Time of the Judges – Part 4
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005|
|How can we live faithfully when all around us are being unfaithful, corrupt, wicked?|
Time of the Judges – Part 4
This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His Word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen you walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.
Dr. Michael Easley: Growing up in the home I did, my dad is a depression era man. He died at age 88. He’d be 90 this year. And dad was a saver. I think I mentioned when he died we took a ton of material to the dump, a good friend of mine and I did. And going through a man’s life—I’ve done this three times now with friends and my father—it’s miserable to go through somebody’s stuff and have to deal with it. It’s full of mixed emotions. And the acquisition of material goods and what defines a person.
My dad saved everything. When we had a light, three-way lamp, go out, for example, and the little three-way switch was bad. Dad would take it out, meticulously roll the cord up and put it in an old cigar box. And one of 1,000 illustrations I could give you, when I opened the cigar box there were all these neatly rolled up broken three-way lamp switches. And because his mind says you never know when you might need it. And I took one apart and as I unrolled it, the brown cord just disintegrated. And it was illustrative of me of how we hang on to stuff, not just physical stuff, but stuff in general.
If I had three cardboard boxes up here, we hear a lot about the builder and the boomer and the yuppie and the X generation. What are we now? The generation Y, the newest one? And we’re always trying to define the proclivities of a mindset of a generation. But if I had three boxes up here, for my dad’s age I would put on the box “We made do with what we had.” And that was the mantra that I grew up under; we made do with what we had. And no matter how little they had or how much they had, they made do with it. They didn’t buy a lot of stuff even in my dad’s later years when he had money. He just, they lived a very simple lifestyle.
They never owned a plasma TV. They had the big CRT ones. My dad was a collector of trash, and he would find an old console TV in the field behind our house. He would bring it in. He’d refinish it and put 2×4’s in it and he’d sit a 19 inch colored TV set and put it across the room. That’s what dad did. And so, you know, sit there with binoculars watching television across this big room. And he had a 13 inch one in his bedroom that was, you know, deeper than it was wide, a black and white thing with the big antennas on it. He probably paid $12 for it, knowing my dad, but it was good enough. And we made do with what we had.
We fixed things. We never called a repairman. I can’t remember calling a repairman my entire childhood. If we didn’t know how to do it we figured it out. My job from about third grade to junior high was, it was one word, “Hold the light, boy. Hold the light, boy,” and I would hold the light while dad would fix things. And I remember lying under the ’66 Plymouth. “Hold the light, boy. I can’t see a blank thing if it’s in my eye. Hold the light, boy.” And I’d hold the light and we fixed everything.
He taught my oldest sister, my middle brother and me, “I want you to have it better than we did.” So my sister and my brother’s and my box says, “We have it better.” He was determined we got a college education. He was determined we stayed out of debt. He was determined that we worked. All of us have a very good work ethic, something that seems to be rarer and rarer these days in our children and grandchildren. And so Steve and Joanna and I learned to work very hard. And we have college degrees and the first homes we purchased were nicer than my parent’s final home. The cars we drive were nicer than my parent’s cars. My dad’s highest earning year was $22,000. I still remember him showing me his tax return. He was so excited he’d made $22,000. And Steve and I both made a lot more than that in our first jobs. I didn’t make much more, but a little more as a preacher. But Steve did very well and I’ve gone on to do very well in God’s great kindness, and we’ve done well with our kid’s educations and so forth and so on. Steve built huge custom home. Cindy and I built a custom home, and we have it a whole lot better than they did. We made do with what we had. We want you to have it better. And so our boxes are bigger and fancier.
And then the next box would be our children and grandchildren, and all I have on there is a question mark. I’m not quite sure what we’re telling them. The byproduct of what I see is very distressing and I don’t know what,… well, I do know what my great-grandparents told my mom and dad. But I don’t know the singular message that we’re giving to our children. I mean, without reserve we want you to have it better than we. I heard that again and again and again. Go to college, get an education. Get a job. Stick with that job. Do good work, because they didn’t have those opportunities.
And I wonder sometimes what I have, you know, my children, I tell them when they complain and whine today, “Tell it to your therapist. Tell it to your therapist. Go see a counselor. I can’t listen anymore. I can’t fix it anymore. I have told you again and again the same thing, so take that money and tell your counselor because you’re going to need it because I was your father.”
The passage we’re going to wind up with today in the last few sections of Judges, sort of picking up the narrative around Judges 19. In this narrative, it would probably be “R” rated if we really looked at it in great detail, so we’ll try and make it “PG-13” at some level. But this last section of Judges, going to the end of the book, is the box of what have we done to the next generation for Israel. They had seen God’s hand in the wilderness. They had seen signs and wonders, and those children died in the wilderness. And the next generation had not experienced those things, and their children’s children’s children had forgot the works of God. And we saw it in Samson. Where are the signs and wonders we heard of Egypt? Where are the signs and wonders we heard about our fathers? Where are those today?
Well, they saw; Samson was the hand of some of those signs and wonders. And there were others that would happen in Elijah and Elisha’s time. But men and women wandered from God, and that’s what we pick up in chapter 19. Let me just read the first four verses: “It came about in those days when there was no king in Israel,” no monarchy, “there was a certain Levite staying in the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, who took a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah.” How much is wrong with that first verse? “But his concubine played the harlot against him, and she went away from him to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah, and was there for a period of four months. Then her husband arose and went after her to speak tenderly to her in order to bring her back, taking with him his servant and a pair of donkeys. So he brought him into her father’s house, and when the girl’s father saw him he was glad to meet him. And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, detained him and remained with him three days. So they ate and drank and lodged there. And the fourth morning, early in the morning, he got up and prepared to go and the father’s going to sustain them a little longer.”
We have an unknown, unfaithful Levite who has got an unfaithful concubine. It’s a perfect storm, if you will. And this, we need to speak a little bit about this ignoble class of concubines. They were not prostitutes and harlots. They were almost a wife, but not quite. There’s an enormous amount of scholarship around the whole aspect of concubines and what the kings did and so forth and so on, but this is a little more than a prostitute, less than a wife, but much more than just a prostitute. So these concubines were part of Israel’s learning from other nations. They weren’t to have them. And certainly a Levitical priest wasn’t to have one. It’s worse than that because she plays the harlot. So we’re seeing again everyone’s doing what is right in his own eyes.
Now she goes to her father’s home. And we don’t know all the reasons why, but some of the shame perhaps involved. And he goes to woo her back. And so when we see right at the beginning of this section of Judges there’s no king; we’ve got a Levitical priest whose got a concubine he shouldn’t have; and if that’s not bad enough, the concubine’s even degraded in her own behavior. When they wander they’re unprotected. And the story; I’m going to jump down to verse 10 in the story line.
The father tries to detain them and finally he leaves, “But the man was not willing to spend the night; he arose and departed and came to the place opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem,” the Jebusites, you know that name, “and there were with him a pair of saddled donkeys; his concubine also with him. And they were near Jebus, and the day was almost gone; and the servant said to his master, ‘Please come, and let us turn aside to the city of the Jebusites to spend the night.’ However, the master said to him, ‘We will not turn aside to the city of foreigners who are not of the sons of Israel; we will go as far as Gibeah.’ He said to his servant, ‘Come let us approach one of these places; and we will spend the night in Gibeah of Ramah.’ So they passed along and went their way, and the sun set on them near Gibeah which belongs to Benjamin. There they turned aside in order to enter a lodge in Gibeah.”
“When they entered, they sat down in the open city, the open square of the city, and no one took them into the house to spend the night. Behold, an old man was coming out from the field of his work that evening. Now the man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was staying in Gibeah, but the men of the place were Benjamites. He lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square in the city and the old man said, ‘Where are you going and where do you come from?’ And he said, ‘We’re passing from Bethlehem and Judah to the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, for I am from there and I went to Bethlehem and Judah. But now I’m going to my house, and no man will take into his house. Yet there is both straw and fodder for our donkeys, also bread and wine for me, your maidservant, and the young man who is with you and your servants; and there’s no thing lacking.’ The man said, ‘Peace to you. Only let me take care of your needs; however, do not spend the night in the open square.’ So he took him into his house and gave the donkey’s fodder, washed their feet, they ate and they drank.”
In the first century, in the ancient world this was the B & B of the way things worked. You went to an Israelite city and you stayed in the open square for a while and people would say, “Come and stay with us.” There were no hotels and motels. This is how it worked. It was a communal lifestyle. It was a tribal, a clan lifestyle and they took care of one another. So they’re wandering from God and they’re wandering unprotected and they’re unwilling to stay in one city. They want to press on a little further to Gibeah where the Benjamites are, and no one is reaching out to them.
Verse 19: “There was no lack of anything.” The Levite actually has far more need than he understands, and there’s a little bit of self-sustaining here, because I’ve got all I need. I’m just going to spend the night here. No, you can’t, because you’re unprotected and you’re wandering from God. In verses 21 to 22 the narrative moves very swiftly and this old man pulls them in to protect them. But then we see when women and men wander morally.
Let’s pick it up in verse 22. “While they were celebrating,” because this old man’s got these guests and they’re talking and breaking bread, “While they were celebrating, behold the men of the city, certain worthless fellows surrounded the house, pounding on the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man said, ‘Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him.’ Then the man, the owner of the house, went out to them and said, ‘No, my fellows, please do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not commit this act of folly. Here is my virgin daughter and his concubine. Please let me bring them out and you may ravish them, do to them whatever you wish. But do not commit such an act of folly against this man.’ But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and brought her out to them; and they raped and abused her all night until morning, and let her go at the approach of dawn.”
“As the day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of the master’s house where the master was, until full daylight. When her master arose in the morning he opened the door of the house and went out to go out his way, and behold, his concubine was lying at the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold. And he said, ‘Get up and let us go,’ but there was no answer. Then he placed her on the donkey and the man arose and went to his house. And he entered the house, and he took a knife and laid hold of his concubine and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, ‘Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from this day and when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel, speak up!’”
Now it’s hard to go into this in detail for many obvious reasons. But the act of folly is, it almost sounds like a euphemism. This is a horrendous thing. All implications from what they’re demanding of the man and why this old man would substitute his daughter and this man’s concubine just, when you wander from God further and further, less makes sense. You wander from Him morally. You wander from His protection when you wander from the law.
It’s hard to understand this story no matter how you exegete it. But one thing that does come to mind; I get a hint of why the concubine left the priest in the first place. Because if he sees her in the morning and says get up, let’s go, that’s all he says. And the graphic picture is she’s lying with her hands on the threshold. She’s crawled her way back to the door and died. And so his resolve: limb by limb. The literal phrase is, limb by limb according to the bone. Now, there’s probably a little illusion here. When a priest was to sacrifice an animal they didn’t cut the bones. They learned to cut the joint. When a butcher has a big saw in a butcher shop he just cuts through the bone. But if you’re going to field dress an animal, if you’re going to cut a cow the way you’re supposed to, you cut through the soft tissue around the joint and you take the whole shoulder, the whole hip, whatever. You just don’t cut through the bone. So there’s a little surgery in the language here which indicates he knew his trade as a priest. So the illusion is he’s turning her into a sacrifice.
The 12 pieces, of course, one for each tribe, and he’s going to send these pieces out to the tribes of Israel. And these gruesome parcels will arrive and this will begin something that we have never seen before. Verse 30, “Consider it, take counsel and speak up!”
Chapter 20, “Then all the sons of Israel from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead come out, and the congregation assembled as one man to the Lord at Mizpah.” Now Dan and Beersheba is an acronym like saying from New York to LA. Dan is the northern most part of Israel, and Beersheba would be in the south. So when you say from New York to LA or from, what would you say? I mean, from north, south, east to west, that’s the expression, all the land. So if you look at those maps in the back of your Bible with the 12 tribe allocations, Dan has gone the farthest north and Beersheba is the farthest south. And so that he spreads these bloody parcels all around so that all of Israel is going to get this delivery.
Now, the men of Gibeah, they’ve done a lot of things wrong here. The sexual relativism is one big part of the problem. And it epitomizes a culture that is doing right what is in their own eyes, bookended with a priest who’s got a concubine. So we see the continued progression of sin and the dark days of the Judges.
Jot down a couple of references. I’m not going to read them, but jot down Leviticus 18:6-22, and Romans 1:24-32. Immorality of any kind is a sin. And part of the problem with immorality is we’ve defined it against a wrong standard. We live in a culture where we are told a person is, their identity is, my identity is a homosexual. My identity is I’m gay, transgendered. And we have taken this clear now into the government, into the military, into corporate world where that’s your identity.
Regardless, the commentary on the sin, politics and war and how we’ve gotten there, think through what we have said as a sociological identifier. “My sexual leaning is my identity.” What stops me from saying my identity is a pedophile? You cannot make me not be a pedophile. My identity is a womanizer. Every man in this room would have to confess under bright white lights and truth serum I’m a womanizer. We’d have to. If we acted out on that identity our lives would be very different than being faithful to our wife all of our lives. So we can’t say “I’m made this way.” If a person is, I mean, take any sin, if we say that’s my identity; no, that’s not your identity, that’s your struggle. That’s your sin. That’s your temptation, money, sex, power.
My identity is in Christ or not in Christ. My identity is being controlled by my sin. My identity is not a proclivity or a persuasion or “God made me this way.” If He did, we would all have wonderful excuses to live out any kind of life we want.
The interesting part of sexual immorality and sin is what many have observed, the law of diminishing returns. And this is why heterosexual monogamy is God’s gift to mankind. Because within the confines of heterosexual monogamy, it is a holy thing. But once we’ve pushed that envelop in any way outside heterosexual monogamy it becomes the law of diminishing returns. You can never fulfill and satisfy, nor sustain a relationship. Anyone who gets married, and I know a young couple getting married tonight, Bubba and Erin, and they’ve been dating for a while. And we, some of us remember, we remember getting married. We remember the one thing on a man’s mind when he’s getting married. That’s all. You know, I say we marry in lust and then we learn to love. Right, let’s just be truthful. And so then we start learning what it really means.
But our culture has turned this into something that is, we think it’s crazy and worse than ever, but the Canaanites had it just as bad. They didn’t click on an iPAD or a smart phone, but they had the Asherah and they had the Canaanite fertility gods. And so they were deeply ingrained in their culture. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers”—and if you’ve ever heard Chuck Swindoll preach, he says, that does not say “Swindolls”—“nor swindlers shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God.”
What great news! “Such were some of you.” Your identity is no longer a thief, effeminate, homosexual, adulterer, idolater, drunkard, covetous, revilers, swindlers. No longer; because in Christ, such were some of you. So I cannot be identified by that standard. For Israel the Baal worship and the immorality was what snared them; and if we can bring it to America it’s immorality is alive and well in our culture, is it not? As I said earlier, I think yesterday, all sin is an illegitimate means to a legitimate end. All sin is an illegitimate means to a legitimate end. If I want intimacy with God, with people, with my wife, there are proper ways to have holy, good intimacy. Everything else is a false approach to that.
I need money and material goods and food to have a life, and the acquisition of those things is fine. But a greed or avarice or an insatiability to those, it’s an insatiable thing and I can’t ever satisfy it in sin. The ultimate spiritual intimacy is found in God’s design, not sin’s perverted design.
The decline of sin in the priesthood and how this affects the judge, I just wonder, when the book is being recorded and this is going on, are there any Jews anywhere that are saying, you don’t have a concubine as a Levite priest? You don’t turn over your daughter and a woman to a pack of wolves? And in Ruth 1:1 we’ll read, “In the days when the judges were judging.” You’ve had a kinsmen redeemer, and a Moabite convert who believes the rumor of God is still true, but that’s the glimmer in the darkness of the 350-410 years of the demise of Israel in the book of Judges.
Morality has become a hard thing to define. And it’s harder and harder. All my kids are, my 28 year old and my 17 year old have been raised in a culture where homosexuality is considered norm and an identity and who people are. And they all have friends and they know kids who are involved in all of it. And it’s been interesting as a parent trying to help them navigate when they bring home a friend. One of my daughters brought home a friend that she allegedly was bi-sexual and trying to love her and yet say, is this a good influence for my daughter to be around her? Is my daughter going to influence her?
We know, I don’t know where in the Bible to find the answer to that one. I could play hard handed and I could say, “You can’t have her over to be your friend.” And you know what she’s going to do? She’s going to go around my back and be her friend. And I can love her, but that causes conflicts for me internally. Sin’s a messy business. It’s a messy business. There’s no simple answers to some of this stuff. But I have to have the courage to say, to teach my kids, this is not right. You can love him or her, you can be their friend, but you can’t, this can’t be a primary relationship for you. I’m glad for you to hang around.
You know, anybody’s welcome at our table. Our two oldest kids, they always had,… I have a picture in one of our houses in Illinois from the upstairs looking down and there were 70 kids in Young Life in my basement. There were 140 shoes on this rug in our house. I took it, just, didn’t take the kids. I couldn’t standing in the basement; the smell of that many teenagers in one room is, it’s a science project. I mean, that’s something you could analyze, but it’s just. Anyway, but I have these pictures of shoes. And the two older ones always brought their friends around. The two younger ones want nothing to do with bringing their friends to our home.
Our parenting hasn’t changed. The culture’s changed. And how to engage and stay involved in it, and in one generation from “we made do with what we had” to “we want you to have it better,” to “what am I putting into my kid’s box, spiritually, morally?”
One of my kids came home from high school one time and said, “Dad, I mean, I know what the Bible says this about homosexuality, but, I mean, if a person’s made that way, I mean, if they’re made that way.” This is in a really good school too. And I have to control my lack of diplomacy and go, “What are they teaching you? Well, let’s go through identity.” You see, if you have the wrong standard you’re going to have the wrong outcome.
Cindy and I, one of the many things we’ve done is taken classes together. We took a stained glass class together which was quite fun, many, many years ago. And the first thing you do is you make a box. And then if you make a box you go from there, because it’s all, it’s like anything; you have to get certain skill sets. So we were going to make like a Tiffany lamp for over our kitchen table. And so I was really good at the foil and the soldering. And so Cindy was doing the cutting and the grinding. And the problem is, the way Cindy measures is not exactly real precise. So sometimes I got about an eighth of an inch joint; sometimes I’ve got about a half inch solder and I’m going, “Honey, we can’t do this together.” She goes, “Well,” so then we have the argument, you know. We had the argument about when you cut that glass you’ve got to measure it just right. Because if you cut it a little different each time then my Tiffany lamp is going to be, you know, like this.
And you know where that Tiffany lamp is today? In a box about one third completed and it will never be finished because the pieces were cut wrong and I ran out of glass and patience. If the standard of measurement is different for each of us the outcome’s going to be different. So this is the standard we’re trying to help our kids and grandkids understand. And you can’t have a Levite with a concubine, and you can’t have an old man giving his daughter and a concubine to the culture.
I have a number of parents who’ve had kids that have come out and said “This is who I am and what I am.” And I often wonder if we’ve given our children to the culture and they sacrificed her? It’s rich irony, pungent irony. Gave her to the culture and then sacrificed her to the culture.
Well, national outrage will follow, chapter 20. “The sons of Israel from Dan to Beersheba,” north to south, “including Gilead, came out as one man to the Lord at Mizpah.” Mizpah is southwest of Bethel and it is within Benjamin’s allotment. That will make sense in a moment. “The chiefs of all the people, even of the tribes of Israel, took their stand in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 foot soldiers who drew the sword. (Now the sons of Benjamin heard that the sons of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the sons of Israel said, ‘Tell us, how did this wickedness take place?’ So the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered answered and said,” and he explains the story.
And then verse 6, “‘I took hold of my concubine and cut her into pieces and sent her throughout the land of Israel’s inheritance; for they have committed a lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. Behold, all you sons of Israel, give your advice and counsel here.’ Then all the people arose as one man, saying, ‘Not one of us will go to his tent, nor will any of us return to his house. But now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up against it by lot. And we will take ten men out of one hundred throughout the tribes.’” So they’re going to this allotment. “They will punish the tribes of Benjamin.”
Verse 11: “Thus all the men of Israel were gathered together against the city, united as one man.” Now, what’s interesting in the book of Judges is that this is the first time they’re united. Up until this point everyone has done what is right in his own eyes. So this is a pivotal point in the narrative; all the men of Israel are united by this crime and now for vengeance.
“The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the entire tribe of Benjamin, saying, ‘What is this wickedness that has taken place among you? Deliver up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove this wickedness from Israel.’ But the sons of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the sons of Israel.” What was once a felony is now going to become a war. It’s going to become a civil war. Foolish, stubborn, arrogant Benjamin.
“The sons of Benjamin gathered from the cities of Gibeah, to go out against battle to the sons of Israel and from the cities. On that day the sons of Benjamin numbered, 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, 700 choice men.” These are left handed, if you remember a little bit of the story earlier in Judges. We didn’t look at it, but Eglon and Ehud, he’s a left-handed Benjamite. They were, we might call them the SEALS. The Benjamites were extraordinary warriors and they were proud of it and they’re so proud of it they’re not afraid to go against the entire nation. And they’ve got the moxy to do it.
“Now the sons of Israel,” verse 18, “arose and went up to Bethel.” What’s Bethel stand for? They’re going up to the house of God, El-Elohim, El-Shaddai, that’s Elohim and Beth, the house of God. They go up to the house of God “and they inquired of God, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the battle of the sons of Benjamin?’”
Now there are three campaigns that are going to follow. I’m going to briefly go over them. Verse 21: “The sons of Benjamin came out to Gibeah and felled to that ground 22,000 men of Israel.” Wait a minute! Benjamin is the guilty tribe. They killed 22,000 of their kinsmen. Verse 22: “But the men, the people of Israel, encouraged themselves arrayed for battle in the place where they had arrayed the first day. The sons of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until evening, inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall we draw near for battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin?’” This is civil war.
“The Lord said, ‘Go up against them.’ The sons of Israel came out against Benjamin a second day. Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah the second day and they felled to the ground 18,000 of the sons of Israel. Then all the sons of Israel and the people went up and came to Bethel and wept; and remained there and fasted that day until evening. They offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,) and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, Aaron’s son, stood before them to minister in those days saying, ‘Yet, shall I yet go against battle to the sons of my brother Benjamin or shall I cease?’ And the Lord said, ‘Go up tomorrow, I will deliver them into your hands.’ So Israel sent men in ambush around Gibeah. The sons of Israel went up against the sons of Benjamin on the third day,” and this time they’re going to succeed.
Drop down to verse 34. “Ten thousand choice men from all Israel came against Gibeah. The battle became fierce; but Benjamin did not know that disaster was close to them. The Lord struck Benjamin before Israel, so the sons of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day, all who drew the sword.” Jump back to verse 15. There are 26,000 men, plus 700 choice, so the numbers are getting thin.
Verse 36: “The sons of Benjamin saw they were defeated. When the men of Israel gave ground to Benjamin because they relied on the men in ambush whom they’d set against Gibeah.” Verse 43: “They surrounded Benjamin, pursued them without rest and trod them down to the opposite of Gibeah toward the east; 18,000 men of Benjamin fell; all these were valiant warriors. The rest turned and fled to the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon. There they caught 5,000 on the highways, they overtook them at Gidom and killed 2,000. So Benjamin who fell that day were 25,000 who drew the sword; and these were valiant warriors. But 600 turned and fled toward the wilderness and remained four months.”
Verse 48: “The men of Israel turned back against the sons of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city, the cattle and all they found; and set on fire the cities that they had found.”
So we’ve gone from an atrocity to a civil war and they’re killing brothers. If you’re a student of the Civil War when you read some of Lincoln’s writings it is gut wrenching. D.L. Moody would go to the battle lines and he would preach the gospel. When Lincoln was running for president he was going around speaking to the troops on both sides and it was a horrible time to watch Americans killing Americans. How much more the people of God killing the people of God, the sons of Israel, the sons of the tribes that God has allotted and chosen?
Why this national tragedy? Why did these things happen? Chapter 21: “The men of Israel swore at Mizpah, saying, ‘None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage.’ So they came to Bethel, the house of God, and sat there before God until evening and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. They said, ‘Why, O Lord God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that one tribe should be missing today in Israel?’” They’ve just killed them all, but now they’re lamenting. “It came about the next day the people rose and built an altar and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. The sons of Israel said, ‘Who is there among the tribes of Israel who did not come up for the assembly concerning the great oath who was taken? He shall surely be put to death.’”
We’ve got a little diversion here. Let’s pick up in verse 8. “‘What one of their tribes of Israel who did not come up to the Lord at Mizpah?’ And behold no one had come from Jabesh-gilead.” Verse 10: “The congregation sent 12,000 valiant warriors there, commanding, ‘Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the sword, the women and the little ones. This is the thing you shall do: you shall utterly destroy every man and every woman.’ And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man.”
So what they’re doing is they’re going to find women for these men. And it’s a little bit of a complex story, but I’ll just explain it to you. They can’t give their daughters to the Benjamites who are alive, so they’re going to go kill a people and take the virgin daughters and give them as an allotment. They’re still 200 wives short, and so they do this very strange thing at the end of the chapter where they can’t give their daughters to be wives, but they let the Benjamites come and take them away, sort of like kidnap them, and thus Benjamin will not be exterminated as a tribe.
A couple of observations. Revenge gives way to remorse. At some point they come to their senses. There is no consensus on what they’re doing. It’s a Qur’an being burned type of reaction. And the people of Israel go crazy. But revenge gives way to remorse, and they build an altar, as we read in chapter 21, verse 4, and they give sacrifices to that. And they finally get some wives for them. But Benjamin will always be a limping tribe because of this all throughout the rest of it.
What united Israel is the national tragedy, and that’s what I think the book is ending on. It took 410 years literally, 400 years for them to get to this point where what’s going to unify them is this atrocity. It is frightening to think of World War II or 9/11 as a unifying factor. World War II was different. If you’ve not read Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation, you should. It is an extraordinary read, no matter what you think of Tom Brokaw. It is an extraordinary book. I loved the book, and the DVD that came with it. And you understand why you are, and your parents were, the greatest generation. They sacrificed. They said yes, sir. They went and served their country. They didn’t kick against the goad. They didn’t whine like the Vietnam generation did. They didn’t hate the government. They said, “It’s our duty.”
And they didn’t talk about it when they came home. And you had to pry it out of them to find the stories. If you’ve not seen The Band of Brothers, that’s what’s so great is the interview caveats at the end of each show when he’s talking to these men that they made the stories around.
9/11 was different. My daughter, oldest daughter, was in a Fairfax school in northern Virginia, and the church I served was near Washington DC, just south of the Pentagon, about 10 minutes. And when 9/11 occurred we all remember where we were. And we were in a pastor’s meeting Tuesday morning, a cool crisp September morning. And someone said “There’s a fire in the Pentagon.” And we rolled a TV in and plugged it into the cable outlet and we’re watching pictures of the Pentagon. And they cut away to this plane going into the Twin Towers. And before long all of us are clinging to our cell phones because we probably had, oh, conservatively 350 families who, husband, fathers or moms were at the Pentagon that day, plus. And we had a Christian school of 460 kids, probably half of them were DOD and government related kids. And so we went into just auto-pilot calling everybody we knew and finding out where people were.
And of course they shut down the freeways, and people were staggering home from 9/11 that day walking. A lot of them came to the church and we helped them. We evacuated the staff and the kids without a plan, and in about 90 minutes we had the facility evacuated and locked down because that’s how the military do things.
And I can still remember, I can remember that day. I can remember going to a house of a woman I had not met before, and her husband’s remains were never found. I can remember going to see Brian Birdwell the next day. Some of you know Brian Birdwell, and that was the true story when President Bush went and saluted Brian Birdwell who looked like a mummy wrapped in gauze head to toe with second and third degree burns over 60% of his body—who, by the way, is a Texas state senator today, Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell. A fascinating story.
He and his wife wrote a book called Refined by the Fire. For a long time they had a ministry just going to burn centers. And he would go in the children’s units and he would take off his shirt and let the kids feel him, 30 something surgeries. It’s just, you know, if you’ve been around a burn patient, his mobility is about like this and his ears and nose and part of his head are all appliances. And it hasn’t slowed him down any, let me tell you that. But it sure was a percussion in their life for a lot of years.
My daughter was in this very liberal school at the time when you couldn’t pray and the FCA couldn’t go on campus. A student pastor couldn’t go on campus. You had to leave your Bible at the door, so to speak. They could do “See you at the pole,” but that was all they could do. Hanna came home from school that day and she said, “Dad, we prayed in school today and nobody stopped us. Teachers were crying and we were praying in the hallways at Fairfax County School System.” A national tragedy, okay; the rules go aside. We’re going to pray; it brings you together.
In DC we heard drones for the first time. You guys may remember that. We could hear them over the church this roaring thing. National was the last airport to let planes start flying again. I think it was six-plus weeks, remember. It was a long time. It was quiet over the skies of Washington, DC. But you could hear those drones flying around. Oh, we came together.
That Sunday, three days later, it was Easter. We had gone from three to four services that Sunday. I’ll never forget it, and they were standing; all four services were packed, and people were standing all the way down the hallways and out in the parking lot. They couldn’t get in the building. A national tragedy brought them together, but it didn’t last, and they don’t remember.
Is a national tragedy more important than a spiritual tragedy? It seems the progression in Judges is: the spiritual tragedy is what allows the moral tragedy, and then what becomes a national tragedy, at least in the historical account at the highest level. So I would put the question another way. If you don’t humble yourself, God will.
We learn a lot from the book of Judges, and this is the lesson I’m reminded of as I read it. Because when judges were appointed for certain things, for certain times, then the cycle that we have on the back of that card to be a deliverer, they may or may not have done it well, but they all were flawed. And God is going to humble each one of them, their self-confidence, their pride. Twice Israel goes up. They heard an “okay” from God, but they go up in the wrong manner, and that’s a long story in itself. Just take it by faith that they did a lot of things wrong. And the last time they go up they quote, “succeed,” but they still lose because they’re killing their brothers.
So is it the self-confidence that gets them to their end? Chapter 20, verse 26: “The sons of Israel and all the people went up and came to Bethel, the house of God and wept. They remained there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening. And they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.” There is humility; there’s brokenness; there’s a repentance there.
What about you and me? I don’t know what the election’s going to hold. I don’t know what the future’s going to hold for us, but you know what? I can make a pretty good confident assertion we will not waste time fasting and praying and begging God for help. Sometimes we have the numerical advantage; sometimes we don’t. God doesn’t seem to care about that.
I have a friend that just went through a while back, a nauseating divorce. We went to seminary together. He’s one of these men I would call a friend closer than a brother. And he went through a nauseating divorce; it was miserable. And four children. A very long story, short; he went to counseling for a number of years. And I remember him calling me one time. He said he learned an insight from his counselor. He said you will not grieve until you stop protesting. You will not grieve until you stop protesting. And he was mad at his wife. He was mad at her friends. He was mad at God. He was mad at everybody. And when you’re a pastor and you go through a divorce you’re not a pastor any more, usually. So all that he had trained for and all his life of preparation and all the work he’d done as a para-church guy and seminary was gone. And he’s a salesman today.
And God’s still using him, but you cannot grieve until you stop protesting. That’s a $1,000 line. So when we protest against the culture, we protest against the government, protest against the laws of the land, we need to grieve, be broken hearted, to be humble, to be contrite. When’s the last time you did all the right things in the right way with the right numbers and had the wrong outcome? And if you’re a good student you will accept the humility of that and walk away with a lesson learned. Dave Ramsey has a funny statement. He talks about, he said he went bankrupt. He said I met Him in my wealth, but I got to know Him in my bankruptcy. I met Him in my wealth, but I got to know Him in my bankruptcy.
And I think the tapestry is such in the story of Judges, as we live long enough to look back on it, it makes more and more sense. It doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. It doesn’t mean it’s good. But the tragedy of the book ends with civil war and people dying. Chapter 21:25: “In those days there was no king in Israel; and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And Ruth 1:1: “It came about the days when the judges were judging,” literally, “there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah.” We just read about Bethlehem and Judah. “Who went to sojourn to the land of Moab and had, his wife had two sons.” So we have the little bright romantic story in the middle of the darkest days of Israel.
So what’s the moral of the story? We’re not a theocracy. Maybe we’re a Judeo-Christian country. I don’t know anymore. But I do know the standards haven’t changed. I do know the law and the rule of the Word of God hasn’t changed. I know we’re the keepers of it in our own sphere of influence. I know that you and I are charged as husbands and wives, as parents, as grandparents, great grandparents, as workers, employees, as friends, to live it out no matter how dark the culture is. And Ruth and Boaz give us the hope of the Savior. So in the darkest days of Judges a woman’s gleaning for existence and she becomes the line of Messiah.
Our lives are a vapor. They’re fog on a mirror and we try to make that clean bus station in heaven. So we’re living in the now, but not the then, and we live in a time of incredibly corrupt political issues, incredible sin in our culture, wars breathing around us everywhere we turn. Young 19 and 20 year old men dying on foreign soils for causes we can’t quite understand, and the fear that when we pull them out those countries will be no different than when we went. And all the twisted understandings of where we’re right and wrong and what we could have done, and should have done, and how we did it. There will always be sin. There will always be politics. There will always be wars. We will never be free of it. Jesus said, “There’ll be wars and rumors of wars, but that’s just the beginning.”
“Oh, this is a cheery message. Michael, thank you for ending our weekend this way. I’m so glad. I retract everything I said earlier in the sharing time.”
We have a King, the Lord of lords, the one true God, no other god, no other king. He is holy. He is loving. He is kind. He’s just. He’s merciful. He called you by name before the foundation of the world. He chose you to be His adopted son or daughter. You were on a freight train, as was I, headed to hell with no hand brake and no conductor, going straight down full speed. And in His great kindness He reached across and He introduced you to Himself. And you had an encounter with Jesus Christ, not because you were better than anybody else, nor I, in ways we will never understand until we see Him, and He pulled us off that train. And He said, “You are now My child.”
And the rest of humanity is still going at breakneck speed to hell. And so we have an opportunity in the fog on the mirror time we’re here to live in a culture like the Judges. I mean, could it not be any more fitting? Everyone’s doing what is right in their own eyes and there is no king. That’s why we have invented religions. We make up a religion. We make up a holiday.
So how do you live? On the back of your card there are a number of questions I hope you reflect on as you go home and read this and take some of this home and maybe a little more encouraging than the way I’m leaving you right now. How will God deal with a disobedient people? How will God’s people endure under the discipline? And maybe that’s what we’re doing now. How do we live faithfully in an unfaithful government? And what do we do with the generation that does not know God? There are good answers individually for all of us, to each of these questions. We can choose how we live even under the hand of discipline. We can choose how we teach our children. We can choose to be faithful even when the government is unfaithful. We can choose to be respectful and kind and speak the truth in love, but be firm and gentle and smile and stand on the truth. We can choose to do a lot of things in a culture that drives us all crazy. But whining and complaining and shooting each other doesn’t help. That’s how Israel ended it.
Prayer: Father, in heaven, it’s a somber book and maybe an unfortunate way to end a weekend of reflection. But it is our reality; we are in a culture that is crazy, in a world that has gone mad with people who want to kill us, with countries that would murder an entire ethnic group without pause, where megalomaniacs have nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, where governments are flawed and failing and seem unable to help. But You are the sovereign King. You are not walking heaven’s floor wringing Your hands. You are in control. You are not losing sleep as though You’ve slept. You are not worried, but You care and You love and You are yet sovereign. Help us in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the war, in the middle of the in-between, trust You like no other generation. For these men and women in this room as they go back home and when their kids and their neighbors and their grandchildren and their friends wring their hands and lament that they can smile and look at the future and know that You’re God. Remove our idols of government and the right man or woman in office and let us see the King of kings, the Lord of lords. And when we see You the things of this earth will not grow strangely dim, they’ll be gone. Give us a view for the long run. In Jesus’ I ask, amen.