EHUD and SHAMGAR (3)
John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England
EHUD – The Scourge of Moab, Judges 3. 12-30
SHAMGAR –The Slayer of Philistines, Judges 3. 31
I recall as a boy having a morbid fascination with the story of Ehud. The daring plan, the intrigue and the gory details of Eglon’s assassination at the hands of this brave young man all appealed to the impressionable mind. What we have, however, in Judges chapter 3 is more than just an exciting narrative; there are important spiritual lessons to be learned.
Enemies close to home
The brief record of Ehud is introduced by the ominously familiar phrase in the book of Judges, ‘the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord’, 3. 12. For forty years, the restraining influence of Othniel’s presence had brought a measure of rest and order to the land. Yet, now once more, the patience of God has been tried, and retribution falls. This time the Lord’s chosen scourge is not from far off Mesopotamia, but on their very borders, and indeed, related to them! Moab was a descendent of Lot and his daughter, as was Ammon who is seen in association with Moab in this chapter. The third opponent of Israel at this time is Amalek, a descendent of Esau, and an inveterate enemy of the people of God. Such a confederacy teaches us the nature and activity of the flesh; that part of our make-up which responds to the temptations of the adversary. Failure to withstand those temptations leaves us feeling guilty, weak and vulnerable; in need of cleansing and restoration. Israel needed to learn those lessons too, so for eighteen years they are brought under the yoke of Eglon the king of Moab.
Eglon, it would appear, had no ambition to possess the whole land; he just gained a foothold in Jericho, the city of palm trees. We recall that at this time Jericho was a ruined city and under the curse of God, an eloquent illustration of those worldly characteristics which can be used by the flesh to bring the people of God into bondage. How accurate is the picture language of scripture! We need only to allow a seemingly small part of our life to be ruled by the flesh for our enjoyment of life as Christians to be marred.
Enter the deliverer
When they cried to Him, ‘the Lord raised up . . . Ehud’. How encouraging it is to note that in every trial and in every difficulty, even when brought about by the sin of His people, our God provides a pathway through the troubles, and, when needed, He draws us back to Himself. The Lord heard the cry of His people and, in mercy, responded.
Ehud was a descendant of Jacob’s youngest son Benjamin, whom he so named as ‘son of my right hand’. Yet the first thing we read of Ehud is that he was ‘a man left-handed’. Some expositors suggest that the meaning is more inclined to be both-handed, ambidextrous, but the word as given by Strong’s Concordance literally means ‘shut up or impeded of the right hand’, in other words, it may well have been that Ehud had an evident weakness or disability which rendered his right arm useless. But what may have seemed a disadvantage in the eyes of men, is turned into a positive advantage by God to deliver His people!
We are not told just why Ehud was chosen to carry the present, which most likely was the tribute exacted from Israel by Eglon, to the Moabite king. We do know that he did not travel alone, yet Ehud’s journey was taken with a single purpose in view. Strapped closely to his right thigh, reaching from hip to knee, was a formidable weapon; carefully crafted, double edged and lethal. With this he planned the defeat of Moab and its allies. Our thoughts must surely go to that other ‘sharp two-edged sword’, ‘the word of God’, Heb. 4. 12; Rev. 1. 16. Our first step in overcoming the flesh and the temptations which arise from it is to make the word of God our own. To spend time finding out what the scriptures teach in any given situation and then apply them to our lives. Just as Ehud spent time crafting his dagger, so time spent with the word of God will always be rewarded.
Eglon, the man of the flesh
In chapter 3, verse 17 we are ushered into the presence of King Eglon. The first thing we notice, in fact we cannot miss, is that he is ‘a very fat man’. Years of indulgence, ‘fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind’, had taken their toll. What an appropriate character to illustrate the words of the prophet, ‘Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees’, Jer. 48. 11.
The present handed over, the Israelites take their leave of the king. But Ehud’s mission is not finished. At the quarries of Gilgal he stops and turns again. The memories come flooding back: Gilgal, the place of Israel’s circumcision, the cutting off of the flesh, the reproach of Egypt rolled away, victory and the old corn of the land to feed upon. How could the people of God allow themselves to be subservient to such as Eglon?
Eglon was relaxing in his private summer house. He had no reason to suspect harm from this young Benjamite with the feeble right arm. Soldiers had swords visibly carried on the left hip, Ehud appeared unarmed. The world, and the adversary may consider the believer to be weak and vulnerable, but we have for our constant use ‘the whole armour of God’, Eph. 6. 11. Part of that armour is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’. The psalmist knew something of this when he wrote, ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee’, Ps. 119. 11.
What a ‘message from God’ Ehud had for Eglon! Swiftly, unexpectedly, the message was delivered, driven home with devastating force and left firmly embedded in its target as a witness to others. Mere men always underestimate the dynamic power of God’s word. The smoke which hung over Sodom and Gomorrah declared it. The writing on Belshazzar’s wall proclaimed it. Above all, an empty tomb proved the power of God’s word to an unbelieving world!
Escape to safety
The victory accomplished, Ehud now wanted to put a distance between himself and the evidence of his triumph. He left and locked the door, with no desire to return. If the Lord gives us victory in our battles with the flesh, be thankful, move on, turn the key on that experience and look to Him for strength to face the next assault. Ehud escaped, but not content to just fade into anonymity, he blew a trumpet in Mount Ephraim and rallied the nation to take the fight to the enemy.
It would seem that the Moabites tried to flee from Jericho, back over the Jordan, to their own land. But Ehud had anticipated this and cut off their escape by taking the fords. Another great victory ensued, ‘there escaped not a man’, and the land had rest for eighty years. Oh that we too might be able to apply the sword of the Spirit in our constant battles with our closest enemy, the flesh.
Enemies from another quarter
In just one brief verse we are introduced to another man whom God raised up, who ‘also delivered Israel’. In Shamgar we see a man who will use what God has given him, insignificant and unorthodox though it is, and he will use it to advantage.
The enemy now comes not over the eastern border of the land, but from the west. We need to appreciate that just like Israel our adversaries are all around and we cannot be complacent. This is the first time that we encounter the Philistines as a real enemy of the people of God. They had been an irritant to Isaac in contending for the wells which Abraham had dug in Genesis chapter 26, but now they are a military opponent.
The Philistines represent formal religion. They were in the land, but had not come by way of the Red Sea and Jordan like the true people of God. They had ‘a form of godliness’ in their idolatrous worship, but it proved powerless in the presence of the true God, 1 Sam 5. 1-5.
When Shamgar was suddenly confronted by a host of Philistines intending him harm, all he had to hand was an ox goad. This agricultural tool was used to keep the oxen in a straight furrow when ploughing, and to keep them moving forward. Empty religion of whatever persuasion will always seek to lead others astray. To turn them aside from the truth of God’s word, and hold others back from progress in the path of discipleship.
How fitting that God used an ox goad in the hand of Shamgar to defeat the Philistines, and to leave on record the exploits of a man who ‘out of weakness was made strong’ and ‘waxed valiant in fight’, Heb 11. 34. May we be prepared to be used by God, even in times of seeming weakness, to gain victories for His glory.
To be continued