the community. He was talented, proven, and recognized.
Think back a moment in biblical history to the twelve spies sent by Moses to investigate the Promised Land. Ten returned to declare, “There’s not a chance of whipping those folk. They are giants!” But there were two others, Joshua and Caleb, who saw the land God promised and knew He was big enough to give Israel the victory, giants or no giants.
Othniel was either Caleb’s younger brother or his nephew (3:9). It really doesn’t matter. Families were extremely close in biblical times. Whether brother or nephew, Caleb would have had a profound effect upon Othniel. What a mentor!
But Othniel didn’t just have good genes. He had proven himself in battle. He fought alongside Caleb and even went on special assignment. He was a victorious conqueror (1:11-13).
The task at hand was to defeat the king of Mesopotamia (no small matter). His pre-battle speech was likely similar to one of Patton’s. “Men, some of us are going to die today. But, that is an honor. Not many men have the chance to die a hero. Most men die in their beds.”
The third chapter tells the tale. Othniel was courageous. Israel was inspired. The nation enjoyed a tremendous victory and was saved.
What was the key to Othniel’s success? Was it because he was a born leader? Perhaps it was because Caleb was his mentor. Maybe he won because of his family lineage or because he was battle-tested and didn’t flinch under fire. What was it? What were the keys to his victory?
None of the above.
Judges reports that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him and gave him victory (3:10). Othniel trusted God, not himself, and as a result Israel was delivered.
Mark this down: When a man trusts God, not his own abilities or credentials, God makes that man influential in the kingdom and among men.
The chapter proceeds with a second story (3:12-30). This time, the hero is Ehud and the tale is one of suspense and intrigue.
Israel had once again failed to follow God. Their disobedience landed them in bondage to Eglon, the king of Moab. The story reports that Eglon was exacting princely sums of tribute money from Israel that had to be paid in person.
This is where the story takes a turn. Ehud is selected to carry Israel’s tribute money. The dilemma lay in the fact that Ehud was a man with a disability. He was left-handed.
“Left-handed,” you say, “What’s the problem with that?”
None—in today’s world. But being left-handed in ancient times was not viewed as it is today. Being left-handed in ancient times meant you were suspect. You were viewed as demonized, sinister, evil. Ehud was an outcast. He was cursed. So profound was his disability that he would rather have been born without a left arm than to go through life being left-handed!
But God used Ehud to deliver Israel. In fact, His plan for deliverance necessitated a man with the exact disability afflicting Ehud.
Ehud made a double-edged dagger. When he collected the tribute money from his countrymen, Ehud strapped his dagger to his right thigh, and went to pay Israel’s tribute.
The guards at the door never suspected anyone to be audacious or unconscionable enough to send an afflicted, cursed, flawed, and outcast emissary to represent the nation. The mission to pay tribute was too important and the king too powerful. Consequently, there was no point in frisking the right side of those going in to see the king.
The guards patted down Ehud’s left hip, the only reasonable place for a weapon to be hidden (by a right-handed swordsman). Finding nothing amiss, Ehud passed through security for his appointment with Eglon and destiny.
Once inside the throne room, Ehud presented Eglon with Israel’s tribute and then announced that he had a special word from God just for “Eggie.” The king demanded to be left alone for his private hearing with Ehud.
As God’s judge reached his right hand up behind Eglon’s head to whisper in his ear, that dominant left hand so despised by the world and so shameful and inconvenient to Ehud, reached to his right thigh for the hidden weapon. Ehud muffled Eglon’s mouth against his shoulder as he thrust the dagger into the king’s stomach and twisted the blades to create maximum damage. With the strength of his left hand, Ehud eviscerated Eglon and assassinated him. A right-handed man would never have made it to the king’s chamber.
God used a man with a disability. Ehud’s impediment was God’s strength. Ehud made himself available and God delivered a multitude through him.
Most of us are fraught with disability: Poor appearance, compromised, binding circumstances, rejected, divorced, you had to get married, your kid’s in trouble with the law—or perhaps you are—you are old, failed, alone, dismissed, determined insignificant, sick, terminal. Yes. The list of impediments is long in this life. But God. (Have you ever studied the “but God” verses?) But God uses impediments to demonstrate His strength. Just as he did with Ehud, God will do with us if we are available to Him.
Ehud left his homemade blade buried in the king’s belly. He exited the chamber and locked the door behind him. Eglon’s guards figured their master was in the bathroom.
When Ehud returned from Moab to Israel, he declared God’s deliverance. What was the key to his success?
Mark this down: When a man trusts God, regardless of his limitations, God makes that man influential in the kingdom and among men.
The final story from Chapter 3 is about Shamgar. Unlike Othniel, Shamgar was not afflicted with a disability like Ehud, per se, but he did face a unique challenge. This judge was a poor boy, from a poor and pagan family, from the other side of the tracks.
Shamgar came from a pagan family. His name was Canaanite, not Hebrew, and his dad was named after the goddess of war, Anath, who was married to Baal, the god of sex and rain who just happened to be Anath’s brother. Now if that wouldn’t make a good Israelite’s skin crawl, I don’t know what would.
The Canaanite religion was polytheistic, pagan, and sensual while Israel lived under the laws of, “Thou shalt have no other gods… no graven images… (and) thou shalt not commit adultery.” Shamgar embodied everything Israel—and Israel’s God—was against. Never mind that he was also dirt poor.
The test devotes exactly one verse to Shamgar’s posterity and feat (3:31), but notes that in his quest to deliver Israel he used the only thing available to him in fighting the Philistines: an ox goad. Poor folks were the only ones who had ox goads. They used these sticks to keep their dumb animals going straight as they walked along behind them.
Everything in Shagmar’s life was wrong. His name was wrong, his family was wrong, his heritage was wrong, and his status was worse than inconsequential. He was of no count.
But, God used him in a mighty manner. Why?
For the same reason He used Othniel and Ehud. Shamgar was available to God. He was ready to use everything in God’s service. And God, who condescends to include those available to Him, delivered His chosen people with an ox goad in the hands of an outcast.
Mark this down: When a man trusts God, in spite of his circumstances or his means, God makes that man influential in the kingdom and among men.
Are you useful?
Because Othniel trusted God instead of himself, Israel had rest for forty years. Because Ehud yielded his disability to God, Israel was not disturbed for eighty years. Because Shamgar gave himself to God—ox goad and all—Israel was saved.
“Othniel,” do you have a lot going for you? A good family, nice clothes, money, reputation, self-confidence, friends, leadership ability, distinction? Will this set you apart to be used by God?
“Ehud,” do you have limitations, impediments? Lack of talent, a stigma, mistakes in your past, poor self-image, loss, failure? Will this limit your usefulness to God?
“Shamgar,” do you seemingly have nothing but the bare necessities? Is everything against you? Your name, heritage, family and status, your lack of resources? Will this limit your availability to God?
What does it take to be used by God?
“Shamgar,” you must lay down your lack of credentials and abilities. “Ehud,” you must lay down your limitations and disabilities. “Othniel.” Oh, “Othniel.” You must lay down your abilities—availability is so counterintuitive for you.
If we want to be in league with God’s initiatives, we must all say, “Father God, use me where you wish, as you see fit. I’m available. Keep me on the cutting edge of your will. Show me your way. I know I have nothing to bring to the cause that you need, but here is my heart. In the depths of my soul I desire you more than life itself. Let me walk with you, and if there is a cause in the Kingdom that I can participate in, here I am, Father. I’m available.”
[i] Reference: Inrig, Gary: Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay