It was Israel's first darkest hour. The Biblical account of this darkness is confronting, shocking, and very uncomfortable. The last four chapters of Judges serve a monumental truth about the constitution of the Bible: the Scriptures do not always endorse what they describe. This passage of the Sacred Writ is disturbing because it exposes our pat answers and puerile formulas for reducing God to an imbecilic genie. Yet, Paul declares in Romans that this passage has been recorded for our encouragement. Consider this.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
ISRAEL'S DARKEST HOUR
The Book of Judges traces Israel's spiral into apostasy. Within one generation of what was arguably the most faithful and godly Israelite generation ever, they had rebelled from God and His ways and were openly practising the very things He drove out the previous inhabitants of the Promised for doing. The predominant theme of Judges is leadership. Whenever Israel lacked a courageous leader they went into moral decadence. God had already ordained for the priests to give moral leadership to the nation and Tribal Elders to give civil leadership - but neither were fulfilling their ordained roles, and the ruinous seeds of compromise were being planted for the next generation's demise.
¶ Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
The temporary solution was when God raised up Judges who gave Israel leadership against their foes. But it was a temporary measure. The permanent solution had already been prescribed in God's Word. The evil that was now at work in every human heart was meant to be curbed by the work of three divinely conceived Institutions: 1. The family; 2. The 'Church' (the Priesthood); and, 3. Civil Government (Tribal Elders). Woe betide any nation where all three Institutions are dysfunctional. The consequences of such dysfunctionality occurs in the last four chapters of the Book of Judges.
WOMEN ARE DEMEANED
The word concubine is a disgraceful word. This word occurs more in the Book of Judges than any other Biblical book. It was never God's intention for any woman to be a concubine. After Jesus restored the God-intended dignity of women, the concept of concubinage was equated to depravity, sexual immorality, and adultery in the New Testament. A concubine was a wife without rights. She could own nothing, bequeath nothing, and lay claim to nothing - including her own children. Whenever marriage is demeaned, women suffer.
But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. Judges 19:25
Whenever God's ordained means of curbing evil is dysfunctional through neglect or disobedience, men will always be inconsiderate of women and treat them like objects to be used and abused.
What the Levite did to his concubine in the book of Judges was deplorable. But what the men of the city of Gibeah wanted to do to the Levite was odiously reprehensible!
¶ They were having a good time, when suddenly some men of the city, some good-for-nothings, surrounded the house and kept beating on the door. They said to the old man who owned the house, "Send out the man who came to visit you so we can have sex with him."
Judges 19:22 NET
When the foundation of human identity is denied (that we are created to worship Someone other than ourselves who is worthy of our worship) idolatry results and sexual perversion is inevitably how it is expressed (since God has designed our bodies to be sexual within the bounds that He has established as a picture to mankind of what the Triune God eternally enjoys - unity with another). Idolatry rejects the notion that we are to worship another and craves to worship something the same as the worshiper.
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
¶ For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
REDUCING GOD TO A FORMULA
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
After the men of Gibeah committed the most atrocious and unnatural sexual abuse of this Levite's concubine, she was left for dead. With her desperate fingers vainly attempting to reach the door of the house, where the one who should have been her protector was ignoring her anguished cries for help, she mercifully died in that pathetic posture.
¶ And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, "Get up, let us be going." But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel."
Whenever a society has sunk to the kinds of moral depravity that Israel had during the last days of the Judges, the road to recovery cannot be instant. Woe unto society where the godly - especially those charged by God to show leadership - fathers, pastors, politicians - fail to call evil evil or fail to promote the right and the good either for fear of the crowd or due to the ignorant idea that morality can be privatised ("Who are you to impose your morals on me!?").
In many respects, how Israel responded to the heinous crimes of their Benjaminite cousins was too little too late. It also shows just how far they had sunk.
Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel." But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel."
What follows this tragic saga is equally pathetic. Israel was just as guilty as the Benjaminites. Idolatry was rife and consequently women and children were horribly abused and men were depraved. Yet they approach God as if He was like the concept of 'god' that the surrounding pagan nations held. If we do this "_", God must do this "_". That's how religious people attempt to treat God. They are forever doing deals with Him. The remaining tribes of Israel make a rash vow to God (note how many times the Book of Judges exposes the peril of making a rash vow). When Israel mustered 400,000 men of war to attack the men of Gibeah, they asked God for direction.
¶ The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, "Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?" And the LORD said, "Judah shall go up first."Judges 20:18
WHEN DOING RIGHT DOESN'T SEEM TO WORK
This shouldn't have been a surprise to Israel. God had already commanded that Judah set out first (Numbers 2:9). When God repeated this to Israel during the time of the Judges, they probably assumed that God had said, Do this and you will be successful. As the story unfolds, they did what God told them and failed horribly! In fact, 22,000 of their choicest soldiers were slaughtered by the wicked Benjaminites!
We don't do right because that is how we will be successful. We do right because it's the right thing to do!
And the people of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until the evening. And they inquired of the LORD, "Shall we again draw near to fight against our brothers, the people of Benjamin?" And the LORD said, "Go up against them."
After their shocking defeat, they again seek the Lord and ask another question they didn't need to ask- Shall we attack again?
When we have neglected to maintain what is good, right and virtuous, we will have to battle to restore truth and righteousness and even though we may lose certain battles, it does not mean that our cause is not right or just.
Again Israel is defeated. This time, 18,000 men are destroyed (Judges 20:25). Not until Phinehas, the High Priest (the one God had ordained to show some leadership on behalf of the nation) stepped up and showed some leadership, did Israel find success in their quest to deal with the wickedness in their society.
If God has appointed you to have a position of leadership within His Institutions of the family, the church, or government, then you have a divine duty to show the necessary courage and exercise godly leadership!
Of the 26,000 men of Benjamin who came against Israel, 25,600 were slaughtered (Judges 20:46). What a handful of men did in seeking their own selfish pleasure, resulted in 45,600 dying! The justifying adage, I'm not hurting anyone else is often used by the cheating spouse hoping not to be caught, or the teen in the shop taking what they cannot afford, or the official in the businessman's parked car who feels they should be paid more anyway, or the man who consumes internet porn because it's harmless and fun. These are all cases of what a gross misunderstanding of "hurt" is.
This horrible section of Scripture highlights several things for the follower of Christ-
1. The Old Testament sometimes describes what it deplores.
2. Idolatry is at the root of all sin - especially sexual sin.
3. How any individual behaves has a bearing on the whole of society.
4. Those God has called to lead within the Institutions He has ordained need to do so courageously.
5. Sometimes doing the right thing will not bring the desired result, and persistence will be required.
May God help us to draw the kind of encouragement that often obscure passages like this one present so that we can be the kind parents, witnesses, workers and volunteers that we need to be.