Gleanings from Judges [20]

Civil War in Israel – Judges 20-21

Judges 19 recounts the horrific event that took place in Gibeah. A group of thuggish perverts attacked a Levite, his servant, and his concubine wife. The wife was abused the entire night and died of her injuries the following morning. The Levite, as callus as he was by allowing that outrage to happen, hacks the woman’s body into 12 pieces, and sends them by messengers to the 12 tribes with a description of what happened.

Coming to chapters 20 and 21, the Bible records for us the military response.

1. The Rallying

Chapter 20 begins by noting that all of Israel came together. That was unique, because throughout Judges, generally a handful of tribes gathered together to face an adversary. Here in chapter 20, all the tribes from Dan to Beersheba presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, verse 2 states. The response was overwhelming with 400,000 foot soldiers gathering themselves together.

After the Levite tells what happened to his concubine wife, all the people united as “one man.” Everyone recognized the seriousness of the sin and they wanted the Benjamites to do the right thing by handing over the men who committed the terrible crime of raping the woman.

2. The Battles

What transpires are three major battles against the tribe of Benjamin. The leaders of Benjamin would not honor their request to hand over the criminals. Instead, they prepared for battle against the rest of Israel. There were 26,000 men. Seven hundred of them were proficient left-hand fighters.  That was an advantage, because those men were trained with the use of swords and sling stones with both their hands.

The First Battle: The people of Israel ask the LORD who will go first against Benjamin. God communicates for the first time and says that Judah will go first. When they go out to meet Benjamin, the Benjamites kill 22,000 men.

The Second Battle: After the people regather, they weep before the LORD. The LORD once again says to go up against Benjamin, and this time 18,000 more men were killed.

The Third Battle: Again, the people ask whether they should go up against Benjamin or cease from fighting and this time the LORD said that He would deliver them into their hand. For the third attack, they changed strategy. One group lured Benjamin out, while a second group set up an ambush to take the city. Benjamin, confidently believing they were winning, had no idea that disaster was upon them (vs.34). Once the army moved out of the city, the second group burned it to the ground. The Benjamites panicked and ran for their lives, only to be overtaken in battle and defeated. They were mercilessly slaughtered both men and beasts. Basically, Israel did to Benjamin what they were to do with the wicked Canaanites.

3. The Consequences

The defeat of Benjamin was nearly total. The tribe came close to extinction.The text states that roughly 600 men were left. As the survivors remained in hiding, remorse as to what happened confronts the other tribes. They see that there is no one left of the Benjamites and they have no wives. Additionally, all the 11 tribes had sworn an oath that none of them would give their daughters to the men of Benjamin. As they contemplated the consequences of nearly destroying the tribe of Benjamin, the 11 other tribes devise a bizarre solution.

First, they led an attack against the people of Jabesh Gilead. They were across the Jordan, far removed from the events leading up to the civil war with Benjamin. Israel commanded 12,000 men to attack the town and kill every man and woman except for the unmarried, virgin women. It was a terrible crime; however, from their attack, they retrieved 400 unmarried women for the remaining men of Benjamin.

Second. There still remained 200 men needing wives. They were directed to a yearly festival near Shiloh, north of Bethel during which the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform dances. They were to wait in hiding, and when the women arrived to dance, they were to snatch a wife and head back to the land of Benjamin. When the fathers and brothers complained of what happened, the other tribes would keep them off their back, as it were.

Both events demonstrate the gravity of sin. Within just a few decades, or at least the first hundred years after the conquest, the generations following those who conquered the land under Joshua, had become in practice like the Canaanites they fought. They were like all sinners, susceptible to being led astray.

But the entire book of Judges is a powerful testimony of how faithful God is to deliver. In spite of their sin and often when deliverance is unwanted.

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Gleanings from Judges [19]

The Outrage at Gibeah (Judges 19)

The last five chapters of Judges are better treated as appendices. They set the overall theme of the book that speaks to Israel’s canaanization. The events recorded in them take place early in Israel’s history in the land. Shortly after Joshua had died. They clearly record Israel’s ethical and religious apostasy, demonstrating a direct violation of the Ten Commandments.

Chapters 17 and 18 is the story of Israel’s religious apostasy. Chapter 17 begins by telling of a family making a household idol and dedicating a private shrine of worship. Additionally, a Levitical priest was commissioned to lead the worship of this idol by means of the shrine. Chapter 18 tells how an entire tribe abandoned the task of conquering the land assigned to them by the LORD. They move to where they were not to be and they take the priest as their personal, tribal priest.

Chapter 19 brings us to an episode that displays a severe moral and ethical apostasy of the people. The subject matter is so terrifying, there are not many sermons preached on the text. The story is a horror. A brutal, unimaginable crime against an innocent woman, followed by the callus, heartless response by her husband. It is the kind of happening that we only hear about from far away, lawless lands. Yet God had it recorded and preserved in Scripture to reveal the moral degeneracy of the people of God.

I. The Background

The chapter begins reminding us of the general spirit of the age: There was no king in Israel. People were living outside the law with no fear of punishment or recourse of any kind. Additionally, another Levite is mentioned. Levites were supposed to be spiritual leaders. The one tribe setting the spiritual standard for all the other tribes. They were to lead worship and teach the law and covenant. Yet in both accounts recorded in chapters 17-18 and here in 19, they have allowed extreme apostasy to take over a country.

This particular Levite had taken a concubine, what would essentially be a secondary wife. She was more than likely a young lady in her teens. Her primary duty would be to have babies when the first wife could not. Of course, she could have been a second wife after the death of the first. Whatever the case, she leaves her husband and returns home to Bethlehem.

Four months pass and her husband makes the journey to Bethlehem to retrieve her. He is welcomed by her father, who overdid the hospitality more than likely to make good on his promise on their arrangement of marriage to his daughter. After the fifth day, the husband is ready to get home. He packs up to leave for home and comes to Jebus (Jerusalem), but he did not wish to stay in for foreign territory he believed to be hostile. He presses on to Gibeah, and ironically, the Gibeans treat them worse than he feared the Jebusians would treat them.

When they finally reach Gibeah, no one offers to take them in. Finally, an older man from Ephraim opens his home to them. He even warns them not to sleep in the town square knowing what could possibly happen.

II. The Crime

What transpires next is difficult to recount. It reads almost word for word as the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. First, the men of the city gather at the door and wish to rape the Levite. The older man offers his own daughter, choosing hospitality protocols over the safety of his family. That response makes one wonder what sort of men would do such a terrible sin? The Levite tosses out his concubine to them instead.

The men sexually abuse her all night with unsurpassed cruelty. When they finally let her go, she is able to return to the door of the house, but dies before day break. When morning comes, the husband, ready to depart, tells her to “Get up, let’s go!” How did he even sleep? What sort of spiritual leader/husband allows his wife to be assaulted all night?

III. The Call to Arms

Discovering her dead on the doorstep, does stir some outrage in his heart and in a bizarre moment, he mutilates her corpse by cutting in to 12 pieces. He sends a piece to each of the 12 tribes of Israel along with some message as to what had happened. It was a call to arms for the men of Israel to join together in dealing with what happened at Gibeah of Benjamin.

This story is often mockingly retold by skeptics and atheists as a tale happening within a religious society. The so-called godly people allow their women to be mistreated. Wives and daughters are considered inferior and disposable. But the chapter is not about a religious society at all. It shows how God’s people Israel had plunged headlong into the depths of human depravity. Where God’s law doesn’t hold sway, God’s priests do not teach and warn, and God’s people quickly become like the world.

Gleanings from Judges [17]

The Downfall of Samson – Judges 16

It has been awhile since I last took up my devotional study of Judges. I come this time to the final chapter detailing the life of Samson. He was one of the last Judges of Israel, preceding Samuel, but slightly overlapping his life.

In a way, Samson represents what the Bible teaches us about the weakness of man’s heart. Proverbs 4:23 states, Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

The heart is understood in Scripture as being the true person. It is the mission-control center that directs and orients man in his worldview, his thinking, his overall course of life. Proverbs goes on to explain for us the need to keep watch over it. Mostly to prevent the perversity found in our hearts from escaping, thus revealing our sinfulness. At the same time, we want to take heed to what we bring into our hearts as well.

Samson is a warning. Though he did great exploits under the power of God, his moral life failed to avoid the pitfalls of personal sin involving women and lust. We this unfold for us in Judges 16.

I. Samson at Gaza – 16:1-3

Judges 16 really opens in 15:20, where it says Samson judged for 20 years. His 20 year judgeship began when God stirred him to action against the Philistines in chapters 14 and 15. For 20 years in between those chapters and chapter 16, he is said to have judged. We are not entirely sure how that played out. Any further exploits against the Philistines is not recorded. The events of chapter 16 are 20 years later, making Samson around 40 years of age.

Chapter 16 begins with Samson at Gaza, the furthest city from where he lived, nearly 40 miles. While he is in the city, he visits a prostitute, a stark reminder of his major character flaw. Becoming cocky, or perhaps feeling invincible, he is forgetting where his abilities truly lie.

Someone in Gaza recognizes him and alerts the Philistines that he is there among them. They set up an ambush, but Samson is able to sneak past them. He lifts the massive city gate from off its foundations and carries it up toward Hebron, reminding the Philistines who he is.

II. Samson and Delilah and the Philistines

Though God was merciful in delivering him from his iniquity, Samson quickly falls into another snare. He loved of a non-Jewish woman of Sorek, essentially another Philistine like the one he attempted to marry in chapter 14. A woman of the very uncircumcised enemies God is stirring up against Samson.

Delilah’s name is uncertain. It means something like, “of the night,” meaning an unnamed woman who is merely another prostitute. Or it is the way the biblical writer is reminding the reader that it was a person of spiritual darkness. Whatever the case, she is different for Samson, because he keeps coming back to her.

The Philistines, however, are crafty. They hear of their affair and the main lords of the Philistines offer her a massive reward 1,100 pieces of silver from each lord, combining to make 5,500 pieces. (3 times what Gideon got in gold, 1,700 shekels). It is clear that the Philistines are desperate to rid themselves of their menace.

What follows is Delilah, over the course of four encounters, slowly uncovering the secret to Samson’s strength. Each time she asks Samson to explain how he could be overcome or bound. First, he says that if he were tied up with seven fresh bowstrings, then if he were tied up with fresh ropes, then if he weaved his hair into seven locks, and then finally, if she were to cut his hair.

Each time, he mockingly tells her a lie, but eventually dancing around the truth (his hair), until he tells her the entire truth of his strength. With each time, she lulls him asleep and does to him what he said would weaken him. Each time, the Philistines would try to capture him only to be beaten by him.

Finally, he “tells him all his heart.” He foolishly told her everything. He didn’t guard his heart. Delilah even knew he had, because she immediately told the Philistines what he had told her. As a result, she exploited his secret by cutting his hair and then calling in the Philistines. They seize him, put out his eyes, and make him grind in their mills.

III. Samson and God

Samson is finally at the end of his life. Helpless, he begins to turn his heart toward the Lord he served. The Philistines begin to make sport of Samson. They bring him to their main temple to have him entertain them. The temple complex was massive because it held nearly 3,000 people, men, women, and children.

While he is mocked Samson calls out to God. There is a hint of genuine repentance on his part. He calls on God to “remember me,” nearly the same words the thief on the cross spoke to Christ as he was dying. He asks to be avenged for his two eyes. He shouts out, “Let me die with the Philistines!” That obviously got every one’s attention, but it was too late. Pushing on the main support pillars, Samson tears down the temple. In that one act, he kills more Philistines in his death than during his lifetime.

Postscript

1 Samuel 7 records when a young Samuel called the children of Israel to repentance after they had been humiliated by the Philistines 20 years prior when they captured the ark. God restored His ark to His people, but there was 20 years of silence when the people lamented for their sin. That 20 years is probably when Samson judged. When Samuel called Israel together to a public time of worship, the Philistines heard about them gathering in one place (7:7). They gathered their army to go out and kill Israel. Their action was stirred in part by Samson pulling down their temple and killing 3,000 people. Israel heard from God that day in a display that was like thunder. When the Philistines were put to flight, the men of Israel rose up, pursued them, and drove them back and out of their land.