July 15, 2010 David Balzer

Judges 3: The Quarterback and the Underdog

You’ve probably seen the story in countless movies. It’s the last game of the season. The state championships. Everyone’s hopes are pinned on the quarterback.

He’s the one who’s going to single-handedly win the game. He’s the golden-haired boy. Everything comes naturally for him. He’s popular, handsome, athletic, strong. A leader everyone wants to follow.

But then he gets crunched in a tackle. And he’s out of the game. And everyone lets out a sigh of resignation, throws their hands up in despair, and more or less gives up.

The coach looks down the bench at his subs. And calls on the little guy on the end. Hasn’t played a minute all season. The ultimate underdog. Has messed up, dropped the ball, failed in every respect. And now the coach wants him to win the game for the team.

He pulls on his helmet, runs out onto the field. And everyone lets out a GROAN of disappointment.

“What chance has this LAST CHOICE got of winning, if the FIRST choice couldn’t do it? Let’s just give the trophy to the opposition NOW!”

How the movie finishes depends on what the SPORT is. But it normally involves a slow motion countdown of the final ten seconds. With a last gasp shot that wins the match. And normally involves the hero winning the hand of the head cheerleader as well.

And the point is something about how the little guy can overcome great odds and succeed. And we all cheer, and are inspired to have a go ourselves.

But that’s only FICTION. Hardly EVER happens in real life.

But it DOES happen here in Judges 3.

Ch 2 introduces us to THE CYCLE that’s going to be repeated over and over again in the chapters that follow.

  1. The people turn away from God and follow idols (3:12)
  2. So God handed them over to foreign nations who ruled them (3:14)
  3. Then the people are in great distress (15)
  4. God raises up judges who SAVE them from their enemies (16)

Then the cycle begins all over again in v17. They don’t listen to the judges, but prostitute themselves to other gods etc etc.

The quarterback Othniel

And then in Ch 3, we get the first EXAMPLE of that cycle. It’s story telling at its MOST CONCISE. No flourishes, nothing fancy. Just facts and figures. And I think that’s the point. It’s the TEMPLATE, or the EXAMPLE, or the BACKDROP to the rest of the stories that come after.

Follow along with me. V7. The people did evil, forgot God and served the Baals. V8 God was angry with them and handed them over to the king of Aram for 8 years. V9 they cried out to the Lord, so step 4, God raised up a deliverer. A Saviour. OTHNIEL.

We’ve already met him before. Back in ch 1. He’s the nephew of Caleb, and he’s the quarterback. As close to Jewish royalty as you get. Way back, Caleb and Joshua were the only spies who trusted God enough to encourage the people to conquer the land the FIRST TIME.

And even NOW, more than 40 years later, he’s STILL encouraging the people to take hold of God’s promises. In ch 1 v12, he offers the hand in marriage of his daughter to the man who conquers Kiriath Sepher. And brave and gallant Othniel wins her hand by defeating the city.

He’s the quarterback, from the great family. He’s strong and brave, and noble. And it’s NO SURPRISE God raises him up to be a saviour for the people in ch 3. Look there in v10 of Ch 3.

10 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

The quarterback saves the day. As you’d expect. But that’s all we get. He wins. No details. No plot. No juicy details.

Then the land has peace for 40 years until he dies.

Perhaps you’re having an OTHNIEL kind of year. When you’re feeling GOOD about things. That you’re on top of things. Things are going WELL. You’re noble, and bold and successful. You’re God’s gift to ministry. Which, in a sense, is true enough.

But remember, it’s GOD who raised up the enemy. It’s God who wanted to use him to turn his people back. It’s God who’s love and covenant faithfulness is so great for his people that he’d go to ANY LENGTHS to win them back.

And it’s God who raised up YOU. Equipped you with his Spirit. And worked through you to achieve your every success. It’s all about GOD. Don’t FORGET it!

The ultimate underdog Ehud

But in the book of Judges, there’s a DIFFERENT message we’re to learn from. It’s a message for the underdogs. For you EHUDS. Follows straight on after Othniel. So we can COMPARE the two. And there’s more detail perhaps because that’s where the focus is – on how God uses underdogs like Ehud.

Look at Judges 3 and vs 13. Same cycle as before. Israel does evil. God raises up Eglon of Moab. He pulls together Ammon and Amalek. The original AXIS OF EVIL.

Together they conquer the City of Palms. That’s another name for Jericho. The city where God won that great victory for Israel back in the book of Joshua. Making the walls fall down.

Eglon even conquers THAT. He’s got the Israelites right under his thumb. For eighteen long years (v14).

At which point Israel’s crying moves God to action. Again. So he raises up another deliverer. What they need is another quarterback like Othniel. But what they GET instead… is EHUD.

Our version says Left-handed, but it’s literally “a man with a limited or impeded or crushed right hand”. So, it’s not that he’s particularly GOOD with his LEFT hand, just that he’s particularly BAD with his RIGHT ONE. The one you carry a SWORD with, or a spear.

Which is ironic seeing he’s from the tribe of Benjamin, which MEANS “son of my right hand”, but he can’t USE it. The ultimate underdog

In the movie The Princess Bride, there’s a great scene where the hero Westley is having a duel with the champion Spanish swordsman Inigo Montoya. It’s a full-on sword fight. Back and forth across the top of a cliff. And it starts to look like Westley’s getting the upper hand. But as they’re fighting back and forth, Inigo Montoya gets a smile on his face. And he says to Westley, “I know something you don’t know…. I’m not left handed.” And he switches the sword to his right hand and keeps fighting.

But instead of achieving a significant advantage, he’s met with the reply from Westley, Neither am I. And then he ALSO swaps hands. It’s a great moment. Suddenly you realize this incredible sword fight’s all been with their left hands.

But it’s not real life. In real life people who’re restricted in the use of their right hand… aren’t much good at sword fights. So Ehud’s a surprising choice. Not the kind of mighty warrior you’d expect.

And the Israelites know it. They don’t expect this man who can’t use his right hand to deliver them. They don’t raise an army and go into battle behind him. They just send him on AN ERRAND. The second half of v 15 the Israelites send him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Probably FOOD. Grain from the harvest.

But Ehud’s more handy, if you’ll excuse the pun, than the Israelites think. He might not be a great swordsman. But he’s God’s deliverer, and he’s going to deliver. In a surprising way.

He gets busy and makes his own special piece of tribute to take to King Eglon. V 16 Ehud makes a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he straps to his right thigh under his clothing.

And with his custom made sword strapped in place our unlikely deliverer sets out on his mission to Eglon king of Moab. Who, in v17, we find out is VERY FAT.

Ehud, as part of Israel’s delegation, is delivering FOOD to the very FAT Eglon. Israel goes HUNGRY, while their ENEMY gets FATTER. This is the ULTIMATE INSULT to Israel. No wonder they’re crying out to God.

Mind you, it’s not being particularly polite to Eglon either. The POLITE thing would be not to mention his weight at all. But if it had to, at least it could be subtle. He was a very BIG man maybe, or he was horizontally challenged. But Judges is blunt.

It’s highlighting Eglon’s most unattractive feature. There’s IRONY here, even HUMOUR. And it’s saying “don’t take this Eglon king of Moab too seriously. He might sound powerful, he might sound frightening. But he’s only human. He’s got a big weight problem.”

And he’s not TOO BRIGHT EITHER. Ehud’s way too quick witted for him. Makes him look like a complete fool. v 19 Ehud’s on his way home. He makes it as far as the idols near Gilgal. The border perhaps between Israel and Moab. He sends the REST of the delegation home, perhaps he’s seeing them to safety before he puts his clever plan into action. He’s going to use his WEAKNESS as a STRENGTH.

He heads back to King Eglon with his short sword strapped to his RIGHT thigh. The bodyguards miss it at the metal detectors, and he announces to the king, “I’ve got a secret message for you”

What a great line. So ambiguous. Sure, Ehud’s got a message for Eglon. But it’s not what he’s expecting. It’s a sharp two edged metal message. Ehud’s giving Eglon a hint about what’s coming.

But Eglon’s got no idea. He’s too dull to pick up anything suspicious. He plays right into Ehud’s hands. Even sends his guards away. In the second half of v 19, he says, “Quiet!” And all his attendants leave him.

Ehud runs rings around the great Eglon King of Moab. Makes him look like a gullible fool. And then gives him a very nasty end to his life. In the second half of v 20, as the king rises from his seat, Ehud reaches out his left hand, draws the sword from his right thigh and plunges it into his belly.

It’s a great moment. The powerful pagan king…. Destroyed… by a one handed man who hasn’t even raised a sweat. Completely humiliated by God’s deliverer.

And you can’t miss it. There’s a blow by blow description of exactly what happens to the sword. V 22 the handle sinks in after the blade which comes out his back. Ehud doesn’t pull the sword out and the fat closes in over it. Definitely M rated. But it leaves you in no doubt. Eglon has come to a sticky end.

This scary enemy, this powerful king who was oppressing God’s people. Ends up a laughing stock. Not only destroyed. But humiliated. Made to look a fool by God’s unlikely deliverer….

And Ehud does exactly the same thing to Eglon’s followers. Humiliates them. Destroys them. While Eglon’s lying on the floor with a sword in his gut, in v 24 his servants say “he must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house.” And they wait to the point of embarrassment. Before finally opening the door and finding their lord fallen to the floor… dead. So incompetent.

It reminds me of Colonel Klink and Sergeant Shultz from Hogan’s Heroes. Running a prisoner of war camp where the prisoners are the most effective allied spies behind enemy lines.

The king’s dead. The servants are idiots. And when the rest of the Israelites join in the fight there’s no problem defeating the whole army too. v 29. They strike down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not a man escapes.

This imposing king and his followers… Who’ve ruled Israel with an Iron fist…for 18 years. Come to a humiliating end. As scary, as invincible as they must have seemed. they’re no match for God. He defeats them easily. With a one handed man.

That’s the point of the humour. Whatever powerful, imposing forces of evil are ruling, they’re NOTHING when God is with his people.

And there’s a sense in which all God’s enemies are like Eglon. None of them stand a chance. They’re all facing humiliating defeat.

That’s what Psalm 2 says. It’s talking about the nations and the kings of the earth who oppose God. And God’s response is the same as with Eglon. Ps 2 v 4 says,

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

The kings and rulers of the earth who oppose God…. aren’t more of a threat than Eglon King of Moab. They don’t stand a chance.

And PS 2 is ultimately talking about Jesus. God’s Son. It’s at the cross where God and his king, his messiah take their final stand against their enemies. It’s at the cross God scoffs at them and rebukes them in his anger.

It’s an even MORE unlikely place to find deliverance than at the hand of a one handed man. A man dying on a cross. But just like with Ehud, God wins a decisive victory at the cross. A victory that HUMILIATES his enemies and destroys them. That’s what it says in Col 2:15:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Weakness turned around by God, and turned into a strength to bring about his purposes.

That’s the way it works with Jesus. And it works that way with US TOO.

Perhaps, rather than feeling like Othniel the quarterback, you’re feeling a little more like Ehud, the ultimate underdog. You feel squashed and beaten down. Mistakes and failures and disappointments are piling up.

But God is the ultimate craftsman. He can carve something PERFECT using a blunt old bread and butter knife or a razor sharp chisel. He can use Ehuds just as well as he can use Othniels. Underdogs just as well as Quarterbacks.

In fact, God takes a particular JOY out of using the weakest and smallest and oldest and dustiest. Always has. Whether it’s hundred year old Abraham fathering children, or Gideon and his puny army of 300, or David the youngest brother in the family, or Paul, the weak and bumbling public speaker. Weak vessels, jars of clay that contain the glorious message of the all powerful, infinitely loving and wise God who sent Jesus to rescue us.

God loves to use people like that / Because it’s THOSE people who TRUST him. Who trust his PROMISES. Trust his PROVIDENCE. Trust his POWER.

Make sure that’s YOU. Whether you’re an Othniel, or an Ehud.

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