The death of Joshua (Judges 1:1) created a leadership vacuum which left the twelve tribes of Israel with no centralized government and susceptible to invasion. Periodically, charismatic leaders known as “judges” arose to give the Israelites a temporary respite from their enemies. Judges were not arbitrators of cases like today but rather more often than not guerilla warriors. Ehud is the second of the six major judges (Judges 3:15-30). His story is vulgar and a tale one would not expect to find in the Bible or to be heard in church.
Eglon, king of Moab, aligned himself with Ammon and Amalek and captured “the City of Palms”, Jericho (Deuteronomy 34:3; Judges 3:13). Jericho had been the Israelites’ first major conquest in the Promised Land (Joshua 6:1-26). Instead of obliterating the Israelites, Moab opted to subjugate them and extract tribute (Judges 3:15). Eglon was morbidly obese (Judges 3:18), presumably at the expense of his subjects. His tyranny endured for eighteen years before Ehud emerged (Judges 3:14).
Having no trained army at his disposal, Ehud devised a plan to assassinate Eglon opportunistically using his position as leader of the couriers that paid the Israelites’ tribute (Judges 3:15). Before leaving on his mission, Ehud fashioned a double-edged sword one cubit (eighteen inches) in length (Judges 3:16). The weapon was innovative for its time as the standard sword was curved with only one sharp edge. The straight sword was designed for stabbing and more importantly for Ehud allowed it to be concealed, unlike its curved counterparts.
Ehud’s left-handedness also aided his deception. In fact, he is the first left-hander mentioned in the Bible (Judges 3:15). This appears to be a genetic trait of his tribe, Benjamin (Judges 3:15, 20:16), which ironically means “son of my right hand” (Genesis 35:18). Being a southpaw, Ehud kept his weapon on his right thigh instead of the usual left. His bare left thigh made him appear unarmed.
Ehud obtained a private audience with Eglon under the auspices of relaying a secret (Judges 3:19). Alone with the king, Ehud thrust his weapon so deep into Eglon’s corpulence that not only the blade but the haft was lodged as well (Judges 3:22). This tactic prevented the immediate spurt of blood which would have alerted the guards. Ehud then locked Eglon in the room and escaped as Eglon’s staff misinterpreted the smell to be that of the king relieving himself (Judges 3:23-24). Before Eglon’s corpse was discovered, Ehud escaped to the mountains of Ephraim where the king’s death served as a rallying cry for Israel who then defeated the Moabites (Judges 3:26-29).
Ehud commits premeditated murder. His action was as risky as a double edged sword. To Moab, Ehud was an assassin but to Israel he was a “deliverer” canonized as a judge (Judges 3:15). Fortunately for him, Israel wrote the history.
Do you feel Ehud is a hero, villain, or something else in between? Why?
Hundreds of years later, another potentially left handed swordsman attempted to do battle for God. When Jesus was being arrested, all four gospels report that a disciple cut off the ear of one of the arresting party (Matthew 26:51-52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-51; John 18:10-11). John identifies the disciple as Peter and the victim as Malchus (John 18:10). It was Malchus’ right ear that was severed, meaning that either Peter was left-handed or a remarkably inept swordsman (Luke 22:50; John 18:1).
Jesus disapproves of the action and offers this aphorism of non-violence:
“Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52, NASB)The contrast between the stories of the swordsmen, Ehud and Peter, demonstrates the radical nature of the kingdom Jesus was establishing.
How is the kingdom of God different from the kingdom of Israel? Could there ever be such a thing as a Christian assassin? If so, under what circumstances?