Week of July 17: Relying on God's strength when facing hostility


Scripture: Judges 3:15-25, 29-30
          The Book of Judges tells us that after the Hebrews gained a foothold in the Promised Land, God kept a few hostile nations around "to test all those in Israel who had no experience of any war in Canaan." The writer says: "It was only that successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before" (see Judges 2:10-3:6).
          We don't need such teachers anymore, do we? We've learned plenty about war in the centuries since then -- and, indeed, are continuing that learning today. We could very well make out without having any hostile nations around to teach us about it. But still we continue learning about, preparing for, and engaging in war.
When times are hard
          The biblical writers followed this statement about the role of the hostile nations still remaining in the Promised Land with a story about a man who led his country to victory over some of those nations. He was a left-handed Israelite named Ehud. His first victory was over Eglon, a Moabite king who is described as "a very fat man."
          This was the situation: Times were hard in Israel. For 18 years, the country had been oppressed by the Moabites and their neighbors, the Ammonites and Amalekites, all occupants of territories on the eastern side of the Jordan River. King Eglon had made heavy tribute demands on the Israelites, and they had not been able to do anything except pay what Eglon demanded. 
          According to the biblical writer, the Israelites had brought this oppression and suffering upon themselves. They had drifted away from God, turned to other gods, and abandoned their religious commitment, practices, and standards of conduct. As a result they had disqualified themselves for the protecting care of God. But after 18 years, had they not suffered enough? Couldn't there be some way for them to be delivered from this domination and oppression? Such deliverance was just ahead, but who could suspect that a left-handed guy by the name of Ehud would be the leader of this deliverance? But the narrator tells us that he was God's man, raised up by the Lord, and set to the task of bringing freedom once again to the people of Israel and restoring them to faithfulness to God.
Deliverance is near
          Ehud led a group of men assigned the task of delivering to Eglon the tribute he demanded (possibly produce from their orchards and fields and cattle from their herds and flocks, along with money, too). Before going on this assignment, Ehud made a double-edged sword about 18 inches in length, and "fastened it on his right side under his clothes." If he were examined for weapons, the examiners would most likely check his left side, not his right side.
          So he passed the guards' examination, if such was done, when he came to the king's palace with the required tribute payment. The same happened when he made a second call at the king's palace this time alone after the other men were on the way back to their country. He announced to the king that he had a "secret message" for him, and the king dismissed all of his attendants. Ehud then told him he had a message from God for him. So Eglon rose from his seat to receive the message. But then Ehud reached with his left hand and seized his two-edged sword from under his clothes on his right side, and thrust it--blade, hilt, and all--into Eglon's stomach. Then he locked the doors of the roof chamber where Eglon lay and left before anyone knew what had happened.
          What do you imagine was the response of the people of Israel when Ehud returned and announced that he had killed King Eglon, the most hated enemy of their country? For 18 long years, he had dominated their lives. Was there exuberant rejoicing? Did some doubt, wanting to see a photograph of the assassinated king, so they could be sure Ehud had really killed him? Did people want to hear the details of how Ehud accomplished this marvelous feat?  
Is peace possible?
          As I was thinking about this story, the President of the United States suddenly and surprisingly announced that American military forces had located Osama bin Laden in a fortress-like refuge in Pakistan and had killed him. Bin Laden had been known as the mastermind behind the events of September 11, 2001, that had resulted in the tragic deaths of nearly 3,000 people. We had counted him our number one enemy, and searching for him had been a priority of our nation all those years.
          King Eglon, like Osama bin Laden, was just one person, but with him out of the way and with the people of Israel united under the leadership of their new hero, they won victory after victory and secured their freedom once more. But what was more important was that they returned to loyalty and obedience to God.
          As I write it is still too early to know what the long-term results of Osama bin Laden's death will be. But surely one of our hopes must be that the world will find itself a little closer to a day of peace, of world friendship, and of devotion to the interests, the values, and the purposes of God. Let's pray that so it will be.