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 enough. 1 The Bible teaches 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 – Proverbs 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, anarchy and mob uprisings are not proper responses to oppression by foreign or domestic aggressors.
Ehud’s example also teaches us 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 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. 2 Thus we see 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. 3
Third, war should be defensive in nature. 4 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 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 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 Samuel 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.
1. Like Michael Douglas’ character “Bill Foster” in the 1992 movie Falling Down .
2. I use the term “innocent” in a relative sense. Obviously no human being is morally without blemish. Nonetheless a people or nation that does not initiate hostilities in a conflict would normally be considered the innocent party.
3. For more info on the French resistance during WW II see: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FRresistance.htm
4. What about Israel’s conquest of Canaan? The entire purpose of the war was to gain territory for God’s people – or was it? In the first place God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendents, but not until the iniquity of the Amorites was complete (Gen. 15:16). Thus the war on the Canaanites was a judgment of God. Secondly the Israelite’s conquest of Canaan was the result of a direct command from God; it was a sin for the children of Israel of refuse to conquer the land (Num. 14:11-ff). Third, the wars of Israel are metaphor for the spiritual battle waged by the followers of Christ (this is not to say that the wars were not real but is simply a recognition of the fact that they served a greater purpose than simply the judgment of the Canaanite people). In a nut shell, no people or nation since the time of ancient Israel (Moses to David), can claim to have these God given sanctions for a war of aggression