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.
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.