Notes on Judges 3:12-31
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 3:12, KJV: 12 And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD.
This time, after the death of Othniel, Israel again did evil in the LORD’s eyes. Now the LORD brought trouble on Israel from the east. Moab was east of the Jordan River and Israel had stayed in or near the land of Moab before crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 1-4). The body of Moses was buried in the land of Moab (Deut.34:6). Now Eglon, king of Moab, received strength from the LORD (!) against Israel.
13 And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees.
Jericho was the “city of palm trees (Deut. 34:3, 2 Chronicles 28:15)”. Ironically, even though the city itself was in ruins—there is no record it was ever rebuilt until many years later (1 Kings 16:34)—this was the first place Eglon and his army conquered. One wonders what could have been there that Eglon might have found valuable, especially from a military viewpoint. Did he think he would duplicate Israel’s campaigns and Israel’s victories?
Eglon had also received troops from Ammon and Amalek to fight against Israel. Ammon was also east of the Jordan River, north of Moab. Amalek had been a problem for Israel since the wilderness journey (Exodus 17:8) but sometimes God gave Israel victory over Amalek. Balaam gave a one-verse prophecy about Amalek (Numbers 24:20).
Later, God told Israel to completely destroy Amalek (Deut. 25:17-19) but clearly Israel had not done so by this time. Years in the future, the Amalekites were still in the land, still being a problem to and for Israel, so God told Saul, through Samuel (1 Sam 15) to completely destroy Amalek—but he didn’t do this either, sparing some of the livestock as well as the king!
14 So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. 15 But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.
One wonders why the Israelites endured the 18 years of bondage to Eglon. We are not told when they began to cry unto the LORD for deliverance, nor for how long, but the LORD heard their cries and gave them a deliverer. In this case, He sent Ehud, a Benjamite. Of note is that both of these first two Judges were from the southern tribes. Another irony is that here a Benjamite brought deliverance to Israel but years later, Benjamites caused a civil war and the entire tribe was reduced to 600 men (Judg. 19-21).
16 But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.
The “cubit” may refer to the whole dagger’s length, not just the blade. The blade’s material is unknown.
17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon (was) a very fat man.
Ehud seems to be the one chosen to bring the “present” to Eglon. Here, the “present” may refer to tribute paid by Israel. The writer mentions here that Eglon was a “very fat man”, the only time anyone was so described in the KJV.
18 And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present.
Whatever the “present” was, several people were required to bring it to Eglon. Now Ehud asks the other people to leave him alone with Eglon.
19 But he himself turned again from the quarries that (were) by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him.
Gilgal was not too far from Jericho, the “city of palm trees (verse13) but what is meant by quarries is not certain. Eglon had been ruling over Israel for up to 18 years by now and could have placed Israelites as quarry workers, finding, digging, cutting, and transporting stone for Moab (it is not very likely that Israel would have been able to keep very much of what they produced while under a foreign nation’s control).
Now Ehud says he has a secret errand (perhaps a message?) for Eglon, who then sends his own people out of the room.
20 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of (his) seat.
Eglon, the king, was sitting in a special room (the exact definition of a “summer parlour” is uncertain). Whatever it was, it was reserved for only the king’s use.
Ehud says he has a message from God for the king then gets up out of his seat.
21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:
Being left-handed, Ehud kept his dagger on (strapped to?) his right thigh. The dagger does not seem to be visible at first glance—which worked
to Ehud’s advantage. Ehud used the dagger to stab King Eglon!
Nobody else was in the room (the “summer parlour”) except Ehud and Eglon, so nobody saw or probably even heard anything from the outside. There is no indication that Ehud did anything except perhaps make sure the doors were closed.22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.
Verse 17 stated that Eglon was a very fat man, so it would not have been difficult for the blade, all the way to the “haft”, to enter and remain in Eglon’s abdomen. “Dirt” may refer to the blood from the wound or something else (food? human waste? internal organs?), but here it is most likely not literal dirt.23 Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.
Apparently the porch, however defined, was situated away from any other entrance or exit. Otherwise, Eglon’s staff might have heard and taken some kind of action.
Ehud seems to have locked the doors of the “parlour” behind him, from the inside.24 When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour (were) locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.
After Ehud had departed, the servants of Eglon went to check on their king. They must have thought that, since the doors were locked from the inside, the king was either resting or was taking care of personal business. To “cover (one’s) feet” was sometimes a figure of speech for certain bodily functions—witness King Saul who entered a cave near En-gedi to “cover his feet” inside the cave (1 Samuel 24:1-3).25 And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened (them): and, behold, their lord (was) fallen down dead on the earth.
It is not specified how much time took place before the “staff” of King Eglon noticed he hadn’t opened the doors of his “parlour”. They took a key, opened the door, and saw Eglon was dead.26 And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirath.
Ironically, Gilgal was the place where the Israelites took 12 stones from the bed of the Jordan River and built an altar there. Now it was the place where Eglon and an unspecified number of Moabites had set up a headquarters, of a sort, for the time when Moab ruled over Israel.
Seirath is likely relatively close to Gilgal. The next verse mentions Ehud going to Ephraim’s land.
It goes without saying that had the Israelites remained true to the LORD none of this would have happened. The LORD had stated clearly what the Israelites would receive when they obeyed and also stated clearly what would happen if they rebelled. Israel had nobody but themselves to blame for this. 27 And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them.
Ehud had arrived in the land of Ephraim and many “children of Israel” came with him. He was in the lead as the Israelites headed down from the unnamed mountain, apparently towards Gilgal. 28 And he said unto them, Follow after me: for the LORD hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over.
When Israel crossed over the Jordan years before (Joshua 3-4), the river was at flood stage. God provided a miracle, in that He parted the waters and Israel crossed over the river bed on dry ground! When this event happened, the Jordan seems to be at a much lower level or amount of water, Notice the writer mentions the fords, which were most likely a sort of bridge or at least a low enough level to cross without the risk of being swept away or drowning.
Apparently the Moabites were trying to escape to their side of Jordan but Ehud and the Israelites (the identities of the tribes are not stated) did not let any of the Moabites cross back over.29 And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man.
Not a single one of the 10,000 Moabite men of valor survived Ehud’s surprise attack (see v. 28).30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.
God delivered Israel from the Moabites and gave the land rest for 80 years, Sadly, there is no mention of any repentance or turning back to God.31 And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.
Shamgar may have been a contemporary of Ehud. Note that he used an ox goad to slay 600 Philistines, who mostly lived along the western border country of Israel.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).