Judges 20-21: No King
April 22, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The last line of today’s reading once again summarizes the chaos that is unfolding upon Israel: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). This time the chaos is intermixed with religious devotion and attempts to do what is right, but there is still chaos, immorality and decadence nonetheless.
The story is fairly rapidly told, though it must have been a series of disasters for those involved. First, the congregation of Israel gathers to decide what to do about the pieces of the concubine that had been sent to them (20:1-3). The Levite, still unnamed, tells the story of what had happened to his concubine (20:4-7)—here also he is called her husband, though previously he was her master, and she is still his concubine (20:4). Some aspects of their relationship were always inadequate at the very least. As he recounts the story, he leaves out the parts that make him look bad. He does not tell how she first fled from him; he does not tell of his days of drunken debauchery with her father; he does not tell how the men attempted to rape him (perhaps that was too embarrassing to relate); he does not tell how he had sent her to her doom (Judges 19). This is the kind of report a man gives who is covering his back, telling some of the facts and putting them in the best light to create the result that he wants—in this case, exacting revenge against the “worthless fellows” who had treated his concubine so horrifically.
Israel is horrified and determines to attack the Benjamites (20:8-11). First, they try to get the tribe of Benjamin to extradite the evil men, but the Benjamites refuse and so battle begins (20:12-14). Day one, Israel is defeated (20:15-21). Day two, similarly defeated (20:22-25). Day three, they have victory (20:26-48). Why did it take so long for them to gain victory? Their “inquiries” of God seem to grow in sincerity. First they inquire of “God” (20:18); then they inquired of “the LORD” (the covenant name for God, 20:23); then they fast and inquire of the LORD (20:26-28). More to the point, it seems that by this means God is teaching them that they are all at fault. The real justice being meted out is not just against the Benjamites, but against the whole of Israel. They are all in this together, and this horrible story of rape and murder is symptomatic of a wider spiritual disease throughout the people. There was no king, and everyone did as he saw fit (21:25).
When victory has eventually been won, at great cost, now the people face a different kind of problem. They had sworn not to give any of their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites (21:1), and so they fear that the tribe of Benjamin will become extinct (21:2-7). What to do? Should they break their vow? No, they decide they must not. So instead they decide to go after the tribe that did not join with them in the battle, Jabesh-Gilead, attack them, take away their women, and give the women to the Benjamites (21:8-15). One wrong is not made better by another wrong, and the end does not justify the means. There are still not enough wives to go around. So they encourage the young men to snatch women when the women go out to dance, and take them home forcibly (21:16-24).
In case anyone thinks that by describing these evil deeds the Bible is giving tacit approval, remember again the last line: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). Also, look ahead one page to the following book in the Bible: Ruth. Now there is a story that expresses God’s heart for women, placed judiciously after a series of stories where women have been treated abominably and the whole people suffered as a consequence.
The lesson of these two final chapters? Private sin has public consequences. Sexual immorality leads to social breakdown and violence. And the cause of all is a lack of submission to God and his appointed king who faithfully speaks God’s commands. Therefore, rejoice in the truth of God that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. And the king? King Jesus.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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