JUDGES 19 - 21

JUNE 24, 2012




            William Ashley "Billy" Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in the National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century.  He’s one of the more quotable preachers of all time.  His most famous quote may be, “A sinner can repent but stupid is forever!”  My favorite Billy Sunday quote however, goes as follows.  He said, I’m against sin.  I’ll kick it as long as I got a foot.  I’ll fight it as long as I have a fist.  I’ll butt it as long as I got a head.  I’ll bite it as long as I have a tooth, and when I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’ll gum it to death until I go home to glory.

            Billy Sunday would have gotten quite a workout in our passage for today.  This morning we conclude our study of the Book of Judges which we began after the first of the year, and this last section of the book holds the dubious distinction of being the most disgusting and degrading story in the Bible, unredeemed my an admirable character or any noble acts. 

            The first sixteen chapters of the Book of Judges focused on deliverers or judges of Israel: Ehud, Gideon, Deborah, Jephthah, Samson.  In the last five chapters of Judges the emphasis changes.  The focus is not upon specific Judges, but rather upon what life was like in Israel in that 350 year period of time.  Think of the last five chapters of snapshots of a typical day, for a typical family, living in the time of the Judges.

            We’ve already looked at one of those snapshots last week when we peaked into the window of Micah’s home.  Today we look at another snapshot of the time.  It is a story of “Three R’s,” but not of the readin’, rightin, and ‘rightmatic variety.  They are the “Three R’s” of rape, revenge and reaping.  The rape occurs in chapter 19.  The revenge in chapter 20 and the reaping in chapter 21. 

            OK, first things first, the rape of the concubine.  A concubine was sort of a second tier wife, most often a slave or a woman without a dowry, and in the story the concubine gets into a big fight with her husband and goes back home to mom and dad, which placed her father in a pickle for according to the customs of the day Old Dad was legally responsible for her action.  After four months the Levite realized his concubine wasn’t coming home, so he set out to get her.  When he arrived at the concubine’s family home, her dad did all he could to stay on the Levite’s good side.  He chilled the wine, gave the Levite the best bed, and threw a party for him that lasted three days.  It worked.  All was forgiven and the Levite, his servant and his concubine set out for home.

            But due to their late start it began getting dark and they began discussing where to stay.  The servant voted for Jerusalem, called Jebus at the time, but the Levite vetoed  that down because it was a Gentile city with a bad reputation, so they decided to go five more miles to a town in the tribe of Benjamin, named Gibeah.  Since it was before the days of Holiday Inns, the custom was to go to the town square, and wait for a citizen to offer you a place to stay, but no one did.  It was a terrible breach of Eastern hospitality, but finally an old man, a farmer and a transplant from Ephraim, the Levite’s home town, came along and offered lodging at his house.

            Shortly thereafter things begin to unravel.  In the middle of enjoying their chocolate mousse, someone began pounding on the door and a crowd outside the house began yelling, “Bring out the man who came home with you.  We want to have sex with him.”  In other words, it was Sodom and Gomorrah the sequel.  The old man was embarrassed and horrified by the crowds behavior and offered Plan B, which involved sending out the concubine instead, to which the Levite agreed.  He shoved his concubine out the door and you don’t want to hear the details.

            The next morning, the Levite awoke - how he could sleep after what he had done only God knows - he awoke, opened the front door and found his concubine dead on the front porch.  So he picked up her body, threw her over his donkey, and took her home.  After arriving home, instead of burying her, he cut her up into twelve pieces and sent a piece of his concubine to each of the twelve tribes of Israel to underscore the despicable thing that had happened in Gibeah.  End of chapter 19.

            Now chapter 20 - the Revenge of Israel.  When the nation saw the bloody evidence of this horrible act, the tribes of Israel wanted revenge and 400,000 men gathered at Mispah, determined to deal with the what happened in Gibeah.   Except for the tribe of Benjamin.  They didn’t come to Mispah because the crime happened in one of their cities - Gibeah.  Angered at the thought of Benjaminites harboring rapists and killers, the 400,000 hastily took three vows.

            Vow One - No one will go home until Gibeah is destroyed.

            Vow Two - Anyone who does not join against Gibeah will be killed.

            Vow Three - No one will allow his daughter to marry a Benjaminite.

            In their rush to seek revenge I’m reminded of a line from Shakespeare - “Heat not a furnace for you so hot that it do singe yourself,” which is exactly what the Israelites ended up doing by making these rash vows, but more about that in chapter 21.  For now remember the three vows. One - Level Gibeah.  Two - Join the fight or die.  Three - No one may allow his daughter to marry a man from the tribe of Benjamin.

            So Civil War broke out in Israel and it was 11-1, the tribe of Benjamin against the rest of Israel, and we come to the end of chapter 20 with Gibeah destroyed, 40,000 Israeli soldiers killed, and the tribe of Benjamin reduced to six hundred men, no women no children, just 600 men.   These 600 headed for the hills and hid out at the Rock of Rimon.

            Now chapter 21 - Reaping the Results.  Four months later, when their anger against the Benjaminites began to subside, the Israelites woke up to the fact that they had grossly overacted.  If they pursued and killed the 600 Benjaminites hiding in the hills, they would wipe out one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and they did not want to do that, but they had a problem.  Vow three.  They had made a vow not to give any of their daughters to the men of Benjamin.  The Benjaminites could not marry Gentiles because that was forbidden, and all the Benjaminite women were dead.

            Well, they came up with a cruel plan.  You see, they had discovered that the remote northern area of Jabesh-Gileag had not sent anyone to fight against the tribe of Benjamin.  That was probably due to the fact that they lived in such a remote region that news did not reach them about the battle, but whatever the reason the Israelites saw this as way around Vow 3.  They went back to vow 2 - fight or be killed - and sent 12,000 Israeli soldiers to Jabesh-Gilead to kill everyone except the unmarried women.  That solved part of their problem.  It provided 400 Israelite wives for the Benjaminites, but 200 more men were still without wives.  So they hired a legal firm to do some work on vow 3 and the legal experts determined that the vow only prohibited giving daughters to the tribe of Benjamin.  It did not prohibit Benjaminite men from kidnapping some Israeli women and taking them as wives.  So the legal eagles told the Benjaminite men how they might kidnap some Israeli women at a festival at Shiloh, which they did.  Let’s read about the kidnapping.  Chapter 21:23 ...


            The Benjaminites did so; they took wives for each of them from the dancers whom they abducted.  Then they went and returned to their territory, and rebuilt the towns, and lived in them.  So the Israelites departed from there at that time by tribes and families, and they went out from there to their own territories. 


            One biblical scholar, Gary Inrig, calls these final three chapters of Judges “The Ugliest Story in the Bible.”  Ugly as it is though, it has something to say to us.  In fact, we’ve heard it before.  Note the last line of the book. 


            In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.


            How could the farmer and the Levite tolerate heterosexual rape and not homosexual rape?  Because everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  How could the tribe of Benjamin protect violent sexual offenders?  Because everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  How could Israel think it was OK to massacre and kidnap innocent people in order not to break a vow?  Because everyone did what was right in their own eyes. 

            You know there is a 3,000 year wide gulf between the time of Judges and our time and modern technology makes the gulf appear even wider, and yet when we read this last verse the gulf shrinks.  Does it seems like that line could have been written about our times as well?

            Does the name Carlisle Marney ring a bell?   He was a great, non-traditional, renegade Southern Baptist pastor from a generation ago.  Marney was fond of repeating a joke he first heard at a meeting of Christians and Jews in Miami, Florida.  The ecumenical joke went like this:  The rabbi begins ... “thus saith the Lord!”  The priest begins ... “As the church has always taught” ... the average protestant begins, “Well, it seems to me.”

            What about us?  I’m sure we are all above average Protestants here.  After all, we are presbyterian, but for us “does it seem to me,” or “does it seem to God?”  Are our decisions informed by the witness of Scripture, the example of Christ and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit or is it simply our take on the matter?     

            I’m reminded of the story of a state patrol officer who came upon a terrible accident.  A car had run into a tree. There were four people in the car, unconscious and badly injured; a man and woman in the front seat, and two men in the back. There was a monkey hiding behind the tree. The police officer walked up to the monkey and asked, "Do you know what happened here?"  The monkey nodded his head.

            The officer pointed to the man in the front seat, and said, "What was he doing?" The monkey held up his hand to his mouth as if he were drinking.  The man pointed to the woman and said, "What was she doing?"  The monkey began to flap his fingers together to show that she was talking.

            He looked at the two men in the back seat and said, "What were they doing?" The monkey began to move his fists together to show they were fighting.  The police officer looked at the monkey and said, "And what were you doing?"  The monkey grabbed an imaginary steering wheel to show he was driving.

            Now when we have monkeys behind the steering wheel, a crash is inevitable.   That’s what happened to Israel some 3,000 years ago.  Does it seem to me or does it seem to God?  That’s always the pertinent question.