Judges Sermon # 5 Judges 3:12-30 June 11, 2017
“The Lord Works through a Surprising Savior”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Try to listen to this story the way an Israelite would have heard it; an Israelite who had been oppressed for 18 years, living under this foreign tyrant Eglon. Imagine how they might have laughed at how the Lord defeated their enemy, much like the way modern Jews celebrate the feast of Purim (the story of Esther). Indeed, the way in which the Lord saved His people and defeated Eglon would have seemed wonderfully hilarious in their eyes!
12 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel.13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms 14 The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.
15 Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. 16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit[d] long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. 18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. 19 But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”
The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left.
20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace[e] and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.
26 While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the stone images and escaped to Seirah. 27 When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them.
28 “Follow me,” he ordered, “for the Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab; they allowed no one to cross over.29 At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped. 30 That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.
How do we understand and apply this story? Does it teach us something praiseworthy about the Lord? Is there anything about Ehud we should imitate? Is there a promise to claim or a command to obey? It’s hard to imagine a preacher pointing us to Ehud, who uses deception to murder a king, and telling us “Now go and do likewise!” We can’t imagine a Sunday School teacher instructing a class of little “Ehuds” to stab some overweight kid, playing the role of Eglon, can we?
Well, it’s helpful to look at the main point of the story inv. 15 “Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and He gave them a deliverer…” Note that the Lord raised up a deliverer, a judge, a savior. It does not say that God raised up an assassin or a deceiver, but a deliverer. Our God delights to save His people, to save us, in our afflictions and misery, and out of our sin. That’s a starting point: our God saves. This is consistent with God’s message from Gen. 3:15 through the end of Revelation: our God saves… and He does so through judgment upon the wicked.
Now unlike the basic salvation story we saw last Sunday with Othniel, we also notice that our God saves in this story in unexpected ways. He works through Ehud, a surprising savior, and He uses him in a totally unexpected way! And that is something that the Lord does over and over again: He brings deliverance and salvation is unexpected ways, through surprising people… so that we need to keep relying on Him, and so that He gets the glory for how He does it!
We get a hint of the surprising and unexpected ways of the Lord in vv. 24-25, in the original Hebrew language. For three times in vv. 24-25 the Hebrew word “Hinneh” appears, which can mean “Behold!” or “Surprise!” The idea is that a number of unexpected things are happening here, and we should look for them! This is an account of God’s deliverance that is full of humor and satire. God is sovereignly poking fun at Israel’s enemies, even as we are told in Psalm 2:4 and Psalm 37:12-13 that the Lord laughs at his enemies when they think they are so clever!
The Lord uses necessary violence here to overthrow His enemies, but He also mocks those who scorn him. We might say this is a violent comedy, as the Lord turns the tables on a high and mighty evil ruler.
The “gospel of Ehud” is a story of joyous laughter and victorious surprises, just as the gospel of Jesus Christ is: a crucified savior triumphing over our enemies, prompting us to sing for joy!
My friend Dr. George Schwab notes in his commentary on Judges that we should read this story on two levels, one historic and the other symbolic. The symbolism is seen in the choice of certain words used:
- Eglon, King of Moab, means “Little calf” – a common animal used for sacrifices. It is also feminine, thus it could mean “Little effeminate calf.”
- The “tribute” that Ehud brought to Eglon (v. 15) is used to mean an “offering” that an Israelite would bring to the altar of the Lord.
- The word “presented” or “brought near” (v.17) also describes how a worshipper would bring or present a sacrifice to the altar.
- The Hebrew word for Ehud’s blade is literally “flame” (v. 22); nowhere else in Scripture does it mean blade.
Let’s put all these words and their symbolic meaning together: On one level, Ehud stabs Eglon with his “blade,” while on another level, Ehud treats Eglon like a burnt offering! On one level this is the story of an assassination, while on another level, it is the account of an animal sacrifice offered up to the Lord. In other words, Eglon was “as helpless in Israel’s hands as a sacrificial animal is in the hands of a priest.” We might say that this killing of Eglon was like offering a sacrificial animal to the Lord, a service to God, an act of worship. The Israelites listening to this account would have understood this symbolism and irony, and been laughing at the double meanings of these words. And we can see in Ehud a foreshadowing of Christ crushing the head of the seed of the serpent here, and then mocking those who shook their fist at the Lord!
Now there are a number of unexpected twists and turns in this story:
- Moab is an unexpected enemy (not among the original listed foes; Moab’s land was not part of the promised land; and the Moabites were related to Israel through Lot)
- Ehud is an unexpected deliver (as a left handed man, and as a Benjaminite)
“The principle of the left hand: God works in unexpected ways through unexpected people (see 1 Cor. 1:26-29) so that no one might boast in His presence.” While the Bible often talks about God’s right hand, meaning His hand of power and of blessing, here we have an unexpected left-handed savior. The Hebrew text says that Ehud could not use his right hand. It says that he was “impeded on his right side.’ Perhaps his right hand was deformed or paralyzed. Therefore others did not think he had the “dexterity” to handle a sword. In addition, Benjamin, his tribe, means “son of my right hand,” yet here is this man who uses his left hand! Perhaps because of his disability with his right hand, which was normally the sword hand, Eglon thought he presented no threat to security. The point of the story is that everyone in Moab is focusing on Ehud’s useless right hand. No one is expecting anything from Ehud’s left hand! This is why he was admitted into the presence of the king. Because of his disability, he seems to present no security risk to the king. Yet God loves to work in unexpected ways and through unlikely people… even you and me… and even the Maple Glen Church.
3. Ehud gives Eglon an unexpected message (v. 19)
Ehud had been sent to King Eglon with a mission to bring tribute to him; a mission of humiliation and servitude by a defeated people to a foreign oppressor. But while the tribute may have been delivered by his withered right hand, a message of overthrowing the king and liberating God’s people was delivered by his left hand! In v. 19, when Ehud tells the king, “I have a secret message for you” – the word message could be translated “thing.” Let’s pause and ask ourselves the question: “What does the king think he has for him? More tribute?” Or could he be expecting a sexual favor, of the homosexual variety? (Remember that “Eglon” means “Little effeminate calf.”). It is possible that this king has homosexual tastes, and he was likely expecting that Ehud was coming back to offer him some sexual favors. Why else would the king send his guards away? Then, while the king was expecting something of a sexual nature, Ehud instead pulls out his sword and stabs him! It was at that time that King Eglon finally got the point of the story!
Note that Ehud had fashioned a two-edged sword, which Ehud calls a message from God, or the “Word of God” in v. 20. Think about Hebrews 4:12 – the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword. Jesus Himself uses a two-edged sword to judge the nations and to purify His church, in Rev. 1:16 and 2:12. Therefore we could say that King Eglon, killed by a two-edged sword, is a picture of the time when Christ will come to judge the nations and to defeat his enemies. Ehud’s actions point us to this Christ the King!
Furthermore, George Schwab suggests that this whole scene takes place in the royal bathroom, as the king was sitting on his private commode. This is what his servants thought the king was doing in there for so long. Meanwhile, Ehud makes his escape through the space underneath this upper room toilet, eventually exiting through the septic tank! Now when this story is told to the Israelites, they would have been laughing and howling!
Note that the idol worshipper Eglon is portrayed as stupid and easily deceived, (and his throne is a potty!), while Ehud, the deliverer whom God raises up, is clever. In the larger picture, God is showing us that all who worship idols are foolish and stupid, while true wisdom and victory is found in fearing the Lord. This should make each of us reflect on the idols of our heart. “Lord, show me how I am like Eglon.”
Commentator Dale Davis notes: “The humorous way the story is told is Israel’s way of rejoicing in the underserved grace of the Lord; the narrative itself is a form of praise to the Lord.”
And so there is humor and joy in this story of deliverance, in the way in which the Lord provide salvation over their oppressors. Yet the final ending (4:1 – “after Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”) shows that what we all need is an ultimate Savior, to free us from sin’s power. Nothing Ehud could do could change the hearts of the people of Israel. (Just as no king, no politician, and no charismatic pastor can ever change people’s hearts.)
As Davis observes: “No left-handed savior can break us free from our tyrant. But there is One with nail-scarred hands who can and does.” But we must cry out to him for help.
Our great God has worked out His amazing plan of salvation through a surprising and unexpected Savior – His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Are you trusting Him as your deliverer, your savior, and your king?