Why would God include the unpleasant description of the death of King Eglon of Moab in His Word? Judges 3:22 is certainly not the kind of verse you'd choose for a memory verse of Scripture, right? The reasons why God included the story of Ehud and Eglon (with all the gory details) in His Word becomes clear when we see what God intends to teach us through this portion of Scripture. Let's first consider the background for the book of Judges and then let's look at some of the spiritual lessons we find in the story of Ehud and Eglon.
Dark Days of the Judges The book of Judges covers the time between Israel's conquest of the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, and the time of the kings--about 350 years. Those 350 years were not a pleasant period in Israel's history. After Joshua died, Israel ceased to follow the Lord and His Law, and even worshiped the pagan gods of the surrounding nations. As a result, God had to discipline His people by periodically allowing a foreign power to conquer and severely oppress them until they would decide to change their evil ways and cry out to God for deliverance. In mercy, God would raise up a leader known as a "judge," through whom He would graciously rescue and restore His people. However, whenever the judge died, the people would revert to their evil and ungodly ways. This pattern of sin was so consistent that God describes the times of the judges by this statement: "Everyone did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6 and 21:25).
In Ehud's time, the foreign nation oppressing Israel was Moab. Eglon, the very overweight king of Moab, had defeated Israel and had set up his throne in Jericho, "the city of palm trees." Notice that verse 12 says that "the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel because they had done evil in the eyes of the Lord." God works the same way in the lives of believers today. When we begin to stray away from walking with the Lord, God will allow us to experience pressure and even defeat from the oppressing strength of the enemy--until we cry out to the Lord and turn back to Him. We may have to go through this cycle many times before we learn that walking in obedience to God is the best way--in fact, the only way--for the Christian.
Jericho Strongholds The city of Jericho was the enemy stronghold that God had miraculously conquered for Israel at the time of the conquest. Jericho's strong walls blocked the way into the land of blessing that God had promised to His people. The defeat of Jericho opened up the whole central portion of the Promised Land for Israel. Do you see the spiritual lesson for us? Jericho's strong walls can represent some major blockade in the believer's life--maybe a persistent doubt, or a root of bitterness, or some secret sin. These "Jerichos" are enemy strongholds that hold us back and block our progress into the "land of blessing" that God has given to the Christian. But those "walls of Jericho" will fall for the faithful believer who is walking wholeheartedly with the Lord. "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ"(2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
The walls may not disappear overnight, but if we continue to walk in patient faith around those walls as Israel did, God will give us victory over persistent sins. A consistent, balanced Christian life of regular Bible study, prayer, worship and fellowship with other believers (see Acts 2:42), is the key to the patient faith that brings down the Jerichos. There are no enemy walls that are too high or too strong for our God.
But in Ehud's day, Jericho (of all places!) had fallen into enemy hands again. The pagan king of Moab had established his throne in the very place where God had brought such a tremendous victory to His people! Unfortunately, conquered "Jerichos" can once again come under enemy control. This is one of the important lessons of Judges 3. If we do not continue to persevere in the faith, the Jerichos that once were conquered can again become problems. The enemy is persistent, and sadistically delights in "snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory"! Roots of bitterness can spring up again. Secret sins can resurface. Major doubts have a way of resurrecting themselves.
The good news is that the enemy can be driven out of Jericho again. This lesson is also found in Judges 3. The area of Jericho was part of the "Promised Land" that God gave to Israel. And "conquered Jerichos" are part of the "land of blessing" that God has given to believers. No enemy forces can lay a rightful claim to this territory nor should they establish a permanent foothold in the believer's life. As Ehud removed Eglon from his illegal throne in Jericho, so believers can, by faith, see the enemy's usurping power broken in our lives. But it is not automatic, just because we're believers! We must be like Ehud--dedicated and determined to follow the Lord in spite of the many compromising attitudes around us. God is looking for "Ehuds" who refuse to accept the status quo, and refuse to let the enemy reoccupy areas in their lives where victory has already been won.
Ehud the Entrepreneur Why did the Lord choose Ehud? When we get to heaven we'll probably find out that there were many reasons, but two reasons emerge clearly from the text. First, Ehud was a man who knew how to take advantage of circumstances. Ehud was designated to lead the Israeli delegation to the king of Moab with the annual tribute or tax. Like all ancient kingdoms that came to power over other nations, Moab chose to keep Israel in a subservient position, forcing them to pay tribute rather than just annihilating them. In those days, the annual tribute was a certain percentage of the "gross national product" of the conquered nation, paid in silver or gold to the ruling power.
Ehud took advantage of the circumstances when he realized that God had given him a unique opportunity to confront the enemy face to face. Ehud's attitude was not, "What can I do? After all, I'm only one person and the opposition is so great!" He realized that God's people should not be subservient and paying tribute to a pagan enemy in the very land that God had given to His people. Ehud would not let this opportunity to serve the Lord slip by, so he made a special two-edged dagger for himself and creatively planned out exactly how he would capitalize on this golden opportunity to break the power of the enemy.
We need to think more like Ehud and take advantage of the opportunities the Lord gives us. Ephesians 5:16 tells us, "make the most of your time, because the days are evil." Colossians 4:5 says, "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward unbelievers, making the most of the opportunity." Like Ehud, let's think of creative ways to resist the power of the enemy's control. For example, Christians who create internet web sites that refute the enemy's propaganda with the Word of God are an example of the "Ehuds" of today. Too many Christians are unwilling to confront the enemy because of fear, or laziness, or just being content with the status quo. Like Ehud, we should be willing to be the salt of the earth. At least we can speak out against the evils of our society! Let's not be content to continue to pay tribute to the enemy by silence and inactivity.
Ehud the Southpaw Another reason why God chose Ehud was that he was "different." Ehud was left-handed. Left-handed people are different--they're not the "norm." Just ask any left-handed person (like me) about the problems we encounter because we're "different"! In any case, God used Ehud's "difference" in a positive way. A right-handed person would have strapped the dagger on his left thigh in order to grab it with his right hand at the opportune moment, and Eglon would have been on guard when seeing a man's right hand go under his cloak. But left-handed Ehud was not suspected when he slipped his left hand beneath his cloak to grab his short sword!
Do you feel that you are "different" from the normal person? We're all different in one way or another, but God can use these differences for His glory. What seems like a disadvantage, from our limited perspective, can become a unique advantage when dedicated to the Lord! Don't ever think that you're too shy or too tongue-tied, too young or too old, too dumb or too slow, too unpopular or too "whatever" to be used by God. What you see as a "difference" can be used to make a difference in the kingdom of God!
Eglon and the Flesh Now we come back to the gory details of Eglon's death. What possible spiritual lesson can we gather from this gross description? The spiritual lesson is intrinsic to the spiritual picture that God has given us in this chapter. When we follow the history of Moab as an enemy of God's people, it is striking to see how often "the flesh" (the sinful nature) is represented. We were born with the sinful nature and we have it throughout our lives--even as Christians. (See Galatians 5:16ff.) In this spiritual picture the king of Moab is an illustration of "the flesh not under control." The nation of Moab originated because of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter--the flesh not held in check. In Numbers 25 we read that Moabite women were able to seduce the men of Israel at an idolatrous sexual orgy--again the flesh not held in check. And in Judges 3, what could be a more vivid spiritual picture of the flesh not under control? The description of the extremely obese, self-indulgent king of Moab, luxuriously enthroned in the cool roof chamber of his summer palace in Jericho is not a waste of inspired words!
Jericho was once again a problem for Israel because Moab was in control. Do you see the spiritual lesson? Just as Jericho had once again become a problem for Israel because pagan Moab was in control, so once-victorious areas in our lives can become problems again if we allow our sinful natures to control our lives. When the flesh is not controlled, the strongholds of Satan can again be erected and prevent the believer from enjoying the land of spiritual blessings. When the flesh is not held in check, any of the sins of Galatians 5:19-21 can become a rebuilt Jericho in the believer's life. Our sinful natures must be kept under control or the enemy will surely gain an advantage in our lives. Spiritual warfare involves keeping the flesh in check, and God has given us a picture of this aspect of spiritual warfare in Judges 3.
The Sword of the Spirit How do we keep the flesh under control? Romans 13:14 tells us, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Galatians 5:16 says, "Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." And in the death of the king of Moab we see the principle of "putting the knife to the flesh." How do we put the knife to the sinful nature? We use the Word of God! In the spiritual picture that God has given us here, it is easy to see that Ehud's two-edged sword can represent the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, "The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." When the Word of God is applied as a sword to the flesh which is out of control, the immediate results are not very pleasant. In fact, sometimes it is quite ugly (as pictured in death of Eglon), because God's Word reveals just how gross the flesh out of control really is! When a surgeon's knife is used to remove or correct a problem in our physical bodies, the process may be quite painful and not pretty, but good physical health is the desired result. When the knife of God's Word is applied to sin in our lives, spiritual health is the result, even though the process may be painful.The book of Judges gives us some great lessons concerning spiritual warfare. The story of Ehud and Eglon in Judges 3 is more than just the accurate account of how Israel threw off the yoke of its enemy, Moab, in the 14th century B.C. This story, with all its gory details, is included in Holy Scripture for a very good reason. Although it's not pleasant reading, we've seen that there are some important lessons for the growing Christian in the story of Ehud and Eglon.