CONTEXT: Hero stories in the Book of Judges are bracketed in a template: 1– “the children of Israel do that which is evil in the eyes of Yahh (worshipping other gods); 2–Yahh causes an enemy to dominate Israel; 3– after a while Israel calls out to Yahh. He sends them a hero. Then follows the story, after which, 4– the hero judges the people and all is well till the people return to doing what is evil in the eyes of Yahh.
            Moav (Moab) is the mountain country northeast of the Dead Sea. The City of Palms is Jericho (cf Ju 1:16, Dt 34:3), west of the Yarden.  Nearby, in the valley, is Gilgal where some sort of carvings were a landmark.  B’neyAmon lived in what is now Jordan. Amalek seems to have been a roving tribe of warriors.
            Ehud is introduced as a Benjaminite. The last born of Jacob is generally called Binyamin (בִּנְיָמִן) but the tribal name has a variant form, used here: BenY’mini (ְמִנִי־יןבֶּ) which emphasizes the reference to dexterity, “one with a strong right hand.” The narrator signals what will become fatal irony with an elegant idiom for “left handed: “a man of encumbered right hand”( יַד־יְמִינוֹ אִטֵּר אִישׁ).
            The “sword” here sounds like a dagger lacking a crossguard. Agricultural implements were used as weapons in those days but the period of Judges was the dawn of the iron age and the story here may be calling attention to the new technology.
            This brief narrative has three words used nowhere else in Tanach: gomed (גֹמֶד), frequently translated “cubit”, but I render it “short”; parsh’donah (פַּרְשְׁדֹנָה), which can be rendered “feces” on the basis of a possible root reading, a writerly touch of realism; misd’ron (ןמִּסְדְּרוֹ), for which the context and root suggest “steps.”
            “Covering his feet,” cf 1 Samuel 24:4.
The word elef literally means 1,000. In war stories the term refers to a military unit most likely far fewer than 1,000, though the narrator could be exaggerating for effect. An empire like Assyria or Babylonia could field an army of thousands but in the days of the kings of Israel, 300 was probably a force that could be raised and armed, provisioned, and sent against a town or another army. In these stories, I render elef as “battalion,” a unit of 300-1000 fighters in the U.S. Army.  A “company” counts 62-190 soldiers, and this may come closer to the word elef in a historical sense. (DA Pamphlet 10-1)

            Eglon, king of Moav, gathered B’neyAmon and Amalek for an incursion into Israel. They took possession of Ir Hatamarim, The City of Palms. The B’neyYisrael served King Eglon for eighteen years. Then they cried out to Yahh and Yahh raised them a liberator: Ehud benGera. He was of Binyamin–“Son of Right Hand”–but was left-handed. The B’neyYisrael sent by his hand a tribute to King Eglon.
            Ehud made himself a sword. It had two cutting edges and was short.  He belted it under his clothing on his right thigh.
            He presented the tribute before King Eglon who was a very fat man. When he finished presenting the tribute he led off the crew of tribute porters.
From the carvings at Gilgal he returned and said, “I have a secret word for you, O King.”
“Quiet,” said the king , and all they who stood by left his presence.
Ehud drew near him as he sat in his cool penthouse, alone. “I have for you,” said Ehud, “a word of God.”
He rose from the seat. Ehud thrust his left hand and took the sword from his right thigh, and drove it into Eglon’s belly. The haft followed the blade–the fat closed behind the blade for Ehud did not draw the sword from his belly. Feces came out.
Ehud left via the steps, closing and locking behind him the penthouse doors. As he left, the servants arrived and saw: the doors of the penthouse were locked! They said, “He must be covering his feet in the cool room.” They waited till they were embarrassed, and Eglon had not opened the penthouse doors. So they took the key and opened, and there was their master fallen dead to the ground.
During their delay Ehud escaped, passed the carvings and made it to S’irah.  When he got to the Ephraim mountain he blew the shofar and the B’neyYisrael descended with him, he in the lead.
“After me! Pursue!” said he, “for Yahh has given your enemies, Moav, into your hands.”  So they pursued, after him, and captured the Yarden crossings to Moav, permitting none to cross. They struck Moav, at that time, about ten battalions, every one of them fat and valorous. Not a man escaped.
That day Moav was subdued under the hand of Yisrael, and the land was quiet eighty years.
© Rabbi David L. Kline  

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