8

When Ehud is introduced in Judges 3:15, it is mentioned that he is a left-handed man. "Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite."

Handedness seems like an odd thing to note about somebody as one of the two facts given when introducing him. Why would the author draw attention to this detail?

8

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains this succinctly:

This peculiarity has a bearing upon what follows: being left-handed he naturally fastened his sword on the right side instead of the left, and thus was able to conceal a weapon without rousing suspicion.

Being left-handed, Ehud was able to conceal his weapon and, when they were alone, to draw it from the other side before King Eglon realised what was happening.

5

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 (sim'el). It appears 54 times in the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 13:9; 2 Samuel 14:19).

Genesis 13:9 [to] the right, then I will go to the left. (NASB)

2 Samuel 14:19 one can turn to the right or to the left from anything. (NASB)

Noting that both instances of the "bound in the right hand" 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.

2
1

It is interesting to note that both instances where the expression occurs in the scripture,it refers to individuals belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (first Ehud then 700 selected benjamites)

John Gill explains it this way

But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord,. After being long oppressed, and groaning under their burdens, and brought to a sense of their sins, and humiliation for them, they asked forgiveness of God, and deliverance from their bondage; for it is very probable they were until towards the close of those years stupid and hardened, and did not consider what was the reason of their being thus dealt with:

the Lord raised them up a deliverer; another saviour, one that he made use of as an instrument of their deliverance:

Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded; who is described by his parentage, a son of Gera, but who his father was is not known; by his tribe a Benjamite, in which Jericho was, Eglon possessed, and so might be more oppressed than any other part; and therefore the Lord stirred up one of that tribe to be the deliverer; and by his being a lefthanded man, as several of that tribe were, Judges 20:16; though a Benjamite signifies a son of the right hand; and he perhaps was one of those lefthanded Benjamites that fled to the rock Rimmon, as Dr. LightfootF21Works, vol 1 p 46 conjectures, Judges 20:47; for that affair, though there related, was before this: the Septuagint calls him an "ambidexter", one that could use both hands equally alike; but the Hebrew phrase signifies one that is "shut up in his right hand"F23אטר יד ימינו "obturatum manu dextera sua", Montanus; "habens manum dexterum obturatum", Munsterus; "erat clausa manu dextera", Tigurine version; "clausum manu dextera", Drusius; "perclusum", Junius & Tremellius; "praaeclusum", Piscator ; who has not the true use of it, cannot exercise it as his other hand, being weak and impotent, or contracted through disuse, or some disease; or, as JosephusF24Ut supra, (Antiqu l 5 c 4) sect 2 expresses it, who could use his left hand best, and who also calls him a young man of a courageous mind and strong of body, and says he dwelt at Jericho, and was very familiar with Eglon, and who by his gifts and presents had endeared himself to all about the king:

and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab; either their yearly tribute, or rather a gift unto him, to soften him, and reconcile him to them, and make their bondage easier; or to give him access to him with more confidence and safety, though it does not seem that they knew anything of Ehud's design.

1
  • 1
    Please provide the title, page number, publisher and publication date for this citation if possible. Even a URL would be Ok. Thanks. A hyperlink to Wikipedia on John Gill would also add value. The same exposition was given in Hebrew in the early twentieth century by Yosef Eliyahu Trivesh (born in Vilna 1855, died in 1940) in the "Mikra M'furash", published by the Rosencrantz press in Vilna. I wonder if he read Gill or both drew from earlier sources.
    – user17080
    Jan 10 '17 at 16:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.