Go for It!
Topic: Expository Passage: Judges 3:12-30
Whenever you read a biblical story, it’s important to remember that God didn’t simply intend to tell us a great story. Rather, he is always trying to make an important point that we need to know, believe, and practice. And a great story often brings that truth to life. And the story of Ehud is just that.
It has all the features of a great story. It has a daring, ambitious hero and a despicable villain. It has slowly developing tension and a dramatic climax followed by a happy ending. It feels like some high drama Hollywood movie built around a risky assassination plot. And all of this makes the story memorable and impactful.
And so as we study Ehud today, I’d like you to imagine a godly Jewish family in the dark days of the Judges putting their kids to bed. And tonight’s bedtime story is the stunning tale of Ehud’s daring stand for the glory of God and the good of God’s people. The kids soak up every detail, and in the process they learn about God’s sovereign faithfulness, and they are inspired to serve the Lord with the boldness of Ehud.
And let’s also sit at the feet of the biblical story teller today anticipating what God wants to show us about himself and about how we should live for him. I’m mostly going to just walk through the story and then at the end, I will draw it together into a central theme and make application. With this in mind, the story begins in vv. 12 –14 with…
I. Israel’s Plight (vv. 12–14): The story begins with the sad fact that after Othniel’s death…
Israel sinned (v. 12a). Verse 12 simply reports, “Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.” That’s all it says about Israel’s sin. Therefore, it’s important to note that this story is going to follow the same cycle that repeats itself over and over in Judges. Israel rebels, God sends retribution, Israel regrets their sin, and God rescues them.
However, this story gives hardly any attention to Israel’s rebellion or regret. Neither stage even gets a whole verse; therefore, we know that God instead wants us to focus on God’s retribution through the evil King Eglon and God’s rescue through the daring deliverer Ehud. As a result, the story quickly shifts to stage 2 of the cycle. In response to Israel’s rebellion…
God judged (vv. 12b–14). Something else that stands out about this account is that God is hardly mentioned in this story. He never speaks, and he never performs any miracles. All the events in the story happen through natural causes. But the story teller reminds us several times that even though God never breaks the laws of nature in this account his quiet hand of providence stands behind every detail.
And this begins with the fact that “the Lord strengthened Eglon…because (Israel) had done evil in the sight of the Lord.” Therefore, Eglon is going to proudly think that he is something, but ultimately he is just a pawn in the hand of God. And just as easily as God raised him up to judge Israel God will dispose of him once he is done using him.
And with the elections coming up on Tuesday, it’s good to remember that as powerful as the political machine can appear, it is very small in comparison to God. Proverbs 21:1 states, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” God is on the throne today, and he will still be on the throne on Wednesday. Therefore, our hope and our joy is not in a political system but in the Lord. So pray, vote, rejoice when righteousness prevails, and grieve when evil prevails, but never forget where your true confidence lies. Our God is on the throne.
And here God expresses his sovereignty by raising up a confederation of 3 nations. You can see on the map that Ammon and Moab are east of Israel. The Amalekites lived in the desert south of Judah.
And thinking again of Jewish dad telling this story, the kids would have groaned when they heard these nations because they all 3 were bitter rivals of Israel. Israel’s rivalry with Ammon and Moab went all the way back to the days of Abraham and Lot. After Lot was completely shamed, his daughters got him drunk in order to bear children by him. And Ammon and Moab were born out of this sin and shame. And they became Israel’s bitter enemies.
And Amalek was Israel’s nastiest enemy. They acted so wickedly against Israel during the wilderness wanderings that Moses commanded Israel to wipe them out (Deut 25:17–19). But of course, they didn’t, and now these 3 rivals banded together under the Moabite king Eglon to attack Israel.
And King Eglon serves as the primary villain in this story, and the narrator presents him as a particularly despicable villain. His name means “little bull” or “little calf,” but there’s nothing small about Eglon.
Verse 17 says he “was a very fat” And in the ancient world, where many people struggled to have enough food, his obesity is not an unfortunate medical condition, like it is for many today; rather, it’s a sign of his greed and his ruthless exploitation of Israel. We’ll also see that he is cocky to a fault and pretty foolish. So when you think of Eglon, think of the villain you love to hate and that you want to receive his just due.
But despite how despicable Eglon is, again v. 12 says that God raised him up. And v. 13 says he attacked Israel, “defeated Israel, and took possession of the City of Palms,” which is almost certainly Jericho (map). This was a major loss for Israel and a big gain for Eglon. Of course, Jericho was very significant to Israel because it was the first city they conquered in the conquest. But it was also an agriculturally productive area and strategically significant for traffic across the Jordan.
And so it seems that big, greedy Eglon set up camp in this lush, important area, while Israel was pushed to the hills where they struggled to survive. And for 18 years they grew thin while Eglon collected heavy taxes and got fatter and fatter. This brings us to the second major unit of the story, which I’m going to call…
II. Ehud’s Daring Initiative (vv. 15–25): This section begins with the fact that…
Israel cried out to the Lord, and God provided a deliverer (v. 15). I find it interesting that it took 18 years for Israel to cry out to God for help, but finally when they had nowhere else to turn, they turned to the Lord.
And “The Lord raised up a deliverer for them.” We must not miss the fact that God stands behind the rise of Ehud, even though there’s no prophetic announcement or miraculous deed. Rather God is quietly working in the shadows to accomplish his wise and gracious purpose.
And we are going to see that Ehud is the kind of hero that makes for a great story, because he seems to have been just a humble guy with a lion’s heart. First he wasn’t a political leader, and didn’t belong to the ruling class. He’s just a guy from the rather insignificant tribe of Benjamin.
But that’s not to say he was incompetent for the task. Verse 15 says that he is “a left-handed” There is some debate about what this means, but I believe the best explanation is that the Benjamites intentionally trained their boys to be ambidextrous, to make them more effective in war. I say that because the same word is used in Judges 20 regarding a whole army of highly trained Benjamite soldiers, who are noted for being left-handed.
Therefore, Ehud was probably a well-trained soldier, which is why he was chosen to lead the group that would deliver tribute to Eglon. But above all else, Ehud is a great hero, because he was zealous for God and for God’s people. And this becomes clear in the fact that…
Ehud saw an opportunity and seized an opportunity (vv. 15c–19). The opportunity came in the fact that Ehud was chosen to lead a group of men in delivering tribute to Eglon. Most likely this tribute was a large amount agricultural produce, since it took a whole team of men to deliver it.
And what is so great about Ehud is that he didn’t just see this as a job; rather, he thought, “This is my opportunity to meet King Eglon and to earn his trust.” He figured a big guy like Eglon is going to love someone who brings him wagons of food. And Ehud began to scheme about how he could use that trust to destroy the evil Eglon and to free his people from oppression, and so he devised a risky assassination plot.
And he went to work making himself the perfect weapon for his plan. He made a double-edged dagger that was 14-18” long. It was small enough that he could hide it under his clothes, and since he was left-handed, he could hide it on his right thigh where the guards would never look for a weapon. He also wisely made the dagger double-edged so that he could easily thrust it into the king vs. swinging at him. So Ehud knew exactly what his plan was before he left with that tribute.
And then with his weapon strapped to his leg, he left with the tribute and entered Eglon’s territory, knowing full well that if that dagger was discovered, he was a dead man, because that kind of concealed weapon could only be on his leg for one reason.
And so Ehud and his men travelled to Jericho, where Eglon had probably set up some type of summer home. Ehud’s heart was racing, but he acted like a cool cat. He scoped out the scene, and based on how trusting Eglon will be later in the story, I imagine that Ehud laid on the schmooze very thick. He told this egotistical man how wonderful he was, and he portrayed himself as a likeable ally that Eglon and his guards could trust.
And then he and the men with him started home until Ehud reached the “stone images at Gilgal” (map). These images could be a few things, but most likely they were some type of idolatrous figures. If that’s the case, this might have been the kind of place where people expected to receive a divine message, which would make this spot a very shrewd place for Ehud to turn around. And he did, which brings us to the fact that…
Ehud took a bold step of faith (vv. 19–22). After Ehud dismissed the other men, he turned around and made the short walk from Gilgal to Jericho and reentered the palace, with the dagger on his thigh and a bold and risky plan on his heart. If this were a movie, this is where you would begin to lean forward in your seat.
He tells Eglon, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” Ehud is being skillfully vague. Eglon understood the word translated message to mean that he had a word to share, but the term can also refer to an object (e.g., a dagger) or an experience (e.g., assassination).
And incredibly Eglon doesn’t’ just give Ehud an audience, he dismisses his attendants and invites Ehud into his private chamber, which was probably a rooftop room with lots of windows to allow the breeze to blow through. I imagine that Jewish dad’s little boys laughing at this point in the story at how gullible and foolish Eglon is. For whatever reason Eglon buys Ehud’s claim hook, line, and sinker.
Ehud now has him alone, but with all the windows, there’s only so much privacy. One scream out of Eglon and his guards would immediately be on top of Ehud. But Ehud goes forward with his plan and (v. 20) announces that he has “message from God.” But he uses the general term Elohim, instead of Yahweh. Eglon probably thought the gods revealed something at the images.
Eglon feels completely secure, and he stands to hear the divine message. And when the men are standing within inches of each other and before Eglon could let out the slightest noise, in a single swift motion Ehud grabs the dagger and thrusts it with all his strength into the Eglon’s huge belly.
He thrusts it so hard that handle and all drives down into Eglon’s fat belly, which was probably a good thing because it stopped any blood spatter from getting on Ehud’s clothes. And to add to the utter humiliation of Eglon, the narrator adds that “his entrails came out.” Again there is some debate about what this means, but the most likely explanation is that his bowels relaxed and emptied on the ground.
So now the evil villain Eglon is dead on ground in utter humiliation, the victim of his own obesity and pride. And when that Jewish dad tells this part, his boys cheer with delight, because evi. Eglon got what he deserved. But Ehud is still in grave danger, because he as just assassinated the king, and he is in the middle of the lion’s den. But vv. 23–25 describe how…
God blessed Ehud’s initiative (vv. 23–25). The king is dead, but no one suspects anything, and so Ehud just casually walks out of the room and locks the door. He probably even smiled at some of the guards as he passed by, doing his best to get out quickly without looking suspicious.
The guards then go to check on the king, but the door is locked. And very likely when they get a sniff of the awful smell resulting from Eglon’s relaxed bowels, they conclude that he must be using the facilities. And they wait while Ehud brisks away, and they continue to wait until “they were embarrassed” (v. 25), which is sort of funny to picture.
I can see them making faces at each other as they debate walking in on the king while he is on the pot, so to speak. But finally, after it was too late to catch Ehud, they get a key, unlock the door, and to their horror find their king laying on the floor in his excrement. What a scene!
And through all this God hasn’t seemed to do anything. There is a natural explanation to every detail. But we know that his hand of providence stands behind it all. God raised Eglon up, and once he was done with him, he judged him for his brutal oppression of God’s people.
Yes, Eglon served God’s purpose, but he was still a wicked, blasphemous man who deserved God’s righteous judgment. Praise God that he is sovereign over all things, and that he will do what is right! But the story is not done, because the Moabites are still in the land, so vv. 26–30 describe…
III. Ehud’s Inspirational Leadership (vv. 26–30)
Remember that Ehud hatched this plan on his own, so no one in Israel knew what he had just done. But immediately upon returning home…
Ehud rallied the nation (vv. 26–27). (Map) Based on where Eglon was stationed, the tribes of Benjamin and Ephraim were probably most affected, and so Ehud finds a high place in the “mountains of Ephraim,” blows a trumpet, and announces that he has killed the evil Eglon. And even though Ehud was not a political leader, he boldly calls on the people to follow him into battle.
And the people recognize that God had raised this man God gave them a man with the courage and skill to kill Eglon, and God gave them leader they could follow with confidence into battle. And after 18 years of wilting under Eglon’s pressure, they rose up to attack, and notice how v. 27 ends. Ehud “led them” or “went before them” with the same courage and the same zeal for God that inspired him in the first place. As a result…
Ehud led Israel to victory (vv. 28–29). Notice Ehud’s rallying cry in v. 28. He declared, “Follow me, for the Lord has delivered your enemies…into your hand.” He knew Gods promises, and he knew that God would stand for his glory and for the good of his people. And so Ehud rallied the people around faith in the Lord and they attacked.
And Ehud’s battle plan again demonstrates his strategic wisdom (map). Rather than attacking Jericho directly, Ehud instead marches his men to the “fords of the Jordan leading to Moab,” and he cuts off their escape route. He “did not allow anyone to cross over.”
And God gave Ehud a resounding victory. These skinny Israelites who had been starving in the hills wiped out a force of 10,000 Moabite soldiers who are described as “stout men of valor.” In other words they were well fed, healthy, and strong in comparison to Israel, but not in comparison to God.
Now I recognize that our modern sensibilities may struggle with the fact that Ehud killed all of these men vs. sending them home. Why was Israel so brutal here and at other times?
At some point, we’ll dive into this issue, because there are good answers as to why God gave Israel the sorts of commands he did regarding holy war. But in this particular context, we can simply say that Ehud is bringing justice to God’s people, and he was defending their borders, because had he sent these people home, whose to say they wouldn’t rally and come right back.
And so God used Ehud that day to inspire a great victory, and v. 30 then ends the story by saying that God gave Israel rest for 80 years. It’s probably fair to assume based on his rallying cry in v. 28 that Ehud led some form of revival, at least in the region of Ephraim and Benjamin. The people had seen the hand of the Lord, and they served him. And God blessed their obedience. So what should we take away from this story? I’d like to close with 3 applications.
IV. What’s the Point?
Praise God for how he works providentially to accomplish his will. Again, there are no miracles in this story, but think of all of God’s works in this account. He raised up Eglon, he caused Ehud to be the one to deliver tribute, he put it in his heart to defend God’s people, he gave him favor with Elgon and his men, and we could go on. God is sovereign over every detail of this story.
And praise the Lord that is sovereign over every detail of our lives. Sometimes we feel like God is distant, and we can’t see what he is doing, but we know that he is always at work. His Spirit is always at work to form us into the image of Christ, and God is moving through every detail to accomplish his good and perfect purpose. So praise him and trust him.
Embrace the passions of God. In many respects, Ehud reminds me of David in the story of David and Goliath. When David hears Goliath cursing God’s name, he has to act. And the same is true of Ehud. He could have just delivered the tribute and gone on with his life. But he couldn’t stand by as Israel rejected the Lord and evil Eglon walked all over them. He had to take a stand for the things that matter to God.
How about you? Do you grieve over the billions of people in our world who are lost without Christ or the tens of thousands in our backyard. Or are you so wrapped up in your little world that you hardly notice? And do you share God’s passion for his people all around you. Does your heart yearn for the immature believer who just doesn’t see the beauty of Christ or for the suffering believer who is struggling under the burdens of life? Do you long to see this church grow into the image of Christ? Or again, are you so consumed with your selfish interests that you don’t even see or you rarely mediate on the needs all around you? Folks, we need more Ehuds, who share God’s passion for his glory and the Great Commission and who get torqued when they see lost sinners fail to worship Christ and believers with miles to go. And this leads naturally to the 3rd and central application of this story.
Trust God and take a step of faith. Ehud had a lot of good reasons to just go about his business, but he trusted God, and he put his life on the line to do what was right. So often, we fail to do that. We know that we need to share the gospel with a friend, but we wimp out because “what if this and what if that.” Or we see something that just isn’t quite right in a fellow believer, and we pace back and forth worrying about how they will respond if we probe. We stew over what to say, and we wait for someone else to minister. And we never get to it. We need more Ehuds, who spend less time hemming and hawing about how they can’t do it and more time attacking needs. Folks, we serve a great God and a great mission, so trust God and take a step of faith and anticipate what all God may choose to do.