Summary: God uses unlikely people for His purpose
“Ehud the Assassin” Judges 3:12-23 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Although we’re not going to study the brief account of the judge Othniel, I’d like to point out one important fact in verse 10: “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him”. The Holy Spirit was present in the Old Testament, empowering select individuals. God raised up Othniel as a leader, and it became evident to all that his abilities originated from Above. Leaders are made, not born; they are gifted to serve as chosen instruments of God. Othniel walked with God and overcame evil. It’s too bad that he’s not as highly regarded as Samson, who was actually one of the worst judges.
We’re familiar with Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel. His first and last names are interestingly the names of two significant leaders in this book. We can appreciate why a Jewish leader should bear the names of freedom fighters.
As Ehud’s story is introduced, we see that Israel’s evil-doing led to an enemy taking control—Eglon, king of Moab, was allowed to overpower and occupy the Jewish nation for 18 years, demanding annual tribute--a percentage of Israel’s gross national product. Moab, situated east of the Dead Sea, became the “rod of God’s anger” to chastise His people for their unfaithfulness to His covenant. Eglon crossed the Jordon and took the city of Jericho, a.k.a. the ”City of Palms” (vs 12). Joshua uttered a curse upon any who might dare rebuild Jericho, which Eglon carelessly disregarded to his peril. Eglon’s name means a “bullock”—appropriate, considering his size…and demise!
Israel cried out to God, and unlikely Ehud became their deliverer. He may very well be the “patron saint” of southpaws. What some may view as a handicap, God takes and uses for His purpose. Ehud came from the tribe of Benjamin, for which being left-handed was a distinct trait (20:16). Another explanation is that his right-hand was withered/deformed (the text literally reads: “a man restricted in his right hand”/vs 15), which would mark him as a non-warrior, and one who could be safely left alone with the king. However interpreted, this account shows that we have unique capabilities that fit into God’s plan. Left-handedness in ancient times was considered peculiar and unnatural. Both of my kids are lefties, and I recall my mother’s concern when I told her this; she even suggested training them to use their right hands instead. Without being left-handed, Ehud would have never been able to smuggle his dagger into Eglon’s palace. The guards, assuming he was right-handed, only checked his left side for weapons. Even in these times there were problems with security personnel!
The Israelites sent Ehud with tribute to Eglon, providing him the opportunity for a daring, risky scheme. The pleased king may well have thought, “It’s about time these Jews respected my office!” It was customary to make a lavish ceremony out of presenting gifts to monarchs, appealing to their vanity. The word “tribute” is an expression typically used for offering a sacrifice. Ehud came presenting an offering to Eglon, but the king unknowingly was the real offering; he was the “fatted calf”! Eglon fattened himself on the tribute he has extorted from the Jews.
According to scholars, Ehud’s sword was closer to a foot in length, not as the NIV translates, “a foot and a half” (vs 16); Ehud likely fashioned the blade appropriate to the size of Eglon, yet small enough to conceal. It was more like a dagger or stiletto. The double-edge is to ensure the fatality of a quick thrust. He then hid it in his flowing garments, giving the appearance of one unarmed. Ehud then devised a means of gaining a private audience with the king with his “secret”.
Ehud sent the tribute-bearers away, giving greater plausibility to his claim that he had a “secret message” for Eglon’s ears only. The king may have perceived this as an oracle from the gods, since we’re told in vs 19 that Ehud was standing near the idols when he made his disclosure. The timing was perfect, and Ehud used the king’s pagan superstition and vanity to entice and ensnare him. Eglon was flattered by Ehud’s willingness to share this confidential information and so he ordered everyone to depart, oblivious to danger. His gullible pride dictated that he alone should receive this privileged message. It’s often said that “knowledge is power”, and thus many people hold close their information, not wanting others to share the wealth. We see this in corporations large and small. On a national level, leaks can compromise homeland security. Eglon expected to learn things that would increase his hold on the throne. He shut the doors in eager anticipation. This private “upper room” (vs 23) was situated on the roof of the house, with several windows to catch the breeze.