Ehud: What is left when you are right?


Historical and Biblical texts present that the conquest of the seven nations in the Promised Land took less than 30 years under the leadership of Joshua. The people of Israel also enjoyed three generations of peace from and after Joshua’s leadership. But after that, Israel entered the period of the Judges and more than 400 years of cycles of peace and oppression. The next set of Series study leadership profiles of the Judges and distinctive characteristics of leadership we can learn from. We learn innovation from our weaknesses in the study of Ehud in Series 20.

Judges 3

Something had had to be done and it was as simple as that. Ehud had never in his wildest moments imagined the outcome of the glory he found himself in. He was sure he would wake up from the pleasant dream one day and tell the story to his children and all those neighborhood children who had inspired him to do what he did.

It started with his left hand. Progressed with his left hand. And oh! How joyfully he swung his left hand now. All the left-handed of Israel were now the proud recipients of admiration for something that was disdained before. Being left-handed was no longer considered a handicap. It was a symbol of strength, courage, innovation and leadership. And all because Ehud decided to use what used to be a liability to resolve what had to be done.

For eight years, Chu-shan-rish-athaim, king of Mesopotamia had oppressed Israel. There were constant arguments over why he managed to defeat Israel. Some said that because of idol worship in Israel, God had removed His favour and strength from the nation. Those who wanted to keep up with the baal worship disputed this. They said it was because Moab had a superior army. Whatever the truth, life was unbearable under Eglon’s uncouth soldiers who raped Israel’s women on the country side roads and imposed  strange taxes nobody accounted for.

And one day, Othniel son of Kenaz, younger brother of Caleb, general of the army with the great Joshua, raised a war cry! Some way, somehow, in one swift battle that took every one unawares, Othniel led a band of hundred men to break the Mesopotamian regiment stationed on the borders of Dan. Another fifty men attacked from Beersheba. The battle plan had been a closely guarded secret held by these 150 prepared men. In two hours, the battle was over. Chu-shan-rish-athaim was killed and his people returned to their miserable place. Israel had peace for forty years. Ehud was born in that year nicknamed ‘the return of our peace’.

Unfortunately, with the return of peace, returned the loss of morals. By the time Ehud was thirty years old, most people had gone back to forgetting the Mosaic laws of conduct. The time of peace was shattered one bright afternoon the year Ehud turned forty. In a swift attack, Eglon, the fat king of Moab burst in on Israel’s tenements in Jericho, with a confederation from Ammon and Amalek , and set up his pillaging rule from the fortresses in the city of palm trees.

And a horrendous round of bondage and oppression started. In the eighteenth year of Eglon’s rule over Israel, Ehud decided that enough was enough. He prayed. He discussed with the council of elders what ought to be done to set their people free. No one seemed to know how to address the problem. And what could one man do?

Worse, a left handed man? It had been difficult for him to even find a wife because of his left hand. If he had not personally decided that he would do the best for himself even if everyone considered him handicapped, he may not have entered the school of diplomacy, and got the position of scribe to the council of elders of Israel in Ramah. Even in the security of that station, the disdain for his left hand was never far.

And that is how he was chosen to send Israel’s annual tribute and gift to the courts of Eglon. He was dispensable. Disguised as the job of a diplomat, the task was simply that of a doomed messenger. It was a task fraught with danger. Well, he didn’t think he was a dispensable messenger – even if everyone did. Something had to be done and he was determined to do it.

What started as a tiny vein of thought grew into a plan every time he prayed in preparation for that perilous task. Eglon was known for his love of food. And what he would do depended on how he felt after his meals. The story was that if it had too much pepper and ginger, he could order the execution of any victim he chose. If his food tasted good, the first to enter the dining room could get a promotion.

The afternoon that Ehud set off to the courts of Eglon, he stuck a double edged dagger wrapped in his garments under his right thigh. The soldiers under the palm trees at the entrance to Eglon’s palace laughed at his limp right arm. No one thought to examine his right leg.

Israel’s queue of servants that bore the trail of camels, dates, meat, and olive oil set down their gifts and started the return journey to the tribes that had travelled from Dan through Naphtali to the garrisons of Jericho. When they got to the quarries of Gilgal, Ehud whispered to the leader on his left – ‘go on without me. God has given me a message for the king’. Mahanaim smiled and moved away, anxious to get back to his home. No one wanted to linger on the unsafe trails.

Ehud walked with determination to Eglon’s courts, insisting on ignoring his beating heart and weak right arm. When he reached the courts of Eglon the second time, he lifted his limp right arm and lowered his head. ‘God has given me a message for the king. May I go back in and deliver it to him?’ Knowing that the king was happy from his afternoon session receiving gifts of food, the courtesans allowed Ehud back. He prostrated. The king waved everyone out of the room.

That is when the king placed his hand on Ehud’s knee and started to knead. Ehud’s head started to spin at the sheer effrontery of the king’s sense of entitlement and the secret revealed to him in that act. ‘Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly: And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly and the dirt came out’. (Judges 3:21, 22) The king’s food pushed out with the blood sputtering from every orifice. Eglon was dead.

Ehud’s escape from the court was easy. It was as if the soldiers milling under the palm trees were used to men fleeing from private trysts with the king. Rushing to the mountains of Ephraim, he retrieved the trumpets hidden at the foot of the mountain. With the thirty men waiting for him, the trumpet blasts cut the air and ruled the waves of sound for more than an hour. Israel’s men and women tumbled out of their homes in that late evening, leaving their suppers uneaten. Resistance had started. They did not know who was leading it. They knew the sound emanating from the trumpet was the mobilizing force of Israel for any form of battle and that was enough.

A new leader had taken charge. War cries and trumpets screamed from Dan to Beersheba. Ehud and his men moved from the fords of Jordan towards Moab, and killed every Moabite, Amalekite, Ammonite in sight. The body count was ten thousand strong and valiant men. Pushing out the enemy, Moab was subdued over six hours of fighting and thrust out of the city of palms.

The land had rest for another 80 years under the left handed man with a double edged dagger under his right thigh. Courage, using the advantage of weakness, had brought power back to the community.

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