Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 6:14-29; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Psalm 93; Judges 19-20
Today’s story in Judges appears set in a time of relative peace. We meet an apparently ordinary couple. Although she is described as a concubine, the rest of the passage suggests she is the man’s only wife with her father called his father-in-law (19:4-5). The cause of her leaving is unclear, other than being told she is not faithful and therefore not an innocent bystander. He pursues her to resolve matters, and the rejoicing leads to a show of great hospitality. This contrasts with the lack of hospitality after their return journey loses the safety of daylight. The Levite’s concern to find safety in an Israelite town hints of impending problems. Yet even in Gibeah, lodging comes from an outsider to the city.
The hospitality is destroyed by the vile mob seeking to abuse the Levite. The Hebrew word used for vile or outrageous (19:23, 24; 20:6, 10) is nebalah, typically used of sexual perversity. The outrage in this word is tied to violations of Israel’s covenant relationship with God. The word is related to nabal, the fool who does not fear the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). The men of Gibeah broke the command to show kindness to Levites (Deuteronomy 26:13) and to travelling strangers (Leviticus 19:33). The tragic disgrace is that in seeking to avoid the dangers of a non-Israelite city, the travellers become prey to their fellow Israelites.
The response of the host and Levite are also shocking. They seem to see no problems in offering up their women to the ruthless mob. No one in this story is without fault, except the host’s daughter. All the men have blood on their hands. The similarities with Lot’s visitors in Sodom are apparent. Yet here it is an Israelite city that has degenerated to the depths of Sodom’s immorality.
Next morning, when the Levite finds his molested wife, his coldness reaches new depths. Cutting up his concubine shocks us. However, the Hebrew words for taking up a knife and dividing the body are technical terms related to the sacrificial system. Rather than putting animal parts on an altar, the Levite sends them around Israel. Now, the whole land is polluted by the corpse (Numbers 6:9). The death of this woman might help to rouse Israel from its moral slumber.
Yet instead of proper repentence, the Israleites respond with oaths they later come to regret. The men of Gibeah were wrong. The Benjamites were wrong not to punish the evil-doers (20:13). But everyone involved in the story did wrong. Israel should have repented and wept over their sin. They should have waited for God’s direction, but instead they responded in indignation and came up with their own plan of retaliation. We can learn from this, and not react like they did when we see wrong-doing. Action may be necessary, but other steps shown be taken with God before responding.
Israel attacks Benjamin, confident in their greater numbers. They inquired of the Lord on two occasions, and yet go up to defeat (Judges 20:18, 23). On the third occasion, they wept, fasted and presented offerings to the Lord (20:26-28). This time they show that they have seen their own sin and need for humility and dependence on God. Burnt offerings were a way of confessing and atoning for sin, symbolising total dedication of the people to God. Fellowship or peace offerings showed their solidarity with God and one another. With the right attitude, the Lord allows victory (20:35).
Yet even in victory, they realise their rash oaths have caused further problems that must be rectified (Judges 21). Even when the Lord allows victory, he will not erase all the consequences of foolish decisions. Yet out of a vicious assault, and a highly questionable call to arms, the Lord can bring some good. At the same time, the underlying problem remains the same: everyone did as they saw fit (Judges 21:25). Only the restoration of obedience to God’s moral code will bring true moral reform.