Throughout the Bible, we read about God using all kinds of people to accomplish His will and achieve victory in different areas. Even so, many people have the impression that all of the "good guys" in the Bible are ancient versions of Billy Graham, or maybe Ned Flanders.
If you've ever felt like everyone in the Bible was a benign saint, you need to read the story of Ehud -- a left-handed liar who assassinated an obese king in order to free God's people from a long period of slavery and oppression.
Ehud At a Glance:
Time period: Around 1400 - 1350 B.C.
Key passage: Judges 3:12-30
Key characteristic: Ehud was left-handed.
Key theme: God can use any person and any situation to accomplish His will.
Ehud's story is found in the Book of Judges, which is the second of the historical books in the Old Testament. Judges details the history of the Israelites from the conquest of the Promised Land (1400 B.C.) to the crowning of Saul as Israel's first king (1050 B.C.). So, the Book of Judges covers a period of about 350 years.
Because Israel had no king for those 350 years, the Book of Judges tells the story of 12 national leaders who led the Israelites during that time span. These leaders are referred to in the text as "judges" (2:16). Sometimes the judges were military commanders, sometimes they were political governors, and sometimes they were both.
Ehud was the second of the 12 judges who led the Israelites during a time of need. The first was named Othniel. The most famous judge today is probably Samson, and his story was used to conclude the Book of Judges.
One of the key themes recorded in the Book of Judges is that the Israelites were caught in a cycle of repeated rebellion against God (2:14-19). Here are the basic elements of that cycle:
- The Israelites as a society drifted away from God and worshiped idols, instead.
- Because of their rebellion, the Israelites were enslaved or oppressed by a neighboring people group.
- After a long period of difficult circumstances, the Israelites finally repented of their sin and cried out to God for help.
- God heard the cry of His people and sent a leader, a judge, to rescue them and break their oppression.
- After regaining their freedom, the Israelites eventually drifted back into rebellion against God, and the whole cycle started over again.
During Ehud's time, the Israelites were ruled by their bitter enemies the Moabites. The Moabites were led by their king, Eglon, who is described in the text as "an extremely fat man" (3:17). Eglon and the Moabites oppressed the Israelites for 18 years by the time they finally repented of their sin and cried out to God for help.
In response, God raised up Ehud to deliver His people from their oppression. Ehud ultimately accomplished this deliverance by deceiving and assassinating Eglon, the Moabite king.
Ehud began by fashioning a small, double-edged sword that he attached to his right leg, under his clothes. This was important because the vast majority of soldiers in the ancient world kept their weapons on their left legs, which made them easy to draw out with their right hands. Ehud was left-handed, however, which allowed him to keep his blade a secret.
Next, Ehud and a small group of companions came to Eglon with a tribute -- money and other goods the Israelites were forced to pay as part of their oppression. Ehud later returned to the king alone and asked to speak with him in private, claiming he wanted to deliver a message from God. Eglon was curious and unafraid, believing Ehud to be unarmed.
When Eglon's servants and other attendants left the room, Ehud quickly drew his improvised sword with his left hand and stabbed it into the king's stomach. Because Eglon was obese, the blade sank in to the hilt and disappeared from view. Ehud then locked the doors from the inside and escaped through the porch.
When Eglon's servants checked on him and found the doors locked, they assumed he was using the bathroom and didn't intervene. Eventually they realized something was wrong, forced entry into the room, and discovered that their king was dead.
Meanwhile, Ehud made his way back to Israelite territory and used the news of Eglon's assassination to raise an army. Under his leadership, the Israelites were able to defeat the king-less Moabites. They killed 10,000 Moabite warriors in the process and secured freedom and peace for about 80 years -- before the cycle started all over again.
What Can We Learn from Ehud's Story?:
People are often shocked by the level of deceit and violence Ehud displayed in carrying out his plan. In reality, Ehud was commissioned by God to lead a military operation. His motives and actions were similar to a modern-day soldier killing an enemy combatant during a time of war.
Ultimately, what we learn from Ehud's story is that God hears the cries of His people and is able to rescue them in times of need. Through Ehud, God took active steps to free the Israelites from oppression and abuse at the hands of the Moabites.
Ehud's story also shows us that God doesn't discriminate when choosing servants to accomplish His will. Ehud was left-handed, a trait that was considered a disability in the ancient world. Ehud was likely thought of as deformed or useless by the people of his day -- yet God used him to win a major victory for His people.