Once again, Israel disobeys, resulting in eighteen years of oppression by Eglon ("Young Bull"), king of Moab, a small region in the Transjordan east of the Dead Sea. The cyclical pattern that forms the framework of Judges reminds us that Eglon is merely the means for God's disciplining of Israel. The story also emphasizes that Eglon is incredibly fat (vv. 17, 22).
We also receive descriptive information about Ehud. He is left-handed despite coming from the tribe of Benjamin ("Right-handed"). The Latin word "sinister" also derives from left-handedness and points to the definite advantage a left-handed warrior had in hand-to-hand combat where unfamiliarity and surprise can make the difference.
Under the guise of bringing Benjamin's tribute, Ehud assassinated Eglon, whose gruesome demise initiates a spate of horrific deaths in Judges. This one is distinctive for the macabre, somewhat scatological humor with which it is related. "Sinister" Ehud tricks Eglon by producing a hidden double-edged sword while the obese king is "relieving himself" in the royal privy. The king is so fat that the sword penetrates all the way to the hilt releasing that which Eglon was seeking to eliminate from another opening. Thus Eglon, the "Baby Bull," becomes the "fatted calf" in Ehud's sacrifice, and Ehud makes his escape as Eglon's servants patiently wait outside the cool chamber for their master to "finish." The story concludes with impressive defeats of the confused Moabites by the tribes of Benjamin and Ephraim.
12 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord strengthened King Eglon of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. 13In alliance with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, he went and defeated Israel; and they took possession of the city of palms. 14So the Israelites served King Eglon of Moab for eighteen years.
15 But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The Israelites sent tribute by him to King Eglon of Moab. 16Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length; and he fastened it on his right thigh under his clothes. 17Then he presented the tribute to King Eglon of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent the people who carried the tribute on their way. 19But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, I have a secret message for you, O king. So the king said,* Silence! and all his attendants went out from his presence. 20Ehud came to him, while he was sitting alone in his cool roof-chamber, and said, I have a message from God for you. So he rose from his seat. 21Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglons* belly; 22the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out.* 23Then Ehud went out into the vestibule,* and closed the doors of the roof-chamber on him, and locked them.
24 After he had gone, the servants came. When they saw that the doors of the roof-chamber were locked, they thought, He must be relieving himself* in the cool chamber. 25So they waited until they were embarrassed. When he still did not open the doors of the roof-chamber, they took the key and opened them. There was their lord lying dead on the floor.
26 Ehud escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the sculptured stones, and escaped to Seirah. 27When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites went down with him from the hill country, having him at their head. 28He said to them, Follow after me; for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand. So they went down after him, and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites, and allowed no one to cross over. 29At that time they killed about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped. 30So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011