This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Judges 3:12-30
Dear Congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Judges is a very interesting book in the Bible. It is a very graphic book--wouldn’t you say? Some people don’t really like this book, maybe especially for that reason. Sure, this book is full of graphic, gross, horrific stories! So are we supposed to find gospel, good news in a book like this?
No doubt, the book of Judges tells the story of a time that is very chaotic, turbulent, messy, gross and whatever else, but you know what’s interesting: God’s Kingdom still moves forward in spite of it! Which gets me to what is probably the theme of this book: God’s amazing resourceful grace for very turbulent times. God uses all kinds of weird and different, sometimes gross, but certainly resourceful means to move his kingdom forward. We see that even here in this story. What we have here is an example of God’s amazing resourceful grace for very turbulent times. Let’s look at our story.
Let’s note the context first. Maybe you know that Judges has this reoccurring theme, this wheel that keeps turning: Israel falls into sin; God sends a Canaanite nation to punish Israel; the people repent; God sends a deliverer to save them; God does save them…but only for Israel to fall right back into sin again. And round, round we go!
In our story Israel has fallen into sin again. And so God judges them by allowing Eglon, king of Moab, to have power over them. For eighteen years they bring “tribute” to King Elgon. For eighteen years they bring produce and agricultural goods, they bring their harvests, their fruit, and their meat to Eglon, king of Moab. They are distressed politically, physically and spiritually. These are tough times.
In some ways things are really going backwards at this time. It’s during this time that the “City of Palms” is returned to the Canaanites. Are you familiar with the City of Palms? It’s Jericho. Remember the song, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho?” Remember how Israel first took it over? Well, in our story, Jericho is given back to the Canaanites!
Actually, the best picture of the times is probably King Eglon himself. You recall what he looks like. Eglon is big! He’s overweight! He’s a big fat king! You have to picture him on his throne. There he sits with all of his blubber. He’s got perfect control over the land. Every year the Israelites bring their produce--and Eglon feasts on it all! He gorges himself on it. He indulges in it.
So what we have here is a picture of Canaan (and the very creation order of things) in total disarray! Who or what rules Canaan? It’s somebody’s stomach! So is the kingdom of God in this period of the Judges!
Well, it happens that Israel takes the hint and they repent. They cry out to the LORD for deliverance and God raises up “Ehud, a left handed man, the Son of Gera, the Benjamite,” says verse 15.
A few comments about Ehud: Where does he come from? Ehud comes from the tribe of ‘Benjamin.’ Maybe that name doesn’t mean much to you but it does in the book of Judges. In the last chapter we read of some very, very terrible things that the Benjamites do. And so in this book the Benjamites are not exactly popular or well respected. And yet God uses a Benjamite here!
He’s left handed. In those days if you were left handed you were considered different, abnormal, deficient, broken or something. But hey--God uses all kinds! This is part of “God’s amazing, different, resourceful grace for very turbulent times!”
Note what Benjamin means. It means, “Son of my right hand.” So what we have here is a “son of my right hand” who is left handed! This is just another example of this book’s little ironies, twists. It’s “God’s amazing, resourceful grace for very turbulent times.”
Let’s zero in on the story now. It happens that Israel must send its yearly tribute to King Eglon, King of Moab. They do that. I suppose a whole train of food is shipped to Moab. Ehud goes along. He hides his sword in his right side where no one normally checks.
The Israelites bring the food. They begin to return home and at Gilgal, at the border, Ehud decides to go back. And once back in Moab, Ehud says to Eglon, “I have a message from God for you.” Fat Eglon gets up; he suspects nothing. While he gets up Ehud draws his sword and … well, you know the rest of the story. The sword’s handle literally gets lost in his blubber. And he drops. Ehud quietly leaves, probably whistling as he goes. By the time Eglon’s servants figure out what has happened, Ehud is long gone! Ehud blows a trumpet, calls together an army--so that by day’s end Moab is subject to Israel, and Israel has peace for 80 years. “God’s amazing resourceful grace for very turbulent times.”
Congregation, it might be good to know that this story is very craftily put together. Hebrew scholars have noted that this story is made up of a number of different “brackets” that all kind of correspond with each other. The beginning, for example, corresponds exactly with the end. In the beginning “Israel” is made subject to Moab. In the end “Moab” is made subject to Israel. See how that works? There’s a whole series of these brackets in the story--each one corresponding to it’s opposite: Ehud enters Eglon’s palace; Ehud exits Eglon’s palace. There is a whole sense of these brackets until we get to the very centre of the story.
Actually, you can basically divide the story right into two pieces. In the first half everything goes one way, and then in the second half everything goes the opposite way. Everything, of course, hinges on the centre of the story. And you wouldn’t guess what the centre of the story is: It’s the sword. It’s the stabbing of King Eglon. Believe it or not, everything pivots on this! Israel is subject to Moab, Ehud slays Eglon, Moab is subject to Israel. In a big way everything points to that gross event that takes place in the very middle.
I want to talk about that for a minute. Why does our text do this? Why does our text even include this? Why does the Holy Spirit find it necessary to tell such a gross story in Scripture? Why does it do so in such graphic terms? Why doesn’t our text just say, “And Ehud slew Eglon” and leave it at that? Why the graphic details?
Well, let me explain. Congregation, we have to remember that this is the time of the Judges. These are turbulent times. Sometimes tough times call for tough measures. I mean, this is war! Let us remember who is ruling Israel at this time; it’s big fat King Eglon! Or maybe I should ask: What is actually ruling Israel at this time? It’s Eglon’s big fat…stomach! That’s what’s ruling Israel at this time!
What’s ruling Israel is Eglon’s gluttony! It’s his greed! It’s his desires, his covetousness. That is what is ruling Israel at this time! And if that’s the heart of the problem, if that is what is causing so much grief in Israel, then that is what needs to be attacked! And so that’s exactly what our text focuses on!
This is the story: Israel is subject to King Eglon, Ehud stabs the heart of the problem, Israel is set free from Eglon. I don’t deny that this story sounds rather gross, but that’s what this story is about!
In that regard, you know what we need to watch out for? It’s having a fake plastic gospel. It’s having a gospel that is really nice on the surface; it’s pretty, smiley, but it doesn’t really go down to address the hard messy issues of life. Too many in our culture live by such a plastic gospel. They go to church on Sunday, they offer their nice prayer, they sing their nice songs, but all of that is just a cover up for some real yucky stuff that goes on at home. They’re nice Christians on Sunday but on Monday they constantly lose their temper. And so it is their temper, their anger that really dominates their lives. They’re nice Christians on Sunday but on Monday they return to their abuse, or they return to the bottle, or some other miserable thing.
They have two layers to their lives: a very nice plastic Christian surface, but then a lot of sin and misery underneath. It has to be said: this is not the way it’s supposed to be! The gospel is designed to attack sin! It’s designed to go way down! It’s designed to go down deep to attack the heart of the problem!
I submit to you: this is good news! I mean, we all have big fat issues in our lives. Who of us doesn’t? Some of us deal with big fat temptations. But the gospel is designed to go right in there to stab them! Some of us deal with serious addictions, we have an alcohol problem, or we have control issues, we need to control everybody in the family. But, you see, the gospel is not designed to cover it up; no, it’s designed to go right in there to attack it and start something new, something better!
Some of us deal with other issues. We feel lonely, we feel horribly lonely at times. Sometimes that loneliness is so painful! It leaves an ache in your stomach! But understand this: God is willing and able to go right in there to attack and bring his peace! That’s the gospel! It is able to get down and dirty!
I think of Jesus Christ. I mean here we are in sin. We are lost in sin! We are ugly and gross in sin! But when God came down to save us he didn’t stand back and say, “I will see what I can do from up here!” No, God sends his Son! Christ goes right into the muck and mire! I mean, what we deserve is hell! That’s how big our problem is! And yet Christ goes into hell, he goes in our place! He goes to the cross! It’s horrifying, it’s terrible, it’s messy! Sure, even his stomach, his side gets stabbed! But only after his hands and feet get nailed to a cross! This is what had to happen so that we might be freed from sin!
Now, turn back to the story in our text. Congregation, why does the Holy Spirit include the gory details of Ehud’s stabbing of King Eglon? It’s because sin is very ugly! But God is not scared or intimidated by it! Absolutely not! This is the good news: God attacks sin at the centre! He goes to the heart of the problem! Sometimes it’s messy but in the end it brings his kingdom.
Today God continues to wield a sword! The preaching of the gospel—what is that? It’s a sword! It’s the sword of the Spirit. It’s a double edged sword says Scripture. That’s what Ehud had--a double edged sword. God wields such a sword today! No, this sword doesn’t kill people…but what it does kill is sin! Appreciate this: it is designed to go right in there! It’s sharp!
Actually, God’s sword is a very delicate instrument. I think of Hebrews 4:12. There the Apostle says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” His point? God knows us. He knows our problems, he knows our sin, he knows our sorrows. And if Christ was willing to go way down in there to die for us, so can the Spirit, through the Word, go deep into our lives to destroy sin, bring new life and new joy! Our calling is to heed the Word! Our calling is to turn to God; we hide nothing! We bring it all before the throne of grace! Sometimes it hurts! Sometimes it’s messy! But it brings life! Eternal life! Life with God! For the coming of his kingdom!
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 95:6-7
Silent Prayer concluded by “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH #625
Prayer for God’s Greeting: “May the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen”
Hymn: “It is Good to Sing Your Praises” PsH #171
God’s Law: Exodus 20:1-17
Hymn: “For the Beauty of the Earth” PsH #432
Hymn: “Break Now the Bread of Life” PsH #282
Scripture Reading: Judges 3: 12-30
Sermon: “Ehud’s Victory”
Prayer: “Father in heaven, our lives are often so messy and broken. We thank you for Christ who was willing to enter our broken world to save us. We thank you for the sword of the Spirit that cuts into the heart of sin in our lives. Work repentance, faith and new life in us. May we not live by a fake gospel—but a gospel that is sharp and powerful. Hear our prayer. In Jesus name we pray! Amen!
Hymn: “Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer” PsH #543
Prayer for God’s Blessing: “May grace, mercy and peace be ours in abundance, in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen”
Doxology: “Now Blessed Be the Lord Our God” PsH #630