Ehud On War
© 6.10.05 By D. Eric Williams
“Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. Even the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out.” Judges 3:21-22
Many Christians have difficulty deciding what to do with the story of Ehud’s assassination of Eglon. They understand that God placed this story in the Bible (along with many other stories of bloodshed), for a reason, but the modern feminized Church has trouble dealing with depictions of violence. After all Jesus was a meek and mild carpenter, not a man of war - let alone a covert regicide. Or at least that’s what the modern Church would have us to think.
The truth is that the Bible tells us that the pre-incarnate1 Christ was the One who led the children of Israel into war. It is He who God warned the Israelites to “beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in Him” (Ex. 23:21). Jesus, during his earthly ministry, claimed that he had not come to bring peace, but a sword. He said that His ministry would divide families and that entrance into His kingdom would require one to deal violently with the sin in one’s life. The bottom line is that Jesus was aquainted with violence and war.
So at the outset we need to acknowledge that the story of Ehud teaches us something about warfare – as do all the historical accounts of war in the Bible. And when we consider the fact that our own nation is in a state of war, it is all the more important to read and understand the story of Ehud.
To begin with, a little background is in order. The king that Ehud sent to eternity was Eglon, a king of Moab.2 His people along with their Ammonite and Amalekite allies invaded Israel and forced the Israelites to pay tribute. After eighteen years, the children of Israel had enough and cried out to God for deliverance. Thus God raised up Ehud.
As a judge and leader in Israel, Ehud was the representative who the people sent to Eglon with tribute. We don’t know how long Ehud was acting as a recognized judge in the land, but at some point early in his career (apparently), he decided to start a war. His method is one that has been used many times since; kill an important leader in the enemy’s chain of command and then strike while the opposition is in turmoil. So, when Ehud delivered the tribute, he tricked the king into granting him a private audience. Once he was alone with Eglon, he struck him down with a short two edged sword of his own devising which he had hidden on his person. The assassination complete, Ehud quickly made his way to the mountains of Ephraim and rallied the troops. The outcome of that day’s battle was 10,000 casualties in the army of Moab; and “Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years” (Judges 3:30).
The first thing we see here is the well known principle of a duly appointed ruler opposing an enemy to protect those under his care. Ehud was not simply a man off the street who had had enough.3 One of the things that the Bible teaches is that the private citizen never has the right to initiate hostilities against an enemy. The private individual may not do violence against another except in self defense or in defense of his family against an aggressor (or in defense of a helpless innocent - Prv. 24:11). Now this doesn’t mean, for instance, that a guerrilla war against a foreign oppressor is out of bounds. In a case like that, the “civilian” populace will normally be called upon by the recognized leadership of the resistance to take up arms in defense of the homeland (as opposed to an undirected mob uprising). We see an example of this in the French resistance against the Nazis in WW II. When the Germans overran France, much of the existing national leadership cooperated with the enemy and formed the Vichy government. However, Charles De Gaulle of the French army and Henry Frenay who had been a part of the Vichy government, were two Frenchmen who became leaders of the French resistance. Even so, there were many other resistance leaders who were not duly appointed civil authorities before the war. However, they were working within an appropriate framework. Moreover, in extreme cases (such as confronted Ehud and the children of Israel), leadership ability will be recognized by the people and given leave to exercise authority on behalf of the people. The point is that anarchy and mob uprisings are not proper responses to oppression by a foreign or domestic agressor.
Ehud’s example also teaches us that covert operations are a valid means of waging war. In other words, deceit is acceptable in a time of conflict. This presents a quandary to those Christian’s who claim that it is never right to lie. These same Christians typically vilify the Hebrew midwives who lied to the Egyptian Pharaoh concerning the male Hebrew newborns. These same Christian’s disparage Jael and her deceitful assassination of Sisera. What they don’t understand is that God encourages the use of camouflage when an oppressed and innocent people is battling a wicked aggressor.4 Thus we see that it is not the lies of a private party that God condones, but the deceit of those entrusted with the care of the body politic; or the deception of innocent collaterals caught up in a broader conflict who have no immediate recourse to the protection of a duly recognized authority. Once again we see this played out in the modern world in the French resistance against the Nazi occupiers. By its very nature, underground resistance makes abundant use of deception.5
Third, war should be defensive in nature.6 Ehud’s campaign was not a war of aggression designed to accumulate new territory for the nation of Israel, but was a war to liberate Israel from foreign oppression. It is significant that the Israelites did not extend the war beyond the “fords of the Jordan leading to Moab” (Judges 3:28). They did not take their battle against a foreign oppressor past their own border (the “theologically correct” border of the land was the Jordan). Now I don’t think that this is a hard and fast rule; there may be times when it is necessary to pursue an enemy into their own land – certainly Israel did that more than once (Judges 8:4-ff, 2 Sam. 12:26). Generally speaking, Israel would pursue an enemy into his own land when that foe had persisted in violating Israel’s borders. However, Ehud’s generalship is an example of doing only what is required to eliminate the foreign threat.
Well, the hour has grown late and lest this article grow wearisome, I’ll make application of the principles we’ve discussed thus far on another day.