Perhaps the hardest thing to appreciate in this life is the ever-present power of God, working amongst His creation to form His character in His children. We doubt His desire to work with us because we continually let Him down and sin. We doubt our own ability to remain true—we fall so easily and so often—and conclude that we have little confidence in the future when our past is littered with failure and mistakes.

But our God knows our frame, and His Word is written in order to highlight His hand of providence, and to remind us that the work of saving and shaping characters is His domain, and not our own. In short, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

To demonstrate God’s hand at work in a most powerful way we will look at the life of Ehud. Our section begins in Judges 3:12-14:

“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord. And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees. So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.” 

Right at the very forefront of the story we are introduced to the ever-present hand of God, working in the life of His people bringing judgment when necessary in order to bring them back to Himself. “Yahweh strengthened Eglon against Israel” and then when they turned back to Him and cried out for help, we read in verse 15 that “Yahweh raised them up a deliverer.”

Whilst this story echoes with the sound of man’s failure; whilst pride, weakness and hypocrisy sing their repeated refrain; the emphasis is not on man’s failure, but on God’s almighty work of deliverance despite man’s weakness. This is a story recorded to build faith, to show the character of our God, so that we who hear might combine our voices in His praise.

We learn from Deuteronomy 34:3 that the city of palm trees was, in fact, the city of Jericho. This was the first city which was taken upon entering the land, and which was conquered because Israel had expressed faith in God. Now the city was lost when their faith was abandoned. And just as the fall of Jericho was the symbolic first step in the taking of the whole land, so its conquest by Moab indicated that everything that Israel had once achieved was in danger of unravelling. Their possession of this land was founded upon their relationship with God.

Ehud the Benjamite

We read in Judges 3:15: “But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.” Ehud means “united,” while Gera means “a grain.” In this, he stands as a representative of Christ—the promised seed of Abraham, who would gather together in one, not just the 12 tribes of Israel, but all nations, and bring them to his Father (Eph 1:10).

Ehud was a left-handed Benjamite. Literally, the word means “to be impeded in the right hand.” When we use the word today, it often has the connotations of being ambidextrous, or being more capable with the left hand than the right. But the Hebrew word does not convey this message. Instead there is the idea that where we would expect strength, skill and competence, there was none. A left-handed saviour was to be someone who put no strength in his own ability, who relied totally upon God.

This is only further reinforced when we recall that the name Benjamin means “Son of my right hand.” The saving was God’s work, and the victory is attributed to Him, and Him alone.

We read of the power of God’s deliverance by His right hand in Psalm 44:1-3:

“We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.”

There are two occurrences of this word for left-handed in Scripture. Here, and in Judges 20:16 where we find that left-handedness was a distinguishing feature of the Benjamites. Of the whole tribe, 700 were left-handed, and were of such skill that they could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth, and not miss.

The tribe of Benjamin

The tribe of Benjamin features in Judges 19–21 and has a bearing on the story of Ehud. It is a sordid story filled with hypocrisy, self-justification, sexual immorality, violence and pride. As a tribe, Benjamin was almost extinguished. And how is this horrible incident relevant to the story of Ehud?

The answer is given in Judges 20:28 where we read that “Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron stood before the ark in those days.” This was the same Phinehas who acted to condemn the wickedness of Baal-Peor in Numbers 25, before the nation had crossed the Jordan. And here, maybe some 50-70 odd years later, after the death of Joshua and all the elders who outlived him, we find him at the beginning of the Judges, officiating in the role of High Priest. This fact places this incident relating to Benjamin at the beginning of the book of Judges. So we ask, “Was Ehud acquainted with these events?”

The chronology of the Judges is as follows:

  • 8 years – Cushan-rishathaim oppresses Israel (Jud 3:8)
  • 40 years – Othniel delivers and judges Israel (Jud 3:9-11)
  • 18 years – Eglon of Moab oppresses Israel (Jud 3:12-14)
  • 80 years – Ehud delivers Israel and the land rests (Jud 3:30)

It is unlikely that the turbulent events of Judges 19–21 took place during times of foreign domination and they could not have occurred during the time of rest after deliverance from Eglon. So they occurred either before Cushan-rishathaim or afterwards in the time of Othniel.

Either way the events of Judges 19–21 happened very close to Ehud’s lifetime. As such he would have carried the stigma of this incident wherever he went. He was a member of a tribe who were almost exterminated because of their failure to properly deal with the wickedness of Gibeah. Here was a man whose tribe stood out as a dissenting voice, one from the “other side,” who would always be tarred with the wickedness which his forebears or contemporaries had failed to denounce.

In 1 Samuel 9:21, Saul says, “Am I not a Benjamite of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family of the least of the tribes of Benjamin? 

Wherefore speakest thou so to me?” If these words were spoken some 300 odd years or so after Benjamin had been so reduced, how might Benjamin have been viewed during the time of Ehud?

How ironic then, that Israel would send Ehud, a Benjamite, to deliver tribute to the enemy, while at the same time they would destroy his tribe for their failure to deliver the Gibeonites up for judgment! They would destroy Benjamin for his failure to show judgment and then on a national scale they would bow down to the enemy themselves.

The background in Gilgal

When we understand this background to Ehud it totally changes the dynamic of the story. This is not just a narrative of a man who saves his people from an oppressive deliverer. This is a story of a man who was betrayed on all sides – both by his tribe, and his own hypocritical nation! This was a man whose own family – perhaps his wife, brother, father, mother and children – were attacked and destroyed by the very people who he now risked his life to deliver! 

This was a man whose first battle was to conquer his own desire for revenge and justice. It was this man – totally diminished, and totally acquainted with his own weakness with no strength in his right hand – that God chose to bring about the greatest deliverance in all of the period of the judges.

For us, it illustrates that the real battle is not with an external enemy. The real battle takes place in the mind, where we grapple with our trust in God and seek to subdue the flesh which would seek to go its own way.

When we carefully read the account in Judges 3, we find that the assassination of Eglon was not as straightforward as it first seems. While Ehud made himself a dagger and was able to get an audience with the Moabite king, he did not kill him at his initial meeting. It was not until he left the king’s presence and saw the quarries (the Hebrew word means “carved images” or “idols”) at Gilgal that he was galvanised into action and returned to carry out his task (Jud 3:19).

What did Ehud see at Gilgal which energised him to carry out his mission? And why did he go there? It was out of his way after all – Gilgal lay a few kilometres to the east of Jericho, and not on the way back to Mt Ephraim.

Gilgal is the site at which the crossing of the Jordan was commemorated. Here 12 stones shaped and smoothed, not by man but by God, were carried out of the dry bed of the river and piled up as a signpost pointing to God’s salvation and deliverance.

Children would come and, seeing these stones would ask, “What do these stones mean?” The answer, in Joshua 4:23-24, was a call to faith:

“For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.”

Here at Gilgal – where all the world is directed to look and see the miracles which God wrought to bring His people to the promised land – here at this place, Ehud sees the quarries which sourced the graven images – the works of man’s hands, standing in defiance of God’s deliverance – a challenge to His will.

And his eyes would travel back to the pile of stones. Perhaps he stopped to count them: there’s the stone for Ephraim, Judah, Dan and yes, there’s the stone for Benjamin! God’s promise still holds true – He has the power to redeem not just Israel but even Benjamin!