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Year 1, Week 28, Day 3

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Judges 19-20.

Today’s reading, as a part of the last segment of the Book of Judges, continues providing more detailed examples of Israel’s moral deterioration during the period of the Judges. These chapters illustrate the extent of the moral decay at this moment in Israel’s history. More importantly, the last five chapters give the examples that they do to make the case for Israel’s need for a godly king. Judges 19 opens with a statement that has also been used in the two previous chapters: “In those days, when there was no king in Israel” (Judges 19:1). Today’s reading narrates the account which involves, as the previous example did, a Levite. The men who should have been the most sensitive to the Law, are described as most despicable. What unfolds in Judges 19 and 20 is the nation of Israel engaged in something of a Civil War.

One of the things that struck me from today’s reading is the clarity in which the LORD reveals that is morally corrupt and unfaithful to the covenant, they destroy themselves: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” (Psalm 33:12). Israel’s actions are clearly wicked. They are not distinct from the nations, but imitate the nations. The parallels between Israel and pagan nations is seen in how the account of the Levite and his concubine play out. Horrible things unfold in the town of Gibeah with some of the men from the tribe of Benjamin. The wickedness recorded was not occurring in a pagan town but in a town belonging to Israel.

There are many layers of disgust in today’s reading. We first learn of a Levite from Ephraim who makes his way to Judah. The Levite takes a concubine for his wife, who is unfaithful to him, and runs away to her father in Bethlehem. The concubine’s father seeks to detain the Levite, but he eventually leaves with his wife. As they head back home they refuse to stay in the city of Jebus, reasoning, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will pass on to Gibeah” (Judges 19:12). The Levite knows it is not safe to dwell among pagans. The tragic irony is that the wickedness that awaits them is as bad as any they might encounter in a pagan city. 

The manner in which the account of things unfold in Gibeah is very reminiscent of the events that occurred in Sodom (see Genesis 19). In fact, the wording and descriptions of the situation in Gibeah is intentionally written to mirror the situation in Sodom. Men from Benjamin said in reference to the Levite: “And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him” (Judges 19:22). The men of Sodom said in reference to Lot’s guests: “And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them” (Genesis 19:5). Lot’s reply was: “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof” (Genesis 19:7-8). The reply of the Levite’s host was: “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing” (Judges 19:23-24). One difference was that the concubine was given to the men of Gibeah: “And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go” (Judges 19:25). And if that was not horrible enough, in the morning as the concubine lay dead at the door, the Levite steps over her and says: “Get up, let us be going” (Judges 19:28). 

The Levite provokes Israel to war—against itself: “he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak” (Judges 19:29-30). Gibeah of Benjamin would be made to pay for what occurred: “So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man” (Judges 20:11). War against the tribe of Benjamin ensued. In a tragic irony, the Book of Judges opened with the Israelites still fighting their enemies in order to take possession of the Land. As the fight to take possession of the Land began, Judah was first to go into battle: “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand” (Judges 1:1-2). Now as Israel went to war against Benjamin, Judah was still first to go to battle: “The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Judah shall go up first” (Judges 20:18). And while Benjamin was greatly outnumbered, they won the first two days of battle, inflicting great casualties on the united tribes of Israel. But on the third day, Benjamin is greatly defeated: “So all who fell that day of Benjamin were 25,000 men who drew the sword, all of them men of valor. But 600 men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon and remained at the rock of Rimmon four months” (Judges 20:46-47). The “victory” was a great “failure”. While Israel had greatly struggled to remove the remaining Canaanites from the Land, they had no problem all but completely eradicated one of their own tribes. Israel was succeeding in destroying itself.

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe