We have come to the end of the Book of Judges and it ends with a show of brokenness and depravity like we have not seen before in scripture. Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more bloodshed, here we are. Not only have we been reminded that Israel has done evil in the sight of the Lord but now we see that Israel has no king and everyone did as they saw fit. In other words, it was a free for all. Even the Levites have fallen prey to worshiping idols and some have even sold themselves as personal priests for various individuals and towns. They went to whoever was the highest bidder. The Levites were priests who could work from anywhere. Sometimes they were hired as family chaplains and soothsayers. Their presence was thought to bring good luck...like a lucky penny or a rabbit's foot. And, they were more than willing to work with idols.
The reading begins with the story of Micah who stole eleven hundred shekels of silver from his mother. When he returned them to her, she blessed him! And then she gave him some back to make them into an idol...a carved image. The word for carve here is the same word used in the Ten Commandments: you shall not make for yourself any carved images. You can hear the commandments breaking from here. But Micah was not done breaking commandments. He built a shrine, a house of worship that took the place of the true sanctuary where worship was supposed to occur. And, he then appointed his own son to be his private priest. His son was neither descended from Aaron nor was he a Levite.
The Levite from Bethlehem was looking for a place to live and Micah's offer was good for him. While this was occurring, the Danites were looking for a new place to live. The land they had been allotted butted up against the land of the Philistines and they could not drive the Philistines out of their allotted land. Once again spies were sent out to scout the land and the Danites found a quiet, unprotected, and prosperous place in the very north of the promised land. They defeated the people living in the land but on their way to move they ran into Micah’s priest. The Danites took all the idols of Micah, his ephod and shrine and hired the priest away from him. This brought the Levite greater prestige, yet another sign of how debased the conditions in Israel had become. The Levites were selling false spiritual advice to the highest bidder. And then things got really ugly. It is difficult to read the next couple of chapters.
The narrative of the Levites concubine is awful, but it cast a vivid light on the brutality of the times, and the disregard for human life. It also introduces the war against the Benjamites. It is clear the loyalty of the Israelites at this time was merely a tribal loyalty. There was no real Hebrew nation. Israel was at best a loose configuration of tribes around a central sanctuary, the tabernacle at Shiloh, which didn't seem to be of much importance. The cruelty and paganism of the narratives of Judges are often seen as a stumbling block to readers but it makes more sense if we look at them as the tragic judgement of God on a people who failed to keep their heritage of true religious faith by assimilating way too much into the culture of the surrounding peoples. Some call this the struggle between faith and culture. Faith lost for sure but the culture didn't fare too well either. What we see is that when evil isn't dealt with properly, it has a tendency to grow sin. The sin in the city of Gibeah eventually infected the whole tribe of Benjamin.
We begin with a Levite, a man who has been set aside to serve the Lord, taking a concubine. Concubines were considered lawful wives but were only granted food, clothing and marital privileges. Any children would be considered legitimate but because of her second-class status the children wouldn't share in the family inheritance. This particular concubine was unfaithful to her husband and ran home for protection. After some time, the Levite went to bring her back but he discovered he liked hanging out with her father. We see the careless attitude of the Levite here. His nation was so very far from God so how could he waste his time eating and drinking and making merry? During the period of the judges, it was dangerous to travel in the daytime and traveling at night was even more dangerous. His first mistake was leaving later in the day. He refused to stay in Jebus, home of the Jebusites, a city later called Jerusalem. The Jebusites were pagans so the Levite pressed on to Gibeah, in the tribe of Benjamin so he could stay with his own people. However, the men of Gibeah turned out to be as wicked as the pagans the Levite was trying to avoid.
Hospitality is a very big deal in the east and no stranger was to be neglected. The city square was a public area just inside the city gate and a traveler who sat there could expect an invitation to stay the night, but the Levite received no such invitation. The welcome offered by Gibeah was like the welcome of Sodom...an outrageous affront to the Levite and his concubine. What is different here is the Levites reaction. His concubine is abused until she is dead...a gruesome and despicable act. To make matters even worse there wasn't any remorse on the part of the Levite. He tossed her body on the back of his donkey, took her home, cut her up into 12 pieces, one for every tribe of Israel, and sent her off to the tribes. This gesture was pretty much a call to arms for Israel to punish the men of Gibeah who had killed his wife. In fact, he had a hand in her death as well.
His actions had the desired effect and all of Israel except Benjamin and Jabesh-Gilead gathered together to make war on the tribe of Benjamin. Over the course of two days the Israelites suffered the deaths of 40,000 men. The third day Israel changed their tactics and 25,100 Benjamites were killed. In addition, they put to the sword everything they found in the towns of Benjamin. The evil and destruction is astounding. And the few men of Benjamin who are left have no cities, homes, or wives. Israel's solution isn't much better than the fighting that has been going on. Kidnapping women for wives doesn't seem right either. This is bad all the way around. And the book ends with the haunting reminder that in those days Israel had no king and everyone did as they saw fit.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W