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Miniature depicting Ehud murdering King Eglon by Rudolf von Ems (1350 to 1375)

How Did the Benjamites Manage to Overthrow the Mighty Moabites: Ehud the Deliverer

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After forty years had passed after settling in the promised land of Canaan, the Israelites found themselves dealing with an old adversary. Chushan-Rishathaim, the ‘twice-evil Kushite, king of Aram-Naharaim, or north-west Mesopotamia, was the first oppressor of the Israelites after their settlement in Canaan, but this time, it was the Moabites. According to the Bible: “the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Division of Palestine among the 12 tribes of Israel from the conquest; after a map by Tobias Lotter (1759). (Public Domain)

Division of Palestine among the 12 tribes of Israel from the conquest; after a map by Tobias Lotter (1759). ( Public Domain)

The Moabites Need to Expand

However, in reality the war with the Moabites had nothing to do with sin. The lack of tribal unification after the demise of Joshua and the disperse of the tribes each to its own territory, made them susceptible to an outside attack. Similar to the invasion by Chushan-Rishathaim, the Moabite attack under King Eglon, was not an attack on the Israelites as a whole, but an invasion to confiscate the territory that was beneficial to his kingdom’s prosperity.

Like Chushan-Rishathaim, King Eglon’s objective was to take control of a portion of the King’s Highway, that important trade route that ran adjacent to the Transjordan. In order to invade, King Eglon needed to form a coalition. “And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek.” Once the Moabites had strengthened their forces with a coalition, they marched and defeated the tribes along the Transjordan. With the Israelite tribes living in the Transjordan area subjugated, the coalition crossed the river into the Cisjordan and swiftly took control of the ‘city of palm trees’ from the tribe of Benjamin. It was not Jericho they sought to possess, but the fertile land around the ruins, and in addition, the network of trade routes that extended westward into the hill country. Once they had secured the area, they refrained from pushing further inland, for King Eglon understood that to push further would risk much, given that his Moabite army was too small and his coalition temporary. King Eglon had gained what he had desired; the King’s Highway, the fertile lands around Jericho, and the network of roads that led west into the hill country.

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Cam Rea  is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including:  The Wars of Israel: A Military History of Ancient Israel from the End of Judges to Solomon

Top Image: Miniature depicting Ehud murdering King Eglon by Rudolf von Ems (1350 to 1375) ( Public Domain )

By Cam Rea

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