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Judges 20-21: The Right Perspective Print E-mail
Sunday, 28 June 2015

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On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. Many of us have spent the last few days reading and watching the various responses to this historic decision. Many are celebrating. Perhaps they are thankful for the opportunity to marry legally or just thankful that others they know can now do so. Others are saddened. They believe that God has defined marriage in the Bible as between a man and a woman and the Courtís decision is a marked departure from that understanding. As a follower of Christ who believes in the faithfulness and inerrancy of Scripture, I side with the latter. I am burdened for those who believe that joy and contentment can be found outside of faith and obedience to Christ. I am not angry at what they believe, just further burdened at the steps our culture has taken to further normalize those beliefs. Such actions cannot help but have grave consequences.

But I am not without hope this morning. In fact, I am far from it. As odd as it may seem, I am thankful that in Godís providence we are finishing the book of Judges this morning. I believe that it speaks to our current situation in a particularly helpful way. In order to see that, I want us to briefly walk through the final two chapters of the book from two different perspectives: that of man of that of God. I believe that this will help us have hope in our current struggles.

Manís perspective: A confusing response to evil

We have all wrestled to some degree with how to respond to the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is not always easy to know how best to respond. If we believe in the Bible, then we know that homosexuality is disobedience to God, but knowing how best to love people with that truth and point them to Christ is difficult.

Israel is struggling to respond to an evil act in Judges 20-21. The author of the book told us the story of the Levite and his concubine in chapter 19. She was raped and left for dead by the men of Gibeah and her corpse was divided up and sent to the tribes of Israel. How will they respond to such evil? What will they do?

They begin by gathering together to discuss the matter. Look at 20:1-3. They gather and ask to hear what happened from the Levite. He responds in verses 4-7. Look at those with me. The Levite gives a Ďsorta accurateí telling of what had happened in Gibeah. He leaves out his cowardice, but gets the overall picture correct. So how will they respond? Look at verses 8-11. The people are outraged by what the men of Gibeah did. They recognize what they did as evil and they are going to take action against these men. Did you notice how the author emphasizes the fact that they did this united as one man. The book of Judges begins with the failure of Israel to obey God in driving out the nations. Then as different crises arise the judges struggle to get support from all the tribes. Some will help, but not all. So when is the one time in the book of judges that the people of Israel take unified action against an enemy? Only here against some of their own people. It is ironic and tragic.

Before they attack Gibeah, they try to work things out with the tribe of Benjamin, to which Gibeah belonged. But the attempt fails. Look at verses 12-14. The men of Gibeah should be punished for their evil under the law, but Benjamin sides with them to make war on the other tribes. It is a sad tale of people aligning with Ďtheir owní even when some punishment is obviously deserved. As odd as it may seem to us, they would rather go to war to protect these evil men than actually deal with their treachery.

So the stage is set is for war. And the rest of the chapter tells the story. The people of Israel attack the people of Benjamin on the first day and they lose. They attack them on the second day and they lose. Yet, the Lord tells them that they will have victory in the third attack and they succeed. They use the former defeats to make the tribe overconfident. They set up an ambush and when the Benjaminites pursue the main army, the ambush attacks the city and traps the men. At the end of the battle, only 600 men remain alive, trapped in a cave. They are the only people who remain of the tribe of Benjamin.

But then the Israelites start feeling bad for Benjamin. Look at 21:1-3. After the anger of the attack has waned, they now weep over the loss of a tribe of Israel. So they come up with a plan. They figure out that the people of Jabesh-gilead had not gone out to fight with them against Benjamin. So they decide to kill everyone who is not a virgin from that people. Do you see why I call this a confusing response. The plan works for the most part, but they capture only 400 virgins and need 200 more .

So they come up with another plan. They send the 200 Benjaminites to a feast where many virgins will be celebrating and dancing and tell them to capture a wife for themselves. This way, no one will have to give one of their own daughters to the Benjaminites, something that they had vowed not to do, and everyone of those men will now have a wife. And that is what they do. By the end of it, they have solved the problem and saved the tribe. Yet, what a crazy and confusing response to the initial crisis. I mean think about how terrible women are treated in this story? The men of Gibeah are wicked and the tribe of Benjamin goes to war for them. The other tribes treat them like Canaanites and wipe out their whole population (women and children) leaving only 600 of them alive. Then they feel bad and capture 400 wives for them by taking out another group of people and 200 wives from another group. It does not make sense. Itís as if everyone was just doing what was right in their own eyes.

Godís perspective: A gracious persevering of His people

What does the Lord think about all of this? One of the challenging things about this story is that the author does not give us much commentary. He simply tells the story, which leaves us with loads of questions. One of the most important being: how did God feel about all this? Let me answer with a couple of thoughts.

First, we do see Godís judgment on Benjamin and Israel in this passage. Each time the Israelites went to battle against Benjamin they inquired of the Lord. They asked Him who should go up first? He told them Judah (which is exactly what He said when they asked Him who should go up first against the Canaanites). After their first defeat, they ask again if they should go up and He says yes. After the second defeat, when they are totally desperate, He tells them to go up one more time and promises them victory, which is what happens. The Israelites defeat the tribe of Benjamin and almost wipe out its entire population. In this we see clear judgment against the people of Benjamin. They defended wicked men and were judged for it. Yet, we also see judgment for Israel as well. They lost thousands of men in this battle as well. Sin and idolatry had ripped a hole in Israel and they were paying a heavy price. Unfortunately they will pay this price again when the Lord sends them into Exile years later.

Yet second, we see Godís grace in this story as well. By every account, Benjamin should have been wiped out. But they still remain. The way this comes about is questionable and odd, but the fact remains: all twelve tribes remain at the end of the book.

So what do we do with this book and how does it speak to our current situation?

First, it teaches us about the sinfulness of man. The people of Israel repeatedly run after sin in the book of Judges. The downward cycle continues because they never truly turn from their sins. Over and over again they return to their idols and forsake the Lord. We should not be surprised by the sin we see today. Nothing is new under the sun. People have always believed that joy can be found outside of obedience to God. But that is not true. It is a terrible lie that is easy to believe. And if we are honest with ourselves, it is a lie that we have all believed at one time or another. We all willingly choose to disobey God. We choose to run after what we believe will bring us peace and happiness. Even when we know it not to be true, we still do the same things again hoping for a different outcome. But there never is. Manís sin is an ever-increasing hole that we cannot escape by ourselves. The book of Judges makes this plain on every page.

But that is not all it teaches. For the book of Judges also teaches us about the grace of God. This is the truth that surprised me in this book. I expected the sin and the darkness, but I did not expect the mercy and the grace. The absolutely amazing miracle of this book is that Israel still exists at the end. She deserved to be judged and discarded, but the Lordís grace persevered the nation. Why? In part, God did this to keep His covenant. He had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He was going to keep. Israel was His chosen people and He was faithful to them. But also, God persevered Israel to send us Christ. Every judge in the book points us to our Judge. Every story of grace points us to the grace that was displayed at the cross when Jesus died for our sins. Every victory points us to the empty tomb and the hope that we have in Jesusí resurrection. Judges is a book that is covered with sins that are covered by grace. And for all who repent and believe in Jesus, that is true of their lives as well.

So this morning, I am filled with hope. Not hope in our country or our government or our politicians. I donít have hope in our culture or in our education system. I donít even have hope in the American Church this morning. Many in these ranks have chosen to reject the Bibleís definition of marriage as one woman and one man, and they will continue to make such mistakes. So my hope is not in them and it wasnít in them even before the decision on Friday. No, my hope rests in the God of the book of Judges. He defines sin and detests sin and punishes sin. But He is also gracious. I pray that He would pour out His grace in our day. Not by changing our politics or our government, but by changing our hearts to see that true and lasting joy can only be found in the mercy of Jesus Christ. I have hope for my friends and family members who are drowning in the deep pit of their sin. I have hope for homosexuals and transgenders. I have hope for any who will turn from their sins and trust and Christ. Why? Because the God of Judges is the God of the Bible, the Maker of heaven and earth, the God who sent us Jesus and the God who will win in the end. And He is the God of sovereign grace. My hope is in Him. Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 21 August 2015 )

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