Judges Outpaces Halloween for Gross and Bizarre
- Dr. Stanley J. Ward
- 2011 24 Oct
Gross is not funny...
As a Christian educator, I have an odd relationship with gross humor. The professional in me wants to chide my student: “Gross is not funny.” Yet the adolescent version of me that still influences much of my soul wants to respond, “you are correct: gross is not funny – it’s hilarious.”
I remember when our grade school Halloween carnival featured putting your hands into buckets filled with mysterious items that were somehow supposed to be eyeballs and entrails (yet seemed remarkably like boiled eggs and cold spaghetti). That event was an "a-ha" moment for me: Halloween was not just about "scary," it was also about "gross." That connection between Halloween and gross is reiterated each year as I watch the variety of costumed youth in our neighborhood whose dress features their insides on their outsides (and I should give these kids candy? Really?).
I realize that Halloween can be a polarizing issue for Christians, and the only reason I reference the holiday here is because (a) it's October, so many folks are thinking about the approaching trick-or-treat season, and (b) I want to talk about "gross" and the Bible.
The Bible is a truly amazing book. I tell my non-Christian friends that its stories can go head to head with the greatest of classical literature when it comes to describing the plethora of issues that transpire within the human heart. I also tell both my Christian and non-Christian friends that when we allow the Bible's stories to work like a form of literature, they become amazingly entertaining as well as inspiring.
Paul Little, in his book, How to Give Away Your Faith, suggests that the best response to a dirty joke is to tell an even funnier clean joke. Likewise, when the world is trying to out-do each other with gross, why not show your kids that the Bible is able to use gross-out humor that is just as entertaining as stories that celebrate gross for grossness sake? For example, the book of Judges features stories that are gross with a point (pun intended).
Despite how the story of Judges 16:1 is sometimes treated in Sunday school, the majority of stories in the book of Judges are not child-friendly. They deal with very mature issues, sometimes in an exceptionally violent manner (for example, the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19). Yet some of this mature material can be presented to kids in a way that is both grossly entertaining and God-honoring. Not only are these stories “gross out” stories, but they also demonstrate how God creates and uses unlikely heroes. God’s ability to use different kinds of people both honors Him and encourages us. One story you might consider telling around a fall campfire: Ehud (the name alone will probably get you some second glances).
In The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible Volume Three: Judges-Kings, David Penchansky points out how the story of Ehud works like a “gross-out” story. By telling a gross-out story about their enemies, the Israelites were able to make their enemies appear less fearsome.
Although you can certainly read these stories out of a modern translation and children will still get some of the gross-out elements, if you re-tell the stories on your own, your children will be even more impressed. To learn these stories and retell them well, ask yourself three questions. First, what makes the main character an unlikely hero? Second, what makes the “bad guys” entertaining. Finally, what gross-out elements can you emphasize?
Let me offer a disclaimer: this article is not about inspiring your children with the best of philosophy, theology, literature, or great examples of humanity. This is about those moments when you want to make someone’s jaw hit the floor while the person next to them exclaims, “No way! That is in the Bible?” (And I must confess that I love instigating such responses).
Now let’s review Ehud’s story (Judges 3:12-30).
Ehud’s story is violent. Ehud’s story is gross. But it is not meant to cause nightmares. Instead it prompts laughter at Israel’s enemy. In summary, Ehud is a left handed warrior who God uses to kill a Moabite king who has conquered Jerusalem (a very fat king named Eglon).
First, think about what makes Ehud an unlikely hero
Ehud is a trickster-hero. He uses creativity and courage to overcome his enemy, rather than brute force alone (although brute force certainly does enter the story). For example, he is left-handed. (If you have a left-handed child in your family, this might make an especially entertaining story.) Rather than Ehud’s left-handedness being a liability, it becomes an asset. He is able to hide his self-made sword (so this guy has skills) on the right side of his body – the opposite side of where most people would wear a sword.
Next, what makes the enemy entertaining?
There are a multiple elements here that are worth emphasizing. Verse 17 points out that Eglon is very fat. Be sure to play up this description, because it becomes important later. You can also reference how Eglon’s guards must not have been very thorough to miss an 18 inch sword under Ehud’s clothing. Now add to that the foolishness of the king to dismiss his servants and be alone with Ehud. Apparently Eglon really wanted to hear the secret message in private.
Finally be sure to emphasize the awkward moments outside of the king’s room in verse 24. The servants assume the king is going to the bathroom (possibly because of the smell coming from that room?) They wait so long for the king to reappear, that they become embarrassed. Feel free to ad lib some dialogue: “Wow, it smells like something died in there.” “You go in there” says one servant. “No way, YOU go in there,” says the other.
Finally, what is the gross-out component to emphasize?
The description of Ehud’s assassination of Eglon is particularly, well, gross. Evidently the king’s girth is such that his belly essentially swallows the sword whole (and there is some ironic humor here – his belly literally swallows too much, and Eglon gets a serious belly ache.) You can play up the fact that the secret “message” is actually a secret sword (and you can say that Eglon got the “point” of the message).
You are probably expecting some great theological point or spiritual application at the end of all this. I don’t have a great theological truth to share, but I do have a simple application. Sometimes we need to let kids enjoy Bible stories for what they are, even when it means they are both gross and funny.
Stanley J. Ward is the Director of Campus Life and Ministry at the brook hill school in Bullard, TX. He is also author of worldview conversations: how to share your faith and keep your friends.
Publication date: October 24, 2011