An unlikely hero

Ehud-and-EglonIt’s a story that makes the best of us squirm: a fat king taken by surprise by a feisty little Benjamite who pulls a knife on him and spills his guts all over the floor.

At least that’s how the bible pictures it.  You mean that’s in the Bible?  Yep – Judges chapter 3.  You can read if for yourself.  It’s one of 3 stories about men who were made strong out of weakness.  The first – Othniel, an outsider who becomes a spirit-filled warrior.  The third – Shamgar, who takes on 600 Philistines with nothing but a cattle-prod.  In the middle we have Ehud, the left-handed Benjamite who wins a great victory for God’s people against the Moabites.

In case you didn’t know, being left-handed in the Bible was not considered a strength.  It’s the RIGHT HAND which is the symbol of strength.  God swears by his right hand. Pleasures lie at God’s right hand. Jesus is sitting at the right hand.  Today men greet each other by shaking hands and it’s always the right hand. There’s a reason for that which goes a long way back. You can’t draw your sword from its sheath while you’re shaking hands, as men fought with their right hands.

Unless of course you’re a lefty, like Ehud. Then it becomes an advantage.

Ehud is up against quite a foe.  King Eglon is his name.  We are told in Judges 3:17 that he was a very fat.  He must have been really fat because his gut managed to swallow up an 18 inch sword and leave no trace. I tried to picture this guy and I thought of that character Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars. Do you remember him? Yep, that’s Eglon, sitting in his palace at Jericho (the city of Palms), getting fatter by the minute by oppressing the poor Israelites.  Eglon’s name means “calf.” There’s wonderful satire here. This overweight king, who has been ruling Israel for 18 years, is being prepared as God’s fattened calf.

In verse 16 we discover that Ehud makes himself a sword with two edges a cubit in length.  A cubit is the distance between the elbow and the middle finger. This is no pen knife. Ehud means business. And he bound it under his right thigh under his clothes, where fat king Eglon’s security team won’t be looking. They would have frisked him before allowing him to enter Elgon’s presence, looking for any strange bulges on his left side.

We are told in verse 15 that the people of Israel send tribute to Eglon the king of Moab by way of a delegation and the head of the delegation is Ehud. After presenting the tribute, Ehud sends the others off and returns to king Eglon and says, “I have a secret message for you, O king” (v.19). We of course know what that secret message is, stored safety away under his cloak. But stupid fat Eglon perceives it as some oracle obtained by the idols.

What could this be? He wonders. What special message might the gods have for me?

Eglon then dismisses all the guards and Ehud approaches him and says, “I have a message from God for you.” Eglon is so eager he rises from his seat (which, by the way, would have taken tremendous effort).  And here’s the best part:

“And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out.” (3:21–22)

Since the folds of Eglon’s fat close over the blade it isn’t likely anything came out through the wound. Reading between the lines, realizing in horror what has happened, he loses all bodily control and messes his pants. Ehud then quietly goes out the back entrance, locks the doors, and disappears.   Meanwhile the guards, who are waiting outside, are starting to wonder what is going on. From the stink wafting out under the door they assume he’s relieving himself. They finally muster up the nerve to unlock the doors and there they see their master, dead on the floor, in a pile of you-know-what.

It’s sinister and it’s messy.  But it sure is effective!  Ehud has struck and escaped. He sounds the trumpet and leads the Israelites to victory. 10,000 elite Moabite troops fall. And God grants Israel another 80 years of peace.

There’s some wonderful lessons we can draw from this story which I’d like to close with:

  1.  First, it is a serious matter to oppress and crush God’s people (even if you’re big man like Eglon). Don’t try it or you might become the butt of one of God’s jokes.
  2. Second, God is far from dull and boring.  He really does have a sense of humour.  I know there are those who are unhappy with stories like this and don’t see the humour in it at all. God uses an assassin who dupes a king into meeting him alone? Yes he does. And Eglon had it coming. He got what he deserved. See it for what it is.
  3. Third, Ehud point us to the most unexpected “left-handed” person of all. When the great judge and deliverer came, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men.” (Isaiah 53:2–3).  Like Ehud, he won the victory for God’s people all alone and was not in any way helped by them. And like Ehud, the crushed his enemies not by his strength, but by his weakness.
  4. Fourth and lastly, Ehud point not only to Jesus but ourselves. Think of what you were before you were called: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” (1 Corinthians 1:26–27).  Look at the kind of people God saves. Are they the elite of the world? Are they the cream of the cream? The top performers? I don’t think so.Many churches make the mistake, when they are choosing leaders, to look for the most confident, most competent and most successful. But that’s not who God chooses to use. Do you know the kind of people God likes to use? The unqualified and ungifted; people with personality problems and character defects. The kind of people we might thing are completely unusable by God. That’s why I tell people never, ever underestimate the kind of person might save and use.It’s all about grace. If God can use Othniel’s, Ehud’s and Shamgar’s, then he can use you. It won’t be because you’ve got it altogether. It will be because of his grace.


(Note: this was taken from a sermon I preached from the book of Judges.  If you would like to hear this message you can view or download it here)
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