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  • Writer's pictureForestdale Church

Judges: Our Pattern, God’s Principle

God Works Out Everything for Good.

Text: Judges 3:7-31

Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters

"We are continuing today in our series of sermons from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, and today we come to the first judges whom God raised up as deliverers for His people. And we have a 'trio' of them in Judges chapter 3:7-31. Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar.

Two of them, Othniel and Shamgar are what we call 'minor judges' because not that much is said about them. One of them, Ehud, is the first of the 'major judges' because we get a whole story about him. The other major judges we will get to in the weeks to come: Deborah, Gideon and his son Abimelech, Jephthah, and Samson.

Because Ehud is a 'major judge' with a whole story about him, we are going to spend the bulk of our time on Ehud today. But there are complimentary lessons we learn from Othniel and Shamgar, so we are going to look at all three of them today as a trio.

I have asked Gloria Pothier to read for us today, Judges 3:7- 31.

7 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.
Ehud 12 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. 13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. 14 The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years. Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. 16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. 18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. 19 But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.” The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left. 20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them. 24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead. 26 While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the stone images and escaped to Seirah. 27 When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. 28 “Follow me,” he ordered, “for the Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab; they allowed no one to cross over. 29 At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped. 30 That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.
Shamgar 31 After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.

The story of Ehud is sandwiched in between the very brief accounts of Othniel and Shamgar. But Othniel’s brief account sets forth a pattern for Judges, and Shamgar’s very brief account sets forth a principle for Judges; and the story of Ehud in the middle shows what the pattern and the principle look like in the real-life account of this first of our biblical 'heroes' in the Book of Judges.

The 'pattern' in the account of Othniel is simply the cycle of sin and salvation that we will find recurring again and again all through the Book of Judges.

1. The Israelites sin and do evil in the eyes of the Lord.

2. The Lord is angered and brings judgment on them.

3. The judgment is that God gives them over to the will of their enemies who subject and oppress them.

4. Then the Israelites repent and cry out to the Lord.

5. God raises up a judge, a deliverer, who rescues Israel.

6. Then there is a time of peace until the deliverer dies.

Then the cycle starts all over again.

The account of Othniel in verses 7-11 set forth that pattern simply and clearly. And that is all we are really told in the account of Othniel: he is the first judge God raises up and anoints to rescue the Israelites from their enemies.

At the end of chapter 3 we are given just one verse, v. 31 to tell us about Shamgar. But in that one verse, we are given a principle to accompany the pattern set forth with Othniel.

The principle is that when God chooses a person to be a judge and deliverer of His people, God will choose the most unlikely of candidates.

Shamgar was not a Hebrew name, and the fact that he is called the son of Anath is interesting, because Anath was the name of a Canaanite goddess, the sister of Baal. This doesn’t mean that Shamgar was a worshipper of Anath, it may simply mean that he came from the Canaanite town of Beth Anath, which meant House of Anath.

But this name does tell us that Shamgar was not an Israelite by birth. He was a Canaanite who had come to faith in Yahweh. And when the final word about Shamgar is that 'he, too saved Israel,' it’s a statement that God even used a Canaanite to deliver his people Israel.

And not only that, but God used a Canaanite whose only weapon was an ox-goad. That was a long wooden rod or stick with a metal tip that was used for prodding big fat oxen to move along.

The point of Shamgar’s one little verse is to show us that in choosing His judges to be heroes in Israel, God was no respecter of persons. God could use anybody, no matter who they were. And God would consistently pick people you might least expect, and people who were ill-equipped.

And we will see this all through the Book of Judges. God is showing His people again and again that He is their Savior, and that in their weaknesses, He is strong.

They are to depend and rely on Him, and not on themselves.

So how does all of this play out in the life of Ehud, the big life story which is sandwiched in between the minor accounts of Othniel and Shamgar.

Well Ehud’s story begins with the same words of the pattern set forth by Othniel. 'Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon King of Moab power over Israel.'

So Eglon crosses the Jordan River, attacks Israel and takes the City of Palms, which was another name for Jericho.

Now Jericho, you remember, was the very first city which the people of Israel conquered under Joshua when they first arrived in the promised land. It was the site of that amazing story of how God brought the walls of Jericho down.

For Moabites to now cross the Jordan River and take Jericho just like Joshua did was a serious slap in the face to the Israelites. It was a sign of God’s judgment on their sin. And the Israelites were subjected to the oppression of King Eglon and the Moabites in that region for 18 years.

But following the pattern set forth in the account of Othniel, the people of God finally cry out to the Lord in their distress and God hears their cry and raises up a deliverer.

And here’s where we see the principle which was the one notable feature of Shamgar’s account. Who does God raise up to be His deliverer? Ehud, whom we are told was 'a left-handed man.'

Now that is an odd characteristic to highlight as the primary description of a person, unless the person is a pitcher on a baseball team. And maybe all you 'lefties' out there are feeling a little wary thinking that with the principle of Shamgar, I am going to say, 'Isn’t it amazing that God can even use left-handed people' as though it were a deficiency or a disability.

But that is not the case, because natural born left-handedness is probably not what we are being told here about Ehud. The phrase in Hebrew used here is not the normal word for left-handedness. It’s a phrase that means he was bound or restricted in the use of his right hand. The Geneva Bible translates this as 'Ehud, a man lame in his right hand.' The more modern Anchor Bible translates this as, 'Ehud, a man restricted in his right hand.'

So the reason that the primary description of Ehud concerns the fact that he used his left hand, was not because he was a natural 'lefty.' It was because something had happened to his right hand which had forced him to be awkwardly left-handed.

And in the context of the crazy story we are told about Ehud, this actually makes a great deal of sense, and it makes this crazy story just a little less crazy.

Now when we first meet Ehud in the story, he is being sent by the Israelites with a payment of tribute to King Eglon, the Moabite King. This was part of what it meant for the Israelites to be for 18 years subjected to the King of Moab. They had to bring yearly tributes like taxes to the King. But the tribute would be paid in grain that was harvested.

And why was Ehud chosen to be the emissary and bring the tribute? Probably because he was a leader in his tribe of Benjamites and probably because this was a role he had had as the leader of the Benjamites since they had been conquered by King Eglon. We see this in the fact that King Eglon seems to be quite familiar with Ehud. When Ehud not only brings the year’s tribute to the King, but tells Eglon that he has a special message for him, King Eglon goes right ahead and invites him into his private room to hear what he has to say.

You see, I don’t think this is the first time these men had met. In fact, I believe Ehud was one of the leading soldiers of the Benjamites who had fought against Eglon 18 years before and had been defeated. And along with many other commentators, I believe that King Eglon as the conqueror had intentionally maimed Ehud’s right arm to make it unusable ever again for battle. Do you remember Adoni-Bezek from Judges chapter 1, who cut off the thumbs and big toes of 70 kings he had conquered? This is just the kind of thing conquering kings did in those days to the leaders of those they conquered.

This is why I believe that King Eglon had no fear of inviting Ehud into his private room for a private audience that day. He thought Ehud was powerless to do anything to him. He had maimed Ehud’s sword hand, and he had been receiving tribute from Ehud for many, many years.

This is what sets up the whole story. It’s what gives Ehud the idea to make himself a short sword which he could wield with his awkward left hand, and which could be hidden under his garment.

And now we get to the gory part of the story! But as you imagine the scene of Ehud meeting for a private audience with King Eglon, I want you to envision King Eglon as Java the Hut from Star Wars. If you haven’t seen the original Star Wars series, well, what are you waiting for?!

Anyway, keep that image of Java the Hut in your mind. Great big, fat and ugly. And fat from ill-gotten gains. The Bible is not picking on people who are overweight here. In fact, in the Bible being 'fat' is actually generally used as a symbol of health and wealth. It’s a sign of prosperity.

Anyway, keep that image of Java the Hut in your mind. Great big, fat and ugly. And fat from ill-gotten gains. The Bible is not picking on people who are overweight here. In fact, in the Bible being 'fat' is actually generally used as a symbol of health and wealth. It’s a sign of prosperity.

Eglon’s 'excessive fatness' is sign that his wealth and prosperity is illegitimate. And it wasn’t only King Eglon who had grown rich and well fed by subjecting the Israelites and taking the prosperity of the Promised Land. In verse 29 we are told that all Eglon’s soldiers from Moab were 'vigorous and strong,' and the Hebrew literally says, 'they were all fat and strong.' You see, all the Moabites had been getting fat from the grain offerings they had been receiving from the Israelites for 18 years.

That’s the issue here in Judges. And it’s what brings us to the guts and gory part of the story.

Ehud brings the yearly tribute of grain and food to the King of Moab who is already too fat. And Ehud says to King Eglon, 'King, I have a special ‘message’ for you.

And again, because King Eglon has no fear of Ehud and sees him as a maimed and disabled peon, he invites Ehud into his private room. He even dismisses all of his other attendants so that he alone can hear what this special message from God is.

And when they are alone, Ehud moves in close to the obese King and pulls out the short sword that has been strapped to his thigh and hidden under his garment. He plunges to sword right into the King’s big, overfed belly. So far in that the fat of the king’s stomach covers the handle of the sword, and the blade of the sword comes out the back.

And one last little insight from the original language today: in Hebrew the phrase translated here as 'sword coming out the back' can more literally mean 'the sword opened his bowels.' And this helps us understand the mocking bit of bathroom humor that comes next in the gory story! The overfed king dies with the contents of his overfed bowels dumped on the floor, and the smell is so strong that when his attendants come a little later to check on him, they assume he must be relieving himself in his private bathroom.

This is why they hesitate to break down the locked door sooner to check on him. It’s the smell. And this is what gives Ehud time to escape out the back porch and get away.

And then, having gotten away with this whole crazy scheme, Ehud, the man with the maimed right hand now knows that the hand of God is with him! So he goes back to Israel and sounds the trumpet and calls his people to take up arms against the Moabites. And God is with them, and they chase the Moabites out of Jericho and out of the Promised Land altogether. And Israel would have peace for 80 years.

It’s a crazy story. But Ehud is a hero in Israel, not because he assassinated a king, but because he righted a wrong. He brought judgment on a King who had subjected God’s people to forced labor for 18 years. He righted the wrong that the King of Moab had gotten fat off the bounty of the Promised Land that did not belong to him. And he led God’s people in ridding the land of the Moabite rule, and restoring the land to God and His people.

It’s the salvation part of the ‘pattern of sin and salvation’ that was laid out for us in the account of Othniel. And it’s the principle laid out in the account of Shamgar.

God raised up a deliverer for His people who was maimed and unable to still wield a sword. And God used that weakness and that seeming 'disability' as a key part of the way God would bring that rescue about.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:27, 'But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him.'

This is the story of Ehud, and of the Book of Judges as a whole. And it’s the story of my life, too, and if you think about it probably of your life, as well.

We all live in that same patterned cycle of wandering away from God, of falling into sin, of pursuing idols of the world, of breaking God’s laws for selfish reasons.

And then we reap the consequences of our behaviors. Our sins catch up with us, and bite us on the backside. God brings the consequences of our sin down on us and we reap what we have sown and are miserable. So we cry out to God for help. We show remorse for our sin. And God brings deliverance in all kinds of diverse ways. He uses people we never would have expected. He uses situations we never could have orchestrated. He uses all sorts of means to right the wrong and rescue us in spite of ourselves.

And then to top it all off, God will then often use our weakness and the brokenness we have experienced to somehow minister to others.

Think about Peter denying Christ three times, and Paul persecuting Christians, and David sinning with Bathsheba, and Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, and Ehud being maimed by King Eglon.

God will take all of the brokenness of our lives and our experiences and somehow work it all together for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.

God will use even the places in our lives where we have been maimed and hurt in some way to be useful in His Kingdom.

As we come to take communion together today, bring all that you are to the Lord. Your strengths and your weaknesses. The places where you feel whole and the places where you have been broken. The successes and the failures. Don’t try and keep the maimed parts of you hidden. Bring them out and lay them before the Lord, and ask him to take them and use them for your good and the good of others, to show forth his grace.

Hear Him say the words to you that He spoke to the Apostle Paul: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'

Let us pray."

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