Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Friday, March 24, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 25, Jdg 19-21

Today's readings are Jdg 19-21.

Jdg19 begins with the story of the Levite and his concubine. In Jdg 19:3-9, we see incredible hospitality and respect in the way the Levite and his father-in-law deal with each other. The Levite travels later in the day going north from Bethlehem. He travels about three miles to Jerusalem and, though it is getting late in the day, he passes by because it is inhabited by the hostile Jebusites. He heads for Gibeah, another six miles northward, and the perceived safety of staying among his own people, the Benjamites (Jdg 19:10-15), where another hospitable man takes him in.

The hospitality pictured in these verses is a stark contrast to the brutality the men in the town exhibit when the concubine is killed (Jdg 19:22-26). There are parallels with the story of Lot in Sodom (Gen 19:4-11), except in this case, the “worthless fellows” are Benjamites, one of the tribes of Israel!  What we’re witnessing is the degeneration of Israel into the same type of behavior that brought the fury of heaven to bear on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:22-29).

However, there is hope for Israel who reacts to the sin within by doing whatever is necessary to expunge it (Jdg 20:1-17), no matter how difficult or painful it may be. The battle is fierce, but God empowers His people to gain the victory (Jdg 20:18-48).

At this point, with only 600 men surviving and the remainder of the tribe having been executed (Jdg 20:46-48), the future of the Benjamites is in question.

The rest of the tribes mourn and repent at the drastic actions needed to purge the sinful behavior from God’s people. Having made a foolish vow not to allow any surviving Benjamites to marry their daughters, the tribes find themselves in the precarious position of having to honor their word. In so doing, they will be violating the rules of levirate marriage (Jdg 21:1-7), which were designed to ensure the continuation of all the tribes (Dt 25:5).

The solution comes in the form of another infraction. After the call for unity against the sin at Gibeah, no one from Jabesh-gilead joined in the battle against the Benjamites (Jdg 21:8-12). The punishment for this breach of a covenantal agreement among all the tribes was death for the inhabitants of this offending village, which was in the tribe of Manasseh. The virgin daughters, 400 of them, are spared and given to the Benjamites. This seems to mitigate the dilemma but they’re still 200 women short of the 600 needed (Jdg 21:13-14). A compromise is reached. The remaining Benjamites can “steal” 200 virgins from the festivities in Shiloh with the tacit endorsement and support of the rest of the tribes (Jdg 21:16-24).

So, we see repentance among God’s people (Jdg 21:15), but we also see the quagmire of confusion, tension and in-fighting sin has caused. The people have tried to work their way out of it, but things only seem to get more complicated and messy, as they always do when God’s children try to resolve their circumstances with reason instead of merely trusting in God. These passages show that there was little prayer that went into most of the decisions they made. The less regard Israel has for the presence of God, the greater the confusion and strife they endure. Therein is a life lesson for all of us.

The first two chapters of Judges note several military victories. They also describe Israel's failure to eliminate all the opposing nations and their people from Canaan. Yet, the first generation that lived in the Promised Land was blessed in an awesome way. In Judges 2:7, we read that the entire nation "...served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua..." In other words, things were going well. The nation was at peace and prospering...except for those seemingly minor infractions. By the end of the Judges, everything has degenerated into chaos. Entire tribes have forsaken God. There is infighting, pagan worship, ungodly behavior and near-total integration with the cultures they were told to eliminate and avoid. 

The Book of Judges concludes with this chilling note, "In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." (Jdg 21:25). It’s not just an editorial comment on the political state of the new nation, it is a recognition that the people are trying to govern themselves apart from God. Clearly, they are in need of a king in more ways than one.

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