The Bible is a grand story book. It has some of the most fantastic, movie-worthy stories that you will ever read. Some of them have become quite famous – like the story of David & Goliath – but there are many other stories just as fantastic, that many people haven’t even heard of. For example, how many people here know the story of Jael & Sisera? Or the story of Abimelech? Or Jephthah?
These aren’t exactly the most recognizable names, are they? But I’d like to change that. For the next few weeks we’re going to be looking at the book of Judges. And while we’re looking at some of those famous stories like that of Gideon & Samson, we’re also going to find some of those undiscovered stories in the Bible – like Ehud, Jael, & Deborah – Because their stories are no less important than these other famous ones.
I’ve labeled this series “Heroes… and Zeros” because I’ve found that most of the characters in the book of Judges fall into one or the other of those two categories. Either a hero or a zero. Some characters fall into both categories. Quite often God takes a zero and turns them into a hero. And that’s the case in our first story that we’re going to look at today.
Now before we get into our story, let me give you some of the background to the book of Judges.
After the nation of Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt, and after they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, Moses died and Joshua became the leader. Under his leadership, Israel went in and conquered most of the promised land. But not all of it. There were still some people groups that lived among the Israelites in the Promised land – and it was these other nations that eventually cause the Israelites to stop worshiping God and start worshipping the gods of these other nations. And that’s where the trouble began. We can read about it in Judges 2:10-15.
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.
11 The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. 12 They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord. 13 They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth. 14 This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them. 15 Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned. And the people were in great distress.
Of course, this is exactly what God had promised them. He had said way back in the days of Moses, if they obeyed God, He would bring them peace and prosperity. But if they refused to obey Him, He would cause their enemies to oppress them. And that was exactly what was happening. But even as He was punishing them, God showed them His great mercy and compassion by sending them a judge to rescue them. Now keep in mind that these judges are not judges like we have in our courts of law today. These judges are like heroes. People who God raises up to save the Israelites from their enemies. Verse 16-19.
Then the Lord raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers. 17 Yet Israel did not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves by worshiping other gods. How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.
18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
And that’s the cycle we see throughout the book of Judges. Israel sins, God allows their enemies to oppress them, Israel cries out to God, God has compassion and sends them a deliverer (aka a judge), and as soon as their enemies are defeated, Israel goes right back into sinning again and we start the cycle again. Israel sins, enemies oppress them, God send a deliverer, Israel sins, enemies oppress them, God send a deliverer.
And so that’s happening as we pick up our story in Judges 3:12-15.
12 Once again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, and the Lord gave King Eglon of Moab control over Israel because of their evil. 13 Eglon enlisted the Ammonites and Amalekites as allies, and then he went out and defeated Israel, taking possession of Jericho, the city of palms. 14 And the Israelites served Eglon of Moab for eighteen years.
15 But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord again raised up a rescuer to save them. His name was Ehud son of Gera, a left-handed man of the tribe of Benjamin.
Now let’s pause here for a second. Why do you suppose the Bible specifically mentions that He was a left-handed man? It doesn’t mention his height or his eye-color – why the fact that He was left-handed?
Well, when the Bible says “left-handed” – it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘left-handed’ as we know it. The term the Bible uses actually means “hindered in the right hand” or “bound up in the right hand”. So it may not be just that his left-hand was the stronger dominate hand. It would almost seem that his right hand was actually restricted in some way.
Perhaps he was missing some fingers and couldn’t use his right hand. Or perhaps he had a childhood deformity. Maybe He had cerebral palsy and didn’t have the use of his right arm? We don’t really know… All we know is that he was hindered in his right hand. And in that ancient culture, to be left-handed was considered to be a handicap – a disability. It was a weakness. But because of this… disability… this apparent weakness… God was able to Ehud in a unique way. Here’s why… verse 15
The Israelites sent Ehud to deliver their tribute money to King Eglon of Moab. 16 So Ehud made a double-edged dagger that was about a foot long, and he strapped it to his right thigh, keeping it hidden under his clothing.
Here’s where Ehud has a unique advantage. Because of his left-handedness, he would be able to get past the kings bodyguards with this concealed weapon. You see, a right-handed man would strap his sword on his left. So when someone went to see the king, the guards would naturally check for concealed weapons on the left – but not on the right. No one would keep a weapon on the right – it would be too awkward to get out – unless you were left-handed. verse 17
He brought the tribute money to Eglon, who was very fat. (I love the details that the Bible throws in…)
18 After delivering the payment, Ehud started home with those who had helped carry the tribute. 19 But when Ehud reached the stone idols near Gilgal, he turned back. He came to Eglon and said, “I have a secret message for you.”
So the king commanded his servants, “Be quiet!” and he sent them all out of the room.
20 Ehud walked over to Eglon, who was sitting alone in a cool upstairs room. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you!”
As King Eglon rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, pulled out the dagger strapped to his right thigh, and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 The dagger went so deep that the handle disappeared beneath the king’s fat. So Ehud did not pull out the dagger, and the king’s bowels emptied. 23 Then Ehud closed and locked the doors of the room and escaped down the latrine.
24 After Ehud was gone, the king’s servants returned and found the doors to the upstairs room locked. They thought he might be using the latrine in the room, 25 so they waited. But when the king didn’t come out after a long delay, they became concerned and got a key. And when they opened the doors, they found their master dead on the floor.
26 While the servants were waiting, Ehud escaped, passing the stone idols on his way to [see-rah] Seirah. 27 When he arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, Ehud sounded a call to arms. Then he led a band of Israelites down from the hills.
28 “Follow me,” he said, “for the Lord has given you victory over Moab your enemy.” So they followed him. And the Israelites took control of the shallow crossings of the Jordan River across from Moab, preventing anyone from crossing.
29 They attacked the Moabites and killed about 10,000 of their strongest and most able-bodied warriors. Not one of them escaped. 30 So Moab was conquered by Israel that day, and there was peace in the land for eighty years.
Now that is an incredible story. Wouldn’t that make a great movie? The underdog – the guy with a disability, uses his disability to his advantage, takes out the fat evil king and makes a dramatic escape while the kings servants wait for their master to come out of the bathroom! And of course, it all ends with a great battle – the hero is victorious and there is peace once again in the land. Man, I can’t wait until that comes out on DVD!
But I guess the real question is, why is this story in the Bible? I mean, it’s kinda gruesome and a little bit odd. What’s the lesson in there? What do we learn about God?
Well, I think one of the key things that I learn from this story is that God turns zeros into heroes. He takes weaknesses and turns them into strengths.
We don’t know much about Ehud’s life or how severe his “left-handedness” was, but we do know that in Bible times, being left-handed was seen as a weakness – as a disability. But not to God.
God had prepared Ehud to be exactly the way he was so that He could carry out the task that God had given him. The “weakness” that made him appear to be a zero, was exactly what God used to make Him a hero.
And He does the same thing with us. God loves to take the weak things of this world and He uses them to show his strength. Paul talks about this concerning his own weaknesses. In 2 Corinthians Paul takes about his “thorn in the flesh” that He asked God to take away…
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Imagine that?! Paul boasted about his weaknesses. He pointed out his disabilities. He wanted people to see where He fell short – because it was in those weakness, those disabilities, those short-comings… where the power of God could work through Him.
What weaknesses do you have? What makes you feel unqualified or unable to serve God? What short-comings do you have that you think prevent you from being used by God? Well, guess what? It’s those very things that will give you opportunity to serve God in ways that you never imagined possible.
What’s your weakness? Maybe you feel your age has become a disability? You’re too old for God to use anymore… Baloney! Can God not use you when you’re old? Of course He can! Even if you can’t run marathons, God can still use you to be an encouragement to others, to teach the young, to pray, to financially support the many ministries and missionaries. Your age puts you in a position where you can be used by God in ways that perhaps younger folks couldn’t be.
Maybe you think you’re too young for God to use…. your still just a kid! That’s baloney too! I think about some of our young people – young guys, still in school. But they are going to be able to influence their friends and the kids in their school way more than I ever will. Because of their youth, God’s can use them to reach the other young people in our town in ways that the rest of all of us never could.
What are your disabilities? Maybe you think your past discounts you from serving God. Maybe you’ve made a lot of foolish choices in your past or maybe you grew up in a less-than-ideal family situation. Does that disqualify you from being used by God? No way. Those things that you went through – other people people are going through them too. And if they can see how God helped you through it – how God has changed your life – then they can have hope that God can do that for them too. God can use you in unique ways because of your past.
You see, it doesn’t matter what your weakness are. It doesn’t matter what character flaws you have or what foolish mistakes you’ve made. God can take zeros (like you and me) and turn us into heroes that He can use in amazing ways. Remember God’s words to Paul – “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”