by Sam E. Stone
Judges 3:1-6 sets the stage for the remainder of the book. The following verses outline the pattern that is repeated as each judge comes on the scene. Over and over we learn the name of the oppressor, the duration of the oppression, the name of the deliverer, and the length of the ensuing period of rest.
Othniel is the first such judge (vv. 7-11). After he had delivered the people “once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 12). This time it was Eglon king of Moab to whom the Lord gave power over Israel to teach them a lesson. For 18 years he ruled them. Finally in response to the prayers of the people of Israel, God sent another judge—Ehud.
The Judge Selected/Judges 3:15-19
The nations listed as Israel’s enemies were generally located along the western and northern sides of the land occupied by Israel when Joshua died. Other native people remained in Canaan also. The Israelites intermarried with some of the pagans, adding to the problems they would face in later years. The Moabites were descendants of a son born from an incestuous encounter between Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19:37).
Israel’s new judge had one special characteristic noted in Scripture—he was left-handed, a Benjamite. Benjamin has been called “the tribe of the southpaw” (see Judges 20:15, 16). This fact figured into Ehud’s plot to assassinate Eglon. Ehud brought tribute money from Israel to pay the king of Moab. Like Ehud, Eglon also had a noteworthy characteristic—he was very fat! Rob Fleenor points out that Eglon’s name is similar to the Hebrew word for calf (egel), suggesting that the calf is fat and ready for the slaughter.
Ehud would not have been likely to arouse suspicion among the king’s guards when they checked him before allowing admittance to the king’s presence. He had his short sword strapped to his right thigh, not his left, where a right-handed person would normally carry one. The entourage presented their money to King Eglon, and then started on their return back home.
The Message Delivered/Judges 3:20-25
Ehud returned, however. He said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” Quickly the king ordered all of his attendants out of the room. Then Ehud added, “I have a message from God for you.” Ehud’s words, like his double-edged dagger, have a double meaning. Ehud was here to deliver God’s judgment on the pagan ruler. The Lord used this judge to free Israel from bondage by his strength. As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. The narrator adds to his vivid description that even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Quickly Ehud went to the porch, shut the doors of the upper room behind him, and locked them. Then he made his getaway.
K. L. Younger, Jr. writes, “Concerning this message/thing from God, Eglon got the point!” He adds, “The courtiers erroneously assume that their corpulent monarch is taking his leisurely time in relieving himself in the chamber toilet . . . . These courtiers, like their ruler, are held up to satirical humor for their credulity.” When they finally unlocked the door to check on the king, they found him lying dead on the floor. While they had waited, Ehud got away.
The Victory Achieved/Judges 3:29-30
The writer notes that Ehud “passed by the idols” as he made his escape, showing the contrast between all manmade gods and the one true, living God. After arriving in the hill country of Ephraim, Ehud used a trumpet to summon the army. While Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh were in the best location to assist him, the text makes clear that just as it had been “the Israelites” who cried to the Lord initially (Judges 3:15), it was “the Israelites” who also went down with him now (v. 27). This suggests all the tribes were united behind Ehud, this second judge.
Ehud told the people, “The Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” The text then adds that some 10,000 Moabites were killed—all vigorous and strong; not a man escaped. God used a cunning and creative judge to break the bondage of oppression on his people. Then the land had peace for 80 years.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.