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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « The Reason for God: Conversations on Faith and Life (DVD and Discussion Guide) | Main | Book Review: Always Reformed, edited by R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim »

    Images of the Savior (9 - Ehud and Shamgar)

    And Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool upper chamber; and Ehud said, “I have a word from God for you”; and he arose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, and took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. – Judges 3:20-21

    If the book of Judges, as we have seen, serves both to show the downward spiral of Israel into ever-increasing sin and apostasy, and thus display her desperate need for a savior; and also, to foreshadow the one great Savior who would finally save her from her sins in the raising up of judges, who grow consistently more brilliant as types of the Christ while showing themselves consistently more inadequate to be the Christ indeed by their own flaws and foibles; then the case of the next two judges, viz., Ehud and Shamgar, is very notable. For in them, we see a more desperately wicked Israel; a more flawed deliverer; and a much more suggestive typology, as we shall see in due course.

    We may observe, first of all, that Israel has increased in her stubborn rebellion and in the desperation of her need for a savior. For, whereas before she had only apostasized once, after the death of Joshua, and there was still reason to hope that, when God had once shown her his grace in giving her a deliverer, she would learn her lesson and turn back to him for good; yet now, since she turns back as a dog to its vomit as soon as Othniel is dead, and then again after Ehud dies, we must become convinced that her wayward heart is incorrigible, and no mere judge can ever finally turn her away from her egregious obstinacy. Also, the extremity of her need is increased in this respect, that before she had served Cushan-Rishathaim only for eight years, but now she is serving Eglon for eighteen; and Cushan-Rishathaim oppressed her from without, as it would appear, but Eglon took up residence in the very Promised Land, at Gilgal, and captured the City of Palms, which is another name for Jericho, the first city Israel had taken in the Promised Land – which is as much as to say, “That which you inherited by faith, you will now forfeit by faithless apostasy”.

    So Israel's need and wickedness have increased; but so too has the deliverance wrought by the next Judge increased: for Othniel indeed prevailed over Cushan-Rishathaim, but Ehud not only prevails, but in fact puts Eglon to death, as if to say, the threat to your existence will not only be turned away from you, but utterly destroyed. This finds correspondence to the ministry of Christ; for whereas all Israel's prophets and deliverers could only restrain Satan's hand against her, by God's power, yet when Christ came, he put the Serpent to utter death and defeat, and crushed his head, as it were, beneath his heel. Then, Othniel's deliverance wrought forty years of peace in the land, but Ehud's wrought eighty years, fully twice as much. This all serves to show, in a shadowy way, that the first deliverance of Israel would be incomplete, but her second deliverance, wrought by the Christ, would be perfect and final.

    Now, not only do we see a movement to a more desperate need and incorrigible wickedness; and a more stunning deliverance and powerful stroke of salvation; but we also see a more exact typology in the lives of the next two Judges; for in these histories, we see a much clearer picture of the way in which Christ would defeat his enemies by surprise, as it were, coming upon them in a most unexpected way, and working a salvation which none of the rulers of this earth could have seen; for if they had foreseen it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8).

    Accordingly, the whole account is wrapped up in paradox and surprise. For first of all, this man of Benjamin, which means, “son of the right hand,” is unexpectedly left-handed! And this unforeseen paradox ultimately proves to be the downfall of Eglon. If any assassin should come upon him, surely he would wield a powerful weapon in his strong right hand, and bind the sheath upon his left thigh, for ready access. This peaceful man, Ehud, has nothing at all upon his left thigh, and his right arm is not competent to wield a sword masterfully – of course he must be no threat! So too, when the Son of Man came, he was a man of peace, and did not resist the evil, and he rode on no white horse or iron chariot, but on a lowly foal of a donkey. Where was the weapon in his strong right hand? His enemies found none, and despised him – ah, but they never saw in his left hand, that his very lowliness and submission to God would prove to be their undoing, and the salvation of his people! “Let him come down from the cross!”, they mocked, gleeful to see that the right-handed display of power they goaded him on to would never be performed; but that very cross on which they derided him proved a weapon which would crush the Enemy forevermore; and he wielded it even then, not with the right hand of power and dominion, but with the left-handed strength of utter submission to his God, to drink down the cup of his wrath for our salvation.

    One other note we will add is that, even though the left-handed weapon Ehud wielded was smaller and less ostentatious than a mighty sword, yet it was a perfect and deadly weapon, being sharp on both sides notwithstanding its unimpressive length. In the same way, the cross of Christ, which was an unexpected and unimpressive weapon in his fight against Satan, soon proved to be perfect in every respect; for it was sharp on the one side utterly to destroy every enemy of the people and sharp on the other side perfectly and finally to save all who belonged to him – in fine, although it seemed weak and powerless, it soon proved to be strong and perfect in every respect, and won the victory in every facet of the great struggle that had been waged between the people of God and the people of the devil throughout all history.

    We must press on, though, to observe further that the way in which the stroke fell was likewise paradoxical and typological. For Ehud came to present tribute to the king; then, he added to give to him a message from God; and Eglon was so eager to receive this tribute and this message, that he rose up from his chair as if he would pounce upon it – and he got the message and tribute delivered to him most intimately! His greedy corpulence swallowed it right up, he embraced it in the innermost part of his being, and that which he lusted after and snatched up so fervently destroyed him.

    Now, there is an old illustration that many of the Church fathers employed which, if not pressed too far, can be valuable for emphasizing this facet of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross; for they say that, when God sent his Son down in such a weak and contemptible fashion, it was as if he were setting a bait before Satan, and tempting him to swallow it up – and Satan, not being able to resist the thought of conquering the very Son of God, took the bait, and stirred up the crowds to crucify him. But what he did not see is that the bait was covering a deadly hook which, when the devil swallowed it down, destroyed his life, and secured his own doom – much as a fish will greedily gulp down a worm, only to find itself hopeless caught on the hook that it concealed. Now, this illustration contains some truth: for God, in his wisdom, not only determined to destroy Satan, but he also took council to put all his wisdom to shame by the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor. 1:17-25). And so, when Satan in his wisdom thought he could destroy God's plan, and took the bait to crucify the Son of God, then God's wisdom, which is the divine plan of the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, put him to an open shame, and secured his final defeat.

    This is all foreshadowed in the case of Eglon; for he was very fat and greedy, even as Satan had grown fat on this world, and had swelled up to enfold whole nations and peoples in his mad lust to swallow up ever more to feed his insatiable corpulence. And then, he saw a tribute and a message greater than anything he had swallowed up before – “Now,” Eglon must have thought, “is my great importance ultimately verified, that even God has dealings with me on my throne!” – and he leapt up to seize on this prize. But God's message for him was the foolish king's destruction and the deliverance of his own oppressed people. So Satan, when he had grown fat on all the world, saw the greatest prize of all – the very Son of God – made vulnerable before him; and he seized greedily upon this prize, which proved to be his downfall.

    Now, we must hurry to tell of the paradox of the aftermath of this event as well; for not only was the judge paradoxical, being a left-handed Benjaminite; and not only was the message paradoxical; but so also was all that transpired afterward. First of all, the servants of Eglon thought that he was gaining tribute and prestige from Ehud; and so they left him a long while, awaiting his proud egress from his summer chamber. Then, when he tarried a long while, they thought that he must be relieving himself. They knew him to be a man of appetite and thought, “Surely some fine morsel he has swallowed up must be passing through his bowels” – but here is the paradox: our text tells us that the dung from Eglon's bowels came spilling out where the sword entered in. So this time, when he swallowed something up and the dung came out, it was a sword he swallowed, and the dung came pouring from his vitals! Many an animal had met its fate in his greedy gut; but now his own greediness had met its own fate when he swallowed something he couldn't handle. And so, when his servants thought that their king was involved in the aftermath of a great triumph, they were shocked to find him dead instead.

    Then, to underscore this unexpected victory all the more, just when the servants of Eglon were expecting to hear of his acquisition of some choice piece of tribute from the Israelite judge, he was actually calling out and sending forth his people to destroy Moab and drive them out from his land. Soon they had gathered together ten thousand Moabites, and they did not let a single one escape, but killed them all. In the same way, after Jesus' paradoxical and surprising victory in the cross, he sent out his disciples to win a spiritual victory over all the forces of darkness in the heavenly places. Soon, not a single one will be left undefeated; for God will trample the devil and all his hosts beneath the feet of the Church (Rom. 16:20), and send them to eternal shame and punishment.

    So the history of Ehud marks an advance in the typological specificity of the judges' ministries, displaying, as it does, the unexpected and paradoxical nature of Christ's victory in the cross; and when we get to the story of Shamgar, who is relegated to the space of one verse alone, which serves as something of an appendix to the story of Ehud, we find that truth driven home even more forcefully. For Shamgar was likely not even an Israelite, as his name and father suggest; and he used an even more unlikely weapon, viz., an ox goad; and he wrought a much more remarkable deliverance, single-handedly killing not just one man, as Ehud, but six hundred Philistines, who would later prove to be Israel's most enduring and problematic foes. Thus the surprising nature of the judge, the unlikely weapon that he used, and the miraculous extent of his victory, are all underscored in this appended mention of Shamgar.

    Now, we have laid out at length the specific typology of the judging of Ehud; it only remains to mention in passing that the second characteristic of the judges, that is, the steady increase in their personal foibles, which serve to underscore the need for the true Savior, is also visible; for even if Ehud has nothing against him so serious as the crimes and shortcomings of Gideon and Jephthah and Sampson, and even Barak, whom we will discuss next time, yet he does act in a dishonest manner which is not entirely laudatory; whereas in contrast, of Othniel, the first of the Judges, we read only that he was empowered by the Holy Spirit for his ministry (Judges 3:10), even as the Spirit was poured out upon Jesus, the Anointed One (that is, the Christ).

    Thus much, then, for Ehud, the unexpected savior. As we look to his account, let us fix our gaze beyond him, on that place where his shadow falls, on the hill of Calvary. For there, the most unexpected and paradoxical victory of all time was wrought, when Satan thought he had swallowed up the Son of God, only to find that he had met his eternal shame and defeat, and had henceforth but to wait until the feet of all God's people were trampling his head in the dust.

    Posted by Nathan on November 5, 2010 01:34 PM

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