Judges 17-21: Perversion in Israel.

March 3, 2015.

Daily Reading: Judges 17-21.

Background: Judges 11-16.

Concepts and Connections.

Chapter 17

1. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”: The final section in Judges is one that might be very hard to read through, especially if you are not prepared for stories like these to be in the bible. The accounts laid out here are quite explicit and perhaps hard to palate. However, it is important to note that there is a general thought that appears several times in these chapters that gives us some insight of why these things happened. In verse 6, we see the narrator say “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” We will find some form of this phrase three more times in the chapters that follow (see 18:1, 19:1, 21:25). The final section in the book of judges really shows how far the children of Israel had fallen. They had rejected the Lord as their King, and each had turned to his own way. They had perverted covenants, gone after false gods and begun a time of chaos. Again, we must not take every action that is done here as divinely sanctioned, for the people were acting on their own accord and lusts, apart from the counsel of God (though there is an interesting point that we will get to in chapter 20 where it seems for a brief period of time, some do call on the Lord). These chapters show how far mankind will fall in a matter of years if they forsake God.

2. Perverting religion: We begin the final section of Judges with an interesting story that gives some insight to the human psyche, as a man name Micah, from the tribe of Ephraim, begins to pervert the way of the Lord. The background is a bit lacking as the story begins rather abruptly, but we can piece together that there had been 1,100 pieces of silver stolen from Micah’s mother and she was distraught about it, even uttering a curse (probably on the one who took her money). However, Micah reveals to his mother that he had taken the money and would return it to her, and her attitude towards the perpetrator seems to completely change. This is a trait that is not unique to Micah’s mother, as we too often have a bad out look on certain issues, but they can completely change when it is our children that partake in them. Another sign of inconsistency in his mother’s thought process is shown as she dedicates the part of the money that is restored to her to the Lord, but then turns around and uses it to make a carved image and a metal image. Micah continues down his line of perversion, setting up the image in his house along with an ephod and other household gods. He then ordains his son (who was not a Levite, the lineage of priests) to be a priest for him. We then get a feel of the author’s distaste for this practice as the first appearance (in this section) of the phrase examined above appears in verse six. Perhaps as somewhat of a relief to his own conscience (though the text doesn’t really indicate that Micah was ever burdened by his conscience when perverting the law), a Levite from the land of Judah happens to come by looking for a place to sojourn. Micah hires him to be a priest for his family. Though this is rooted in the law (the Levites were supposed to be the priests for the people), this was still a perversion of the law, as the metal images were still present, Micah “ordained” the Levite and the Levites were not given to be priests for individual people, but for different tribes of Israel. Many times perversion of truth in rooted in truth. We need to be careful not to get the two mixed up. This story seems to be indicative of the attitude and situation that the children of Israel had fallen into due to their falling away from the Lord their God.

Chapter 18

A perverted conquest: In continuation of the story of Micah (see previous chapter), chapter eighteens shows that it was not only individual houses in the tribe of Israel who had fallen, but entire tribes themselves. Here the Danites come by the house of Micah on their journey to find a place to dwell and take possession, for it is said that they had not received their inheritance yet. It is possible that this means that they had lost (or not driven all of the inhabitants out of) their inheritance that they received, recorded in Joshua 19:47-48, as possibly indicated in Judges 1:34. Though it was the will of the Lord to drive out the inhabitants of the promised land before the children of Israel, the Danites here take on a preverted quest, with no inquiry of the Lord (except from a hired priest, who was propagating a perverted religion), of a defenseless city who had no dealings with anyone around them. Further, the Danites stopped at the house of Micah and took his household gods and images from the house of Micah and hired the priest away again to be a priest unto them. Micah tried to get the gods and images back, but he realized the people of Dan were too strong for him, so he gave up. The Danites continued on their quest to take Laish, a quite and unsuspecting people, ultimately destroying the city and rebuilding it for themselves to live in. When they rebuilt the city, they set up the images they had taken from the house of Micah and continued on in their worship of false gods.

Chapter 19

Apostasy, atrocity and the crumbling of morality: If things didn’t seem bad enough in the previous two chapters, the rest of the book will certain display the atrocity and chaos that Israel had succumbed to as they drifted further and further away from their God. The story that we read in chapter 19 is perhaps the most explicit and violent stories in the entire bible. The opening verse reminds us of the mindset the people were in, away from their God, having no King to lead them into righteousness. The story beings with a Levite and his concubine, already likely noting his attitude towards her as she isn’t called his wife, who was unfaithful to the Levite (which could mean she was angry at him) and fled to the home of her father’s house in Bethlehem of Judah. The Levite goes to her father’s house to speak kind words to her and bring her back to him, ultimately staying with her father in merrymaking for five days. On the fifth night, though her father bid him to stay longer, he arose and took his concubine to journey back to his land. However, before he could return, he had to find somewhere to stay the night, for he had left late in the afternoon. He decides not to stay amongst a foreign people (which unfortunately might have fared him better), but rather seeks hospitality in Gibeah, a city of Benjaminites. The first signs of the perversion of the tribe of Benjamin appear when the Levite cannot find anyone to take him in. Finally, an old man who was sojourning in Gibeah, took him in, saying that he must not spend the night in the square (he likely knew to the wickedness of the people of the city).

Though the Levite finds shelter, the men of the city press hard against the old man’s house, much like the Sodomites did to Lot’s house when the angels came him (see Genesis 19:1-22), urging him to send the man out so that they could have sex with him. The old man is no hero, offering the men of the city his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine. This did not satisfy the men of the city, but when they saw that the Levite was not coming out, they indeed took his concubine and abused her (gang raped) all night. In the morning, we see the sickening indifference of the Levite as he tells his concubine, who was lying at the doorstep, to get up to begin their journey home. When he realizes she is dead, he cuts her body into 12 pieces and sends each throughout the tribes of Israel, provoking their indignation towards the tribe of Benjamin, specifically the city of Gibeah. This atrocity that had been done in Gibeah would lead to an all out civil war in Israel, between Benjamin and the rest of the tribes. It would seem that morality had hit one of its all time lows in Israel, allowing apostasy and chaos to run rampant.

Chapter 20

Civil War: After seeing the atrocity that had come from Gibeah of Benjamin, all Israel came out to see what the Levite had to say about the matter. When they heard his story, they took counsel and gathered together as one man, mustering 400,000 men who drew the sword to go up against Benjamin. They did give the tribe a chance, by first asking them to just deliver unto them the city of Gibeah where the atrocity had taken place, but the tribe of Benjamin refused. Then a curios thing happens. The tribes of Israel who had gathered against Benjamin inquired of the Lord who should go up to fight against Benjamin first. The story continues where as the Lord tells Judah to go up first, then encourages them two more times to go up, not giving the tribe into their hand until the third day. Note that the Lord does not always operate on man’s time frame, nor by his methods. Finally the men of Benjamin are given into the hands of the Israelites, and the entire tribe is nearly wiped out, leaving only 600 men who went into hiding in the wilderness. The atrocity of the men of Gibeah had lead to a civil war, which nearly wiped out an entire tribe of Israel. The cost of sin is great.

Chapter 21

Two wrongs (or three or four) don’t make a right: The civil war had left only 600 men (no women or children) of the tribe of Israel. When the people realized what the sin had cost the God’s people as a whole, they wept before the Lord. They had compassion on the tribe of Benjamin because they had been cut off, but there was nothing that they could really do about it. They had sworn not to give any of their daughters to the men of Benjamin, so they started to look for other ways to give them wives that they might repopulate. Though they cried to the Lord, they did not ask Him what they should do, but rather decided to take it upon themselves to make a plan. They had already decided that anyone who had not gathered with them to fight against Benjamin should be put to death, so they struck Jabesh-gilead, a city who had not assembled with them, with the sword, killing everyone except for their virgin daughters. They found 400 virgins in Jabesh-gilead to give to the 600 men left in Benjamin. However, there were still 200 men of Benjamin left. Again, without inquiry of the Lord, Israel decides that the remaining men of Benjamin should go out to Shilo, north of Bethel, where they hold a yearly feast to the Lord and kidnap the daughters of Shilo, each man his own wife, if they came out to dance in the dances of the feast. The rest of the tribes of Israel promised to take care of any backlash that would come from the brothers or fathers of the kidnapped daughters. Though there is likely a lot of unknown cultural background at play in this story, it would seem that the people of Israel were trying to correct a wrong (wiping out of a tribe of Israel) by committing other wicked acts (such as wiping out another city and kidnapping). Two (or more) wrongs do not make a right, and we are once again reminded at the end of this section that “in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Though the children of Israel showed some promise by asking the Lord who should go up to fight against Benjamin first, they had quickly deserted Him in the midst of chaos. The children of Israel had indeed fallen, and fallen hard. The book of Judges goes to show how far a people, even a chosen people of God, can delve into wickedness once they leave the Almighty. May we not follow in the steps of the children of Israel as depicted here.

Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 24-26.

Let us examine ourselves.

-Walter

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