MORNING MESSAGE: Reverend John Cline
Text: Judges 19, 20, 21 – Reader: Bose Olabimtan
British historian Edward Gibbon is well-known for his work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in which he does a massive study as to why the Roman Empire collapsed. He conclusion? It was due to five reasons:
- The rapid increase of divorce, the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human society.
- Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace.
- The mad craze for pleasure; sport becoming every year more exciting and more brutal.
- The building of gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within, the decadence of the people.
- The decay of religion – faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life and becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.
The author of Judges suggested that this fifth point was also true in Israel. He starts his concluding three chapters with this observation:
In those days Israel had no king. (Judges 19:1a)
The author of the Book of Judges concluded that the absence of a king, God’s representative on earth who would ensure law and order and the keeping of God’s will, meant that moral and ethical codes were not applied, and because that was the situation, he explained,
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 21:25)
Without a king who had the authority to guide the people morally or ethically and to enforce God’s laws, the nation of Israel descended into chaos. Everyone did as they saw fit, as they pleased. How one’s behaviour might negatively affect another person or the nation did not matter to those who had no fear or respect of God or of others. In the 18 chapters of the Book of Judges that we have read through thus far, we have noticed a pattern of disturbing decline in the honouring of God or others, or in the applying of morals and ethics to a situation. Things just get progressively worse the further away the people were chronologically from the time of the giving of God’s laws for moral and ethical conduct, originally given to Moses and Joshua. Through 12 “judges”, and over a period of 300 years, we arrive today at the bottom of the barrel. Remember, just because something is in the Bible does not mean that it is automatically true (as we know from the words of Job’s friends who gave him bad advice), not is it automatically good (as we have seen throughout Judges). These stories are in the Bible to teach us and to warn us. With deep insight, author C.S. Lewis wrote,
“All major civilizations have agreed on an essential moral code.”
C.S. Lewis believed that is what the Bible teaches, that God has placed His law with its moral and ethical code inside every human being but, when that is rejected, as British historian Edward Gibbon pointed out, the unsurprising conclusion for a society is chaos and destruction. Ok, to chapters 19, 20, and 21, let’s read, starting with the story of a Levite, a priest by birth by virtue of being born into the family tribe of Levi, thus a man who should have been a servant of God but who, instead, lived a life far outside of God’s will. The horrible ending to the Book of Judges starts with this Levite taking a concubine to live with him. Concubines were taken for the purpose of sexual pleasure by men who already had a wife and were considered as common-law spouses are today, a kind of wife, but not quite. Now, this Levite had had no problem with being unfaithful to his real wife in that he had ongoing sexual relations with his pretend wife, his concubine, but when that concubine decided to be “unfaithful” to him, well, he was not happy.
In those days, Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her parents’ home in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her parents’ home, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. His father-in-law, the woman’s father, prevailed on him to stay; so, he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there. (19:1-4)
The concubine’s father entertained the Levite and his servant, insisting that they stay the night, then just one more, and then another, over and over, again. He was stalling in the hopes that the Levite would eventually give up and go on his way, without his daughter but, the Levite saw through the ruse.
But unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, “Come, let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.” His master replied, “No. We won’t go into any city whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.” He added, “Come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.” So, they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them in for the night. That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the inhabitants of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, “Where are you going? Where did you come from?” He answered, “We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the Lord. No one has taken me in for the night. We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants—me, the woman and the young man with us. We don’t need anything.” “You are welcome at my house,” the old man said. “Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.” (Ju. 19:14-20)
So, the Levite had gone from the hill country near Bethel in Ephraim, Bethel being where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in “the house of the Lord”, the tabernacle. He then went south past the city of Gibeah, further on past Jebus (the original name for Jerusalem), until finally he came to the house of the father of his concubine in Bethlehem. Reversing course, the Levite went north past Jebus and on to Gibeah, where he and his party stayed overnight. Now, in a horrible scene reminiscent of Genesis 19 when the men of Sodom demanded to have sex with their guest, Abraham’s nephew Lot, we read this happening:
While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So, the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. (Judges 19:22-26)
The horrible and disgusting attitudes and actions against the women in the story is chilling. But remember why this story is recorded: not to applaud or copy or to assume that God approved of it simply because it is in the His Word, but for us to learn from, to be repelled by, and to considered ourselves warned by. Going on…
When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So, speak up!” (Judges 19:27-30)
The demand to rape a guest in the town does remind us of the Sodomites but the horror of it all to the Levite wasn’t so much that these things were done but that it wasn’t Sodomites or Canaanites who did them, but fellow Israelites, men from the town of Gibeah who were from the tribe of Benjamin. The Levite himself was a depraved person as is seen in his reasoning that because his concubine was dead, anyways, he would cut up her body and send a part to each of the 12 tribes of Israel. This would inform them of the despicable actions of the Benjamite men of Gibeah but it was also to call to action, and a warning that they could expect a similar fate if they did not punish the Benjamites of Gibeah. When each of the other 11 tribes received their respective body parts, they were horrified and demanded that the Benjamites deal with their miscreant relatives in Gibeah. But, the Benjamites as a whole refused to deal with their relatives, thus the other 11 tribes of Israel decided to go to war against the tribe of Benjamin. But the question for them was, which of their 11 tribes should lead the others into battle against the Benjamites? Probably because the concubine had been from Bethlehem of Judah it was decided that the tribe of Judah should lead the attack. Now, the people claimed it was God who told them that Judah should lead but most commentators believe that what happened is that through the use of the Urim and Thummin, mysterious devices which were kept within the Chief Priest’s ephod worn on his chest, and pulled out when a decision was needed. The Urim and Thummin were a kind of ancient version of spinning of the bottle or of drawing of a short straw. Whatever the Urim and Thummin decided, it was decreed to be God’s will and thus, Judah was chosen. Of course, God was then conveniently blamed when Judah’s leadership was a failure.
The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. (Judges 20:20-21)
Did you notice that the Israelites hadn’t actually asked God if they should fight the tribe of Benjamin but only who should lead them into the battle. The Israelites, as is the case with too many pray-ers still today, were not really interested in discerning God’s will but only in Him blessing that thing they had already decided to do.
The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?” The Lord answered, “Go up against them.” (Judges 20:23)
How do you think this identical strategy would work out? Not so well.
Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords. Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. And the Israelites inquired of the Lord. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.” (Judges 20:24-28)
God had not been playing the Israelites. Rather, He went along with their games to learn from their mistakes. So, for a third time, the Israelites approached God, but that third time was different. Instead of arrogantly having the Chief Priest in Bethel bring the Urim and Thummin to them on the battlefield as they had the other two times, the people humbled themselves and went to Bethel, to the “house of the Lord”, the tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was located, Bethel and its tabernacle being that place to which Moses had centuries before instructed Israelites to go to if they wanted to inquire as to God’s will. Now, this third time, God did actually speak and He instructed the Israelites as to what to do the next time they went to war. The result was victory for the Israelites. Now, before you feel too sorry for the Gibeahites and the Benjamites whom the Israelites would defeat, remember that they were not innocent bystanders as was seen in what they had done to the concubine and had wanted to do to the Levite.
Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads—the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah. While the Benjamites were saying, “We are defeating them as before,” the Israelites were saying, “Let’s retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.” All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. Then ten thousand of Israel’s able young men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was. The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten…On that day twenty-five thousand Benjamite swordsmen fell, all of them valiant fighters. But six hundred of them turned and fled into the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed four months. (Judges 20:29-36,46,47).
God gave the Israelites victory. But, after they had defeated the Benjamites, save for the 600 men who had escaped to safety, the Israelites realized a terrible problem they had created in almost wiping out one of the 12 tribes of Israel. That was not ok in their thinking and, as was par for the course with them, they blamed God for the loss of that tribe.
The people went to Bethel, where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. “Lord, God of Israel,” they cried, “why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?” (Judges 21:2,3)
The next day, they offered sacrifices, but, once again, they didn’t ask God how to fix this new problem. Instead, they came up with their own hare-brained solution. They looked for a place to steal women from who they would then give to the 600 Benjamite men. They noticed that the town of Jabesh Gilead had not supported them in their war.
Now the Israelites grieved for the tribe of Benjamin, their fellow Israelites. “Today one tribe is cut off from Israel,” they said. “How can we provide wives for those who are left, since we have taken an oath by the Lord not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?” Then they asked, “Which one of the tribes of Israel failed to assemble before the Lord at Mizpah?” They discovered that no one from Jabesh Gilead had come to the camp for the assembly. For when they counted the people, they found that none of the people of Jabesh Gilead were there. So, the assembly sent twelve thousand fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. “This is what you are to do,” they said. “Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin.” They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan…So, the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them. (Judges 20:6-12,14)
So disturbing! This kind of thing still happens today, with the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria kidnapping young Christian girls and marrying them off to their fighters, or with the 40 million unattached boys in China who are single because of the government’s one-child policy (which led to the aborting of 40 million more females than males over the decades) which has created a shortage of wives for the boys who are now men, and thus, paid kidnappers from China regularly enter North Vietnam, North Korea, Mongolia, Kampuchea, or Myanmar and kidnap young girls to take them back to be brides of the unwed Chinese men. With the 600 Benjamite surviving men, 400 of them now had wives, which left a shortfall of 200. The godless decision-making was not over yet!
And the elders of the assembly said, “With the women of Benjamin destroyed, how shall we provide wives for the men who are left? The Benjamite survivors must have heirs,” they said, “so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out…But look, there is the annual festival of the Lord in Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” So, they instructed the Benjamites, saying, “Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin.” …So, that is what the Benjamites did. While the young women were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them. (21:16-23)
Let’s remember the cause of all this evil. It was one unchecked, unchallenged sin that led to another that led to even other sins. This should be a moment of questioning for us, as to whether or not we should allow a sin to go unchallenged. In these chapters, the problems all started with the sinful decision of the Levite to take a concubine, continued on with the men of Gibeah demanding the right to rape that Levite, which led to him sacrificing his concubine so that he would not be harmed, which led to the Levite then chopping up her body and sending body parts to each of the 12 tribes of Israel demanding retribution, which resulted in the Benjamites refusing to deal with the sin in their own camp with the men of Gibeah, which offended the Israelites so much that they attacked their own people in what amounted to a civil war, which concluded with the wiping out of the Benjamites, save 600 men, which led to the murders of all the people of Jabesh Gilead, except for 400 young women who they married off, which led to the kidnapping of 200 innocent girls as they danced at a festival outside of Shiloh. “Where was God in all that? you may ask. Well, the fact was He hadn’t been invited to the party!
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 21:25)
These final three chapters at the end of the Book of Judges are disgusting. However, at the same time, God was working with two women who were faithful to Him, Naomi and Ruth and we will look at their story next week during our Mother’s Day worship service. Their lives brought order to Israel for from them came King David, the greatest of all the kings of Israel, and later the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. In between King David and King Jesus, was David’s son, King Solomon, and we read that one day as he was praying to God about how to ensure blessings for his people and nation, here is what God told him:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Let’s do as God told King Solomon to do, and then after praying, do the only thing I can think of that might be a fitting way to end this sermon, by praying the Lord’s Prayer.