Some teachers I know dread teaching the Book of Judges to children. It’s difficult to explain, and there’s a lot of violence and sinfulness going on. But honestly, I have a lot of fun with this book. It’s filled with just the kind of stories kids love: enemies defeated by ordinary heroes. It has many of the same themes as the best fairy tales and myths that have informed our children’s minds for hundreds of years. Why not give them “myths” that are true? In my experience, kids love these stories. So here we go with part one of Judges:
My name is Ehud. I was a judge of Israel. Do you know what a judge is? I wasn’t a judge like the court judges you have in America today. In Bible times, a judge was a leader of the people. After Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land and defeated the Canaanites there, the people spread out throughout Canaan and settled the land. The people were to have no king except God to rule over them. They were to obey God’s Laws, and if they did, they would be happy and successful in everything they did.
But soon after Joshua died, the people of Israel forgot to obey God. They began to worship the gods of the Canaanites, idols made of wood and stone. How does that make sense, worshiping the gods of the people you had defeated? You would suppose that, after all God had done for the Israelites, and after they had promised to serve God faithfully, they would never turn to idols, especially idols that could not even save their own people, the Canaanites. But that’s just what Israel did. Perhaps it was not so strange, though. In all the known world at that time, the Israelites were the only people who did not worship idols. All the nations around them—the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Moabites, everyone—had many idols and many gods to worship. These people had gods that you could see and touch, but Israel’s God cannot be seen or touched. Perhaps this is why it was easy for the Israelites to turn away from the one, true God and worship the gods of the nations around them.
When the people turned away from the true God and refused to obey Him, they also began doing all kinds of other wicked things to each other: stealing and killing and all kinds of horrible sins. God had to punish them to make them stop this wickedness. He allowed the King of Mesopotamia to march into Israel and make the people slaves to him. The Mesopotamians took all the wealth and all of the food of the Israelites, leaving them poor and hungry. The people of Israel suffered under the rule of the King of Mesopotamia for eight long, terrible years, until they finally learned their lesson and cried out to God for forgiveness. When the people turned back to God, God sent them a judge to lead them out of trouble. The first judge was Caleb’s nephew Othniel. Do you remember Caleb, Joshua’s friend? Othniel defeated the king of Mesopotamia and set Israel free. And while Othniel lived, the people followed him and obeyed the one, true God.
But after Othniel died, the people went back to their old ways and began to worship false gods again and do all kinds of wicked things. And so again, God let a foreign king defeat the people of Israel and make them his slaves. This time it was the king of Moab. The king of Moab was named Eglon, and he was the most remarkably fat man you could possibly imagine! He was so huge he could hardly walk! He was also very cruel and ruled over Israel very harshly. After many years of suffering, the people of Israel remembered the one true God and cried out to Him again for forgiveness and for deliverance from their enemy. And so God appointed another judge to lead His people. This time, the judge was me, Ehud.
Why God chose me I don’t know. I’m just an ordinary guy without any special talents or abilities. But I do love God with all my heart and want to obey Him. I also love my people Israel and want to help them all I can. God told me what to do to set my people free from the rule of that horrible Moabite king, Eglon, and I obeyed Him. I was to go to the palace of King Eglon and ask to see him. It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done! Why should the king see me? He might just decide to have me killed for even asking to see him! But God had told me to go see the King Eglon, so I knew God would take care of me.
I marched right up to the palace gates. “I have a message for King Eglon. I must see him right away,” I said to the guards. They looked me over carefully to see if I was armed. But they only looked at my left side, because that is where men usually carry their swords. You see, most people are right-handed, and so they wear their swords on their left side to make them easy to draw (demonstrate) But I am left-handed. I wore my sword on my right side and hid it under my cloak, so the guards never saw it! God had prepared me from birth for this job by making me special, left-handed!
The guards, thinking I was unarmed and harmless, took me into the palace and right into the throne room of King Eglon. I asked the guards to leave us alone. “I have a message for the king and it is for him alone,” I explained. The king motioned for everyone to leave us, and then it was just Eglon and me, alone in the throne room. What a terrifying feeling it was for me, being alone with this wicked, cruel man! But I had no time to think about it. I had a job to do and needed to do it quickly!
“I have a message for you, King Eglon. And here it is,” I declared, sweeping my sword out from under my cloak and driving it into the king’s stomach. King Eglon was so fat that my sword went right into him and disappeared in the folds of fat, even the hilt! He died immediately and without a sound. I left my sword where it was hidden and walked out as calmly as I could manage so that the guards would not suspect anything. The guards apparently did not think to check on the king for a long time; by the time they discovered Eglon was dead, I was far away!
After I got out of the palace safely I rushed to where the army of Israel was hidden and ready to attack on my signal. I blew my trumpet and then led the people of Israel against the Moabites. Without the leadership of their king, the Moabites were easily defeated. We drove those wicked people out of our land and then we lived in peace for many years. The Israelites have looked to me for leadership ever since our victory over the Moabites. They have faithfully worshiped the one, true God and obeyed His Word. But what do you think will happened after I die? Can you guess?