Expect the Unexpected: Ehud’s Left Hand (Judges 3:12-30)

So anyway, the name of this blog…

Some context: following the deaths of Moses and his successor Joshua, Israel doesn’t have a fixed leader or centralised government, acting as a confederation of the Twelve Tribes. However, their disobedience to God and subsequent oppression by neighbouring countries / communities / tribes means that every few decades they need God to bail them out. God does this through ‘Judges’, although forget our concept of the word – here a judge is more of a military leader drafted to deal with a specific crisis. One of the earliest judges was a guy called Ehud, whose story is told in Judges 3.

Now, Ehud is from the tribe of Benjamin, which is an innocuous detail until you know two facts.

1. Ehud is left-handed. In fact, the tribe of Benjamin is known for left-handedness (see here and here, for instance).

2. The name Benjamin means ‘Son of the right hand’.

This little genetic irony is a symbol for the whole story of Ehud, however, because Ehud teaches us an important lesson – expect the unexpected. It’s one of those stories that, when you first hear it, your first reaction is something like “What, that’s in the Bible?!”

Israel has been oppressed for 18 years by the grotesquely obese Eglon, the king of Moab. Something needs to be done. Enter Ehud, who presents Israel’s regular tribute to Eglon, getting close enough to the king to carry out an assassination.

Ehud’s able to do this because he has a sword strapped to his right thigh, which he draws with his left hand – anyone expecting an attack would assume the exact opposite, and therefore Ehud’s left-handedness gives him the element of surprise. This may even have got him past security checks. Eglon doesn’t see his assassination coming.

And then we get to the bit where people say “WHAT?!” Because not only does Eglon get stabbed, the sword sinks into his stomach right up to the hilt, his fat swallowing up the weapon. Which is bad enough, but then, in the about-as-discreet-as-they-can-be words of the NIV, Eglon’s “bowels discharged”.

The word you’re looking for is “Eww”.

It gets better. Ehud is able to sneak out and makes his escape because everyone thinks that the king is spending a long time on the toilet.

Seriously. It’s in verse 24.

Ehud then has enough time to mobilise an army, using the chaos following the assassination of Eglon to defeat the Moabites and liberate Israel. The end.

The story of Ehud isn’t one that forms the basis of sermons or Sunday School songs with descriptive actions (“Now Eglon was a very fat man/A very fat man was he/Ehud stabbed him in the belly/Till he started to poo and pee/Oh, he started to poo and pee”… Nah, doesn’t scan well). But the lesson that jumps out at me is that God, as well as the Bible, rarely does what we expect. Any relationship with God, any attempt to study his Word should confound our expectations.

It’s the hated Samaritan that saves a wounded man, not the priest. It’s the youngest son of the family that becomes the great king David, not the eldest.

Jacob’s the father of the nation of Israel, but he’s basically a conman and a trickster.

The disciples include a collaborating tax-collector and a militant terrorist.

Jesus comes as Messiah and saves us, not through a military victory but through death on a cross.

Constantly throughout the Bible, God does the unexpected. The last are first. The mighty are brought low. Heroes have feet of clay. The greatest persecutor of the church becomes its greatest theologian. My initial idea behind this blog, and the reason it got named after a story that’s all about the unexpected, was to look at bits of the Bible that surprise us or that don’t get commented on much. But then I realised that the whole book is like that – little stories tucked away in a couple of obscure sentences can illuminate the whole book, and the epic, world-famous tales all have layers of meaning that we can uncover.

And that’s what God is like – consistent of character, yes, but unpredictable in how that character is expressed and how his purposes are achieved. The God who saves his people through devastating Egypt also saves his people through a virgin birth and a brutal execution. And, ultimately, death is turned into life.

Surprise!

 

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17 thoughts on “Expect the Unexpected: Ehud’s Left Hand (Judges 3:12-30)

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Art: The Story of Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-10) | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

  2. Pingback: Elisha and the Bears (2 Kings 2:23-24) | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

  3. I just read this story in the Bible and jumped online to research the story. I love your perspective on it. God is amazing. Thank you.

  4. Hi Matt, I’m a Youth Pastor in California and was looking for info on Ehud and came across your blog. God does unexpected thing and you perspective on this story helped make it come alive for my students. I have a wide range of ages (both High School and Jr. High) and it’s sometime difficult helping them “get it” When we went over this story I did something unexpected. Before the kids came in to our youth room I taped some inflated balloons to a coffee table in the middle of the room. After getting everyone settled and just after praying I stood up reached into my coat pocket and pulled out 5 darts. With a look of anger on my face I popped the balloons on the table with the darts. This got their attention and they were like “what the heck are you doing?” Once I was done I looked up at all of them and said “Did you expect that to happen? No, well God does some unexpected things as well and tonight we are going to look at a man God used in an unexpected way.”

    All that to say your blog spoke to their hearts and helped them to see God in a different way. So, thank You. Wondered if you’ve thought about doing a post on Abimelech and his problem with a major “Headache” in Judges 9. I’ll be covering it this next Wednesday and might do something “unexpected” again. 🙂

    Thanks again, Dave Hurbon Youth Pastor Cornerstone Church of Escondido.

    • Thanks Dave; I really appreciated your comment, especially after the week I’ve had. Glad the post helped; sounds like you all had a good evening!

      I hadn’t thought about an Abimelech post before, but I’ll definitely give it some thought. I like the stories no-one ever seems to preach on…

      • Hey Matt,
        The study on Abimelech was a “smashing” success! 🙂 I got their attention by dropping a cinder block on a cantaloupe right in the middle of the room. Then I took a few of the guys outside and up to the second floor balcony and demonstrated the dropping of the millstone. Again I say thanks. When we get back from Christmas break I think the story about the tent spike through the temple will be next. Our youth room table will have a new permanent fixture. Keep doing what your doing. To God be the glory. In HIS Service and yours Dave.

        P.S.
        How can I attach a photo? I like to show you the table after I pierce it. 🙂

      • I happen to be studying the Judges, also, and enjoyed your blog about Ehud. I had never forgotten him since I was a child, because an evangelist once titled his sermon “When Lefty Let Fatty Have it”. 🙂
        About Abimelech, I find it interesting that “a certain woman” is the one who dropped the stone on his head to give him that “headache”. He didn’t want anyone to say that a WOMAN had defeated him, so he had his own armor bearer to quickly kill him with his sword. I see some pictures here: “a certain woman” makes me think of the first promise of our Savior in Genesis 3:15. (“the seed of the woman”). God used the virgin birth – the seed of a woman to send the deliverer into this world. Second, it was the “stone” that “brake his skull” (Judges 9), and I see the “stone cut out without hands” in Daniel 2:34 — picturing Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, there was another symbol: the cross was on top of the hill of “Golgotha”/place of the skull. Jesus was destroying “him who had the power of death” [and death is often depicted by a picture of a skull/crossbones]. The cross itself was sunk deep into the top of the “skull”/the top of Golgotha, again picturing a mortal wound to “him that had the power of death”. (Hebrews 2:14)

  5. Very good blog. Just wanted to mention couple of things I’ve heard as well. (I have to make it short, only have 5min.lol.)
    At the time left handedness was considered a handicap. God can use whats in our hand, (moses=staff/shepherd, david=sling, jael=tentpeg/tent builder….ect), ehud=left handedness. He + others probably considered him to be weak, God seen him differently – able to use him. Also, a messenger (with good news), would keep the letter on right side having to grab it with left hand (hence the surprise), you already sorta went over all this, makes me feel good/helpful reminder to me to write it out. One other thing= it seems ehud changed his mind, I guess doubt in mind, came to a certain wall with writing, then went back to do the deed. I wonder what the writing was?

  6. It appears I’m about 2 years late to this party…but nicely done. I never would have guessed in a thousand years that someone would have a blog in any way ‘themed’ around this bizzare story in Judges.

    But you are right, God does do the unexpected, and often with the most unexpected people.

    I teach Sunday School to first through fifth graders ( http://www.betterbibleteachers.com ) and in 2 weeks I am teaching this story for the first time…ever.

    Your site has been extremely helpful and I just wanted to say thanks.

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