Left Handed in the Bible?
I get asked a lot of questions and some are just plain fun to dive into, research and find some amazing stuff. If I can’t find an intelligent answer, I offer “Um, I dunno!” This week I was asked “What is the significance of being left-handed in the Bible?” She was asking in reference to a statement made in Judges 20:16, “Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” (20:16, emphasis mine) she also wanted to know, “HOW?” I would go about finding the answer.
When we come upon a verse that causes us to take pause, we have to first consider the ‘placement’ of the verse. We back up and re-read (if need be) the WHOLE chapter (even the entire book for context, context determines meaning) and ask the 5 fold questions of scripture, “Who, what, where, why and how?” In this case, the 700 men were being selected by the Benjamites to take on all of the other tribes of Israel. In short: There was a VERY icky vile rape of a concubine, (In bible times: a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife) this happened while in Benjamin territory, done so by men of the town of Gibeah. The husband of the concubine (a Levite) wanted justice. Israel rose (‘as one man’) to seek revenge, all except the Benjamites. “Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed...” These ‘leftys’ were in addition to 26,000 other men. ‘Chosen’ is a key word. This choice “is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim.” [- The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the OT] In essence, they went ‘looking’ for left-handed men. Again, WHY?
I found the term ‘left-handed’ in the Hebrew is ‘itter’ and only mentioned 2 times in scripture. Here in this chapter AND… in chapter 3 of this same book. ‘Itter’ literally means; ‘not of the right hand’ (or impeded use of the right hand) thus …left handed. Now looking at Judges 3, Israel had AGAIN went about doing ‘evil in the eyes of the Lord’, He set a few nations to stand against them (v2) “He (God) did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience.” God allowed the bad king Eglon of Moab to help teach His lesson. Israel cried out to God and He sent ‘Ehud’ who just happened to be left-handed ANNNND, he was a Benjamite!!! (See the connection?) Ehud goes on to defeat the bad king, Moab became subject to Israel and there was peace in the kingdom for 80 yrs. THIS, I am sure was handed down, all of Israel KNEW the story of the ‘left-handed’ Benjamite – Ehud!
A side note: Throwing in Jewish custom/culture: Right opposed to left: When blessing, the right hand is extended (i.e. Genesis 48, Joseph blessing his sons, he crossed his arms) Also the ‘right’ parts of the body play an important role in sacrifices (see Leviticus) such as the right thigh, right ear, right thumb. The ‘right’ generally expressed ‘strength’, such as the ‘right hand of God’ (Ex. 15:6, 12; Isa. 62:8; Ps. 17:7; 44:4, etc.) and which was worthy of the Psalmists’ praises (Ps. 98:1; 118:15, 16, etc.).
If the ‘left’ is considered ‘weak’ (as opposed to the right/strength) it quite ironic that after the Israelites turned back to God, He chose the ‘weak’ handed man ‘Ehud’ to deliver them? Being left or right handed does not determine value! (Please understand that) Left-handed vs right is more ‘symbolic’ than anything.
Back in Judges 20, the Benjamites take a stand against all the others, so they ‘chose’ 700 leftys – in hopes of having an ‘advantage.’ Granted, they “could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” But could it be that they pulled from their past, went looking for the left-handed guys, because it was something that worked before!
How possibly could this ‘left-handed’ story apply to US? In bible study it is called, ‘pulling a principle.’ We can’t always reach from our past, in hopes that what worked ‘then’ will work now. God used the ‘lefty’ (‘symbolic’ weak handed) man to show the Israelites that when they are in fellowship with Him, He takes the least and makes the MOST. Ehud, said, “For the LORD has given Moab your enemy into your hands.” (v28) When we are weak, HE is strong. Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) Man used the left, God used the right.
Remember what was said back in Judges 3:2 “He did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience.” His lessons take on new angles with each battle. The Benjamites did lose the battle even with the 700 left-handed men who ‘could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.’ (Guess they missed) Also, when God used Ehud against the King of Moab, he was representing ALL of Israel, (kinda their secret weapon) but when the Benjamites tried to ‘reproduce’ the secret weapon (if you will) x700 against their own BROTHERS… it failed. How sad! Chapter 21, the Israelites sat before the Lord and mourned the tribe of Benjamin, “O LORD, the God of Israel, why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?” (vv2-3)
New battle, new battle plan. God’s plan.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur on towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
*In further digging, I came across another reference to Benjamite warrior advantage, which appears later on in Israel’s story, this is when David was on the run from Saul, and a few men joined him, “These were the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he was banished from the presence of Saul son of Kish. They were among the warriors who helped him in battle; they were armed with bows and were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed; they were kinsmen of Saul from the tribe of Benjamin.” – 2 Chron. 12:1-2
The word here is different, (not ‘itter’) it is ‘simel’ – meaning ‘to go to the left’ a term of direction. So it may be, that these guys were not completely left-handed, but where able to ‘pass to the left successfully’. (Which I could not, my bow would indeed be rendered ineffective) What we know as ‘ambidextrous,’ which is Latin and means “right-handed on both sides,” (Fascinating!) In a broader sense ambidextrous means “facile” (done so effortlessly) or “skillful.”
Interesting Facts: Studies suggest that approximately 10% of the world population is left-handed. The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body. A person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. This is where our ‘creativeness’ is known to reside. Leftys …
• Use the right side of the brain the most
• Twice as likely to be a man
• Better at multi-tasking
• Of the eight most recent U.S Presidents, 4 have been left handed
• Less able to roll their tongue than a righty