When the Judges Ruled (2): Ehud—The Unexpected Judge

The story of Ehud, the second judge, is one of surprising details and explicit violence. Should a story like this be in the Scriptures? Yes, it should. This story teaches us of God moving and crafting deliverance for His people in a way we do not expect. Judges 3 records how Ehud walked into a king’s palace, assassinated him, and walked out unharmed. It is the story of one cunning man used by God to deliver an entire nation in a single day.

Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. When we read of Ehud, Israel had forgotten the Lord their God and served idols – again (Jdg 3:7,12). Twice in our story, idols are mentioned as Ehud moved through the land. We see “the idols which were at Gilgal” (Jdg 3:19 NASB), and “he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah” (Jdg 3:26 NASB). These are no mere anecdotes but details that point to the moral decay of Israel and their rebellion against the Lord. Idolatry was in the land and in their hearts. God would use the surrounding nations to test and prove them to see if they would obey His commandments. Because of their sin, “the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel” (Jdg 3:12), and with a confederate force with the sons of Ammon and Amalek they defeated Israel and brought them into 18 years of bondage.

Nearly two decades later, the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for deliverance. God, in His mercy, raised up Ehud, the son of Gera, a Benjamite, to rescue them. Ehud was left-handed. Left-handedness was not rare in the tribe of Benjamin (see Jdg 20:15-16) but might not have been expected from King Eglon’s point of view. Ehud was sent to bring tribute to Eglon the king, but he also brought something else – a two-edged dagger concealed on his right thigh. The inclusion of this detail points us to how God was going to bring deliverance to His people. It is probable most men would have been right-handed and placed their weapon on their left thigh. A dagger on the right thigh might just go undetected, and it did. Ehud’s left-handedness was no mistake.

Ehud presents the tribute to Eglon the king of Moab. We are told that Eglon was obese. After giving the present to Eglon, Ehud sends away those who came with him. Likely appealing to Eglon’s pride, he states, “I have a secret message for you, O King” (Jdg 3:19), to which the king responds by sending his servants away. Eglon was sitting on his throne in the cool roof chamber or summer parlor. We find that Ehud was a cunning man. Alone with the king, Ehud adds, “I have a message from God for you” (3:20), and the king arises and stands before him. This is where the story becomes graphic. Ehud thrusts the dagger into the king’s belly. The dagger goes through his stomach and the fat closes around it. He leaves it in the king’s belly and the “dirt” or “refuse” comes out. Mission accomplished. The king was dead. But how will Ehud escape the palace unharmed? Again, we find God at work in the details of events in the story.

Ehud steps back from Eglon and walks out of the palace. He locks the doors behind him. When the servants see Ehud leave they come to check on the king. But the doors are locked. They conclude that Eglon is “covering his feet” or “relieving himself” (3:24). The servants believed the king was in the bathroom. The details given might seem strange to us, but they are how God was moving to safely allow Ehud to escape. The smell from Eglon being pierced through and the contents of his bowels being on the ground gives his servants the impression he was “occupied.” So, they wait. And as they wait, Ehud walks out of the palace unquestioned and unharmed.

It was while they were delaying that Ehud blows the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim and rallies the men of Israel to pursue the Moabites. The king was assassinated and the armies were left leaderless. Led by Ehud, the armies of Israel cut off the fleeing Moabites at the fords of Jordan toward Moab. No one could pass, and God gave a great deliverance to Israel. About 10,000 Moabites were killed; all of them were “robust and valiant men; and no one escaped” (Jdg 3:29). Israel was delivered and had peace for 80 years.

What conclusions can we draw from such a story as this? While it might not be your first choice the next time you are asked to speak in Sunday School, there is value to this account. It reminds us that God will work to deliver His people. When we read of Ehud, can we not see God at work in all the details? Everything in the story was working toward that purpose. We must underline that none of what took place was by chance or luck. God chose a left-handed man that could conceal a weapon to assassinate a king. The graphic details of the king’s refuse bursting out when he was thrust through delayed the servants from discovering the king was dead. This allowed Ehud to escape unharmed. It is most unlikely to conceive that any one of us will be called to be a deliverer like Ehud. However, when we assess the circumstances in our lives, let us remember that God can use any one of us, on any given day, to achieve His purposes. We just might be surprised when we look at how even the smallest details all come together.