Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stabbing an Evil King

About a week ago, I heard preacher give a talk on a passage out of the book of Judges, chapter 3.  A bad king named Eglon had taken over the Israelites, and the Israelites pleaded with God for relief.  God provided them with a deliverer very much like the Hungry Preacher himself in that he was left-handed.  This guy's name was Ehud, and I'm not making up the left-handed detail--it's actually in there.

In the story, Ehud hides a knife under his clothing and travels with a group of Israelites to give tribute to King Eglon.  They present the tribute.  The narrative is a little vague at this point, but it appears that the party--including Ehud--bids farewell and heads for home.  Upon passing some idols, Lefty Ehud sends his friends their way, while he pulls a 180 and heads back to the king.

This time, he tells the king Eglon that he has a secret message for him.  With assassination prevention tactics still being in their infancy, the king tells his royal court to run along so he can hear this message in private.  Ehud approached the king, then "reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly.  Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back.  Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it."  Ehud locked the doors then snuck away off the porch.  The king's attendents waited and waited, assuming that the king must be relieving himself (also actually in there).  "They waited to the point of embarrassment" and finally opened the door with a key to find their "lord fallen on the floor, dead" (at which point, we can assume they were doubly embarrassed).

It's a graphic and detailed story, one that--to my knowledge--not a single Vacation Bible School song has been written about.  And it's easy to get hung up on the reality that, in the Old Testament, God was often a bit more, well, "Old Testament" in how he brought justice to his people.

But the preacher had us hone in on the pivotal moment of Ehud's mission, when he pulled the 180 to head back to the king.  He suggested that Ehud was having second thoughts--maybe doubting his calling or his opportunity.  Realize that in the context of the Old Testament, this isn't a crazy man having second-thoughts about assassinating a duly elected leader.  This is a man clearly chosen by God to deliver his oppressed people from a tyrannical king.

Regardless of the details of his interior monologue, Ehud initially left the king alive, then decided to head back and follow through with what he knew God was calling him to do, even without knowing how things would turn out.

The preacher suggested that we all have little callings that we accept, then don't follow through on.  The "evil kings" that we need to slay are, of course, metaphorical.  But Ehud's example of following through should be a model and an inspiration.

Truthfully, I was not consciously thinking about this story 6 days later, this past Thursday morning.  I was running late for a meeting, and was walking briskly through the parking garage to the elevator.  As I approached the glass doors to get to the elevator, the elevator doors opened, and a man began to walk out.

It was an old man, and he walked slowly.  I resisted the urge to spryly slip through the glass door and shimmy around him into the elevator, even though there was a button he could have pressed to open the glass door.  Instead, I held open the door.

For the next 30 seconds, my life moved verrrry slowly as this man walked through the door.  The man was probably around 80, with the top of his head completely bald.  A ring of gray hair circled the sides and back of his head, and it needed a trim.  The man had sunken, brown eyes, and he looked sad.  He was a little overweight, but not obese, and for as slow as he was walking and as old as he was, he was surprisingly upright in his walk.  His eyes looked forward and down, but he held his head up.  He held a cane in his left hand and had a brace of some sort laced over his left ankle.  Each step moved him forward about a foot.

Behind him, there was a woman spotting him.  She was saying things like, "You've got it.  You're doing it."  All the while, she had her hands on his hips like in a conga line.  At first I thought she was his therapist or nurse, but she wasn't wearing any sort of uniform, and there was something deeply personal about her tone and disposition towards the man.  I wondered if she was his daughter.

She briefly thanked me.  I was glad that neither of them took my standing there waiting for them as a prompt to hurry things up.  I was intentionally taking this time out, but I was worried my eyes or body language would look impatient.  I didn't want that.  I wanted them to feel blessed.  I thought about saying to the man, "You're doing great."  But then I had the thought, "You don't actually know how he's doing."  That was true.  I didn't know if he was REALLY trying his best, or if he was just going through the motions to humor his daughter.  I didn't know if he could be doing more and was just taking it easy.  I also didn't want to sound patronizing.  He wasn't a baby.  What if my saying "You're doing great" embarrassed rather than encouraged him?

I didn't say anything.  They shuffled through the door.  I got in the elevator.  From the first floor to the third floor I had only a few seconds--not enough time to form a logical, rational case one way or the other for saying "You're doing great" to a guy I'd never even met.

Instead of forming a case, I gave myself a choice: "This could be a time that you made a sincere effort to bless somebody--even if you didn't know how it would turn out--or it could be just another time you thought about doing something nice, only to spend the rest of your life vaguely wishing you had but feeling somewhat justified because at least you thought about it."

With my left hand, I pressed the "P" button on the elevator.  When the doors opened, I was ready to sprint in front of any moving car if it meant stopping this man and his daughter so I could say "You're doing great."  I plunged through the door.  In the first spot, 5 feet away from me, was the man and the woman.  The man was in the passanger seat.  The woman was standing next to him, with the door open.  She may have been buckling him in.  Her back was to me.  Trying my best not to look like a mugger, I said, "Excuse me!"  The man turned only his head to the right to see me--moving his torso may have been impossible.  The woman turned around to face me straight on.

Her eyes were blue, and her hair was long, wavy, and stringy.  It was probably bright blond when she was a kid, but now it had faded into a weathered-looking shade of light brown.  Her eyes were bright blue, but didn't look very lively.  Really, she just looked sad.

I didn't want to just say, "You're doing great," so I opened my mouth to see if anything else would come out.  What I said was, "Hey, I just wanted to tell you that while I was standing there holding the door I had the thought, 'This guy is working his tail off.'  Then I got to the third floor, and I thought, 'Maybe he'd like to hear that someone noticed that.'  So I came back down.  Anyway, I saw you working your tail off, and I was inspired."  I paused to emphasize each word of my next sentence.  "Seeing you inspired me.  And, since probably not very many people would make it a point to tell you that, it's probably a safe bet that for every one person who actually tells you, there are at least another 100 people who are thinking the same thing."

At that last point, the woman's eyes filled up with tears.  She said, "Thank you so much for telling us that.  He had a stroke a year ago, and he's had to learn to re-learn how to walk."  The man was looking at me, too.  I was glad that, in looking in his eyes, I didn't see any self-pity or excessive pride.  He just looked like a man, a soul, hurting, trying to work through the trials in his life.  His eyes were also filled up.  He said, "Thank you for saying this."  I said, "Thank you, sir."  Then I said, "Blessings," and went on my way, back up to the third floor.

When I got there--now an extra few minutes late to my meeting--that was when I thought about Ehud again, how he appeared to walk away from an opportunity only to think, "I gotta go back.  I gotta do this."  Then he went back.  My 180 wasn't nearly as dramatic as his, but it's where I was at.  On that day, at that moment, I pulled a 180 and "stabbed an evil king." 

I have heard that there are many evil kings in this world, in my life and in yours.  Be watchful.  Be ready.  People are not blessed by what we "thought about doing."  And if you give in to inaction or compromise, don't be afraid to pull a 180.



  1. I have typed a deleted what I wanted to say several times so I will leave it at this: you have been and continue to be a blessing to not only the people that you interact in person but also to friends who live on the other side of the state. I firmly believe that it takes one person doing the right thing to inspire another and another and so on. Thus one person being a blessing to another person turns into multiple blessings for multiple people. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Hey, Rod. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm grateful. It sounds like the process you embark on when posting a comment is similar to mine for writing the posts in the first place: lots of drafts, lots of editing, lots of second guessing. Ah, writers...