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In Judges 3 we find an interesting story about Israel's left-handed assassin and his hit on Moab's obese king, Eglon.

Judges 3:15-22 ESV Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence. And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out.

Is there a historical/cultural/spiritual/sensible reason we're explicitly told he was left-handed? It doesn't seem to make a bit of difference to the outcome.

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Ehud was a Benjamite and the phrase translated "left handed man" is a very interesting Hebrew idiom. It literally reads "a man bound/restricted in his right hand." The same phrase is used in Judges 20:16 to describe 700 slingers (also of the tribe of Benjamin). These two verses are the only places where this idiom is used.

Judges 20:16 Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men bound in the right hand; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss. [KJV with the left handed idiom shown more literally]

There is another phrase used much more frequently to describe being left handed or turning to the left. It appears 54 times in the Old Testament (e.g. Gen 13:9; 14:15).

Noting that both instances of this idiom refer to Benjamites, the translators' notes on the NET state:

Perhaps the Benjaminites purposely trained several of their young men to be left-handed warriors by restricting the use of the right hand from an early age so the left hand would become dominant. Left-handed men would have a distinct military advantage, especially when attacking city gates. See B. Halpern, “The Assassination of Eglon: The First Locked-Room Murder Mystery,” BRev 4 (1988): 35.

1 Chronicles 12:2 also mentions a squad of ambidextrous soldiers who were also Benjamites. David's general Joab is also shown to be either left handed or ambidextrous in 2 Samuel 20:8-10. He grabs his opponents beard with his right hand while holding a sword in his left. The opponent takes no heed of the sword in his left and is undefended when Joab strikes. (See also the Iliad, 21.161-68, where Asteropaios, being ambidextrous, throws two spears at once at Achilles.)

When Ehud approached the room to see Eglon, he would have been inspected by the guards. As being right handed was more common then (just as it is now), they would have searched his left side for a concealed weapon more carefully than the right. A right handed person draws a long blade from the left side. Apparently, upon seeing the left side was clear, they didn't search the right for hidden weapons. After all, it was unlikely that he could draw and use a blade from that side.


Aside

The military advantage to being left handed are such as the enemy expects to be fighting a right handed man. The lefty has the element of surprise which even for a few seconds can determine the outcome. This holds only for individual combat. Units fighting together would want all to be using the same hand. Then, if you have a whole unit of lefties against a unit of righties, you have the left advantages again. They are trained to fight righties (and are attacking the unshielded side), while the righties have to rethink and mirror every offensive move they make while trying to stay alive.

In the Lincoln Cathedral, the spiral staircases are wrong handed and were defended by men from a Scottish clan almost exclusively left handed. The reversed direction caused invaders to be holding their weapons and shields on the wrongs sides as they tried to climb, but the defenders would fight unhindered.

  • Lovely answer even if you digress a little +1. I have been doing experiments with pulling a blade strapped to the thigh while wearing a sheet. Does not work at speed at all. A cubit is about 21 inches etc. Ehud would have been slow. Another interesting point is that he specially made a blade for himself. – gideon marx Sep 20 '14 at 21:09
  • @gideonmarx, I moved part of the answer to an aside section. I had been curious about the military advantages to being left handed and figured others would be also. – Frank Luke Sep 22 '14 at 14:12
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The emphasis is on the fact that he used his left-handedness to trick Eglon. The narrative is highlighting the intelligence or wisdom involved in this trick and is not accusing him of cowardice. In fact, the narrator clearly views God as behind this, and sees the wisdom involved in this maneuver as being on God's part, in choosing to use a left-handed man as the means whereby to deliver the Israelites from their enemies.

That there is no accusation of cowardice is made clear by verse 15:

But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.

Furthermore, Ehud himself when he pulls this trick on Eglon says "I have a message from God unto thee." Since he's a God-appointed deliverer, surely the narrator intends us to take him seriously on this point.

Again, after Ehud delivers his "message" to Eglon, he says to the Israelites in verse 28:

Follow after me: for the Lord hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.

And continuing in verse 28 and on into verse 29 we find:

And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over. And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man.

All of which presents a clear picture that this is to be understood as a victory granted to the Israelites by God.

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The Significance of his being left handed is not that being left handed is an important message. It is significant because it shows the utter deception in the assassination.

Throughout History emptying the right hand and presenting it to show that it has no weapon, has been a sign that they come in peace, with no ill intent.

That signal is still in use today but has been modified to be a handshake.

The fact that he was left handed appears to be added to show a cowardly action of displaying a peace symbol while using it as a deception, to cover his true intent.

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Here is how it mattered that he was a lefty.
Many Near Eastern archeological remains show that the entrances to castles were constructed in a particular fashion which prevented sword-use by the right-handed majority. The entrances were narrow tunnels where the visitor had to keep his left side (where a right-hander’s sword would hang) against the left side of the tunnel, leaving his right arm free to present the castle guard with tribute and/or documents of any kind. There was a place for the castle guard on the entrance’s right side, at the point where it opened into the actual castle: so the guard could see that the right hand was safely empty, while other guards lined the left side of the tunnel to feel the visitor’s left leg & check for a sword.

It was a security system: with a hole that a lefty could exploit!

  • Welcome to christianity.SE! I'm not arguing the validity of what you say, but this would be a much better answer if you had supporting references. See What makes a good supported answer? – K-HB Apr 5 at 17:54
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Relevance theory suggests that something is mentioned overtly because it is unusual and needs to be noted. Ehud was left-handed, or at least trained himself to use his left hand, and made his own weapon, probably in defiance of Moabite attempts to disarm Israel. I would consider this brave, and gutsy, not cowardly deception. The text claims God raised up Ehud to deliver Israel, endowing him with a plan, and the gutsiness to carry it out.

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