Monday, August 11, 2008

Judges 19: Tragedy Strikes

LINK: Judges 19

BACKGROUND: This chapter tells a sad and rather odd story of an unnamed Levite and his concubine. The events in this chapter take place after the death of Joshua but before the time of the judges. John Wesley reminds us that the Hebrew word for "concubine" ("piylegesh") can also mean "wife"; in fact, Wesley explains that she is called a "concubine" only because she was not endowed by her husband, perhaps because of his financial position as a sojourner or traveler.

Matthew Henry contrasts this chapter with the last in which we saw an active Levite; in chapter 19 we see a passive Levite. Even though his concubine ran off with another man, she is protected by her father when she should have been put to death for her misdeeds. But as there is no judge or king in Israel, as we are told in the very first verse of the chapter, there is no one to enforce the punishment if the family decides not to follow through as the Law dictates. The woman's father is so delighted when the Levite comes to fetch his wife with kindness that he invites the couple to stay with him night after night. One could speculate that perhaps the father feared that the Levite might punish his wife after the couple left and that's why he kept delaying. Another theory is that the father is just SO thankful that the Levite took his wife back that he couldn't help but shower them in all he could offer them as a host.

The young couple leave very late in the day because of the father's insistence on their eating another meal, and although their servant asks them about staying the night in Jerusalem, which was not in Israelite hands at this point in history, the Levite insists on staying the night in an Israelite town where he thinks they will receive a warmer welcome. Unfortunately, it's Lot in Sodom all over again. This time the host, who rescues them from staying the night in the streets, sets out to imitate Lot in Genesis 19:6-8 but goes too far by offering not only his daughter but his guest's wife as well.

The Benjamites, who were known in the past for their hospitality in Deuteronomy 33:12, were banging on the door with such force that the host felt compelled to offer the women rather than have the Levite, a holy man, harmed. These particular Benjamites are referred to as "sons of Belial" or children of the devil, totally ungovernable men in complete rebellion as there is no king or judge in Israel to enforce the Law. They abused the wife of the Levite to death. Josephus remarks that the Benjamites' goal was the woman all along, that they had spied her in the streets and were smitten by her beauty.

One must ask if God is punishing her for her former adultery. By the Law of Moses she should have been put to death for adultery; she escaped the punishment of men as there was no king nor judge -- but there is still a God. Her hands on the threshold demonstrate her "begging pardon" for her sins in the posture of a penitent, asserts Matthew Henry. I wonder how the Levite could sleep, knowing she was being abused all night? Once he realized that she was dead rather than sleeping, he waived his purpose of traveling to Shiloh and went home instead. As he cannot call for fire from heaven to consume Gibeah and as there is no method of justice open to him with no king or judge at the time, the Levite appeals to the people by sending portions of her body (after dismembering her) to the twelve tribes (including Benjamin itself, the guilty party). According to Matthew Henry, the like of Benjamin's guilt had never been seen in Israel.

REFLECTION: No sin escapes God. Even without judges or a king, with a forgiving father and husband, God still enforces his Law. When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, chaos ensues. The laws of hospitality were also broken, and God will also enforce his Laws therein as well, as we'll see in the next chapter.

APPLICATION: One can't get away with sin, even when one thinks no one sees. God sees all, and His righteousness cannot countenance sin. While we can't be perfect, we need to be always before God, confessing our sin and relying not on our human righteousness but on the perfect, splendid righteousness of Christ Jesus our Lord.

PRAYER: Lord, we come before you, asking for Thy forgiveness for every way in which we transgress Thy laws, both is what we leave undone and also in what we do. We ask for Thy mercy O Lord, which we do not deserve in any way except through the blood of Christ. Help us to see our sin for what it truly is rather than justifying or excusing our sins, and help us to keep short accounts with You, O Lord. We ask for Thy blessing and forgiveness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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