Monday, November 17, 2008

Favorite Stories

I've been thinking about sharing some of my favorite Bible stories. I'm going to share the stories along with the reasons why they are among my favorites. Some of them have been used in sermons, and I'm sure that others will be used in the future. Perhaps someday, I'll have my collection of favorites published; then again, perhaps not. For now, I'll just share them here at Out of My Hat.


I've adapted this first story from a sermon text. As I complete other stories, I'll share them with you. I hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Ehud, The Left-handed Deliverer

One of my favorite stories from the Bible comes out of the Book of Judges. It’s one of those stories that you never hear, never remember reading and yet it is Classic God. It has all of the elements of the stories of God’s love: man’s rebellion, God’s judgment, man’s repentance, God’s deliverance.

In typical God fashion, He chooses a deliverer that isn’t anything like what you would expect a mighty deliverer to be. God chooses the very last guy that a man would choose. God chooses the perfect guy for the job.

Ehud

12 Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. 13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms(Jericho). 14 The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.

15 Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. 16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. 18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way the men who had carried it. 19 At the idols near Gilgal he himself turned back and said, "I have a secret message for you, O king."
The king said, "Quiet!" And all his attendants left him.

20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, "I have a message from God for you." As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, "He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house." 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.

26 While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah. 27 When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them.

28 "Follow me," he ordered, "for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands." So they followed him down and, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab, they allowed no one to cross over. 29 At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not a man escaped. 30 That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.

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Whenever I’m reading the Bible, occasionally words or phrases seem to jump out at me. It is generally because they seem out of place or unusual. I tend to accept that as a clue that there is something more to the story—something that the average reader is going to miss. That’s the case in this story of Ehud, The Left-handed Deliverer.

The words that I’m talking about are found back in verse 15. The Bible says that God gave them a deliverer—“Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite.”

I would have expected that the Bible would name him with his father and tribe. That is they way that was done. But what about being left-handed? Is that important? It doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the story. I decided that it was worth a little looking into. What I found was that Ehud’s being left-handed is central to the story.

Even today, being left-handed is somewhat of an anomaly. Only about 10 percent of the population is left-handed. Being a lefty is not near as big of a deal today as it once was. It can even be an advantage if you are a pitcher or batter in baseball. For the most part, it is a right-handed world. Scissors, power tools, hand tools and sports equipment are plentiful if you are right-handed and harder to find (and more expensive) if you are left-handed. Writing from left to right is no problem if you are a righty and a little awkward for a lefty. Today, kids are no longer discouraged from developing their left-handed tendencies. It wasn’t always so.

There was a time when left-handedness was associated with witchcraft. To prevent children from developing left-handed tendencies, drastic measures were taken. Arms were tied down to prevent use—hands might even be broken to prevent their use and force the use of the right hand.

Still today, in the Middle East, the left hand is the hand of defilement—the dirty hand. You don’t touch people with your left hand. Without being too graphic, the left hand is the hand that you use for certain personal hygiene actions. (I will mention that toilet paper isn’t the plentiful commodity that it is in the Western world!)

In Ehud’s day, lefties were also thought to be weak. A left handed man was not allowed to carry a sword. He could not accompany his tribe into battle. That alone made him less than a man. When the rest of the able bodied men went to fight, Ehud had to stay behind with the old men, the crippled men, the boys too young to fight and the women. Ehud was the kind of guy that would get all of the jobs that nobody else wanted to do. He would have been somewhat of and outcast among his own people. I think that it shows a bit of God’s sense of humor and irony that Ehud is from the tribe of Benjamin (since Benjamin means son of the right hand).

One of those jobs that Ehud got stuck with was carrying the tribute of the people to Eglon, the king of Moab. I don’t know how often the people of Israel had to bring their tribute to the king, but I’m sure that nobody wanted to carry the money to the pagan king. So somebody gets the bright idea, “Let’s make Ehud do it.” And so Ehud gets the undesirable task of bring the tribute to Eglon, a very fat man. (We’ll get back to the fat man thing.)

The Israelites have had enough and cry out to God. They repent of their sin and God chooses Ehud as their deliverer. So Ehud makes a small sword. It’s big enough to do the job (about eighteen inches long) and small enough to hide. Ehud would have had to make the sword in secret and keep it hidden—even from his own people. They would have taken it away from him if they had known about it. He makes the sword and hides it and waits for the day that he is to bring the tribute to the king. On that day, Ehud hides the double edged dagger in the folds of his cloak on the right side. (A right handed person would have carried his sword on the left side.) The Throne Room in the palace would have been heavily guarded. A soldier would have been allowed to keep his sword as he entered into the presence of the king. It may or may not have been secured with a “peace knot” which would make it impossible to draw quickly. Nobody would have searched Ehud and nobody would have expected him to be hiding a sword.

Ehud and the delegation from Israel deliver the tribute and begin their return trip home. Ehud allows sufficient time for all of the other delegations to complete giving their tribute and then tells the rest of Israel’s delegation to continue homeward and he returns for an audience with King Eglon.

When Ehud arrives at the palace for the second time, the Throne Room is empty. He announces that he brings a message from God and is brought to the king’s private chambers. The King clears the room (apparently he doesn’t want anybody else to hear this message), and Ehud approaches to give the king the message. As the king stands to hear the message, Ehud reaches into his garment with his left hand, draws the dagger and kills the king.

Eglon must have been a very prosperous king (since he was so fat) and the fat of his belly closed in around the handle of the dagger as the point pushed out of his back. Ehud locks the door and escapes through the porch.

Now I kind of wonder about what happens next. Maybe the servants left the area and took their union mandated break when the king sent them out of the room. Maybe they went to the palace’s designated smoking area to burn a quick one while the king received this message from the Israelite’s God. In any case, nobody saw Ehud leave and the doors were locked when they returned. They weren’t in any hurry to interrupt the king because they figured that he was relieving himself. (That’s the politically correct way of saying that they thought he was taking a dump.) Note: I’ll probably have to edit that dump part. Anyways, they wanted to allow enough time for the air to clear since some poor servant (probably a left-handed one), was going to have to take care of emptying that chamber pot.

By the time they finally got around to unlocking the door and finding their dead king, Ehud was on his way back with the armies of Israel. And God delivered the Moabites into their hands and they lived in peace for eighty years.

Now that’s a good story.

But I think that there is more to it than just being a good story. I think that there is a life lesson for us. The preacher in me can’t just leave it alone. When God places a great story like this before us, I believe that He is trying to tell us something.

Up until that moment in his life, Ehud had always been considered relatively useless. There is little doubt that he had been an object of ridicule and scorn for his entire life. I can’t help but wonder what he was thinking when he felt that God had called on him to deliver the Israelites from the hand of Eglon, King of Moab. I wonder when Ehud first realized that he had been created for this purpose. I wonder if he suddenly felt that all the years of torment had been worth it because now he knew that he had been created for this moment.

I wonder how many of God’s children suffer today with feelings of inadequacy. I wonder how many of God’s children are living their lives without purpose. Far too many believers feel that they are not equipped to serve in God’s Kingdom. They think that they are too short, too tall, too fat or too skinny. They think that they can’t talk to people or that they are not smart enough. Maybe they think that they are too poor or that they don’t have the right social stature to share God’s story and God’s love.

Ehud surely felt that God had forgotten him. And yet, when the time came, he was ready to serve his God and deliver his people.

Perhaps you feel that your life lacks purpose; that God has forgotten you and that life is leaving you behind. With all of my heart, I believe that there is a God in heaven that loves you dearly. He has created you for a purpose. He has equipped you for that purpose—maybe physically, maybe mentally, maybe emotionally. The only thing that that you need to bring is a willing heart.

James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that life is fleeting. He says that it is like a vapor, here for a moment and then gone. I would encourage you to endure. Stay with it. Your moment is coming. Love God. Serve Him. Be patient. And remember, the task before you is not for your own recognition and glory—it is for the glory of God.

7 comments:

bandit said...

Thanks for the devotional this morning!

Mike said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-handedness

The left hand is the sinister hand.

Claudia said...

Nobody or nothing in creation is unlovely or useless to God. Everything and everyone matters! Many of us will be quite surprised at who we meet again in Heaven, so we might as well work on getting along down here, to maximize the good in the time we have together, from here through eternity.

HEALTH NUT WANNABEE MOM said...

How fascinating! My mother and 2 year old are both left handed. I really enjoyed this story and had never heard it before. I love stopping by and reading these!

Mike said...

HEY! I have to scroll a third of the way down the page to see if someone else has commented.

No I'm not going to subscribe. I've heard of people have a hundred messages waiting for them because of subscriptions. ...... Who was that guy???

Vei said...

life is fleeting, we should always remember the Lord ..

Kevin said...

It's fascinating how God uses the most unlikely people to act as His superheros...Gideon, Moses, David, and many others. He never seemed to choose somebody who was already perceived as strong.