And the children of Israel did coil 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 . . .
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.
In the days of the judges Israel was a very unsettled nation. There was no king in -Israel to give it political union. Divided as the nation was into tribes and families, there was no one person who could serve as the head and hold the nation together. Ideally no such king was needed. The unity of Israel was meant to be something more than merely political; it was meant to be spiritual, joining the people together from the heart. Jehovah was their Lord and in the true and united worship of Him their unity was to be found. It was the strongest unity that could ever be known by any nation. As long as the people of God continued to join themselves together before Jehovah’s altar in a true worship of love, they could never be far divided politically, socially, or in any other sphere of life. The love of God would bind them together in a mutual concern and respect for each other which could not be broken. That was a bond which could withstand all of the dividing and scattering powers of Satan and the world. The difficulty was that though ideal, this spiritual unity did not long hold the nation of Israel together. There were in Israel strong carnal and reprobate elements that were working to divide the nation. At first after the entrance into Canaan these had not been able to gain too much influence; but gradually as the people settled down and began to take their blessings for granted the power of sin began to grow more and more influential. People forgot their indebtedness to God and began to seek the satisfaction of their own lust and earthly desires. Israel became more and more divided and groups and factions began to form, each pursuing its own self-centered interests. Instead of love developed antagonism; instead of unity developed division. Each person and faction did that which was right in his own sight, and that was generally always the wrong way of sin. These were the days of the judges, troubled and unsettled on every side. Each section of the nation went in its own way and at its own pace into the way of sin.
First of the portions of Israel to fall most deeply into sin were the tribes of the northern regions. They went deeper and deeper until God sent an eastern monarch, Chushan-rishathaim of Mesopotamia to invade the land with his armies. For eight years he oppressed the people of Israel, until at last they saw the folly of their way and turned to the Lord in repentance. Out of Judah God then sent Othniel the son-in-law of Caleb to judge the people, reproving them for their iniquity and leading them in the way of deliverance.
Next it was the tribes of the southern and eastern parts of the country that fell under the wrath of God, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, Ephraim and Benjamin. These tribes did evil against the Lord until He gave new strength to some of their old enemies to punish them. Chief among these enemies was the nation of Moab with Eglon as its king. This was a nation which stood in a very peculiar relationship to Israel. The Moabites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. When Israel had approached the land of Canaan they had been forbidden to invade the land of Moab because it had been appointed unto them by God. Rather than to fight against the Moabites, Israel had circumvented the land without crossing its borders. Still Balak, the king of Moab at that time, had been so moved to fear by the greatness of the strength of Israel that he had hired Balaam the prophet from the east to cast a curse upon Israel. But all of his efforts had been in vain and God had repeatedly blessed Israel through Balaam instead of cursing them. But now the situation had changed. This generation had followed the way of wickedness instead of the faithfulness which had characterized their fathers who followed Moses and Joshua. In reply to this God gave to the king of Moab that strength against Israel which the Moabites had often desired but never had obtained. The Lord enabled Moab to rise against Israel in battle and to overcome.
It happened in this way. Eglon made an agreement with the Ammonites and the Amalekites to join together in battle against the children of Israel and try to regain their former possessions which were now in the hands of Reuben and Gad. Almost to their own amazement these nations found themselves not only to be successful in battle against the children of Israel but actually to be able to overrun all of their own former lands. The children of Israel were without power to withstand them. It was almost as if the God Who had formerly fought for Israel was now on their side. Coming to their old former boundary at the river Jordan the combined forces of Moab, Ammon and Amalek felt no need to stop there. Like an overflowing tide they swept across the Jordan and on into the tribal lands of Benjamin and Ephraim. Here was a new strength such as these nations had never felt before, even prior to the return of Israel from Egypt. Excited by his new-found power, Eglon proceeded to build for himself a palace at Jericho from which he could rule his new domain. His intentions were no doubt to establish a permanent kingdom over which he would rule as king.
For eighteen years Eglon continued his rule over the children of Israel. For the children of Israel the oppressiveness of those years and the humiliation was immense. There was, of course, the tribute itself which they were required to pay. That was hard. Eglon had conquered over the children of Israel and he was determined to make it pay. Every year the children of Israel were required to gather together as large a tribute as could possibly be exacted of them. It brought the people to the brink of absolute poverty. And still that was not the worst. Along with this tribute Eglon was determined to humiliate them. With the annual presentation of tribute at Jericho, it was demanded that there should be elaborate-ceremonial acknowledgment of Eglon’s superiority over the children of Israel. They were forced to act as though it were actually a privilege to bring their annual tribute to him. For the children of Israel, so conscious of their free birth as children of Abraham, this was the most painful of all. Every year that passed seemed to make it more painful than the year before. At last the burden became so heavy that they remembered the God of their fathers and cried unto Him for deliverance. The strength which God had given to Eglon had served its purpose. Through its chastisement the children of Israel had returned to their God in repentance.
Among those who suffered most from the humiliation of Israel under Eglon was a man of the tribe of Benjamin by the name of Ehud. We know very little, about him personally other than that he was lefthanded and of unusual courage and strength. To him the tribute of Eglon was especially painful. Through the years he had risen to a position of leadership among the people and it was now his duty to present the annual tribute to the king of Moab. Ehud was a man who loved Israel and it hurt him to see his nation so humiliated year after year before a foreign and wicked sovereign. He knew that Israel was the covenant nation of God called to be separate and distinct from the world. The reason why it was powerless before this foreign enemy was a clear testimony that the strength of God had departed from them because of their sin. It was a spiritual humiliation which they suffered more than anything else. Ehud was among the first of those that cried to God in repentance and pleaded that He return unto them with His favor and His grace.
It was in the eighteenth year of Eglon’s dominion that God heard the cry of Israel and answered it. He separated Ehud to be a judge and deliverer, to show to Israel the right and gracious way of the Lord. For this work Ehud was particularly qualified. He was the leader whose duty it was to represent Israel before Eglon the king. He was a man of faith who grieved for Israel’s sin and pleaded for its deliverance. He waS a warrior and a man of particular strength and courage. And then it was of peculiar importance because of the nature of the deliverance which was determined that he was a man able to use his left hand in battle.
The time of the year had come for Ehud and the retinue of men which bore the annual tribute to present themselves before Eglon. The king received them sitting upon his throne amidst the optilence of his newly built palace at Jericho. Ehud took care that the usual ceremonies of presentation should be performed carefully and with propriety. It was of greatest necessity that no suspicion should be aroused on the part of the king. But everything went well and when the men of Israel turned from the palace it was evident that Eglon was pleased.
It was only after Ehud had brought his men well on the way back to their homes that he returned alone to the palace of the king. Ehud’s plan had been well devised, for when he came again to the palace the king had retired alone to his summer parlor. This was a room built apart from the rest of the palace for privacy and quietness with windows opened to the valley to catch the summer breeze. To him Ehud sent his message, “I have a secret errand unto thee, O king.” This was the critical point in Ehud’s venture. He had made for himself a special two-edged sword with a long thin blade. Being lefthanded he had tied it under his clothing on his right-hand side, opposite from where any suspicious eyes might look for the signs of such a weapon. And now it was important that no further suspicion should be aroused lest he be examined and searched more carefully. But the impression he had so shortly before left with the king had served its purpose. It even flattered him to think that Ehud should return alone with a spirit of fawning concern. Quickly he told Ehud to say nothing until all of the servants had been dismissed.
At last the opportunity for which Ehud had been waiting had come. All alone with the king, he came close as though still to whisper his message softly. At the same time he was able to reach under his garments with his left hand and still not arouse suspicion. With one swift motion he swept the sword from under his clothing and deep into the king’s fat body without drawing from him a cry. Israel had been avenged of its enemy.
Stepping from the large outside doors of the summer parlor, Ehud locked the doors and escaped without anyone knowing he had departed. While the servants waited within the palace for the king to summon them, Ehud was able to return to his people and call them together with the battle trumpet. The message which he bore was the answer to Israel’s prayer, “Follow after me: for the LORD hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.”
When at last the troubled servants of Eglon broke through the door of their king’s parlor, there was little they could do, and confusion reigned. Their leader was dead and at best they could only hope to make good their escape back to Moab. But Israel had already anticipated that. The first thing the newly formed army of Ehud did was head for the ford of Jordan and take control of it. This was the only passage way back to the land of Moab, and as the fleeing Moabites came to make use of it they were cut down one by one. The whole invading force of Moab, ten thousand men, was destroyed in that one day. God had returned to save Israel again from its enemy.