July 15, 2010 David Balzer

Judges 17-21: Anarchy!

Australia 2009. Alex Davie, a Gold Coast security guard is hogtied by thieves at a steel recycling yard, brutally beaten, then stabbed to death. Not content with that, the thieves then drive to his house, bash and stab his 50 yr old wife, Sue, to death, before ransacking their house for good measure.

Australia 2009. A Chinese family of five all bashed to death at Epping in a suspected home invasion.

From there, step back around 3000 years. Come to Israel. The nation called to be the people of God. The nation with no human king. Because God is their king. Or that’s the theory.

Judges chapter 8. Gideon’s got it right. The people of Israel come to him and say, “Gideon, rule over us. Be our king”. But Gideon says, no I won’t. “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” Gideon gets it. Israel is different. Because Israel’s King is God himself.

And yet as the book of Judges unfolds, Israel unravels. To a point where things are so dark it’s painful to read it. As you’ll notice.

We’re covering chapters 17 to 21. The final section. There’s a lot happening. And it’s all bad. But stand back a little and you’ll see what we’re dealing with is actually two big stories. Rather than lots of small ones. Two big stories… of how one thing leads to another. Two big stories… of how SMALL DECISIONS can snowball. In very ugly ways.

One dumb choice after another

I’ve just seen a quirky movie called Burn After Reading. All star cast – Francis McDormand, George Clooney. Brad Pitt . John Malkovich. Great actors, but they play pretty horrible, unattractive characters. And all the way through they make ONE DUMB CHOICE AFTER ANOTHER, things go from bad to worse. They just want to make their miserable lives BETTER, but at every turn, they choose the wrong option. It’s like a gruesome choose your own adventure. In the end, no one wins, people have lost their lives, and there’s nothing left. But they’re all such unlikeable characters, you don’t really mind.

It’s a lot like these miserable chapters here.

Micah’s idols – Danite’s idols 17-18

So meet Micah. Ch 17. An ordinary guy in the hill country of Ephraim. Except right from the start, alarm bells. Here’s a guy who steals from his mum. He says, Mum, that 13 kilos of silver you couldn’t find? And then you put a curse on the thief. That was me. I stole it.

So good news and bad news. Micah’s a lousy thief who’ll steal from his own mother. But the good news. She can have it back.

But more bad news… and here’s the simple decision that we’re going to see snowballing… his mum’s so pleased to get it back that she does an incredibly dumb thing. She takes a couple of kilos of the silver and says the amazing words you can see in verse 3. “Great, I’ve got my silver back. What will I do?” DECISION TIME. “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord… for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol.”

And so by verse 5, Micah has turned his house into a shrine. With an ephod. And some idols. With his mum’s silver idol in pride of place on the mantelpiece. And Micah appoints one of his boys as priest.

Until a better option turns up. A young levite from Bethlehem; and verse 12, Micah installs the levite as the priest of his private chapel. And everything’s good. Or so he thinks. I mean, how much better does it get? A house loaded with idols to worship God with. Your own personal priest.

In his mind, he’s serving Yahweh God of Israel. Verse 13, he says, “Now I know the Lord will be good to me, since this levite has become my priest.” Now I’ve got God in a box.

Which I think is exactly how pagan idolatry works. A little bit like those voodoo dolls you stick pins in. You’ve got the image of the person, you’ve got some sort of control. You’ve got the image of your petty little God… you’ve got some sort of control. And yet God has spoken. Deut 12. “Don’t make IMAGES of the LORD your God like the nations do. Don’t worship me like THEY DO.

And let me tell you, you’re not honouring the real God unless you’re listening to his word.

And the poison spreads. As in chapter 18 you’ve got the story of the tribe of Dan, still looking for their own slice of the promised land. Verse 13 they come to Micah’s house on their way to the battle. And they say, hey, that house over there. The guy’s got an ephod. He’s got household Gods. He’s got a carved image. And a carved idol.

We’re at the end of verse 14. So now… what will they do? DECISION TIME.

What they SHOULD do, according to what God said back in Deuteronomy 13, you find a place like that, you DESTROY it. Fast.

But what do they do instead? Remember, this is one dumb decision after another. They say, hey, nice idols. Hand them over. Give your idols to us. And we’ll take your priest as well.

And on they go. Until at verse 30, you see the CONSEQUENCES full blown. The tribe of Dan in all their glory. Rebuilding the city of Laish; and there, the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. And they continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh, up the road.

So what sort of place is Israel? In this portrait at the end of Judges. As the last tribe settles into the promised land… they settle into A LONG TERM COMMITMENT TO IDOLATRY.

But it gets worse.

Levite’s concubine > destruction of Benjamites

And at this point we turn to the story of ANOTHER levite. Who lives in the same hill country of Ephraim.

Chapter 19 verse 1 introduces him, along with his concubine. His “partner.” As we’d politely put it today. Except the girl’s been unfaithful to him, and she’s run back to her dad in Bethlehem. And as the story unfolds, you might get some inkling why. Why you’d leave a levite like this guy.

She’s been back with dad four months. And he finally decides it’s time to get her back. So with his servant and his two donkeys and his bunch of flowers, he’s off to the Father-in-law’s house. Who gladly welcomes him. And says, stay a while. Let’s party. And they party. The next day, he says stay a while longer. And they party again. And in the end he’s stayed so long, that when on day five he finally takes his concubine and head for home with the two donkeys and the servant, they only get a bit over half-way.

They’re coming near Jebus. Which in the future is going to become the city of Jersualem. But at this point, it isn’t. And the servant says to his master in verse 11, let’s stop here. Let’s pull in at the city of the Jebusites for the night.

What will he do? DECISION TIME. His master replies in verse 12; and it would make you laugh if it wasn’t so tragic…  he says, No, we won’t go into an alien city whose people are not Israelites. We’ll go on. To Gibeah. Much better place to spend the night!

I mean, you wouldn’t spend the night with the Jebusites. Because they’re not Israelites. And who knows what they might do to you.

And so they stop in at Gibeah. And as you did back in those days, they sit in the city square and they wait for someone to invite them home. Which nobody does. Until an old man… from the hill country of Ephraim again… who’s staying in town, comes in from the fields. And invites them home. And finally in verse 20 they’ve found a welcome. “Come with me. Only whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square”.

And although the evening begins well enough, those words may be ringing in our ears a little oddly. Whatever you do… don’t spend the night in the square.

And you soon see why. Because while the Levite and his servant and his concubine and the old guy are enjoying themselves it says in verse 22, some of the wicked men of the city surround the house. And they start pounding on the door.

And at this point you’ll be thinking, this is not the sort of passage you’d want to be teaching in a Sunday School lesson. Because they’re pounding on the door and they’re shouting to the old man, bring out the guy staying with you. So we can do all sorts of horrible things with him.

Now there are some eerie echoes here of another city. Back in Genesis chapter 19. With a story that’s almost identical. Point for point. A city called Sodom. A name that’s still synonymous with smut. And a certain type of sin. Except in Genesis 19 the sin of Sodom has such a stench to it that God blots it from the face of the earth.

And now here we are at Gibeah in Israel. Where the Levite chose to stay, rather than in the non-Israelite city of Jebus. And the same story is playing itself out. With the crowd made up of Benjamites. Israelites!

Except this time God’s nowhere to be seen. Interesting, isn’t it? Another one of those stony silences. Genesis 19; the angels step in and save the day for Lot. And God speaks judgement on Sodom. But Judges 19. God is nowhere. Saying nothing. Not a mention in the whole chapter.

More DECISIONS to be made. And it gets worse. The owner goes out and he says to the mob, look, verse 24, take my daughter. And take the guy’s concubine. Do what you like with them. Only don’t touch the man. Because that wouldn’t be very nice. Which leads to what’s got to be the most horrific account in the whole Old Testament.

As the Levite takes his concubine, verse 25, drags her to the door. And throws her to the wolves. And they abuse her through the night; and at dawn let her go. And she somehow crawls back to the house at daybreak and collapses at the door.

And meanwhile, her master has had a few more drinks and he’s gone off to bed. Gets up in the morning, packs his bags to head home, opens the door to leave, and there she is. As if he’d forgotten what happened. In fact, the way it’s worded it’s almost as if he’s about to step over her. As if he was just planning to go home without a second thought.

And it gets worse. There she is, fallen in the doorway in verse 27 with her hands tantalisingly reaching for the threshold. Almost safe. And he says to her, Get up, let’s go. But there’s no answer. And he picks her up and puts her on the donkey and goes home.

Is she dead? Is she alive? We’re not told.

When he gets home. We’re still not told whether she’s alive or dead. But here he calmly takes out a knife. And cuts up his concubine, limb by limb, verse 29, into twelve parts and sends them in parcels. To all the areas of Israel.

At which point you’re surely saying too much information. We don’t need to hear this stuff. How is this the sort of information we need to be listening to in church on a Sunday morning. And yet somehow we do. Here’s what it looks like when people do what THEY think is best.

And suddenly, verse 30, when everyone gets their special deliveries, it’s as if Israel comes to her senses. And says what’s going on? Something’s gone wrong. What can we do? It’s DECISION TIME. We have to DO something.

It could be the end of the story. But, just like the movie, it gets WORSE. As chapter 20 and 21 unfold, the mess just gets deeper and deeper.

There’s a great Mr Bean episode where he sneezes on a famous painting in an art gallery. Then spends the rest of the episode trying to clean it off. But everything he tries just makes it WORSE. He end up wiping the whole thing blank with paint stripper. Then draws it back on with pencil. What was BAD has no become A COMPLETE MESS!

Same with Israel. They’re so shocked by their little packages of concubine, and the sanitised version of the story the Levite puts around, that they’re going to get even with the Benjamites. And in chapter 20 the battle’s a disaster. Civil war. With Israelites tearing each other limb from limb.

And Israel’s dismembered… more brutally than THE GIRL EVER WAS.

She was meant to be a sign of how far Israel had fallen. But in the end she’s a picture of how much further Israel CAN FALL. Destroying each other with more enthusiasm than they EVER showed for destroying the NATIONS.

And yet when it’s over… there’s weeping and wailing. And in chapter 21 verse 2, the people go to Bethel, and they sit before God until evening; crying their eyes out. Crying out to God, why has this happened… that one tribe… is missing from Israel today. And they grieve for their brothers the Benjamites. With only 600 of their men left. And the worse thing is, the rest of Israel’s made a vow. That none of them can give their daughters to the few men of Benjamin who are left. The women of Benjamin are dead. So the line’s been extinguished for ever.

It’s decision time. Any chance of a GOOD DECISION? Unlikely!

Now notice the immense integrity of these people. These Israelites are men of their word. They’ve promised they won’t give their daughters to the men of Benjamin. But nobody said they couldn’t take someone ELSE’S daughters. Which is exactly what they do. And is apparently quite okay – by their standards.

First, they work out ONE TOWN who didn’t come along and be part of the slaughter. And they invade JABESH GILEAD (v10), kill all the men and wives, take all the young women, and give them to the Benjaminites. To replace the women THEY’VE KILLED.

In what UNIVERSE would a group of people ever think THAT’S a good idea? Answer: A universe where God is gone.

But there’s not enough women, so what do they do? Steal MORE women. Of course! These are the elders of Israel. Supposed to be the WISE and GODLY ones. Let me give you permission, if the elders at THIS church ever start making decisions as dumb as THIS, you can report us to presbytery, and tell them to sack the lot of us!

Chapter 21 verse 19… they say, Look, there’s an annual festival to the Lord as Shiloh to the north of Bethel… there’s the annual church dance on. So here’s what to do. And they instruct the Benjamites, it says in verse 20, Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. And when the girls come out and join in the dancing… rush in and seize a wife from the girls of Shiloh… and go to the land of Benjamin. Rush in. Kidnap. Self-service wives from the Shiloh supermarket.

And they do.

It all started with the abuse of a concubine… and it ends with the abuse of a whole town full of girls. But at least nobody had to break their oath. Because these Israelites… are men of honour. The irony is sickening and damning.

Israel 2000BC. Idol worshippers. Wife abusers. Rapists. And in both cases, small sins that start in the backblocks of the hill country of Ephraim … spread through whole tribes, that are rotten to the core.

And so the book of Judges finishes.

No king in Israel

So what’s gone wrong? Let me tell you, the text makes the answer very clear. In a repeated phrase that I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ve skipped it up til now. But look back. Because it brings it all together.

The land with God as king hasn’t got God as king at all.

Go back to 17:6. And underline it. “In those days Israel had no king. Everyone did as he saw fit.” As Micah sets up his personal idol shrine.

And then in 18 verse 1. Underline it again. It’s like a refrain. In those days Israel had no king. Enough said. As the rot spreads to the tribe of Dan.

Down to 19:1. Word for word. In those days, Israel had no king. As we’re about to meet the Levite and his concubine.

And then finally the last words in the book. The CONCLUSION.

21:25. In those days, Israel had no king. Everyone did as he saw fit.

The so called people of God. Have got no king at all. The technical term is anarchy. An-arche. No ruler. So no rules. And so Israel is a place where all hell breaks loose.

A king for you?

I want you to take a minute to reflect. Because on a personal level it comes down to exactly the same issue. And Australia 2009 is simply made up of Australians who are doing exactly what they like. Each person living out their own little anarchy.

That’s how it works. If you’ve got no king… then you’ll do exactly whatever you feel like. As a culture. As an individual.

And the point is, the gospel calls us to submit ourselves to a king. A king crowned on a cross. A King demonstrated to be king in power by his resurrection.

When Peter was speaking to the crowd in Acts 2, he said

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, …36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ .”

For those first Christians, Jesus was the only king they were to serve. Before parents, before governments, before Caesar. Over in Acts 17 there’s a riot. And that’s what the Christians are accused of. Being traitors against Rome.

“These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, …They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that THERE IS ANOTHER KING, ONE CALLED JESUS.”

The Christians THEN were counter-cultural. And we’re to be the same. Bowing our knee to the king who DESERVES our honour. Our obedience. Our LIVES.

You know the difference between a SO-CALLED Christian and a real one? Real Christians have A REAL KING. And having a king makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in the world to how you live your life.

Not just a teacher. Not just a guide. Not just an example, or a mentor, or an advisor, or a counsellor. A KING.

Having a king, the starting point is you repent. And stop ruling your life yourself. You repent. And you LIVE like it.

How is it with you? Because if for you/ there really is another king, one called Jesus… then it really needs TO SHOW. Show in the way you refuse to worship anything else. In the way if you’re a Christian man you’ll treat women – who time after time fall victim to the kingless men of Israel;

You’ll see who you’re serving in the way you’ll have an integrity that’s far deeper than cheap oathmaking… and is actually a real commitment to righteousness.

And among us there’ll be A SAFETY and a hospitality and a generosity and a wisdom with one another. An other person-centredness. In a way there wasn’t in Israel. So that nobody can say of us… when you scratch the surface… there’s no king there. And everyone does what is right in his own eyes.

Don’t make OUR group of God’s people one where people can say THAT about us.

I’m ashamed of the number of times I talk to one of you about someone else here at church. And YOU DON’T KNOW WHO I’M TALKING ABOUT. You don’t know the names of people sitting on the other side of church who’ve been coming for months. It’s not good enough. If Jesus is our king, we’ve got to do BETTER than that!

Or what about people you haven’t seen for a while. Have you phoned them?  I can do it. But it’s more effective if YOU GUYS do it.

We can have all the evangelistic programs in the world, but it’s no good if the BACK DOOR to the church is wide open.

It’s what we do if we follow Jesus as king.

Wouldn’t it be great if people when they checked us out said THIS. If they turned around the lesson of Judges. Not “There’s no king there. Everyone does what’s right in his own eyes” But “There’s a king ruling in that place. Everyone does what’s right in Jesus’ eyes. They follow HIM, instead of doing what THEY reckon’s right”

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