Sunday, September 09, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “How Low Can You Go? (Part Two)"

“How Low Can You Go? (Part Two)”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
September 9, 2012
Judges 19:1-21:25

We’ve reached the very end of the book of Judges. This is the eleventh and last sermon in our Summer series on the book of Judges just in time for the Fall.

Raise your hand if you have learned something this Summer about the book of Judges.

Judges is a theological book with theological life lessons to learn.

It is not just a history book telling us what happened and when. Judges has a story to tell, and a story with a point.

And the point has been that when we ignore the Lord and when the Lord does not intervene, we are desperately lost and hopeless and caught in a downward spiral of sin and its consequences.

We were reminded weekly of this pattern where the people of Israel got into a “crazy cycle” of leaving God, experiencing the consequences, calling out for help, receiving a deliverer/judge and then experiencing the salvation of the Lord.

For a time.  But then they were back at it again.

(And again and again.)

And we saw last week, that this last section of the book of Judges has no judges in it.

No deliverers. No white hats. No good guys.

God is hardly mentioned (and then his name is taken in vain) and rarely intervenes.

Last week, we were shaking our heads over and over again about the foolish things that the Israelites did.

And we said, “How Low Can You Go?”

Pretty low.

The author of the Book of Judges has one more sordid story to tell to make his argument.

This story is “outrageously appalling.”

It illustrates how low you can go.

And it’s lower than I would like to mention if this weren’t holy scripture.

It’s not clear when this story happened; a few details point to it actually occurring early in the period of the Judges.

But the author has placed it here because it puts the perfect cap on his argument by perfectly illustrating what happens when people forsake the Lord.

How low you can go.

The story starts and ends with the same words.

Chapter 19, verse 1. “In those days Israel had no king.”

Chapter 21, verse 25.  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

We heard those words last week, as well.

That’s the point of this terrible story.

Israel had no king, and everyone did whatever they felt like.
They did what seemed best to them at the time.
They ignored what God wanted and did what they wanted.

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

And everything fell apart.

Judges chapter 19, verse 1.

“In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father's house in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her father's house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him.”  Stop there for a second.

Now, remember, there really are no good guys in this last section of the book.

Don’t bother looking for a protagonist to look up to. He isn’t there.

And almost no one is named in this story. I think that is significant. These people could be anyone. Their actions stand for the people of Israel had become. So they are nameless. They are Joe and Jane Anyone.

Here’s the story. A Levite who lived up north (not in a Levitical city, just like we saw last week) took a concubine, what’s that?

A concubine is a like a half-wife.  She is more slave than wife and doesn’t have the full rights of a wife.

The Bible doesn’t tell us if the Levite had a first and full wife.  It’s not clear.

But from the beginning, this looks shady.

And they have a falling out. The NIV kind of smooths out the difficulties here, but obviously the couple splits. She goes back home to daddy.

Verse 3 says that her “husband” goes back and talks nice to get her back.

And her daddy is happy to see him.

He’s really happy to see him. He doesn’t want him to leave.  And the Bible really doesn’t say why.  V.4

“His father-in-law, the girl's father, prevailed upon him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there. On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the girl's father said to his son-in-law, ‘Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.’ So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the girl's father said, ‘Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.’ And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the girl's father said, ‘Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!’ So the two of them ate together. Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl's father, said, ‘Now look, it's almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home.’”

Oh, I wish he took that advice!

The father’s hospitality is the best thing that happens in these three chapters.

But the Levite’s patience with his father-in-law has run out.

And even though it is getting on in the day, he takes off.  V.10

“But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, ‘Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.’ His master replied, ‘No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.”

“You never know what those foreign people are going to do.

We can’t trust those Jebusites like we can trust our brother Israelites.”

Famous last words. V.13

“He added, ‘Come, let's try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.’ So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into
his home for the night. [Did anyone just get deja vu? V.16]

That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the men of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, ‘Where are you going? Where did you come from?’ He answered, ‘We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the LORD [which is probably a lie]. No one has taken me into his house. We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants–me, your maidservant, and the young man with us. We don't need anything. [Which is probably a lie.]’

‘You are welcome at my house,’ the old man said. ‘Let me supply whatever you need. Only don't spend the night in the square.’

Anybody have deja vu?

Anybody who has read the book of Genesis recognize what is happening?

This old man is warning them.  V.21

“So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink. While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.’”

Is this Israel?  Or is this Sodom?

(And, unfortunately, there are no angels in this house. Only someone like Lot. V.23)

“The owner of the house went outside and said to them, ‘No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don't do such a disgraceful thing.’  But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.”

I’m sorry to have to read that to you.

But it is a true story, and it happens much more than we would like to think in our world today.

Violence to women is a great sin.

Real men protect women.
Godly men sacrifice themselves for women.
They don’t sacrifice women for themselves.

This is what happens when there is no king and when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

Depravity. Sickening depravity.

And no one is exempt.

Back when I preached Genesis 19 and the rescue of Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah, I said, that there is a Sodom located in every human heart.

And that’s what’s going on here.

The Sodom is coming out.

The author of Judges is telling this story to show how Israel had gone.

They had gone so low as to begin acting like Sodom and Gomorrah.

When we forsake the Lord, the evil in our hearts comes out and hurts others.

When you take God out of the equation, our world becomes Hell on Earth.

That’s what homosexual gang rape is.
That’s what heterosexual gang rape is.

Sex is a wonderful gift from God designed to bring pleasure to couples and children into families within the safe context of a loving covenant marriage.

But sex without God in the equation is a terrible shameful thing that hurts people.

If you have been the victim of sexual violence, I am sorry.

It’s a truly terrible thing, and it should not be.

And the Lord wants to help you. He wants to lift the pain of the shame you are carrying.

Heather and I have been reading a book by Ed Welch called, “Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection.”

In fact, we’re planning to go to a conference next month on how to better minister to people who have been shamed by others.

If you are hurting from being the victim of sexual violence, I recommend this book for you, and that you to talk to someone and receive the Lord’s grace and comfort.

He loves you.

This story is in Judges to show how depraved this action is, not approved, but depraved.

But it gets worse. V.26

“At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master [notice that he’s “master” now, not husband–that was wrong, too. When her master] got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold.

He said to her, ‘Get up; let's go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.   Everyone who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!’”

This Levite is no hero. He is no judge.

His actions are crude and unnecessary.

He realizes rightly that Israel is broken and that the tribe of Benjamin is at fault, but his actions are bizarre and twisted, too.

It’s like one of those movies that will come out next month that no one should ever watch.

But everybody is just doing what they see fit!

Chapter 20, verse 1.

“Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the LORD in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand soldiers armed with swords. (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, ‘Tell us how this awful thing happened.’

So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, ‘I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel's inheritance, because they committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and give your verdict.’ All the people rose as one man, saying, ‘None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house.”

Notice how the Levite tells the story. He trims the truth.

He conveniently leaves out his part of the story and messes with the details some.

He’s no hero.

But something does need done about Gibeah in Benjamin. V.9

“But now this is what we'll do to Gibeah: We'll go up against it as the lot directs. We'll take ten men out of every hundred from all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred from a thousand, and a thousand from ten thousand, to get provisions for the army (10% supply line). Then, when the army arrives at Gibeah in Benjamin, it can give them what they deserve for all this vileness done in Israel.’ So all the men of Israel got together and united as one man against the city.

The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, ‘What about this awful crime that was committed among you? Now surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.’ But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites.

From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. [Like Ehud!]

Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fighting men.  The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, ‘Who of us shall go first to fight against the Benjamites?’ The LORD replied, ‘Judah shall go first.’”

Anybody here just get deja vu again?

What does this sound like?

Chapter 1, right?  Then they asked the Lord who should go up first against the Canaanites and the Lord answered Judah.

And that tells us the Judah is a leader-tribe.

But it also tells us that Israel is now fighting Israel because Israel has become like the Canaanites.

One scholar calls this the “Canaanization” of the nation of Israel.

And now brother will fight brother.

That’s how low you can go.  V.19

“The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. The men of Israel went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. But the men of Israel encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day.

The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and they inquired of the LORD. They said, ‘Shall we go up again to battle against the Benjamites, our brothers?’ The LORD answered, ‘Go up against them.’

Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.

Then the Israelites, all the people, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, ‘Shall we go up again to battle with Benjamin our brother, or not?’ The LORD responded, ‘Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.’

Why do you think the Lord let them lose the first two days?

I don’t know. But my guess is to teach them something.

He wants their hearts.  And they don’t really seem to pay that much attention to Him until now.  They are getting serious for a change.

And now, God is involved. This is the only place in this story where we know what He is up to. He is involved in cleansing the defilement that Benjamin has made. V.29

“Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads–  the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah.

While the Benjamites were saying, ‘We are defeating them as before,’ the Israelites were saying, ‘Let's retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.’ All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. Then ten thousand of Israel's finest men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was.

The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah.  The men who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword.  The men of Israel had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, and then the men of Israel would turn in the battle. The Benjamites had begun to inflict casualties on the men of Israel (about thirty), and they said, ‘We are defeating them as in the first battle.’

But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the smoke of the whole city going up into the sky. Then the men of Israel turned on them, and the men of Benjamin were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come upon them. So they fled before the Israelites in the direction of the desert, but they could not escape the battle. And the men of Israel who came out of the towns cut them down there. They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them and easily overran them in the vicinity of Gibeah on the east. Eighteen thousand Benjamites fell, all of them valiant fighters.

As they turned and fled toward the desert to the rock of Rimmon, the Israelites cut down five thousand men along the roads. They kept pressing after the Benjamites as far as Gidom and struck down two thousand more. On that day twenty-five thousand Benjamite swordsmen fell, all of them valiant fighters. But six hundred men turned and fled into the desert to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed four months.

The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire.”

What a terrible day.

The Lord brought judgment.

V.35 tell us that “The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel.”

But it is terrible that it had to happen.

Canaanites were not Israel’s worst enemy. Israel was Israel’s worst enemy.

Isn’t that true of ourselves, too?

I am my worst enemy when I am at my worst.

And the fall out of this situation is even worse. Chapter 21.

“The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: ‘Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.’ The people went to Bethel, where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. ‘O LORD, the God of Israel,’ they cried, ‘why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?’”

Wait a second.

Did they just blame God?

I think they did.

I think they just accused God of failing them somehow so that this terrible thing has happened to their nation.

Don’t blame God when you’ve gotten yourself into a jam.

It’s good that they realize what has happened to them.

They feel like a arm has been amputated. They are missing almost a whole tribe and it’s because they’ve killed them.

And they just realized that they promised not to let their girls marry Benjamites.

“It sounded good at the time!” V.4

“Early the next day the people built an altar and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Israelites asked, ‘Who from all the tribes of Israel has failed to assemble before the LORD?’ For they had taken a solemn oath that anyone who failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah should certainly be put to death.”

They’re taking a lot of solemn oaths. Be careful what you promise....

“Now the Israelites grieved for their brothers, the Benjamites. ‘Today one tribe is cut off from Israel,’ they said. ‘How can we provide wives for those who are left, since we have taken an oath by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?’

Then they asked, ‘Which one of the tribes of Israel failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah?’ They discovered that no one from Jabesh Gilead had come to the camp for the assembly. For when they counted the people, they found that none of the people of Jabesh Gilead were there.

[Well, that’s it! We don’t need to ask God what to do. It’s obvious! V.10]

So the assembly sent twelve thousand fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. [Israelities! Their brothers! Who should be fellow followers of Yahweh!]

‘This is what you are to do,’ they said. ‘Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin.’ They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan.  Then the whole assembly sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites at the rock of Rimmon.
So the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them.”

How low can you go?

This is sexual violence. The women of Jabesh Gilead are victims now of Israel’s sin. V.15

“The people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a gap in the tribes of Israel. [And if the Lord made the gap, maybe they ought to let HIM fill it?]  And the elders of the assembly said, ‘With the women of Benjamin destroyed, how shall we provide wives for the men who are left?

[Oh, we’ll think of something!]

The Benjamite survivors must have heirs,’ they said, ‘so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out. We can't give them our daughters as wives, since we Israelites have taken this oath: 'Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to a Benjamite.'

But look, there is the annual festival of the LORD in Shiloh, to the north of Bethel, and east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and to the south of Lebonah.’ So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, ‘Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the girls of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, then rush from the vineyards and each of you seize a wife from the girls of Shiloh and go to the land of Benjamin.

When their fathers or brothers complain to us, we will say to them, 'Do us a kindness by helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war, and you are innocent, since you did not give your daughters to them.'’

So that is what the Benjamites did. While the girls were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.  At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance.

[And in case it wasn’t obvious...]

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Two points of application today and only two.


Is that obvious?

When the author says, “In those days Israel had no king,” he’s not just stating a historical fact.

He is saying that what Israel lacked was a king.

A godly king. A covenant keeping king.  A spiritual king.

A king that would lead the people in the way they should go.

When we get to Samuel, we’ll see that not just any king will do. And bad kings make things worse, we’ll see that in 1 and 2 King when we get there.

But a godly king, that’s what we need.

We need led. We need a Shepherd King that leads His people out of the downward spiral and into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Because if we don’t have a king like that?

Then we are hopelessly lost and totally depraved.

Women will not be protected and treasured. They will be used.

Men will exchange natural relations for unnatural homosexual relations.

Sodom will come out of our hearts.

The truth will be rare, and lies will be everywhere.

We will make excuses for every selfish thing we do.

We will even do terrible acts in the name of keeping oaths.

Brothers will kill brothers.

And we’ll try to pin the blame on God!

Saying, “How did this happen?”

We need a king.

We need a king to save us.

I think that Judges has made its point.

We need a king.


That’s not technically in the book of Judges, but I’ve read the end of the story, and it’s good.

The New Testament teaches that the king we need has arrived.

His name is Jesus.

And He died on the Cross to undo the downward spiral.

And He won.

Jesus came back to life, and if that doesn’t undo the downward spiral, I don’t know what does!

The king has come.

He is the savior we need.

And He was already at work even in the book of Judges.

Here’s something amazing to think about.

Israel survives the time of the judges!

Isn’t that amazing?

God is gracious to Israel even though they don’t deserve it in the slightest.

And He’s still at work even in the darkest times.

He’s planning to send that King.

In fact, that’s one of the things we’re going to study next in our sermon times.

Next week, we’re going to turn the page and study the book of Ruth.

The story in the book of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges.

And it is a dark time.

But there is bright light that shines through it.

And at where that light shines brightest is the King.

The King has come.


Messages in This Series:

Unfinished Business
Israel's Downward Spiral
Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael
Gideon Part One: The 'Mighty Warrior'
Gideon Part Two: The Snare and the Thornbush King
Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
The Weakness of Samson: Part One
The Weakness of Samson: Part Two
How Can You Go? (Part One)