Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's This Doing in My Bible?

Reading: Judges 19—21  
Do you ever read the Bible and wonder, “What is this doing in the Bible?” This is one of those sections. Yet, if we listen to the story, even this story of a Levite and his concubine points us to the Gospel. It helps if we read all three chapters together.

This section begins with a statement that we've seen before in Judges. “In those days Israel had no king.” And it ends with the same statement... completed. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” This story reveals the desperate need that even Israel has for a Redeemer. (See also Judges 17:6; 18:1)
This wasn't the first time “everyone did as he saw fit.” That began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rejected God's rule over their lives and did as they saw fit (Genesis 3:6). The accounts in Judges 19—21 are a good lesson in how capable we are of running our own lives, of directing the kingdom of ME. They reveal how desperately we need to come under the rule of God.
Judges 19 relates the story of a Levite and his concubine from Bethlehem. She was unfaithful to her husband. One does not need to speculate as to whether or not she is representative of unfaithful Israel allegorically, because that doesn't really matter—the whole story is about just how far we wander from God when left to ourselves. Israel needed guidance. Israel needed the rule of God over her. This man travels to Bethlehem to retrieve his wife from her father's house after she has left him.1
After his father-in-law detains him for several days he finally sets out late in the day. And this is where the story gives us the unexpected.
11When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, "Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night." 12His master replied, "No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah." 13He added, "Come, let's try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places." 14So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. 15There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into his home for the night. (Judges 19:11-15)
Our Levite makes what would appear to be the right decision by bypassing a city of pagans and going to a city of Israelites. His thinking was biblical: “Let's stay amongst brothers.” But there was no hospitality to be found amongst those fellow Israelites. Quite the contrary, not only did the Benjamites fail to provide basic love of neighbor in hospitality, when another man, an old man from the hill country, who happened to be living there at the time, invited them in the Benjamites commit deeds that would exceed even today's standards of “shock factor.” The scene that ensues (Judges 19:22-24) is nearly identical to the scene that occurs in Sodom (Genesis 19:4-8). However the final outcome is even worse. In short, this man's concubine was gang raped and left to die.
In the accounts that follow we find the destruction of this whole town essentially, and the near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin. Because of their sin, one of the whole tribes was about to be extinct. How true it becomes, “Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” (Isaiah 1:9) Benjamin will survive, but that is only the mercy of God. However, that is indeed true for all of us—unless the Lord saves a remnant by grace, all of us would perish. (For more on this, listen to The Lord Saves Those Unable to Save Themselves.
How often do we think we would do just fine if only we could make all our own decisions? Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit. It didn't work out so well. Of course, we discover when they get a king things go poorly too. There is only One King who can solve the problem of sin and transform a people. We must bow to Him.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Since the text refers to him as her husband, and I don't know much about the cultural difference between her being his wife vs. concubine, I am simply referring to her as his wife. The text says she was unfaithful, so there was some kind of vow or commitment between them.

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