Without God as king, sin reigns.
“Now in those days Israel had no king.” – Judges 19:1 NLT
Four times in these closing chapters of Judges we hear this refrain regarding Israel’s lack of a king. This is really the theme of this book. God, their rightful king and ruler, is no longer viewed as their sovereign Lord by the people of Israel, and it years before God will allow them to have a human king. They are, in essence, without leadership and a supreme authority in their lives. Every man did what was right in their own eyes. And chapter 19 is another illustration of just how bad things had become. “This incident shows what happens when God’s people fail to acknowledge Yahweh’s sovereign authority over their lives. In chapters 17—18 the result was religious apostasy (idolatry), and in chapters 19—21 it was moral degeneracy (immorality), political disintegration (anarchy), and social chaos (injustice)” – Thomas L. Constable.
The story of chapter 19 is graphic, full of scenes of sexual abuse, murder, and general social decay. Once again, our story involves a Levite, a priest who was to have been living a life set apart unto God. Yet, like the priest in chapters 17-18, he was not living in one of the cities set apart for the Levites by God, he was living in a remote area outside the hill country of Ephraim. He had also taken a concubine, rather than a wife. While women in general were held in low regard during those days, even wives, a concubine would have been viewed as little more than property – which explains the man’s actions later in the story. The bottom line was that this Levite was not living in obedience to the Lord, clearly illustrating just how bad things had gotten in Israel – even the priests of God were no longer living in obedience to God. There was no moral or spiritual leadership in the country.
The man’s concubine runs away, either as the result of an adulterous affair or an argument with her master. I prefer to believe it was the former. And while the punishment for unfaithfulness should have been death, the Levite runs after her in order to restore her to her former place in his home. He finds her at her father’s house, and after many delays, finally begins the journey home with his concubine in tow. They stop for the night in Gibeah, where they hoped to find hospitality and a room for the night. But instead, they find no one willing to provide them safe shelter, until an old man, a visitor to the city, offers to put them up for the evening. It’s interesting that Gibeah is the hometown of Israel’s future first king, Saul. The lack of hospitality of the city’s residence and their immoral treatment of the Levite and his concubine are probably a subtle jab at Saul by the book’s author.
The similarities in this story between the events that took place in Sodom when the angels went there to rescue Lot are intentional. The residence of the city of Gibeah had sunken so low that they were morally no better than Sodomites. The men of the city surround the house. “They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, ‘Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him'” (Judges 19:22 NLT). This is almost word for word the exchange that took place between the residents of Sodom and Lot regarding the angels he was hosting in his home. In keeping with Lot’s response, the old man hosting the Levite and his concubine offers to give the men his own virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to assuage their sexual demands. But the men refuse the offer. In desperation, the Levite throws his concubine out the door in hopes of preventing his own rape at the hands of these men. His treatment of the “woman he loved” reveals the general low regard this culture had of women. She is gang raped by the men and left for dead on the doorstep, where the Levite finds her the next morning. He takes her body and returns home. Now the story gets really graphic. He dismembers her body into twelve pieces, sending one piece, along with a note, to every tribe in Israel.
While the Levite’s bizarre actions would result in uniting the tribes of Israel for the first time since the death of Joshua, it would have been more proper to give her a decent burial. His disregard and show of disrespect for her body are shocking to our sense, and would have been so to the author’s original readers. Yet, he got the desired result. When the “message” was delivered to each of the tribes, graphically showing what had happened in Gibeah, among their own people, the general response was the same: “Has such a thing as this ever happened from the time the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until now? Think about it! Talk it over. Do something!” (Judges 19:31 MSG). Even in their moral numbness, the people were shocked at what had happened in Gibeah. In spite of all the moral decay that had taken place since the days of the Exodus, this was deemed the worst thing that had happened. It reminds me of the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans. “That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved” (Romans 1:26-27 NLT). Whenever God is no longer looked to as king and Lord, moral decay is not far behind. We see this perfectly illustrated in our own day. God has been rejected by our society and the result has been a steady decline in our moral standards. We have no spiritual compass. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. Sexual sin is not only rampant, it is celebrated, on TV, in the media, and in music. The sexual exploits of sports and movie stars are all over the Internet and the news. This story in the book of Judges would be considered light fare on the average cable network, when compared with the normal programming available during prime time. The people of Israel had become completely “Canaanized” and so have we. We are calloused to the sin that surrounds us. We wink at the immorality that pervades our society. We are no longer shocked. It all reminds me of the words of God found in the book of Jeremiah regarding the people of God. “Are they ashamed when they do these disgusting things? No, not at all––they don’t even blush!” (Jeremiah 8:12 NLT). When we fail to acknowledge God as king of our lives, we too will forget how to blush. We will reject His standards. We will ignore His ways. We will learn to justify our actions and rationalize our behavior. We will become our own kings, doing what is right in our own eyes.
Father, You are to be the King of my life. But I fail to recognize You as King so often. I ignore Your commands and I disrespect Your authority over my life. Forgive me. Open my eyes and let me see that I cannot live as the king of my own life without seeing and experiencing the same level of moral decay the Israelites did. It is inevitable. Help me keep You as King of my life, allowing You to sovereignly rule and reign over my life. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men