Today we get to start something brand new! Over the past several months we’ve spent most of our Sundays looking at the spiritual disciplines or the healthy habits of those who follow God. These are the things that we as Christians do on a regular basis to help us get to know God and to know how he wants us to live day by day. And if you’ve missed that but are interested in learning more about these healthy habits – you can find all of those messages on my website – davetrenholm.com
But like I said, today we are going to start something brand new. Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at one of the strangest, most disturbing, most violent, most graphic books of the Bible.
I’m reminded of the Grandpa in the Princess Bride movie when he’s describing the book he’s about to read to his grandson who is sick in bed…. The grandson is expecting this book to be pretty lame, and so the grandpa says, “Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monster, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”
Now of course, we’re not doing a study on the Princess Bride, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to describe this book of the Bible in the exact same way… We will find fighting, torture, revenge, chases, escapes, true love, and even miracles! The big difference is that our story is true. The stuff that we’re going to read about actually happen and it shows just how messed up mankind can be and yet how gracious and merciful God is to love us anyway.
The book we’re going to look at is called the Book of Judges. When I was trying to come up with a title for this series, my first idea was to call it “The Book of Failures” because of how messed up most of these guys were. But in the end, I decided to go with “Unlikely Heroes” because even though these guys really were messed up, God loved them anyway and despite their failings, God used them to do some pretty amazing things. And what’s more, through all of that, God used their failings to show his power and his faithfulness – and I think that’s important for us to see.
Now before we get into our story, I want to give you a little bit of the background to the book of Judges and so to do that, I want to you show you a quick little video by the Bible Project guys. These guys have a video for every book of the Bible that briefly explains that the book is all about – if you haven’t seen these before, look them up on youtube. They’re really great.
So that’s what we’re going to look at over the next few weeks. Now we’re not going to do a systematic study of the book – in fact, we’re not even going to look at all the different judges and all the different stories. You’re certainly welcome to read through all those on your own, but our focus for these next few weeks is primarily going to be on a just handful of these unlikely heroes – These men and women who, despite their failings, end up being used by God in some pretty amazing ways – and through that, teach us about God’s power, God’s love and God’s faithfulness.
Now I know the video touched on this briefly, but I just wanted to read to you exactly how the Bible sets the stage for these judges. Joshua and those in his generation have now died and this is what we read in Judges 2:10….
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 in the midst of all this, God showed them His great mercy and compassion by sending them a judge to rescue them. Verse 16.
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 all over.
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. So here’s the first judge that we’re going to look at – this guy named Ehud – and the first thing that I noticed is that the Bible includes an unusual detail about this guy. Ehud was a left-handed man. 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 is it important 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 while it could be that his left-hand was simply the stronger dominate hand, but it could also mean 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. Perhaps there was some paralysis or nerve damage. We don’t really know… All we know is that he was somehow hindered in his right hand. And even if it was merely a case of having that dominate stronger left hand, in that ancient culture, to be left-handed was considered to be a handicap – a disability. It was a weakness. In fact, in some cultures, being left-handed was even considered to be a sign of some kind of evil. I found out this week that the word “Sinister” actually comes from the Latin word for ‘left-handed’.
So for all you left-handing folks, apparently, in Latin, you are sinister.
But because of this… disability… this apparent weakness… God was able to use Ehud in a unique way. Here’s why… look at 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 king’s 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. So let’s see what happens next. verse 17
He brought the tribute money to Eglon, who was very fat.
Again, I love the details that the Bible throws in… I’m not sure how King Elgon’s being very fat impacts the bottom line of the story, but it certainly paints a vivid picture for us – especially as we see what happens next. verse 18
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!”
(I’ll warn you – this is where it gets a little graphic…)
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. Judges 3:17-23
Wow! Did you know that kind of stuff was in the Bible? That’s some gruesome stuff. But that’s what happened. The Bible is just telling it like it is. It doesn’t flower it up or make it all nice. It just says “Here’s what happened.” These are the facts – like it or lump it.
But that’s not the end of the story. There’s more. Verse 24.
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. (In other words, they thought the king was in the bathroom, so they left him alone.)
But when the king didn’t come out after a long delay, they became concerned and got a key.
And you’ve got to wonder how long they waited? An hour? Two hours? You sure don’t want to barge in on the king, but how long do you wait? Well, 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 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! Then, in all the confusion that followed the kings death, Ehud calls together the army and 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 a great story but it’s kinda gruesome and a little bit odd. What’s the lesson in there? What do we learn about God?
Well, I think there are a few things. Certainly we can see how God had mercy on the Isrealites by sending them this deliverer. Perhaps that’s even a foreshadowing of how Jesus would be our deliverer on day. But one of the less obvious things that I learn from this story, is that God can do great things through anybody. He 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 – whether it was an actual disability or merely a perceived weakness, but regardless, his “weakness” was exactly what God used to bring about the victory.
God had prepared Ehud to be exactly the way he was so that He could carry out the task that God had given him. His “weakness” was exactly what God used to make Him an unlikely 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 in 2 Corinthians 12. He talks about how he had a “thorn in the flesh”, some kind of weakness or disability that he struggled with. We don’t know exactly what it was that was such a thorn in his flesh, but whatever it was, Paul begged God to change his situation, but God had different plans in mind. Paul says…
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 valuable to God? Well, guess what? It’s those very things that often give you opportunity to serve God in ways that you never imagined possible.
I have a friend with cerebral palsy. I first met him out at camp when he was about 10 years old. He can probably relate very well with Ehud. He’s left-handed out of necessity. His right hand really is bound up and he just can’t use it like you and I. And while I don’t expect Him to stab any fat, evil kings, I do expect that his “disability” is exactly what God will use to do some cool things through his life.
Because of his disability, he’s had the opportunity to go places and meet people that the rest of us won’t. He can talk to and relate with certain people that you and I just can’t. Throughout his life, he’ll have unique opportunities to share His testimony and tell others about the love and the power and the faithfulness of God. What we might see as a weakness, through God, will actually be perhaps his greatest strength.
What’s your weakness? 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 life 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. Jesus still loves you like crazy and He wants to transform you into a most unlikely hero. His strength is more than enough to make up for any weakness you may have.
The Bible is full of messed up, weak people that God transformed and through His power, they do some amazing things. I mean, think about it!
• Abraham – Was old.
• Naomi – Was a widow.
• Elijah – Was depressed and suicidal.
• Jonah – was a racist.
• Joseph – Was abused.
• Job – Went bankrupt and lost everything he had, including his kids.
• Moses – Had a speech problem and he murdered a guy.
• Rahab – Was a prostitute.
• Samaritan Woman at the well – Had been divorced five times.
• Noah – Was a drunk.
• Jacob – Was a liar and a cheater.
• David – Slept with his friend’s wife and then had his friend murdered.
• Peter – (supposedly one of Jesus best friends) publicly denied that he even knew Jesus
• Zacchaeus – Was greedy and dishonest.
• Paul – made it his life goal to imprison and kill Christians
And yet, God transformed everyone of these people into unlikely heroes – people who made a huge impact on the world around them.
And God can do that with you too. God doesn’t require that you get your life all straightened out before you come to him. He doesn’t require that you clean up your act and get all perfect. Because – let’s face it – none of us would qualify if that was the case.
No, God takes us just as we are – with our mess, with our weakness, with our disabilities – and he’s the one who transforms us.
If you look around this room today, you’re not going to find any perfect people. We’re all pretty messed up. The difference is that through Jesus – we can be forgiven. We can have hope and joy and peace. We can be transformed to become, more and more every day, like our Saviour – Jesus Christ – who, by the way, is probably the most unlikely hero of them all. We’ll talk more about that next week, but for today, I just want to encourage you that it doesn’t matter where you are in life – what weakness your have or what issues you still have to work through, our God is mighty to save. He is mighty to transform your life. He is mighty to take your weakness and turn then into strengths.