Judges 3.12-30 Faithful Message

April 22, 2012 Series: Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Judges 3:12–3:30

Intro: Humility and Humiliation
Last week we were introduced to the first Judge, Othniel. The account was a simple, somewhat boring, and clean. It was the story of a blue-collar Coppersmith who had the heart of a warrior. God raises up this man to save Israel, fills him with the Holy Spirit, and empowers him to conquer a world class enemy known as “King Double Evil”. Today’s text couldn’t be any more different. The record of the 2nd judge is hilarious, violent, and dirty—it is the story of a lefty and a hefty, an assassin and a fat guy, a story of humility and humiliation. The more I dug into this text, the more delightfully disturbing it became. If reading the story as a 21st century is entertaining then reading it as an ancient Israelite would have been gut busting. God and his story are anything but slow—they are delightfully disturbing.

We cannot allow the point of the story to get lost in its comedy. The big E on the eye chart is that God saves. As we break down this text, don’t get distracted by the problems God creates for you with his ways; instead, focus on God’s power to bring salvation from within the problems that men create. All of creation and history is purposed to bring glory to God. And God WILL BE glorified one way or another; either through our humility as His children or through our humiliation as His enemies.

V.12- 14 The Enemy King
Beginning in verse 12, once again, Israel proves themselves unfaithful to their promises and, once again, God proves himself faithful to his promise to punish sin. They do what is evil and this time, God strengthens an otherwise weak king of Moab who joins forces with the Ammonites and the Amalekites.

Who is this axis of evil? All of three of these people have a colorful history and all of them prove to be a problem for the people of Israel. The two sons, Moab and Ammon resulted from the daughters of lot, Abraham’s nephew. In Genesis 19, God rescues lot from the city of Sodom. Before God destroys Sodom for their sexual wickedness, lot escapes with his wife (who turns to a pillar of salt for looking back) and two married daughters. Having learned their morality from city of Sodom, fearing that they will not have offspring, they get their dad drunk and sleep with him…two nights in a row. The resulting children are Moab and Ammon. (Genesis 19.36)The Amalekites were the first Canaanite people to attack Israel, unprovoked, after they had crossed the Red Sea. It was also first battle where we are introduced to Joshua as a warrior-general, but it is not the last. God declares war on the Amalekites forever and it is Saul’s failure to wipe them out completely that God rejects Saul as King and anoints David (1Samuel 15). Geographically, these are the peoples that are those that are surrounding their land. the Moabites were south-east, the Ammonites were east, and the Amalekites were south

Who is the King? Eglon’s, whose name means “little calf” isn’t so little. The text makes a point to say that he is fat, literally a FAT LITTLE COW. This is a mockery of Moab but also significant to the narrative. The King has gotten fat by living off the “fat” of the land taken from the offerings brought by Israelites. He reigns for in a palace located in the city of Palms which is Jericho. This is the first city that the Israelites conquered, and burned to the ground, when they entered the land. All of this only serves to reveal how far Israel has fallen. After 18 years of heavy oppression, Israel cries out and God responds.

V. 15- 18 The Elite Warrior
God raises up a deliverer named Ehud. As we might expect geographically, Ehud is a Benjamite. The text makes a point to say that he is a left-handed man. Ehud was not crippled on his right side, nor was he shunned because he was left handed, in truth, he was an ambidextrous elite warrior. The tribe of Benjamin was known for these left-handed warriors—he is a Special Forces assassin. And as such, he makes his own special “double-edged” sword (13” long) which he attaches to his right thigh. Because left-handed men were as rare as they are today, the guards would not suspect, perhaps not even check for a weapon on his right side. Ehud is chosen to lead the team bringing tribute to the king. Having presented his tribute to the King, he leaves having established trust and not drawn his weapon.

Upon his return to his land, he passes by Gilgal. Gilgal was the city where Joshua had set up their first memorial of 12 stones, placed there in order to teach future generations about God’s provision. More than that, it was also the place where men, who had been born during the wilderness wandering, were circumcised. Gilgal means “roll” because not only did they rolled back skin and a made a hill of foreskins, by doing so, they rolled back there shame and renewed their covenant. So, Ehud walks by this city and sees false idols where the memorials to the one God should be. He leaves his party and enters into the throne room of Eglon with a “secret” message which can also be translated, secret word, thing, or even experience. This is where it gets crazy.

V. 19-25 The Sacrificial Assassination
Follow along. Having established trust, Ehud walks into the throne room and says: I have a secret “something” for you, O’King. Intrigued, Elgon commands silence signaling all of his attendants, including his guards, to leave. He wants a private meeting. From there, Eglon makes his way alone up into the cool roof chamber in his palace. Historians believe that this chamber was like a large private bathroom where the cool air could flow through, and the king could rest or relieve himself. At some point Egloninvites Ehud into private parlor.Everyone is already gone, so why would a king invite a man into his private restroom to hear this message? Ehud against says he has a message not from Yahweh, but from “god” – which we know is the god of fertility. Ehud draws near to the Eglon, the “fattened” calf. Who stands to receive the message. Ehud then reaches down to his thigh and thrust his sword, literally “flame”, into Eglon’s belly—literally “womb”. The sword disappears into his royal fatness and his extremely large bowels explode in a storm of stench and dung. The symbolism of sacrifice is undeniable and the sexual innuendos disturbing. From there, Ehud goes out INTO the porch (down into the latrine) having locked the doors behind him. Most likely, there were only two ways out of that chamber—through the front doors or down the hole. Like scene out of Shawshank Redemption, he crawled through the hole in the floor and exited the access door below.

Meanwhile, Eglon’s servants begin to wonder what is taking so long. They see the doors of the roof chamber locked and presume that he is relieving himself, a theory most likely affirmed by the swath of smells. They wait until it had been embarrassingly long, and decided to finally open the doors to see if there was a problem. They unlock the doors to find their king murdered lying on the floor in a pile of dung. The guard’s delay, made possible because of the man’s girth, helps Ehud escape without detection.

V. 26-30 The Complete Conquest
Upon his return, Ehud once again passes the idols that perhaps inspired the assassination. He sounds the war trumpet, and gathers as an army. Contrary to some scholars who might want to say that God’s hero did what was “right in his own eyes”, Ehud affirms that the LORD as the one who has delivered the Moabites into their hands. After 18 years of oppression, the people finally respond in faith and go to battle—fulfilling the command to annihilate God’s enemies completely. God also proves faithful as he empowers his people to defeat thousands of strong Moabite soldiers. Israel has rest.

What can we learn?
So we are left asking what we could possibly learn from such a delightfully disturbing story. Are we supposed to praise or condemn Ehud’s actions? We certainly do not like to believe that God approves Ehud’s actions. That would be a God who is too mysterious, too uncomfortable, too out of my control, too…dirty. It is a dangerous thing to stand in judgment of God because he doesn’t fit our preconceived idea—to place yourself at the center of the universe, judge of all. Once there, you see everything and everyone, including God from your perspective. God is loving if he expresses it in ways acceptable to me. God is just if I can be persuaded of his justice. God is not evil if he does what I deem good. Pretty soon, you begin to make foolish statements like God would never _________________, which is only a step away from God would never ask me to ________________. So, here are five lessons we learn:

Lesson #1: First, God is about himself and His glory. All of creation, including my life, is his. So, whether it is through the humility or the humiliation of men, God will be glorified. He creates and he destroys, he empowers kings and disposes them, he brings both victory and defeat. God is faithful to his name. God loves his holiness. God is centered on God otherwise he himself is guilty of idolatry. So our Creator uses all of creation to display his magnificence—including what we might consider flawed men and flawed means. We must never forget what Job concluded after questioning God:“I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Lesson #2: Second, God raises up men and directs their faithfulness how he chooses. Othniel was a rural copper-smith who, though he had fought before, was basically a family man. God raised him up and made him powerful. Ehud, was a powerful special forces warrior whom God raised up and made him humble. We all think we’re underdog Othniel, none of us want to be Ehud. We want to serve God on our terms in ways we consider worthy for our skills, talents, and experiences. In other words, we only want to serve God in the clean roles where we might share in the glory. God’s faithful men humbly pursue the glory of God even if it kills them or their reputation. A truly radical pursuit of God’s glory in this life is usually more humbling, more unpopular, and dirtier than most of us like. But God uses that which is foolish, strange, even disgusting to us, because it brings Him maximum glory. In other words, sometimes God takes us through some crap on purpose, in Ehud’s case, literally.

Lesson #3: Third, we also learn a lot about false gods. The 44th chapter of Isaiah speaks of the utter foolishness of idolatry. False gods are little more than sticks and stones. More than once, the text mentions Ehud passing by the idols of Moab, both on his way to kill Eglon and after accomplishing his gruesome task. And all the while, the idols stand like the silent rocks that they are and do nothing. False gods cannot comfort, they cannot teach, they cannot protect, and they cannot deliver you from the wrath of the one true God. The story is a complete mockery of the Moabite gods who are, in fact, not gods at all. The greatest of false gods are at best laughable, they are joke to God.

Lesson #4: And finally we learn much about those who worship the false gods. At worst, God’s people are humbled. At best, God’s enemies are humiliated. Men who follow false gods are lost. Isaiah says: They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (44:18-20) Those who worship false gods are like Eglon, spiritually fat, stupid, and damned.

Lesson #5: the shame of Jesus my deliverer
But more than anything, this story points us to Jesus Christ. You might think that impossible, but consider how this grotesque story helps us to appreciate the gospel. Our God doesn’t save the world despite the sins of men, he saves it through them. We serve a God who does not stand at a distance, rather, one who becomes dirty, and broken, humble, and shameful.

In Hebrews, the Word of God is called a double-edge sword. And according to John, that Word, that sword, took on human flesh. That means that the eternally perfect, beautiful, and glorious son of God, the creator and sustainer of all things became a man. That is outrageous. The humility that required is incomprehensible. This is not simply Special Forces warrior becoming a seductive mailman assassin—this is much more scandalous. He did not come and live as a king, no, he started as a child, in a dirty little city called Nazareth and lived as a man for 30 years. He experienced life of his creation. He was the true Benjamite whose name means, “man of sorrows.”

But the humility did not stop at the incarnation. It extended to the point where he was rejected, mocked, ashamed, and eventually murdered. And what is even more outrageous, is that he choose to place himself in a position of shame. Much like Ehud, he could have unleashed his special forces training. Like a divine Rambo, he could have wiped out all of his enemies with a thought…but he waited, allowed his unsuspecting enemy fat with pride to get very close and then delivered at the right time, in the right place, the right way, through his death. Like Eglon, in our weakness we believe we are strong. Like Ehud, Jesus became helpless to show we were wrong. He took the risk he took the shame, he took on all of the crap of life—so that I might be delivered.

Stories like this disturb us. They challenge our idea of what God can and will do, which scares us to consider what he might calls us to do. Truthfully, most of us do everything we can to avoid living radically or getting down and “dirty” for fear of being made a fool for the Lord. But if God’s wisdom is foolish to men, Jesus must have seemed out of his mind. So while I can hope he God doesn’t call me to imitate Ehud because it disturbs my sensitivities, I must never forget that that the call to imitate Jesus is perhaps even more disturbing to my reputation and lifestyle.

God is always glorified, either by our humility or our humiliation. Humility is given, through faith in Christ, to His children. We simply follow Christ wherever he leads. Humiliation is given, by the rejection of Christ, to his enemies. Humility is trusting that a sinless lamb named, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed for your sins; humiliation comes through being slaughtered for your own like Eglon.

Let us never forget that Jesus, the true Benjamite, did not stay as a man of sorrows. We serve a living God. When Benjamin was older, His Father changed his name from the“man of sorrows” to the, “Son of my Right Hand.” Though Jesus experienced sorrow, but follow his death and resurrection he ascended to the right hand of the Father as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And though I may experience sorrow in this life, it cannot compare with the weight of glory I’ll experience in the next. Amen.

More in Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

July 1, 2012

Judges 9:1-57 {Un}Faithful Rule

June 24, 2012

Judges 8.1-35 {Un}Faithful Zeal

June 17, 2012

Judges 7.1-24 Faithful Odds