God has given the nation of Israel 40 years of peace by the hand of Othniel. As is the tendency for humanity, when good times come, we forget the Lord who gave us these blessings and prosperity. So it is with Israel. Judges 3:12 tells us that the people return to doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord. Therefore, the Lord does not strengthen Israel, but strengthens Eglon, the king of Moab against Israel. So Eglon takes the Moabites, Ammonites, and Amalekites to fight Israel and defeated Israel. The text makes a point that Eglon defeats Israel and takes the City of Palms, which is Jericho (cf. Deuteronomy 34:3). The people of Israel serve King Eglon for 18 years. This is a powerful declaration by God. The promised land has been subjugated by a foreign power and has taken the first city that God had given to Israel. It is certainly a message that God has strengthened Eglon and not Israel because of Israel’s sins. So the people suffer for 18 years. The text goes out of its way to point out that Eglon is a very fat man (3:17). This is not a knock against obesity. Being fat in the ancient Near East culture meant that you were wealthy and prosperous. The picture is that Eglon is growing fat off of the suffering and oppression of Israel. Notice that Eglon’s size is stated in the same breath with the statement that Israel is paying tribute to Eglon. Eighteen years of oppression and the wicked Eglon is growing fat off of Israel’s oppression.
When the people cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them (3:15). For the second time we see that when the people cry out to the Lord, the Lord hears their cries and responses. It took 8 years for the people to cry out to the Lord in the days of Othniel. Now it takes 18 years for the people to cry out to the Lord. Yet the Lord still responds to the cries of his people and raises up a deliverer that the people need. We are reminded about the loving compassion and grace of God who continues to hear his rebellious sinful people when they turn their hearts to him.
The Unexpected Savior
But the Lord raises up an unexpected savior for Israel. Notice what we are told about Ehud in verse 15. Ehud is left-handed. Now the Hebrew word literally means that his right hand is bound or restricted. So Ehud may be naturally left-handed or he may be left-handed out of necessity. His right hand may not be functional. But this is what makes Ehud an unexpected deliverer. This deliverer cannot use his right hand. He is perceived as someone who cannot help. The right hand was the symbol of strength, power, and deliverance, but Ehud cannot use his right hand.
Ehud along with other messengers from Israel bring the tribute to King Eglon. But Ehud has made a double-edged dagger and bound it to his right thigh. They bring the tribute and are leaving Eglon’s chamber. But as they are walking off, Ehud turns around and says, “I have a secret message for you, O king” (3:19). Eglon desires to hear this secret message so he sends all of his attendants out of his chambers. The previous piece of information that Ehud’s right hand is restricted explains why Eglon feels safe to be in the presence of this Israelite alone. The dagger is hidden on the wrong side of Ehud’s body and Ehud seems unable to be a deliverer. So Ehud approaches the king with his secret message. Ehud takes the dagger in his left hand from his right thigh and plunges it into Eglon’s belly, all the way to the hilt.
God’s humor continues. Not only are we told that Eglon was so fat that his belly closed over the dagger, but we are told that no one comes to his help. As Ehud escapes, the servants do not enter the king’s chamber because they think he is going to the bathroom and are giving him his privacy. This provides the time Ehud needs to escape. Finally, so much time goes by that the attendants are becoming embarrassed (3:25) so they finally enter the chamber, only to find their king dead on the floor. Notice that verse 26 makes a clear point about who is the greater God. Ehud passes by the idols of Moab on his way out. The gods and idols of Moab did not protect their king from the True and Almighty God of Heaven.
Notice that up to this point no one recognizes that Ehud is the deliverer sent by God to rescue Israel. Ehud returns to Israel, blows the trumpet, calls for the people to attack the Moabites, “for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand” (3:28). Israel won the battles and subdued Moab. Israel was at rest for 80 years.
The Unknown Savior
But then something strange occurs in the recounting of the events in the days of the judges. After giving a lengthy explanation about the deliverance brought by the hand of Ehud, listen to verse 31.
After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel. (Judges 3:31 ESV)
That is all we are told. There are no details and no explanation. Shamgar is a non-Israelite name, so he is apparently a foreigner. Shamgar offers salvation for Israel in the strangest of ways. He uses an oxgoad for a weapon to kill 600 Philistines. What is God teaching us from these two deliverers that God used to save Israel?
1. God delivers through unexpected means. God uses two people who through the most unexpected of ways will bring salvation for his people. With Ehud, God is using a left-handed judge, a person who would not seem appropriate by human evaluation for the task of saving Israel. With Shamgar, God uses a person who does not even use a weapon, but is able to take an oxgoad to save Israel. Shamgar is not an Israelite and he is using a farming tool to bring Israel salvation! God is setting forth a pattern of how he delivers his people. We saw this when studying the life of Joseph. God would save Israel and his family by having one of the sons sold into slavery and then raising him up as the second most powerful person in the Egyptian Empire.
Consider that God was going to save the world from its sins through unexpected means.
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2–3 ESV)
Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? 21 For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. 22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. 30 But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:20–31 HCSB)
Who could imagine that God would save the world through a shameful, despised instrument: the cross! Who would imagine that God himself would become human so that he could be the very person to die on that cross! What an unconventional, unexpected Savior we have! About 2000 years ago a child was born in Bethlehem that would change the world. But perhaps what is even more amazing is God brought this salvation and we did not even ask for it. God predestined us for adoption as his children before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-14). While we are living in the darkness of this world God sent Jesus to save the world. The world was dead in sins when God decided to save. God saves in the most amazing of ways. God saves people who do not deserve to be saved.
The point is that God uses unexpected, surprising means so that no one can boast in their own knowledge, wisdom, ability, or talent. All glory belongs to the Lord and no one can boast in the presence of God. Nor do our idols, hopes, dreams, or positive thinking deliver us from our difficulties or sins. Our strength and our will cannot deliver us. The scriptures record that Ehud passes by the idols to show that God alone can save and God alone can help.
Why would we look anywhere else for help? One of the interesting aspects of the book of Judges is that we see some time goes by and the people need another savior. They need another deliverer to take care of their oppression, set them free, and give them rest. Then Jesus comes and there is not another savior to come after him. The supremacy of Christ is that he is the savior we need now and forever. All that we need is Jesus. All of our boasting and all of our hope is in him. He is sufficient to save. He is sufficient for life.
2. God expects faithfulness and responds with compassion when we turn to him. Unfaithfulness brings about God’s anger. God’s love does not mean that we can live disobediently. God expects faithfulness. But the good news is that when we fail at faithfulness, God responds with love and grace when we call to him. We see that sin is the real enemy. We forfeit the blessings of God and become vulnerable to the enemy when we remain in sin. Turn back to the Lord and find unexpected salvation from our wonderful Savior!