Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Help From Unexpected Sources

Last month we reviewed the revelations given to Joshua by God to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Every place that their foot tread upon would be given to them if they followed God's implicit instructions. God proved Joshua to be successful in battle as he led the Israeli army and overthrew thirty-one nations (Joshua 12:7-24). He was able to allocate the territories of the Promised Land to the Tribes (Joshua 13-22) and sent the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh back to the east side of the Jordan (Joshua 22:1-6). Although everyone received an inheritance, they had not placed their feet on and captured all of the land that God had Promised (Joshua 1:3-4). Joshua "...died, being an hundred and ten years old." (Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8) All that were of Joshua's generation who had witnessed the miracles of God in the crossing of the Jordan River, the battle of Jericho, the Central, Northern and Southern Campaigns, etc. and realized God keeps His promises "...were gathered unto their fathers..." (Judges 2:10a. In other words, everyone had died who crossed over the Jordan River. "...and there arose another generation after them, who knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10b).

This month we shall review the Israelites as they go through vicious cycles of apostasy (sin), punishment (oppression by an enemy), prayer (request for mercy), and deliverance (God raises up a judge). Because the Israelites had failed to drive out the heathen inhabitants of Canaan completely, they were mingling with the pagans and practicing idolatry, much to the displeasure of God. This caused God to repeatedly hand them over to the oppression of their enemy. God was always for them (Psalm 56:9) even when they rebelled against Him. He simply turned a deaf ear to their complaints, awaiting their cry for repentance and mercy. Then He would raise up a judge to deliver them from their bondage. The judges were military leaders who acted on faith to execute God's judgment to overthrow the enemy. Twelve judges were raised up to deliver Israel from Othniel (Caleb's nephew) to Samson. Although Chapter 3 includes information as to the first judge, Othniel (Judges 3:1-11) and the third judge, Shamgar (Judges 3:31), we will focus our lesson on the second judge, Ehud (Judges 3:12-30).

'And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord;...' (Judges 3:12). What was their sin that began the cycle this time? Nothing specific is mentioned. It simply said they did 'evil again'. From that can we assume they were still intermarrying with the heathen races and worshipping their idols? That is probable (Judges 3:5-7). This angered God and He strengthened a different enemy than the oppressor they had previously experienced. Othniel, the first judge, with God's help, had delivered them from the King of Mesopotamia. Perhaps they grew lax because they believed that nation could be their only oppressor.

But '...the Lord strengthened Eglon, the king of Moab, against Israel...And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees...Israel served king of Moab, eighteen years' (Judges 3:12b-14). The Lord handed Israel over to new oppressors for their disobedience. The Moabites were descendants of Lot (incest with elder daughter). The Ammonites were descendants of Lot (incest with younger daughter). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (oldest son of Isaac who sold birthright to Jacob). The city of palm trees was a strong-hold erected near the place where Jericho had once stood (Deut 34:3; II Chr 28:15). The oppressors received what the Israelites had gained by miracles of divine mercy. They made the Israelites to serve them (Judges 3:14). The Israelites had to give a tribute, a present, either the fruit of the earth or money to the king of Moab. The former servitude (Judges 3:8) lasted but eight years, this eighteen. If less troubles do not work, God will send greater.

In their distress they cried unto God. It is interesting that no matter how many times they sinned against Him (often repeating the same mistakes), He would always hear their sincere prayers. We are not told how much time lapsed between their prayers for deliverance and the time He '...raised them up a deliverer, Ehud, ... a Benjamite, a man left-handed; and by him ... Israel sent tribute unto Eglon, king of Moab' (Judges 3:15b). We are told that Ehud was a Benjamite. They probably suffered the most during the oppression. The city of palm trees lay within the lot of this tribe. It was the smallest and assumed to be the weakest tribe, yet out of it God raised the deliverer. The first judge, Othniel, was from Judah, the mightiest tribe in Israel. God can use the great or the small to gain the victory, since the power is from Him anyway. The judges are simply the vessels who act on faith to execute His judgments.

We are also told that Ehud was left-handed. Many in his tribe were left-handed (Judges 20:16). The fact that he was left-handed was important. Ehud had a small weapon, short dagger, hidden under his clothing on his right thigh (Judges 3:16). With God's blessing, he would be able to withdraw the short dagger and execute judgment at the appropriate time. That he would use his left hand to do so after presenting the tribute and making the king comfortable would be less suspicious.

Ehud took the present to the king and sent his attendants who assisted him back home (Judges 3:17,18). He did not want them to know his plan, whether for reasons of protection or to keep them from telling another, etc. No one else was needed to carry out the ultimate plan that was hidden under his clothing. God's blessing had been given. He went back '...and said, I have a secret errand...' (Judges 3:19) and he gained further access, a private audience, with the king. Eglon demanded everyone in his presence to keep silence and their reaction was to remove their presence. Ehud approached the king in his summer parlor and '...said, I have a message from God unto thee. And Eglon arose out of his seat.' (Judges 3:20) Little did Eglon know that the message from God would be the short dagger hidden under Ehud's clothing (Judges 3:21). Eglon had risen to the occasion even though he was a heathen king. He wanted to know the message and he received it...in his belly. Eglon was a fat man (Judges 3:17b) and his extreme fatness received the complete blade and its handle, '...so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out' (Judges 3:22). The dirt that came out was to make Eglong look even more shameful. His own fat stifled his dying groans and he fell quietly. So he was not overheard by any servants.

'Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlor upon him, and locked him' (Judges 3:23). God gave Ehud the means of safe escape after the execution. He had passed the servants and guards and continued to safety without suspicion. The servants soon came and, upon seeing the doors of the parlor were locked, assumed the king had decided to go to sleep (Judges 3:24). They waited for a length of time until they became ashamed to wait any longer. The servants '...took a key, and opened ... and, ... their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.' (Judges 3:25).

Ehud had escaped while they were waiting (Judges 3:26) and immediately raised up an army in Mount Ephraim (Judges 3:27). He blew the jubilee trumphet and '... said..., Follow after me; for the Lord hath delivered your enemies, the Moabites, into your hand (Judges 3:28). He then secured the fords of the Jordan to cut off communications between the Moabites in Israel and those in Moab on the other side of the Jordan River. Ehud and his army then fought the Moabites who were there to keep the Israelites under subjection. 'And they slew...about ten thousand men...and there escaped not a man' (Judges 3:29). The consequence of this victory was that the power of the Moabites was wholly broken in the land of Israel. They had rest from their oppressors for eighty (fourscore) years. (See Judges 3:30)

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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