Monday, May 5, 2014

Ehud, a Deliverer Raised Up


The story of Ehud is rather unusual, but it will also have a familiar ring to it, like Teancum’s assassination of Amalickiah or Ammoron.  It’s also kind of gruesome, but I think there is an instructive reason for this.

12 ¶And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.
13 And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees.
14 So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
15 But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.
16 But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.
17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.
18 And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present.
19 But he himself turned again from the quarries that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him.
20 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.
21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:
22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.
23 Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.
24 When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour were locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.
25 And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.
26 And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirath.
27 And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them.
28 And he said unto them, Follow after me: for the Lord hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over.
29 And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man.
30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years. (Judges 3:12-30)

The trouble all starts when Israel gets wicked again, worshipping false gods.  So the Lord allows Eglon, the king of Moab to gain ascendency over them.  Eglon does that by making an alliance with the Ammonites and Amalekites, and with that combined force, beat Israel.  He takes “the city of palm trees,” which is Jericho.  It must have been painful to Israel to see the city that had fallen to them so miraculously years ago now in the hands of their enemies.   Israel served Eglon for 18 years, after which Israel began to repent and pray for help.

What were they up against?  Who was Eglon and what do we know about him besides he was Moabite? 
--He was a very fat man (v17)
--He seemed to like presents (v17-18)
--He evidently had secret communications and intrigue going on all the time such that he had a standard procedure among his servants for how far they were supposed to go away.  (We can tell this because when Ehud said he had a secret errand (message) for Eglon, the king only said “Keep silence” and everyone around left to give the king privacy. (v19)
--He has a favorite room in his palace—the summer parlor. (v20)

Now, Ehud makes killing Eglon look easy, but that’s just because he succeeds.  We don’t know if his was the only attempt or if there were other unsuccessful attempts.  The attitude toward killing Eglon would be similar to Allied feelings about attempts to kill Hitler—all for it. 

The difficulty in attempting to kill Eglon was that Eglon was so fat that it would take a really long blade to penetrate all that tissue.  Yet a sword (or a spear) isn’t easy to conceal, and Eglon would obviously not allow armed tributaries to get close.  That’s a no-brainer.

So Ehud needed a special kind of weapon to kill Eglon—a custom-made weapon.  It just so happens that Ehud had the skill to make this weapon.  He made a dagger that was a cubit long.  (That’s like from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger.  Look at that length for a second.  That’s a really long dagger.)  He made this dagger sharp on both sides, presumably so it would penetrate easier.  And it so happens Ehud was a leftie, so when he concealed it under his clothes, it was on the right side (the right thigh, to be exact) instead of on the left side where right-handed people would conceal their daggers.  If Eglon’s soldiers frisked visitors for concealed blades, they would check the left side rather than the right.  (But who knows what their security measures were..)

If you notice, Ehud didn’t attempt to kill Eglon immediately while he was offering the present.  Maybe seeing all the guards around Eglon made him realize it would be really dangerous and he got cold feet.  Who wouldn’t?   If he attempted right then and failed, the Israelites with him would almost certainly be executed and/or tortured in retaliation. 

So Ehud leaves, sends away the people who came with him, and then goes back to try again.  As it turns out, this was a good thing because the goodwill generated by the present made Eglon believe Ehud really did have a secret message for him.  If Ehud had come alone at the beginning without the present (and the people carrying the present), Eglon would not have seen him as a diplomat—someone with enough social and political currency to actually have a secret message as a diplomat would.  Who would Eglon believe—the diplomat with the entourage or the diplomat without entourage? 

I have already noted Eglon must have a standard operating procedure among his servants for exiting while the king would receive secret messages.  He would have developed this while building his alliances with the Ammonites and Amalekites.  Perhaps he expected to receive word about rebellions forming among the Israelites?

20 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.
21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:
22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

Ehud changed his message.  First he said he had a secret message, then he said he had a message from God.  I suppose you could say Ehud was a messenger of divine judgment to Eglon at that moment.  The message, though not stated explicitly is, “Prepare to meet your Maker.”

It is odd that Ehud does not stab Eglon in the heart or chest area, but in the belly.  There are some really gross details here about what happens next, but we will see why it is necessary they be told. 

There was so much fat in Eglon’s belly that the cubit-long dagger goes in and the handle gets absorbed too so that Ehud couldn’t pull it back out.  We get this crazy image of belly fat eating a dagger whole.  And when the text says, “And the dirt came out,” it’s referring to the feces in Eglon’s large intestines.  The feces came out.  (Eeeeeewwww.)

Ehud beats a hasty retreat.

23 Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.
24 When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour were locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.
25 And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.
26 And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirath.

The summer chamber where Eglon was would be a room with cool breezes, a place to relax in the hot summer.  (It would have to be extra cool for Eglon, since his body fat would make him very hot and uncomfortable.  No wonder it was his favorite room.)  Now, consider what the servants would think if they come to the locked door and the breezes bring them a strong whiff of feces.  They’d think Eglon is going to the bathroom and they aren’t going to bother him until they are sure he’s done.  They say, “Surely he covereth his feet in his summer parlour.”  That expression “covering one’s feet” is a euphemism for going to the bathroom.

But Eglon never summons them and the smell and the wait just goes on and on.  Finally they are so embarrassed that they decide to check on him, and they find he’s dead.  The long time they wait made it possible for Ehud to escape without being discovered, and he didn’t waste a minute of that time.

27 And it came to pass, when he [Ehud] was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them.
28 And he said unto them, Follow after me: for the Lord hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over.
29 And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man.
30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.

Rather than go into hiding, Ehud uses the opportunity to rouse Israel to throw off the dominion of the Moabites.  If he didn’t rouse them up, potentially they could be massacred out of retaliation for his act.  So he both warned them and encouraged them to seize the moment and take the initiative while the Moabites were without a leader to organize and command them.

He told them, “the Lord hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand” and he could point to all preponderance of circumstances that worked together to allow him to take the life of Eglon and get away safely.

And the Lord did deliver the Moabites into their hands because instead of being angry and seeking revenge, the Moabite soldiers fled, and the Israelites met them at the fords of the Jordan river where there was no other way to cross (without having the Lord work a miracle and stop the river from flowing), and the Israelites were able to pick them off at that chokepoint until there was no one left.
Now, why Ehud?

It says the Lord raised up Ehud to deliver Israel.  Let’s look at Ehud again and see what made him special in this regard. 
--He was left-handed, which again meant that his concealed weapon would be in an unexpected place and not likely to be detected.
--He had high enough status that his people chose him to head the group taking the present to Eglon.
--Yet he was also humble enough, resourceful enough, and skilled enough to work with his hands and make that custom dagger for himself.

Then consider the circumstances that allowed Ehud to succeed.
--The well-ventilated summer parlor.
--The way Eglon didn’t bat an eye over the news of a secret message, but had all his servants leave, which gave Ehud the opportunity he needed.
--The place Ehud stabbed Eglon, which caused feces to come out and create that smell that kept the servants away for so long.
--The way Eglon’s fat sucked in the weapon and made it disappear, making it look like Eglon had died under mysterious circumstances, which would arouse all kinds of superstitious fears among the Moabites.
--The door of the summer parlor could be locked, adding to the notion that Eglon wanted additional, lengthy privacy.
--The servants’ extra long wait.
--The Moabites’ decision to flee rather than fight.
--The Israelites’ decision to rally with Ehud rather than distance themselves from him.

So do you see why we get those gross details?  The gross details of Eglon’s demise have to be told in order for us to understand how the Lord made all these different factors and circumstances work together so that Ehud could get safely away and rally Israel. 

The Lord raised up Ehud for a specific purpose.  It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.  Killing Eglon was only a small part of it; the other part of it was leading and judging Israel.  That required both courage and a sense of justice.  We don’t know all the ways that Ehud had been molded in the Lord’s hands to fit His purposes.

The Lord raises people up for many purposes, not just military ones, and we all have a place in His plans.  We can see from reading about Ehud that characteristics as simple as which hand is dominant can be part of the Lord’s purposes, as can our character, our skills, and our status in society.  We can also see that the Lord also orchestrates circumstances and settings that will allow us to succeed as we act to fulfill the Lord’s purposes.  We can see that He can use the decisions of the opposition in such a way as to contribute to the fulfillment of His purposes.  We see that just like all the little factors fit together for Ehud and Israel’s good, the Lord can make each of our lives and missions mesh together, orchestrating things to bring about the most good for us and for the world.