The Men of Judges: Ehud
Becky Vaughn was telling me a story the other day about her grandfather, who apparently was a bit of a wild child. In her family, she told me, everybody loves to tell stories about him, some of which are pretty funny. A favorite, she said, was one about when he got himself a motorcycle, against his parents’ wishes. One day, coming home on his motorcycle, he couldn’t figure out how to make the bike slow down or stop. This resulted in him flying, full speed, into a bank of dense shrubbery that left him splayed, arms and legs extended, against the side of the hedge, while the motorcycle sped right through and kept going.
Gotta love a good family story. And we’ve got one today.
True to form, Ehud’s story begins with the predictable refrain used over and over by the writers of the book of Judges: “The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord strengthened King Eglon of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord…but when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, son of Gera, the Benjaminite.”
So, here we go again with the cycle of Judges: the people turn away from God; God gets mad and sends their enemies to conquer them; they say sorry, we’ll never do it again, please bail us out; and God raises up a deliverer, a judge.
So as the story begins we learn that the Israelites had been captives of the Moabites for about 14 years, and every year they were forced to bring a tribute to the Moabite king, Eglon. This particular year, their new judge Ehud had the task.
We don’t know all that much about Ehud except his Dad’s name was Gera, he was from the tribe of Benjamin, and…he was left handed. Like many things in this story, scholars are conflicted about what this meant. One camp would say that Ehud was disabled—either because he really was left handed and back then everybody thought that was weird, or because he really had some challenge with his right hand that forced him to have to use his left hand. Another camp would say that warriors from the tribe of Benjamin often trained for battle by binding their right arms to their side and practicing with their left hands to make them more adept for battle.
Whatever the reason, Ehud’s lefthandedness is an important part of the story, because the text tells us that he made a sword, a very sharp sword about 18 inches long, and hid it under his clothes on his right thigh. This was super sneaky, because being left handed, he could easily grab the sword to accomplish his plan: the assassination of King Eglon—about whom know nothing other than he was the Moabite King, he was really, really, really fat, and he apparently was not the sharpest tool in the shed…
…because when Ehud came in to the throne room to make his tribute on behalf of the Israelites, Ehud went right up to the king and said, “I have a secret to tell you.” Well, Eglon was so curious that he emptied his throne room—sent all his guards and attendants out into the hallway and closed the door.
I got to thinking about this part of the story this week and I remembered Allyson Robinson telling me about attending a luncheon or reception or something with Michelle Obama. So, picture this: Allyson goes through the receiving line to greet Mrs. Obama. When she gets there she says, “Hey Michelle, I have a secret to tell you!” And Mrs. Obama wants to hear Allyson’s secret so much that she clears everybody out—all the other guests, all her employees, all the Secret Service personnel—to hear Allyson’s secret.
Ridiculous, right? (No offense, Allyson. I’m sure the secret was awesome.)
So, even if you didn’t read the text you can guess what happens next. Ehud pulls out the sword and plunges it into the stomach of King Eglon. And here’s another funny/weird part of this story. Eglon is so fat that the sword gets lost. And then there are lots of other details here which can be summed up by just saying that the end result of this action was really, really gross.
So, having killed the king, Ehud then locks the doors to the throne room, sneaks out the back door or through the porch or out the window or something.
Meanwhile, all the king’s attendants are sitting around outside the throne room doors waiting, waiting, waiting for Ehud to finish telling his secret. The time goes on for a long while and they wonder among themselves: should we go in? After discussing at length they reach the conclusion that the king is using the bathroom (on the throne??) so they should give him a little more time and privacy.
Finally they get tired of waiting and find a way in, which is when they discover dead King Eglon.
Meanwhile, Ehud has snuck back to the camp of the Israelites and organized them for battle. They came down and attacked the Moabites with Ehud as their leader, and they won. And the land was at peace for 80 years.
During the school year I drive to my kids’ schools a lot. I mean, a lot. And I know this route by heart: down Carroll Avenue to University Drive to Viers Mill Road to Northwood Road. I can drive this route without even thinking about it. The other day I set out to run errands in the opposite direction and I got all the way to Viers Mill Road before I realized I wasn’t going where I meant to go; I was on autopilot to the kids’ schools.
I thought about that experience as I worked with this text this week. As you know, I preach a lot of sermons, and my approach in my preaching is to build a bridge from the ancient text to our personal experience, you know, to mine some devotional application, some insight into the character of God. Because I do this almost involuntarily by now, I had a really hard time with this text.
Because there is no personal devotional application here. There’s no revelation about the character of God, either. In fact, God doesn’t even appear at all, aside from the Judges formula at the beginning. This is not a suggestion that people who are lefthanded are holy. It’s not a spiritual commentary on whether it’s bad to be fat. It’s not a biblical sanction against unjust or oppressive authority. And it’s not even a morality tale, as Rachel pointed out last week.
It’s just a story.
It’s a family story that was told to remind everybody why the Israelites felt like they needed a king a little later in the story. And because of that, by distant relation, it’s our story, too. Like, a family story.
And I think it’s important to know those family stories, don’t you?