There was something else which happened at Gilgal, which would have fortified Ehud for the task ahead. Gilgal was the site at which the nation was circumcised. “Make thee sharp knives,” Joshua was told, “and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.”

The men of war who came out of Egypt had all been circumcised, but they did not enter the land because of unbelief. Circumcision, without faith, is not circumcision at all.

The Judaistic mind made circumcision a work which man does in cutting off the flesh and subduing sin. Consequently, it became a source of boasting and pride. But that is not the Bible’s focus. When circumcision was introduced in Genesis 17, it was God’s sign to Abraham that the seed would be provided, not through Abraham’s endeavour, but thought God’s provision. Acts 7:8 puts it this way: “And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begat Isaac”. The seed, the promises – these were given with a token which clearly expressed that God would be the One who would fulfil the terms and make it all possible. It would be God’s work, and not of man.

So, then men of war, who were all circumcised on the eighth day – but lacked faith – did not enter the land, but their uncircumcised children entered the land and, in the midst of enemy territory, were circumcised upon the basis of faith.

And here was Ehud, at Gilgal, with a sharp, two-edged sword in his hand. What would be the basis upon which his people would find rest? Hebrews 4:12 tells us how the Word of God is to be used: sharper than any two-edged sword, to pierce and divide, to discern our innermost thoughts and the intents of the heart.

We need to examine our own motive by the light of God’s Word: are we motivated by the flesh-pride, resentment, revenge, self-justification? How Ehud must have battled with these thoughts! What prayer, what soul searching must have gone on here!

Is God great enough to work with our failure, our weakness, our own flawed history, and give us rest in spite of it all? Is the High Priest, which He has provided, able to bring us before the throne of grace and grant us mercy? Can He do what we cannot? Will the Melchizedek priest see differently from the grandson of Aaron? Is it God or self in whom we trust? Is it flesh or faith, is it soul or spirit which drives our heart?

The Word allows our innermost thoughts to be seen with clarity. Bluff and bluster, art and device are all laid bare. God sees through it all.

But the power in the Word is not just in its ability to reveal and expose. It is quick, or living, in that it allows those who are godly to see themselves for what they truly are and take action. God’s Word contains not only judgement, but hope.

Those who use God’s Word to open their own heart, to look past its outer veneer, will see weakness, infirmity, failure and sin. How important then, to embrace that perfect sacrifice, through which we find mercy and grace. The sword which Ehud would plunge into the belly of Eglon first had to be used upon himself.

The death of Eglon

In Judges 3:19-22 we read of the secret errand Ehud had for Eglon: “And 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.”

“I have a message from God unto thee!” he said. As the obese Eglon leans in to hear a tasty titbit of information, he finds to his horror that this secret revelation involves words of judgment, and so his corpulent fat is parted by the sharp steel and exposes the inner man for all to see and smell.

As an aide, we can’t help but see the connection to the vision of Revelation 1:16 when, as Christ returns to judge, he also has a two-edged sword in his mouth; and his message, while bringing salvation to the faithful, brings judgment and destruction to the wicked.

The words that describe Eglon’s demise must be some of the most descriptive and vivid in all of Scripture. You can almost hear the sound as the sword drives home, the gulp as the fat closes over the hilt. You can visualise Eglon’s body quivering as Ehud frantically, yet vainly, tries to retrieve his sword. We wince as we see the dark brown mass ooze out of his bowels, and then cover our face as we smell the putrid stench that accompanied it.

This is not just a descriptive flourish on the part of the chronicler. Here the word of God reaches past the fancy trappings of the flesh and reveals the heart of man in all its desperate wickedness, in all its defiling excrement. Here is flesh at its richest, in all its finery, large and lusty, satisfied in every way. We pull back the veneer, and it is grotesque, filthy and putrid – dung!

The words of James 5:1-5 are so appropriate here. The rich had oppressed the poor labourers, but their cries had reached the ears of Lord of Sabaoth. While growing rich and living in pleasure they were in fact nourishing their hearts as in a day of slaughter!

Eglon’s corpulence becomes a symbol of his oppression; each fold of fat further evidences his greed, his selfishness, and the pain and deprivation of others. In a world of limited resources, one man’s excess is another’s famine. James tells us that wealth without generosity and mercy is an indictment on our character and our choices.

We need to be able to see the big picture and see the feasting of the wicked for what it is: excess and over-indulgence.We need to go into the sanctuary and understand their end (Psa 73:17).

And Eglon, whose name means “calf-like”, was fattened up as a sacrifice for Yahweh’s honour.

Ehud and Philippians

The words of Philippians 3:3-11 contain some interesting allusions to the story of Ehud. This section is so powerful, especially against the background of Ehud’s experience. It’s fairly easy to draw a distinction between ourselves and the world, and see the emptiness of their reward.

In Paul’s day, there was a much more subtle enemy. Here the flesh masqueraded under a veneer of religion. There was a group who trusted in their own works to save them and diminished the saving work of Christ. As Paul highlights the things which he could have trusted in, he holds a mirror to the thinking of the circumcision party.

He had come from a reputable family. He had been a keeper of laws and traditions, very zealous, prepared to persecute and destroy in order to uphold the purity of the law. A Pharisee of the Pharisees.

But what did it all amount to in Paul’s estimation? Dung! Filth! Excrement!

The whole point of circumcision is coming to grips with the fact that we can do nothing by ourselves; that our righteousness is of God by faith.

Can we see the allusions to the story of Ehud in the section from Philippians 3?

  • The tribe of Benjamin
  • Those who trust in the flesh
  • Circumcision
  • Persecuting the ecclesia
  • Dung
  • Hebrew (with Gilgal being the site of the crossing over the Jordan)
  • Suffering the loss of all things
  • Destruction and belly (in verse 19)

It’s easy to focus our attention on Eglon and see the Moabite oppressors as the enemy. But really, they were nothing more than the consequences of a way of thinking that Israel themselves had first adopted. Israel paid tribute to the Moabite because they first paid tribute to sin!

The real enemy was their own blind hypocrisy, which allowed them to ignore their own glaring failures and actively seek the destruction of their brother, all the while congratulating themselves on their ability to make the so called hard decisions of judgment.

This was the enemy which Ehud encountered at Gilgal. When revenge, pride, party loyalty and family honour all cried out for a different course, Ehud was able to put this all aside, to look beyond past hurts, present injustices and betrayal on every side; to put his trust in God’s deliverance and lay down his life for his brethren.

In this, we have a beautiful type of our Lord. He was let down by his brethren who forsook him and fled and who denied him in his hour of need. He was betrayed by his own familiar friend. He felt keenly the clamouring for his blood by priest and people who cursed and reviled him. When, by fleshly reasoning, he had every cause to rail, rage and condemn, he instead looked to the vision before him; and in submitting to his Father’s will he possessed the gate of his enemies, and opened up the way of life for us all.

It is this we keep in mind, this sacrifice which we come together to identify with. We are exposed, vulnerable and weak. We do not have any confidence in the flesh, but rest upon the power of God to work and effect our deliverance. And as we cut off our pride, our ambition, our vanity, and lay down our lives for our brethren, the way is made open, not just to the promised land, but to the holiest of all, and there we find rest and eternal peace. How encouraging to know that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”.

“Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”