Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Wednesday Bible Study: The End of all things- Judges
When I first read the last chapter of Judges, I said, "What a mess! How am I going to pull a worthwhile lesson out of that?" But the very next day, I figured out that when you add in the backstory from the 2 chapters before, and a couple of incidents in the following 1 Samuel, it is a wonderful story of God's redemption, and I could easily spend a couple of posts on it! But once again, I will steel myself to avoid the bunny trails and focus in on that one chapter- which requires first the thumbnail treatment of chapters 19 and 20.
Our story begins with a Levite from 'the remote hill country of Ephraim'. He takes on a concubine/wife from guess where, Bethlehem- yes, that Bethlehem. What happens next is a matter of conjecture. The book itself says she committed an act of harlotry and fled from his home back to her dad's place in Bethlehem. Here I'll peek down one trail: Much like in the story of Rahab in Joshua, there are many ancient sources that translate this into, basically, they had a big fight and she left him. I am going to propose something based on what I have read. The commentators say that rather than a real concubine, who had NO rights, this woman was a wife, but without a dowry for whatever reason, which made her a secondary wife. That would explain several subsequent happenings as we go on. The Levite then waits 4 months to go get her, which suggests 2 things to me: One, he knew where she was going ("I'm leaving and going back to my Daddy!") -which suggests yes, wife, and yes, fight- and that while, because of circumstances, she felt herself more on the 'wife' side of the equation, and he felt her more the 'property' side.
So he goes there, and her Dad spends 4 1/2 days trying to make him happy- perhaps repaying with hospitality that which he never paid for a dowry. Finally, the afternoon of the fifth day, when the heat began to ease, he took his servant and the girl and left. The next question was where to stay the night. They were near what we call Jerusalem, which was technically in Judah, but it was late being conquered and was still a Jebusite town. The Levite rejected his servant's pleas to stay there, and went on no more than five miles to Gibeah, a town of Benjamin. It was getting late when he got there, and curiously, the town was already shut up, and he settled to spend the night in the town square- the fact no one dared come out to invite him in is a good indication that what ends up happening is far from uncommon.
What happens next is straight out of the story of Lot in Sodom. An old man staying temporarily there from Ephraim invites him in when he gets off work and finds them camping in the square. Momentarily, a crowd of evildoers- a gang that I'm guessing had been terrorizing the town for some time- demanded the old man give them the Levite so they could sexually abuse him. The old man offers his daughter, the crowd won't budge, and finally the Levite "takes hold of" (this point returns next) the wife/concubine and casts her out to them. They spend all night raping her, and just before dawn she's left to crawl to the very threshold of the door and die.
The Levite opens the door, sees her body, not realizing she's dead, and orders her to "Get up, get ready to leave". When she doesn't respond, he figures out the obvious, calmly loads her up on the donkey she rode, and went home. Once home, he "takes hold of her"- the very same wording- and cuts her into 12 pieces, mailing them to the 12 tribes to show what an abomination had occurred. I think it telling that he cared about as much for her dead body and he did the live person he cast out to save his behind. Trying to tighten up the story now, the Israelites get together and decide they'll march into Benjamin and right this wrong. They send a messenger to Benjamin demanding they turn over the men of Gibeah who are responsible. But, from a time and place perspective, you didn't betray your tribe, even to another tribe, and told the messengers to get lost- and then gathered their army to face the rest of Israel.
So they make their battle plans, and after everything is set in stone, THEN they go to 'consult with God.' According to procedures back then- and with the caveat that there was no judge, no king, and 'everyone did what was right in his own eyes'- they used the Holy dice, the Urim and Thummim, to determine 'God's will' and the battle order (Hereafter called stupid mistake #1.). Not surprisingly, Benjamin thumped them on day one. They come crawling back, whine before the Lord, and have at it again- and get thumped again. The third time, they actually humble themselves, the whole people, offer atoning sacrifices, and consult the High Priest, who happened to be Phinehas, grandson of Aaron- the same one that stopped a plague by killing the Israelite who was sinning with a Moabite woman, and the woman, with one blow (Numbers 25:8). He spoke to God, and God answered, "Go for this time I will deliver them into your hand". This they did, using the old ploy of ambush that Joshua used at Ai, and all but 600 who hid out for 4 months were destroyed of the entire tribe. Which brings us to our chapter.
Now, they have these last 600 soldiers, and they realize in their lust to battle, they have essentially extincted an entire tribe. They could have provided them wives from their daughters, but stupid mistake #2 was they took an oath to NOT give them any of their daughters. Which moves us on to stupid mistakes #3 A and B. Instead of humbling themselves before God, as they just had, to get HIS input, they decide that it is more important to uphold their oath- another time/place thing that was more important to them than God's will. So they said, "Y'know, we ALSO took an oath that 'anyone who doesn't show up to battle will be put to death'. Did anyone not show up?" Well, the town of Jabesh-Gilead hadn't got the memo, so off they went to extinct someone else. And they did- saving only 400 young virgins who got to be the foundation of New Benjamin. And that, of course, left them 200 brides short.
At which point we move on to stupid move #4: "There's this celebration to God every year at Shiloh. So why don't you 200 guys go down there and watch. When the virgins come out to dance before the Lord, you snatch 'em. If their daddies complain, tell 'em who you are, and tell them, "since you didn't GIVE them to us, you didn't break the oath, and everyone's happy." "
So now we have Crime one, Instead of coming correctly to God, let's just do it our way and ask Him to bless it later. Crime two, We want to take an oath that will effectively extinct them, but we don't want to be guilty of extincting them. Crime three, let's just keep on making stupid oaths and hurting people until it all evens out. Crime number four, once it evens out- sorta- we'll pat each other on the back and say, good job. And this is a story of redemption how?
For that, we move a few hundred years into the future (and into 1 Samuel 11), and look at what happened right after they DID get a king in Israel. The Ammonites came and told the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead- yes, that same Jabesh-Gilead, now stocked with, I assume, New Benjaminites- "either we are going to kill you all, or we'll let you surrender, and then gouge out everyone's right eye." Needless to say, they answered, "Let us think about it", and sent messengers to the Judge Samuel and newly-minted King, Saul.
1Sa 11:4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.
1Sa 11:5 Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, "What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?" So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh.
1Sa 11:6 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.
1Sa 11:7 He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, "Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!" Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man.
So, let's see here- Gibaeh, once the home of evil men, was the home of King Saul. Instead of relying on their own questionable wits, Saul availed himself of the Holy Spirit. He took the yoke of oxen and did THE SAME THING the Levite did to the girl to summon the tribes. Jabesh-Gilead is redeemed by having the Tribes come to help them, though they did not help in the first story. Gibeah was the home of the Good Guy in this story, not the bad guys as the first. And look at the end- NO ONE was breaking the oath this time.
1Sa 11:11 And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
Where Benjamin had 600 escape as a group, there was NO escape for evil under the Lord's supervision.
1Sa 11:12 Then the people said to Samuel, "Who is it that said, 'Shall Saul reign over us?' Bring the men, that we may put them to death."
1Sa 11:13 But Saul said, "Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has worked salvation in Israel."
1Sa 11:14 Then Samuel said to the people, "Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom."
And here, two more things. First, Israel without God needed to kill an entire city to atone for the sins they committed; with God, not one man besides the enemy died. Second, let me cue up what they were talking about in V 12:
1Sa 10:25 Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home.
1Sa 10:26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched.
1Sa 10:27 But some worthless fellows said, "How can this man save us?" And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.
Same kind of worthless fellows that think, "How can this Christ save us", dontcha think?
And there is one more redemption needed here- what about Shiloh? Well, God redeemed that one, too:
1Sa 1:1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.
1Sa 1:2 He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
1Sa 1:3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD.
1Sa 1:4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.
1Sa 1:5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb.
1Sa 1:6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.
1Sa 1:7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.
1Sa 1:8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"
1Sa 1:9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD.
1Sa 1:10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.
1Sa 1:11 And she vowed a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head."
1Sa 1:12 As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.
1Sa 1:13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.
1Sa 1:14 And Eli said to her, "How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you."
1Sa 1:15 But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.
1Sa 1:16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation."
1Sa 1:17 Then Eli answered, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him."
1Sa 1:18 And she said, "Let your servant find favor in your eyes." Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
Yes, this is the same celebration at Shiloh, and no, that is a different Phinehas. And yes, that is the Hannah who gifted Israel its greatest judge, Samuel, who would by his faith redeem what had been taken FROM Shiloh.
One more point to consider. Benjamin as a result of this became probably the tribe least able to be proud of the purity of their line- it was thoroughly mixed with wives taken by blood and stolen by trickery. And yet, Paul has this to say:
Php 3:4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
Php 3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
In saying this, was Paul giving an even subtler dig to the pride of place of the Jews than we knew? The man never ceases to amaze me anymore.