Admittedly, there are some stories in the Bible that can be expressed as graphic or grotesque. There is blood, battle, decapitation, judgment, dismemberment, and cruelty described in very plain language. Sometimes we try to leave these stories alone, hoping to ignore them and spare ourselves from facing the hard truths behind them. But our God put these things in His book for a reason, and I have always believed that every word, every character, even every punctuation mark has some spiritual significance. After all, Paul wrote that “all scripture is inspired of God and profitable…” (1 Timothy 3:16). The stories of old were passed down to us for the purpose of educating us (Romans 15:4). “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). So as much as we want to spend our time focusing on the lovely, pretty parts of the Bible, there is also a need to spend an appropriate amount of time on every story in the Bible. Not so much time that we constantly expose ourselves to graphic images, but enough that we are impressed by the righteousness and the swiftness of God’s judgments. One such story is that of Ehud, who is described in Judges 3:12-30.
The story of Ehud, the second judge of Israel, begins with a familiar phrase. How many times throughout their history will the people of God fall into tribulation because of their refusal to do good in the sight of the Lord? How often would they abandon the way of righteousness in favor of idols, adultery, and immorality? How often do we? It is amazing how quickly these people gave in to sin – at this time being only sixty years after the death of their great leader Joshua. In sixty years, only two generations, God’s chosen people had gone from being on the brink of total Canaanite domination, to being totally dominated by Canaanites. The reforms of Othniel (Judges 3:9-11) had not lasted long before Israel was once again flirting with disaster and in desperate need of a deliverer.
It is important that we preface the life of Ehud the judge with some background information. Upon Othniel’s death, Israel once again fell into administrative chaos. Annoyed with such foolish activities, the king of Moab, a man named Eglon formed a coalition force of Moabite, Ammonite, and Amalekite soldiers and flooded the region of Israel just beyond the Jordan river. Because the city of palm trees, otherwise known as Jericho, was the very first city after crossing the fords of the Jordan, this was the first municipality to be conquered by the invading army. Since the city’s destruction nearly sixty years earlier, it is apparent that some Israelites had partially rebuilt it, knowing very well that it was an economic and strategic focal point. It commanded the fords of the river, and was therefore an important trading destination. Because of Joshua’s curse on the city, however (Joshua 6:26), they were unwilling to fortify Jericho, making it an easy target for Eglon. In an act of mockery, Eglon constructed a palace where Jericho once stood (Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, 5:4:1).
For eighteen years, the people of Israel suffered harsh treatment at the hands of the Moabites. Is it not amazing how long some people are willing to put up with misery for the sake of their sin? It took eighteen years for them to finally stop their activities and realize that they were doings something wrong! How long does it take us? It is unfortunate that some people spend entire lifetimes in the vanity and slavery of sin (2 Peter 2:19) without every getting the picture that they are doing something foolish.
The years of servitude had obviously worn down the proud spirits of the Israelites, to the point that they were finally willing to cry to God and receive mercy. It is sad that so many people consider the Lord a “last resort.” They save Him for the time when they know nothing else will work – death bed “conversions,” last minute prayers, the exhaustion of all worldly means of help, abuse of religious charities or generally charitable Christians. It is only when some people are at their wits’ end that they finally go to God for help – such as Jonah, who needed to fall overboard in a storm and be swallowed by a giant sea creature to finally pray to God (Jonah 2:7). Of course, Jehovah is a loving, merciful God “who desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). In His wisdom and providence, He brings forth a man of great courage and physical strength (evidenced by the fact that it would take strength to thrust a sword so deeply into a fat man’s belly).
There are some very encouraging points that we can note about God’s chosen “deliverer.” First of all, let us be impressed by the fact that God can use anybody, any weapon, in any way He desires to bring about the redemption of His people – our God has no need for the “conventional” tools of mankind. Notice a few things about some of the heroes from only the book of Judges. God does not need a great army to defeat 600 Philistines in Judges 3:31, only a single man named Shamgar, with no weapon but a standard ox goad. In Judges 4, God is able to defeat the mighty Sisera with only the help of Jael and a tent peg. In Judges 7, God begins with 22,000 available men but chooses to use only 300 to defeat His enemies. God uses Jephthah, the son of a harlot, in Judges 11. A single man named Samson killed thousands of Philistines with nothing more than his bare hands and a jawbone. As for Ehud, consider his disadvantages. “He was of the less important tribe; personally obscure; physically ‘defective.’ So God uses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty…” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. III, 37). Traditionally, Ehud had a number of handicaps, beginning with his position in the lowliest of all the tribes, and ending in his supposed weakness. In many cultures, the left hand is the more feeble of the two, as it often symbolizes impotence, powerlessness, infertility, and disrespect. The right, on the other hand, is almost used as the symbol of power and strength (Psalm 44:3, 45:4, 138:7, Revelation 2:1). In a sense, then, God is using an impotent soldier to fight His battle against Eglon and Moab.
Ehud knew an opportunity when he saw one, and there many instances in which we find him taking advantage of open opportunities. He knows when he is catching a break. I think that we can praise this judge for his courageous and self-motivated spirit. He does not need the advice or the charge of the other Israelites, only the right time to strike. In preparation for that time, he fashions a sword for himself that is appropriately designed for his left handedness. We can easily draw a parallel to ourselves in this case – like Ehud, we must be eagerly seeking and awaiting opportunities to strike a blow to Satan. Furthermore, we ought to prepare ourselves ahead of time so that we will not be caught unprepared on the day of trial (2 Timothy 2:21, 2 Corinthians 9:1-4). In the same way that Ehud made his sword and fastened it to himself, we should completely understand the analogy of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:13-17, “Stand firm, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace…” A lot of times we do not prepare ourselves very well. We do not always have an answer at the tip of our tongues (1 Peter 3:16), even though we ought to study in such a way that we do. A warrior never goes into battle without making himself completely aware of the terrain, the strength of his enemy, and the confidence of his own forces. What makes any of us, as spiritual warriors for the Gospel, think that we can go to battle each day without reading the Bible, praying to God diligently for strength, and keeping ourselves pure and pious in our morality? Unprepared warriors die in battle, and we shall share a similar (and far worse) fate in our spiritual warfare.
“Eglon was a very fat man.” One can assume that his obesity was not what we call a glandular problem, or as the result of genetic predisposition. Rather, this is the kind of fatness that is caused by sinful opulence and gluttony (Psalm 73:4,7). Eglon was a man who had spent his career consuming the wealth of other nations, taking advantage of the weak and sick, and feeding off of the produce of hard workers. Not only was he a massive man in body, but his position and reputation also would have been perfect for cultivating a spirit of fatness. In the history of mankind, few characters have so perfectly personified gluttony. Are we ever like fat King Eglon? When times are good, do we live off the produce of others, or become sleek and fat from wasteful and boisterous living? Do we end up like the sons of Israel, who are described so vividly in Amos 6:4-7 as becoming fat from reclining on beds and couches and composing poetry all day? Truly, God has no room in His kingdom for men like Eglon, who waste the good things of this life on themselves (Philippians 3:19).
The problem with men like Eglon is that they let their pride get the best of them. From his perspective, he was invincible – he did not have to heed the warnings about overeating, gluttonous living, a boisterous spiritual life, blasphemy, and even secret assassins. This pitiful man Ehud was no threat to him, and the deal was further sweetened by the delightful tribute sent to him from the storehouses of the Israelites. Like Eglon, we do not always see the dangers all around us. Our pride and boastfulness blinds us to even the possibility. When we consider the spiritual shipwreck of some apostates (1 Timothy 1:19), we proudly proclaim, “It would never happen to me!” When we read about the failures of fallen churches, once adorned with the light of the Lord but now darkened by false teaching or disputes, we say, “No way, not this congregation!” When we consider the malfunction of many families today and yesterday, some proud parents conclude, “Not my own family!” King Eglon never saw his fate coming because he did not even consider Ehud a hazard.
Ehud uses stealth and cleverness to fulfill his plan, and some have considered this story to be an example of situation ethics, that is, the approval of God for some sins some of the time. In this case, God seems to be wholeheartedly approving of lying and deception. While this satisfies most readers of the Bible, we need to stop and realize that God’s laws do not change (Malachi 3:6), therefore there must be a better explanation. First, the fact that an event is recorded in the Bible does not signify God’s approval of it. Even evil men doing evil deeds can somehow be an integral part of God’s will (Proverbs 16:4) – consider the Pharaoh and his stubborn heart, the deeds of Samson (obviously sinful, but still useful to God), the judgments of God at the hands of the evil nations of the world (Judges 3:1-4). There is yet another way that we can view Ehud’s actions; during times of war combatants regularly use methods of stealth to win the battle against their enemies – such as camouflage, stealth technology, trickery on the battle field (Judges 7:19-23), and other methods of gaining victory. The only way that Ehud could have gotten close enough to assassinate Eglon would be by utilizing deception and his special talents as a left-handed man. None of the guards of Eglon would suspect any trouble from an unarmed man – for any right-handed man would have a sword or dagger tied to his left thigh.
In any case, Ehud commits no act of lying when he tells Eglon, “I have a secret message from God for you.” Indeed, he does have a message for him; a very clear message of judgment.
At this point in the story, many readers grimace at the grotesque details of Eglon’s death. There is no denying the fact that his assassination is rather disgusting. But it is my firm belief that this account was put in the Bible for a reason, and there are many good lessons to be learned from it. First, let us be impressed at the severity of God, just as we are told in Romans 11:22. “After all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you…” (2 Thessalonians 1:6). All of this is meant to show just how much we need to be obedient to Him, lest we share in the same fate of suffering. God is never afraid to show His just and righteous nature in dealing with cruel people – even to the point of approving of their slaughter at the hands of His servants (also see the death of Agag in 1 Samuel 15:33). Do any of us think that we deserve better treatment in view of our sins? If so, then we have forgotten the point behind Lamentations 3:39!
Again, we see some of the opportunities of Ehud. Had he been a less observant and patient person, he may have never escaped from the fortress at Jericho, and his story in the book of Judges would be much shorter. Instead, he calmly escapes through the roof chamber, leaving the wicked man Eglon dead and his contingent of bodyguards dumbfounded. The slackness of the soldiers proves to be the undoing for the short-lived Moabite invasion of Israel. Their gullibility and irrational laziness were the perfect combination for Ehud, the Judge of God, to infiltrate their safest outpost and kill their hapless leader in his roof chamber. What these guards must have felt could only be compared to an assassin killing our president in the oval office, and then getting away with it without a scratch.
“Ehud escaped while they were delaying…” How much do we miss when we delay? How many enemies of God manage to infiltrate the church when we stop caring about doctrinal purity, or when we decide that we deserve a break from the work? Contrasted so starkly with Ehud’s cleverness and precision is the incapability of the Moabite guards. Who do we strive to emulate? Either we will be like the church in Thyatira, which is described as “tolerating” false teachers in Revelation 2:20, or we will be more like Paul, who was not tricked for even a moment when the apostates tried to “spy out” his liberty in Galatians 2:4-5. “He passed by the idols and escaped…” Is that not wonderful imagery? As further evidence of the complete power of Jehovah, Ehud completes his secret mission under the direct gaze of the gods that were supposed to be protecting Eglon! In defiance and in confidence in the name of God!
The Aftermath – Judges 3:27-30
Having escaped the wrath of the Moabites, Ehud is face with yet another opportunity which he boldly seizes. He knows that time is vital if he wants to strike a killer blow to the Moabite invaders – they are confused, lacking a leader, and liable to crack under the initial pressure of an offensive. With those facts in mind, Ehud blows his trumpets and calls for an attack “And he was in front of them.” It is certainly good to see a leader whoa actually leads, unlike some men who command their forces from the rear! “‘Pursue them, for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hands.’” He is also a man of great humility, boldly proclaiming that the victory is not his, but the Lord’s
Today, we are faced with very similar spiritual opportunities. While we do not have the opportunity to slaughter our enemies the way Ehud did, we do have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:13-17). We do have the opportunity to present sinners with “a message from God,” though not one of judgment and wrath, but of peace, joy, love, repentance, and, ultimately, God’s mercy. We also have the opportunity to escape the snares of our enemies, perhaps right under the watchful eyes of false Gods. We have the opportunity to lead others into the fields of evangelism (Matthew 9:37-38). We have the opportunity, all around us, to administer the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to a lost and dying world, so eager to accept God’s grace.
“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).