The Man Who Prepared for War

Topical Scripture: Judges 3:12-30

October 10, 2011 was Les and Karen Ferguson’s twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. Les was at a preacher’s meeting when his wife and their twenty-one-year-old son, Cole, were shot to death in their home.

The apparent killer had attended their church until being charged with sexually assaulting Cole, who had cerebral palsy. The day Karen and Cole were killed, the man was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

We cannot imagine the grief that Les and the rest of his family endured. The minister’s grief overwhelmed him as he withdrew from everyone except his remaining family and a few friends. He later launched an online journal called “Desperately Wanting to Believe Again.” And he has.

Les has returned to pastoral ministry and written a transparent book on his faith journey. If he can serve a God whose ways he will never fully understand, can’t we?

This week we will meet a man who became an unlikely judge and rescued his people from horrific oppression. And we will learn that the God who used Ehud will use anyone who is willing to be used. There are no exceptions.

Refuse sin before judgment comes (vv. 12–14)

Thirteen centuries before Christ, the twelve Jewish tribes were living in their Promised Land. However, they were still surrounded by external enemies that imperiled their future. And their internal sin was a greater threat than any external nation.

Last week we discussed the pattern of Judges:

  • The people reject God
  • God responds with divine retribution
  • The people repent
  • God raises up a judge as their deliverer.

This pattern begins in our text: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:12a). “Evil” translates the Hebrew word ra, meaning that which is wicked, contemptible, noxious, hurtful.

The text is not more specific. We’re not told if their evil had to do with idolatry, sexual immorality, theft, or any other sins. I believe there are two reasons for the ambiguity of the text.

One reason is that any sin is sin before the Lord. Our righteous, holy Father must view all sins as evil. We rank sins as less or greater in significance, but any sin breaks our fellowship with our perfect Lord.

A second reason is that our text can now apply to any reader. The Bible states, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Any sin you have committed today makes this text relevant to you.

God must punish sin. But he often chooses unusual ways to express his judgment. In this case, he “strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel” (v. 12b). The Moabites lived on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea (in modern-day Saudi Arabia, just south of Jordan), directly east of the tribe of Judah. They were Israel’s relatives, descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:36–37).

The Lord had earlier forbidden the Jews from taking the Moabites’ land. As the Jews were on their way to the Promised Land, Moses testified: “We turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession'” (Deuteronomy 2:8–9).

Now the Lord raised up the Moabites to punish Israel. Eglon, their king, made an alliance with the Ammonites (to the north of Moab) and the Amelekites (to the south of Israel). With their help, Eglon was able to defeat Israel and take possession of “the city of palms,” Jericho (v. 13). As a result, “the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years” (v. 14).

One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to tempt us to believe that we can sin without consequences. He said to Eve in the Garden, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). He says to us that we can get away with this. No one will be hurt; no one will know. We can always repent later.

The reality is that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Thomas Watson warned us: “Sin has the devil for its father, shame for its companion, and death for its wages.” Every time.

What “evil” are you being tempted to commit today?

Prepare to be used by God (vv. 15–23)

True to form, “the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer” (v. 15a). It is never too late to repent. The nation would not get back the eighteen years it spent enslaved to Moab, but its past did not need to become its future.

In this case, their deliverer was “Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man” (v. 15b). Every word of the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and included in Scripture for a reason. In this case, we learn two important facts about the judge named Ehud.

One: he was a “Benjamite.” This was the smallest of the twelve tribes but one of the most capable. Among them were “700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16). Ehud grew up among warriors and was clearly prepared to be one himself.

Two: he was “a left-handed man” himself. Since only about ten percent of the population is left-handed, soldiers typically learned to fight right-handed. Ehud was therefore likely ambidextrous, an even more capable fighter. This fact would serve him well.

When the people sent tribute to Eglon by Ehud, he “made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length” (v. 16a), eighteen inches long. It was so short that he could hide it “on his right thigh under his clothes” (v. 16b). This is not where the king’s guards would think to look for it, since a right-handed man would hide his weapon on the left side of his body.

When he was alone with the king, Ehud “reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly” (v. 21), killing the Moabite king. Ehud was then able to escape with his life.

However, there is no way he could have known that he would be alone with Eglon. I think he was willing to pay for his faithfulness with his life. As it was, he lived on to complete the overthrow of the Moabites, as we will see shortly.

Of all we could say about Ehud, I would emphasize the fact that he prepared to be used by God.

We live and work in a divine-human partnership. Noah built the ark, and God closed its door. Moses held out his staff, and God parted the Red Sea. David was willing to fight Goliath, and God helped him succeed. Peter preached at Pentecost, and the Spirit led three thousand souls to Jesus.

Here we see Ehud preparing along with his fellow Benjamites for battle. Depending on his age, he might have never known a time when the Moabites were not oppressing his people. He worked and waited until his moment came. When it did, he was ready.

It’s been said that God seeks not ability but availability. It’s actually both. He gives us abilities and spiritual gifts he expects us to nurture and develop. Then he uses us in ways we might never imagine.

Many years ago, a wise mentor said to me, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.” Are you preparing to be used by your Lord?

Seek to change the world (vv. 24–30)

After Ehud executed Eglon and escaped, “he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim” and became the leader of the nation (v. 27). Under his leadership, the people “killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped” (v. 29). Our enemies may be strong, but our God is always stronger.

As a result, “Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years” (v. 30), twice as long as under any other judge.

God wants to use us to change the world. Anything less is less than his purpose for our lives. If Ehud could show us how to join God in his transforming mission, he would call us to three imperatives.

Choose holiness now. Sin is spiritual cancer. It always grows. It always affects more people than the sinner. It drives a wedge between us and our Father. It leads to his justice and judgment. Ask the Lord if there is “evil” in your life, and repent if there is.

Prepare to be used by God. In what ways are you “left-handed”? What are your abilities? Your spiritual gifts? Your resources and opportunities? With whom do you have influence? All of this is God’s gift to you, to be developed with excellence for his glory and our good.

We tend to focus on our weaknesses, trying to make them better. But experts say that the wisest strategy is to focus on our strengths, trying to make them excellent. How are you doing this?

Oswald Chambers’ motto should be ours: “My utmost for his highest.”

Pay the price of courage. As I noted, there was no guarantee Ehud would survive his attack on Israel’s oppressor. Nor was there any guarantee that those he led would defeat the “strong, able-bodied men” of Moab with whom they fought.

When we see evil, we must respond. When we see a need, we must meet it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer testified: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” He paid for these words with his life, but his life will continue to change the world until Jesus returns.

Conclusion

Does the world need another Ehud?

Jesus called capable men who had built a very successful fishing enterprise, but then he said, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). If they would do what they could do, he would do what they could not.

He called a brilliant scholar of the Pharisees to become his “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). If Paul would dedicate his mind and skills to Jesus, the Lord would use him to write half of the New Testament.

What is he calling you to do?

I cannot leave Ehud without calling to mind some of the most famous words on our subject ever spoken. They come from a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Will you go into “the arena” today?


What Thomas Jefferson Got Wrong: The Best Way to Serve the Nation We Love

Topical Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

Americans celebrated our Independence Day this week by spending more than a billion dollars on fireworks. In addition, more than sixteen thousand fireworks displays were held across the country. Forty-seven million of us traveled at least fifty miles from our home this weekend. July Fourth is one of the biggest days of the year for our nation, and deservedly so.

What a contrast from the way it all began.

My wife, Janet and I toured Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, last year. One day, we made our way to what is called Declaration House. Here we stood behind a plexiglass wall looking into a nondescript room with chairs, a fireplace, and a wooden brown armoire.

Thomas Jefferson stayed at this site for about a hundred days in 1776. It was here that he wrote three drafts of the Virginia Constitution, produced committee reports, authored a position paper, and maintained personal correspondence.

And it was here that he completed the Declaration of Independence.

The house where he stayed for those fateful days was torn down in 1883 but reconstructed by the National Park Service for America’s bicentennial in 1976. As a result, we were looking at a replica of Jefferson’s actual work space. It was deeply moving to stand at the site where a document that changed history was authored.

“When Thomas Jefferson dined alone”

Thomas Jefferson was one of the most brilliant men America has ever known. I have read four biographies about him and remain deeply impressed with his genius.

When I visited Monticello, the home in Virginia he designed, I was struck by the technological sophistication of his architectural brilliance. Jefferson served our country as the author of our Declaration of Independence and Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom. He was secretary of state under President Washington, vice president under John Adams, and president of the United States. He was also the father of the University of Virginia.

He could speak English, French, Italian, and Latin, and could read Greek and Spanish. John F. Kennedy famously told a dinner gathering of Nobel Prize winners that the event represented “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

However, he also enslaved more than six hundred people over the course of his life. Years after his wife’s death, he fathered at least six children by his slave, Sally Hemings. In fact, as he worked to finish his Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, he was accompanied by his enslaved servant, Bob Hemings.

I believe the contradictions embodied by Thomas Jefferson and reflected in our nation across more than two centuries are rooted in a single word enshrined in his Declaration.

“The pursuit of Happiness”

The most famous sentence in the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These were truly revolutionary words.

In a time when many nations, including Great Britain, believed that a person’s life, liberty, and happiness were subordinated to the will of the monarch and authority of the state, Jefferson claimed that these were “unalienable Rights.” And he stated that these “truths” were “self-evident,” not derived from the government.

But imagine the difference in our nation if he had chosen “holiness” instead of “happiness.”

“Religion and morality are indispensable supports”

In our third century past the adoption of Jefferson’s declaration, our culture has moved dramatically away from the Judeo-Christian worldview upon which our democracy was founded.

In his Farewell Address (September 19, 1796), President Washington told the nation: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.” John Adams claimed that “the general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

Even Thomas Jefferson, whose faith commitments have been the subject of much controversy, insisted: “Injustice in government undermines the foundations of a society. A nation, therefore, must take measures to encourage its members along the paths of justice and morality.”

Today, however, “the pursuit of happiness” defines for many the right to “life” and “liberty.”

If we must choose between happiness and life with regard to the unborn, many choose happiness and endorse abortion. If we must choose between happiness and liberty with regard to the conflict between sexual freedom and religious freedom, many choose the first and deny the second.

If we must choose between belief in our Creator and our personal happiness, many choose the latter and deny the former. Banners posted recently in Ft. Worth by an atheist group announced, “IN NO GOD WE TRUST.” Unfortunately, they speak for many today.

“The majority who participate”

I love America and thank God for the privilege of living in my country. When posting our flag outside our Dallas home this week in honor of July 4, I was filled with gratitude for the sacrifices made by so many on behalf of our nation. As I watched the Fourth of July parades and festivities, I joined millions of others in celebrating our country.

However, I also believe that the greatest way I can serve our nation is by helping to meet her greatest need. And I am convinced that America’s greatest need is for a spiritual and moral awakening that would lead us to choose holiness over happiness.

I also know that holiness starts with me. And with you. We can claim today our Father’s promise: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

To “humble ourselves” is to admit how desperately we need God’s power, direction, forgiveness, and blessing in our lives and nation. Psalm 33:12 declares: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.”

To “pray” is to intercede for our nation consistently and passionately.

To “seek my face” is to move from praying for others to praying for ourselves. It is to meet God in worship, prayer, confession, and submission to his Spirit.

To “turn from their wicked ways” is to see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness and respond accordingly. It is to refuse all that displeases and dishonors our Lord.

When we do these things, our Father will “hear from heaven,” guaranteed. He will then “forgive their sin,” separating our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, burying it in the depths of the sea, and remembering it no more. And then, finally, he will “heal their land.” What starts with us will touch out nation.

Conclusion

Thomas Jefferson noted: “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

For the good of our souls and our nation, let’s participate in a true awakening of holiness in America, to the glory of God. This is the greatest and most urgent service we can render this nation we love.

In 1921, a soldier who had died in France during World War I was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. A massive marble tomb was placed on the site of the original grave in 1932. An inscription on the walls of the tomb reads, “Here rest in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

On Memorial Day 1958 two other unknown soldiers, one from World War II and one from the Korean War, were also buried in the tomb. On Memorial Day 1984 a soldier from the Vietnam War was interred, though he was later identified through DNA testing and buried by his family.

The poet W. H. Auden, thinking of these unknown soldiers, asked pointedly, “To save your world, you asked this man to die; Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?” Freedom is never free. It cost more than one million American men and women their lives. It cost Jesus his cross.

What price will you pay?