Ehud Assassinates the King of Moab
The book of Judges records the immediate period following the Israelites’ settlement in the land of Canaan. In those days, there were no kings in Israel. From time to time, the LORD raised tribal leaders to be “judges”. At the micro level, the judges were entrusted to administer internal affairs. At the macro level, they were tasked to lead the people out of foreign oppression.
In the days of Judges, the Israelites were tragically assimilating into Canaanite idolatrous culture, which resulted in moral decay. They disobeyed God and broke their covenant with Him. So God raised Eglon, the king of Moab, to invade Israel. The Moabites brutally oppressed the local Israelites for eighteen years (vv. 12-14).
From Messenger to Assassin
When the Israelites cried out to the LORD, He raised a deliverer for them. The deliverer was Ehud the son of Gera, from the tribe of Benjamin. “Benjamin” means “son of right hand” but Ehud was left-handed. In those days, being left-handed was a form of disability. Can Ehud really succeed in becoming a great warrior?
Ehud was entrusted by the Israelites to present a tribute to the king of Moab (v. 15). They did not order him to assassinate Eglon. But this mission gave Ehud an opportunity to assassinate the king of Moab.
Now Ehud had fashioned a two-edged sword. The sword was a cubit (35 cm) long – just long enough to be strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. In general, a weapon is usually strapped to the left side of the body so that the wielder can quickly draw it with the right hand. But Ehud was left-handed. So, he strapped the sword to his right thigh instead. This way, his concealed weapon went undetected by the king’s guard.
Ehud was given the security clearance for an audience with King Eglon to present Israel’s tribute (vv. 16-17). Having presented Israel’s tribute, Ehud left the palace together with those who helped him carry the gift. They did not stop until they reached a safe place, that is, the stone images near Gilgal (vv. 18-19). There, he dismissed his companions but he alone returned to Eglon’s palace.
But why did he send his companions away?
Ehud did not inform anyone of his plans in advance. He was prepared to be the only one bearing the risk of assassinating the king of Moab. He went back to King Englon and petitioned, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”
Eglon was an astute man but he had no inkling of what Ehud’s “secret” was about. Instead, he was so drawn by the “secret” that he dismissed his attendants, which gave Ehud the opportunity to strike (v. 19).
Ehud said to the king, “I have a message from God for you.”
The king rose from his seat, which made it easier for Ehud to assassinate him (vv. 20-21). In the blink of an eye, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh, and plunged the sword, including its handle, into the king’s belly.
The sword was enclosed by Eglon’s fat. It pierced through the king’s body (vv. 21-23). Ehud did not even recover the sword from the king’s belly. The fattened calf had been slaughtered! The fat closed in over the sword and even the contents of his bowels were discharged.
The scene was gory but, at the same time, there is humour in it. What is represented here were the plunging of Eglon’s wealth and empire-building dreams. The tyrant was humiliated and shown to be full of filth. An oppressive king is not to be honoured!
Then Ehud calmly went out to the porch; he shut the doors behind him and locked them. He did this to deceive the Moabites so that his “secret” would not be so quickly exposed to give him enough time to escape from dangerous territory.
After Ehud was long gone, the king’s attendants came and found the doors locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace” (v. 24). They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead (v. 25).
From Assassin to General
Ehud passed by the stone images and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. This was Israel’s call to arms (v. 27). He led the Israelite army and gave them orders. “Follow me for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands” (v. 28).
The Israelites followed Ehud and descended from the hills. Ehud went from being a messenger to being an assassin and now he became a general! The Moabite army had just lost their commander-in-chief. Ehud seized the initiative to attack them before they could reorganise their command structure.
So, the Israelites followed Ehud down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan. The Moabite army fled helter-skelter in an attempt to cross the Jordan to go back eastward to the land of Moab. But the Israelites had set up a blockade to prevent the Moabites from going home. “At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped” (v. 29).
That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years (v. 30).
By coupling his physical defect with an intricate plan, Ehud deceived King Eglon and his guards, which paved the way for his successful assassination of the king. Some may question Ehud’s use of underhanded tactics. In the course of history, God allowed the use of such extraordinary ploys to execute His judgment and subvert the status quo.
The king of Moab’s assassination was the retribution of his wickedness. Those who do evil in the sight of the LORD will attract tragic consequences. God judged both the Israelites and the Gentiles. God’s judgment upon King Eglon of Moab shows that He is against oppressive and repressive regimes of the world.
Ehud’s accomplishment of his mission was not merely due to his brilliance. The will of the LORD was to deliver His people out from being in bondage to their enemy. Ehud’s actions were in line with God’s will and, thereby, received God’s approval. This was the main reason for Ehud’s success. If anyone repents, seeks for God’s help, and marches to God’s cadence, God will lend a helping hand.
Ehud’s right hand was disadvantaged, which meant that he could only use his left hand. Yet God used his weakness to accomplish the mission. Through Ehud’s weakness, God displayed strength. The LORD was the one who did the fighting. The LORD God can use ordinary people. Regardless of what pressure we are placed under, or what danger we are facing, or how desperate our situation may seem to be, God is always our way out. Nothing is too difficult for God!
Ehud did resort to trickery. He breached Eglon’s trust by leading the king to believe that he had a word from God. But he actually brought a sword. His success does not justify his fraudulent means. He was not an ideal judge like Othniel. Yet, an imperfect person can still be used by God to accomplish His will.
The whole episode of assassination shows that Ehud made extensive preparations. If we are to serve God, then we must fashion our spiritual swords (Heb. 10:12), which is to have God’s word planted deep in our minds (Col. 3:16). As servants of God, especially as leaders, we must be equipped and have the clarity of vision to evaluate current events and circumstances, so that we may seize the opportunity to accomplish the work that God has entrusted to us.
Ehud’s killing of Eglon was only a small victory. He did not lose perspective in the euphoria of this small victory. His real goal was to end the oppression of Israel. He displayed the spirit of leadership by calling the people to arms to attack the enemy.
Ehud took advantage of the situation. He gathered Israelite troops to attack the Moabites while the enemy were in disarray due to the loss of their king. He also exhibited mastery of strategy by sending troops to occupy the fords of the Jordan River. The outcome was, Ehud led the whole body of the Israelite army to rise up and annihilated 10,000 Moabite elite warriors. This was a wonderful display of team work.
Ehud had great leadership skills and was adept in integrating manpower. He took charge and led the troops to accomplish the goal. A leader must be a good shepherd. The good shepherd whom the Lord Jesus spoke about also led from the front (John 10:4). Only hired hands flee in the face of danger (John 10:12-13).
A good leader must be able to integrate the team and harness its strength, and then the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. It does not matter how capable a leader is as an individual. He is to mobilise the people and delegate the tasks to them.
Ehud did everything well and so the nation had peace for 80 years. 18 years under Moabite oppression is short-lived but 80 years signifies prosperity under God’s presence, enjoying the peace, blessing, and freedom to worship God for a very long period. This is the meaning of shalom.
The Lord Jesus is the perfect and righteous “Judge”—deliverer. He is the Word of God from the very beginning. He then was sent by God the Father to become a human being. He died on the cross and, three days later, rose from the dead. With that He utterly defeated Satan, broke the chains of evil, redeemed sinners, and gave them new life. This is the mystery of God’s plan of salvation from the beginning.
Now the Lord Jesus is calling His body of redeemed people to rise up and reap the harvest of his victory. Despite our shortcoming and limitation, we are to be equipped and make proper plans in the service of the church and in the service of society, so that lost souls are won for the Lord; the environment is transformed, ushering in an era of peace and well-being.
Let us serve God in a way that is pleasing to Him, that is, to seek His will wholeheartedly and revere Him. Let us read the Bible every day, meditate upon God’s truth, pray unceasingly, and draw near to Him. Then in everything that we do, God will guide our way. He will help us to overcome difficulties and temptations, so that we may experience His long-lasting blessing and shalom!