Judges 19-21: A Terrible End
The last three chapters of Judges reveal an episode which will shock you. It is repulsive. It is a repeat of Sodom and Gomorrah with even greater wickedness. The account includes: wife abuse, rape, murder, dismemberment, kidnapping and civil war. This episode in Israel shows the depth of depravity that almost creates a holocaust within Israel long before World War II. And what is shocking it is done by Israelites against Israelites. The problem is one that had been building because – ‘ there was no king in Israel and everyone did as the saw fit.’
Let’s address the situation and the custom of polygamy and the role of the concubine. God’s intention, His will was for marriage to be between one man and one woman. ( Genesis 2:24) However, we see early on the people of Israel, God’s people followed the custom of the pagan society and had multiple wives and concubines. We see it with Abraham, Jacob, right down to Solomon. You will also see in those situations where polygamy was practiced it brought heartache and pain without exception. Abraham’s taking Hagar and having a child by her, Ishmael, is still causing problems today between the Muslims, the descendants of Ishmael and the Jews, descendants of Isaac.. Jacob’s family was a dysfunctional family torn apart by Jacob’s polygamy and favoritism which created hatred for Joseph. Solomon, for all his wisdom, found himself with 300 concubines and 700 wives in violation of God’s instructions. The result was his discovery for Solomon how meaningless life was without fearing God and keeping His commandments.
Now a word about a concubine and their role in this society. First of all- men treated all women as second class citizens in this culture. This practice of taking a concubine was adopted from the pagan cultures in the event a man’s wife could not bear children he could take a concubine and the offspring would be considered a legitimate heir. The concubine would not share in the inheritance, receiving only food and clothing and marital privileges. The Lord did not approve it or encourage it.
What we read in this story is all based on the fact- everyone was doing what they saw was fit. Interesting phrase- ‘ as they saw fit’. Meaning it fit their lifestyle, everyone else was doing it and why shouldn’t they also.
Here in this story another Levite , a person called to be set apart, is doing what he wants to do. He takes a concubine and we read the concubine was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father’s house. After four months, the Levite goes back to persuade her to come home with him. What follows is 5 days of partying, eating, drinking, etc., with the father of his concubine. Finally the Levite leaves with his concubine and servant.
As the day is ending they come to Jebus, ( which is Jerusalem) and the servant wants to spend the night there. But the Levite insists they travel to Gibeah, a town occupied by Benjamites. There they stopped to spend the night in the city square where an old man invites them to come spend the night with him. In fact he warns them, you do not want to spend the night here on the square.
What we are about to read reminds us of the story of Lot and the angels in Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 19)
What follows is such a horror story of wickedness, sinfulness, blatant homosexuality and brutality combined with seemingly indifference to human life. These last chapters show the depth of depravity when a society abandons God’s principles and laws. And everyone does as he sees fit.
Here is what happens, it is like the night of living dead: a group of wicked men of the city surround the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted ( demanded) the old man who owned the house send out the man who was their guest so they could have sex with him.
Like Lot, the old man comes out and says to them: “ No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful 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 to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.” This was the viewpoint of Lot in Genesis 19 and the opinion of this old man. But their viewpoint and opinion is confirmed in God’s Word which calls this sexual act detestable in Leviticus 20. In Romans 1- Paul labels these acts: ‘ indecent and a perversion.’ ( NIV)
What follows is a night of unbelievable horror ending in death for the concubine. Brutalized by these wicked men all night, she went back to the house where they were staying, falling down at the door where she lay until daylight. At sometime during the night, she died. When morning came, the Levite attempts to awaken her without any response from her, he loads her on the donkey and sets our for home.
When he reached home, the lifeless concubine is dismembered and 12 parts of her are sent to the 12 tribes. The Levite wants revenge and is calling the 12 tribes to assemble and attack the city of Gibeah which is occupied by their own brothers, the tribe of Benjamin.
I am no fan of this Levite. I find his behavior despicable. He is not honest. His account to the tribes of Israel is not truthful. He states: “ During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house and intended to kill me. They raped my concubine and she died.” We know from the account this is not exactly the way it took place. This man sent out his concubine to pacify the mob and save his own skin. He evidently went to sleep and did not even venture out of the house until daylight.
A word about: Depravity. Depraved minds. Wickedness beyond what we can imagine. Romans 1 tells us how depravity grows deeper.
( Side note: Can you even believe this story is in the Bible? It is a gut-wrenching story of how a world around us wants to conform us- adopting their lifestyle, philosophy and beliefs. Is it far-fetched and inconceivable to you that this could happen in our country? )
Paul writes: “ Futhermore, since they did not think is worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God , He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey parents, they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God ‘s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these things but also approve of those who practice them.” Romans 1.
When one does not want to retain the knowledge of God- a vacuum is created that will be filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. Today we live in a culture and society in our own country that is becoming more and more a culture that does not think is it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God. God’s Word is clear what happens when this takes place- depravity. When minds are empty of the Word of God they will be filled with every kind of wickedness.
A civil war is going to take place among the tribes of Israel. The Israelites went and asked the tribe of Benjamin to surrender these offenders so they may be put to death. But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. What follows is a civil war that almost wipes out the tribe of Benjamin completely.
You do realize the most costly war in terms of American lives lost was the Civil War fought between the Union and Confederacy from 1861-1865. Estimates of deaths are 750,000 which does not include deaths among civilians. More soldiers died from disease in captivity than were killed in the Vietnam War. In fact more were killed in this civil war among Americans- than were killed in every war from the Revolutionary War, World Wars I and II and all wars from that time through the Korean War in the 1950’s.
How does this happen in Israel among their own people? When sin is not exposed, confessed and punished, it pollutes the society and defiles the land. The wicked men of Gibeah were like a cancerous tumor that needed to be cut out. “ Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump: ( I Cor. 5) Or as we say – one bad apple spoils the whole barrel.
When Gods’ people refuse to obey God’s Word, the results are always tragic. The spiritual life of the church is crippled and often destroyed. The congregation wants to hide their heads in the sand and not cause any problems. Corporate prayer life is ineffective, just as the prayers of anyone who regards sin in their hearts will be disregarded by God until they confess their sin and repent.
When the Lord God Almighty is not enthroned on the throne of your heart- guess who is? Your old sinful nature who does not want to be ruled over- and ruled out. This is why Jesus said we are to take up our cross daily- to crucify our old nature.
What are the last words we hear from the leaders of Israel during the time of Jesus Christ on earth? Pilate says to the Jewish leaders- “ Here is your king.” But they shouted – take him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him! Shall I crucify your king? Asked Pilate. “ We have no king, but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.” ( John 19)
We have no king. There was no king in Israel and everyone did as they saw fit.
As we end this study, let’s review what we have learned. And with that viewpoint in mind let us look at our world and God’s church and draw some conclusions about the Christian life.
Just as He was during this time of judges, God is looking for servants who are available to hear His Word, receive His Power and do His will. God has shown us in this book of Judges how He uses men and women as servants. Like Gideon they are not strong but weak. Gideon said he was from the weakest tribe and was the weakest one in the weakest of tribes. In other words, he was the ‘ runt of the litter’.
All of us are different and when God calls you to serve Him, He does not do so based on your abilities but your availability. Remember the Lord’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
There is another truth we must not miss in this story. God can work in and through all nations, and all types of people. He can work not only in spite of sin- but through sin. When we consider God’s Sovereignty we must consider how He is in complete control. This verse in Acts 17 underscores His Sovereignty: “ From one man, He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places they should live.” Why would you even worry that God is not in control, when He has determined not only that each of 7,000,000,000 on the face of the earth exist but the exact geographical location where they are. He has done this from the beginning of time. In fact Paul tells us why God did this: “ God did this so the men would seek and perhaps reach out to Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.” ( Acts 17: 27)
History is truly God’s Story. As dark as these days were in this time in Judges and as dark as they seem today, God was on the throne in the time of Judges and He is on the throne today. No matter how wicked this world seems today.
If you have failed God in the past- guess what- the stories in the Bible tells us of many who failed the Lord. We are all flawed in some way. But the cycles we see in the book of Judges assures us that God chastens those He loves and forgives us when we repent and confess our sins.
Somehow what we all want is a trouble free life. Yet Jesus lived the only perfect life on earth and He suffered like no one else ever has. If we obey the Lord just to get things from Him or to escape trials and tribulations- then our relationship with Him isn’t very loving. It is more of a contract- we will do what you tell us to do- if You will give us what we want. God looks at the heart, the inside- not the outside. He looks at your motive. If you obey God only to get what you want from Him- you are seeking the reward and not the Rewarder. “Without faith it is impossible to please God and those who come to Him, must believe that He is and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” ( Hebrews 11:6) Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, not what they can get from Him.
What is your motivation for obedience? Does the mother sacrifice for the child because the laws of the land threaten to punish her for negligence? Or does she do it out of a heart of love for her child.
Do not be confused- God’s Word never fails. If we obey it, He is faithful to bless us and keep His promises. However, it does not mean we will not suffer.
Here is the key: we live our lives based on His Promises, not His explanations. He does not have to explain to us why we must suffer hardships. “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the Promises of God.” ( Standing on the Promises, Russell K. Carter, 1886) “ Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.: ( Hebrews 10:23)
God has also given us governments as Romans 13 explains. But regardless of the form of government a country has, Proverbs 14:34 still applies: “ Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.’
When Israel adopted the lifestyle of the pagan nations around them, they weakened their own nation. When Israel turned to idols, God turned from blessing them. Nations do not decay and collapse because of people who peddle pornography and drugs, but because Christians are no longer salt and light. Compromising Christians hurt not only themselves, their family and church, but they contribute to the decay of the whole nation.
Jeremiah gives us an insight into why these things occur:
“ My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken Me, the Spring of Living Water ; and they have dug their own cisterns ( false gods & Idols) and broken cisterns cannot hold water. ( Jeremiah 2)
“ The Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look and ask for the ancient path, ask where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls. But you would not walk in it.” ( Jeremiah 6) In life we all follow two quests: the quest for happiness and the quest for truth will bring each of us to a crossroads, an intersection where we must make a decision.
“ The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it.: ( Jeremiah 17) This is why we must guard our hearts with all diligence for out of the heart come the issues of life.
One of the facets of faith we seem not to fully understand is this: faith is obeying in spite of consequences. Faith takes God at His Word and does what He tells us to do. You are not going to have perfect faith. We all start with a measure of faith. Weak faith or little faith must be tested to make it stronger. The more you exercise your faith- the stronger your faith will grow.
When we look around today- we can get as disheartened today with the way things are as they so closely resemble the nation of Israel in the times of Judges, 3500 years ago.
But the good news is – God is not through and His story is not finished yet. Surely you have read the end and should know the King is coming again. And everything is going according to God’s plan. He has told us what to expect. He said we would have trouble in this world- but take heart and fear not for He has overcome the world.
Righteousness will triumph. Evil will be defeated. Faith will be rewarded.
You can never tell what is around the corner. You can never tell what God has planned for you. So be on the look out. Look for where He is working and join Him.
Be accountable and above all BE AVAILABLE!
We will begin a study of Ruth next. In praying and wondering where to go next, the fact that Ruth comes after Judges had to be for a reason.
We will find the story of Ruth takes place at the same time as the book of Judges. It is a love story, a redemption story and a harvest story. And it is an encouraging story.