Judges 19:1-20:48; John 3:22-4:3; Psalm 104:24-35; Proverbs 14:22-24
Sarah gave us a heads up yesterday that today’s Old Testament reading was a doozy, and she was right! An Israelite, of the Levite clan, goes on a trip to fetch his wayward concubine, and, after some general merrymaking with her family, begins his journey home. He stops in a territory belonging to the tribe of Benjamin and ends up spending the night in the home of an old man who finds him camping in the city square. In the night, “worthless” men from the town charge the house and demand the Levite visitor. The old man offers his maiden daughter and the Levite's concubine but the men don’t want them; the Levite then throws his concubine to the mercy of the men. What follows is truly terrifying – she is raped and abused to the point of death; the Levite, upon finding her dead, tosses her over his donkey and carries her home; then, when he gets home, he cuts her body into 12 pieces and sends 1 piece to each tribe of Israel.
Bizarre, horrifying, mind-boggling – what is going on here? Well, the first verse in our reading today is one clue: “In those days, when there was no king in Israel…,” meaning that chaos and lawlessness was running rampant. We just saw in chapters 17-18 that idolatry was sweeping the nation and now this.
The Levite's motivation in his mutilation of the body of the concubine can only be to incite retribution. He sends a piece to each tribe to call the nation to action. Though do you wonder, as I do, how much was about his concubine and how much was something else? He let months go before he even went after her and when he’s getting ready to leave, he opens the door, not to find her or see if she was okay after what he subjected her to, but rather to “go on his way” (Judg. 19:27). Doesn’t seem like he’s all that great of a guy, in my opinion. But I digress.
His plan works: the tribes rise up against Benjamin, and a full-on civil war ensues between Benjamin and the other 11 tribes. And though the 11 tribes have a much larger army (400,000 to Benjamin’s 26,000), and though they had the instructions from God to go against Benjamin, they spend two days in defeat. Why does God tell them to go up but not allow their victory? One scholar suggests that it was to bring them back to repentance for their idolatry (Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg. 412). On the third day, again assured by God to go into the battle, they ambush the Benjaminites and find victory. The war is ended but the cost is great – all that survives out of the tribe of Benjamin is 600 warriors who stay in a cave for four months. We’ll see in tomorrow’s reading that they are eventually offered peace by the rest of Israel. It's a very dark hour in Israel’s history.
In John, we see new life and baptism, which bring a breath of fresh air. And don’t you love this beautiful and clearcut verse at the end of the New Testament reading? “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (Jn. 3:36).
And what a reminder the psalm is, of God’s abundant goodness to us in creation and the glory due his name. “May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works” (Ps. 104:31). When things in Israel’s history are so bleak, it’s refreshing to have these words to remind us of God’s greater plan at work.
- Esther McCurry
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