We are continuing our journey through the book of Judges, looking at Ehud—the Left-Handed Judge. Othniel has died and Israel has once again drifted in idol worship and wanting to be more like the nations around them rather than as a distinct people of God. God allows King Eglon of Moab, with the help of the Ammonites and Amalekites, to conquer Israel and make them his subjects. Once again, the Israelites cry out to God. God stays true to his covenant with them and raises up Ehud, a left-handed man, to deliver them from Eglon. Ehud would not have been Israel’s first choice of a hero, but God often uses the unexpected to save his people.
Judges 3:12-30 Ehud—The Left-handed Judge
This morning we’re returning to our journey through the book of Judges, a book that tells the story of Israel’s increasing love affair with the nations around them and their gods. In this story, the writer reminds the listeners that the nations and their gods don’t care about Israel at all, only seeing Israel as an annoyance or a source of slave labour or tribute. Yet Judges has huge God moments where God shows us that he stays true to his promise to never break covenant with his people; the key theme of Judges, however God does allow his people to experience the consequences of their unfaithfulness and choices; allowing the nations and gods they keep choosing over him to dominate and enslave them. Jesus often does the same with us today; not necessarily directly punishing us, but allowing the consequences of our choices when we choose to listen to other voices instead of Jesus to play out, leading to hurt, brokenness, loneliness, and more. Yet Jesus also stays true to his promises and covenant to us, never abandoning us and working through the Holy Spirit to keep drawing us back to him for healing and hope.
Israel’s first judge Othniel was a powerful warrior. After defeating Cushan the Wicked, Israel has peace for 40 years until Othniel dies and Israel begins a new love affair with the nations around them and their pagan gods again. So God allows King Eglon of Moab to have power over Israel. Eglon convinced the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him in attaching Israel, beginning with the City of Palms, the city we know as Jericho, situated near the Jordan River and the main route into Israel, the first victory God gave Israel when they first entered the Promised Land and claimed it as a gift from God. All these nations are connected to Israel historically: Moab and the Amalekites come from Lot and his relationship with his two daughters, while the Ammonites are the descendants of Esau, brother of the patriarch Jacob. The Israelites are oppressed for 18 years and then cry out to the Lord for help.
The Lord chooses a clever resourceful deliver for them, a left-handed man from the tribe of Benjamin named Ehud. In the story of Ehud, there are a number of puns, some crude humour, and mockery in this story and it begins with the Lord choosing a left-handed man from a tribe of Benjamin since Benjamin means “Son of my Right Hand.” The right-hand side was considered the side of power and privilege. Later in Judges, we’re told that left-handedness is quite common among the people of Benjamin. It makes me wonder why left-handedness becomes seen as something wrong or at least undesired. In Matthew, when Jesus talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats, the goats, those who have not accepted Jesus are placed to the left, while the sheep are placed on the right, the side of power. My brother is left-handed and in school, a Christian school, they forced him to learn to write with his right hand. With the emphasis so heavy in this story of Ehud that he is left-handed, questions come up, some of which are answered, some which aren’t.
We heard the story read, Ehud is sent to take Israel’s tribute to King Eglon of Moab, a humiliating task. Now Ehud is resourceful, making for himself a double-edged sword, likely about 1 1/2 feet long and straps it to his right thigh to sneak it past the guards who would have checked out his right thigh less closely since most people are right-handed and would have strapped a sword or dagger to their left thigh to make it quickly available. The Lord uses Ehud left-handedness to allow him to deliver the people from Eglon, more of that in a moment.
To the Israelites, this story is a comedic story of deliverance. The writer makes sure to tell his listeners that Eglon is a very fat man. We’re given a picture of a huge obese king sitting on a throne in all his kingly clothes waiting for all his subjects to come up to him with all their tribute. But we also quickly see that Eglon is a very vain king, which was very common among rulers at that time, which is why Jesus’ call for his followers to be humble servant leaders is so counter cultural. Ehud arrives with his men, offers the tribute from Israel, leaves with his men, but then sends his men away while Ehud makes his way back to the king, saying that he has a secret for the king’s ears alone. If you’re a vain sort of person, this kind of thing is music for your ears, so Eglon allows Ehud to come back in, after-all his guards have already checked this Jew for weapons and found nothing.
Eglon sends his attendants way and Ehud comes close, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message from God for you.” Eglon leans forward to get up and while he’s in this helpless position, hands on the arms of the throne, pushing his massive body up, and Ehud draws his sword from his right thigh and stabs the very fat king right through the belly. Eglon is so fat that the handle of Ehud’s sword is swallowed up by the king’s belly. Then a horrible stink fills the throne room, the king’s bowels are unleashed, and he fills his royal robes with a smelly mess. As the mess fills the room, Ehud escapes through the porch, locking the doors behind him.
While the Israelites listening to this story of Ehud and Eglon roar with laughter, they laugh even harder when they hear that the guards come to the door of the king’s throne room, but they’re too embarrassed to knock because it smells like the king is going to the bathroom. Every child who is listening to the Jewish elder telling this story of God’s deliverance is now laughing so hard the tears are flowing from their eyes! This gives Ehud lots of time to escape and call the men of Israel to come and fight back against the Moab oppressors.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, after a really long embarrassing wait, the servants finally get brave enough to unlock the door where they find King Eglon lying on the floor in his own mess, dead. Ehud now leads the Israelites against Moab, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan so that Moabites cannot get military reinforcements from home. This is like what the Ukraine was doing when they destroyed that Russian bridge going onto the Crimea, making it more difficult for the Russians to move troops and equipment into the battle area. The Lord gives Ehud and his men victory, “At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped.” Moab now becomes subject to Israel, a complete reversal of Moab’s oppression of Israel the past 18 years. For the Israelites, this becomes an amazing story of deliverance through an unlikely deliverer with much laughter directed towards Israel’s enemies thrown in.
The Lord uses an unexpected person to save Israel, a left-handed man from a tribe that later is disgraced. So, we should not be surprised that the people we tend to look up to the most, are often not the ones God turns to in order to accomplish his plans. When the Lord chooses young David over his older brothers to become the next king of Israel, we’re told that the Lord looks at the heart rather than the looks or popularity of the person he chooses to move his plans to save all his people.
God always stays true to his covenant promises to us, yet he will often surprise us in who he works through. This is part of the reason so few people recognized Jesus when he came, even though the prophet Isaiah had told them years earlier that when the Judge comes, Isaiah 53:2–3, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Ehud goes up against Eglon on his own, only rallying his men behind him after Eglon is dead. Jesus goes up against Satan on his own, defeating him, not through military power and a sword, but through a completely unexpected sacrifice on the cross, dying so we can have life.
From what we first see, Jesus is totally defeated, and it’s only three days later when we come to an empty grave that we discover that the Lord uses the unexpected to defeat Satan and to keep his covenant to send the world a saviour who would crush the serpent’s head. We all need saving, we’re often more like the Israelites than we want to admit, chasing after all the little gods around us, all the shiny glittery promises our culture promises us if we only accept their truths over Jesus’ truths and call on our lives. We are attracted to the big, bright, and beautiful over the simplicity of loving God more than anything else and then loving our neighbours with sacrificial love.
Paul talks to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:26–29, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” Paul goes on to tell us to keep our focus and eyes on Jesus who is our wisdom, our deliverer, and Lord.