Ehud Breaks the Oppressor’s Yoke
THIS is a true story of courage and intrigue. It happened some 3,000 years ago. The Scriptural account begins with the words: “Once again the sons of Israel went doing what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. At that Jehovah let Eglon the king of Moab grow strong against Israel, because they did what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. Furthermore, he gathered against them the sons of Ammon and Amalek. Then they went and struck Israel and took possession of the city of palm trees. And the sons of Israel continued to serve Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.”—Judges 3:12-14.
The territory of the Moabites lay to the east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. But they had crossed the river and had occupied the area around Jericho, “the city of the palm trees,” reducing the Israelites to servitude. (Deuteronomy 34:3) The Moabite king, Eglon, “a very fat man,” had extorted a burdensome and humiliating tribute from Israel for nearly two decades. (Judges 3:17) His demands for tribute, however, provided an opportunity to eliminate the tyrant.
The record states: “The sons of Israel began to call to Jehovah for aid. So Jehovah raised up for them a savior, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a left-handed man. In time the sons of Israel sent tribute by his hand to Eglon the king of Moab.” (Judges 3:15) Jehovah must have made certain that Ehud was selected to present the tribute. Whether he had ever performed that duty before is not stated. However, the way that Ehud carefully prepared for the meeting and the tactics he used suggest that he may have had a certain familiarity with Eglon’s palace and what he could expect there. In all of this, his being left-handed was significant.
A Disabled Man or a Warrior?
Literally, the term “left-handed” means ‘shut, lamed, or bound in the right hand.’ Does this mean that Ehud was disabled, perhaps with a deformed right hand? Consider what the Bible says about the left-handed “seven hundred chosen men” out of the tribe of Benjamin. “Every one of these was a slinger of stones to a hairbreadth and would not miss,” states Judges 20:16. Very likely they were selected for their prowess in battle. According to some Bible scholars, “left-handed” denotes one “who used the left hand as well as the right,” that is, an ambidextrous person.—Judges 3:15, The Douay Version.
The tribe of Benjamin, in fact, was renowned for its left-handed men. First Chronicles 12:1, 2 tells of Benjamite “mighty men, the helpers in the warfare, armed with the bow, using the right hand and using the left hand with stones or with arrows in the bow.” This ability could have been achieved, says one reference work, “by binding the right arms of young children—hence ‘bound as to his right hand’—and inculcating dexterity with the left.” Israel’s foes would normally be trained to meet right-handed warriors. Hence, much of an enemy’s training could be nullified if he unexpectedly met a left-handed soldier.
“A Secret Word” for the King
Ehud’s first step was to prepare “a sword for himself”—a doubled-edged sword that was short enough to be concealed under his clothes. He may have expected to be searched. Swords were normally worn on the left side of the body, where right-handers could quickly draw them. Being left-handed, Ehud hid his weapon “underneath his garment upon his right thigh,” where the king’s guards were less likely to search. Without hindrance, therefore, “he proceeded to present the tribute to Eglon the king of Moab.”—Judges 3:16, 17.
The details of the initial events in Eglon’s court are not provided. The Bible simply says: “It came about that when [Ehud] had finished presenting the tribute, he at once sent the people away, the bearers of the tribute.” (Judges 3:18) Ehud presented the tribute, accompanied the bearers of the tribute to a safe distance from Eglon’s residence, and returned after dismissing them. Why? Did he have those men with him for protection, because of mere protocol, or perhaps simply as porters for the tribute? And did he want them out of the way for safety before carrying out his plan? Whatever his thinking was, Ehud bravely retraced his steps alone.
“[Ehud] turned back at the quarries that were at Gilgal, and he proceeded to say: ‘I have a secret word for you, O king.’” How he managed to regain entry to Eglon’s presence is not explained in the Scriptures. Should not the guards have been suspicious? Did they think that a single Israelite presented no threat to their lord? Did Ehud’s coming alone create the impression that he was betraying his countrymen? Whatever the case, Ehud sought a private audience with the king, and he got it.—Judges 3:19.
The inspired account continues: “Ehud came to [Eglon] as he was sitting in his cool roof chamber that he had to himself. And Ehud went on to say: ‘A word of God I have for you.’” Ehud was not referring to a verbal message from God. What Ehud had in mind was using his sword. Perhaps expecting to hear some message from his god Chemosh, the king “rose up from his throne.” Quick as a flash, Ehud drew his weapon and plunged it into Eglon’s belly. The sword apparently had no crosspiece. Hence, “the handle kept going in also after the blade so that the fat closed in over the blade, . . . and the fecal matter began to come out,” either through the wound or because of an involuntary discharge from Eglon’s bowels.—Judges 3:20-22.
A Smooth Escape
Without taking time to retrieve his sword, “Ehud proceeded to go out through the air hole, but he closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them. And he himself went out. And [Eglon’s] servants came and began looking, and there the doors of the roof chamber were locked. So they said: ‘He is just easing nature in the cool interior room.’”—Judges 3:23, 24.
What was “the air hole” through which Ehud left? “The precise meaning [of the Hebrew word] is unknown,” says one reference work, but “‘colonnade,’ ‘vestibule,’ have been suggested.” Did Ehud lock the doors on the inside and then leave by some other route? Or did he lock the doors on the outside with a key taken from the dead king? Did he then casually walk out past the guards as if nothing had happened? The Scriptures do not say. Whatever method Ehud used, however, Eglon’s servants did not immediately suspect anything upon finding the doors locked. They simply thought that the king was “just easing nature.”
While the king’s servants were lingering, Ehud escaped. Then he summoned his countrymen and said: “Follow me, because Jehovah has given your enemies, the Moabites, into your hand.” By seizing the strategic fords of the Jordan, Ehud’s men cut off the flight of the leaderless Moabites to their homeland. Thus, “at that time [the Israelites] went striking down Moab, about ten thousand men, every one robust and every one a valiant man; and not a single one escaped. And Moab came to be subdued on that day under Israel’s hand; and the land had no further disturbance for eighty years.”—Judges 3:25-30.
Lessons We Can Learn
What happened in the days of Ehud teaches us that there are dire consequences when we do what is bad in Jehovah’s eyes. On the other hand, Jehovah helps those who repentantly turn to him.
Ehud’s plans succeeded, not because of any cleverness on his part, nor because of any incompetence on the part of the enemy. The outworking of divine purposes does not depend on human factors. The primary reason for Ehud’s success was that he had God’s backing as he acted in harmony with His invincible will to liberate His people. God had raised up Ehud, “and when Jehovah did raise up judges for [his people], Jehovah proved to be with the judge.”—Judges 2:18; 3:15.