Over and over and over | SeekGrowLove.com


A sermon on Judges 3 by Richard Keith on Sunday 2 July 2023

Our passage today in Judges chapter 3 is a good example of why the Bible was written in the first place why it was passed down by generations and why it is still read today. It celebrates a remarkable victory of the people of Israel over a warlord named Eglon.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been tracing out the story of the Old Testament following the covenants, the solemn agreements that God made with human beings. We’ve seen that the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, but through Moses, God brought them out. God gave them his ten commandments and said,

If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

This is the old covenant. It was a conditional agreement by which God promised to bless the people of Israel in return for their obedience. God’s purpose was not just to bless them but to use them to bless the whole world.

That generation rescued from Egypt could talk the talk. They said,

We will do everything the Lord has said.

But they couldn’t walk the walk. The whined and complained along their whole journey to the promised land of Canaan, and when they reached the land’s borders they refused to go in.

If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.

God forced them to turn around and wander in the wilderness for 40 years. And so that generation died out and their children took their place. Moses too passed away, but his second in command, Joshua, led the next generation into Canaan. They blew their trumpets and the walls of Jericho fell. They inherited the promise that God had given their ancestor Abraham. Everything was set for them to achieve their destiny, to become God’s treasured possession among all the nations, to serve the world as that kingdom of priests, that holy nation, as long as they obeyed God fully and kept his covenant.

Sadly, the book of Judges shows how the generations that followed fell short of that glory.

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.

The gods and goddesses of Canaan. Israel had settled in Canaan’s land, but Canaan had settled in Israel’s heart. Therefore,

because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel.

These early “kings” of the Old Testament are not rulers over large nations or vast empires. They are often nothing more than glorified warlords ruling over a couple of cities and scores of villages and towns. But Judges chapter 3 goes out of its way to tell you that Eglon was more than just another second rate bully.

Firstly, the Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years. For almost two decades Israel paid an annual tax to Eglon. He was more than just an annoyance who would go away if they pretended to ignore him. He was a menace who threatened to destroy them if they didn’t pay up each year.

Secondly, Eglon was a fat man. He lived in luxury while other people did all the work. He didn’t need to fight, he had men who did the fighting for him. He had more than he needed and he wasn’t afraid to show it off.

Thirdly, Eglon had a summer palace, meaning that he had more than one palace. One in the lowlands during winter and one in the higher hills during the heat of summer.

And fourthly, and don’t laugh at this like it’s not important, but fourthly, Eglon’s summer palace had an indoor, upstairs toilet.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I take indoor plumbing for granted. No running to the outhouse in the middle of winter for me. But I’ll tell you that my father grew up without an indoor toilet and certainly not in the upstairs. The house he grew up in was built by his father. It had only one storey and four rooms for a family with seven children. And that’s in 20th century Australia. While Eglon, in about 1200 BC, living in the hilly region east of the Dead Sea, not only had an indoor toilet, but one just for himself on the second floor. For over 3000 years ago that is cutting edge technology that only the rich and powerful could afford.

Eighteen years of domination by another country doesn’t sound like a long time in hindsight. But living through it is another thing entirely. I mean a child could have been born in Israel and become an adult without knowing anything different. But at the end of those 18 years, the Israelites remembered the Lord and they cried out to him for help and he gave them a deliverer, an unlikely saviour. A left handed man named Ehud.

Personally, I’ve got nothing against left handed people. Trying to force them to use their right hand is wrong. But in bronze age warfare, a left handed man was a liability. A front line soldier was expected to be able to hold his sword in his right hand, using his shield in his left to protect not only his own left side but the bloke next to him’s right side. Anyone who couldn’t do that simple thing was never going to be part of any great military victory. Or so you’d think. But this was the very person, the unlikely person, the one everyone else would overlook, whom the Lord would choose to show who really won the battle.

The Lord chose Ehud. Who, despite being left handed, was a cunning piece of work. Ehud was the leader of the delegation sent to present Israel’s annual tribute to Moab. But on the way home, he dismissed the other men and returned to Eglon, saying,

I have a secret message for you, O king.

Eglon foolishly trusted him and sent all his servants away. Probably hoping to be told a way to get even more money or power, he gave Ehud a private audience in the upper room of his summer palace. Ehud approached him, saying,

I have a message from God for you.

And delivered the pointy end of the Lord’s justice into the fat belly of the bully. Ehud’s greatest liability, his left handedness, turned out to be his greatest asset. He didn’t need a scabbard for his short sword on his left side where everyone would look. But he could conceal it under his clothes strapped to his right thigh. This harmless looking diplomat turned out to be the most dangerous man in Israel.

Ehud locked the door and escaped out the balcony. Eglon died from his wounds, while his servants mucked around not wanting to disturb their master’s privacy in case he was on the toilet. His expensive, fancy indoor, upstairs toilet. The delay meant not only that Eglon died a victim of his own greed and opulence but that Ehud got away returned to Israel, led the army and destroyed the forces of Moab, bringing peace to Israel for the next eighty years.

It’s no wonder this story was told again and again. In eighty years of peace a man could be born and live his whole life and die at a ripe old age and never swing a sword in anger. It’s no wonder that someone eventually wrote it down for future generations to read and to learn from. It fits the narrative of the Old Testament so well. When Israel sinned and forgot the Lord their God and disobeyed his commands and worshiped and served gods of wood and stone who never made anything, but had to be made by human beings, when they did not keep the Lord’s covenant, his solemn agreement, that he would be their God and they would be his people, then they would suffer the consequences. Defeat and failure and subjection to their enemies, paying tribute to foreign nations. Only when they remembered the Lord and confessed their sins, and turned away from their idols and pleaded for his help, would he save them.

And picking such an unlikely instrument as Ehud, despised and rejected by men, relegated to the shame of paying the annual tribute, picking such an unlikely man only highlighted the Lord’s hand in everything. It was obvious that God had saved them in their time of need.

At first, Ehud’s story would have been passed by word of mouth. But eventually it was written down for future generations. And those future generations would need to learn those lessons. In times of prosperity it would serve as a warning not to forget the Lord and to be distracted by his blessings so that they took him for granted and instead of giving him their whole heart they would worship and serve lesser things: money; career; status. But in times of need and defeat, when they were under the thumb of foreign powers it would remind them that things are never so bad that the Lord couldn’t rescue them, but that in the most remarkable way, from the most unlikely of directions, God could save them. Whether from the Philistines or the Babylonians or the Persians or the Greeks or the Romans. No matter how strong their enemies were, their God was the creator of all things and even stronger.

That’s why after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the stories of Ehud and Gideon and Samson and Samuel and David helped shape the Jews hopes for a Messiah, God’s promised saviour and king. A man of God, though overlooked by men, would bring about an amazing victory when all seemed lost. Ehud, the left-handed man. Gideon, from an insignificant family in a tiny tribe, who beat an  army of thousands with 300 men. David, the youngest of eight boys. And not just men of war, but leaders like Joseph, who was sold as a slave by his brothers, and Moses, who was rejected when he tried to intervene for his people, and Daniel, led into exile as a boy. That’s why these stories weren’t just  written down, but they were read and talked about and copied and collected together and treasured, creating what we call the Old Testament, recording not just the great deeds of  God in the past, but the hopes of what God would do for his people in the future.

Even today we read the Old Testament, because we believe that it is not just a Jewish book written for Jewish people, but God’s book written for us who believe that Messiah has come and his name is Jesus. Jesus who like Ehud was not a man of war, nor a soldier who could stand in the front line. Jesus who like Ehud was an unlikely saviour, born in a stable and not in a palace, and learned a trade and not how to swing a sword, and grew up in a tiny village in Galilee and not in any of the big cities, who learned the scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth rather than in the rabbi schools of Jerusalem. Jesus, who like Ehud confronted the forces of evil on his own on his cross and defeated them in the most remarkable way, giving his life to pay the debt of our sin.

In many ways, except perhaps in the most literal way, Jesus was a left-handed man. He did not conform to expectations, nor was his ministry shaped by human wisdom, and yet he brings his people peace and blessing, so that in the midst of our trials we can cry out to God in his name and seek from him deliverance from all the powers of evil that oppose us.

Events in human history always seem to continue on their relentless march. We can feel helpless and hopeless. But God is able to intervene in our lives in remarkable ways just to show that the victory belongs to him and to no one else.

And so we would do well to learn the lesson of Judges chapter 3 for us today. We should not forget God in our peace and prosperity so that we give the credit for our blessings to lesser things. Nor should we feel overwhelmed by the forces of evil. They seem so powerful, but they are feeble and foolish before the wisdom and power of God. And we should put all our faith in our unlikely Saviour Jesus., who single handedly defeated the powers of sin and death and hell that we may have peace with God.