Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Judges 19-21 In those days there was no king in Israel

From Judges 19-21

Jdg 19.1-21; Story; A Levite and His Concubine
Jdg 19.22-30; Story; Gibeah’s Crime
Jdg 20.1-48; Story; Israel’s War with the Tribe of Benjamin
Jdg 21.1-25; Story; Wives Provided for the Tribe of Benjamin

Passage and Comments
I feel a little uncomfortable quoting the passage because of the horrible things that happen. Yet it is God's word and we still need to engage with uncomfortable passages as well as passages that may offend us.

Now, Samson is the last judge described in the book of Judges. Samuel is a judges as well but he is in the next book. Without a judge to guide them the people of Israel are running riot. Over the next few chapters the author will repeat a telling reference to Israel's state.
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Jdg 17:6)
In those days there was no king in Israel. (Jdg 18.1)
In those days, when there was no king in Israel (Jdg 19:1)
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Jdg 21:25)
These phrases signify a few facts. Firstly, The LORD is the true king of Israel, but Israel has abandoned him as their king. Second, Israel has no king. Whether that be the LORD of a human king. These statements anticipate 1 and 2 Samuel where Israel moves from the time of the judges to the time of the kings. Lastly, because there is no king, Israel is running riot. Misbehaving. The text reveals this is subtle ways if you read it knowing the Jewish law. Idolatry, Priests for Hire, the tribe of Benjamin still without their inheritance, to name a few.

Our passage today picks up on the story of levite priest and his concubine. Bear in mind having a concubine is not legislated against in the Jewish law. So it was accepted practice in their culture. The levite and the concubine seem to have a heated argument and the concubine runs away. The levite pursues her and they reconcile. Eventually they visit her father who lavishes on the levite several nights of care, food and drink, all the while the levite tries to leave gracefully (Jdg 19.1-10).

Eventually he does leave and on their way home they decline to spend the night in the city of Jebusites (a foreign city), in favour of spending it at the city of Gibeah which belongs to one of the tribes of Israel, Benjamin (Jdg 11-14). When they got there 'no one took them into his house to spend the night' (Jdg 19.15). An ominous sign because it was shameful in their culture not to be hospitable. At evening an old man sees them and questions them and takes them into his house and cares for them (Jdg 19.16-21).

This is where we pick up our reading.
22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. 24 Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” (Jdg 19:22–24)
'Worthless fellows' is a term that crops up a number of ties in the Old Testament. Think - loud, criminal, bogun. They want to have sex with the levite. These loud, criminal, bogun's are homosexuals. The old mans response says a lot about Old Testament ethics concerning hospitality and sex. He says don't take the man, that would be wicked, vile and outrageous. Take my virgin (valuable for continuing pure family lines) daughter and his concubine. Are their lives at stake? Perhaps he is working on the lesser of two evils? Either way we cannot be happy with the situation. Most today may prefer to die.
25 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. 26 And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. 27 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. 28 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. (Jdg 19:25–28)
Perhaps they would have been better off in the foreign city of Jebusites? Look what Benjamin has become. The levite goes outside in the morning after the night of torture, speaks to his concubine and 'there was no answer'. The text wants us to read between the lines. They killed her. I think we are meant to imagine the emotions he was feeling at this point. Shock, unbelief, grief, .... anger. Angry enough to do something excessive to express his feelings about what has happened and the state of Benjamin. Perhaps even Israel.
29 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. 30 And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.” (Jdg 19:29–30)
By doing this the levite starts Israel's first civil war. The other tribes of Israel rally together and battle against the tribe of Benjamin (to remove their evil) finally defeating it (Jdg 20.1-48). Israel doesnt completely wipe them out, they have compassion on them and in a strange twist of fate help them find new wives.

Story of Israel
This was Israel's first civil war, but not its last. The most significant break in Israel's relations will follow king Solomon. His son king Rehoboam takes some poor advice and decides to rule his kingdom with an iron fist. There is a strong leader named Jeroboam, who leads a union like movement resulting in the separation of the nation into Israel (Jeroboam) and Judah (Rehoboam).

Ever since these two nations have had a poor relationship with one another. They each have their own kings, some are shining lights. But none compare to who is to follow. The promised king, who will unite Israel again and cause them to be faithful.

Story of Jesus
When Jesus came Israel was still in a state of mess. They needed to repent. They needed a king. After Jesus died and rose again, Peter sharing the gospel to the very people who crucified him said;
30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:30–32)
The repeated message in Judges about Israel lacking God's promised king to lead them cannot now be repeated. Jesus is the Christ. Peter says he is 'Leader and Saviour'. He is the king. He has brought repentance and forgiveness to those who believe.