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Sunday, June 10, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Ehud"

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“Ehud”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
June 10, 2012
Judges 3:12-30


If you are ever asked the Bible trivia question, “Which Judge of Israel was Left-Handed?”, the answer is “Ehud.”

To graduate from our seminary, you had to pass a test that that was one of the questions.  “Which Judge of Israel was Left-Handed?”, the answer is “Ehud.”

Why is important that Ehud was left-handed?

We’ll see about that in just a second.

But before we jump into the text, I have to admit something. Ehud’s story can be a hard Bible story to tell because of certain, shall we say, “Gross” elements in it.

Ehud’s story is not one that the ABC Kids ever get a lesson on.  I’d love to see the flannel graph for that one!

In fact, if I heard a group of pre-teen boys telling this story in mixed company, I might stop them.  That’s true of a lot of the stories in the book of Judges.

Buckle your seatbelt. It’s just going to get harder as the series goes on.

But this is God’s Word. Every single word is inspired and is useful to teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.  Even the gross ones.

So, if I have a problem with it–that’s just it–I have a problem. Not the Bible.

This is God’s word, and we will revere it by reading it–even the disagreeable parts.

And once we get over that, we’ll begin to enjoy it, too. Because it is a really funny story.

Remember this picture from last week?

Israel’s downward spiral?

The Israelites did evil.
They anger of God burned against them and He gave them over to rulers.
They cry to God for help (not necessarily out of repentance but out of groaning)
God sends a deliverer, a judge, a savior to rescued them.
Peace follows for so man years until it starts all over again.

We saw that cycle with Othniel. But then he died. V.11

Guess what we’re going to see with Ehud? V.12

“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.”

We’re at the top of the cycle.

The Israelites (v.1) “did evil in the eyes of the LORD,” what does that mean?

Well, last week, we said that it mainly consisted of idolatry–following after other gods, worshiping other gods than the LORD.

And that, of course, leads to every other kind of sin and wickedness.

And God cares, He is zealous, He is jealous for His people’s affections, so He does something about it.

Verse 1 says that He empowered Eglon King of Moab.

Now, there are two main characters in this story and they are easy to get confused.

Which one was the evil king?  E-what?  EGLON.

His name means “Bull,” and he was a bully. And his name in Hebrew sounded like “hagol” which means “round, rotund.” I think that Eglon was probably a nickname.  We’ll see how in a second.

Which one was the deliverer? E-what? EHUD.

He was left-handed.

Which one was empowered by God?

Trick question.

In verse 1, it says that God empowered Eglon to rule over Israel.

Not because Eglon was good, but because he was bad.  He was judgement, discipline, consequences for Israel’s wickedness. V.13

“Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.”

Eglon was a successor of Balak who hired Balaam to curse Israel.

Balak mostly failed, but Eglon succeeds.

And he sets up his rule in the city of Palms, which is traditionally thought to be Jericho the site of Joshua’s first big victory.

How symbolic.  It’s like a foreign nation taking over the US and parking its capitol at Lexington and Concord or in Boston Harbor or at Valley Forge.

And for eighteen back-breaking years, Eglon ruled over Israel.

And it was no picnic.

What’s next in the cycle?

V.15

“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.”

This is a story about a lot of things, but it is primarily a story about salvation.

“Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer...”

He gave them a savior.
He gave them a rescuer.

God is in the business of saving His people.

In fact, let’s make this the overarching application for our whole message today.

REJOICE IN THE SALVATION OF THE LORD.

“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.”

Rejoice in the salvation of the Lord.

Now, I have 5 points about the Lord who saves from this story.

The first two are going to be very quick because we already talked about them last week, and we’ll see them again and again.

But we can’t miss them here.

#1. THE LORD IS RIGHTLY JEALOUS.

To understand this amazing salvation, we have to see how they got into this predicament.

They followed other gods!

And God cares about that.

God is perfectly jealous for the affections of His people.

Last week, we talked about how good that is. What if God didn’t care?

What if He said, “I don’t care what gods my people mess around with. They can just go to hell for all I care.”

They would be terrible.

But God is rightly, perfectly jealous.

And because of that, there are consequences for His people when they stray.

Here the consequences are 18 years under big, fat, ugly Eglon.

And they cry out for help. They groan. And God hears.

And even more astonishingly, He moves.

V.15 once again. “He gave them a deliverer.”

#2. THE LORD IS ASTONISHINGLY COMPASSIONATE.

Don’t miss this. God sent a deliverer.

Did He have to?
Did they deserve it?
Did they earn it?

This is one of the chief miracles of the book of Judges: God saves His people again and again and again from trouble that they deserve.

From trouble that they have earned.
From trouble that is rightly coming their way.

And that’s one of the chief miracles of the whole Bible, isn’t it?

Aren’t you glad that God didn’t wait until you had cleaned up your act before He got involved in your life?

If you think that you have to clean up your act before God will enter in, put away that thought. God is astonishingly compassionate.

His grace is truly amazing.

Rejoice in the salvation of the Lord.

Now, let’s find out some more about this Ehud guy.

We know that he is from the tribe of Benjamin. “Benjamin” means “Son of my right hand.”  But Ehud is (v.15) “a left-handed man.”

A lefty from the tribe of righties.

Now, it’s possible that this was some kind of handicap.

The Hebrew literally means someone whose right hand is impaired.

So, this detail might be included to show that God uses all kinds of people with all kinds of limitations, even disabilities.  That’s a good point, if that’s part of the story here.

Or it could be pointed out that left-handed people were looked down upon and so he was a despised person that God still used. That would be a good point, too, and one that is true of other passages in the Bible.

But I’m inclined to believe that Ehud intentionally impaired the use of his right hand to beef up the use of his left hand to become ambidextrous and especially deadly with the unexpected left-hand.

We’ll see more Benjamites in chapter 20 who have this left-handed skill.

And it comes in handy (pun intended) for Ehud when he assassinates Eglon.

Verse 15 once again.

“The Israelites sent [Ehud] with tribute to Eglon king of Moab.”

He’s in charge of a delegation bringing the regular tribute (probably grain and livestock and other foodstuffs as a heavy taxation to the heavy ruler). V.16

“Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing.”

Crafty.

A shorter sword, longer than a dagger, very deadly, very sharp, and concealed. A concealed weapon.

What side did he put on it?

The right side.

Is that the normal side for your sword?  Not for a right-handed man.  V.17

“He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. [Eglon was the Jabba the Hutt of the Old Testament.”

At this point in the story, imagine that you are an Israelite who had lived under Eglon’s terrible reign for eighteen years.

And now, you’re hearing about your salvation.

Don’t you chuckle when you hear about how fat he is?  V.18

“After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way the men who had carried it.  At the idols near Gilgal he himself turned back and said, ‘I have a secret message for you, O king. The king said, ‘Quiet!’ And all his attendants left him.”

Now, I want you to notice something. We’ll note it and come back to it.

Notice that Ehud turned back near what? The idols near Gilgal.

Now, your Bible might says “quarries.”  There were big cut stones there.  Like a big Israeli Stonehenge.

It might have been the ones that Joshua put up as remembrances.

But I think it’s more likely that these were some of Israelites idols that they had come to share with the Canaanites.

Or, even more likely, these were Eglon’s idols that he had had set up over the last 18 years.

Now, I have never in my life seen these idols in this story until this week.

They have just been a detail that I have missed.

I think that they are significant. Not all scholars agree, so I won’t be dogmatic about it, but I’ll tell you what I think they mean when we get to verse 26.

Okay?  Stick that in your head and follow Ehud back to Eglon’s lair.

Ehud is taking a big risk here.

I don’t know if anyone else knew that he was doing it.

He is like a secret agent, bluffing his way in to kill the king.

“I have a secret message for you, O King.”

And believe it or not, Eglon falls for it!

Eighteen years of ruling, and he doesn’t see this one coming.

I don’t know what he expected. My guess is that he expected a plot to unfold.

But he felt too safe.

In the movies, the thugs that guard the bad guy always pat down the good guy, right?

Well, there was no suspicious bulge on the left side of this Ehud guy.

And they just left the room.  Can you see in your mind’s eye? V.20

“Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ As the king rose from his seat,  Ehud reached with his [you guessed it!] left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.”

Eww!

Now, the Hebrew here is hard to follow, but I think that the NIV 1984 doesn’t quite get it right.

If you have the King James, yours says, “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.”

The English Standard Version says, “And the dung came out.”

The NIV 2011 update says, “and his bowels discharged.”

Eww!  Double Eww!

That’s important because of what happens next.  Ehud escapes!

“Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.”

That word “porch” is hard to translate. It might actually mean that he used the sewer system.

Somehow, he used a back door.

And he locked the door behind him.

More humor. The three stooges –  Eglon’s guards. V.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 house.’ [The smell probably added to that. I wonder if Ehud passed by them, smiling, or if they just forgot about him?] v.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.”

This is what happens to the enemies of God.

By the way, there are a lot of phrases in the Hebrew here to remind the reader of the sacrificial system.  Bull the Bully became a sacrificial bull.

Yes, God used him, but God also judged him.

Now, here is point #3.

#3. THE LORD IS MYSTERIOUSLY INVOLVED.

Does the Lord approve of Ehud’s methods?

I don’t know.

Ehud is, I think, no Othniel. Othniel was everything a judge should be.

But Ehud is, I think, a step down.

When Joab acts much like this in 2 Samuel, the narrator seems to think it is a bad thing.

Here, it doesn’t say.

It says that God gave Israel a deliverer–Ehud. It doesn’t say that God approved of all of His methods.

It doesn’t gloss over them and even seems to celebrate them–imagine how the Israelites must have hooted and hollered when they heard this story!

“The whole sword went in and the fat closed over it?”

“Nobody checked on him? They thought he was going to the bathroom?”

“Guess he was on the throne, huh?!”

I don’t think that we have to figure out how much of this was God’s best and how much of it God just used in His providence to get the point.

It’s not like God wants us to be “assassins for Christ” today so we have to figure out how much is good and how much is bad.

But we do have to say that God is mysteriously involved.

We’re going to see this again and again as Israel spirals downward in this book of Judges.

God uses all kinds of bad men and bad behavior to do His good work.

And we should rejoice in that.

God is not afraid of a little messiness to accomplish His purposes.

In fact, He is the king of using messiness to accomplish His purposes.

God Himself never does anything dirty, but He is able in His providence to use the messiness of life to bring salvation to His children.

That’s good news.

I learned this from reading Dale Ralph Davis’ little book on Judges.

Let me read to you an extended quote.
Let us return to our imaginary objector over here, who still feels this humor is gross and that this narrative sullies the pretty white paper of his Bible, who sees no practical use in this and is especially upset that God should have some role in it. Yet that is precisely why Israel relishes and rejoices in it: because her God and our God is not a God who stand off by himself in the chaos of our times. Isn’t it true that for some readers life right now is like those wild, uncontrollable, rampaging days of the judges? Don’t some of God’s people today have to confess that life seems to have gone haywire, perhaps due to their own folly and sin and stupidity? Is Yahweh in touch with times like that? Does he bring his help near his people then?
Do you feel like that right now?
Davis says, And that is the glory of this passage: it tells us that Yahweh deals wiht the dirty, mixed-up affairs of life in which his people find themselves. Here we are – some in family situations we have messed up; some in emotional trauma; some in grief and sorrow or in the clutches of temptation. Life seems to be a mass of twisted coathangers and disconnected doorknobs. And the glory of this text is that it tells us that Yahweh is not a white-gloved, standoffish God out somewhere in the remote left field of the universe who hesitates to get his strong right arm dirty in the yuck of our lives. The God of the Bible does not hold back in the wild blue yonder somewhere waiting for you to pour Clorox and spray Lysol over the affairs of your life before he will touch it. Whether you can comfortably put it together or not, he is the God who delights to deliver his people even in their messes and likes to make them laugh again; he is the god who allows weeping to endure for a night but sees that joy comes in the morning.
Did you need to hear that?  I sure did.

The LORD is mysteriously involved.

He raised up and used Ehud to save His people.

And Ehud got away. V.26

“While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.”

Stop there for just a second. Here are those idols again.

Now, it could be just a mile marker, a geographical note, but why did Israel get into trouble in the first place?

Because of idols, right?

I think what’s going on here is that the idols can’t stop God’s deliverer.

They just stand there.

In verse 19, they do nothing to stop Ehud from going back and killing Eglon.

In verse 26, Ehud passes them by and they don’t lift a finger to stop him.

Now, you and I don’t expect them to, because we know something about idols.

They aren’t real!
They don’t see!
They don’t hear!
They don’t act!

They make big promises, but they can’t keep them.

Eglon trusted in idols, and look where it got him!

#4. THE LORD IS REALLY THERE!

Do you need to be remind of that this morning?

The LORD is really there.

Idols are dumb. Idols are stupid.

We have to remind ourselves of that.

False gods vie for our attention, but they are false.

They are not real. They cannot do what they promise.

Psalm 115 says,

"Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.  But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they  cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”

But Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases Him.

He is really there.

And He is #5 and last:

#5. THE LORD IS MIGHTY TO SAVE. V.27

“When he arrived there, [Ehud] blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. ‘Follow me,’ he ordered, ‘for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.’ So they followed him down and, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab, they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous [literally, “fat” like Eglon] and strong; not a man escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.”

The Lord is mighty to save.

V.28, “the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.”

V.30, “That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.”

Now, we know what happens next.

Ehud dies and the cycle starts over again and it just get worse.

But this is a glimpse of what God can do.

What a rightly jealous God can do.
What an astonishingly compassionate God can do.
What a mysterious God can do when He roles up His sleeves to dip His hands into our messiness and bring out salvation.
What a God who is really there and mighty to save can do.

Rejoice in the salvation of the Lord!


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