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TEXT: Judges 3:12-30
SUBJECT: Judges #4: Ehud
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our Christ-centered study of the Book of Judges. I call it Christ-centered partly because the Hebrew word of 'judge' is.messiah. The Judges were sent by God to save His people from their enemies and from themselves. They did the one by expelling foreign armies and the other by enforcing the Law at home. The eleven men and one woman who judged Israel were true messiahs, real saviors, who served their generations by the will of God.
As good as their work was, however, it was not complete. They defeated some enemies, but not all; and they ruled for a good long time, but not forever. If God is going to save His People once and for all, He's got to do better than Gideon, Deborah, or Samson!
In Jesus Christ, He has done better. What they did in part and for a time, He did fully and forever! The Book of Judges, therefore, is both history and prophecy. It tells what God did to save His people and what He's going to do. We don't know who wrote the Book, but we know what he wrote for: He wrote to fill us with gratitude and hope--to remind us of the mighty works God has done for us and to make us believe the better ones are yet to come!
PEACE AND PROSPERITY
Today's story begins in the customary way, with Israel living in obedience to God and enjoying the riches of His favor. Forty years Othniel has judged them and for the whole time the land had rest. No wars, no famine, no disease, and no crime. These were happy days for the people. But they would not last.
EVIL IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD
Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.
In my Bible there is a period after the death of Othniel and a paragraph break between it and the next verse. These make for easier reading, but I'm not sure they make for better understanding. The revolt against God took place right then and there. The people started whittling idols on their way home from Othniel's funeral! And not just one or two (or even one or two hundred) quit the Lord that day, but the whole nation! Not every single person, of course, but the vast majority turned to idols.
And they did it-v.12 says-
In the sight of the Lord.
This means they did it in broad daylight and with no shame. If secret sins are bad, open sins are worse. At least the secret sinner isn't proud of what he's doing. But the people in our story are! They are worshiping idols in public, and they don't care if the Lord sees them.
The brazenness of their sin is keenly felt when you remember the Lord was married to Israel. He was their loving Husband, who provided for them, overlooked most of their faults and forgave the ones too big to overlook. In return He wanted only one thing: fidelity. Israel must renounce other gods and belong to the Lord only. They do just the opposite: they leave the Lord and cleave to the gods of Canaan. And they do it without a pang of regret, guilt, or fear.
MOAB, AMMON, AND AMALEK
If the people are disloyal to God, He remains loyal to them. Whether He sent prophets at the time, we cannot say; but we know He still spoke to them in their consciences and through the memory of His Law. The Word was full of tender pleadings and of stern warnings. But neither brought the people to their senses. If they would not listen to the Lord when He spoke to them in Hebrew, He will speak to them in Moabite!
The Lord strengthened Eglon, king of Moab against Israel.
Moab had long been a weak people. A generation before they were scared to death of Israel! Their king wouldn't even try to meet them in battle, but hired a witchdoctor in the vain hopes of cursing them. When this failed, Israel beat the Moabites like a rug and took some of their land for good measure. But now, to embarrass His people (and to remind them that their victory over Moab was His doing) the Lord sends the Moabite armies into Israel and they stay there.
The Moabites are not alone. Their king has recruited two other armies to help him and to share the goodies. They are the Ammonites and the Amalakites.
Moab, Ammon, Amalek. The Moabites and Ammonites were closely related to Israel. They were the descendants of Lot, Abraham's nephew. Lot did not father these children, however, by his wife (who was dead when they were born). No, the mothers of Moab and Ammon were Lot's own daughters! The nations were born of incest. Their birth was a kind of prophecy, for no tribes were more wicked than they.
The Lord expected foreigners to join Israel and He told His people to greet them with open arms. But not everyone was welcome. Deuteronomy 23:3 names two who would have no place in the Family-
An Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants shall enter the congregation of the Lord.
If Moab and Ammon were bad, Amalek was worse. When Israel was in the wilderness, the Amalekites attacked them from behind, killing old men, women, and children. This so enraged the Lord that He declared a permanent war on Amalek-every last one of them must die. Many were killed in the days of Moses, most others were killed by King Saul many years later, and the last one, their king, Agag, Samuel took care of-
Hewing him to pieces before the Lord.
For eighteen years Israel was occupied by the most despicable and hateful people in the world.
Speaking of despicable and hateful people, the king of Moab is Eglon. The Bible seldom says what its characters look like, and when it does, we ought to take note of it because it signifies something about the person-
Now Eglon was a very fat man.
I don't think the writer of Judges is merely making fun of the man (he may be doing that too, but that's not all he's doing-or the main thing, either). What he's suggesting to us is that Eglon is gorging himself on Israel's food! The milk and honey are flowing by the bucket into his big fat face!
The king's headquarters is in the city of palms. This is a nickname for the place; its formal name is Jericho. This was the first Canaanite city the Lord gave His people. By giving it to Eglon, He was undoing the Conquest. Remember, the land did not belong to Israel, but to the Lord! They could live there as long as they were faithful to Him. But when they turned away from Him, He took the land back. One day, He would take it all back, but not yet.
For now, only the richness of the land is being siphoned off. Every year the Israelites pay a heavy tribute to the king of Moab. Scholars think it wasn't silver and gold that Eglon demanded but food, tons and tons of yummy food for Moab and its king!
If the fat man is stuffing himself ten times a day the Israelites are doing without. The men are too weak to work; the mothers have no milk for their babies; the eyes of the children are becoming hollow. Broken by hunger and fear, the people, at last-
Cry out to the Lord.
The fact that it took them so long to do it proves how deeply they were into their sin. They would rather go to bed hungry every night than to give up their idols. For eighteen years!
If it took them a long time to cry out for mercy, it didn't take the Lord long to provide it. The first part of v.15 makes you think He did it right away-
And when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them.
Wonder at the Lord's great mercy! He had plenty to resent; the people had treated Him like garbage for years. But the moment they cry out to Him, He hears them. Like the Prodigal's father, every day He's looking for their return. He cocks His ear to hear the first sigh. At their first word, He hurries to their rescue.
Let little fussy people with little fussy hearts and little fussy theories withhold mercy to build the character of those who need it. The Lord is too big for that-
Who is a God like You,
And passing over the transgression of
The remnant of His heritage?
He does not retain His anger forever,
For He delights in mercy.
He will again have compassion on us
And will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
How did the Lord save His people? In the usual way: by providing a Judge named Ehud. The story says a couple of things about the man and it will repay our time to ponder them.
For one thing, He is a Benjamite. The Royal Bloodline ran through Judah. Since the death of Joshua two generations before, this tribe led Israel, and done well. But God is not dependent on bloodlines. He is sovereign and He can choose whom He will and without having to apologize for His choices. No leadership was looked for in Benjamin, but that's where it came from!
Ehud is also a left-handed man. This is what our English Bibles say-as far as I know, they all do. But the Hebrew is slightly different. It says he was restrained in his right hand. In other words, Ehud was left-handed because there was something wrong with his right hand. Maybe it was deformed at birth; maybe he broke it and it didn't heal correctly. In any event, his right had was no good to him.
This is important for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that God uses the weak things of the world to confound the strong. The People of God tend to be misfits and losers. But of course! How else can the Lord get all the glory?
Secondly, the right hand is a symbol of power. When God destroyed Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea, the people sang-
Your right hand, O Lord,
has become glorious in power;
Your right hand, O Lord,
has dashed the enemy in pieces.
If Ehud had won the battle with his right hand, he might have taken credit himself. But the only hand he had use of was his left hand, and so the victory belongs to God's Right Hand!
These two details, which are easy to skip over in getting to 'the action' make Ehud a type of Christ. Who would have chosen a handicapped man from a nothing tribe to save Israel from its enemies? No one but God would do that.
If you wanted to find a Savior, where would you look first? How about a manger? No? A refugee camp? A hick town? A carpenter's shop? Maybe with a bunch of fishermen? At a publican's table? What's say a cross? You would never look in these places for a Savior! No one but God would!
The Lord has chosen Ehud to save His people, and he's going to do it. But not in the expected way. The man forges a knife-dagger is the better word, I think. It is eighteen inches long and sharp on both edges. He ties a sheath to the inside of his right thigh and slips the knife into it.
He then takes his tribute to the king of Moab, and when the king excuses him, he heads home with his servants. When he reaches Gilgal he sees-well, my Bible says, the stone images (v.19). The NASB calls them the idols. I believe the translators are mistaken. The Hebrew word means inscribed stones. Where is Gilgal? It is on the banks of the Jordan River. What happened there? Israel crossed over into the Promised Land. What did they bring with them? Stones from the riverbed. They were set up as witnesses to Israel, reminders of God's power and grace. Seeing the sacred stones spurred Ehud to the work he was called to do.
Letting the servants go on their way, he comes back to the king carrying a secret message, a message from the Lord it was. The king dismisses the royal guard and prepares to receive God's Word. As the king is struggling to his feet, Ehud is bowing humbly before him-and reaching for the knife. When the king says, 'Well, give it to me', he does! Right in his big, fat belly it goes-all the way in (handle and all)! The fat closes around the blade, and in the polite words of the King James Version-
The dirt came out.
The king messed his pants and fell over dead.
Ehud was no liar! He had a message from God for King Eglon and he delivered it.
ESCAPE AND VICTORY
He quietly let himself out and, once he got past the Moabites, he busted it for Mount Ephraim. In the meantime, the king's servants are waiting for their master's call. They wait and wait and wait some more. Where could he be? In the bathroom, of course! A ton in, a ton out! As the minutes turn to hours they finally get up the gumption to barge in on him and when they do they find him dead on the floor.
As the Moabites are panicking, Ehud is mustering the troops of Israel, who march on their oppressors, cut off the escape route, and kill every last one of them-
About ten thousand men of Moab, all stout men of valor; not a man escaped. That day Moab was subdued under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest eighty years.
'SALVATION IS OF THE LORD'
The Lord knows how to save His people. He knew back in the day, and He still knows. We should submit to His way of salvation and never seek our own. He did not save Israel by a law or by a ceremony or by an experience. He saved them by a man, an unexpected man working alone in an unexpected way. That one may was Ehud.
Who pointed to another unexpected Man, Jesus Christ who also worked alone and in a way even less expected than Ehud's. But the work He did He did so well that He secured a complete salvation for everyone who wants it, who wants it enough to simply take it by faith alone in Christ alone.
Ehud's work resulted in eighty years of rest-far longer than any other judge or king ever provided. But the rest our Lord won for us has no end. If you want that rest, you can have it-anyone can have it-but only in the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.
ONE LAST THING
One last thing before we're done: If God loves to do His work with unexpected people, then He can use you and me, for we're mostly lacking in the things most needed in the world today. We have little faith, less wisdom, and almost no courage. If we applied for the job of Christians, I don't think any of us would get it. But we don't apply for it, bringing in our resumes to show the Lord how well suited we are to serve Him. We are chosen for the work and the One who chose us is such a miracle worker that He can bring His Kingdom into this world by the likes of you and me.
Therefore, don't worry about how small your gifts and graces are: think only of how great your God is, and how ironic, too, in choosing the weak things to bring to nothing the things that are strong. On the day our Lord rode into Jerusalem, the city was full of religious big-wigs-priests and Levites, rabbis and elders, exorcists and more-but it wasn't they who sang His praises, but the little ones, so that the Psalm might be fulfilled-
Out of the mouth of babes He has ordained wisdom,
Because of His enemies!
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