“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”
Judges 21: 25
Judges 19-21 (Psalm 77)
Wow! What a truly disturbing set of chapters; awful to read, horrible to summarise. How do we learn from this, and overcome our modern sensibilities, so as not to read them into the text? The answer in part, I believe, is found in the last verse of the book, ‘Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.’ God was supposed to be Israel’s King but as we unpack this passage we see that each did as they wished. The Levite, from the Priestly tribe, misses the purpose of love within the law and treats his wife as an object. The father-in-law, perhaps fearing the consequences of the law (his daughter’s behaviour being punishable by death), equally treats her as an object. He returns his daughter to the Levite, apparently without her having a say in the matter. This treatment massively escalates as she is given to the men of the town to protect the Levite; no self-sacrifice born out of love. The tradition of welcome and hospitality was completely ignored by the men of the town. They mirror the behaviour of the men of Sodom who made the same demand of the angels that Lot welcomed (Gen. 19: 1-11). Sodom is the great example of rebellion against God. His very own people have learnt nothing, their rebellion going even further; raping, abusing and killing the woman.
The Levite incites the other eleven tribes, retelling the account in a way that reflects favourably on himself, showing no sign of penitence or personal guilt. Israel desires revenge, they appear to seek and gain God’s approval. Benjamin shows no sign of remorse and vindictive massacres follow. Closer examination of their prayers do not indicate hearts open to God’s response. In fact, the wording of the requests do not enable Israel to hear a ‘no’ from God. God apparently says ‘go’, but not ‘I will go with you.’ Perhaps the greatest punishment we receive from God is being allowed to go our own way (Romans 1: 18-24). A rash oath produced a solution that created more problems (21). Jesus taught against the making of oaths, calling instead for simple honest speech (Matt. 5: 33-37).
The book of Judges simply yells out the need for God’s Kingship in the world and our lives. The word judge means to rule with justice. This is what God does through His Son in His Kingdom; amazingly the Church is His ambassador and agent of mission. For God’s rule and love to bless the world the Church and each individual child of God needs to obey and glorify their Lord. God ultimately knows what is best for us so we need to submit to His Kingship. Look at the consequences of life without Him in our readings; look at the world today!
Questions of Application
Rather than one question today I would like you to consider a series of questions based on the passages we have considered:
Merciful Lord, you know our struggle to serve you. When sin spoils our lives and overshadow our hearts, give us not our way, but come to our aid and turn us back again to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
King of Kings – Hillsong Worship
To Christ the King by Sarah Hart
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.